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Progressive Contract with America Aims to 'Rewrite the Rules' in Favor of 99%

DeBlasio's agenda mirrors new report from Joseph Stiglitz, which reads in part: 'Inequality has been a choice, and it is within our power to reverse it.'


Elizabeth Warren spoke Tuesday at the release of the Roosevelt Institute's report. (Photo: Roosevelt Institute/Twitter)

Adding one more pillar beneath an increasingly solid progressive movement platform, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio unveiled on Tuesday a new "Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality," calling for universal pre-kindergarten, a higher minimum wage, paid family leave, and higher taxes on the wealthy. 

The 13-point agenda has been presented as "the left's answer to the Contract with America, which helped propel Newt Gingrich and the Republican revolution of 1994," according to Politico, which first reported on DeBlasio's plan last week.

The planks of the newly launched platform are in line with a new report on the root causes of—and proposed fixes for—the current wealth gap, authored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and also published Tuesday by the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank.

DeBlasio and Sen. Elizabeth Warren both spoke at an event earlier on Tuesday touting the release of the Stiglitz report, leading Bloomberg to dub the DeBlasio-Warren-Stiglitz trio "inequality avengers."

Titled Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity (pdf), the 115-page manifesto argues that "inequality is not inevitable," and is in fact the result of rules and the regulatory frameworks—favored by corporations and put in place by elected officials—that form the backbone of the U.S. economy.

"Over the last 35 years, America’s policy choices have been grounded in false assumptions, and the result is a weakened economy in which most Americans struggle to achieve or maintain a middle-class lifestyle while a small percentage enjoy an increasingly large share of the nation’s wealth," it reads.

Those choices, according to Stiglitz and his co-authors, have entrenched in the U.S.: "a tax system that raises insufficient revenue and encourages the pursuit of short-term gains over long-term investment; weak and unenforced regulation of corporations; a de facto public safety net for too-big-to-fail financial institutions; a dwindling support system for workers and families; and a reorientation of monetary and fiscal policy to promote wealth rather than full employment."

In short, "The problems we face today are in large part the result of economic decisions we made—or failed to make—beginning in the late 1970s," the report declares. In turn, "[t]he policies of today are 'baking in' the America of 2050: unless we change course, we will be a country with slower growth, ever more inequality, and ever less equality of opportunity. Inequality has been a choice, and it is within our power to reverse it."

Writing at the Washington Post's Wonkblog, reporter Jim Tankersley described the plan as "seemingly designed to rally liberals, enrage free-market economists and push a certain presumptive presidential nominee to the left."


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Indeed, the New York Times predicts that the report "will likely influence Mrs. Clinton's agenda," especially as she has, in the past, reached out to Stiglitz for economic advice. 

An executive summary of the report is embedded below:

DeBlasio's agenda and Stiglitz's report are merely the latest in a growing body of work focused on building a new progressive platform. Earlier this year, the Congressional Progressive Caucus—which on Tuesday threw its weight behind the Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality—released The People's Budget: A Raise for America, which aims to "level the playing field" for low- and middle-income Americans. And just last month, a coalition of progressive groups released its own agenda: Populism 2015 Platform: Building A Movement for People and the Planet.

As Katrina vanden Heuvel put it in an op-ed published Tuesday at the Washington Post:

Not surprisingly, these offerings differ in analysis, emphasis and specific reforms. But more striking is their scope of consensus.

All agree that our extreme inequality is not the inevitable result of globalization or technology. It is the result of policy and power. The rules have been rigged. No one reform offers an answer; broad reforms are needed.

The unveiling of DeBlasio's progressive agenda comes on the same day that President Barack Obama spoke at a conference on poverty sponsored by Georgetown University's Initiative on Catholic Thought. During an hour-long panel discussion, Obama expressed frustration with conservatives' reluctance to make compromises for the benefit of the poor.

"Talk to any of my Republican friends," Mr. Obama reportedly told several hundred people attending the poverty summit. "They will say they care about the poor. And I believe them. But when it comes to actually establishing budgets, making choices, prioritizing, that’s when it starts breaking down."

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