The Washington Center for Equitable Growth – Neoliberalism Reloaded?

By Dan Kervick

There is a new Washington think tank on the scene. Well, actually it is just a spinoff and re-branding of an older Washington think tank: the Center for American Progress. The new think tank is called the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Here is the organization’s self-description:

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth is a new research and grantmaking organization founded to accelerate cutting-edge analysis into whether and how structural changes in the U.S. economy, particularly related to economic inequality, affect growth.  Core to our mission is helping to build a stronger bridge between academics and policymakers so that new research is relevant, accessible, and informative to the policymaking process.

And here are the people involved with the project on its steering committee, advisory board and staff. There are a handful of interesting folks in the lineup, including Heather Boushey, Nancy Folbre and Emmanuel Saez, economists who have an authentic, well-established research interest in issues of economic inequality. But the crew also contains a lot of Clinton and Obama administration veterans who, quite frankly, have been a giant part of the problem, and helped lay the foundations for the repulsive and dehumanizing economic order under which we currently live. And the organization is headed by John Podesta, the ultimate beltway insider.

Two of the more notable absences from the list are Joseph Stiglitz and James K. Galbraith, very prominent economists who have authored two of the most important recent books on economic inequality. It would be interesting to know whether they were invited to join, and declined, or if they just weren’t invited at all.

I wouldn’t get too excited at this point about any bold ideas for a New Age of Equality coming from WCEG. From all appearances, this new think tank is just the Podesta-Clinton machine re-branding itself yet again to keep up with intellectual and political fashions.  Ken Silverstein at The Nation has written about Podesta and his Business Alliance of top corporate honchos.  And WCEG is funded by the Sandler Foundation, run by subprime mortgage tycoons Herb and Marion Sadler.

Podesta claims that WCEG will be free to break with Democratic Party orthodoxy, and also with the policies developed by its parent, the Center for American Progress:

Mr. Podesta, who will be the center’s chairman, said he wanted to set it up as a separate group so that its findings could remain separate from the policies advocated by the Center for American Progress. To have credibility, the new group will need to follow the data wherever it leads, even when it conflicted with Democratic Party positions, he acknowledged.

Frankly, that’s a bit hard to believe, given Podesta’s pedigree and connections. My guess is that WCEG is designed to serve as a policy incubator for the upcoming Clinton campaign, so that the positions it develops become the Democratic Party positions, as the Democrats’ center of political gravity moves away from the moribund Obama administration and back toward the Clinton machine. In any case, one knows in advance that whatever policy WCEG ends up advocating will have to get the Good Plutocracy seal of approval from the likes of General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Comcast, Walmart Boeing and the other financial backers of Podesta and his political network. Hopefully, economists like Saez will help the organization produce some useful work. But the final political upshot of that work, once it is churned through the WCEG policy grinder and packaged for the establishment political market, is likely to look more like Neoliberalism Reloaded, rather than a roadmap toward an egalitarian society.

For a glimpse at a vigorously egalitarian political and economic agenda that goes far beyond anything that the centrist Democratic Party and its Wall Street and corporate board room backers are likely to find agreeable, please take a look at my proposals for Rugged Egalitarianism.

Cross-posted from Rugged Egalitarianism

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