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Introduction: Public Goods Framework

Video above: Roosevelt's Introduction to Public Goods training with Policy Manager Aman Banerji and Roosevelt Fellow Sabeel Rahman. 

Introduction: Roosevelt's Public Goods Framework

A public goods framework helps us reaffirm the notion that government is an entity that plays a role in the creation and distribution of some of the goods that are most important to us. In the process, it can challenge negative portrayals of government as lazy, inefficient and corrupt.  

A public good is a good or service that can be accessed by all members of a society, regardless of race, status, identity or income- whether or not they directly paid for it. In fact, public goods like water, transport, healthcare, and schools are fundamental to our ability to thrive in society. A public goods policy framework allows us to view policy as inherent to our most important daily experiences- water we drink, the schools we attend, the health care we receive and so much more.  Often, outside of the public eye, the conversations around public goods was one of the most widely discussed issues this election. 

These conversations were on two fronts: Which goods are public goods, and who is eligible for them. On the first, from Trump’s promises to protect Medicaid to Clinton’s appeals to free higher education, both left and right upheld the idea of a public good- namely that government must provide it’s members with certain goods and services. On the right, especially, this ran counter to traditional Republican appeals to eliminate public goods like social security, Medicare, and food stamps outright. Where the two sides vastly diverged was in their definitions of using inclusionary vs. exclusionary vision approaches to who is eligible to public goods. Trump consciously defined the boundaries of those deserving populations that ought to receive public goods while aggressively excluding others. At Roosevelt, we commit to an inclusionary vision of the public goods, one that challenges hierarchies of race, gender, class, and citizenship to argue for equitable access to public goods simply on the basis of personhood. We must make these claims collectively, focused on the ‘Our’ rather than the ‘Mine’. Powerful chants and slogans like ‘Whose streets, our Streets’ launched by a historic set of social justice organizers has already helped to frame conceptions of public in collective terms. From reclaiming our streets to our educational systems to our justice systems, our policy work ought to be equally collective in their approach. 

Key to both of these questions is a long-standing debate: How do we best provide public goods? In our present moment, it appears that neither the public nor the private sector is able to provide equitable, accessible, and transparent public goods. Yet, how did our once thriving public institutions arrive at this point? We have spent the last 2 years understanding one of the processes that has led us to this point: Financialization or ‘the vast increase in the size, scope and power of the financial sector’.  This process has enabled not just the transfer of wealth from public institutions to financial institutions across the country. Equally, though, it has served to narrow our conceptions of value to focus entirely on financial value in contrast to use value, democratic value, societal value and so many more. For more on the Financialization of Higher Education, check out our guide here.

Our forays into the financialization of public institutions revealed a similar, equally dangerous practice: Privatization, or the process of transferring ownership of public resources into private hands. The same cash strapped public institutions that took on risky/predatory financial deals were the ones now selling off their collective assets through the process of privatization. Not only was privatization inspired by many of the same conditions of financial vulnerability at the state and local levels, it also led to many of the same effects: greater inequality and a massive resource transfer away from young people, low-income communities and those of color. Most importantly, the process has vastly anti-democratic effects as those controlling our access to the most basic of goods are now outside of the democratic process. To truly understand the decline of public institutions then, we had to broaden our framework from simply financialization to include: the privatization of our collective resources, the dismantling of our systems of accountability, and the vast defunding of our public institutions. Together, they form our Re: Public Project. 

For a more in depth understanding to privatization, see the video below!


Our Republic and Financialization projects are the two pieces to our Public Goods Framework. Through the framework, we hope to challenge privatization and financialization to reaffirm our commitment to democratic, accessible, and equitable public goods. Over 10 years of policy writing and advocacy experience tell us that the best way to combat these threats is collective action to reassert public control locally.  At the Roosevelt Network, we believe that young people have the most at stake in this fight for public control. Rising education costs, low job prospects, gridlocked government, and rampant discrimination have defined our American experience. If properly trained, organized and equipped, our generation has the power to transform existing institutions and build new ones.   That’s why, we are investing in the incubation and growth of youth-driven campaigns that target and address public goods in our economic, educational, and justice systems. By supporting local projects, we will build a national narrative and movement that promotes public power. And because we believe that who writes the rules matters, we want the people we support to be as diverse as the emerging generation.

Ways to Fight for the Public Good

To help build toward our vision for education, the economy, and human rights, we’re looking for policies or campaigns that do one of the following:

    1. Anti-Privatization: Resist the incoming privatization of a public good in your community directly.
    2. Pro Public Oversight: The use, distribution, or function of public goods should have democratic oversight from the people who use it. These campaigns improve the power and access citizens have to make those decisions.
    3. Pro Public Institutions: Weak public institutions are great targets for future privatization. Efforts to improve the quality, equity or accessibility of public institutions represent a third way to build for the public good. 
    4. Combat Financialization of Higher Education: Analyze the finances of your University to identify the ways in which the financial priorities of your campus have shifted and advocate for a new approach.