So before I even started the Job Insurance series, I wrote this post on presenting a plan for public employment. And I still believe that it’s important for academics who are also activists to learn how to construct arguments that are streamlined and comprehensible to non-experts. so I thought I’d revisit my presentation and present an updated version for commentary.
Why This Matters:
Especially among progressive academics, John Dewey is a secular saint, admired for his radically new conception of democracy as a deliberative and scientific process, whereby active and inquiring citizens and public intellectuals would interact and communicate on a somewhat level playing field. Rather than the kind of elitist technocracy preferred by Walter Lippmann, Dewey believed that an informed democracy could exist, wherein experts would provide their expertise in a way that allowed people to make their own judgments, presenting information about the alternatives for public policy and the consequences of government action. And for progressive academics, this is important to our sense of ourselves – we want to think that we are being good Deweyian scholar-activists, being active in our political process, informing people about the background of what’s going on, giving them the tools they need to understand the issues they have to vote on, without being autocratic.
We don’t always do a very good job of this, in part because our academic training doesn’t always suit us to the task. We’re trained to think about footnotes or proofs rather than the rhetorical quality of our writing, and clarity can especially fall victim to the jargon of a professional specialty. Inside the academy, that’s normal practice, but outside it becomes a problem of democracy. If academic arguments are not made clear enough to be understood by an active and inquiring public, then expertise isn’t being used in a way that empowers a democratic public to think through its options.
To that end, learning how to express yourself in the common lexicon of Washington D.C is helpful – hence, my continuing efforts to use powerpoint presentations as a way of boiling down my research into a clear case for a policy outcome.
You can see my first effort at this here. Notably, it’s rather long, it dwells quite a bit on the history more than is strictly necessary (it borrows from a presentation of a paper I wrote), and there’s a lot of text on the page. Technically, it’s a bit outdated (some of the program costs have been revised, the unemployment levels are from June as opposed to October, and so forth), and it hasn’t yet been combined with some of my thinking about labor market policy.
So, here for your consideration is the first draft of a Job Insurance PowerPoint presentation:
*A quick historical note: Emerson Ross was one of Harry Hopkins’ administrators, and served in FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration), CWA (Civil Works Administration), and the WPA (Works Progress Administration). On slide 4, I make mention of a memo Ross wrote for the Committee on Economic Security in 1934, proposing three different systems of “job insurance:” option one “involves the use of contributions for protections against unemployment for a work program — employment not restricted to those making the payments. This conception regards the funds collected as an additional source of revenue collected and is based on the belief that employees will willingly make payments in return for the protection offered them by a large work program when unemployed,” essentially replacing unemployment insurance altogether, while combining contributions from a payroll tax with general Federal funding. Option two contemplated “wages on a work program as a means of paying all unemployment benefits,” in which a public job would be “a matter of contractual right to…wages paid for work performed.” Option three envisioned a combination of UI with job insurance, in which workers who exhausted their limited UI benefits would then become eligible for a public job, dividing responsibilities between short-term and long-term insurance.” I’ve tried to reduce this rather complex idea, but I’m not thrilled with the visual representation and would welcome suggestions as to how to make that clearer.
I’m still not totally satisfied with this effort, but I will continue to update in future as I continue to redraft this. The ultimate aim of this is to create an additional way for the idea of Job Insurance to be spread throughout the progressive political community, as a viral proposal that can be shared, posted in multiple places, and commented on.