From LeverNews.com — Lever Time is the flagship podcast from the investigative news outlet The Lever. Hosted by award-winning journalist, Oscar-nominated writer, and Bernie Sanders' 2020 speechwriter David Sirota, Lever Time features exclusive reporting from The Lever’s newsroom, high-profile guest interviews, and expert analysis from the sharpest minds in media and politics.
[00:00:00] Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Lever Time. I'm David Sirota. On today's show, we're going to be talking about pro labor conservatism. Is that an oxymoron? We're going to discuss it with a longtime Republican policy wonk who's been championing a so called realignment on the right, Oren Cass, a former Mitt Romney advisor.
believes that the Republican Party should adopt populist economic policies that actually empower the working class and organized labor, rather than what the Republicans have historically done, which is crush them into dust. I'm a bit skeptical that the Republican Party is going to be a party of working class economic interests, but I thought it would be interesting to hash it out with Oren.
That's coming up in a few minutes
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All right, we're going to get right into our big interview today with Oren Kass. Over the past two decades, Oren Kass has made a name for himself as someone who thinks very seriously about economics. By his mid 20s, he was already advising the Republican presidential [00:02:00] nominee, Mitt Romney, during his 2008 presidential bid.
But today, he's now known as the guy who wants to change the Republican Party's views. On economic policy most glaringly, he argues that Republicans should be empowering labor unions rather than opposing them. Yep. You heard that right? I was also shocked when I first read about some of Oren's policy ideas, so I invited him on the podcast so I could find out for myself.
There were a ton of things that we definitely did not agree on in our conversation, but there were some fundamental values that we seemed to both share, ones that centered on strengthening the working class and supporting families. And by and large, we both agreed that the current system definitely is not working.
In today's interview, Oren and I discussed everything from what he thinks the Republican Party is currently getting wrong about economics. To his vision for conservative policies on labor, social programs, and climate change. [00:03:00] It was an interesting, and at times, frustrating conversation.
And at sometimes, it was contentious. But I think this could be instructive on how the left and right can think about approaching these issues in new ways. Just because I happen to disagree with Oren on a lot of what he thinks, if someone like him can help empower labor unions and workers in America, I think that's a good thing.
Hey, Oren, how you doing?
Very well, how are you?
I'm good. I'm good. I've been interested, uh, to watch your work in the era of an alleged, and I want to underscore, alleged political realignment. you are somebody who's been described as a person who wants to change the way conservatives think about economic policies. So let's start there.
What do you believe Republicans, conservatives, et cetera, et cetera, what do you believe they are getting wrong, uh, about? [00:04:00] Economic policy and what kind of suggestions are you making about some kind of course correction?
Well, I think fundamentally, and even as in the question, you see, are we talking about conservatives? Are we talking about Republicans? You know, what's happened on the right of center in America is that economic policy was essentially taken over by libertarians. and, you know, there's a whole fascinating history of sort of the Reagan coalition and what's called fusionism.
But, essentially what happened is you combined the sort of free market zealots like Milton Friedman and, and, you know, Friedrich Hayek on the economic side with social conservatives and cold war hawks, and you called it the Republican Party. And so, whatever Friedman, whatever Friedman and Hayek said kind of became, quote, conservative.
And if you ask a man on the street, what is conservative economic policy, they'd say, oh, it's. free markets, tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, [00:05:00] you know, maybe union busting, right? Like that's, that's purportedly the package. importantly, I think it's, it's not especially conservative. I mean, there might be a time when a tax cut is a, an appropriate policy, but I'd say the Republican Party fell into what I would call a market fundamentalism that just instinctively assumed that the market was going to deliver the best outcome, and importantly and related to that, assumed that the outcome we were looking for was just consumer welfare.
Um, and you know, this is, this is not just the right of center, this is sort of the economics profession broadly, you know, the goal is to maximize efficiency and how much stuff you can consume, ideally while doing as little work as possible. Uh, and again, someone should hear that and say like, well, gosh, like that doesn't sound very conservative.
Right? There, there are probably a lot of other values too. And so my view is that in, in a sense we got exactly what we thought we [00:06:00] wanted. I think economic policy has. very effectively promoted efficiency and maximizing consumption of cheap stuff. Uh, I think the problem is that, you know, really across the political spectrum, there was a misunderstanding of what people wanted and what they need to flourish individually and families and communities and ultimately for the health of the nation.
And so, you know, I think conservatism properly understood can offer a tremendous amount as a corrective there and that its absence has been part of the problem. And so that that's what I want to bring back.
So let's talk about some specifics because there's progressivism liberalism leftism And I think people who are listening to this have ideas about what that means to them but when you talk about the the difference between A conservative economic vision [00:07:00] or the vision that you have as a conservative economic vision and the economic vision of libertarianism, which has come to, I guess, in policymaking has come to kind of be in some ways when it comes to something like regulation, tax cuts and the like the labor market, the conservatism and libertarianism seem almost synonymous.
I guess the question is, What are some conservative policy prescriptions, conservative policy visions, on some specific issues that are conservative as you define it, but, but differ from a, of a more conventionally libertarian outlook?
Sure, I, I think you have to talk in terms of means and ends, um, which I guess sort of goes to your point about prescription and vision, and, you know, it may be easier to start just for a moment on the ends, you know, I think conservatives focus when, when they think about human flourishing or, you know, what, what is the [00:08:00] point of it all in a sense?
