Month: March 2020

The “How Will You Pay For It?” Question Is Tossed In The Trash

Throughout the Democratic presidential primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren offered a slew of robust proposals to reshape the American economy. Yet the Democratic presidential primary hardly engaged with questions of whether that restructuring was wise, who would benefit, and who would lose. Instead, the debate was dominated in no small part by a single question: “How will you pay for it?”

On Friday, the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi who regularly dismissed the ideas put forward by Sanders and Warren as unrealistic, waved away that question, preparing to rubber-stamp a $2 trillion Senate package aimed at staving off economic collapse amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The details of the legislation — particularly the $500 billion, strings-optional corporate slush fund — may be shameful, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who represents the hardest-hit neighborhood of Queens, deemed on the House floor Friday morning, but the moment is instructive. Last week, as it became clear that concerns about deficits and revenue had evaporated, Ocasio-Cortez joined Sanders for a virtual town hall to discuss the global pandemic and the unfolding economic crisis. She raised a number of important points, but one observation touched an especially strong nerve with me.

She was talking about the speed with which the House and Senate have been working to pass spending bills to get cash into the hands of desperate workers, struggling businesses, and major industries:

It’s a fascinating progressive moment because what it’s shown is that all of these issues have never been about ‘how are you going to pay for it?’ It’s never been about whether we have the capacity to do these things or if the logistics have worked out.

All of these excuses that we have been given as to why we cannot treat people humanely have suddenly gone up in smoke and what has been revealed is that all of these issues were really about a lack of political will and who you deemed worthy to be in an emergency or not.

She is outraged. And she should be. Congress has ignored millions of people who have existed in a state of crisis for decades. The people of Flint, Michigan, (and elsewhere) still do not have safe drinking water. Millions of kids go hungry each day. Half a million people, before the pandemic, were homeless on any given night. And on it goes. There has been no multitrillion-dollar spending bill to combat these and other domestic emergencies. Instead, lawmakers have deprived communities of critical investments that could have attenuated their emergencies, often hiding behind the excuse that there isn’t enough money in the budget to deal with problems like these.

The congresswoman wants everyone to learn what the federal response to the pandemic is teaching us. Because the coronavirus is a threat to all of us — not just the poor — we are choosing to act in ways we always could have acted.

We Always Could Have Acted

How was Congress able to come up with $2 trillion so quickly? Why wasn’t there a knock-down-drag-out fight about how to “pay for” this multitrillion-dollar bill? Where is the money coming from?

Let’s get to the bottom of this.

First, it’s important to understand what it means to say that Congress is “paying for” its spending. I served as the chief economist (for the Democrats) on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee (2015/16). It’s important to understand that those words have a specific meaning in the budget world. When a member of Congress drafts a bill, staffers often shop it around, looking for support from other members of Congress. Inevitably, the first question a staffer is confronted with is, “What’s your pay-for?” For example, suppose a staffer is shopping around a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Before lending support to the bill, everyone wants to know how the spending is going to be “paid for.” What that means in budget-speak is “How are you going to fully offset the spending so that it doesn’t add to the deficit?” That’s what it means to “pay for” your spending.

This usually involves raising taxes (though it can also be done by carving money out of some other part of the budget, e.g. defense). We did this with a $1 trillion infrastructure bill when I was in the Senate. Our so-called pay-for involved closing tax loopholes that mainly benefit wealthy individuals and large, profitable corporations. Lots of people were eager to do an infrastructure bill, but we couldn’t get enough support for the tax increase, so the bill didn’t pass.

Suppose it had.

When Congress passes a spending bill that is fully “paid for,” it sends two sets of instructions to the Federal Reserve. The Fed is the government’s fiscal agent — i.e. its bank — and virtually all payments made by (and to) the federal government are handled by the Fed.

The first set of instructions tells the Fed to make certain authorized payments on behalf of the U.S. Treasury. The Fed makes these payments by using a computer to add dollars to bank accounts. If we’re doing a big infrastructure bill, then the government might be paying Caterpillar Inc. for lots of new building equipment and hiring thousands of construction workers, architects, engineers, and so on. Government spending adds dollars to bank accounts.

The second set of instructions tells the Fed to use the computer to subtract dollars from bank accounts. In our example, closing tax loopholes would force people and companies to pay higher taxes.

On balance, “paying for” its spending means that the government instructs the Fed to subtract away (via tax) exactly as many dollars as it adds (via spending) to bank accounts.

That is not what Congress is doing today. Instead of writing a bill that would send two sets of instructions to the Fed, Congress is pushing through a $2 trillion spending bill that will send just one set of instructions. No one is bothering to try to offset — i.e. “pay for” — that spending, because the goal is to get lots of money to people (and companies) without subtracting a lot away. As Rep. Ocasio-Cortez correctly points out, Congress is doing now what it could always have done.

What Has Been Revealed

Think back to 2019, when the political conversation centered around the Democratic presidential primaries and whether we could afford the kinds of ambitious spending proposals being pushed by Sanders or Warren. Neither of them admitted it at the time, but Congress could have canceled student loan debt, lowered Medicare’s eligibility age to zero, or paid to make public colleges and universities tuition-free simply by writing a bill that sent one set of instructions to the Fed. Spending or not spending money is always a political choice.

That’s not to say that Congress can authorize multitrillion-dollar spending bills left and right without ever building in offsets to subtract dollars out of the economy. There are limits.

Spending or not spending money is always a political choice.

But the limits aren’t financial. Uncle Sam can’t run out of dollars. The U.S. government is the issuer of our currency — the U.S. dollar — which means that, unlike Greece, it can never find itself in a situation in which it has bills coming due that it can’t afford to pay. Remember, Greece gave up its sovereign currency — the drachma — and started borrowing in what is effectively a foreign currency — the euro — when it joined the Economic and Monetary Union in 2001. That’s why it (and other) countries in the eurozone experienced a debt crisis and countries like Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. did not.

So what are the limits for a currency-issuing government like the United States? The answer is inflation. The government can’t run out of money, but it can run out of things to buy (including labor). We are constrained by our real resources — i.e. our technical know-how and the available supply of workers, factories, machines, raw materials, and so on. As long as the economy isn’t already operating at full capacity, then it is reasonable for Congress to send just one set of instructions to the Fed.

We could have done that with a number of things the Democrats debated over the last year. For example, Sanders proposed that we cancel $81 billion in medical debt. We could have easily done that without offsets. It would have allowed people who were paying down medical bills to spend some or all of that money on other things. Even if they spent all of it buying consumer goods, the U.S. economy could easily have handled the additional spending. There was no reason to “pay for” that kind of legislation because there was no chance it would have caused inflation to accelerate. The numbers were just too small.

But even bigger things could have been done without so-called pay-fors. Take student debt. Both Warren and Sanders wanted to cancel student loan debt. He would have canceled all of it, and she would have canceled up to $50,000 for 95 percent of the population. Both explained how it could be “paid for.”

Long before any presidential candidate got behind the idea, I worked with a team of economists to analyze the macroeconomic effects of canceling (what was then $1.4 trillion) student loan debt. What we found was that the economy had enough real resource capacity to safely handle a one-time cancellation without the need for offsets. In other words, Congress didn’t need to “pay for” it.

