EJB Talks Podcast

EJB Talks New Faculty Spotlight: Mark Paul and The Ends of Freedom

EJB Talks New Faculty Spotlight: Mark Paul and The Ends of Freedom

September 20, 2023

With our return to EJBTalks this fall, host and Dean Stuart Shapiro talks to Mark Paul, assistant professor and author of the recently released book, The Ends of Freedom. Mark discusses his journey into economics and environmental policy, sharing how his first working experiences in a restaurant witnessing inequality and food sustainability issues drove his interest in economics and climate change. He explains the significance of the Inflation Reduction Act in addressing climate change, emphasizing its role as a downpayment on the transition to green energy. The conversation moves into the economic rights outlined in his book, drawing inspiration from FDR’s second Bill of Rights and Martin Luther King Jr.’s advocacy for economic rights. He then highlights the importance of regulation and complementary policies to achieve the goal of fully decarbonizing the economy, addressing the challenges of selling such a broad and ambitious vision in the current political climate but also pointing out the support for these ideas among voters. The episode concludes with a discussion of Mark’s future work on supply-side fossil fuel policy to wind down fossil fuel assets and transition to renewable energy sources.

 

Stuart Shapiro
Welcome back to EJBTalks. I’m Stuart Shapiro, the dean of the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and the purpose of this podcast is to highlight the work my colleagues and our alumni in the fields of policy, planning, and health are doing to make the world a better place.

This season, our ninth, we will start by speaking with some of the new faculty that we didn’t get to in season eight. We’re going to start with the professor who was going to be our concluding episode for season eight, Professor Mark Paul, who teaches in our public policy program and has a new book out, The Ends of Freedom. Welcome to the podcast, Mark.

Mark Paul
It’s great to be here.

Stuart Shapiro
So we will get to the book, I think we’ll probably spend quite a bit of time chatting about it. But first, I wanted the audience to get to know you a little bit. And if you could tell me how you became an economist, what’s the dark story there, and how you became interested in environmental policy in particular,

Mark Paul
You know, ever since I was four, I wanted to be an economist. No, I kid, I kid.

Stuart Shapiro
I was going to say, you would be the only one who could say that.

Mark Paul
You know, I don’t know any kids in elementary school that stood up and said, “Today I want to be an economist.” I grew up on DiGiorno pizza and bagel bites and not necessarily the best food. And thanks to public broadcasting, Julia Child instilled a passion for French food in me. And when I was about 14-15, I started working in kitchens. It was my time working in kitchens that got me interested both in economics and in the climate crisis that we’re all living in today. It was working in kitchens alongside immigrants who had been showing up for work 60 hours a week, every week, maybe one week a year off for years on end, and they weren’t making minimum wage, they were making $10 or $12 an hour. But they were not making enough to live the American dream, they were not making enough to live in the neighborhoods with high-quality schools. They weren’t making enough to ever bring their partner to eat at the restaurants we were cooking in.

And, for me as a high school kid, that was my top concern, can I afford to bring a date to this restaurant that I work at? And the answer was no. No, I couldn’t. And it got me interested in inequality. And furthermore, you know, seeing all the food come in and talking to the purveyors got me really fascinated in our food system and thinking about food sustainability, which is, you know, highly dependent on a stable climate, which we just see slipping through our fingertips. And so it was really my time working in kitchens that, that got me excited about economics and got me really concerned about climate change.

Because, you know, under a changing world, it’s really hard to conceptualize how we’re going to be able to continue to live high quality, you know, decent lives and eat high-quality food, when you see, you know, storms, inundated farm fields, you know, most farm fields are actually often in flood-prone areas. So this kind of set me on my course. And then there’s the small disruption, you might remember the 2008 financial crisis, and that was kind of the nail in the coffin for me. When that happened. I just said I need to understand this thing we call economics and I never looked back.