Um, I, I think there's a, a very important focus on things like, The strength of families and communities, the ability of people to sort of build the lives they want. you know, certainly pursue their personal aspirations, but also have an understandable set of obligations that they are able to fulfill, uh, and and in a sense to then raise, raise Children able to do the same.
you know, markets, markets can help that and facilitate that in some ways, but markets can also be at war with that in very important ways. And so I think when you when you get to the means side of it, Yeah. Where I think conservatism really needs to break away from, from libertarianism or, or market fundamentalism is to say, you know, look, capitalism, at least in my perspective, capitalism is, is great.
I don't, I don't think we've found a better system. Then markets for organizing economic activity, but we have to understand that [00:09:00] markets don't of their own accord Necessarily lead to those ends. We care about that. We need to actually constrain and channel the energy of markets Toward the outcomes that we want to prioritize and so You know, we think, broadly speaking, in, in two categories, there's sort of the big macroeconomic issues where, where I would focus on what I call productive markets.
How, which, which by implication notes that markets are not necessarily productive. How do you actually make it so that everybody competing to earn a profit also actually serves the common good. And so for instance, we're very skeptical of globalization. I think there's, there are plenty of types of trade that can benefit both parties, but this sort of automatic unthinking free trade actually can be a disaster for a nation and certainly for workers and their families in particular.
And to be clear, let me just jump in and say that when you, when your point about Republicans and conservatives, [00:10:00] or in another case, Democrats, progressives, liberals, that when it comes to an issue like trade, those labels mean almost nothing, or at least very little in the sense that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party up until just a few years ago, the, the center of those parties certainly almost uniformly pro quote unquote free trade, I put, I put quotes around free trade because free trade deals include all sorts of, uh, protections for corporate profits, IP patents, and you can debate whether those are good or bad.
But the point is, is that it's not exactly free trade, but the point is, is that on trade, both political parties and really both. Liberals, self identified liberals and self identified conservatives have really promoted a kind of uniformly, uh, let the market do whatever it wants, just, just deregulate trade.
It's just a point where those labels, Republicans, conservatives, Democrats, [00:11:00] liberals, they don't really mean much of anything. And I completely agree with you, uh, that that's a specific issue. where, uh, there does need to be a, a different vision, a new vision. And I have actually been encouraged by Republicans, uh, and self identified conservatives, uh, being willing to have that conversation, but let's talk about it when it comes to, to, to an issue like, uh, labor unions.
I mean, conservatives and the Republican party, uh, for the last really many decades have not. really been known as friends of the labor movement. Do you think that should change? I mean, it has been different in the past. I mean, you know, 50 years ago, there were labor Republicans. Does that need to change?
And how can that change?
So I do think it needs to change, but before we dive in on labor, I want to, to your point about 50 years ago, I, it's just important to point out on trade also that, you know, the Republican Party used to be the party of tariffs. I mean, the idea that conservatives were going to be free [00:12:00] traders. Is, is a function of the post World War II era, certainly, but more from a foreign policy perspective, and then the, the Reagan era from, from an economic perspective, and, and actually the American tradition and the Republican Party tradition was to be extraordinarily protectionist, um, and, and so I think, you know, to your point, like what these labels mean today is not always a great indication of much of um, so, you know, on, on the labor side, I think, What interests me so much about labor is that conceptually, it strikes me as a very intuitively conservative premise.
I mean, if you think about, you know, the key things that a robust labor movement can deliver. One is it, maybe most importantly, can deliver, um, fair distributions of economic gains within the market. I mean, that's, that's exactly what someone who, who, who supports capitalism and markets should want to see.
Because the alternative is government. [00:13:00] And so, you know, the idea of labor, and I think sometimes it's helpful to talk abstractly in terms of kind of worker power, is something conservatives should love. They should love it in the marketplace as sort of a vital element of capitalism. Um, they should love it in the workplace as sort of a feature of workplace democracy.
I mean, the question of sort of who governs the workplace is a fascinating philosophical one. The practical reality is that, again, you're choosing, it's either going to be government, doing it through regulation, or you're going to have to give workers some way to defend and advance their own interests.
And, and then thirdly, and this is where I think a lot of Historical support for, for labor from the conservative side had come from, it's just a vital institution of civil society. Um, you know, I think conservatives rightly lament the, the various declines in, you know, mediating institutions and, and so forth.
I think it's unfortunate that, you know, People don't go [00:14:00] to church as much anymore, but I'm pretty sure there's not a lot you can do about that legislatively. Um, the labor union is also a critical feature, especially for working class, especially for family and community stability. And you should want that to be robust.
You shouldn't be, you know, we shouldn't be celebrating its decline. And so I think at that level, when you're talking about A labor movement or worker power as sort of a feature of a society or an economy, it strikes me as something conservative should, should be deeply committed to and sort of a lever they should be, be pulling on hard.
I think a huge amount of the problem is that labor unions, as they operate today in the United States, I think are dysfunctional in a whole bunch of ways we could um, and, and politically essentially operate as. Part of the Democratic Party. And so, you know, for Republicans or conservatives, there are real challenges [00:15:00] in figuring out, let's say, I want to see a stronger labor movement and more worker power.
What are the ways to do that, that I think actually further the, my broader vision for, for a healthy
Well, I, look, I actually agree with you that the labor movement has been, in my view, In many cases, not all cases, but in many cases, uh, a political arm of the Democratic Party in ways that do not fortify the labor movement as an independent political force on both parties. But there's a question that comes up about that, which is that if the labor movement.
is too close to the Democratic Party. How much of that is because the labor movement has not found real allies in the Republican Party, in a Republican Party dominated by a libertarian free [00:16:00] market fundamentalist anti organized labor ideology. So I think there's like a chicken or the egg question here.
