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Discussing Joe Biden and the end of Reagonomics with Felicia Wong: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes speaks with Felicia Wong, president and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute, about shifts in the foundations of government policy from the Reagan era to today.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen enormous shifts in the ideological and intellectual foundations of government policy. Trillions of dollars have been allocated through programs including the Infrastructure Bill, the CHIPS Act, and the American Rescue Plan. At the same time, we’re seeing inflation at levels unseen since the late 70s. Have we arrived in a new economic era? For over three decades, the Roosevelt Institute has fought to “develop progressive ideas and bold leadership in the service of restoring America's promise of opportunity for all.” The president and CEO of the think tank, Felicia Wong, joins WITHpod to discuss how we got to this moment, the importance of economic freedom, the need to rethink public investment and more.

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Felicia Wong: When you look at the amount of money that is now kind of sitting in the bank account and not yet spent, Chris, we're at the precipice of a transformational moment in this economy, which is kind of amazing.

Chris Hayes: Hello and welcome to "Why Is This Happening?" with me your host, Chris Hayes.

Well, we're entering fall, not officially, September 21st or thereabouts from summer. I always got to remind myself of that. But we've got a midterm election. And in case you haven't noticed, the prospects for the Democrats have improved significantly, just over the last six weeks. And there's a lot of reasons for that. I think people point to the Dobbs decision that overturn Roe v. Wade as a big part of it. But also Joe Biden's approval rating, the President's approval rating has gone up considerably. And there's a bunch of reasons for that, too.

I think gas prices coming down like $1.20, or something, probably has a lot to do with that. The fact that inflation seems to have at least hit its peak and is no longer growing. But I also think a big part of the reason for the improved standing of the Democratic Party and Joe Biden is they've actually gotten quite a bit done of their domestic policy agenda. And it was never that clear that that was going to be the case. In fact, if you go back to January 4th, 2021, it's not clear the Democrats are going to have the Senate, in which case, you're going to have a Democratic House, a Democratic president, and then Mitch McConnell running the Senate. Lord knows what could possibly get through under those conditions, right?

Then they win the Senate. They have the thinnest possible majority. They managed to pass the American Rescue Plan on a strict party line vote, using the reconciliation vehicle. And there's this huge amount of optimism, and people are talking about a new new deal. And then you've got this parallel track where they passed two big pieces of bipartisan legislation; they pass the infrastructure bill; they also pass the CHIPS Act, which we'll talk about.

Then right after passing CHIPS Act, they then turned around surprised the world, literally everyone, Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer say, “Hey, we've reached a deal on about almost $500 billion bill that's mostly climate and also some ACA subsidies and Medicaid,” biggest climate bill ever passed. And then a few weeks after that, the President announces that anyone who's making less than $125,000 a year is going to have $10,000 of student debt canceled and $20,000 if you're a Pell Grant eligible.

And all of a sudden, two years of unified governance, democratic governance has delivered the largest rescue package ever in the American Rescue Plan, which shored up the budgets of state and local governments and public transit systems, and gave people money when they needed it, and did the Child Tax Credit, all sorts of stuff, right? You've got the highest job growth in the first two years of any presidency ever. You've got a bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars across the 50 states on projects, roads, bridges, water projects, broadband.

You've got $50 billion in the CHIPS Act for semiconductor manufacturing to be insourced in the United States; another $400 billion in climate investments through the tax code that are going to incentivize the production of climate manufacturing, green energy, battery factories in places like West Virginia, et cetera. And you've got student debt relief. All of a sudden, it looks like, well, that's pretty good. It's a pretty good domestic scorecard.

And so there's the political level of that. But there's something, to me, that I wanted to talk about behind that, which is this set of accomplishments, the first two years of the Joe Biden and Democratic Party agenda represents to me as someone who's covered political economy and policymaking in Washington for almost 20 years, an enormous shift in the intellectual argument, the ideological and intellectual foundations of government policy.

It represents to me a kind of turning point in an argument between different visions of how to run what we would call a mixed economy. And that to me is what's particularly significant here, not just the tangible victories from people which are enormous. I mean, that's probably the most significant. The political victory is sure for Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, and I do think it is redounded to that effect. But what it says about the trajectory of basically the economic policy debate we've been having in this country for decades and why we're now in a new chapter, and I thought a great person to talk about that with is Felicia Wong.

She's the president and CEO of The Roosevelt Institute. It's a think tank whose mission is to develop progressive ideas that restore America's promise of opportunity for all. They do a lot of stuff on exactly these questions, economics, policy. She's co-authored the book, “The Hidden Rules of Race: Barriers to an Inclusive Economy.” She has a PhD from Berkeley, if I'm not mistaken. And she co-hosts a podcast along with Michael Tomasky of The New Republic called, “How to Save a Country,” which explores ways forward for our democracy. Felicia, it's great to have you on the program.

Felicia Wong: Thank you so much for having me, Chris.

Chris Hayes: So I guess maybe a place to start would be to talk first about the kind of Chicago School Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, neoliberal policy revolution that really happens in the late ‘70s. And it's particularly relevant and interesting because that's also a period of very high inflation, although stagnation as well in terms of growth. It's also global inflation. So lots of places are doing inflation.

It's also largely produced by supply crunch on the fossil fuel side. But maybe just talk through how you understand that moment, and what groundwork and foundation laid for how we have, even have policy debates about the political economy in United States, the relative role of markets in the government.

Felicia Wong: Yeah. Well, I think you're right to start with the intellectual and the ideological shifts in this country, because I do think that those are the tectonic plates that kind of drive a number of the political changes that we then see more on the surface, in elections, et cetera. So I'm glad you started there.

I think about neoliberalism. I always try not to use that word and I end up using that word again. So I guess we're just going to do that here. But anyway, I think about this market fundamentalism, “the market giveth, the market taketh away, blessed be the market,” that's what Brad DeLong calls it. But I think of the political birth of that movement in the 1970s as being a reaction to chaos, right? Because before that, you actually had growth for the American middle class, born of sort of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, and the post-World War II economy, and that lasted from the 1940s through really the late 1960s.