Stuart Shapiro
That’s great. I have to admit, at the start of your story there, I was very curious as to how you were gonna get from Julia Child to to economics there. But you didn’t you did a good job. It was a it was a consistent narrative. And as someone who has oughts backgrounds, himself, I get it, and I hear you. So I do want to talk about climate change. For the audience that doesn’t know, Mark is a leading voice on climate change, on the Green New Deal. We haven’t gotten the Green New Deal out of the Biden administration, but we did get the Inflation Reduction Act. And I want to get your impression of it, what your thoughts are on how far it moves the needle.

Mark Paul
I think the Inflation Reduction Act is a monstrous accomplishment. I think often in the climate space, we’re all doom and gloom. And it’s really important for us to take a step back and give ourselves a pat on the back and really appreciate what a tremendous victory this was. I mean, we are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars in investment to help transition our economy toward a clean and sustainable economy. According to the White House numbers, we’re talking about roughly $360 billion and climate spending. According to Goldman Sachs, they’re telling us that it looks like we’re going to be spending closer to $1.2 trillion from the Inflation Reduction Act. The reason for the discrepancy there actually, this is pretty interesting, is that most of the tax credits which mainly is what makes up the Inflation Reduction Act, it’s primarily a tax credit bill that gives people tax credits for installing things like solar panels on their house, or EV chargers, or for instance buying an electric vehicle, for that matter, you get a nice tax credit from the government. But those tax credits are uncapped.

So we actually don’t know how much money the government is going to spend. And both from a macroeconomic perspective and from a climate perspective, I say the more the merrier. So, you know, people ask me, though, you know, is this enough? Is this gonna get us there? And the answer is, absolutely not. What the Inflation Reduction Act is, is a crucial downpayment on the transition. But that’s all it is. It’s just a downpayment. It is sufficient to hopefully reduce emissions by about 40%. But that’s not 100%. And to meet our climate goals, we need to hit 100%. So you know, after environmentalists take a break and appreciate this victory, it’s time to time to get back to work and think about what complementary policies can work with the Inflation Reduction Act to fully decarbonize our economy,

Stuart Shapiro
And 100% by 2050, is the goal, right? If I remember, right, from at least one of the reports, there might not be enough, it might not be the goal you want. But I think it’s one of the treaty’s goals.

Mark Paul
Correct. So goals vary depending on who you talk to and when, but roughly, the goal is to cut emissions in half by 2030, and reach what’s called net zero by 2050. So essentially, do not put any more emissions into the atmosphere than we are taking out.

Stuart Shapiro
And the next steps, from what I can tell when there’s a front page bold headline in the Times today is what enters my area, which is regulation, and at least from the Biden administration, I suspect that the rest of the climate emissions are going to be undertaken through the executive branch. I mean, they’ve already done stuff with power and with cars, and now steel and cement is what the article today is talking about.

Mark Paul
That’s exactly right. You know, the Inflation Reduction Act was mainly carrots, you know, handing out money. But we need sticks to and that’s where regulations come into play. And I am heartened by the Biden administration working both within the purview of the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies to do what they can to rein in emissions. However, you know, I have to be honest, the Biden administration has also made some disappointing choices. For instance, they greenlit the Willow Project, which is a massive fossil fuel project on the North Slope of Alaska. So you know, it’s funny, President Biden says, you know, we have to decarbonize, we have to decarbonize, while at the same time breaking a crucial campaign promise, which was no more drilling. So that has been a bit unfortunate.

Stuart Shapiro
We could go on about this for quite a while. But I do want to give you a chance to talk about your book a little bit. And the book is a much broader project than just environmental policy. What prompted you to write it? And I have a feeling you might go back to your origin story and talk about that a little bit.

Mark Paul
So, you know, the book came out just in May, a few months ago, it was a tremendous opportunity to take a step back and write a book, to really think comprehensively about what type of economy we want to build and why. So you know, why did I write a book? We have a lot of books already out there. And when I look at your bookshelf or my bookshelf, I can tell you for sure, that we have a dozen books about how neoliberalism is failing us, how neoliberalism gave rise to inequality, and how neoliberalism is one step away from being dead. But then the question always arises, what comes next? And I think that in general, we lack a coherent narrative for what it is that we’re working towards in the economy. Once we have come to this realization that, you know, free markets were not delivering freedom, we’re not delivering the type of liberal democratic values that we thought they would.