That won’t always be the case. It always comes down to inflation risk. How much can the economy handle — in terms of higher spending — before you need the offsets? That’s the right way to think about the “pay for” question. It’s also the right way to budget our nation’s real resources.

Even before the economic meltdown that is currently underway, there was enough slack in the economy to allow Congress to bring clean drinking water to the people of Flint, to beef up programs that provide nutritional assistance to children, and to build housing for those sleeping on the streets. Congress could have addressed these and other emergencies by writing and passing spending bills without the need for so-called pay-fors. If the votes are there, the money can always be made available.

When all of this is behind us, to the extent that it ever can be, let’s not forget what we’ve learned.

The World Will Need New Financial System After COVID-19

The world as we know it is about to change radically as a result of Covid-19. How we live our lives, how we work, how we socialise and how money moves will change – and profoundly. We’ll leave others to figure out the first three but in terms of how money moves around the world, we will need to find a new way of financing the global economy when this virus has passed.

And before you say it’s too soon, please remember that the Bretton Woods conference, which set out a postwar economic system, was agreed a year before the end of hostilities and only a month after D-Day in 1944. It established a new global exchange rate system tied (in part) to the value of gold, created the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to bail out struggling countries and decreed that the US dollar would be the global reserve currency – or the currency into which all other currencies should be exchangeable.

The world needs to start thinking about a New Bretton Woods now and not muddle through, hoping to put it all back together with sticking plaster over the next few years.

Capitalism suspended

Over the coming weeks, consumption will collapse, as will confidence. The hospitality sector as we knew it will be over. Most airlines will have ceased flying. House-buying or selling will disappear and with it home furnishing and renovations. No one will start a major new project and very few will be completed. Broadly speaking, the economy will cease to function.

Even if they are proactive now and lend immediately to robust businesses backed by last year’s profits, banks will experience widespread default from unpaid loans, mortgages and overdrafts.

Capitalism will be suspended. The most optimistic view is that we put the economy to sleep, inoculating it as best we can with massive injections of cash or “helicopter money”. This could be done if governments and central banks – acting together – deposit free money in businesses’ and people’s accounts, not so much to maintain spending as to prevent contagious mass default. This monetary ‘vaccine’ would best work alongside (and not instead of) governments taking on the wage bill for workers.

Helicopter money could be delivered without incurring significant debt but, intellectually, it would mean tearing up the central-banking rule book. Although this is the most sensible thing to do, governments may well choose to raise the money (unnecessarily in our opinion) by issuing massive amounts of sovereign debt.

As Ireland is one of the most export-dependent economies in the world, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Ireland’s national income or GDP could sink by 10-25 per cent this quarter and next – depending on how long this crisis continues. The budget deficit (or national overdraft) could spike to 20 per cent of GDP. Unemployment, even with the wage subsidy to dissuade employers from laying off staff, is bound to sky-rocket – possibly to 20 per cent.The usual escape valve of emigration will not be open to Irish youth because nearly every developed country in the world will also be in recession with mass unemployment.

At the outset, politicians will tend to prefer maintaining the current system – even though it will have been completely broken by Covid-19.

Having taken the measures outlined above, debts will be crippling, but interest rates will remain on the floor. Big central banks will create more money and use quantitative easing to fund this debt.

Globalisation, of which Ireland has overwhelmingly been a beneficiary, is predicated on travel, trade and the free movement of capital. This will go into reverse. The speed of any reversal will depend on the type of governments that emerge from the crisis. There is a higher likelihood of more nationalist, protectionist and less cosmopolitan politicians emerging in countries traumatised by the virus.

If we want to preserve the liberal order, which has delivered relative prosperity for the past 40 years, we need to convene the G20 immediately with a view to a new Bretton Woods arrangement.

This disparate group includes major nations from all continents and the three biggest economic players: the United States, China and the European Union.

The UN is too cumbersome.

Before its first emergency meeting (via Zoom or Skype), the G20 would have asked its brightest thinkers and economists to come up with some creative ideas to kick-start the post Covid-19 world. Alas, these recommendations will inevitably be watered down once the politicians get their hands on them. The US, for example, would probably demand that the dollar remain the global reserve currency but China simply wouldn’t wear that and the Chinese might even be backed by EU governments.

Assuming the gravity of the situation forces politicians to come to a compromise, we could be looking at a brand new global reserve currency, which might be based on a basket of currencies including the yuan, euro and dollar.

This new virtual unit of credit (eg the ‘Globo’ or the ‘Mundo’) could then put a worldwide value on all debts and assets. That could then restart supply and demand and might even lead to cash and coins being issued in the new clearing currency by a reconstituted IMF – one which the old western countries would no longer control.


Apart from what kind of money we’d all be using, the most pressing issue would be debt.

In the worst case, bankrupt western governments might have to print trillions of euro and dollars to give their citizens enough money to survive. It’s not unreasonable to assume that they would consider nationalising vast swathes (if not all) of the economy – especially those in travel, hospitality and essential services such as rubbish collection and banking (again). This is already under way in some countries.

That means sovereigns – for a while – would own hundreds of thousands of distressed companies, all their debt, all their assets and all of their wage bills which could then be leased or sold back in chunks to those who could afford it.

Ireland and Germany have recent experience in how to do this. Unpalatable as it may sound, those who ran the National Asset Management Agency and the Treuhand (which disposed of East German assets after the fall of the Berlin Wall) would become the most sought-after consultants in the world. In fact, “Nama-isation” could go into the global lexicon as the byword for returning distressed assets back to the private sector.

But even if none of these ideas is implemented or even debated, something urgent and drastic will have to be done. Just as the calendar was bifurcated into BC and AD, the economic future will be delineated into two eras: ante-corona (AC) and post-corona (PC).

How The Arts Foster Community And Create Change

In an area with such stark inequality as the Bay Area, with pressing human needs such as poverty and homelessness, why should foundations and philanthropists support artists and arts organizations? The answer to this question lies in how we consider artists and cultural workers in relation to the community, and how they help address these and other problems.

The arts provide a way to bridge gaps and amplify the voices of those who may not otherwise be heard. This is not new. Throughout history, artists have used their art to catalyze social movements, spark revolutions and change entrenched societal beliefs. These artists often emerge from current struggles and work to change narratives around racial inequity, community health, housing and economic displacement.

For example, throughout Oakland’s history, activists have used their art to effect change. Groups from the Black Panther Party to Black Lives Matter to LGBTQ+ rights groups have often used creative expression as part of their tactics in Oakland and the Bay Area.

Today, Oakland remains a bastion of creative expression, with artist communities surviving in the area against great odds. The Joyce Gordon Gallery, the Betti Ono Gallery and the resident companies in the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts located in the heart of downtown Oakland helped mobilize the larger arts community in working with city officials to create legislation launching Oakland’s first arts and culture district — the Black Arts Movement Business District (BAMBD) along Oakland 14th Street corridor. The arts are of vital importance to Oakland’s past and present. The arts foster community and create change toward a more just world.