But what you started to see in the 1960s and through the 1970s was a kind of chaos on two fronts. Obviously, the economic chaos that you already referenced. This idea that really growth in people's wages was going to be outpaced by inflation. And then you started to see people's wages dropping. So you had what economists called stagflation. And maybe this idea, this Keynesian New Deal as economy was really not going to produce for people, and that caused all kinds of chaos, gas lines. And really, I just remember like my mom, I was a little kid then in the ‘70s, my mom being really worried about how much hamburger costs. Like, that was like a real thing for American families. So that's the chaos on the economic side.

I also think it's really important to think about the chaos on the political and cultural side, because this was kind of the post-Vietnam era, the era of the sexual revolution, the era when like women were demanding all kinds of things from their family life and from jobs. This was an era where black Americans were demanding more from integration and school integration. So the kinds of chaos that that also produced, the combination of the economic chaos and the social chaos, the fear for many middle class white Americans that lots of things were changing, I think this was what was in the water then.

And what people were looking for was kind of calm, right? And they were looking for order. And one of the things that kind of, well, go to work, have your job, be a good job, and have all political decisions actually made, or many political decisions, I should say, made by the market, right? The idea that how you'll know when prices are right is when the supply curve and the demand curve crosses. Like, that was a kind of calm that neoliberalism produced. And it also really meant that, really, the markets were going to deliver, and government really should just get out of the way.

So that meant that you should lower taxes, and you should lower government or lessen government regulation. You should definitely not have labor unions. All of those things are just going to get in the way of a well-functioning market. And that ultimately was the kind of world that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher ushered in, at least in the U.S. and in Britain, and then throughout much of the rest of the world. We can talk about what that brought, but I think that's how I think of the origins.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. So you've got this kind of post New Deal pact that happens in the United States and across that developed the sort of wealthy democracies post World War II, mixed economies, fairly high levels of labor union density. They all have labor laws and some degree of collective bargaining. There are, for years, wage and price controls. I mean, the government is like actually managing when people can get raises and how much prices can be raised.

You've got regulations like rent control, right? The government is managing like the price of rent, right? They're not just saying like, “Well, there's supply and demand, and it costs $8,000 to rent an apartment. It costs $8,000 to rent an apartment, right? Like, there's active management of even individual price levels, right, throughout the government. There's relatively high tariffs.

Felicia Wong: Yeah. At different times you see that.

Chris Hayes: Sure. Right.

Felicia Wong: But yes, you do see price controls as a legitimate tool that even Richard Nixon thought about using, right?

Chris Hayes: Right. No. My point is just that, like, the level of what was acceptable as a tool of policy was just totally different than what we would come to expect later. Like, you had very active what we call industrial policy which we'll get to. And that's particularly true, obviously, in the New Deal in the World War II, when essentially the government and big business are in partnership to build the armory of democracy.

Felicia Wong: Definitely. And they built whole sectors of the economy, right?

Chris Hayes: Literally built whole sectors of the economy. Right. Like, it's not just like, well, who's got a good idea? Who wants to build a better mousetrap? And let's see if they can raise some venture capital. It's like, no, we need to make Jeeps. Maytag, you're no longer making washing machines. You are now making Jeeps. By the way, fun fact, that's why Jeeps are Angular and squared off because they were made in a washing machine factory.

Felicia Wong: I did not know that.

Chris Hayes: That was repurposed for Jeeps so that's why you get the square panels because it couldn't actually do the curved things. Fun fact. This sort of government having a vision for industrial policy, government ceding certain industries in certain places, wage and price controls of different kinds, high levels of unionization.

Felicia Wong: And government encouraging unionization, right, because it was going to provide a stable income for American families. This is all important in that era.

Chris Hayes: Right. And this kind of middle-class bargain, the kind of idea of like a single wage earner who's unionized factory worker can support a family.

Felicia Wong: There's more of a bargain for white people, which we could talk about, but --

Chris Hayes: Well, that's a huge part of it, right?

Felicia Wong: GI Bill mostly helped white people buy homes, go to college.

Chris Hayes: Well, I would love to talk about that. I mean, let's get to that, but I just wanted just so the people like who don't kind of know the ideological stuff. This vision, also Keynesian demand management, right, the government is spending to kind of keep the economy out of recessions. You want full employment, right? You don't want high levels of unemployment. This all gets turned on its head in the late ‘70s and ‘80s in response to chaos you're talking about, right?

And you get this new vision of government should steer and not row is one way people say it, right, that it should do the minimal amount, that you should cut taxes as much as possible. You should get the heck out of any price setting, like get rid of rent control, get rid of anything that has to do with that. Let the market set prices. Let the market set prices on everything from surgery to some people think like school, right? Like, get the government out of schooling. That vision, which starts on the political right, kind of like talk a little bit about how that constrained or formed the policy discussion from, say, Reagan through even the last Obama administration.

Felicia Wong: Right. Well, certainly this kind of market fundamentalism, “what's good for GM is good for America” vision started on the, right, Ronald Reagan definitely ushered in, no question. But many Democrats also took up pieces of that mantle. I mean, certainly, a lot of Bill Clinton's policies had a kind of neoliberal flavor. I mean, it's true that in 1993, a lot of Clinton's budget deal did better for the middle class than certainly Republicans would. But overall, you saw kind of hesitation in the Clinton administration to use government as strongly as Ronald Reagan did.

I worked in the Clinton administration, and the sort of reinventing government office, which is where I worked, was really about making government like cheaper and smaller. That's really what that was about. And by the time you got to the Obama administration, like very, very, very famously, obviously, Obama comes into office. He has to deal with the collapse of the stock market and the beginning of what would become the great long jobless recession, jobless recovery.

But the big debate in Obama's first term was how much money could we spend on rescue and on stimulus. And there was a real concern that spending too much was going to basically kill the economy and/or be politically unfeasible. Both of those things were concerns. And so you had Democrats really being constrained by “can't spend too much, got to worry about the deficit.” Anything you do on that score that feels like overreached was going to, quote, “kill the economy.”

And that is both an economic statement, but I'll also say that's a political statement, because most people do not understand the relationship between deficits, government spending, what it means for their jobs. And so just saying kill the economy, which by the way, there's real arguments we can talk about, what's bad for the economy, what's good for the economy. But the idea that spending too much is going to, quote, “kill the economy” and that a big deficit is automatically an enormous problem, that is itself a political cudgel. And that's the world we had through, I would say, 2014, ’15, ‘16.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. I mean, I want to talk a little bit about Donald Trump. Actually, he’s part of the reason that it comes apart. Because I think actually on political economy, he actually does undo some of that consensus himself.