People today, I think are grasping for, okay, we get that neoliberalism didn’t work. But you know what next? And in most books out there, they have 10 chapters on how neoliberalism failed, and maybe one chapter on what to do next. And it’s just a laundry list. So I want to flip that on its head, I want to think about what is an affirmative vision for how we can build an economy to provide high-quality lives for everybody. Because I do believe that economic justice and democratic values need to be at the core of our economic paradigm. But I think that you know, that coherent vision was lacking. So I set out to write about it while grounding it importantly, in American history and in the American narrative. Often you see politicians talking about what countries like Norway and Sweden do, and I think we can learn a lot from our neighbors. You know, be they in South America, Europe, Africa, you name it.

But I also think there’s a tremendous amount of value to going back to our history and thinking about, you know, did American history have to culminate in neoliberalism? Are there alternative paths? And better yet, how have we thought about, you know, the kind of core narrative of our nation, which I would argue is freedom, that core identity and what it actually means to us today?

Stuart Shapiro
So you use the word narrative, I think three times there. And I want to, I want to pick up on that a little bit, because you take as the jumping off point in your book, FDR’s second Bill of Rights, and few politicians in history, and I love history, particularly American history, few politicians in history were so good establishing a narrative, as FDR was. So can you talk a little bit about what he was doing and what his goals were, and how that ties into what you’re talking about?

Mark Paul
Sure. So Roosevelt, you know, really, is often credited with the creation of what we today call the New Deal. And it’s a little funny because people who don’t study history, think the New Deal was, you know, one or two pieces of legislation that we just passed. Now, the New Deal was well over 100 pieces of legislation passed over a roughly six or seven-year period of time. And then retroactively people look back and call this, you know, a huge swath of legislation, the New Deal. You know, what I do is I draw on the history of Roosevelt and some of his contemporaries who tried to articulate a vision that the American people could latch on to, but that he could also turn into policy, actionable policy. And so for Roosevelt, you know, kind of his first key messaging was around what he called his four freedoms. And this is what he galvanized the American people around to engage in World War Two.

Those four freedoms were the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and crucially related to the war, the freedom from fear. And, as the worst started to wind down, as the Allies, had victory within their sights, Roosevelt started to turn his attention back to the American people. Remember, he was elected at the height of the Great Depression. The war did a tremendous amount to pull the American people out of the Great Depression. But people, in particular soldiers and their families, were very concerned that when the war concluded would they have that freedom from want that Roosevelt had promised them. And so in fact, Roosevelt put forth in 1944, an economic Bill of Rights, what he also called a second Bill of Rights, to secure that freedom for each and every American.

The other way he talked about this was to procure people cradle-to-grave security. If they’re born into our community, our nation, they are entitled to things like the right to a job, the right to a house, the right to an education, the right to healthcare and more. And Roosevelt was quite serious about this. In fact, he called on Congress to enact it as soon as possible. However, for the history buffs in the, you know, listening sphere, they’ll know that Roosevelt passed away just a year after calling for an economic Bill of Rights. So he never had the time and the power to fully secure it. But the legacy, you know, really continued.

In fact, Martin Luther King, I think a crucial fact that we don’t talk about his final essay published after his untimely assassination, was entitled, we need an economic Bill of Rights. And when King transitioned from focusing on civil rights, after the passage of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, he focused he started focusing on economic rights, arguing as Roosevelt did, that the right to a vote was insufficient, without core economic rights, indeed, political rights, civil rights, and economic rights all work together to live to deliver true meaningful and enduring freedom.

Stuart Shapiro
And these economic rights they consist of in your book, you talk about housing, health, education, environment, drawing on your other previous some of your other previous work. Anything else? What else am I missing there? I’m going off the top of my head.

Mark Paul
Yeah, the other one that I really cover in the book is basic income and banking services, to make sure that everybody has cash in their pocket to buy basic things like food. You know, somebody asked me, “Well, why is food not a basic right?” I said, “Well, it is I just think that the market is actually decent at delivering food.” So if we ensure people have income, in my book, we ensure people have food.

