The Progressive Fix

LeBron James and the Do-Something Democrats: Support for Democrats “In the Arena” on Trade

In this year’s NBA Finals, LeBron James cemented his reputation as one of the greatest basketball players of all time­—becoming the first player in Finals history to lead both teams in points, rebounds, and assists in every game, and averaging an astounding 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists for the six-game series.

In addition to his basketball prowess, Lebron is also a student of oratory and leadership. When faced with criticism and second-guessing, he’s frequently cited Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 address on “Citizenship in a Republic,” popularly known as the “Man in the Arena” speech. Like Roosevelt, LeBron believes that:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds. . . . “

In Washington’s ongoing trade battles, there’s a group of Democratic House Members and Senators who are displaying the type of grit and determination that both TR and LBJ would almost certainly admire. These are the 28 House Democrats and 14 Democratic Senators who’ve voted to advance Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, often in the face of intense criticism from anti-trade forces.

These Democrats support a forward-looking trade agenda that includes critical priorities for progressives, including strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards, and new rules to protect innovation, to assure open digital commerce, and to “democratize” trade for small business and consumers. As pro-growth Democrats, they understand that increased trade can tap a burgeoning global middle class and help power more inclusive economic growth for middle class Americans.

These Democrats are also realists—and doers. They understand that writing modern rules for liberal trade is a messy and often-thankless task that requires hard work and perseverance. They appreciate that trade is always a negotiation and recognize the need for principled compromise among Congressional colleagues, the Administration, foreign governments, and the many and varied interests that make up America’s economic and social fabric.

While these Democrats know that they won’t achieve everything they seek, they also believe that it is vital to stand with the long line of Democrats—from FDR and Truman to JFK and Bill Clinton—who have progressively built an increasingly effective rules-based trading system that has fostered global peace and prosperity, lifted millions worldwide out of poverty, and continues to deliver substantial benefits to all Americans.

Many Democrats who have opposed TPA say that they support increased trade and stronger trade rules, and that they want to achieve the best deal for America. These TPA critics may be sincere, but they often offer only nebulous ideas on how to achieve these important ends.

Pragmatic, do-something Democrats, on the other hand, recognize the Trade Promotion Authority offers the only realistic, near-term means of achieving the outcomes that so many Democrats claim to want.  They know that our negotiating partners will never table their best and final offers to open markets or raise standards without TPA. And they understand that the United States will never achieve anything meaningful in trade if our trading partners must effectively negotiate with 535 members of Congress. This is especially so after last’s week’s spectacle in which labor and anti-trade groups prevailed on House Democrats to kill worker adjustment assistance—a six-decade Democratic priority—in a cynical bid to scuttle TPA and the overall trade agenda.

Pro-trade Democratic Members understand that key portions of the progressive coalition, including Democrats (58%), millennials (69%), Hispanics (71%), and mayors, believe that trade deals are good for the United States. But they’re not asking Americans to sign a blank check for new agreements. Under the leadership of Senator Ron Wyden, Congressman Ron Kind, and others, they’ve worked hard to assure that TPA includes unprecedented new transparency provisions, including the requirement that the text of any new trade deal be posted on the Internet for months before it is ever brought to a vote.

In a news conference before the NBA Finals, LeBron offered a pithy addendum to his favorite Roosevelt quote. When asked to guarantee a championship, LeBron said that he could only guarantee that “we will play our asses off.”

It’s time for Democrats who say they support expanded trade and progressive rules to get off of the sidelines—and to join the do-something Democrats who are “in the arena” sweating and striving towards those vital goals.

Mandel: Eliminating an Obsolete Regulation at the FCC (Updated)

Update (6/11/15): PPI applauds the FCC’s adoption of the “effective competition” order on June 2 (explained below). This order acknowledges the reality that on most cable systems, the video channels subject to “effective competition” from other providers, both satellite and landline. The FCC order says in part: “As a result, each franchising authority will be prohibited from regulating basic cable rates. unless it successfully demonstrates that the cable system is not subject to Competing Provider Effective Competition.”

This is not the FCC making new law…rather, this is the FCC enforcing the provisions of existing law, which clearly states the conditions under which basic cable service rates can be freed from local regulation.  Given the importance of eliminating or rewriting outmoded regulations wherever possible, the FCC has done the right thing.



