Michael Lipsky

Michael Lipsky, a political scientist, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos. He is the co-author of Commission Politics: The Processing of Racial Crisis in America.

 

Recent Articles

Devolving Federal Programs to the States Means Cutting Them

(Flickr/donrelyea)
On Tuesday, the Pew Center on the States released a summary of the differences between the presidential candidates on key issues affecting the states . The summary reflects Governor Romney’s preference for devolving to the states responsibility for critical policy matters. Among other things he would replace the Affordable Care Act with state plans, and convert Medicaid and federal job training programs into block grants. The proposal to devolve programs to the states has a certain resonance in American political rhetoric. States are famously “laboratories of democracy,” as Justice Brandeis once wrote and Gov. Romney reminded his audience in the first presidential debate. There’s a measure of truth to this homily, but it should be understood in context. When issues are bubbling to the surface or when Federal lawmakers are conflicted, states can indeed show the way, as they did with child labor laws and labor protections. More recently, states have been bolder than the Federal...

Redeeming Public Remedy

Private enterprise produces employment, wages, and wealth, but our public structures are what facilitate the conduct of business, providing the framework necessary for markets to thrive. Key public systems also help protect people against the risks of a free-market economy and provide the infrastructure for economic opportunity such as public- and higher-education systems, tasks that are beyond the purview of any individual. Although the balance between market forces and government institutions and regulations varies over time and place, the notion that public structures and market enterprises work together to generate the common good is virtually a definition of an advanced industrial nation. Yet for the last several decades, the country has reverted to a premise more like Adam Smith's -- that the public interest is nothing but the sum of private interests; that government is not a partner in prosperity but antithetical to it. From this point of view, government's activities should...

Under the Radar

The news from Washington is filled with debates about safeguarding Americans' Social Security, proposals to make tax cuts permanent, and sweeping federal budget reductions in a time of looming deficits. In the meantime, the 50 states, various territories, and close to 90,000 counties, cities, towns, and other local jurisdictions struggle with their own concrete budgetary challenges. As critical as current federal-level issues are, those confronting state and local governments may have even more immediate effects on people's lives. It is state and local governments that sponsor schools, public universities, and community colleges; maintain highways; secure public safety; and administer most courts. They dispatch inspectors to ensure public health and to see that nursing homes and industrial facilities are up to code. They oversee insurance, utilities, and other vital industries. They uphold standards for physicians, dentists, psychologists, engineers, and other professions. They support...

The War at Home

O nce upon a time, the war at home meant frugality and sacrifice. Our parents or grandparents collected string and made balls of tinfoil, one gum wrapper at a time. They accepted rationing and went each week to the grocer with coupons for butter, meat, and sugar. They took all sorts of jobs to serve the American industrial machine. They spent memorable years discharging shared patriotic duty. What does the war at home look like today? The messages are confusing. There is no call for personal frugality. On the contrary, Americans are urged to buy, to travel, and to entertain themselves. Much sport has been made of such appeals, but they may be rooted in concern for workers who lose their jobs when personal consumption falls. No such rationale explains the conspicuous silence on energy consumption. Despite the concern about dependence on foreign oil, our leaders do not ask us to drive less, turn down the heat, or purchase fuel-conserving vehicles. Sacrifice helps to structure meaning...

Sins of Commission

I n stacking the nominally bipartisan social security commission with members all committed to some form of privatization, this mandateless president seeks to advance one of his top campaign promises. But he also debases the concept of a presidential commission as it has been used historically. In an increasingly polarized environment, the man who called himself "a uniter" misuses one of the few instruments for mobilizing consensus. The typical commission assembles wide representation from the leadership of affected interests to study particularly divisive problems or events. Democrats and Republicans, business and labor leaders, conservatives and liberals are charged with sorting out the facts, identifying the meaning of those facts, and coming up with recommendations. Experts may be included on the commission itself as well as on the staff. The commission buys time and potentially mobilizes support for a consensus. The simple idea is that if a panel that comprises a broad cross...