In general, large and small arts organizations have struggled, yet small organizations led by people of color and LGBTQIA+ have struggled to sustain themselves and as a result many of them have closed their doors.

We are burdening organizations led by people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized people with the most onerous, time-consuming proposals for the lowest amounts of funding. This needs to change.

In California there are 103,191 arts-related organizations employing 545,627 people, with nearly 40,000 arts employees in San Francisco alone. As a way of supporting arts organizations working on the front lines of advancing racial and economic equity, the San Francisco Foundation Place Pathway launched the Artistic Hubs Cohort in 2013 and is now supporting a second cohort. AHC organizations such as Grown Women Dance Collective, consisting of dancers aged 50 and over, is partnering with the East Bay Housing Organizations to create a dance piece to help organize affordable housing residents, many of whom are African American seniors. Additionally, in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Chinese Culture Center is hosting an international exhibit on LGBTQIA+ people in 2020 to highlight the narratives of this often overlooked Bay Area population.

Local and national funders play a key role in these organizations’ ability to create capacity, as do city officials and policymakers. However, people of color, along with other marginalized groups, face an uphill battle to receive funding for their projects. Even during what the United Nations has declared the International Decade for People of African Descent, organizations led by people of color have received, on average, only 10% of philanthropic dollars over the past few decades.

We need artists and cultural workers to help address serious, systemic challenges in the Bay Area, where extreme wealth coexists with extreme poverty. Actions that can help to improve these circumstances:

  • Funders and government should increase their investments in the small arts community
  • Funding applications need to be simplified and streamlined to create a level playing field for smaller arts organizations.
  • Funders should prioritize general operational support, capacity building and facilities grants so that more arts organizations can obtain the facilities they need in order to operate.
  • Voters and appointing bodies need to put arts and cultural leaders on school boards, commissions and funding advisory committees.

Because of their potential for integrating economic development, performing arts and human services, arts organizations are critically important voices in policy conversations around cultural economies, creative placemaking, restorative justice and community cohesion. Sitting at the table with policymakers and philanthropists in conversations about critical social issues is an important next step for arts organizations.

Maya Angelou once said that “all great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.” It is often through artistic connections, speaking directly from the human heart, that we can cultivate change and transform the cultural narrative, perceptions and even policies.

Stephanie Kelton On Rumble With Michael Moore

Stephanie Kelton joins Michael Moore to discuss why ‘we MUST use this moment to massively reshape our economic and healthcare systems and immediately get money in the hands of all Americans.’


San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz To Run For Puerto Rico Governor In 2020

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city, officially announced she’s running for governor in the 2020 elections.

Cruz, who became a prominent adversary of President Donald Trump amid failures in the federal response to the devastating Hurricane Maria, made the long-awaited announcement Friday afternoon at the Caguas Botanical Garden.

“I’ve been thinking for a long time, what’s the best way I can serve Puerto Rico … I’m going to do so by becoming the next governor,” said Cruz, while wearing a white pantsuit with a T-shirt that read “¡Sin Miedo!” — Spanish for “without fear.”

Cruz began her speech talking about her great-grandfather, who was an agricultural laborer, and the ripple effects slavery left behind in Puerto Rico.

“We have to break away from the chains that tie us down in order to have a promising future and break our cycle of poverty,” she said in Spanish.

The announcement came on a Puerto Rican holiday that commemorates the day slavery was abolished there.

Cruz gained national and international attention when she criticized the Trump administration’s hurricane response in Puerto Rico.

“This is personal. The president came and threw paper towels at us,” she told NBC News in a previous interview. “He continues to disregard the pain of people from Puerto Rico.”

While announcing her candidacy, she reminded attendees that the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló “was unable to count deaths after Hurricane Maria” and “stood by Trump when he threw paper towels at people [in Puerto Rico].”

During her speech, she voiced her position on some of the most hot-button issues in the island, such as repealing the century-old Jones Act, which raises the cost of imported goods by limiting foreign ships from going there, and eliminating the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, or the FOMBPR, that oversees the island’s finances. She also called for the island’s $72 billion public debt to be audited.

Puerto Rico’s territorial status is directly linked to the island’s political party system.

If We’re Bailing Out Corporations, They Should Bail Out The Planet

One of the best chances to make some positive use of the coronavirus pandemic may be passing swiftly. As the economy craters, big corporations are in need of government assistance, and, on Capitol Hill, the sound of half a trillion dollars in relief money is bringing out the lobbyists.

On Thursday afternoon, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, described the scene as a “trough” and mentioned a quote from a lobbyist in The Hill: “Everybody’s asking for something and those that aren’t asking for something only aren’t because they don’t know how.” Whitehouse added, “I fear that enviros don’t know how to ask, because, so far in this scrum, we haven’t heard much from them.”

The corporations will get assistance, but the Democrats have enough legislative power to insure that it comes with at least a few strings attached. If they attach those strings with even a modicum of care, they will have used this emergency to help solve the looming climate crisis in ways that were unimaginable just a few days ago. For busy legislators looking for a principle to enforce in handing out relief to corporations, here’s a shorthand: any bailout depends on your industry promising to meet the targets set in the Paris climate accords, and demonstrating in the next few months what that plan looks like.

Consider, say, the airline industry. It obviously is in need of relief, even if the biggest airlines spent ninety-six per cent of their proceeds over the past decade buying back stock, instead of, say, preparing for the future. On behalf of the flight attendants and pilots and mechanics the airlines employ, they should get it. But everyone who has to live on a rapidly heating planet should get something back in return. And since, at current rates of growth, by 2050, air travel threatens to eat up a quarter of the entire carbon the world can still emit and meet the climate targets set in Paris, that something should be a wholesale change in direction. On Friday, some environmental groups proposed that “Congress must cap total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. airline fleets at 2020 levels, and overall emissions must fall at least 20% per decade thereafter.” (The Trump Administration has so far sidestepped Clean Air Act calls to regulate aircraft emissions.) And the airlines should act not by pledging to plant trees but by burning less jet fuel—by making flight routes more logical, and designing more efficient planes.

Or take the banks: if they want a bailout, they should pledge an end to funding for expansionary fossil-fuel projects. They don’t seem willing to rein themselves in—on Wednesday the Rainforest Action Network released an updated version of its “Banking on Climate Change” report, which shows that the four biggest U.S. banks continue to lead the way in funding global warming, with JPMorgan Chase reportedly having handed over more than a quarter of a trillion dollars to the fossil-fuel industry since the end of the Paris talks.

Or take the fossil-fuel industry itself. It’s been dropping in value for a decade, as renewable energy takes most of the growth in demand, but the coronavirus crisis has hammered the price of oil. Trump promised to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve “right up to the top,” but the drillers will doubtless want more. Yet, as Michael Brune, the head of the Sierra Club, told me, on Thursday, “the fossil-fuel industry is already heavily subsidized by the federal government, and they should not get yet another giveaway in any form, whether it’s low-interest loans, royalty relief, new tax subsidies, or filling the reserve.” More assistance should come only if these companies pledge to stop exploring for new oil, since climate scientists have made it clear that we can’t burn what we already have in our reserves.