Felicia Wong: He broke something.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Felicia Wong: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. I mean, but before we get to that, the other part of this I just think is important because it's going to come around to like the CHIPS bill and that stuff, another huge part of this, it's a year or two after the Soviet Union's fallen, right? The WTO, the IMF, the sort of division of “There are not going to be communist countries anymore. Everyone is going to be a capitalist country.” And in those capitalist countries, all these capitalist countries are going reduce tariffs between them and increase trade.

Felicia Wong: I mean, Frank Fukuyama called it “the end of history,” right? It was the unipolar moment. We thought that was kind of it.

Chris Hayes: Right. Yeah. And Frank, who we had on the program, actually talked about it. But the key part of that too is this idea of like it doesn't make sense for people to make stuff in the U.S. It's a high wage economy. We don't have the comparative advantage here. Like, there's no reason to pay Americans $50 an hour to make a car, if you could pay $18 an hour to make a car in Mexico. So just get rid of the trade barriers between Mexico and the U.S. and let them make cars in Mexico for $18 an hour.

And everyone believed, like with very few dissents. Like, the people who made policy were like, “This makes no sense. Let the market decide where it wants to make socks and make cars and make whatever. That's just the market. Don't get in the way.”

Felicia Wong: And that's for a couple of different reasons, right? One is that improved communication definitely made globalization, and even hyper-globalization, this idea that a company could work from anywhere and manufacture from anywhere. Like, that made that entirely possible and logical. But only if what you're thinking about is that the most important thing that you can manage a government for is low prices, right?

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: And that implies that you are governing for people, for human beings, only in their consumer identities, right? So as a consumer, I want low prices. So you're going to do everything you can to make as thin supply chain as possible, so that you're only paying somebody $15 or $18 an hour rather than $50 an hour. And that's going to mean that all my goods are cheaper, my car is cheaper, whatever.

But what that really misses, which we're only starting to come back to it, I think the pandemic made this very clear, like that kind of governance for consumers means that you aren't thinking about all kinds of other things that human beings actually want, right? You're not thinking about safety and security. You're not thinking about a more resilient supply chain, because maybe if what you need is, I don't know, masks in the case of a pandemic, or I don't know, that you might want that to be more safe and more secure, and closer to home. And you might want to build a system that prioritizes something more like local production.

So those are just two very different ways to think about governing an economy. We also didn't govern the economy very much for workers in the Reagan era, or even really in the Reagan and post-Reagan eras. We really thought about workers as being kind of inputs, again, to a pretty cheap, pretty thin production system.

Chris Hayes: Right. I mean, that is one place to start talking about the ideological journey, right? Because I do think it starts to break down in 2016. And part of the reason I do think it starts to break down is because Donald Trump wins that primer in the Republican side with a few different heresies on neoliberalism, right?

So one is trade. Like, that's like a huge heresy, right? Like lower trade barriers, lower trade barriers, lower trade barriers. This has been the 101 neoliberal vision. Now, of course, it's often honored in the breach. Like, I remember when George Bush hiked up steel tariffs to win over political constituencies. But as an ideological fixed point, that has been there and Trump says, “No, let's launch some trade wars.” Right?

Felicia Wong: Now, the reasons he might want to launch those trade wars might be really different than the sort of incentives that the Biden team has had to like sort of prioritize clean, green aluminum and steel production. So those reasons might be different. But you are right that Trump really kind of broke that idea that globalization for its own sake is a good thing.

Chris Hayes: More of our conversation after this quick break.


Chris Hayes: Well, the idea of outsourcing versus outsourcing, this is another place where like it used to be, I mean, I've watched the trajectory. It was a left critique of the status quo. When people like Sherrod Brown wrote his book against the free trade consensus when he was like a freshman Ohio Democrat, a liberal Ohio Democrat being like, “This thing we're doing is bad and it's destroying Ohio's industrial base and the lives of people here.” That idea like they took away your towns, they shifted on NAFTA, this was seized by Trump and became --

Felicia Wong: Totally.

Chris Hayes: -- our kind of right-wing talking point, which Mitt Romney we're sure he’ll never say that. Like, Mitt Romney believes that you should outsource the hell out of every job you can.

Felicia Wong: Well, it's a kind of populist economics, right, which there is a left valence and a right valence, and we should talk about that.

Chris Hayes: Exactly.

Felicia Wong: But I would situate that shift even before 2016, though, because I really think of the origin story as being in 2009, ’10, ‘11.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Felicia Wong: And I think of that shift starting in our politics, sure, but also intellectually in the academy, and in think tanks. I mean, I run the Roosevelt Institute, so I think a lot about think tanks in our role. But anyway, I think that this shift started in the aftermath of the Great Recession, or during the Great Recession, or 2009, 2010. And really, that is because that debate that I talked about in the early Obama administration. You don't want to spend too much because you're going to break the economy. You don't want to spend too much on recovery because you're going to break the economy.

That ends up leading to this incredibly painful, incredibly long, incredibly low wage recovery, right, where for the first five years after the stock market crash, jobs were created at an exceptionally low rate, and almost half of those jobs were poverty level jobs.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: So the only jobs that were being created weren't enough for people to live on. So suddenly, it starts to look like that neoliberal consensus, which is “government do less, let the markets do what they want,” it's like really, obviously, hurting people. So neoliberalism promised kind of stability in the business cycle. Well, obviously, no, the bottom fell out of the market. No, it wasn't producing stability.

It also promised some kind of steady and shared growth. But that wasn't happening because at the same time that you had these super low wage jobs being created, you had CEOs making 400 times what their average worker made. And you had Wall Street seeming to get off with impunity scot-free. They were still getting their bonuses. And this just fueled, politically, a kind of populism. But intellectually, it fueled a real change. Economists started to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. What is wrong with how we're thinking about the way that this version of capitalism actually works?”

Chris Hayes: Right. Because you had a crisis of capitalism, right? Deregulation leads, in many ways, directly to the crisis. Certainly, the Commodity Futures Act of 2000, which is a collaboration between Phil Gramm, Texas Republican and PhD in economics, and Bill Clinton who signs it, right, produces the specific kinds of derivatives and financial instruments that turned the thing into a complete disaster.

