Mercy for Justice

Critical Considerations

A monthly series of in-depth, curated articles exploring Mercy's Critical Concerns and their intersection with current events and the work of justice.

When Good Economic Policy Isn’t Enough

August 2023 – Puzzled by the lack of positive response to economic policies that have assisted low- and middle-income families, such as the extension of the Child Tax Credit during the COVID-19 pandemic (which reduced child poverty by 46 percent), Deepak Bhargava, Shahrzad Shams, and Harry Hanbury explore the underlying dynamics that are fostering a sense of malaise among so many in the U.S. and creating an environment open to the rise of authoritarianism.

“Delivering for people on economic issues is an important goal in itself, but it is not an antivenom for the snakebite of authoritarianism.”

From “The Death of ‘Deliverism’”

They note that progressive economic policymaking must:

  • take identity, emotion, and story seriously. Policies that deliver economic benefits but do not speak to a social identity are likely to have little political impact.
  • offer ideas about issues they have tended to neglect such as violence, addiction, mental health problems, social isolation, loneliness, and a sense of social disintegration.
  • articulate not just a string of worthy policies, but a vision of a good life grounded in ideas about how we should live, who we should care about, and what makes for a meaningful life.
  • reinvigorate organizing and recruitment of new people into worker and community organizations. People are often mobilized on issues but are rarely invited to be part of a democratic community built on relationships that forge collective power.

Deepak Bhargava is a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and a Distinguished Lecturer at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. Shahrzad Shams is the program manager for the Race and Democracy program at the Roosevelt Institute. Harry Hanbury is a documentary filmmaker and journalist.