And so from, from that, I would, I would also ask what is a conservative view, a conservative set of ways to strengthen the labor movement, within a conservative vision and one that differs from a more progressive or lefty vision.
So, I totally agree with, with your chicken and egg, um, point and, and I think, you know, if you sort of extend that to note that however it started, it has sort of led to a vicious cycle. It's, it's not clear how you sort of intervene and escape that. And I think, um, you know, you, you see that it's very interesting to see some of the fledgling efforts from a, you know, a JD Vance or a Josh Hawley.
Um, to, to try to support, you know, the UAW strike, let's say. Um, and you say, like, well, is there some way that that's going to interrupt the cycle, or is the reaction from the union is [00:17:00] going to be, sure, but we're never going to, sure, but we're never going to support you anyway. Um, and I you know, for me, it's not necessarily where this started, but if we're going to get out of it.
A, a core element has to be finding a way to, to in effect, um, separate or unbundle the, the economic and the political functions of unions and, and to some extent you can't do that, right? I mean, union organizing labor is an inherently political activity and there are obviously core. policy concerns that a worker organization is going to have and want to be advancing.
You know, at the same time, if you look at the policy agendas of the AFL CIO or the SEIU today, it's just a grab bag of progressive Priorities, you know, many of you know, including social priorities, things, things that have nothing to do with labor in a lot of cases, uh, and importantly, don't align with actually forget the interests, the, the views [00:18:00] and preferences of a lot of union members.
Um, and so, you know, we've done a lot of surveying of American workers at American Compass, and this was admittedly our hypothesis going in, but, but the results came back much more strongly than I expected. The thing that, that workers and potential union members most dislike about unions is the political activity.
I mean, by large margins, they say they would prefer an organization that was only focused on workplace issues and not national political issues. If you ask people opposed, why they're opposed, the number one reason is union politics, above dues, above corruption, above anything else. Um, in our most recent survey, it was fascinating, it was both.
Among those who would support a union, political activity was the least important reason. Among those who would oppose it, political activity was the most important. And that was true for both Democrats and Republicans. So it wasn't even a partisan sort of, well, I don't like, [00:19:00] you know, I want my side to win.
It was, why is this what unions are doing? And I think in, you know, is there a realignment going on, fair question, I think certainly one thing that is happening is that the partisan political views of the working class line up less well than ever with the progressive priorities of the Democratic Party.
And well, I think I would probably put immigration first. Um, I think, and you know, that's one of the fascinating places where the rubber meets the road on worker power. Um, I don't know how you square, uh, progressive approach to immigration generally with the interests of, you know, Of workers who are here legally in the country.
Um, I think certainly the climate agenda has been another big one. Um, I think, you know, if you look at the sort of Biden administration's emphasis on, um, you know, student loan debt forgiveness. [00:20:00] Uh, if you look at their approach to something um, converting the child tax credit into a child allowance.
You know, we find especially strongly among working class Americans who I would just define a sort of moderate income, no college degree. The idea of sort of cash benefits regardless of whether or not you're working are, are very strongly opposed. And so, what you have is sort of a, a, I would argue core of a progressive agenda.
And this is before you get into the social issues, you know, um, particularly folks without college degrees generally tend to just be much less progressive than the Democratic
But I, but I would, I would, I would ask you, um, On those issues, let's use student debt. Uh, let's use cash assistance. I would ask you, how much of those views have to do with how they have been for 30, 40, 50 years? Ideas like that, core concepts like that. How much does that [00:21:00] opposition, some of that working class opposition, have to do With the way those ideas have been demonized by the libertarian right and, and before you answer that question, the reason I'm asking is, is because it would seem to me that a worker empowering agenda, part of that would be to say to workers, hey, listen, there are some really basic universal Uh, sets of safety nets that exist here to de stress, uh, to make more secure, uh, your economic survival in, uh, the labor market.
Now, whenever these are brought up now, like using the Use the American rescue plan or the child tax credit. They are demonized as just a handout when in fact in other countries, and I'm not saying we should be other countries, but in [00:22:00] other industrialized countries, things like that. Serve as a way to empower workers.
Let me give you one example, empowering workers to leave jobs that aren't that great. Right now in America, because there is such a tattered social safety net, a lot of people feel locked into their jobs because their jobs are where they get health care, retirement benefits. beyond just, uh, the subsistence wage to live.
So I come back to the question of you name those things. And we can talk, I want to talk about immigration, but you name those social safety net issues, uh, as a place where labor, differs, uh, from the, uh, public opinion views of the working class. How much do you have, can we blame conservatives or, or libert, the libertarian Republicans for, For sort of demonizing those things in a way that is not really helpful to workers,
I guess, I'm not sure which of the issues that we were, that I mentioned
[00:23:00] like you, like you just said, like, like cash assistance, uh, to, to workers or the, the child tax credit, expanding it, uh, to be some sort of, uh, uh, support, for instance, economics, financial support, uh, to parents bringing up kids, student, student,
Ah, no, no, I, yeah, yeah,
so, right, well, so taking the child tax credit as an example, I think this is what's so important to emphasize. The child tax credit as a benefit to workers who have earnings has been a bipartisan priority for a long time. What, and there remain a number of Republicans who are proposing substantial expansions of it in various ways.