None of this is ideal. In an ideal world, we’d use this moment to quickly enact a Green New Deal, employing all the suddenly unemployed Americans in building out our renewable-energy system and laying the high-speed rail tracks that would help curtail the need for short-haul aviation. But, for now, here’s a list of “5 Principles for Just COVID-19 Relief and Stimulus” that dozens of environmental groups have signed on to (, which I helped found, is a signatory), which offers a guide for thinking about the “choices being made right now will shape our society for years, if not decades to come.”

These sorts of conditions are not without precedent: after the 2008 financial crisis, President Barack Obama used the government bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler to force them, and by extension the rest of the automobile industry, to accept stringent new fuel-economy standards, which may have been the single biggest blow he struck against climate change during his tenure in office. (Needless to say, the Trump Administration has been hard at work wrecking this achievement.) The principle is clear: taking money from society means that you owe society something. Trump and the Senate Republicans aren’t likely to enforce that principle, but, since the Democrats control the House, they will have a big say in the outcome. The question that climate-minded voters will ask for years to come is: Did you strike a useful bargain when you had the leverage?

Our goal can’t be simply a return to the status-quo ante, because that old normal was driving a climate crisis that will eventually prove every bit as destructive as a pandemic. With just a little courage from Democratic legislators, we could actually be building a world that is safer on every front.

Why America Can’t Respond To The Current Crisis

Dr. Anthony S Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and just about the only official in the Trump administration trusted to tell the truth about the coronavirus, said last Thursday: “The system does not, is not really geared to what we need right now … It is a failing, let’s admit it.”

While we’re at it, let’s admit something more basic. The system would be failing even under a halfway competent president. The dirty little secret, which will soon become apparent to all, is that there is no real public health system in the United States.

The ad hoc response fashioned late Friday by House Democrats and the White House may help a bit, although it’s skimpy, as I’ll explain.

As the coronavirus outbreak in the US follows the same grim exponential growth path first displayed in Wuhan, China, before herculean measures were put in place to slow its spread there, America is waking up to the fact that it has almost no public capacity to deal with it.

Instead of a public health system, we have a private for-profit system for individuals lucky enough to afford it and a rickety social insurance system for people fortunate enough to have a full-time job.

At their best, both systems respond to the needs of individuals rather than the needs of the public as a whole. In America, the word “public” – as in public health, public education or public welfare – means a sum total of individual needs, not the common good.

Contrast this with America’s financial system. The Federal Reserve concerns itself with the health of financial markets as a whole. Late last week the Fed made $1.5 trillion available to banks at the slightest hint of difficulties making trades. No one batted an eye.

When it comes to the health of the nation as a whole, money like this isn’t available. And there are no institutions analogous to the Fed with responsibility for overseeing and managing the public’s health – able to whip out a giant checkbook at a moment’s notice to prevent human, rather than financial, devastation.

Even if a test for the Covid-19 virus had been developed and approved in time, no institutions are in place to administer it to tens of millions of Americans free of charge. Local and state health departments are already barebones, having lost nearly a quarter of their workforce since 2008, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Healthcare in America is delivered mainly by private for-profit corporations which, unlike financial institutions, are not required to maintain reserve capacity. As a result, the nation’s supply of ventilators isn’t nearly large enough to care for projected numbers of critically ill coronavirus victims unable to breathe for themselves. Its 45,000 intensive care unit beds fall woefully short of the 2.9 million that are likely to be needed.

The Fed can close banks to quarantine financial crises but the US can’t close workplaces because the nation’s social insurance system depends on people going to work.

Almost 30% of American workers have no paid sick leave from their employers, including 70% of low-income workers earning less than $10.49 an hour. Vast numbers of self-employed workers cannot afford sick leave. Friday’s deal between House Democrats and the White House won’t have much effect because it exempts large employers and offers waivers to smaller ones.

Most jobless Americans don’t qualify for unemployment insurance because they haven’t worked long enough in a steady job, and the ad-hoc deal doesn’t alter this. Meanwhile, more than 30 million Americans have no health insurance. Eligibility for Medicaid, food stamps and other public assistance is now linked to having or actively looking for work.

It’s hard to close public schools because most working parents cannot afford childcare. Many poor children rely on school lunches for their only square meal a day. In Los Angeles, about 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches and just under 20,000 are homeless at some point during the school year.

There is no public health system in the US, in short, because the richest nation in the world has no capacity to protect the public as a whole, apart from national defense. Ad-hoc remedies such as House Democrats and the White House fashioned on Friday are better than nothing, but they don’t come close to filling this void.

The Original Sandernista: For Richer Or Poorer, Jane Sanders Married A Movement

In 1981, when Bernie Sanders had been mayor of Burlington, Vermont, for less than three months, Jane Sanders asked for a desk in City Hall. This was when she was still Jane Driscoll, the 30-year-old divorced mother of three heading up the mayor’s new youth task force. “She is also,” wrote the Burlington Free Press at the time, “the mayor’s girlfriend.”

Driscoll and a fellow task-force member appeared before the Board of Aldermen and asked for neither funding nor staffing — they wanted the desk and a phone. They had to tread lightly: Sanders, a socialist who ran as an independent against a four-term incumbent Democrat, had won the mayoral race by only ten votes, and the almost entirely Democratic board was openly hostile to him. It had recently fired his secretary, Linda Niedweske, in the middle of the night. “We had a lot of adversaries,” Neidweske remembers. To Jane, the desk was paramount; it made a real difference, she explained later, when making calls if you could say you were making them from City Hall.

The aldermen voted in her favor, and the Youth Office was opened on the third floor. Jane manned the phone herself, unpaid, every day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., usually. She occasionally answered the one in the mayor’s office too when Niedweske, who had been reinstated, stepped out for lunch.

Twenty-five years later, Jane told Connie Schultz, the wife of Sherrod Brown, to get a desk in Brown’s office when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, the same year as Bernie Sanders. By then, Sanders had, in addition to being mayor of Burlington for eight years, served 16 years as a representative in Congress. He and Jane had been married since 1988. Schultz, a journalist on a leave of absence from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, recalls asking Jane about the desk, “Why would I do that?”

“They need to know you’re there,” she replied.

To Jane, the desk was a symbol that she was there to work, not just to visit occasionally as the senator’s wife. “They,” in Schultz’s memory, referred to the senator’s staff and those with whom he would be working in government. It was not a reference to the public, which didn’t, and still doesn’t, necessarily know much about Jane Sanders at all. When she had to rush to Iowa in January to fill in for Bernie, who was stuck in Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, her introduction as “Dr.” at rallies had some people in the crowds wondering out loud what kind of doctor she was (in leadership studies, it turns out). A woman in Cedar Rapids said she had once chatted with Jane for several minutes at a rally, only to discover she was Bernie’s wife when she saw her later behind him at the podium. One reason she’s remained unfamiliar to many voters is because of the location of those desks. Hers have almost always been, in some way or another, inside the offices of her husband. Though Jane, a community organizer when she met Bernie, has held other jobs over the last 39 years, none has lasted longer than working for him. Their romantic and political lives are arguably more intertwined than any other presidential hopeful pair of the last decade.