PPI favors the elimination or rewriting of outmoded regulations wherever possible. We believe that clearing the deadwood of obsolete rules is a win-win for consumers, workers, and businesses, allowing regulators to focus limited resources on more important issues while freeing companies to innovate faster.

That’s why we strongly favor FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to streamline the “effective competition” rule for cable video providers. Cable television has long been one of the most regulated industries in the economy, including regulation of their rates by local authorities. The justification for such price controls—not acceptable for most industries—was the lack of meaningful competition from other video providers.

But the world has changed. Today many if not most cable video systems face a wide range of competitors from satellite providers such as DISH and telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon, not to mention new internet-based video services such as Netflix and Amazon.

The legislation governing cable operators allows them to be relieved of some regulatory burdens—including rate regulation by local authorities–if the FCC rules that they face “effective competition.” The legislation includes several possible tests for effective competition, including a satellite video provider or other competitor having 15% of the pay video market, or if a phone company is offering video service in the area.

These hurdles are not hard to reach, given the prevalence of satellite and other video competitors. As a result, the FCC has ruled in favor of effective competition on almost all the hearings on this subject since 2013.

Nevertheless, up to now, cable video companies have had to go through a long and burdensome process to get regulatory relief. That is why Wheeler is proposing to simplify the process by adapting it to market realities. Challengers would have to demonstrate that effective competition did not exist in a particular location. The net result is that a larger number of cable video providers would have greater freedom to compete and innovate.

Given the amount of competition to cable, it is unlikely that cable video rates would suddenly jump. After all, with the prevalence of alternatives, and subscriber growth having topped out, why should cable companies drive away customers?

We have had disagreements with Chairman Wheeler, particularly around the Open Internet issue. But on this issue, his approach to cleaning up the regulatory process makes excellent sense for both consumers and companies.

PPI Applauds Senate Passage of TPA

PPI applauds the Senate for passing Trade Promotion Authority and taking a key step in assuring that America continues to be a global leader in crafting strong, progressive trade rules that will help grow our economy and support good jobs—while also advancing important American values.

As PPI has detailed in recent reports on the Administration’s trade agenda and open digital trade, new U.S. trade agreements can make vital progress on issues that are important to Democrats and progressives. They can, for example, tap a growing global middle class to power more inclusive American economic growth, expand the reach of strong rules on labor rights and environment protection, reform past agreements like NAFTA, and “democratize” trade by empowering entrepreneurs, small businesses, and consumers to more directly participate in and benefit from global commerce.

TPA would provide a fair and more open process for considering new trade agreements, and would obligate future Administrations—both Democrat and Republican—to pursue these and other progressive provisions in future trade agreements, as well.

Finally, today’s vote illustrates the leverage that pro-growth, pro-trade Democrats can exercise in trade debates. As trade legislation moves to the House, PPI urges Democrats to continue to work constructively to build smart, progressive policies that enhance America’s global competitiveness. In addition to support for TPA, these efforts should include a comprehensive program of reform—in education, training, innovation, infrastructure, and more—like that proposed in the New Democrat Coalition’s American Prosperity Agenda. Unlike reflexive opposition to new trade initiatives, this approach will assure that America—and more Americans—can share in the significant benefits of global growth.

PPI Statement on Senate Trade Vote: Don’t Misread Vote as Repudiation of TPA

It would be a huge mistake to misread today’s Senate trade vote as a repudiation of Trade Promotion Authority and the U.S. trade agenda. The pro-trade Democrats who provided the decisive votes today were not voting against TPA, but were seeking to include other trade measures—including those on trade enforcement and trade with Africa—in the debate. There are various ways to address concerns about these important issues and we hope that trade supporters in the Senate can work together to craft a solution that allows the vital debate on trade to proceed.