You've also got the intellectual bankruptcy. Then you've also got the political part of it, the democracy, right, which is like after being told like government needs to get out of the way, like it steps into the most extraordinary intervention of our lifetimes to save the banks, basically. And it becomes very hard, I think, intellectually, for anyone to pretend that that's in a different category, right? Like, we can't step in to like set a minimum wage. We can only set up into like post a trillion dollars of collateral to bail the banks from the toxic assets.

Felicia Wong: Right. Right.

Chris Hayes: And I think it's a tough sell.

Felicia Wong: Right. And so what you start to see in the economics profession is really fascinating. And there's a couple different examples that kind of represent the whole. You probably remember in 2013, 2014 Thomas Piketty’s Capital. I'm sure you remember that. So that book, which is like 10 million pages, or it's like very long, but that book becomes this runaway bestseller and it really argued something fundamental about the nature of capitalism. It argued that wealth accumulation was growing faster than economic output. And that was always going to snowball in ways that were going to hurt regular people.

And so this was a huge condemnation of the whole system. And suddenly Piketty becomes like this international superstar. His like “r is greater than g” formula ends up on T-shirts, right? His translator becomes like world famous. I don't know, he's like on every probably talk show, morning show throughout the world. He's really famous. And that was kind of weird to me as somebody who just started running a think tank, but it also said something to me. And one of the striking things at that time was his solution to that problem was a wealth tax, right?

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: With global wealth tax. And I thought that was interesting, but totally bizarre, totally crazy. How could you think about a 2% tax on people who had more than 5 billion euros? That seemed like crazy talk. Well, fast forward eight years, and now wealth taxation is actually a pretty significant part of the mainstream American and international economic conversation. So Piketty was kind of ahead of the game, but also, I think, was a sign that people are starting to think very differently about how the economy works. That's like one story.

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Felicia Wong: The other story I have is actually sort of self-interested because it's a story that involves the Roosevelt Institute. But in 2015, Joe Stiglitz, who's Roosevelt's chief economist, wrote a book with Mike Konczal who I think you know, Nell Abernathy, and a whole bunch of folks, and it was called “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy.” Actually, it started not as a book, but it started as like a white paper. And we rolled it out in D.C. at the National Press Club, and I thought, like, “Oh, fine, it's an economic white paper. Like, five people will be in the audience.”

Well, as it turned out, this report, which basically said, importantly, that inequality is a choice, and we can make different choices if we have different rules in our economy. We actually manage the economy differently, as you said.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: Anyway, this report ends up being this like crazy bestseller, right? I walked into the National Press Club, there were 150 journalists. We had like 250 press hits. Now, maybe it's because both Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio gave keynotes at that event and it was kind of part of the Democratic primary at that time, but that still said something to me. We did end up publishing that thing as a book with Norton. I used to go to airports and see the book and like bookstores at like JFK, or whatever.

So anyway, my point is that there was something in the water, something in the air, something in the environment that was suggesting that ideas like Piketty’s and ideas like Stiglitz’s, there was a real audience. And so ideas were moving from the academy. These guys are like world famous macroeconomists into like everyday life.

Chris Hayes: Right. That's very well said. So there's like an intellectual ferment. There's the receptivity of the public, and then the politics of it, too. I mean, that's why I was sort of talking about Trump because I think he creates this space, too. He runs against a lot of the parts of this consensus from this like populist right, right? Like he's running against it from the populist. Like, the globalist elites have taken your jobs.

Felicia Wong: Right.

Chris Hayes: The globalist elites have flooded your country with immigrants. The globalist elites sent your factory to Mexico, right, those bad Mexicans. Like, he attacks the same consensus, but from a populist right.

Felicia Wong: That’s right.

Chris Hayes: But the point is that it's a hammer blow against the consensus. So it's like the consensus is essentially being attacked from all sides. Like, there's increasingly fewer people as we go through that long recovery there to defend it.

Felicia Wong: Right. That's right.

Chris Hayes: That's what to me is so remarkable about. And then, of course, Donald Trump, what's his big domestic policy thing? It's a huge bait and switch. It's capital gains and corporate tax cut right out of Ronald Reagan, right? Like, the whole thing was like --

Felicia Wong: But don't forget “build the wall.” Like, his answer is like --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: -- radical tax cuts, even more of a kind of siphoning off of capital to the extremely wealthy, and then building the wall. So I think like that's the difference. You are totally right that around 2016, the system which had had a lot of fractures in it, really just comes apart at the seams. I mean, we all remember what it felt like, the 2016 election and afterward.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Felicia Wong: But the question then is what do you think should happen next? Donald Trump has one answer, which is like, more neoliberalism plus more racism.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: And the progressive left, though, also has an answer. And I think the answer is a kind of more government management of the economy, but updated for the 21st century. So a bunch of us on the progressive left, including very, very powerful and prominent people like Elizabeth Warren, like Bernie Sanders start to say, “Huh, you know what? Government could start regulating business better.” It could better oversee mergers and acquisitions of major firms so that our markets, because Elizabeth still believes in markets, but markets could actually work better and not be totally captured by a few big actors.

Progressives and progressive economists, and actually even centrist economists start to say, “Huh, you could really tax the rich and corporations more.” Piketty started a whole school of new tax thinking in the academy. That's really about taxation. And then you have lots of people, including most importantly, for this story, Joe Biden starting to say, “Yeah, and additionally, we could invest public money into sectors of the economy that the market does not serve well.”

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Felicia Wong: So if we are frustrated at the pace of clean energy, decarbonisation and green manufacturing, guess what? Government has resources. The government can actually do something about that. It can incentivize more spending in those areas. If we think the childcare system in this country is broken, which it is, because childcare workers get paid almost nothing, and yet childcare is very expensive for most families. Guess what? Government can do something about that. We could have a public childcare system.

So we start to see on the left, and ultimately, I would say even the center left, because I think that's who Joe Biden is. He's certainly not a progressive in the way that Bernie is, obviously.

Chris Hayes: Correct. Yeah.

Felicia Wong: But you start to see this kind of consensus, this debate, the ideas primary of 2020, and then this kind of consensus around maybe government should be managing more, should be doing more. Now, that debate is certainly not over. That fight has not been won. But that fight is a lot further along than I thought it would be a decade ago.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. I think there's one other thing I want to throw out, I would like to get your take on, which is what we talk about this sort of like the ideological development, right, that there's this sort of battle happening. There's the public and workers and people's reaction to both the crisis and the bailouts, and then the slow growth period, right? Like, they're frustrated with what's happened and the sort of fruits of deindustrialization throughout the Midwest.