What the Biden administration did was different, was say, no, no, you should also receive it even if no one in the household is working. Now, it's interesting that the Biden administration wasn't actually willing to stand behind that politically. They were only willing to talk about it as a program for working families.
Every single example on the White House website of who was going to benefit [00:24:00] from this. was a working family. And if it had actually been a benefit for working families, they could have actually built something with bipartisan support. But the progressive commitment, which is not shared by working Americans, is to make it a program for everybody, regardless of whether or not you're working.
And so that's, where the tension
Right, and that's the question I want to ask, which is, it seems to me libertarian free market conservatism has demonized the idea, uh, has done a very effective job of demonizing the idea of universal benefits and of also sort of uh, uh, Not only trying to tie every benefit to an income level means testing, uh, and to work, but to sort of prey on this idea that by creating universal, uh, standards, by creating, I, I hate the term, you know, quote unquote entitlements, that, that it somehow harms our national character because there are a bunch of [00:25:00] lazy people who don't deserve to be helped, uh, who would get help.
But when we look across the world, Other countries that have These kinds of things, they're not perfect, but they report much higher levels of happiness, much higher levels in many cases of life expectancy and the like. So I go back to why are we still rooted in a politics of that scarcity? How do we break that? Should we break that? What's your answer to that?
Why? I mean, in a sense, this would become ultimately a universal basic income debate.
Or, or at least subsistence, some sort of subsistence, sure.
Well, why not just a universal basic income, right? This, this is the problem. I, would you say that worker, American workers are, are rational to oppose a universal basic income? Or is that just a, a false consciousness imposed by the libertarians?
listen, listen, I, I, look, I'm not saying the American working class is, is, is stupid. I'm not, I'm not saying that. I'm saying I think we as a whole society live in one of the most highly [00:26:00] propagandized society in, in the history of humanity. Uh, and there are these tropes that have been Baked into American culture, uh, mostly, or at least on, on these sets of issues in part from the right.
And, and I guess what I'm asking is in a country where so few control so much wealth and so, so many have so little wealth and, and in many cases are living in such precarity, how do we get back to A politics, whether it's Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, that says one of the ways to empower workers and families is to provide that basic some sort of much more robust safety net, universal safety net, because I feel like that's that's ultimately What the economic argument always comes down to, and the right has done a really good job of essentially arguing that an expansion of the social safety net will [00:27:00] somehow coddle a nation of lazy people and takers.
To me, that trope, and you can extrapolate it out to specific policies, that kind of outlook is, is what makes it hard. to actually make progress to empower workers. Now, I'd want to hear your response to that.
Well, like I said, so do you support a universal basic income?
think there are merits to it. I think there have been examples of it where it has succeeded. Do I want that as a national policy? I mean, that's up for debate. But you're the one who is pushing for a different kind of conservative politics. And so I'm asking you, which is, The social safety net question.
Do we need to get beyond? a politics where every time there's a social safety net discussion, the politics revolves around the vision of we can't coddle a bunch of lazy takers. [00:28:00] How do we, should we get beyond that? Is that the frame that we should look at these issues in, or is there a different kind of frame we should look at it, whether from a, from a Republican perspective or a conservative perspective?
Well, I mean, I, I'm happy to, to talk for hours about how I would structure the, the social safety net. I think among other things, It's important to distinguish the safety net from essentially social insurance, right? I think one problem on the left is that these things are conflated and and all viewed as sort of welfare benefits at the end of the day, whereas I think most Americans rightly see an enormous distinction between Social insurance programs that, in effect, they pay into as contributing members of society and, and receive, receive benefit from in return, as opposed to an, an unconditional safety net that says, look, there are certain minimums, we are not going to allow anybody to, to fall below regardless of, of, [00:29:00] you know, desserts and so forth.
And so, you know, it seems to me there's, there's a perfectly rational. way to structure that a way that I think working Americans are generally sort of quite, quite open to and, and, and in fact drive the thinking behind. But but the reason I keep coming back to this universal basic income question is because I can answer the question.
I think universal basic income is a terrible idea and I think workers are. Quite rightly, um, extremely skeptical of it, not because of propaganda or tropes, but for very good reasons. You seem to be suggesting that we have some sort of, kind of, false consciousness problem that's leading to opposition to it, but you also
No, I'll, but I, But I also, I also would say this talking about universal basic income in absence of a, of a discussion about the contextualizing social safety net. As an example, let's use health care. If we're not [00:30:00] going to solve America's health care problem, which among many other problems, wildly disempowers workers, right?
If, if we have an employer based healthcare system where if somebody leaves their job, they lose their healthcare. If, if that's the system we're gonna, gonna live with and say that that's fine on top of people getting ripped off by, by higher and higher insurance premiums and the like, then the question becomes, well, okay, if we're going to accept that.
How do we mitigate against that? That's why I'm, mean, I don't want to stipulate that, but I would turn the question around again, whether universal basic income or, or something else, let's use that example of healthcare. How do you reform the healthcare system in a way that empowers workers? In a system where millions and millions of Americans will have to rely [00:31:00] on their employer and their specific employment situation for health care.
Right, so I, I think, I think healthcare is, is a great illustration of obviously a totally broken system, um, and one where I would love to see, um, labor potentially play a much more constructive role. So, you know, I think employer based coverage is, is not a good model. Um, you know, one thing we spend a lot of time looking at it in at American Compass is what in Europe is called the Gantt system, which is basically the premise that your union is where you get a variety of benefits from, you know, there are countries where most people get their unemployment insurance benefits from a union.
obviously other services and training and so forth sensibly come from a union. I think in a, in a world of, widely differing employment relationships and so on and so forth. Having a worker based organization that is actually the provider of somebody's benefits, that is run of, by, and for [00:32:00] workers, would be a far better system than the one we have.