The dimensions of that relationship have been the subject of media scrutiny for decades, but they may receive particular scrutiny in the coming weeks. Female voters who’d hoped to see Elizabeth Warren lead the party must decide between Sanders, whose platform is very close to Warren’s but who has battled claims that some of his male supporters are aggressive and hostile, and Joe Biden, who, despite having been accused of retrograde, invasive behavior toward women, has so far done a better job of attracting women voters. On Super Tuesday, Biden bested Sanders by ten points with women overall. Jane, as the top woman in the Bernie Sanders project, the person who has his ear, could theoretically help Bernie bring them in.

Yet in an election in which candidates have been asked more than once to address the gender pay gap, Jane is a woman who has worked for her husband for free. She doesn’t tell stories on the campaign trail about sexism or use the word patriarchy; she has said she has never really “done gender politics.” In March 2019, when Bernie officially launched his second presidential bid, Jane introduced herself to the crowd gathered in Brooklyn by saying she felt “honored to be his wife.” “I know that might not be politically correct,” she continued, “but it’s one of the greatest honors of my life,” a comment interpreted by many as a dig at feminism.

“I said what I wrote down in the 15 minutes before I went up there,” Sanders told me in February about her remarks in Brooklyn. She wore one of her uniform breezy black suits and a statement necklace, with her long red hair down, a look that has remained largely unchanged over four decades, give or take a few sets of bangs. She has big, expressive blue eyes and, as a Brooklyn native, like her husband, says “yuge.” She wasn’t even going to address the crowd at the campaign launch, she said — but Bernie had suggested it. “And there’s nothing wrong with being a wife anymore than it’s wrong for him to be a husband. That is not less than.”

As for feminism, “it’s a given I’m a feminist. Bernie is a feminist too,” she said. “But I don’t think about myself in particular boxes.” This reluctance can be explained, in part, by generational difference: As Barbara Smith, the sociologist credited with coining “identity politics” in 1974, who has endorsed Sanders, reminded me, “We didn’t go to college and talk about intersecting identities. We talked about the Holy Roman Empire.” But her stubbornness is also a kind of Rorschach test for one of the central tensions on the contemporary left. For Sanders’s detractors, it exemplifies trademark obstinance, a devotion to the cause of Bernie bordering on fanaticism; for believers, it shows a commitment to a vision of a universal, class-based movement that has designs much larger than just beating Trump. For her part, Jane seems unbothered by the criticism. After all, she has weathered this kind of scrutiny for 40 years, since that first press story about her first desk, which ran with the headline, “Youth Director Driscoll Balances Her Ties to Mayor, Individuality.”

In her stump speech on the campaign trail, Jane often starts with the story of the first time she heard Bernie speak in Burlington. In February 1981, she was working at an outreach organization called the King Street Youth Center, which that year had become part of a group of community organizations increasingly critical of city government. She attended a meeting about a planned property-tax hike of 65 cents, proposed by incumbent mayor Gordon Paquette, in order to excoriate the proposal for how it would affect low-income families, including single mothers like her. “You sound exactly like Bernie Sanders,” someone told her, to which she responded, understandably, “Who?” Bernie, then 39, was Paquette’s long-shot challenger, attempting to break the Democrats’ hold on City Hall and their entrenchment with the Burlington business community. He had most recently produced a documentary about Eugene V. Debs, which he sold throughout the state from the trunk of his car. Jane was intrigued; she helped organize a forum between the two candidates. It was a pivotal night, during which Paquette faced a room of mostly poorer Burlingtonians for the first time and understood — too late — that he might actually be in trouble. “It was like Bernie was talking directly to me,” is how Jane typically puts it. (Her name does not appear in a Jacobin article about the race, which describes the event only as “sponsored by seven Burlington neighborhood groups.”)

A week or so after his win, at his victory party, Bernie asked Jane to dance. The attraction was immediate, according to Niedweske, who was Sanders’s 25-year-old campaign manager before she became his secretary. By the end of the month, Jane was the “friend from Burlington,” according to the Free Press, who accompanied Bernie to his first-ever national television appearance on Phil Donahue. Soon after that, she was appointed to his task force on improving the lives of the city’s youth, on which he had campaigned heavily.

Jane’s own sense of injustice had been nurtured by family hardship. When she was still Mary Jane O’Meara, a kid growing up in Brooklyn, she watched her father, Benedict, struggle with expensive hospital stays brought on by an accident when Jane was 2 years old. “We had unconscionable medical problems,” she told me, “for no reason except that we didn’t have enough money.” He had been a teacher but was out of work so often he drove a taxi instead. Her mother attended secretarial school at night, and two of her older brothers dropped out of high school to work. The family prioritized Jane’s education; she moved between schools depending on what they could afford before landing a scholarship to an all-girls Catholic school in Park Slope. Benedict drove Jane in his cab from Flatbush when she missed the bus. “I never felt like I had to fit in, because I never quite did,” she said. “I had to be comfortable with me, because that’s the only thing I was bringing to every new place.”

The summer after her freshman year at the University of Tennessee, she camped out at Woodstock. Not long after that, she dropped out as a sophomore to marry her high-school sweetheart, Dave Driscoll. They moved back to Brooklyn and had two daughters, Heather and Carina, who was born when the couple lived in Virginia for a time. In between nursing her children and working as a receptionist and a bank teller, she protested the Vietnam War, in which she’d lost a friend. When Driscoll’s job offered the move to Vermont, she was ready; she had been reading about Vermont in Mother Earth News, a back-to-the-land homesteading magazine with an anti-capitalist bent. They went north in 1975, when she was 24. In Vermont, she gave birth to her son, David, and the Driscolls fostered 13 more children together. Within a few years, they divorced, and Jane had finished her degree in social work at Goddard College, a small experimental school founded by Universalists. By the time she met Bernie, she had been working with kids through the Juvenile Division of the Burlington Police Department and at King Street.

Lesser known than the story of how they met is the story about what happened when Jane tried to get a salary after working more than two years for the mayor’s Youth Office for free. By then, she was running performances of Grease, an annual “People’s Circus,” an international-exchange program, a baseball league, and a tree-planting project. Jane was just one of several of Bernie’s government appointees working as a volunteer, some of whom had been initially rejected for full-time compensation by the city council, which was dominated 11-2 by a bloc of aldermen who didn’t approve of Sanders. But only Jane had the unique characteristic of being Bernie’s partner. For the first time, in her words, she “became a weapon” in a highly charged partisan environment that is hard to imagine in a small, bucolic city of 38,000 people. Democrats and Republicans hoped to hamstring the socialist mayor with bureaucracy until they could oust him after two years. “It was palpable, the tension and the anger,” says Gary DeCarolis, an alderman at the time, who said he used to worry about the mayor’s safety. According to Niedweske, “Everything was a smear. There wasn’t anything that we did or didn’t do that wasn’t going to be scrutinized. So his relationship with Jane was sort of one of many things that they just found problematic.”