There's this kind of like Trumpian populist attack on the consensus. I also think to get us to this moment is that COVID is just this insane shock to the system. And also, it’s like we're just going to shut down an enormous portion of the economy, and just have the government essentially, like, manage it, substitute it. Like, we're going to create this in a few weeks, like with huge Republican buy in this thing called PPP, which is like the government is going to forgive loans to employers to don't fire their workers.

And also, we're going to pay people directly. And also, we're going to bail out the airlines. And also, we're going to bail out the concert venues. I mean, again, it's an exogenous factor. But when you're talking about this like ideological vision of like, well, the government can't do too much. It’s like that just gets really even further, like, annihilated, I feel like during the COVID period.

Felicia Wong: No. That is absolutely right. I mean, the CARES Act, which is what you're talking about here, this multi trillion dollar, I don't remember what the vote was. You might remember. But it was like incredibly bipartisan, right --

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Felicia Wong: -- effort to basically put untold amounts of money into the economy for rescue. And what ends up happening then is senators like Chuck Schumer, who at least beforehand was never thought of as like a great progressive, right? But Schumer starts to say, like, “What if you also saw that much money not just to rescue, but actually to reform.”

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: And that is the kind of genesis of the, quote, “Build Back Better.”

Chris Hayes: Exactly.

Felicia Wong: I don't know we're not going to say those words, or whatever, but like the Build Back Better set of ideas. And the other thing that I think is really important about this is that some of it is direct rescue money in ways that were really different than what happened in the Obama story of the Great Recession. And that money went directly to individuals, money went directly to cities, money went directly to states. And you didn't see any of that sort of in the original Obama rescue plan. But you also had people starting to think about, as you said, what it means to support workers by trying to keep them in their jobs.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Felicia Wong: So now, there's a lot of critiques about how PPP did that. I have a critique, I'm not sure it's worth getting into at this point. The critique was basically that it still went through the private banks rather than like straight through the IRS, which would have been an even more public way to do it.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: Nonetheless, if you take the combination of the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan, both of which was the early 2021 Biden version of kind of a stimulus 2.0 or it wasn't really 2.0, but the next level. What you really see is a shift in thinking about government’s role in supporting workers, and government's role in supporting the labor market. I think this is not well understood, but it's worth walking through.

And this was definitely the lesson learned from that terrible jobless recovery of the decade before. But the idea that it is really terrible to lose your job. Losing your job means all kinds, obviously, you lose your income, but you might lose your house. You certainly have all kinds of emotional repercussions. It's terrible for your kids. It's terrible for your spouse. Like, trying to keep people in their jobs is just an incredibly important thing to do during a recession, the COVID recession, the COVID shock.

And so the idea that we put enough money into the system to make sure that that pretty much didn't happen for people. Don't forget, in April 2020, we thought that the unemployment rate was going to be 25%. I mean, farmers were like plowing their crops under. We had put the economy on ice. How are we going to keep people whole? And the argument that a number of us were making at the time, which is that it is worse to do too little than to do too much.

Chris Hayes: Exactly. That's to me where the real lesson. That's the transformation from the last moment to this, right? The last crisis was a very different crisis. It was a classic bubble, actually, which we actually know a lot, “Manias, Panics, and Crashes,” which I would recommend anyone to read, which is the canonical econ text on this. But we know how they work. We know what the aftermath of them is. In fact, this is a huge part of what Keynes wrote about. And we did too little is the short answer, and it screwed a lot of people. And now, when you screw a lot of people, it made a lot of people angry in a way that helped elect Donald Trump. I think it’s a totally fair analysis.

Felicia Wong: Right.

Chris Hayes: Not the only reason, there's a million different things, the long history of American racism, yada, yada. But it certainly didn't help. Like, that you've had a long period of this frustratingly slow growth did not help.

Felicia Wong: Right. Right.

Chris Hayes: Then COVID comes in and it's like don't do too little. Like, whatever you do, don't do too little. And I think the other thing that helps there because remember, again, this stuff is getting bipartisan Biden, is the guy who's literally signing the checks, as we recall, is Donald Trump, who is in an election year, who believes in absolutely nothing other than essentially bigotry grievance, and narcissism. Like, doesn't have an ideological thought in the world about the political economy and markets and government, like wants to get reelected, and like wants to bring pain to his enemies and blame people and martial popular sentiment. So he's like, “Spend whatever you got to spend.” Like I could not possibly --

Felicia Wong: Just put my name on it. Just put my name on it.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. Exactly.

Felicia Wong: Just brand at me. Right.

Chris Hayes: I could not possibly care less about like the deficit or all this nonsense that you nerds talk about. Again, because of his weird narcissism, short-term interest, this stuff comes together that we do a lot more than I would. I mean, I'm amazed at how much we did, honestly.

Felicia Wong: Me too.

Chris Hayes: Having lived through the financial crisis and the aftermath of that, we spent trillions of dollars of public investment, basically, to keep people afloat and employed in a way that like 10 years ago seemed like that was completely not within our ability.

Felicia Wong: I think if you start with the CARES Act, and then count forward to the climate bill, I hate calling it the Inflation Reduction Act, but whatever, the most recent legislation, it is north of $5 trillion. I think it may be close to $6 trillion. It depends on if you're counting loans versus whatever.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: But this is literally unheard of. And even at the beginning of the pandemic, after the CARES Act passed and we were starting to think, “Oh, what could happen if there was a second or third, both the need for this, but how would you structure this so it's going to actually help people to build back better?” Sorry. But none of us thought that $5 trillion or $6 trillion was going to be the number on the table.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Felicia Wong: But this is now the enormous opportunity for this country. And I know that many, many, many, many of my colleagues and friends are disappointed because they wanted more. They wanted the $10 trillion drive back. They wanted Bernie’s $7 trillion bill. They want more environmental justice. They want care. They want immigration. They want all and so do I, by the way.

And nonetheless, when you look at the amount of money that is now kind of sitting in the bank account, and not yet spent, Chris, we're at the precipice of a transformational moment in this economy, which is kind of amazing.