So, I mean, it's kind of like, it's kind of like a, for instance, I mean, it just comes to my mind, like. The WGA in Hollywood, not to say that they're, they're perfect or whatever, but that, that essentially on healthcare is the basic model is that if you are a WGA member now, granted there are qualifications and you have to sort of earn your way into it and et cetera, et cetera.
But. That means your health care, if you are a member, is separate from the studios, or whoever else is employing you to write scripts. I mean, is that what we're talking about?
Yeah, that's exactly right. And, and the, the challenge in, in moving in that direction is in a sense the way that unions are set up today, generally speaking. I mean, there are some interesting exceptions, in what I would say sort of non standard industries. You know, entertainment is one. The, the building trades in a very different context.
Um, has, has a very different union structure. But by [00:33:00] and large in this country, under the National Labor Relations Act. A union is something that gets organized facility by facility, company by company. You gotta have a vote. And if 50 percent plus one say yes, now you're in a union. And if 49 percent say yes, you're not in a union.
You as an individual don't actually have much say in the matter. you know, the, the European context, the, the fascinating thing, I, I always remind people Europe is essentially, quote, right to work. I mean, it, it doesn't mean the same thing it does in, in the U. S., but, but unions are much closer to civil society organizations that you join because they provide benefits to you.
And the bargaining relationship then is structured very differently. And so that, that sort of thing I think makes much more sense than what we have today. And, and those are the sorts of things we are trying to push conservatives to think about is say, unions don't have to look the way they do right now.
Let's think about the things we actually do want. We do want workers to [00:34:00] have power. Um, we do also want them to have, you know, choice and flexibility. We don't want to be forcing them into organizations that are going to be doing all sorts of political activity that is not relevant to what the workers care about.
And then these would also be ideal sites of Things like benefits, of things like training, this is, it is a much healthier potential system to move toward. and, and so that, you know, to your original question of, of, so what does this look like on the conservative side, you know, those are exactly the sorts of things that, that, that we want to see, the right of center focused on instead of just kind of cheering the demise of the dysfunctional system that we have today.
Let's talk about parents for a second, because I just read a really interesting article of things that we all kind of inherently know, The premise of the article was America, policy wise, does not treat parents all that well. We lack, uh, with the only industrialized country, or one of the only industrialized countries, uh, to lack, uh, really [00:35:00] robust family and medical leave protections as national policy.
we've talked about, uh, uh, health care, uh, when it comes to employer based health care. What do you think, from a conservative perspective, can be done to make parenting easier now. Now I should, I should say as a parent, parenting is always going to be hard, right? When you decide to have children. I mean, it's a, it's a difficult thing, but clearly we're making different decisions policy wise as a country that than many other countries are making.
What can we do to make? Parenting, uh, the raising of the next generation, more economically, uh, viable and easier.
Well, I think the most important thing we can do is have an economy in which The jobs are family supporting ones where, where a single income is going to be sufficient to actually support a family, which in turn creates the kind of flexibility families need and also creates general choice for a family in the way they [00:36:00] want to balance work in the home and work in the labor market.
And so, you know, that obviously then in turn implicates all economic policy. How, how did we get into a world where? such a high share of the jobs our economy creates, fail that test. and, you know, this connects back to the labor conversation. This connects, I would argue, back to the trade and immigration discussions.
This, this sort of, you can go anywhere from there in, in economic terms. Um, but, but I also think that, and, and this goes to sort of the child tax credit discussion, certainly given where we are today. we should be creating a program that, uh, looks in a lot of ways like social security. That, that provides resources to parents at this moment in time when they, you know, is a biological reality that you're going to be having kids at a point in your life when you have not necessarily had much opportunity to save.
It is going to reduce your earnings potential at the exact moment it raises your costs.[00:37:00] And so essentially having a, a social insurance program that, that brings resources to those parents while they are in those years raising kids with an understanding that you're also going to have to pay for it, in a sense, later in life, I think would be an incredibly constructive, um, addition to just the social insurance program.
To the nation. Um, now where I think it runs into the most trouble, and, and this is where we were, were just talking about, uh, a few minutes ago, is are we going to understand this like social security as a social insurance program for working families, or are we gonna sell it as an anti-poverty measure that just mails checks to everybody.
And the left has said, we, we, we are only interested in doing the, the latter. Uh, there are a lot of Republicans now who have very serious proposals to do the former. but if we're going to make progress, I think we have to be willing to distinguish what is the anti poverty safety net [00:38:00] from what is the sort of social insurance program we might want to build for working families.
Look, I, uh, just my own view on that is I, I'm not a perfect, should be the enemy of the good. I think anything, whether it's a social insurance program, whether it is a universal program, anything, Uh, on those scores is better than what we have, and I have been encouraged to see at least some Republican policymakers starting to talk about some kind of social insurance on these on these issues.
I mean, right now, it's basically the it's the Wild West, if you will, and I don't think that serves. Anyone really well, other than maybe employers, right? Bosses, I guess it serves them well, which to be honest, I think that's fundamentally, if I could describe one, one, one way that the Republican party pre Trump has been, it's been a party that, that kind of aligns itself.
