They’re at it again. On the one side, absolutists who scream that if you’re not for single payer, you’re a sellout. On the other, incrementalists retort that no, it’s you who are being completely unrealistic and naive. It’s just going to get worse.
There is a middle ground, which health-care expert Harold Pollack lays out in this issue, if people choose to accept it. It begins with recognizing that single payer is one means to an end. The end—the principle—is universal coverage. Single payer can get us there, but so can other systems, modeled more for example on Germany’s. As Pollack argues, we should be debating which system—provided it guarantees universality—has the best chance of becoming reality in the United States.
Reality in the United States, meanwhile, has become . . . surreal. We asked five distinguished historians, among them Democracy board member Sean Wilentz, what to make of this current moment, and what past moment (if any) it compares to. The results were interesting, surprising—and, inasmuch as no one said the late 1850s, reassuring.
Two more important feature essays: Board member and Brookings Scholar Isabel Sawhill makes a strong case that liberals spend too much time debating taxation and redistribution, relative to their actual ability to change society. She envisions a post-redistributionist liberalism, one that tackles corporate structures, that she argues could have greater impact. And another board member, Richard Vague, takes a hard look at the state and local pension crisis. With his usual empirical rigor, he finds that pension-fund managers have no good choices, but one or two options that may help them avert future calamity.
Beyond the feature well, we’re delighted to welcome to our pages for the first time Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the distinguished feminist writer, who responds to our earlier exchange on whether a progressive woman can ever be elected President. Richard Parker, the esteemed biographer of John Kenneth Galbraith, assays a new Arthur Schlesinger biography. Also Thomas Goetz reviews Franklin Foer’s new book on how the tech powers are hurting journalism and society, and Samuel Bagenstos reviews Richard Rothstein’s widely discussed history of how the government helped sustain segregation.
Ten or so years ago, liberals finally realized that they were way behind conservatives in terms of building a successful political infrastructure. The right had bigger and better-funded think tanks, training institutes, grassroots organizations; and a web of foundations to fund them into which rich conservatives poured billions. A furious game of catch-up commenced, and gains were made. But the most recent election showed (among other things) that the gulf still exists. It wasn’t just the presidential results—losses at all levels exposed a progressive infrastructure severely wanting. This topic is the subject of our lead symposium this issue—suggestions for what the progressive infrastructure needs most from 12 advocates, insiders, and writers, including Donna Brazile, Zephyr Teachout, Jonathan Soros, Ilyse Hogue, and others.
Our second symposium arises from a debate that has roiled the economics profession ever since the meltdown. It was addressed by economist Paul Romer last fall in his paper “The Trouble With Macroeconomics,” which sparked an immediate controversy within the discipline. In addition to giving the wrong answers, are they also asking the wrong questions? The stellar contributor lineup includes Dean Baker, Jared Bernstein, Benjamin Friedman, and Jason Furman.
Elsewhere, Michael Sandel returns to our pages with a brief essay on the Trump resistance. Susan Madrak and Kathleen Geier debate whether a woman—more specifically, a liberal Democratic woman—can ever be elected President. Ryan Avent explores what a Trump Administration might do on monetary policy—and what should be done.
In the books section, we welcome to our pages Annie Lowrey, reviewing James Ledbetter’s rich history of the gold standard; Alice Echols on a new book about the triumphs and setbacks of feminism in the 1970s; Elizabeth Bruenig on the conservative religious writer Rod Dreher; Maira Sutton on the new work by the influential tech sociologist Zeynep Tufekci; and a review of Sidney Blumenthal’s anticipated second volume on Abraham Lincoln by David S. Reynolds. All in all, the issues features some deep engagement with our current situation—but also some much-needed relief from it.
This journal started in 2006, with the Iraq war still blazing, the financial crisis still to come, and progressives in a similarly dour place. And authors back then still tried to see ahead, see what was possible, see how the broad left could fill in the holes being created daily by a robust and headstrong conservative movement.
After the election, a common sentiment among folks like us, and we suspect like you, was some version of “Why bother?” If this can happen, what’s the use in advocacy work or releasing a white paper or even in high-minded political thinking itself? And while there was plenty of that in this office, and many other offices and homes around the country, we got back to it.
Because, hard as it may seem, essays on tax policy, like those of Lily Batchelder and Kim Clausing, still matter. Reviews on whether technological growth is a thing of the past, like Stephen Rose’s, still matter. Coverage of other countries, like Sophia Pandya’s rundown of the escalating situation in Turkey, still matter. Because government policy, economic trends, and societal change will continue apace, even with a new, very different President.
With that in mind, read a symposium unlike the usual horserace coverage, on the future of liberalism, conservatism, and even language and truth themselves, in the era of Trump. In a new partnership with the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, we have the first in a series of articles on some parts of government policy that could make our economy fairer. The first two articles are on how taxation of wealth and inheritances, and how it’s gone badly astray. Also in the feature well, essays on protecting workers from “big data,” an urgent topic that’s often missing in technology coverage. Finally, Yascha Mounk tells us what’s wrong with the politics of “personal responsibility,” but also what should be saved from it, Henry Farrell diagnoses the ills in British politics.