As PPI has explained in recent reports on the Obama Administration’s trade agenda and on open digital trade, new U.S. trade agreements have the potential to advance goals that are important to Democrats and progressives. These new initiatives can, for example, tap a growing global middle class to help power American economic growth, expand the reach of strong rules on labor rights and environment protections, update past agreements like NAFTA, and “democratize” trade by empowering entrepreneurs, small businesses and consumers to more directly participate in and benefit from global commerce. TPA would provide a fair and considered process for considering new trade deals, and would obligate future Administrations—both Democrat and Republican—to seek these and other progressive provisions in future trade agreements, as well.

Today’s developments illustrate the leverage that pro-trade Democrats can exercise in trade debates. PPI hopes that more Democrats will engage in constructive efforts to build and support a progressive pro-trade agenda. Simply working to kill TPA legislation, and other reflexive opposition to new trade initiatives, does little to advance important progressive goals.

PPI WEEKLY WRAP-UP: Trade for the 99 Percent, UK Elections and EU Digital Agenda

TRADE FOR THE 99%: On Tuesday, PPI released The Digital Opportunity: Democratizing Trade for the 99 Percent. Authored by Ed Gerwin, PPI Senior Fellow for Trade and Global Opportunity, the new policy brief highlights some of the many ways in which “democratized” trade in the global digital economy benefits America’s 99 percent—from entrepreneurs and small businesses to consumers and communities. The brief details why it is critical for America to lead in writing modern trade rules that promote the free flow of data and open digital commerce. Gerwin summarized the findings of his policy brief in an op-ed for Republic 3.0, The Digital Economy, Trade Agreements and the 99 Percent.

UK ELECTIONS: Earlier this week, PPI President Will Marshall wrote an op-ed for CNN on how the fracturing of Britain’s once stable political order will make it difficult for the incoming Prime Minister to form a strong and coherent government, and the implications that will have on Britain’s role in the EU and their relationship with the US.

Today, the day after the election, Marshall provided a follow-up piece to CNN distilling a few key lessons from the oddest British election in memory.

EU DIGITAL AGENDA: On Thursday, the European Commission unveiled a digital single market for Europe. PPI Chief Economist Dr. Michael Mandel wrote this week that the digital single market is essential for the success of the EU economy, but it should be built on principles of openness and encouragement of innovation, not higher levels of regulation that will discourage both.

LABOR PRODUCTIVITY: Mandel penned a response on Wednesday to the release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) first quarter labor productivity and costs report. Mandel calculates that ten-year productivity growth plunged to a startling 1.4% in the first quarter of 2015, the lowest level since the 1980s. Moreover, Mandel estimates that the slowdown in productivity growth since 2000 is responsible for two-thirds of the decline in real compensation growth, a key measure of living standards. His conclusion: The sharp fall in productivity growth is the major reason why Americans feel so squeezed. Growth policies are key.

: A recent policy report on tech employment, authored by Mandel and PPI Economist Diana Carew, calculated that women have been getting three times as many healthcare-related bachelor’s degrees as men. But according to Mandel, the healthcare employment boom may actually represent a bubble, warning that college students and administrators may be overestimating the safety and security of healthcare careers. If the bubble bursts, women may bear the brunt. Given the strong possibility of such a change, progressives should support a diversification of college degrees out of healthcare and into other growing areas such as tech.

MOTOR CITY SCHOOLS MAKEOVER: In an op-ed for U.S. News & World Report, PPI senior fellow and director of the Reinventing America’s Schools Project, David Osborne examines a new plan by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to set up a Detroit Education Commission that would have the power to measure school performance, create a common enrollment system for all public schools, close mediocre schools (charter and traditional) and replace them with new schools (charter and traditional). Osborne writes, “This would be a huge step forward: For the first time, Detroit would have a citywide portfolio manager with the power to steer both the traditional and charter sectors toward higher performance.”

Governor Markell for The Atlantic: Americans Need Jobs, Not Populism

In an op-ed for The Atlantic, Governor Jack Markell (D-Del.) argues that instead of raging against a “rigged” system, Democrats should work together with business to build an economy that distributes its benefits more broadly.

The bottom line is that private enterprise creates the primary condition for reducing poverty and want: economic growth. Governments don’t create jobs; however, government has an ability and responsibility to create a nurturing environment where business leaders and entrepreneurs want to locate and expand. What that means is that government has an active role in creating an economic environment that creates middle class success and prosperity. …

Long-term success requires an active government that partners with business to ensure that the bounty of economic growth is shared broadly. Sharing this bounty is not about having a “bleeding heart.” It’s a matter of cold economic sense.  

