Clinton Economic-Policy Menu Fleshed Out From Trade to Labor

  • Washington think tank issues 14 essays on range of issues
  • Podesta founded group, led by transition team chief economist

A think tank with close ties to Hillary Clinton’s campaign issued proposals across more than a dozen issues that could serve as a menu for economic policy should the Democrat enter the White House in January.

The 14 essays -- on topics ranging from global trade to how economic inequality affects children -- were published Monday by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and are aimed at influencing the next administration. Although the group labeled it as a guide for “the two presidential transition teams,” the center was founded by Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and is directed by Heather Boushey, who became chief economist for Clinton’s transition team in August.

While some of the pieces reinforce proposals from the campaign trail -- including universal pre-kindergarten and a boost to the minimum wage -- the authors, almost all professors, offer more-detailed approaches to tackling some of the economy’s most vexing issues. Tapping into one of the heated debates this year, David Autor, economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, concedes that the international trade system has been upended and requires new rules to compensate the losers.

“The Pollyannaish boosterism surrounding past trade agreements is arguably one key reason why trade deals have become increasingly unpopular,” Autor wrote. “Absent active redistribution, trade will create both winners and losers -- larger and smaller slices” of a bigger pie.

Autor suggests policy makers try to make more accessible and flexible a program to support trade-impacted workers; offer more generous but more targeted wage insurance to those who lose jobs due to trade deals; and extend the Earned Income Tax Credit to people without children who typically are unable to accrue the benefits.

TPP Stance

While Clinton has reversed her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord after earlier supporting it, Autor wrote that rejecting deals like the TPP would “reduce long-run U.S. prosperity and cause considerable collateral damage to U.S. allies.”

Other ideas in the essays published Monday involve how to increase opportunities for people to change jobs or careers, and how to ensure unemployment insurance is reaching the right people.

Abigail Wozniak, a professor at the University of Notre Dame and former economist in President Barack Obama’s White House, notes that four kinds of so-called labor mobility have declined since the 1970s: changes of employer, occupation, residence and employment status. 

Some transitions can be positive -- people quitting jobs are a sign of worker confidence and a favorite gauge of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen -- but others are more damaging, particularly amid a decline in workers’ bargaining power and a lack of startup firms.

Unemployment Insurance

Among Wozniak’s policy proposals are an increase in access to unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless, a pilot program of vouchers to relocate young workers, and an improvement to collecting data on how firms hire and compensate workers.

In another essay, Till von Wachter of the University of California at Los Angeles says that jobless benefits should be expanded to part-time workers and couples who move for family reasons. He advocates for making permanent a federal program for emergency jobless benefits, so it’s no longer at risk of being tied up in political fights over extending it and cutting off aid to people using it.

Princeton University professor Alan Blinder, a former Fed vice chairman, penned an essay in the collection that repeats his enthusiasm for politicians to “do no harm” in allowing the central bank to maintain its independence. At the same time, he sees room for improvement, including by preventing bankers from joining the boards of the regional banks and shortening term limits for Fed governors.

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