Sherrod Brown Lays Out Economic Populism from the Left

By Matthew McMullan
Mar 03 2017 |
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), pictured here at a 2014 Save our Steel Jobs rally in Ohio, is making a progressive case for economic populism.

“We need to offer universal solutions to a universal problem — the declining value of work.”

Remember at the beginning of the week when we noticed that President Donald Trump is laying political claim to America’s workers, and wondered aloud what the Democrats were gonna do about it?

Well, one sitting Democrat has some ideas.

During a speech today on the campus of Ohio State University, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) unveiled a raft of economic proposals titled Working Too Hard for Too Little. It’s Brown’s attempt to address worker marginalization – defined in the paper as “the effects of business decisions that focus on cutting workforce costs at workers’ expense.”

"We need to rethink how we talk about the economy," he said in Columbus. "Instead of individual solutions to niche problems, we need to offer universal solutions to a universal problem – the declining value of work. That’s what this plan is for – to make life better for all workers. Every single one of them."

Among other ideas, Brown’s proposal calls for 1) a raise of the minimum wage to $15; 2) a minimum of seven days of sick leave per year for each worker; 3) allowing some part-time workers to participate in their company’s retirement plan; and 4) would require companies to reimburse taxpayers when their employees have to rely on federal assistance programs because their wages are too low.

Conservative critics didn’t like it immediately:

“By pushing rejected ideas that would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs and penalize entrepreneurs, Brown’s proposal is only meant to curry favor to his liberal, special interest donors,” said Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for America Rising Squared, a GOP group that does not disclose its donors.

Pfft. Whatever, man.

Look, Brown is indeed a progressive Democrat and his pitches reflect that. However, it's been noted that aspects of Brown’s economic populism kinda sound like the president’s – particularly his critique of U.S. trade policy. In fact, Brown reached out to Trump’s transition team before January 20, and urged the incoming administration to act quickly on trade issues.  

Anyway: The senator is up for re-election in 2018, so he’ll be testing these ideas on the campaign trail, and it will be interesting to see how they are received. But (for what it’s worth) Brown says this isn’t about politics:

“I hope anybody steals these ideas and moves forward, whether it’s Secretary of Treasury (Steven) Mnuchin or whether it’s Tom Perez,” the newly elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Brown said. “I want it talked about. I want people to try to move that agenda.”

You can find Sen. Brown’s whole proposal on his office website. Or watch his speech right here: