One Question Roosevelt Fellows Would Ask 2020 Candidates—and Why It Matters

July 15, 2019

Lenore Palladino, Roosevelt Senior Economist and Policy Counsel

Question: What would you do about the runaway influence of shareholder power in the economy?

Why It Matters: Most Americans are increasingly powerless in today’s economy and our democracy, especially workers. A decades-long shift in corporate governance has created an environment in which the interests of shareholders are put well above the long-term interests of the firm and our economy: We are losing out on business growth, innovation, and investment in employees. Ultimately, today’s corporations have retained their privileges and lost their public purpose. We need to reorient the system that corporate America operates within and ensure that shareholder power does not trump people power, which includes enacting proposals that give workers a seat at the table.

Julie Margetta Morgan, Roosevelt Fellow

Question: How does your plan for higher education ensure that every American has access to a high-quality college education, and how will you address the burden that our $1.6 trillion student debt crisis places on average Americans and our economy?

Why It Matters: Our current higher education system caters to the wealthy and offers vastly different opportunities to lower-income Americans and students of color. The result is a $1.6 trillion student-debt load that cripples too many individuals, inhibiting their economic security and derailing them from buying homes, starting businesses, and engaging in the economy in ways that would strengthen our country as a whole. Notably, candidates’ plans to address this crisis tell us more than just their views on higher education: They tell us how they envision the government’s role in guaranteeing that all Americans have access to programs and services that allow them to fully participate in the economy. Instead of layering subsidies and vouchers on a broken, extractive system, our next president should reimagine public higher education as a public option that ensures universal access and restructures the market.

Todd Tucker, Roosevelt Fellow

Question: What is your plan to tackle a partisan-packed, right-leaning Supreme Court?

Why It Matters: The John Roberts Supreme Court is the most right-wing, business-friendly, labor-unfriendly bench in modern history. That was the case even before the Trump administration packed the court with Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the two most anti-regulation justices since the New Deal. Now, with a solid five-person majority, extreme right-wing justices and libertarian groups are pushing to roll the US back into the 19th century. Anything that progressives would want to see happen—from a Green New Deal to a wealth tax—faces sure opposition unless the next president comes up with a credible plan to rebalance the court. From adding new progressive members to offset the conservative ones, to instituting term limits and scaling back the court’s jurisdiction, there are many bold ideas available for forward-looking candidates to seize.

Katy Milani, Roosevelt Fellow

Question: How will you rein in the outsized power of corporate executives in America’s health care system, specifically in the pharmaceutical industry?

Why It Matters: Americans today are outraged by the high cost of prescription drugs. Despite Big Pharma’s repeated claims, high-cost medicines are not the price sick people and society must pay for innovation; this is the price we pay for an industry that puts profit-seeking and rewarding CEOs and shareholders ahead of innovating. The industry today is rife with too much power to rig the rules of the market, which leaves little room for the healthy competition needed to stimulate new product development. This major problem is literally costing too many people their lives. The government has an essential role to play in the public’s well-being, and it can actually do some things more effectively than markets can. A public option here would set a floor on quality, a ceiling on prices, and force the private sector to do better by the American people.

Mike Konczal, Roosevelt Fellow

Question: There are many problems our country has to tackle, and candidates are debating which proposals are right for solving them. When it comes to financing these programs, which would you fund with debt, which would you fund with taxes on the rich and wealthy, and which would you want to fund with broad-based taxes on everyone?

Why It Matters: How to answer this question determines the political viability of what can be accomplished. This isn’t about deficit-mongering; the current trajectory shows no signs of problems. More, there’s significant room for debt-financed investment and, especially in the aftermath of the Trump tax cuts, raising taxes on the wealthy. But some programs may need broad-based taxes both for the revenue and for anchoring them within the experiences of everyday people, so they are more likely to defend them as something they’ve paid for. Where to draw these lines determines what the programs will look like—and whether they will survive.

Rakeen Mabud, Roosevelt Fellow

Question: Why do you think so many workers are left behind in today’s economy, and how will you ensure a 21st century labor market that works for everyone?

Why It Matters: We are living in an economy and society that are working for the rich and powerful, not most people. Around the country, millions are being left behind—in large part because of the rise of corporate power that allows companies and employers to extract from workers and enrich those at the top, and because decades of conservative attacks on unions and other forms of workplace organizing have decimated worker power. As a result, many Americans are struggling to put food on the table and finding it hard to pay for basic needs, such as childcare and health care. Our next president must be willing to take on big ideas and ensure that all Americans—regardless of race, gender, sexuality, geography, or immigration status—can live healthy and prosperous lives.

Brishen Rogers, Roosevelt Fellow

Question: What is your plan to give workers more power within their companies and in our economy?

Why It Matters: Unionization rates are at historic lows, due to both structural changes like the decline of industry and to a decades-long effort by employers and conservatives to make it harder for workers to unionize. This has far-reaching and negative effects on our economy and our democracy. It has increased income inequality, exacerbated the racial wealth gap, made workers vulnerable to harassment and other sorts of abuse, and left them with little if any voice in our politics. Moreover, a growing number of researchers and labor unions believe that making it easier for workers to unionize at their own workplaces isn’t enough anymore—that we also need to make it much easier for them to bargain with all the key players in a sector (i.e., all the mega-retailers, all the fast food outlets, all the gig economy companies). There are many ideas now on the table here, from repealing the Taft-Hartley Act, to making collective bargaining the default, to establishing a wage board or sectoral bargaining structure.

Susan R. Holmberg, Roosevelt Fellow

Question: What is the role of the federal government in solving our climate crisis?

Why It Matters: Solving the climate crisis requires minimizing the pernicious corporate power that has hindered the US’s development of a clean-energy economy and has long allowed dirty industry to exercise unchecked control. Moreover, implementing this approach demands strong public power in leading the way to efficient and equitable decarbonization, using a comprehensive set of environmental policy tools at our disposal: market-based, environmental regulations and direct government investment. One key area in this debate is the American farmland, which Big Ag has unchecked power over. By curbing corporate power through revived antitrust enforcement and investing in public intervention by paying farmers to capture carbon, progressives can show how a one-two punch can hit back against the climate crisis.

Andrea Flynn, Roosevelt Fellow

Question: How would you address the growing problem of disappearing health providers in rural areas?

Why It Matters: Much of the debate on health care access today focuses on universal coverage—on the need to extend, improve, and equalize health care coverage in this country, but coverage is only part of the equation. Access to health care institutions is not equal in America, particularly in rural communities where hospitals are closing at an alarming rate and are forecasted to continue doing so over the next decade. We need to ensure that all Americans can access quality and comprehensive care. This means curbing extractive corporate power throughout the health care system, including in the hospital industry, and deploying public power in more expansive ways by, for example, having the federal government build and maintain public hospitals throughout the nation—and especially in underserved areas—in order to meet critical needs, as they did in the mid-20th century.