- Joel Rogers’ original progressive policy institute
- Works in partnership with Rogers’ other affiliated groups -- the Apollo Alliance, Green For All, and Green Cities Collaborative
Based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Center for Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works with a network of progressive affiliates to create “high-road economic development – a competitive market economy of shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and capable democratic government.”
Aiming to redistribute wealth by way of higher taxes imposed on those whose incomes are above average, COWS contends that "it is important that state government be able to harness fair contribution from all parts of society – including corporations and the wealthy." The organization recommends that "tax contributions" be made "more equitable across socioeconomic lines" so as to "ensure that public revenue is effectively allocated for pressing public needs."
In 1992, UW Professor Joel Rogers began to build his network of progressive organizations, founding COWS and co-founding the New Party, the latter of which was a Marxist coalition that endorsed and helped elect left-wing political candidates. While the New Party had folded by 1998, COWS continued to build alliances in the following areas:
Economic and workforce development
Sectoral strategies and career pathways
Clean energy and energy efficiency
Labor markets and job improvement
Strategies for improving low-wage work
COWS’s funders include the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Carolyn Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Garfield Foundation, Living Cities, the Joyce Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
Since 1996, COWS has published a biennial report, The State of Working Wisconsin, which “provides a comprehensive discussion of the changing economic position of working people in this state.” COWS also began working to launch a number of progressive organizations and projects. In 2000 -- along with the AFL-CIO’s Working for America Institute, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Chicago, and the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Cente -- COWS initiated its Advanced Manufacturing Project, aiming “to strengthen the U.S. manufacturing base” through “high-road” economic development.
In 2001, COWS partnered with the Institute for America’s Future and the Tides Center to create the Apollo Alliance (AA), “a coalition of labor, business, environmental, and community leaders working to catalyze a clean energy revolution.” AA has since become one of the most powerful green organizations in the United States, helping to craft part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009. In 2008, COWS began to publish the report, Greener Pathways, with AA and the Workforce Alliance.
In 2005, Joel Rogers and the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, Dave Cieslewicz, founded the Mayors Innovation Project (MIP), which is a network of American Mayors dedicated to such ideals as "shared prosperity," "environmental sustainability," and “building progressive metropolitan leadership.” This program encourages city governments to allocate ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer dollars to the goal of "improv[ing] education and lifelong learning, promot[ing] high road economic and workforce development effort, expand[ing] housing and transit availability, develop[ing] the opportunities of the clean energy economy while combating climate change." Since its inception, more than 100 cities have participated in the project.
In a similar vein, COWS helped to create the Center for State Innovation, which assists “governors and state executives promote innovative, progressive policies.” Toward this end, CSI "organizes high-quality briefings and materials on new policy proposals" in such areas as "education, public safety, growing the middle class, government reform, economic and workforce development, clean energy, immigration, transportation and smart growth, and taxes." CSI presents these policy proposals to state executives and their staffs. By 2010, the organization boasted the cooperation of 39 states and had enlisted the support of numerous government bodies and prominent progressive organizations, including, among many others, the Brookings Institution; the Center for American Progress; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Illinois Commerce Commission; the Immigration Policy Center; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the New York City Economic Development Commission; the Office of Management and Budget; Pew Charitable Trusts; the Progressive States Network; the Service Employees International Union; the U.S. Departments of Energy, Labor, Commerce, Education, and Agriculture; and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
In 2007, Joel Rogers partnered with Van Jones to found Green For All, an environmental partner of progressive labor. A year later, in 2008, Rogers co-founded the Emerald Cities Collaborative, which together with COWS and Green For All directs the Efficiency Cities Network, whose aim is to educate government workers and businesses about retrofitting the new green economy and to ensure the “generation, local capture, and equitable distribution of resulting power, wealth, health, income, employment, and other opportunities.”
From the early days of COWS, Rogers was intent upon building a progressive alliance which sought to redress the supposed failure of liberalism in America. “All around us is the wreckage of unrestrained capitalism—falling living standards, families strained to breaking point, rising inequality,” he lamented in 1994. For Rogers, liberals were ill-equipped to save America from economic decline and stagnation, since they “lack […] confidence in ordinary people” and, therefore, cannot build “organized popular support.” Progressives, by contrast, “actually believe in democracy” and can “do the heavy lifting against entrenched and resourceful corporate actors,” said Rogers.
In Governing Work and Welfare in a New Economy (2003), Rogers and Laura Dresser, COWS’ Associate Director, argued that “what has appeared to happen – with the worst consequences for the less-educated, but extending well beyond its ranks – is that a large and growing portion of the American workforce is simply stuck in poverty or near-poverty jobs, with no serious prospects of income growth.” Dresser has lamented that "we have tolerated, accepted and, in some ways, encouraged an incredible increase in inequality in the United States."
Rogers has advocated labor’s takeover of the private sector – and Dresser has promoted the Employee Free Choice Act “to move back to equality, productivity, and labor standards along with economic growth.”
The other initiative that COWs has long advocated is the development of a new green economy, pushed by government policy and directed through progressive alliances and business cooperation. COWS believes that “the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [i.e., the $787 billion stimulus package] alone has the potential to create almost 180,000 jobs in energy efficiency over the next few years,” and looks forward to “comprehensive climate and energy legislation” that would lead to a “net increase of roughly 1.7 million [green] jobs in the U.S.”