The Roosevelt Institute (RI) was established in 1987 through the merger of the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Foundation. Describing itself as an organization “inspired by the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor,” RI “reimagines America as it should be: a place where hard work is rewarded, everyone participates, and everyone enjoys a fair share of our collective prosperity.” One of RI’s highest priorities is to promote a wholesale, society-wide redistribution of wealth. Toward that end, the Institute brings together thousands of “thinkers and doers” from all walks of life—including the profession of economics—to “rethink and reshape everything from local policy to federal legislation, orienting toward a new economic and political system” that is “built by many for the good of all.”
Proceeding from the premise that free-market capitalism is inherently unjust and prone to periodic collapses caused by its own structural flaws, RI currently administers several major projects aimed at reshaping the American economy to more closely resemble a socialist system.
For instance, the Finance and Wealth project explores how “the explosive growth of the financial sector” since 1980 has “hurt the overall economy” by causing wealth to become “increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few.” To address this perceived problem, RI seeks to “reform Wall Street and rein in corporate excess[es]” such as “soaring CEO pay, a phenomenon that encourages executives to fixate on short-term stock prices, take extreme risks, and even commit fraud.” By RI’s calculus, the financial crisis of 2008 was not due to government-mandated regulations like the Community Reinvestment Act, but rather, to “misguided financial practices and ideological assumptions” by “Wall Street.”
A related measure, RI’s Rewrite the Rules project, laments that “since the 1980s, trickle-down economics has shrunk the middle class and increased the concentration of wealth at the top,” causing “vulnerable groups” like “women and people of color” to experience a great deal of discrimination. As a remedy, the Institute seeks to “rewrite the rules that structure our economy and society to promote both stronger growth and shared prosperity.” This must be done in a comprehensive and broad-based manner, says RI, because “a piecemeal response will not suffice for problems at this scale.”
The Rethinking Communities project gives college students “the tools” they need in order to “identify and advance solutions that promote broadly shared economic progress.”
Supplementing the efforts of the aforementioned initiatives is RI’s Next American Economy project, which features a diverse group of economists, technologists, union leaders, academics, and entrepreneurs who advocate for radical change in the American economic system.
RI’s Work and Labor project likewise seeks to foster “economic transformation” by promoting labor-union membership, higher mandatory wages, and the dismantling of “structural barriers that exclude women and people of color” from financial opportunity.
The Women and Families project laments that “due to workplace norms and government policies that are stuck in the 1950s,” women in the U.S. face high levels of “economic insecurity” as well as a “constant assault” on “their fundamental right to make their own healthcare choices” (regarding abortion in particular).
The Next Generation Blueprint for 2016 project aims to ensure that the so-called “millennial” generation “has a seat at the table” along with progressive legislators and policymakers who seek to “rewrit[e] the rules” and “reimagine the building blocks” of the U.S. economy. Noting, further, that Latinos and Asians make up an increasingly large part of the American electorate, RI in September 2016 held a seminar exploring “how can we implement the strategies and tactics needed to bring … younger and more diverse Americans into the fabric of democracy” — i.e., get them to the polls on election day, where they tend overwhelmingly to vote for Democrats.
In June 2016, RI sponsored a seminar claiming that “for decades America has rigged the economy in favor of the wealthy,” and exploring ways “to curb the power of the economic elite and create a more inclusive society.” Key participants in this event included Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza; television host and political-science professor Melissa Harris-Perry; Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson; Andrea Flynn, a Roosevelt Institute fellow who writes extensively about economic inequality; Darrick Hamilton, a “stratification economist” whose work examines “the causes, consequences and remedies of racial and ethnic inequality in economic and health outcomes”; RI fellow Mike Konczal, who impugns economic “inequality” and promotes “a progressive vision of the economy”; Brooklyn Law School professor K. Sabeel Rahman, whose 2016 book Democracy Against Domination argues that “persisting disparities of economic power” contributed to the 2008 financial crisis; and RI fellow Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University economist whose work focuses heavily on income distribution.
Noteworthy members of RI’s board of directors include American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten; longtime Democratic Party donor Bernard Schwartz; labor union leader James P. Hoffa; The Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel; Kate Brandt, who held several key positions in the Obama administration’s Departments of Energy and Defense; Sally Minard, former co-chair of National Volunteer Coordination for “Hillary Clinton for President”; and individuals affiliated with a variety of left-wing organizations including the SEIU, the AFL-CIO, UNITE, the Democracy Alliance, and EMILY’s List.
Among the Roosevelt Institute’s many funders are the Annie E. Casey Foundation; the Arca Foundation; the Baumann Family Foundation; the Carnegie Corporation of New York; the Ford Foundation; the Foundation For Child Development; the Iara Lee and George Gund III Foundation; the J.M. Kaplan Fund; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Joyce Foundation; the Nathan Cummings Foundation; the Open Society Foundations; the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; the Surdna Foundation; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
For additional information on the Roosevelt Institute, click here.