I am hugely bullish about the future of the American economy because I believe in investing in people, engaging with the world and sharing broadly the bounty that economic growth will generate. Growing without sharing won’t get it done.  And neither will redistribution without growth. Americans really are in this together.

Read the piece in its entirety at The Atlantic.

Don’t Ban Zero-Rating in India

Zero-rating – a practice where mobile operators provide select Internet content for free – is coming under heavy fire in India. Indeed the Indian government is likely to ban the practice as early as next month. But given that zero-rating could enable tremendous social and economic opportunity to developing countries like India, banning it now would be a mistake.

Widespread media attention has put India’s approach to Internet regulation and “net neutrality” into the global spotlight. It started with a report issued last month from their telecommunications regulator (TRAI) asking for public comments on how to regulate “over-the-top” content offering from mobile providers. A large public outpouring of information (and misinformation) ensued, leading one Indian Member of Parliament to write, “TRAI cannot control the internet by charging separately for services that are created by the very people who believe in the idea of free access to information and knowledge.”

Already several companies providing content through zero-rating programs have backed out over the backlash, lest they be charged with enabling Internet discrimination. Adding more fuel to the fire, this week a group of Indian tech entrepreneurs sent a letter to India’s Prime Minister arguing that zero-rating could stunt economic growth as Internet start-ups are unable to compete with free content. “These practices, if allowed, will exclude promising startups from the Internet and end our dream of seeing them flourish,” they said.

It’s unlikely, however, that zero rating will crush anyone’s dreams. In fact, as we’ve recently argued in our paper “Zero-Rating: Kick-Starting Internet Ecosystems in Developing Countries,” zero-rating could be a powerful vehicle for economic growth and prosperity in countries like India, where large segments of the population aren’t online.

In the developing world, zero-rating has the potential to jumpstart local Internet ecosystems. Consumers that have previously used up their monthly data allotments on sites like Google, Twitter, and Facebook could now use them instead to surf local content. Moreover, people who are currently not connected to the Internet may have a stronger incentive to sign up for a monthly data plan, seeing a higher value in accessing the Internet. The larger customer base for local content would then provide a greater incentive for tech entrepreneurs to invest in turning their ideas into the latest online site or service. As more local content becomes available, a resulting boost in local demand will follow in a virtuous economic feedback loop.

Consider, for example, a local business collecting agricultural prices across a poor country that would like to post them online. Such data could be extremely valuable for the country’s farmers, who stand to benefit greatly from access to better information. Yet if there are too few farmers or other consumers of this data online, no one has an incentive to collect the data and create an online platform. Yet if offerings such as zero-rating encouraged more farmers to get connected, this business could get off the ground – and more could follow – enabling locally-driven economic growth.

Although many zero-rating programs are relatively new, early results are promising. Countries across the globe, from the Philippines to Egypt, and in sub-Saharan Africa, have seen large increases in connectivity alongside zero-rating offerings. And perhaps most importantly, there is no evidence that zero-rating has caused any economic damage in underserved areas with low connectivity.

India’s politicians and regulators would be well-served to see zero-rating as an opportunity to increase local business potential, not as a threat to it. Local businesses could even use Twitter, Google, and Facebook to advertise their services, as part of the local Internet ecosystem.

Our report instead proposes guiding principles for zero-rating. For example, such offerings should be non-exclusive, to guard against anti-competitive behavior across mobile operators, and zero-rating programs should be regularly evaluated. These principles would promote transparency and accountability, and most importantly, increase public trust.

Of course, zero-rating is not a silver bullet for dispelling inequality or eradicating poverty. But it is an important part of a pro-growth strategy that will boost local economies. It could make the difference between a would-be Internet entrepreneur creating new apps for local services and data or going to another country with higher connectivity.

That’s why banning zero-rating in India now would be a mistake. The best path forward for India’s Internet economy is to promote policies that enable its citizens and businesses to fully participate in the data-driven economy. That means keeping every pathway to future global growth, opportunity, and prosperity open, including zero-rating.