New report: Policymakers’ consumer-first approach to governance is undermining a fair and equitable economy

Fed’s recent interest rate hike illustrates this phenomenon

August 3, 2022
Alice Janigro
(202) 412-4270

NEW YORK, NY — Last week, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the fourth time this year. Besides increasing the risk of a recession, this decision demonstrates a clear prioritization of prices over jobs, and captures a broader pattern of how we govern. For too long, Americans have viewed themselves, and their leaders have viewed them, primarily as consumers concerned with prices. If we are to address today’s challenges—the climate, care, student debt and health-care crises—and repair historical and systemic anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and sexism, we must move beyond this consumer-first governance.

For the past 50 years, policymakers across party lines have prioritized consumers—the costs they face and choices they have—when making governance decisions. This prioritization has had devastating implications, especially for women and Black and brown communities. Authored by Suzanne Kahn, Roosevelt Institute managing director of research and policy, a new report, More than Consumers: Post-Neoliberal Identities and Economic Governance, argues that viewing people through the consumer identity has allowed for a neoliberal and racist framework classified by free-market supremacy to dominate policymaking both historically and today. By governing for consumers, policymakers imagine peoples’ interests are aligned with those of private business, and are able to continue favoring corporations and the wealthy few over workers and middle- and low-income people.

“Neoliberalism is a failed, ahistorical project that policymakers have sold with the promise of consumer choice,” said Kahn. “To move on from this harmful framework and build a thriving and equitable economy, policymakers must see that they have a responsibility beyond keeping costs low. For example, instead of talking about decreasing the cost of childcare, we should be talking about childcare as a right for all children.”

The new Roosevelt Institute report:

  • Demonstrates how the dominance of consumer-centric policy has undermined equality and stability in our economy;
  • Illustrates the promise of governing for the other roles people hold, including patient, student, caregiver, and worker;
  • Explains how the primary focus of governance shifted toward the consumer during the era after World War II; and
  • Outlines how this consumer-oriented framework led to the rollback of government protections and provisions, and has most recently undermined the Biden administration’s platform.

“It was promising to see the Biden administration’s initial agenda filled with policies that served people as more than consumers, but policymakers are struggling to explain their agenda because they continue to use consumer prices as the measure of the health of the economy,” Kahn said. “To explain today’s progressive agenda, we need to be able to measure the health of the economy and society in ways that go beyond purchasing power.”