Policy Ideas to Share the Fruits of Economic Growth

Labor activists in march in Lansing, Michigan

In a new essay, “The New Challenge to Market Democracies,” Senior Fellow William Galston argues that “the centrality of economic well-being in our politics reflects long-held assumptions about the purposes of our politics. If economic growth and well-being are in jeopardy, so are our political arrangements.”

Galston, the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in Governance Studies, makes the case that economic growth and well-being are indeed in jeopardy for a variety of reasons, including: wage growth that has just kept up with inflation; family and household incomes that remain below their pre-Great Recession peak; the share of national income going to wages and salaries is as low as it’s been in nearly 50 years; and a difficult jobs situation in which workers are getting paid less, the number of people working part-time who want full-time work remains high, and few new jobs offer middle range incomes. “These trends,” Galston writes, “bode ill for the future of the middle class; many parents now doubt that their children will enjoy the same opportunities that they did.”

Galston offers three broad policy prescriptions related to employment and tax reform:

  1. “We should adopt full employment as a high-priority goal of economic policy and welcome the wage increases that it would generate.”
  2. “We should use the tax code to restore the relationship between wage increases and productivity gains.”
  3. “We should adopt a strong presumption against provisions of the tax code that treat some sources of income more favorably than wages and salaries,” which includes scrapping tax expenditures that “disproportionately benefit upper-income investors.”

Calling economic growth a “moral enterprise” as well as a material goal, Galston—acknowledging economist Benjamin Friedman—concludes that:

the central question the United States now faces is whether the next generation will again achieve broadly shared prosperity or rather experience the stagnation of living standards. Broad prosperity is both the oil that lubricates the machinery of government and the glue that binds our society together. Economic stagnation means a continuation of gridlocked, zero-sum politics and a turn away from the spirit of generosity that only a people confident of its future can sustain.

Read “The New Challenge to Market Democracies.”