With the boss. I mean, your old boss, I think it was Mike Huckabee, your old boss, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, I think [00:39:00] described Mitt Romney as a guy who looks like the guy who laid you off. Now that was a kind of a funny joke that related to private equity and the like, but I do think the Republican Party pre Trump has been known as kind of a party, has been seen as a party of the boss.
and I, I have been encouraged to see at least a few Republicans starting to talk with regard, uh, not just to the boss, but but to the employees. Now, I want to turn to to climate change. because I think this is also hugely important. We know the science tells us that continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels is moving us down a path towards an unlivable ecosystem.
That's a known thing. I mean, unless you want to challenge that. But basically, that is the science
I, I would challenge that. I've, I've never seen a, a credible scientific report saying that, that the world would be unlivable.
parts of the environment, parts of the, uh, of the country, [00:40:00] parts of, I mean, the American Southwest, as an example,
Parts of the American Southwest are unlivable today.
for sure, for sure, but it could become even, it could become even more unlivable, more difficult in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, I guess the question is. Considering, uh, that the fossil fuel industry has been so close to the Republican Party, uh, considering the, the legitimate questions about costs of energy for, uh, the working class, really for everybody, what are your thoughts on what conservatives should be doing when it comes to climate?
And, and, and I'm hoping that it's, it's not just, you know, denied that climate change is happening.
Well, no, I certainly think climate change is happening. I think it's a problem, and I think conservatives need to have policies to address it. You know, I challenged your initial assertion about heading toward an unlivable ecosystem because I think the way that progressives try to sort of [00:41:00] catastrophize the matter as, you know, an uninhabitable earth and so on and so forth.
is, is not at all helpful, um, and, and, and doesn't really point us toward, toward very constructive solutions. you know, my view is that, that conservatives should be focused on, on two things. One is Uh, recognizing that it, it, it makes sense and is productive to shift over time away from, uh, from fossil fuels for a host of reasons, including conventional air pollution.
but that, you know, I think what we have to recognize, and especially if we want to address climate change, is that we only address climate change if, if we actually find energy technologies that are more economically attractive. than fossil fuels. The reality, just empirically, the developing world is not going to do what, you know, people in San Francisco seem willing to do, uh, in, in terms of [00:42:00] the, the trade offs associated with, with some of these low carbon technologies.
They are, they are going to develop. And if we want them to develop with with, with low carbon technologies, we need to have low carbon technologies that are actually better than fossil fuels. now, nuclear is one obvious example of that. I would love to see conservatives focus much more on nuclear, uh, not, not just as a gotcha to the environmental movement, though, though of course it is also fun as a gotcha to the environmental movement, but, but as something that has extraordinary technological, uh, potential to advance a, a wide range of, of conservative priorities.
Um, and so, you know, that's just one example. I think promoting and investing in innovation to try to find better than fossil fuel energy technologies, or technologies that allow you to use fossil fuels without, you know, without the emissions. Whatever you want to do, we should be promoting innovation as fast as we can.
That is very different than saying we should [00:43:00] just do what we can to reduce emissions in the United States at very high costs in ways that are not replicable in the developing world.
Well, I, I, look, I certainly agree with With you on investing in, well, actually, I would argue not just in innovation, but in, helping nascent, uh, industries, uh, that can, uh, make the transition in ways, uh, that allow them to challenge the supremacy of a heavily government subsidized fossil fuel industry.
And so I, I, as a, as a segue, I mean, the question, let's use the question about, you know, EV vehicles, they're not a panacea. They're not. They're not perfect. There's been a lot of conservative pushback or Republican pushback to the idea of the government, uh, either subsidizing or supporting, the, uh, EV industry, electric vehicle industry with tax rebates, et cetera, et cetera.
Uh, that is certainly an [00:44:00] intervention in the market. Uh, I think the proponents of that policy argue That this is the way to a, a, an automotive market, uh, or help accelerate the creation of an automotive market that has lower emissions. Uh, but the pushback to that is this is the government subsidizing sort of, uh, an industry that it shouldn't be subsidizing.
Now, of course, you know, you can go round and round. The government subsidizes the fossil fuel industry and the like. I guess the question that comes out of that is, do we need a Do we need to be subsidizing some nascent industries, whether it's the heat pumps or EVs and the like, do we need to have government market interventions to subsidize, to support some of these industries, in the name of transitioning, the energy infrastructure in a way that would help, uh, combat something like climate change.
yes, absolutely, I [00:45:00] think so. I think, you know, industrial policy. broadly for a range of reasons. And, and we can talk about all the different tools of industrial policy. Um, but that's one of the areas where I think conservatives have become most engaged in recognizing that, you know, the market is not going to, to generate the investment necessary and that, that we need for all sorts of reasons.
and, and I think energy technology is, is. Obviously fits into that rubric the challenge in my mind in the way that we have done subsidies with respect to climate change is that we've we've created open ended subsidies that don't actually. advance that goal of getting to, to cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives.
I mean, we are into what, the fourth or fifth decade of subsidizing wind and solar. you know, when you look at proposals for carbon taxes that are supposed to sort of keep ratcheting up, the, the market signal of that would be, you never have to get cheaper than fossil fuels. We, we are going to make it ever [00:46:00] easier for you to compete without being cheaper than fossil fuels.
And so the, the form that I think subsidies should take. are, are ones that are essentially time limited and, and predictably phasing down. So, you know, there's no point in subsidizing something before it's ready to come to market. I mean, paying people 7, 500, you know, that paying people who want to buy 100, 000 cars, 7, 500 to buy the car.
isn't, I think, accomplishing much of anything.
point where you have, at, and, look, that's where it started. I mean, even, even today, if you look at what we're doing with these 7, 500 subsidies, I have some serious questions. If you want to say, look, electric vehicles are at the point of scaling where within 10 to 15 years, they would, they would actually be price competitive, and, you know, sort of full cost of ownership competitive.