In 1983, Bernie recommended that Jane receive a salary of $20,800 with no benefits for her job as director of the Youth Office. She had been living off “small contractual grants and fundraising,” she said. The city council and numerous op-ed writers accused him of cronyism. Why weren’t they advertising the position? What kind of “special status” would she enjoy? Bernie and Jane were defiant. Not only did Jane not like the term girlfriend, she told the Free Press, because it was sexist; she simply wanted to be paid for a job she had created. “When the Democrats controlled this city, they could have started an arts office, a youth office,” Bernie said. “I’m tired of hearing innuendo, especially regarding Jane. If she is not competent to do the job, I want to hear someone say it.” The council eventually approved Bernie’s budget, which included Jane’s salary, and an amendment to advertise for her position was struck down.

The hostile environment around the Sandernistas, as they became known in the local press, gave them a punky, ride-or-die attitude. As one Burlington businessman told the Washington Post, Sanders was “a guy who didn’t even have a job, supported by all these people on communes.” Bernie’s shadow “kitchen cabinet” met in public-housing apartments on Burlington’s New North End. They started their own cable-access television show, with hand-drawn title cards set to songs like “This Land Is Your Land.” The Women’s Council, of which Jane was a founding member, threw free health-screening days and self-defense classes.

If you talk to any of the early Sandernistas, Jane told me, “I would think that they would all say it was one of the busiest, all-consuming times of their life and the most rewarding time of their life.” Jane said that being a part of it all had switched something on for her, an impulse she hadn’t felt since she was much younger. In the ’60s, as a teenager, she told me, “seeing Bobby Kennedy — being a hundred percent behind him and then having him be killed, after having had Martin Luther King be killed … I don’t think people realize how much of a thing that was for young people, the impact it had on your psyche, on your heart.” Nixon’s reelection in 1972 despite mass protests against him, like the March on Washington, in which Jane had participated, had left her unconvinced that politics mattered. “We all thought we weren’t doing anything, we weren’t making any difference,” she said. Now, as one of the mayor’s cadre, “I was never alone in it.”

Jane developed her own reputation for bluster and for impassioned idealism. At one city-council meeting, at which a local politician from Belfast was visiting (this was during the Troubles), Jane confronted aldermen she felt weren’t paying enough attention to him. “Don’t you care that human rights are at stake here?” she shouted. In another altercation reported in the press, she hung up on an alderman who called her “honey.” “Jane was not a shrinking violet,” says Greg Guma, a longtime Vermont journalist who mounted his own insurgent mayoral campaign before backing Sanders in ’81.

But she was also more personable than the mayor, more affable, and that was useful. As he won more elections and grew more popular in Burlington, she continued to build out the Youth Office, one of the most visible features of his administration. When it moved downstairs, kids were literally climbing in through the windows. Jane coordinated a newspaper in which teen writers reviewed music and wrote op-eds on nuclear disarmament (the Free Press called it a “propaganda sheet”). Her two biggest projects concerned Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium, sitting often unused in the center of town owing to a citywide ordinance banning live music on public property. (The law had been enacted by Paquette in 1977 after fans at a Styx concert, “spurred by the lure of heavy metal music,” per the police, had caused $1,000 worth of damage, including urinating on library books next door.) Jane and a social worker named Kathy Lawrence lobbied Bernie to change the ordinance so that they could host a battle of the bands. “It was funny,” Jane recalled later, “because Bernie is not a great fan of rock music.” They eventually turned the building into a teen center in 1984, called 242 Main, part coffee house, burger bar, open-mic venue, and general all-ages, alcohol-free meeting place that became a fixture in the Burlington punk scene, hosting Fugazi once, until its closure in 2016. Jane was an adept fundraiser, says Lawrence, who ran the day-to-day. “Jane was the person who could pull things like that off. She just was really good at not seeing that the answer was no.”

By the mid-’80s, Jane was wearing a diamond ring on her left hand, but she and Bernie were publicly reticent about their relationship. During his 1985 reelection campaign, they threw a fashion-show fundraiser at which the last runway walk consisted of “The Bernie Look,” as described by Jane: “a jacket with a shirttail hanging out, low-slung pants, Vermont shoes.” Sanders referred to her as one of his clothing advisers. Guma remembers that “within the progressive movement, there were people who criticized the fact that she and he were a couple,” but it was infinitely more of an issue for the local press, which questioned their partnership each time a new idea was proposed. A sliding-fee day-care center planned for the basement of the auditorium was accused of having a hidden pay structure. Jane had suggested that the city rent the space to a private committee, which would then rent it to a day-care operator in need of a home, and an op-ed writer in the Free Press accused The Sanders administration of backing the arrangement only because Jane was “a close friend.” Jane kept pushing for two more years; the center opened with the city renting directly to the day care and still operates. “They were wrong,” she said now of the resistance. “And that’s the best revenge, you know?”

Bernie had been married before, to a woman named Deborah Messing, whom he divorced in 1966, and he didn’t want to do it again. Jane did. The couple broke up for more than a year in 1988. They had been on and off a few times, but friends thought it might really stick this time. Years earlier, Bernie had written in his diaries that he had “not lived a normal emotional life” and that his “relationship with J” wasn’t growing.

Sitting in a booth at Friendly’s one night, something changed. “Do you want to get married?,” Bernie asked. Jane declined, not sure he really meant it. As they left the restaurant, he tried again, putting his hands on her shoulders and declaring: “Will. You. Marry. Me.” Their ceremony occurred on the shore of Lake Champlain in May, right before their infamous “honeymoon” to Yaroslavl, Russia, Burlington’s sister city. (Later, the Yaroslavl delegation would come over, making a trip to Ben & Jerry’s.) They exchanged extremely Sanders-style vows in which the officiant described “the concept of family not as an economic unit but as a transcendent force.” Sanders’s son, Levi, born in 1969 with a girlfriend, was there, along with Jane’s children. “Burlington woman, Bernie to get hitched,” read the news. “The bride arrived in a Plymouth Voyager mini-van.”

In 1986, Jane worked on her first campaign ad for Bernie for his failed gubernatorial bid. “No special effects,” she described it at the time. Just “Bernie talking straight to the people.” Sanders ran against incumbent Madeleine Kunin, and Jane stood outside the meeting of the Vermont chapter of the National Organization for Women, handing out flyers about Sanders’s feminist credentials. NOW declined to endorse a candidate, but Kunin won.

After that, Sanders ran for the House unsuccessfully in 1988, then successfully in 1990, while Jane continued to run his television and radio advertising. When Bernie won, she became his volunteer chief of staff, setting up his D.C. and Burlington offices. Résumés of potential staffers arrived in black garbage bags. Jane sorted them with Jeff Weaver, his 2016 campaign manager, who met Bernie in 1986, when he was his 20-something driver. Sanders traveled home to Vermont every weekend. Carina and David were still in school in Burlington, so Jane shuttled back and forth more frequently. (Sanders formally adopted all three of Jane’s kids when Driscoll died of lung cancer.) Again, Jane received no salary — as a spouse, she couldn’t, nor could most of her travel expenses be covered by Congress.

