Oren Cass' vision for the renewal of work in america

Updated: Aug 24

Those of you who know me, know I talk a lot about 'facts and data', and my curiosity for new ideas regardless of source. It may shock many of you that some of the freshest and most intriguing ideas I've heard recently come from a (gasp) Republican, who was (double gasp) a senior advisor to Mitt Romney's 2012 Presidential campaign. I was introduced to Oren Cass through his interview last week on Ezra Klein's podcast, which I highly recommend.

One reason Cass appeals to me is that he has given deep thought to the core assumptions of what's wrong with our economy. A key principal of successful problem solving is correctly stating the problem. It is here that Cass shakes things up. Here is the summary from Amazon's website of his book on this subject:

"Cass’s argument can be stated simply: work matters. The implications of this idea yield a groundbreaking reevaluation of American society, economics, and public policy that challenges our basic assumptions about what prosperity means and whence it comes. American policy makers have focused exclusively on consumption, pursuing an agenda that guaranteed everyone more and cheaper and better stuff without concern for who would make it. But more important than the size of our televisions is the ability to support our families and contribute productively to our communities. When people lose those things, ultra-high-definition flat-screens are no substitute.

"The traditional emphasis on economic growth is important, Cass agrees, but whose growth matters. America must turn its attention to its long-neglected workers and pursue public policies that recognize and reinforce their vital role as the foundation of a thriving, self-sufficient society that offers opportunity for all."

In his interview with Ezra Klein, he emphasizes a number of key points:

  • Conservatives often blame 'bad culture' for social dysfunction in minority communities, but Cass argues that evidence since the Great Recession demonstrates that so-called culture issues such as a high percentage of out-of-wedlock births, high incarceration rates, drug abuse and single-parent homes are are deeply correlated to lack of economic opportunity. Non-minority communities who have suffered from the collapse of economic opportunity show the same symptoms.

  • Cass argues forcefully that we need to change our focus from 'consumer-oriented' to 'production-oriented'. He emphasizes the importance of people feeling like they are contributing to society, like they are doing something worthwhile in exchange for their needs and wants.

  • Cass focuses on the family as the bedrock of society. He believes an important goal for a functioning society is for a young family to be able to support itself on one income, so that one of the parents can provide full time care for young children if they desire. (Note this isn't necessarily mom. My grandson had this wonderful band teacher as a 7th grader, but Mr. Marshall took a break from teaching to care for their newborn infant so his wife, a medical doctor, could continue her practice.)

  • He believes the GOP needs to lose their obsession with low tax rates and their near-religious veneration of markets. He believes these need to be replaced with clear social goals around a vision that puts working families first.

This re-evaluation of society's goals lead Cass to support of labor unions and a national industrial policy, things which are typically anathema to GOP orthodoxy.

Oren Cass' stated goal is to chart a new course for the Republican Party post-Trump, an alternative to just going back to 'pre-Trump' that's more appropriate for the 21st Century. I wish him well. But I'm not opposed to a little plagiarism. There are insights here worth pondering for us donkeys.


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