*In October, ACS released "What's The Big Idea? Recommendations for Improving Law and Policy in the Next Administration." With that next administration on the horizon, authors of the report are reviewing their recommendations in the ACSblog symposium: Updating The Big Idea.
by K. Sabeel Rahman, Assistant Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School
As the incoming Trump administration prepares to take office, many Obama era policy initiatives find themselves in the crosshairs of the new administration and the Republican Congress. On the table are a variety of proposals including not only the headline proposed dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, but also measures that could undo the FCC’s net neutrality rules, further privatize the public school system and even voucher-ize parts of Medicare. These proposals represent more than just a pendulum swing away from government regulation to conservative free market principles. Rather, at stake in this debate is a much deeper issue about the nature of public goods and the determinants of economic opportunity and freedom.
While laissez-faire political thought often portrays the market as a domain of economic freedom and opportunity, unsullied and unskewed by government interference, genuine economic freedom and opportunity require much more than the removal of government interference (even if such a thing were possible). Freedom is not just the absence of restraint; it is the affirmative capacity to pursue life choices and ends that each of us has reason to value. That capacity in turn depends on equal and universal access to foundational goods and services that make such economic opportunity and freedom possible. The underlying infrastructure of economic opportunity thus includes access to things like education, healthcare, labor protections from economic insecurity and the like. In the absence of these goods and services, individuals and communities alike are deeply insecure, vulnerable, unable to enjoy meaningful economic freedom and opportunity
If the goal is to provide this kind of freedom for each of us to develop the lives and experiences we have reason to value, then the purpose of social policies must be understood in terms of enabling access to those goods, services and opportunities whose presence in turn enables that freedom—and whose absence narrows it. We can think of these as public goods in which our policies must invest. These public goods are not physical infrastructure like roads or bridges; they are a kind of “social infrastructure,” that make possible a wider array of stable, secure life pathways. Since these resources are critical enablers of a wide range of social uses and projects, they must be managed as a commons: open to use by all on principles of equal access and nondiscrimination, simple to identify and access without excessive or confusing barriers, designed to maximize these downstream uses and the spillovers and innovations that might result.