New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo joined with VP Joe Biden to embrace a $15 minimum wage last week. Normally, not big news since most of the country looks at New York as the home of progressive economics from FDR on. Not true, at least recently, which makes the Cuomo move significant and points the way for others.
Cuomo has been a "progr-actionary." He's way left on social issues like guns, abortion rights and gay marriage. But on economic issues he's been an austerity bug of the Paul Ryan ilk. Cut taxes for high-income taxpayers, cut the bank tax, cut the estate tax, cut spending, bash unions, Cuomo has been as right-leaning on economics as he has been left on the social issues.
He paid a steep price for that in the 2014 election. He was challenged hard from the left and won the primary by much less than predicted. He never got the progressive base enthused and won the general election by much less than predicted. Not a good year electorally.
Cuomo has been searching for a way to re-establish progressive economic credentials and the $15 minimum wage is now a signature political move for him.
Let's not be too cynical. He's entitled to be taken at face value: "If you work full time, you shouldn't have to live in poverty -- plain and simple. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will add fairness to our economy and bring dignity and respect to 2.2 million people." Fair enough.
He also makes the very sensible intellectual case that economic growth will come when average people have more money to spend, thereby stimulating demand and job growth. It's sound economics, and a welcome antidote to the failed "supply-side" economics which have dominated American politics for thirty years. It's now apparent to most, that tax cuts for the rich and slashing public investment is a prescription for what we have: Gross income inequality and a diminished middle class.
It's also politically popular. The American electorate is moving away from supply-siders to a new economic vision, where income equality and higher wages for working families is the goal. Voters like a higher minimum wage.
Will Republicans figure this out? There are vestigial signs of an awareness that more of the same failed Republican economics will not win the election. The Donald particularly, and the Jeb a little, are beginning to talk about ending the carried interest tax break for hedge fund guys. Trump particularly is able to move beyond the control of the KochBros and corporate types who keep dragging the Republicans back into economic policies that the 1 percent love and everyone else, not so much.
It will be worth keeping an eye on Cuomo. First, he needs to persuade the Republican State Senate to support the $15 minimum wage. Not impossible. After all he got them to support gay marriage and gun control. He also needs to deal with the problem of lots of state employees who make less than $15 an hour. He will have a hard time explaining his enthusiasm for McDonald's workers while turning his back on health care givers who now make less that $9 an hour. (See my column in the Albany Times Union on this.)
But change is in the air, and Cuomo has been bold. Whether his former intellectual allies in the Republican Party will get the message is yet to be decided.