“In every recession, it’s true that you’re losing revenue at the same time as you want to be able to spend more money,” Hinkley says. “Counties and cities have to be spending more on public health, on housing people, on emergency equipment, on ensuring that people are staying at home. It’s difficult to manage spending in the short term when you know that there is additional spending that you have to deal with. I don’t know what other options local governments really have at this point.”
I started this blog—and chose the name—several years ago while finishing my dissertation. My intent was to write about my research on the shrinking public sphere and the persistent narrative of scarcity that characterizes governance in the U.S. I called it “beyond austerity” because I thought most scholarship on austerity was simplistic and that we needed to think about austerity more broadly. How do communities, and societies, decide what is enough? What constitutes plenty, or luxury? What do we each really need to thrive as individuals? How does it happen that music or art become seen as frivolous, rather than necessities? How do discussions about taxes reflect profound differences in how people think about security and relationships? How do we each normalize the amount of eduction, or money, or clothing, or healthcare, that we are entitled to, or that we resent others having?
I began with an academic interest in how austerity is produced: who makes decisions about how to make do with less. Today, these questions are more pressing for me personally (being on a school board these days is all about implementing austerity). I decided to resurrect this site a few weeks ago because a job change gave me more time to write about how much our society reflects the weird combination of scarcity and plenty, and my own experiences observing how society is made up of so many invisible individual contributions—the “public” is so much more than government. And then the coronavirus pandemic took hold here in California.
The Bay Area is less than a week into a full-scale shutdown, and every public entity is bleeding revenue: bus systems, BART, bridges, and soon local and state tax systems as incomes drop and the impact of reduced consumption decimates sales taxes. The importance and fragility of our public sector have been thrown into stark relief, as have the web of individual actions that keep our private sector—our restaurants, bookstores, volunteer programs—alive.
How will this crisis make us think differently about what we each need to survive? About what, and who, is vital to a functioning society? About what is not necessary to keep our bodies alive, but is necessary for our spirit? And so for day one of this resurrection, I offer a possible answer to the latter:
Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Others have come in their slow way into my thought, and some have tried to help or to hurt: ask me what difference their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say. You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden; and there are comings and goings from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say.
To build support for a cause, activists frame issues in ways they think will resonate with the public. UC Berkeley researchers find that one of the primary tactics for activists—using a civil rights framework to frame an issue—can actually decrease public support. Particularly in the case of immigrant rights and legalization, activists should reevaluate their strategies in order to successfully persuade the public to adopt change.
Low pay for teachers has received significant national attention, but having a diverse teaching workforce is also critical for improving student outcomes. A large but often ignored problem in America’s education system is the lack of diverse representation among teachers. There are very few male teachers of color in the classroom, and the turnover rate for ones that exist is disproportionately high. Retaining such teachers is a critical element in efforts to narrow the achievement gap and improve student outcomes.
People who have been arrested, convicted of a crime, or incarcerated face many barriers to employment. While much of the difficulty in finding employment is due to institutional exclusion, a UC Berkeley researcher has attributed some of the problem to ineffective job search methods. What can policymakers do to ensure that people who have interacted with the carceral system can find employment?
Recovery from the Great Recession has been slow and extremely prolonged. It was tempting to conclude, at various points, that we had recovered as much as we were going to. Even after the official unemployment rate receded, other indicators of recovery remained much more mixed—the share of people employed remained well below pre-recession levels; wages were stagnant; and inequality continued to grow. Absent clear evidence of a full recovery, including healthy wage growth, policy efforts should emphasize ensuring that the benefits of growth are broadly shared.
The Great Recession caused significant hardship for many U.S. families. Safety net programs—some of which were expanded during the recession and its recovery—mitigated some of the worst effects, but were not available to all households and were insufficient to compensate for the depth of the downturn. What can policymakers learn from the adequacy of the response?