D.C. was not the DIY experiment that had been The Sanders mayoral administration in Burlington. There were women in Chanel suits at Jane’s first Congressional Spouses Luncheon, to which Jane brought her mother. It was exciting but hard. “I stepped into a completely different world in Washington,” she said later. To me, she recalled talking with three female friends back in Burlington about some issue soon after Bernie went down to Congress. “They asked me, ‘Well, what does he think?’” referring to Bernie, who wasn’t there. “I turned my head around,” she said. “I told them, ‘I think I just became invisible.’”

The following year, in 1992, she wondered aloud what she would do now that Bernie had settled in. “I can’t — wouldn’t work for him,” she said in an interview. “But on the other hand, I can’t just be the home person and give home support. I have to share his work. He’s saying to me, ‘You should do whatever you want.’ The problem is, I’m not sure what that is right now.” She liked writing; she thought about becoming a journalist. Or going for her Ph.D.

Instead, she became his press secretary and reelection-campaign spokesperson. She helped draft legislation like the Progressive Caucus’s anti–“corporate welfare” bill in 1995 and the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002, her first “legislative deep dive.” She continued to work on his campaign ads, turning that experience into a small consultancy called Leadership Strategies, through which she worked for Bernie and a few other local Vermont progressives. As Bernie climbed, the scrutiny of her became more intense. When Sanders successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2005, his opponent accused him of lining his family’s pockets with the $30,000 Jane had received from 2002 to 2004 for campaign work and the $65,000 over four years to Carina, who worked with Jane’s consulting company for a bit after graduating from the University of Montana. (House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had paid his wife and daughter $500,000 during the same time period.)

By the mid-’90s, she seemed like she might be weary of her role as professional political wife. “When your spouse becomes a congressperson, you have to adjust your entire life if you want to stay married,” she told The Hill in 1996. Today, all she conceded of any career dilemma is that there were “some difficult transitions.” “I go where I’m needed,” she said matter-of-factly. She knew Bernie’s voice, so she was good at writing his press releases. She stopped going to the spouses luncheons, but she enjoyed going to meetings of the international spouses and the Supreme Court judges. She felt useful. “Harry Reid called me more than he called Bernie,” she told me.

In 1996, she struck out on her own as interim provost at her alma mater, Goddard College, which had hired her to steer it through a difficult period. The previous, embattled provost had fired some of the school’s beloved teachers, some said in retaliation for an attempt to organize a union. “It was satisfying and wonderful,” Jane admitted. But Bernie’s schedule meant that they were exhausted and never saw each other. She decided not to pursue a permanent position after her year-and-a-half posting. Goddard paid for her to get her doctorate from Union Institute & University, a distance-learning, research-focused school. She wrote her dissertation on the International Monetary Fund.

In 2004, Jane did take another presidential job, at Burlington College, another low-residency, funky Vermont “school without walls.” Sandy Baird, the lawyer and Vermont legislator who fought for Jane to get the job as a member of Burlington’s board, says Jane Sanders was an ideal candidate. “She was charismatic. She was tied to Burlington. She knew how to fundraise. And I knew that because she had been so active in raising money for Bernie’s campaigns and for the Youth Office.”

After a few years in which Jane reportedly helped the college achieve a $300,000 surplus in funding, she went bigger, spearheading a $10 million plan in 2010 to expand Burlington’s campus into grounds on Lake Champlain by purchasing land from the Catholic diocese. The board of trustees approved the arrangement, which involved financial support from a state board and a loan from Burlington’s People’s United bank. Jane furnished donors to secure it, but by 2011, according to the New York Times, the board was skeptical that enough money was coming in to relieve the school of its debt. Within a year, the trustees had asked for her resignation owing to what Sanders said were different visions for the future. The board has declined to give a specific reason. Weighed down with debt and beset by upheaval, Burlington College went through three more presidents before shuttering five years later.

In 2015, the Republican who ran the Trump campaign’s operations in Vermont asked the Justice Department to investigate Jane Sanders’s role in the land deal. The scandal has since mushroomed in scope, including inquiries into whether Jane Sanders inflated donation promises to secure loans, had an imperious management style that caused a staff revolt, and used her clout to get a $500,000 contract for her daughter’s woodworking school. The $200,000 she received as severance was referred to as a “golden parachute” by a Vermont Republican donor.

Baird says Jane Sanders could be bossy; they clashed over ideas for an exchange program to Cuba. But the idea that she was responsible for the college’s fate was wrong. Some faculty had left during her tenure, but many others had stayed. Guma, who has written extensively about the college’s demise, says Jane is just one among many people responsible for the deal’s “overreach,” including the board and presidents who came after her. “But that’s the worst you could say.” Guma is reluctant to talk; The Daily Caller has been running what he says are out-of-context quotes from him since 2015, suggesting that Jane could be accused of bank fraud. In November 2018, Jeff Weaver informed the press that the investigation had been closed and the Vermont U.S. Attorney had declined to bring any charges against Jane.

The Daily Caller also recently dug up the old articles about Jane’s position in the Youth Office and her salary that made similar insinuations: that Jane got a job because of her relationship with Bernie. Working for him behind the scenes for so long has had the effect of making anything she does independently of him seem suspect. Surely it would have been easier to establish her own identity — and made her less of a target — if she had differentiated herself more from him over the years.

“I heard that from friends, from women friends,” Jane said to me on the phone from Tulsa three days before the South Carolina primary. “‘Why are you going to just follow Bernie? You can do anything yourself.’ I said, ‘Why is every man that is working with him and every woman that is working with him wanting to follow him? Why does the fact that I’m married to him make me have to have my own separate identity, when other people’ — Jeff Weaver’s been with him since he was 19. Nobody questions that.” Most of those people, though, get paid, which Jane largely has not. As a political wife working for her husband, she’s in a bind: If she takes a salary, she opens herself up to charges of nepotism. If she doesn’t, how could she be an equal partner in their relationship? The Sanders mentality is one of kibbutz-style, collective participation, in which everyone pitches in, including family, and those who are down for the cause rarely leave. The model worked for Jane. But you can see why it sits uncomfortably with women who have seen that kind of unseen labor exploited, especially when one member has the most power. “I don’t need accolades or achievements of my own,” Jane told me. “I mean, every single person in every administration, whether it’s mayoral, congressional, senatorial, or presidential, they’re all playing a very important role for the person that you see on TV. And they’re not noticed either.”

“It’s partly a storytelling issue,” says Naomi Klein, the activist and writer and a Sanders surrogate, of how this narrative particularly alienates some feminists, especially the waves who fought for just the opposite of what Jane expresses: to be noticed. “Bernie is always looking for the universal.” Klein is a product of the women’s movement in addition to anti-capitalist organizing; she is the Gloria Steinem chair at Rutgers University, named for the feminist who famously said in 2016 that female Sanders supporters were doing it for boys. There are women in Klein’s life whom she has had difficulty bringing over to the campaign; Bernie’s gruffness, his penchant for pointing and shouting, recall for certain generations “an archetype of a Marxist guy who mansplains women, who doesn’t change his position, and tells women and people of color to wait in line after the revolution.” But, Klein insists, “that is not Bernie.”

