Category Archives: Op-Ed

Medicare-for-all: A New Vote

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during an event to introduce the “Medicare for All Act of 2017” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

On September 13th, Bernie Sanders and 16 Democratic co-sponsors introduced the “Medicare for All Act of 2017” to establish a national health insurance program. Responses to the legislation, and its supporters, have ranged from praise to worry to scorn. Nobody expects the bill to pass. So should Democrats support this bill?

Supporters of the bill see the legislation as a way to focus the health care debate around universal coverage, rather than fixing Obamacare or “repeal-and-replace.” Pragmatic liberals, who may support universal health insurance, are worried there is not enough detail in Sanders’s legislation to demonstrate the feasibility of his plan. But Sanders has admitted his plan is meant to be a very rough draft – an opening bid.

Opponents are using the estimated cost of universal insurance coverage ($1.4 trillion per year) as another reason not to support the bill. Even Democratic legislators have expressed concern about the cost of universal coverage. Sen. Diane Feinstein recently told Politico she won’t support Medicare-for-all because “the cost is enormous.” Critics of the bill, however, are peddling an inconsistent argument. Some legislators who oppose the bill because of a lack of detail previously supported, and voted for, legislation introducing a high-cost program without specific details.

In 2002, 29 Democratic senators voted to send the United States to war in Iraq, despite the absence of a detailed plan. Depending on the source, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost between $1 trillion and $6 trillion dollars, which would have been enough to fund Sanders’s plan for approximately one to four years. Five Democratic senators, including Feinstein, who are currently not supporting the “Medicare-for-all” bill voted to approve the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), sending our country to war.

Our legislative history repeatedly shows that politicians ignore cost when they deem issues important. Another relevant example is the 2008 Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which 39 Democratic senators voted to pass. Despite the high price tag, politicians considered the bill vital in the wake of the economic collapse of 2008, giving the Treasury Secretary broad leeway “to purchase troubled assets from any financial institution.”

Democrats need to put their reservations aside, as they have in the past, and support “Medicare-for-all.” If Democrats want to make national health insurance coverage mainstream, they need to visibly and repeatedly express support for the bill. Fox News and the Tea Party have succeeded in making more radical ideas mainstream by using discourse that consistently supports and familiarizes these ideas. Democrats should use this same tactic to build support for universal insurance coverage.

By making a significant, coordinated push to familiarize the public with universal health care coverage, Democrats can make a radical policy more socially acceptable in the future.

First-year Blake Rosser is a Master of Public Policy candidate interested in campaign finance reform and social justice.

Wage Gap vs. Earnings Gap

Source: CNN Money

Source: CNN Money

There are multiple pieces online from prominent publications dispelling the “myth” of the wage gap. Articles from Forbes, The Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal discuss the wage gap as though it’s a dubious statistic and suggest that men and women’s pay are ostensibly equal for equal work.

If they are to be believed, then it’s only taken 53 years since the passing of the Equal Pay Act to reach a point of income parity. But this premise is false, and the true state of affairs is that the wage gap is painfully real. The reality is that women’s median income for full-time positions is $40,742 while full-time jobs for men earn them a median income of $51,212. The wage gap between men and women currently sits at women earning 79.5 cents to every $1.00 earned by men.

The good news is that the wage gap has steadily decreased since 1960. While 79.5 percent is better than 56 percent, any gap at all is still unsatisfactory. But what explains this difference? Continue reading

The changing landscape of U.S. electric utilities

econf-squareAt the annual Duke University Energy Conference yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear four women – all holding top management positions in the energy industry – speak about the evolution of electric utilities in the United States. Having worked in the energy sector prior to graduate school, I have been to my fair share of energy conferences. This is the first time I have attended an all female panel on energy that was not featured as a diversity event.