And so we are introducing a subsidy that, that starts right now, not, not at the full gap. We're not just going to make up the whole gap for you. [00:47:00] But we're, we're going to create an incentive because we believe spurring demand for the technology is important. And it's going to go down by this much every year for the next 10 years.
And at the end of the 10 years, it's gone. And we think this is the right time to, to throw that hat in the ring. By all means, and, and by the way, I, I think, I mean, going all the way to what George W. Bush did with, you know, ARPA E and so forth, you'd find conservatives who are absolutely ready to support that kind of policy.
What, what I think conservatives rightly reject is this sort of, I mean, at the extreme, the kind of Green New Deal type insanity. But this idea that, that starts from your question of sort of uninhabitable Earth to, well, we should therefore just kind of, you know, It just, it, it does not matter. We, we just have to throw everything at the wall and we have to start imposing costs on, on working families, on industries that bear no relationship to any actual [00:48:00] change in the trajectory of climate change and, and appear just to be the world's most expensive virtue signaling exercises.
Well, look, you and I can disagree on on how severe the crisis is. that's fine. We can continue to disagree on that. I do think that part of the reason people talk about, uh, the science of how fast things are changing, uh, is because it feels like nothing really serious on policy. has changed all that much, uh, and that as the crisis has gotten worse.
That's a, that's a separate discussion. But before we go, I want to, I, I, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about the questions of, race, diversity, immigration, identity politics. Now, I'm going to say something that, some may find a little bit controversial. I think that the Democratic Party and liberals obsession.
with identity [00:49:00] politics over the politics of economic class has been bad for the Democratic Party, bad for America, bad for, building a, uh, working class movement to create better economic policies. I do think racism is real. I do think racial privilege is real. But I think the obsession And the perceived obsession, lot of Americans perception of a Democratic Party that cares only about identity has become a hugely big problem for the Democratic Party and actually for our politics generally, because it seems like our politics are always focused on a culture war, not focused on the economic class war being waged against the working class of this country. but the question for, that I would have for you is, and I assume you agree with much of what I just said, the question that I have for you though is, is that a lot [00:50:00] of folks, uh, liberals, progressives, people on the left, will hear something like what I just said, will hear it from a conservative. We'll hear, uh, you say, um, we, I want a tougher border enforcement policy.
we'll see a conservative Republican governor get rid of the higher education systems office of, uh, DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion. We'll see that. And we'll presume that it is motivated not by everybody should be judged on their merits, not by a kind of New Deal universalism when it comes to, uh, an outlook about, uh, economics.
Although, of course, the New Deal was not perfect, uh, when it came to universalism. There was some racism baked in there, but generally speaking. But the people will hear that coming from a conservative, and will presume that it comes Out of a motivation of racism, like Donald Trump style racism. So I guess [00:51:00] the question for you is if conservatives are going to make the arguments for border security, against, um, this obsession with identity politics. What needs to happen to reassure people that it's not being motivated from a real nativist, racist, xenophobic, place that the Republican Party has at times, really embraced and demagogued.
I, I'm not, I'm not sure I'd say I, I find it a. Strange question and a strange sort of placing of the burden. I don't think people who think we should actually have a secure border and enforce our immigration laws are under any obligation to prove that they're not racist.
I'm not, I'm not saying that they're under any obligation to. What I'm saying is, what do you say to people who look at a Republican party headed by Donald Trump and hear, uh, talk about immigration, hear, uh, talk [00:52:00] about, uh, we shouldn't focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, DEI offices, who hear that and presume that it is coming from racial, xenophobic animists?
How much of a problem is that, is the, is the American rights, uh, dalliance? With white supremacy and racism, how much of a problem is it for, uh, righteous, uh, or at least earnest criticism of the obsession with identity politics?
I guess I'm not sure it's much of a problem at all. I mean, I think that, that the right and, and the left both have problems with. With the, the extremes at, at, at the edge of their coalition, and I think as you said, certainly also historically on the right of center, there have been, problems with, with race, with racism and so forth that to some extent I think are, are behind it, but, but certainly still sort of overshadow some things that, that folks [00:53:00] might want to talk about, and, and so I think that's an, an ongoing challenge Probably in any political coalition to, define oneself as, as separate from the, the worst elements of a coalition.
But I guess it's funny as I, I think about how you sort of framed the, the question, to your point at the start, it's, it's been a disaster for the Democratic Party to take this approach. I think a Republican Party and, and a, and a conservatism that. That in very good faith says campus DEI offices are a disaster and wildly unpopular.
I mean just, forget even DEI, take a look at the polling on, on affirmative action in university admissions. It, it's not, it's not even a divisive issue. It is a, it is a one sided issue. The same goes for border security. And if the Democratic Party wants to take the position that, well, if you're going to talk about these things, then you might be racist,
No, I don't think, I don't think the part, look, I don't think the party takes that official position. [00:54:00] But I also think that, you know, I can remember back in 20, uh, what was it, 2019, working for Bernie Sanders and there was a moment he was, uh, at an event and he was asked about, the economic challenges facing African Americans and I'm paraphrasing here, it was a long time ago and he, he happened to be focused on, it was sort of a, a Martin Luther King ish idea of like, he was pushing Medicare for all, which I know you don't agree with, But it was basically an economic argument that, uh, and he was basically booed and the insinuation was, is that he was a racist or not racially sensitive for not speaking to a specific community of color and the like.
