Planning for the Public Good: How to Structure More Equitable and Sustainable Investments

August 10, 2021

Over the last four months, as we at the Roosevelt Institute have watched the debate over major infrastructure investments unfold in Washington, DC, we have consistently pointed to two core principles: First, spending must be at the scale needed to solve our most pressing problems and set us up for long-term economic prosperity and stability. Second, new infrastructure investments must be structured to promote equity and democracy throughout our economy and political system.

In three new issue briefs, Roosevelt Institute experts explore this second principle across a wide range of topics—retirement investments, industrial policy, and childcare. In each, they show how affirmative public policy decisions to cede planning to the market have undermined equity and democracy and made our economy less resilient. Though they examine very different pieces of our economy, each brief arrives at a similar conclusion: To address our nation’s most urgent problems, we must deepen the public’s role in planning and oversight.

  • “Industrial Policy and Planning: A New (Old) Approach to Policymaking for a New Era” by Todd N. Tucker and Steph Sterling argues that despite the myth that “the US does not practice industrial policy and instead operates on purely free-market principles, our country has long had ad hoc measures that amount to an inadvertent neoliberal industrial policy favoring the wealthy and connected.” Building on Tucker’s earlier work, the authors suggest that the US’s ad hoc approach to industrial policy prevents adequate solutions to crises like climate change. To move forward effectively, we must deliberately plan for the growth of certain industries, as many of our competitors and allies already do. But, unlike other nations, we must craft an approach to planning that centers democratic governance.
  • “The Potential Benefits of a Public Asset Manager” by Lenore Palladino and Chirag Lala explores the power that asset managers—the private companies that act as fiduciaries for household investors—have in the economy. Palladino and Lala argue that these powerful actors currently understand their responsibility purely as maximizing financial gain for the households whose investments they hold; they do not consider households’ broader interests. A public asset manager would reshape the market, by creating a democratically controlled alternative to these marketbased fiduciaries that could take a more holistic view of household interests and spur broad change among private asset managers.
  • “Supply-Side Childcare Investments: Policies to Develop an Equitable and Stable Childcare Industry” by Suzanne Kahn and Steph Sterling shows that leaving the provision of childcare up to the market has left American families with limited and unaffordable options. As the country contemplates a significant new federal investment in the childcare system, Kahn and Sterling argue that the investment should include guardrails to counter the corporate extraction we have seen in many other industries. New federal investments should proactively promote democratic control of the childcare industry by empowering parents and providers.