The change in the demographic make-up of the panel itself is analogous to the dramatic changes we’re seeing in the changing landscape of electricity today. While the electricity sector in the U.S. still operates as it has for the last several decades – with investor-owned utilities, municipalities, and rural electric cooperatives running the show – today’s utilities are still facing political, social, and economic environments like we have never seen before.
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HOTMA Expands Opportunities for Low-Income Families

hud-logoLow-income families have historically struggled to access low-poverty neighborhoods through federal housing programs. They have been challenged by a number of barriers, from transportation to discrimination, and have been left with no other alternative but to move into areas of concentrated poverty. But with HOTMA, there is hope.

H.R. 3700, the Housing and Opportunity through Modernization Act of 2015 (HOTMA), has unanimously passed both the House and the Senate. President Obama is expected to sign this bill that updates several components of the nation’s low-income housing programs. Among other changes, the bill boosts an effective tool to serve low-income families: project-based vouchers. Continue reading

Can WhatsApp be used for policy innovations in developing countries?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87244355@N00/376781013/

When I was traveling through the gorgeous and remote Kerala Backwaters in India last year, I met a bright teenage entrepreneur named Amit, from the local fishing village. He owns three canoes, which he uses as taxis to transport locals and tourists from village to village. This story is as old as time, except for one thing: it was 2015, and his business depended entirely on the popular messaging app WhatsApp.

Amit uses WhatsApp to coordinate with his employees (other young men from his village), who operate his canoes in the area. He also pushes messages about canoe rates and locations to a growing list of customers (he believes he can find enough customers to invest in more canoes). Even as I finished my canoe ride, Amit made sure that we were connected — just in case I had friends coming to the area. “Hey bro, make sure you add me on WhatsApp.” Always hustling.

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A Rising Power in Decline?

On October 19th, China announced its weakest quarterly growth rate since the financial crisis: 6.9%. For the past few years, China’s economic slowdown has been making headlines and raising questions about what role China will play in the global economy when it shifts away from being an export economy. Will China still become the new “economic superpower?” If so, what does that even mean?

China’s “slowdown” is relative, and its growth rate is still consistently two to three times that of the United States. According to a Pew Research Center survey, most people worldwide believe that China either will replace or has already replaced the United States as the world’s economic superpower. Indeed, America and China are already roughly tied in terms of their shares of world GDP, the US is at 16.14% while China is at 16.32%. Estimates as to when China may surpass the US in terms of GDP vary and are frequently revised, but one need not look into the future to find examples of how China conducts itself like a superpower.

China’s steadily decreasing domestic demand for commodities has led to a global drop in commodity prices. Negative effects of this are exacerbated in regions like South America and Africa, where China has invested heavily for the opportunity to access cheap minerals and agricultural products. Critics say that Chinese investment has incentivized many developing nations to specialize in commodities so they can meet China’s demand, and some developing countries have done this at the expense of diversifying their economies to protect themselves from commodity price drops like this one.

China bankrolls massive infrastructure projects worldwide to enable it to cheaply transport commodities across continents, further influencing how developing economies are structured. Its downturn has not stopped this. This year, for example, construction began in South America on a transcontinental rail line across the Amazon and, as recently as October 16, production started on an $11B port in Tanzania that some expect will be East Africa’s largest. China’s push to generate support for its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has also not lost momentum as it builds ties abroad.

However, this summer’s flailing stock market and the Chinese government’s ham-handed interventions to try and control that market provide us with an example of how China may fall short as a traditional economic superpower. China’s reactions to fluctuations in the stock market ranged from banning selling, requiring buying, and devaluing the yuan to its lowest rate in years. Such economic tinkering is characteristic of the Chinese government, and does not amuse investors. For this reason, it is unlikely that the yuan will soon be as trustworthy a reserve currency as the dollar, regardless of the size of either economy.

One thing is clear; if (when) China’s economy outstrips the United States’, it will be a very different sort of economic superpower. If past behavior is any indication, it is likely that China will focus its diplomatic influence on trade advantage, and that it will micromanage its currency in a way that diminishes demand for it and empowers other currencies. Whether it will be able to achieve its goal of building a global import network as its growth declines will depend on how great this slowdown proves to be.