Editor's Note

Editor's Note

Michael Tomasky introduces Issue #20.

By Michael Tomasky

Finally, it seems that we might be working our way through the worst of the economic crisis. But unemployment is still high, and things won’t be back to normal for a long time. How our government responded to the crisis exposed more than a few inadequacies in the way progressives talk about the economy. Yes, our political system is nearly broken and Republicans are absurdly obstreperous; but we also believe that better, fresher ideas would have proved more persuasive.

With this issue, we try to offer some new perspectives on arguing the economy in the second installment of our “First Principles” series. Andrei Cherny, our co-founder and president, makes a compelling argument for an Individual Age economics—a program more suited to an economy in which most Americans sit at computers and work in service jobs instead of working on assembly lines. David Madland of the Center for American Progress (CAP) contends that a solid middle class is not just an end in and of itself, but that it leads to other salutary effects: more trust in society, better governance, more proto-capitalistic behaviors, and broader growth. Since Cherny’s and Madland’s ideas will need time to work their way into the discourse, we asked Elaine C. Kamarck to write a brief on three economic fights we should pick in the short term. To critique the other side’s ideas, we asked Paul Pierson to look at the devastating effects of conservative economic policies on the middle class. Finally, we enlisted Jonathan Chait to get to the heart of the animating principle of conservative economics: taxophobia. Put together, we think the five pieces tell a fresh story about what progressives should stand for and why the other side’s ideas are wrong for the country.

Spring is tax time, and almost every magazine or journal does something pegged to that fact. But our tax package really is different. Our two pieces flesh out two ideas that were raised in Democracy’s pages before: Ethan Porter and David Kendall make the case for an itemized taxpayer receipt, while Cait Lamberton looks into the idea of “tax choice”—allowing taxpayers to allocate a portion of their taxes to agencies and departments of their choosing. These ideas could change Americans’ relationship to their income taxes, and we think they merit wide discussion.

If you’ve ever read the blog of Matthew Yglesias, a leading progressive blogger also based at CAP, you know that he has some provocative insights into monetary policy. Yglesias lays out at length his argument that the Fed must be held more accountable—and that progressives need to care a lot more about monetary policy than they do. Finally in the feature well, Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution make a forceful case for why metropolitan areas will lead us into the economic future, and why government at all levels needs to adapt to that reality quickly.

Elsewhere, we’re thrilled to have in our pages the esteemed David Levering Lewis, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, reviewing the autobiography of Mark Twain and mining it deeply for its contemporary relevance. Ezra Klein, another leading progressive blogger, surveys the explanations—both plausible and not—for inequality in America and considers why economists and social scientists look at the same problem and see different causes. Anatol Lieven considers American foreign policy in a post-unipolar world. Kevin Mattson ponders the history and perilous future of academic freedom. Mark Gearan, who ran the Peace Corps under Bill Clinton, limns the current state of social entrepreneurship. Michael Lind responds to Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer’s piece from the last issue on a “more what, less how” government, and historian Jefferson Cowie replies to Jennifer Klein’s review of his book Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class.

One housekeeping note: We’ve started a blog called Arguments that we hope you’ll visit. We are not trying to compete here with Daily Kos. Our blog is very much in line with the spirit and the mission of the journal: thoughtful posts about ideas and policy. We will use the blog to extend discussions that begin in our pages, and sometimes to launch new ones. The traffic to our website has grown dramatically in recent months, and we hope that over time it will grow even more, so please come give Arguments a look.

Michael Tomasky is the editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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