Chris Hayes: Okay, I totally agree with that. And just to take for a second, and this is like the thing that makes me start to feel like a little middle-aged and crotchety old man where it's like because I have the battle scars because I covered them. I was also a participant in those battles about austerity and this Rogoff-Reinhart paper that was incredibly influential, that said if government spends too much of a percentage of GDP, it's going to hurt growth.

Felicia Wong: Yeah. But there was like a flaw in the Excel formula on that one as you remember.

Chris Hayes: Literally, a bad formula in an Excel spreadsheet. Okay. But like there was this austerity.

Felicia Wong: I'm getting flashbacks, by the way.

Chris Hayes: Me too.

Felicia Wong: And I thought about Reinhart-Rogoff for one sec.

Chris Hayes: Well, it was incredibly influential. And this happened across the world, you had this global austerity. It's brutal to people.

Felicia Wong: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: It had basically enormous, unforced error that produced insane amounts of misery and not just misery, like enormous dangerously quasi-fascist backlash. Again, it didn't come out of nowhere, but was an accelerant for the worst forms of right-wing reaction across the world, right? Having gone through that, like I look at where the center of debate on political economy is now, in which, even the CHIPS Act, which is not that much money, but like the idea that you got the Republicans and Democrats coming together be like, and again, it's a huge corporate giveaway. Don't get me wrong. It's not like some progressive bill. Like, it's not at all.

But its ideological center is industrial policy insourcing. Let's start some factories to make some stuff and not just leave it to the market. That is the consensus like 80/20 in the Senate ideological position right now, and it is so far from where it was 10 years ago. It’s head snapping to me.

Felicia Wong: I think that's right. I mean, I think they're still, and I'm sure you would agree with this, an unbelievable amount to worry about, including the idea that actually, all this money does end up still getting somehow siphoned to the top. There aren't enough guardrails on this. It does become corporate welfare. And therefore, the promise doesn't deliver, and we are even worse off both economically and politically. I think that's the fear on the left.

I think the fear on the right is more like or maybe the libertarian fear, I don't know where libertarians are these days. But anyway, the Libertarian fear is more like actually, this is all going to get caught up in red tape. That liberalism really can't build. That nimbyism is going to stop all this stuff. No one is ever going to be able to build a highway or build new apartment buildings because there's too much regulation. And so I think we actually have to take both of those concerns somewhat seriously as we think about implementing this.

Chris Hayes: Totally.

Felicia Wong: And actually, the way I think about this is, and this is my biggest concern. I mean, I'm worried about both those things. But I'm actually worried about a third thing that I don't think has made a lot of headlines yet, but I think we should be thinking about it. So the question is, if we have $4 trillion or $5 trillion still to be spent on the table, it's more probably more like $3 trillion because some of the American Rescue Plan money is already out.

But anyway, we have multiple trillions still on the table. How and where, like, physically, geographically where are we going to spend that in this country? Because do we have a vision beyond the 2022 election and beyond the 2024 election? Do we have a 10-year vision? When your kids, Chris, are adults, are they going to be able to look out there and say, “You know what, there are 10 regions in this country that look more like Research Triangle Park, you know what I mean?

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: That 10 regions that currently we would derogatorily call like the rust belt, whether it's Kentucky or rural Ohio, or Michigan or Alabama. But now, these places are thriving, and they're thriving in all kinds of ways because they have both a semiconductor plant, and they have roads and bridges, and they have broadband. And guess what? They also, therefore, have like schools and community colleges, and hospitals.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: Are there going to be a lot of places like that? And what kind of economic strategy does it take to manage towards that, as opposed to managing towards something that's more like, well, Department of Transportation has to get its money out, so they're going to build the roads over here. And the Department of Commerce has to get the CHIPS money out. So they're going to put some semiconductor factories over here, and it's just going to kind of bleed out, and the sum will be less than the parts. So I worry about that, too, as we think about what's possible.

Chris Hayes: That's a great point. I mean, in some ways that's embodying, right. I mean, the sort of neoliberal arguments like, yeah, government is really bad at doing that. And that the geography of places is like actually, when you let places develop, there's other factors that can sort of organically produce it in emerging way. And if you try to plan it, then you get like Brasilia, right, which is like the capital of Brazil dropped down the middle of the country.

Felicia Wong: But I, far be it from any of us, and I hope not like to say that we have enough hubris to actually know how to do that.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: But I also worry truly that if there isn't some kind of structure in all of this, or some kind of north star that is geographically conceptualized or geographically operationalized, not only we won't see these like thriving regions, but we will definitely see a continuation of the kind of racial exclusion, gender exclusion. Like the reason that the climate left is so unhappy with parts of the climate bill, is that they think that there wasn't enough done to really deal in communities of color, not just with money, although yes, of course, with money.

But also like, how are we going to make sure that some of the decision-making around where some of these tax credits end up going includes the concerns of people who don't who aren't corporate executives, but are actually just like regular people who otherwise they have to live next to like the coal plant or have to live next to the sinkhole.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: So like, this is a very, very real concern. And yet at the same time, far be it for me to say like, well, it's so obvious how you would have a geographic strategy.

Chris Hayes: Totally.

Felicia Wong: I don't have a geographic strategy, but I think we should be thinking about it.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. I mean, with your point, I thought of two headlines I saw in the last few days, and talking to you on the last day of August for whenever this comes out, so people can peg it. But one was they're going to open this battery factory in West Virginia, which they announced, which is due to the Inflation Reduction Act, right, which has guaranteed these credits for long enough to kind of like produce long-term investment. That's one of the ideas, right?

So a lot of these credits were had to be renewed every year. They were also not that many of them. This massively expands these credits for green energy and clean energy.

Felicia Wong: Yeah, for a decade.

Chris Hayes: And extends them for decades, so you can actually make business decisions banking on it, right? And we've already seen, like, since the bill was signed, like a bunch of announcements, right? And one of them is West Virginia and there's a deal with United Mine Workers such that people that lost their job in coal mines will have sort of first dibs at these jobs in the battery factory.

I've been hearing about the kind of green transition stuff for years. And this is one of the first examples of like, this is what it looks like in real terms, right? Now, that comes about because Joe Manchin is the kind of kingmaker or deciding vote. At the same time, I'm seeing the largest city in the state of Mississippi, which is 80% black, Jackson, Mississippi has no water --

Felicia Wong: Jackson. Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- because their water systems been overwhelmed by flooding that wasn't even that severe. And in 2020, the EPA issued a report saying that staffing and equipment meant that this was a system on its last legs. And I'm like, how have we not fixed? Like, how much money could it take to fix the Jackson? It's 200,000 people. I mean, I'm sure it's, I don't know, a few billion dollars. But like you were just talking about $5 trillion. And I'm like when we sign this Bipartisan Infrastructure bill last year, how is this possible? Right?