Now, I go back to that and say, like, The obsession with identity politics, uh, over everything else is a huge problem, uh, for the Democrats. But I also think that this is, that the fear that the Republican Party's position on these issues, uh, is making common cause with a kind of really ugly, [00:55:00] uh, racist right.
I think those fears are also Uh, real, and I'd like to see us get to a politics where we can actually have discussions and policies, uh, about this stuff, uh, that are based on their merits rather than these, you know, one side's obsessed with, uh, identity politics. Uh, other people are afraid that the Republicans are just trying to make common cause with, with, with racists.
And I'm just curious from, you know, from a
But, but that was, I'm sorry, that was the same group. You just, you just said one side is obsessed with identity politics, and the others have a fear that, that the Republicans are
being racist. You just, you described the same group twice. This is exactly my point.
I bet that the right often obviously demagogues these issues. like what needs to happen to get over that? Because, both sides feelings there in some cases, you know, people who want.
a college admission policy and the like where people are judged on their merits, you know, I think it's hard to even have those [00:56:00] discussions, without it devolving into into this.
Into what? But again, you've described one side that has very rational positions on things like the need to
Donald Trump that, you know, downplay it pretends he, you know, he hasn't been a racist. He hasn't put xenophobia out there. I mean, that's the other side of it, right? Like the republicans sort of or some republicans. Comfort with making common cause with parts of, uh, the far right that is openly, uh, obviously, explicitly racist.
No, like I said, I think that's a problem in any political coalition. Where I think the rubber meets the road on this stuff, and where I at least see American politics headed, is that I think there's a, a increasingly large coalition of people who realize that putting the, putting the crazies to the side, there are very real issues here that need to be addressed.
I mean, once upon a time, Bernie Sanders was for a secure, secure border too. [00:57:00] and so, know, from my perspective, at the end of the day, and this is where, if there's going to be a realignment, It has such potential. I think there is a, a, a growing number of people who are not interested in the, well, these people are racist argument and are interested in the reality that we do need to secure the border and have fair university admissions policies.
or, or for that matter, don't even care nearly as much about university admissions policies as about fair policies in the workplace and so forth. And if. If the people talking about that stuff who are mostly on the right of center can combine that with an economic message that is responsive to what the typical American cares about, I think that's an extraordinarily appealing package to which accusations of, well, they're just racist.
Do not have any purchase and, and we will see if conservatives can get there, but [00:58:00] my view on how we break through this is exactly that conservatives can and should get there. And when they do Democrats saying or fomenting this fear that maybe it's maybe this is really racism. It's just going to fail and Democrats are
going to have to come up with better arguments.
I guess I would ask
positions, better positions would be good too.
yeah, but how much of a problem is, for instance, Donald Trump being the brand of, the, the, the name brand of conservatism?
Oh, I think Donald Trump poses, poses enormous brand problems in that respect. But when I look at what's going on in the Republican party, I see in the short run. Donald Trump creating, obviously, a lot of havoc. If I look to the medium run, one of the interesting things about Trump is that he doesn't have a lot of mini Trumps.
I mean, there are mini Trumps in, you know, in the Matt Gaetz or Marjorie Taylor Greene sense. But, you know, you could imagine a world where, you know, Donald Trump's vice president was ready to do Trumpism [00:59:00] for The next eight years, and, and you don't see that Trump there, there isn't really a, a Trumpism, there's Trump.
And if you look beyond Trump to what is coming next from the Republican party, you, I think you see it particularly in the, in the Senate, where you have this group of, of young, energetic, ambitious leaders, uh, Josh Hawley, JD Vance, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton. All of whom I think are very capable of bringing together exactly that coalition that I described and, and that's what they're working on.
and I think that's if, if a realignment is going to take shape, it's, it's going to be in, in, in that direction.
I don't know, man. I don't think Trump is, I mean, my view, I don't think Trump is a one off anomaly. I mean, I'm living in a state where the most prominent Republican is Lauren Boebert. Uh, you mentioned Matt Gaetz. I think that is ultimately the battle in the Republican Party, but I think, I think we can end Here by me saying, I think if there were more Republicans, if the Republican Party really [01:00:00] was the Republican Party of your vision, even of the people you just mentioned, if that was the Most Republicans in, for instance, in Washington, even with the current state of the Democratic Party as it is, I think there would be a lot more chance, uh, for progress.
Me and you, for instance, probably could find a lot more, uh, common ground than me and Lauren Boebert. me and, uh, Donald Trump in, in, in a lot of different ways. and I think That's why I've been interested in your work, because I think ultimately, no matter whether we disagree or not on specific things, that the Trump Republican Party, a Trump A Trump ist Republican party is a Republican party that I think, I'm not sure what kind of progress, uh, can come out of that.
Uh, Oren Cass is a, uh, commentator, a political advisor, he's now the executive director of the economic policy think tank American Compass. Oren, thanks for the discussion.
Oh, [01:01:00] thank you. This was great.
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get Lever Time Premium, you get to hear My interview with media strategist Jason Kint about Facebook and its parent company Meta, which is currently suing the Federal Trade Commission over the company's harvesting of data from children.
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The Lever Time Podcast [01:02:00] is a production of the Lever and the Lever Podcast Network. It's hosted by me, David Sirota. Our producer is Frank Capello with help from Lever producer, Jared Jacang Mayor.