In addition to awarding grants for academic work, Dr. Boushey’s think tank publishes legislation-minded policy proposals. In “Recession Ready,” a collection of essays produced in 2019 with the Hamilton Project, a division of the centrist Brookings Institution, Dr. Boushey and her co-authors advocated what are known as automatic stabilizers — safety-net programs like enhanced unemployment and food stamp benefits that would be triggered without congressional debate if the economy slowed down. This year, Equitable Growth published “Vision 2020,” a set of 21 proposals by a range of scholars that included arguments for more affordable early childhood care and the rebuilding of U.S. labor market wage standards.
Many free-market economists remain skeptical of aspects of Dr. Boushey’s framework.
“I cannot question somebody on economic grounds who says, ‘You know what, I want to give up some efficiency for some more equity, fairness, compassion,’” said Casey B. Mulligan, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, who has argued that some progressive policies could in fact impede recovery. “What I can question and criticize is that there wouldn’t be a trade-off.”
“In terms of the gap between the top and the bottom, I don’t see a lot of good evidence as to what exactly the problem with that gap is,” he said. “And I think there are lots of problems in terms of what’s happening with the bottom 20 or 30 percent, but I don’t know that you solve many of those problems by shrinking the income gap.”
Acknowledging the contested nature of her discipline, Dr. Boushey argues that no matter how one figures it, federal policy has not kept up with the changing structure of society — especially now, as Covid-19 craters the economy.
“In the face of a government that could not provide protective gear, could not protect people, hasn’t been paying attention to supply chains, all of these issues,” she said, “you’re going to have a demand — an ongoing demand — for some sort of active policy. So I think the question is then what that is.”
‘We’re doing this for each other because we care’
As we chatted on her stoop in July, Dr. Boushey gestured at our masks. “You’re doing this to protect me, I’m doing this to protect you,” she said. “We’re doing this for each other because we care.”