The New Centrism

I don’t do much politics on this blog, but I feel like I have to say something about the demise of the Democratic Leadership Council, which helped bring Bill Clinton to the Presidency in the early 1990s. A lot of writers have interpreted the end of the DLC as the end of centrism, and a sign that Washington has become completely polarized.

My take is different. To me, we’re moving into a new era of centrist ideas, based around the importance of innovation and investment, creative thinking about regulation and jobs, and a greater appreciation of a global economy built around cross-border collaboration rather than “you-me” economic nationalism.

Rather than the center disappearing, I think we’re going to start seeing both left and right start drawing on ‘new centrist’ ideas. Let me just give a few of them:

*The importance of innovation for driving economic and job growth. When businesses try and innovate, we should reward rather than punish them, especially given the innovation shortfall of the past decade.

*The need to  think about investment in broad terms, including human capital and knowledge capital. Our conventional economic statistics, which measure only physical investment, are giving us a misleading view of the economy.

*The need to understand the true nature of the long-term fiscal and entitlement problem: The long-term rise in medical spending is a total reflection of falling or flat productivity in the healthcare sector. If we can fix that–through a combination of techological advances and institutional change–we can in effect grow our way out of the entitlement problem.

*The importance of rising real wages for young educated workers as a sign of the health of the economy. Real wages for young college grads have been falling since 2000–we cannot operate a modern economy this way, because our young people can no longer afford to pay for the education they need.

*The need to find some way to lessen the burden of regulation without losing touch with our social values. We need a systematic process for examining the thousands of regulations and carefully adjusting or removing the ones that slow down growth, while protecting public health, safety, and the environment.

*The need to think about the global economy in terms of supply chains which cross national borders. The U.S. needs to make sure that we are part of global supply chains and that we are getting our fair share of the benefits.  And we need new measures of competitiveness that take account of the new world.

I’m working on these ideas in affiliation with the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), where I am Senior Fellow.  Will Marshall, who helped found the DLC so many years ago, is head of PPI, which is vibrant and growing. Please keep an eye on the PPI website here as we aim towards the future.


  1. Specifically on regulations, I would hope that we could learn to take different approaches to different sized companies and to different industries. I think we should to have minimal regulator impact on smaller businesses. I think that we also tend to forget how much impact local regulation has on small business. I would think that the left and right could reach some agreement in this area.

    I also think that we should consider eliminating corporate income taxes. Too much time is wasted on tax preparation. Maybe I am crazy, but I think this could be possible if we had a realistic new revenue stream to take its place.


  2. I think you’re right Mike. The super-liberal Huffington Post is certainly heading towards the middle, among a few other sites.

    I’ll be keeping an eye on the PPI website, and personally working to keep some sense of centrism alive in journalism whenever possible — not too mention normal human pacing.


  3. I don’t see the concrete reasons for thinking that Republicans will have anything resembling moderate policy proposals, given their voter and donor base. Mainly, Republicans get votes from old white people and non-college educated white people, and neither of those groups of people want to change anything about entitlements. As well, most of their donor money comes from people who have no vested interest in U.S. economic success(as they are betting their future on foreign economies) and also have no ideological commitment to the well being of their fellow citizens. So I don’t see the incentives causing Republicans to tack to the center. They won’t gain votes that way, and they won’t get more campaign money that way. Democrats, who look like they will in the not too distant future have a permanent majority, except when the economy is suffering, have every incentive to maximize economic growth. For here on out, however, when the economy suffers, Republicans win as Democrats take the blame. It isn’t a structural dynamic that inspires confidence.

  4. I’m not certain I see this as a center movement but rather the gravity of reason. Couldn’t agree more on innovation, still innovation requires lots of failures and a desire to take on risk. Government can mitigate financial risk by taking away money from someone and give it to the risk taker, but we both know that that never works. Your thoughts on removing regulatory burdens of dubious or negative value, is certainly in the right direction. Something along the way of control-ables that can actually be controlled. I don’t see how we can have innovation if perfection in outcomes is a necessary condition for beginning in the first place.

    I look forward to your work, and really like where it’s going.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Toby Elwin, Michael Mandel. Michael Mandel said: More on the New Centrism […]

  2. […] This piece is cross-posted at Mandel on Innovation and Growth […]

  3. […] piece is cross-posted at Mandel on Innovation and Growth Tagged Economy, Entitlement Reform, Issues, Regulatory Reform, […]

  4. […] the health care cost issue. Instead of focusing on partisan politics, Mike Mandel has a great idea: The long-term rise in medical spending is a total reflection of falling or flat […]

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