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The World Turned Upside Down

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In the wake of what was a very satisfying Election Night, I want to talk about one of the less-visible signs of ideological transformations in a party, namely the conversion of former opponents to the new status quo.

One of the more startling examples of this came in this morning’s New York Times, where one Bob Rubin came out in favor of a Federal jobs program:

Too many people lack access to entry-level jobs with good wages…

That’s where a robust federal jobs program could help. Millions of Americans could work in high-need areas rebuilding and repairing crumbling roads and bridges or taking care of the elderly. The jobs should pay a living wage (even during the training phase), come with good benefits and be widely available, including to the formerly incarcerated. The program could include both public jobs and subsidized private employment, either temporary or longer-term…

While still ultimately aimed at forestalling a Universal Basic Income, this op-ed is not the sort of thing one expects to hear from the architect of Rubinomics, the man who played a rather decisive role in turning the Clinton Administration away from public works and towards balancing the budget in 1993, who championed financial deregulation throughout the 90s, and whose acolytes in the Obama Administration fought the idea of economic stimulus and pushed hard for a pivot to austerity in 2010.

Indeed, Rubin’s op ed sounds a lot like the speeches I heard at the “New New Deal for NYC and the USA” event I went to a couple weeks ago, where a bunch of policy wonks, Modern Monetary Theorists, union members, DSA activists, and other lefties got together to bemoan the Trump administration and plan how to advance the idea of the right to a job on the state and local level. If you’re interested, you can watch the whole event here:

Looping back to the election, one of the big takeaways from the New New Deal event was that Leticia James, New York City’s Public Advocate, is going to try to pass a city-wide jobs guarantee, and that’ll be easier since she just romped to re-election with 74% of the vote. And as I said w/r/t to De Blasio, showing that you can move left and get re-elected will encourage others to experiment with supporting public policies on the very left edge of the possible (the only goalpost I encourage moving at all times).

Just as the fortunes of single-payer health care improved when formerly more conservative Democrats endorsed Medicare-for-All, the fact that even the neoliberal Bob Rubin now supports public jobs programs should suggest that Leticia James’ strategy of pursuing the right to a job on a local level has way more room to run than even the strongest advocates for direct job creation thought even two weeks ago.

Indeed, we may be seeing something of a virtuous cycle, where progressive policy positions can help energize the Democratic Party base to vote (as we saw with the victory of Medicaid expansion in Maine, an initiative campaign that absolutely should be pushed everywhere possible in 2018), and in turn progressive turnout can help persuade even the more conservative elements of the party that “Paris is worth a mass” (as we saw in New Jersey, where a Goldman Sachs Democrat nevertheless came out in favor of a $15/hour minimum wage and higher taxes on the wealthy in order to win the governor’s race, or in Virginia, where Northam found immigrant rights advocates holding his feet to the fire on sanctuary cities even at his victory speech).

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