Felicia Wong: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: So, it's like at one level, it's like here it's working in West Virginia. And then in Jackson, it's like something has gone horribly wrong such that --

Felicia Wong: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- there's no water in Jackson. And how do we fix that, given the fact that the amount of money that we're talking about here?

Felicia Wong: Well, Chris, it's rarely actually an economic problem.

Chris Hayes: Great. Yes.

Felicia Wong: It's almost always a political problem.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Felicia Wong: And it's almost always a problem of power and attention, and focus, and who we think matters. And you said Jackson is 80% black, right? And so if we do not figure out a way to genuinely move money and power to communities that have been the most dealt out, I mean, we said that Flint shouldn't happen again and now there's Jackson.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Felicia Wong: I mean, like, I don't know how to change that one exactly, except to try to point it out wherever I can, and try to point out that when rules are racialized, it wasn't just Jim Crow and it wasn't just slavery, that these things persist and accumulate generationally. And if we don't figure out a way to fix this, then a lot of the promise of today is just not going to build the America that I hope we build, but let me just put it that way.

Chris Hayes: We'll be right back after we take this quick break.


Chris Hayes: There's one other huge thread I think, and I think this would be a good place for us to sort of close conversation, which is inflation, right? So there's an amazing symmetry here, which is crisis of capitalism in the depression, FDR social movements, an ascendant left, (Caine’s), the kind of like post-war mixed economy, the middle class economy, a raw deal for many non-white folks, but a pretty good deal for white middle class Americans.

And then the chaos of the late ‘70s on a bunch of different things, but high inflation and persistent inflation, gas lines, shortages, prices going up and up and up. And inflation of the late ‘70s is to the kind of like Keynesian social, democratic mixed economy, what the depression was to --

Felicia Wong: Absolutely.

Chris Hayes: -- the roaring ‘20s, right? It's not just a crisis as we dealt with, it's an ideological stake in the heart. It is like this is what you get when we do it your way.

Felicia Wong: Right.

Chris Hayes: We're not going to do it that way now.

Felicia Wong: It ushered in neoliberalism is sort of what we started this conversation with. Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Exactly. And to the credit of neoliberalism, the one thing it really does produce is a long, long period --

Felicia Wong: Low prices.

Chris Hayes: -- long period of low prices, right? Like a long period of low prices.

Felicia Wong: You're right. I should give it credit for that. I don't know well enough. That's fair. That's fair.

Chris Hayes: Well, it does do it, right? It says like we're going to do this. Now, it doesn't do it in three major areas, which is housing, health care, and education, which are the three most important pillars of middle-class life. So you just get cheaper and cheaper phones and flat screen TVs and everything else. And the things that you need to be like a comfortable and secure middle-class person just getting more expensive every year. So it's a raw deal in that way.

But there's an argument to make on the right to say, well, look where we are, again. Surprise, surprise. We did it your way.

Felicia Wong: Right.

Chris Hayes: You guys vanquished the old model. You’ve slain the Reagan-Thatcher dragon. We shove $5 trillion in the economy. And guess what? We've got 1970s levels of inflation again, because this is what happened. Are you happy now, libs? And this is a very potent argument on the right now because they are correct; A, that we spent $5 trillion. I mean, not spent all of it, right, but put it on the table. And B, that we have the highest inflation in 40 years. On its phase, not a ridiculous argument. What do you say?

Felicia Wong: Well, yeah, but I would say that putting those two things together, and saying that one has caused the other is totally wrong. Now, look, what you started with is a really common perception of what causes inflation. I will start by saying that it is wrong. I'll get to what's right in just a second. But let me just try to explain why that common perception is wrong.

So the common perception of inflation is that it's caused by too much, quote, “aggregate demand.” That's what the economists would say. It's too much money chasing too few goods. And as you just said, I totally get why that's the common story right now. It's making the headlines. That's both because we did have a lot of government spending, and we do have high prices, and because that's what people are primed to think is causing inflation.

But that is actually not what is causing inflation right now. If you look at the data, which we are doing, Joe Stiglitz, who's working with Mike Konczal and another colleague of mine, Ira Regmi, but they have looked at the data pretty carefully. And they are making the very strong argument that it is not demand, but that the supply side is still the driver of inflation. Meaning that if you look at what is causing today's inflation, not the inflation of the 1970s, although people still debate what caused the inflation of the 1970s, for what it's worth.

Chris Hayes: Yes. And in fact, I should just insert this, there is an argument that that was largely supply driven as well.

Felicia Wong: Yes.

Chris Hayes: And that actually, the whole thing was misinterpreted that time around as well.

Felicia Wong: Right. Totally.

Chris Hayes: Ultimately, liberalism. Right.

Felicia Wong: But so this fight, what's causing inflation, it's not just academic, because it is so much like the stake in our political heart. You're absolutely right about that.

Chris Hayes: Oh, it's everything. Yeah.

Felicia Wong: Yeah. It's very emotional, very, very, very emotional to not just econ. I think most economics is actually kind of emotionally in core. But anyway, getting back to my explanation of what we think is causing high prices right now. So mostly, it's concentrated in three areas, right? It's energy, shelter, and food. That's like two-thirds of the total inflationary pressure right now. And those are each places with discrete supply problems, and you need to really look at each of them. To solve them properly, you actually need to look at them separately.

So on energy, obviously, which has been the most volatile of all prices. It's been the most volatile price driver. That's obviously gotten much worse because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so figuring out how to solve that one. In the short term, the Biden administration has done a lot to try to stabilize prices by guaranteeing oil price futures for like five years out.

I know climate people don't love that. I get why they don't love that. But that, plus lower demand in China because of COVID has actually brought those prices down. But that's a big, big, big driver. And so you have to look at that supply, that part of supply in order to try to fix that problem.

In the long term, by the way, we should move to clean electricity because that's like a lot cheaper and a lot more reliable than relying on like oil from the Middle East. So that's like one piece of it. The other piece to look at, of course, I just had the shelter. You just think about it, housing is an enormous supply problem in this country.

