By Abby Weingarten
Last Tuesday, Democratic politician Stacey Abrams announced the release of a report on economic growth and climate leadership—one that may greatly influence progressive policymaking and propel 12 southern states to a greener future.
Entitled State and Local Decarbonization Polices for the South, it was the joint brainchild of Mark Paul, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics and environmental studies at New College, and Political Science Professor Leah Stokes, Ph.D. at the University of California Santa Barbara.
“We expect to start shopping this around with policymakers in the south in the coming months,” said Paul, who co-wrote the piece for Abrams’ Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP) think tank. “We’re focusing on climate change, which is particularly pressing for the south, as it’s the most vulnerable region in the U.S.”
The SEAP think tank was established in December to bring attention to “how race, class and gender intersect social and economic policy”—a concept that has been integral to Paul’s academic work for years.
Paul is currently on research leave from New College, during which time he is writing about the intersection of economic inequality and environmental policy. Earlier this month, he received a contract to publish a book entitled Freedom is Not Enough, which is slated for release with The University of Chicago Press in 2022.
“The book is about the idea that, in America, for far too long, we have been promised this idea of freedom, but it’s based on the notion of political freedom (which, without economic freedom, is insufficient for us to be truly free),” Paul said. “I write about the various structural changes to our society that would actually deliver broad-based prosperity and freedom.”
It is a crucial time for this conversation, Paul said, and he brings these topics into the classroom at New College in courses such as “Climate Change: Philosophy, Politics and Economics” and “Economics of Race, Gender and Discrimination.” Paul has regularly advocated for a green stimulus and decarbonization, and his writings have been featured in news outlets globally, from The Washington Post to Politico.
Paul has also been a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute since 2018 —a nonprofit, progressive-leaning economic think tank in New York (out of which many policy ideas for Senators Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sandershave been created). Last year, Paul became a senior fellow at Data for Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that collects data and does polling work on progressive policies in the United States.
“Data for Progress, specifically, helps determine where voter opinion lies and what parts of progressive policies are popular,” Paul said. “It also helps determine how to better inform policymakers that a large swath of policies (which are often thought of as too far-reaching) are actually incredibly popular with the electorate.”
Paul has always had a zeal for public policy, but it grew especially strong when he was earning his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“I have a deep desire and passion for changing the economy into one that isn’t structured to maximize short-term profits for CEOs and shareholders, but to work for everyday people (to make sure that we all can be truly free and live up to our potential),” Paul said.
Before joining the New College faculty, he completed a two-year stint at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, a prestigious policy center focused on race and inequality in the United States. The past four years have been busy for Paul, whose involvement in progressive policy significantly increased when Sanders ran for president.
“I think the past four years have shown that there’s an incredible amount of policy space opening up, particularly on the left, that didn’t exist before Senator Sanders’ 2016 presidential run,” Paul said. “There is a tremendous amount of interest in progressive policy (largely due to the fact that, despite decades of economic growth, we still have continued economic insecurity).”
The recent mid-pandemic protests have shown that numerous Americans are exhausted with the status quo.
“People are absolutely fed up with talk, with promises to make a minor adjustment here and a small tweak there—that the deep racial injustices that underlie our country would be able to be solved this way,” Paul said. “This country was built on a slaveholding society and, following that, it was built on Jim Crow. The protests are really showing that racial tensions coupled with economic tensions are just too much to bear for the country to actually hold itself together.”
But there is hope.
“I think the pandemic laid bare the threadbare aspects of our social safety net and showed that people are really beholden to the economy. Over 30 million Americans have lost their jobs already,” Paul said. “The silver lining is that crisis periods can shift an Overton window into an Overton door. Historically, we’ve seen that times of great change have come during times of great peril.”
For more information on Paul’s work, visit markpaulecon.com.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.