Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein is a Research Associate of the Economic Policy Institute, a Senior Fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, a Contributing Editor of The American Prospect, and an occasional contributor. His previous work on racial segregation and public education is posted here, and his most recent Prospect print story, "The Making of Ferguson," can be read here. Readers may correspond with him about his writing at

Recent Articles

Vouchers in Court

O n December 11, 2000, in a decision now headed to the Supreme Court, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio, violates the separation of church and state. The program provides tuition vouchers of $2,500 for low-income children to attend private schools. Over fourth-fifths of the students who benefit attend religious schools, and most of these are Catholic. In a bitter dissent, Judge James L. Ryan said the majority decision "sentenc[es] nearly 4,000 poverty-level, mostly minority, children in Cleveland to return to the indisputably failed Cleveland public schools." Debates about government aid to religious schools are not new, but couching them in terms of whether public schools "fail" more than private schools is a new twist. This argument joins a number of disparate forces in a temporary pact of convenience: those who sincerely believe that competition will improve education for the disadvantaged, along with free-marketeers and...

Continental Drift: NAFTA and Its Aftershocks

The trade problem is much bigger than the treaty.

T he North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a symbol of Mexico's incorporation into the U.S. economy as a low-wage manufacturing center. This economic integration will drive down wages, employment, and living standards, while rolling back environmental regulations in the United States as well as in Mexico. But NAFTA is only a symbol: the low-wage approach to economic integration continues apace with or without NAFTA. The treaty was mainly designed not to promote economic changes (which were happening anyway) but to improve the domestic political fortunes of Presidents Bush and Salinas. However, many Americans appropriately concerned about declining labor and environmetal standards that result from integration with Mexico have fallen into the trap of opposing NAFTA while giving less attention to the underlying economic strategies followed by both nations regardless of the treaty's formalization. Consider the trading practices that have developed even without NAFTA. General...

The Left's Obsessive Opposition

My liberal friends are being too hard on Bill Clinton. His mandate and congressional majority are wafer thin, and he's doing well with what he has. Would you rather have George Bush?

M y liberal friends are being too harsh on Bill Clinton. I am not uncritical of administration policies: I have objected in print to its overemphasis on human capital as an economic cure and to its reluctance to embrace forthrightly the labor movement. I believe its NAFTA side agreements don't go nearly as far as they should. Still, I admire the Clinton administration. I credit its good faith and basic progressivism and fear that the increasingly sour tone of the liberal left will only backfire. I have in mind two unfortunate patterns. First, Clinton's liberal critics forget the narrowness of his mandate; they are too quick to blame the absence of a strong working liberal majority in Congress on alleged lack of presidential leadership. Second, they fall into the familiar liberal habit of making the good the enemy of the best. Perhaps liberals who have spent their entire lives in bitter opposition to Democratic and Republican presidents alike have no instincts on which to draw when a...

Friends of Bill? Why Liberals Should Let Up on Clinton

In Clinton's first two years, myopic liberals complained about his compromises and disparaged his accomplishments. Now there will be fewer accomplishments and bigger compromises. Insisting on purity could only make things worse.

F ollowing the midterm election debacle, the conventional liberal wisdom is that Bill Clinton should now follow Harry Truman's strategy: refuse to move to the center in an attempt to find moderate votes for a watered-down agenda and instead confront the Republican majority with populist attacks on a "do-nothing Congress." This advice ignores that prior to his "give 'em hell" 1948 election campaign, Truman spent three and a half years trying to appease conservatives to win support for a reform program. He compromised and then abandoned expansion of unemployment insurance, higher minimum wages, universal health insurance, and civil rights proposals (including anti-lynching legislation, elimination of poll taxes, integration of interstate commerce, and a Fair Employment Practices Commission). The Truman model ignores that Truman continued to pursue a strategy of moving to the center even after his devastating 1946 midterm election rebuff, when his unpopularity produced even greater...

Toward a More Perfect Union: New Labor's Hard Road

The labor movement has new life, but faces immense obstacles. Here's what it can accomplish.

N o single strategy can reverse a 20-year decline in average wages and its threat to our postwar pattern of broadly distributed prosperity. But it's hard to imagine a successful set of policies that doesn't include a revival of labor unions. With the election of John Sweeney as AFL-CIO president, and a fresh commitment to organizing, many union supporters (inside and out of the labor movement) are newly optimistic. However, the obstacles remain daunting. At their 1954 zenith, unions represented 39 percent of private-sector workers. By 1973 when wages began to stagnate, the union share had fallen to 28 percent. Today it's barely 10 percent. A labor movement representing one worker in ten can't bargain effectively, especially when union strength has diminished in leading industries where master contracts once established national patterns. The once fully unionized auto industry now includes union-free Japanese and European transplant factories, ghost voices for wage restraint at Big...