Progressives of the World, Unite!

As the undesirable constraints in President Obama’s new budget highlight, austerity continues to reign even as the jobs crisis, anemic growth and rising inequality continue to plague American and European societies. Given the poor track record of austerity policies here, in the U.K. and across the Eurozone, the time is ripe for a progressive alternative that lays the foundation for full employment, sustainable growth, and political reforms that reduce inequality and strengthen the role of government in supporting a strong economy.

But none of this will be possible without significant shifts in political thinking that bring together rising progressive majorities in the U.S. and European nations to support a new politics of shared growth and opportunity. In Europe, this will require cooperation and strategic alliances across traditional social democratic, liberal, and green party lines, in concert with emerging social movements and other progressive issue campaigns –- a “Traffic-Light” politics that recognizes that progressives will achieve more working together than on their own.

The U.S. has a seen a version of this model succeed with the emerging coalition that helped to elect and re-elect President Obama. Typically, it’s progressives in the U.S. who learn from their European counterparts, but in this case the inverse is true. American progressives have led the charge to unite disparate forces of the left into a stable (if still tenuous) political coalition capable of delivering significant change over time.

Today and tomorrow, in Copenhagen, Denmark, progressive leaders from North America and Europe are meeting to develop a viable economic alternative to austerity and to advance new political strategies for achieving these goals. The conference — organized by the Global Progress Initiative of the Center for American Progress and the international think tank Policy Network — is hosted by the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and brings together some 160 politicians, thinkers and political strategists including Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Leaders of the British Labour Party, Ed Miliband, and the Dutch Labour Party, Deiderik Samson.

The conference is a timely intervention. Some five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the onset of the global financial crisis, progressives in Europe are still struggling to gain the political upper-hand, while in the US congress continues to prevent progressives from implementing an economic investment and job creation agenda.

In our contribution to this discussion, “A New Progressive Alliance,” we argue that a progressive growth strategy should be built around five central pillars: (1) investing in education, science and technology, and modernized infrastructure; (2) reforming financial markets so that moral hazard is reduced and access to finance for start-ups and small- and medium-sized enterprises is improved; (3) nurturing employment growth in the “caring” sector, which is labor-absorbing and employment intensive; (4) designing a fairer tax code that rewards innovation and supports growth but also provides for a more equitable (pre)distribution of the benefits; and (5) Creating easier paths to legal immigration and supporting the growth and participation of more women in the workforce.

The paper presents a range of specific policy ideas and governmental reforms to advance these goals and calls for a stronger global system of governance to forge a real global growth pact; link growth and employment creation to the fight against climate change and environmental policies; make the creation of good jobs a direct goal, not a side effect of other policy initiatives in our nations; promote investment and support for small- and medium-sized enterprises to create more jobs; and agree to increase investment in research, development, and innovation to help create the industries of the future.

This project matters greatly to American progressives. If the European center-left can successfully join forces across red, green, and yellow party lines to replace austerity politics with a new agenda of sustainable growth and middle class investment, the pressure on austerity forces in the U.S. will become that much greater and progressive alternatives more palatable and achievable.

Or in the vein of President Obama’s 2012 victory night theme, “We are one progressive family and we rise and fall together.”