Baird says she also knew some of these men in the ’60s, who said things at meetings like abortion rights were a “distraction from waterfront development.” “I think it remains true to this day that men in general don’t understand women’s issues. They particularly don’t understand the importance of the pro-choice movement. But Bernie always did.” In February, Klein said that a task ahead for The Sanders campaign is to convey that legacy more fully to more women. “We need to do more to talk about this culture of impunity,” she told me, “and the fact that sexual violence is an expression of a culture of absolute entitlement. It is about exploiting inequality. The prominent women surrogates of this campaign, I think we can do a better job in terms of telling that story.” To other women who support Sanders, the fact that he doesn’t talk in terms of feminism is part of the appeal. “I am a black woman in America, so I don’t have the luxury to be, you know, just a feminist like some of my white sisters and brothers,” says Sanders surrogate Nina Turner, a former state senator from Ohio and campaign co-chair. “What we believe in as a campaign is really rooted in humanism.”

Connie Schultz ran into Jane recently in the spouses gallery of the Senate during impeachment. She seemed upbeat even after the long hours of testimony. “There has always been a freshness about her,” Schultz says. Schultz has thought and written extensively about her own experience as a political spouse, about how women typically become “a problem or a prop.” “Jane not talking about herself doesn’t mean she’s not her own person,” she reasons with me. “Who she is right now is this shared vision with her husband, and that’s all she wants to talk about. But it’s so consistently who she is, who they both have been. And in this way, she may be arguably one of the most authentic spouses out there right now out of all of us, because she’s so clear on who she is and what she believes.”

“I don’t feel the need to distinguish myself to anybody else’s liking,” Jane said to me in our last conversation, when I asked whether she might start to tell her own story differently. The urgency of the moment, above all else, determines the messaging, she explained. “Medical bankruptcy is at an all-time high. There’s so many things that are happening that people are fearful of, being deported or having their family members deported,” she said. “So there’s no strategy of — we didn’t discuss it like, ‘You have to do this more’ or anything like that. It just is.” Even with Bernie’s path to the nomination narrower than it was when we met in Iowa, she has no plans to take a break. One thing their 40 years together have prepared her for is facing unkind odds. “If I’m with Bernie, the life is work,” Jane told me. “It’s public service.” She is also still needed for wardrobe consulting. A photo of Jane and Bernie heading into Ross Dress for Less went viral a few weeks ago. “Bernie needed a hat,” Jane said.

Universities Should Listen To Their Students On Climate Change

Since the US fossil-fuel divestment movement started in earnest in November 2012, with the launch of Go Fossil Free by the climate group, universities have considered whether to divest fossil fuels from their endowments.

Students have pushed university administrators to divest, while administrators have pushed back, lecturing students about the “real world” of sound investing and the purported need to keep fossil fuels in the endowments. Eight years on, the lessons are clear. The students are the ones living in the real world, while university administrators, trustees, and endowment managers have been living in an energy fantasyland.

The divestment movement was launched because it was clear to climate scientists that the three fossil fuels — oil, coal, and gas — would have to be phased out and replaced by renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. The shift from carbon-based fossil fuels to renewable energy is known as decarbonization. We are in no danger of running out of fossil fuels, but relying on them, as many reports have warned, is dangerous. In order to pursue a safe path to decarbonization by 2050, those reports demonstrate a significant share of the fossil fuel reserves as of 2012 would have to be “stranded,” or left underground.

The implications were clear enough to close observers. Major oil, gas, and coal companies that were touting new multibillion-dollar exploration and development projects, including the fracking of unconventional oil and gas, were on the wrong track, squandering shareholder wealth by developing new reserves that would never be used. Share prices would eventually be marked down. Industry forecasts of decades of rising fossil fuel use would prove wrong.

The fossil-fuel industry was therefore already a bad bet in 2012, except to industry lobbyists and to money managers looking backward rather than forward. The US fossil-fuel industry perhaps came to believe its own hype, that with enough lobbying clout there would be smooth sailing in the years ahead. Yet despite President Trump’s pro-fossil-fuel policies, and his withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate accord, most governments around the world, and indeed most state governments in the United States, are sticking with the Paris accord and are cutting back on fossil fuels and shifting to renewable energy.

If more university administrators had understood these facts earlier, they would have listened to their students, not their money managers or their donors. They might have recognized that well-heeled donors linked to the fossil-fuel industry who opposed divestment were not necessarily promoting the interests of the university over the fossil-fuel companies.

Consider the high cost of not divesting early on. From Nov. 15, 2012, around the time that launched its divestment campaign, until Feb. 28, 2020, the S&P 500 Index soared from 1,353 to 2,954, more than doubling. Yet ExxonMobil shares fell from $86 to $51; Chevron shares fell from $103 to $93; an oil-exchange-traded fund (HUC.TO) went from $20 to $11; and a coal-exchange traded fund (KOL) fell even further, from $23 to $8. (All numbers are rounded to the nearest dollar).

It is poignant to look back at the letter that the then-president of Harvard University, Drew Faust, sent to the Harvard community in October 2013. She wrote in opposition to the student calls for divestment, declaring: “We should also be clear-sighted about the risks that divestment could pose to the endowment’s capacity to propel our important research and teaching mission. Significantly constraining investment options risks significantly constraining investment returns.” Harvard’s current president, Larry Bacow, has continued the opposition to divestment, even as Harvard’s faculty has recently voted overwhelmingly to support divestment.

There are in fact two interconnected issues at stake. In her 2013 letter, Faust objected to using ethical guidelines to direct the Harvard endowment portfolio. Even if confronting climate change is ethically urgent, she was claiming, the endowment should not be utilized for that purpose, since the university’s responsibility is its education program. Many universities have continued to take this line. Yet no organization, not even a university, should simply wash its hands of moral responsibilities because of its main purposes.

University leaders have continued to neglect a second practical issue: that fossil fuel investments were (and are) a poor prospect. The ethical perspective and the market perspective are not that different in this case. Because climate change is so threatening to human well-being, and therefore an ethical imperative on which most of the world has agreed to decisive action, investments in fossil fuels are a poor bet for the long term. It’s not wise to bet on an industry from which the world economy is already shifting and must ultimately phase out.

With the costs of solar and wind power plummeting, and with massive technological advances in batteries, electric vehicles, and other technologies to shift from fossil fuels, the pace of decarbonization will continue to advance, and the shrinkage of the fossil-fuel industry will accelerate. Lobbyists will do their best to slow this decline, but they will not reverse it; the climate crisis is too grave to ignore. It’s long past time for our universities, pension funds, and indeed asset managers and bankers generally to recognize that the students are spot on. The fossil-fuel industry is on the way out, and divestment meets both the ethical and the practical investment test. Indeed, in our dire climate emergency, ethics and good investment practice are the same.

Divestment, of course, is only a modest part of the full decarbonization story. University endowments and other portfolio owners today invest primarily in index funds in order to own a representative slice of the market. The big sellers of these index funds — such as BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard — need urgently to change their own behavior. These sellers should be marketing only decarbonized index funds and should be pushing the companies in their portfolios toward decarbonization. Universities should pick asset managers who are taking those steps and leave the others behind. Of course governments also urgently need to act, by setting a policy path to decarbonization by 2050, in line with the objectives of the Paris climate accord. In the years ahead, the smart money will be on the side of divestment and decarbonization.