Stuart Shapiro
Gotcha, gotcha. So when FDR was talking about this, we, as you noted, were near the end of World War Two. It’s hard to think of a time in the past century when the country was more unified. All sorts of you know, pulling together first to fight the depression, and then to fight the Nazis and the Japanese. Now, to say the least, things are a little different in terms of the body politic. And so I guess that here’s, here’s the question: How does one sell this idea now? Given the challenges, and yes, FDR died, and things started to come apart, then. But given the challenges, how do we sell something this big, this broad in, in the current environment?

Mark Paul
That is the trillion-dollar question. And if I had an ace in the hole to answer this, you know, I’d be spending all my time on the Hill getting it done. But unfortunately, that’s not where we are right now. You know, look, I don’t want to pretend that this is going to be easy, I don’t. One of the most important things that we often don’t value is the power of an enemy. And, you know, as you highlighted, both the Nazi enemy and also the communist enemy, I think, created a tremendous amount of space for both the New Deal and then later on the Great Society and other key pieces of what we call kind of the welfare state here today. And right now, we’re starting to solidify around China as an enemy, which I am deeply concerned about, from a kind of geopolitical stability standpoint, and from a kind of anti-war standpoint, but we’ll set that aside for the moment. You know, look, we went out and talked to voters.

And what’s fascinating is, these ideas resonate with them, we polled voters across the nation. And what we found is two-thirds of voters support the idea of an economic Bill of Rights, including the majority of Independents and Republicans. So when we actually talk about the American people, the notion that everybody should have the right to a job, or the right to a home, or the right to health care is not a left or right issue. These are ideas that people believe in. Unfortunately, when it comes to Washington, these are highly politicized issues that are often dead on arrival due to partisan gridlock.

That said, one thing that I find really encouraging is that particularly amongst young Republicans, these ideas are incredibly popular with most of the economic rights that we pulled amongst young Republicans having support over 70%. And so, we could potentially be optimistic that some generational shifts might give rise to kind of additional groundswell of support for, for passing some of these ideas. But at the end of the day, I think we need to try to move past partisan conversations, which is why in the book, I really try to connect these ideas to the long struggle for freedom in America, trying to move beyond traditional Democratic or Republican talking points to notions of what does it mean to be an American? And what do we owe each other? And how can we reconstruct an economy that actually provides true opportunity, and some semblance of equality of outcome, as well?

Stuart Shapiro
I love ending on an optimistic note, I do want to ask one more question, though. And it’s not optimistic or pessimistic. I’ve always found after writing a book, you’re like, Oh, my God. Okay. So now, what next? Because I’m sort of starting from scratch again because I put everything into that book. Maybe I’ve gotten a few separate things that come out of it. But it really is time for the next project, next idea. What’s next for you?

Mark Paul
Yeah, that’s that’s such a hard question. Because I agree with you when you finish the book, you just, it’s like having a second child. Right around the time I finished this book. I also had my first child. And there were some similar emotions. What’s next is I’ve been pivoting quite a bit towards working on what’s called supply-side fossil fuel policy. So there’s a tremendous amount of work in the environmental space on demand-side policies, which is how do we increase the demand for renewables and decrease the demand for fossil energy. But there’s actually been shockingly little research thinking about the fact that we need to wind down fossil fuel assets. So we need to actually fundamentally reduce the supply of fossil assets. And what does that transition look like and how do we address it from an economic policy standpoint? So that’s what I’ve been working on these past few months and will continue to work on moving forward.

Stuart Shapiro
You may come into my regulatory wheelhouse there!

Mark Paul
Very much so!

Stuart Shapiro
Mark, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It’s been a great conversation.

Mark Paul
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Stuart Shapiro
Also, a big thank you to our new producer Tamara Swedberg, and to Karyn Olsen, who helps with production as well. We’ll see you next week with another talk from another expert at the Bloustein School. Until then, stay safe.

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