Chris Hayes: Enormous. We just did a whole podcast on the housing supply problem.

Felicia Wong: What you need to do to increase housing supply and to decrease prices is to build more housing.

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Felicia Wong: And in neither of these cases, energy or housing, is raising interest rates, the right long term solution, right?

Chris Hayes: Right.

Felicia Wong: Raising interest rates is going to make houses more expensive. That's literally the prescription right now, that is literally what is happening right now. And so I just think it's important on an economic basis to try to say you know what, you've got to diagnose the problem properly if you're going to bring prices down over the long term. Like, I get that the Fed raising interest rates is going to cause people to seize up, stop spending, stop investing. It will slow. It will, quote, “cool the economy.” And it will bring prices down over the short term.

It will do it with a lot of pain to workers who are going to either or not have jobs, or not get raises, or they're going to be perhaps fired. But I get that in the short term that that is probably the most effective, even if a little bit problematic lever.

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Felicia Wong: But in the long term, these are supply problems. And that is what Joe Stiglitz and Mike Konczal and others are saying, and it's a really important argument to get out there. It obviously takes longer to explain than the “too much money chasing too few goods.” But it's important economically. And it's also important politically because if we learn the wrong lessons, it's basically going to really hamper our ability to say that government should be spending for the American people, which it should be.

Chris Hayes: I think it's the whole ballgame. Like basically, I think if inflation persists and keeps going up, like all of us in the progressive left are screwed and the project is screwed. Because I just think like one thing that I've learned because this is my first time covering inflation and living it, is that I used to think it was more of a bogeyman. And like, it's true that it's hyped by the media, whatever. But it's just like, there's almost no economic phenomenon as universal as inflation.

Felicia Wong: Right.

Chris Hayes: Like, everyone purchases things. And everyone every day purchases some things and everyone notices when the prices are going up.

Felicia Wong: Right.

Chris Hayes: Even when unemployment is 8% or 10%, right, from 5% --

Felicia Wong: Because only some people don't have jobs, but everyone has to buy milk, bread, gas.

Chris Hayes: That's exactly right. And now, the effects of unemployment, if you're in a classic model that's called the Phillips Curve in which you're trading between higher unemployment and inflation, I still think you err on the side of tolerating slightly higher inflation for lower unemployment, because of what you said in the beginning about the what we've learned about how devastating it is, particularly prolonged unemployment, right, what that does to people skills, to their families, to security, all this stuff.

But also like living through this, it made me realize like, yeah, people really don't like inflation. And of course, if you go back, it's like right. The price of bread going up is part of what sparks through square. The price of bread going up is part of what sparks the French Revolution. Like, people really don't like when prices go up. Like, there's just no way around it.

Felicia Wong: I know. Well, your examples are more vivid and better than mine. What you just said reminded me of, of course, an academic white paper by an economist. So Robert Shiller, economist, authored a paper in the mid ‘90s, which was not like a super inflationary period, where he tried to understand why people didn't like inflation, and use a LexisNexis search to look at like hundreds of thousands of newspaper articles.

And the number one economic term was inflation. In the mid ‘90s, like, people cared more about inflation than poverty than jobs.

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Felicia Wong: I think the word inflation came up more than like the word sex or something like that in his search. And like, okay, obviously, it's a wonky paper, but like, there's something about inflation. To me, it gets back to that chaos thing we were talking about in the ‘70s.

Chris Hayes: Yes. Yes.

Felicia Wong: And it's also very real. It's out of my control. If I have to get to work and I have to pay $4 for gas today, $5 for gas tomorrow, how am I going to get my kids to school? Like, it is a scary thing. So it's real. And it's also spectral.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. Well, but I guess let's not end on that.

Felicia Wong: Right.

Chris Hayes: I mean, I guess, well, let's end on the good. Like, I think there's also possibility that I'm really encouraged by just the announcements we've seen in the first few days after the Inflation Reduction Act, particular on the climate stuff that like when you say we're on the threshold, with this ideological transformation that's happened, or ideological and political transformation, and then that followed by real money, I mean real money, that the last part of it is the change on the ground. And like, that's the hope, right?

Like, that's the next thing we really see is towns that had lost jobs and were struggling, see real, like steady gainful, secure middle-class employment come back in communities that didn't have that and all the things that come with that, and that creates tax pays for schools and people don't move out and like a virtuous cycle. Basically, that's the opposite of the kind of ruinous deindustrialization we've seen across the country takes root. Like, that's the hope.

Felicia Wong: Yeah. Well, let me just say one quick thing about inflation then we can close on this better note. I do think that far be it for me to predict inflation, because anybody who tried to do that in the last year really, was sorry they did. But most of the markets are predicting that inflation over a three-year period is going to be stable, and most of the indicators right now are fairly stable. And so there is reason to think that prices aren't going to rise.

Chris Hayes: Yes. Totally.

Felicia Wong: So let's just say that.

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Felicia Wong: But getting back to your broader or larger point about what is possible in this moment, I absolutely agree that it is possible that we'll see places in America that had been totally dealt out, really begin to thrive again. And I think that it is essential that our government officials and maybe people like you and me who are think tanks for the media actually tell the story well, right? Because we have to connect the dots for people.

Government spend money to try to help create jobs and schools and roads and bridges. And that is why you are seeing all these things right now. The New Deal, all of the WPA stuff, it was literally stamped WPA.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Felicia Wong: If you go to a bridge, it was like a big bronze plaque built by Franklin Roosevelt or whatever. And we have to do a little, maybe not Trump style branding, but like we have to tell the story, if we are seeing better things, we better tell the story of why.

Chris Hayes: Felicia Wong is the president and CEO of The Roosevelt Institute. She's a co-author of the book, “The Hidden Rules of Race: Barriers to an Inclusive Economy,” and co-hosts a podcast, along with Michael Tomasky of the New Republic called “How to Save a Country,” which explores ways forward for our democracy. Felicia, that was fantastic. Thank you so much.

Felicia Wong: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Chris Hayes: Once again, great thanks Felicia Wong, a fascinating conversation, so much to sort of chew through. We'd love to hear your feedback. Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email, and be sure to follow us on TikTok by searching for WITHpod.

“Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O'Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory, and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to

Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email Follow us on TikTok by searching for WITHpod. “Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O'Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to