Lord Wood of Anfield is a shadow minister without portfolio and adviser to Ed Miliband, Neera Tanden is president of the Center for American Progress
This week, as Ed Miliband visits Washington DC for the first time as Leader of the Labour Party, the relationship between progressives on both sides of the Atlantic will come under scrutiny. But the reality is that similar core values underpin progressivism in the USA and Britain today.
As our history shows, our two countries share the same values and have common aspirations for our people and our countries. Over the course of the 20th Century, progressive movements in the US and UK have fought against injustice, built institutions to protect our citizens and expand opportunities, and ensured economic growth provides shared prosperity for all. This leadership and vision has not only improved the lives of those at home, but has also inspired progressives abroad.
In the wake of the global financial crisis, and the anaemic economic recovery that has followed, it has yet again fallen to progressives on both sides of the Atlantic to provide fresh solutions to a new set of economic and social challenges. To date, however, there have been important differences in policy between the US and the UK. Whereas Obama adopted an invest-and-grow strategy that, although fought hard by Congressional Republicans, has still seen considerable policy success, David Cameron adopted a politics of austerity. As a consequence, recovery came quicker in the US, and growth has been stronger than the later recovery in the UK.
The truth is that the crash in 2008 changed the shape of our societies and our politics. It also challenged the underlying assumptions about the nature of economic growth, and made a response to the rise of inequality an essential part of mainstream politics. Progressives now understand that we need to place a new emphasis on responsible capitalism to meet these challenges. We need to work harder to support, strengthen and grow the middle classes. And, as global competition grows ever more intense, we need to ensure our agenda for economic growth and our competitive edge is based on the creation of high-wage and high-skilled jobs, not low-wages and low skills. Today, we must be engaged in a race to the top, a race where government has an important strategic role to play in supporting policies to expand the middle class.
Unfortunately, conservatives on either side of the Atlantic still believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that wealth trickles down from the top, and thus that growth is triggered by tax cuts for the wealthy and government "getting out of the way". In contrast, Ed Miliband and Barack Obama share a vision of an economy that grows from the middle-out, where strategic investment in the skillsand knowledge, and where public and private support for the industries and services of the future underpin the growth of middle-class jobs which in turn further spurs economic growth. Taken together this amounts to a different way of doing progressive politics: reforming our economy, and being as passionate about the quality of our economic growth as we have historically been about social justice. It also means being constantly focused on how middle class families are faring as much as on macroeconomic statistics.
This vision, one of an economy growing from the middle-out, has provided the foundation for a renewed dialogue between Labour and the Democrats. Over the last six years, the Center for American Progress's Global Progress initiative and, more recently, the Inclusive Prosperity Commission have pioneered a research agenda designed to share new ideas and to develop in partnership new policies based on the latest evidence and this new vision. Co-chaired by former US treasury secretary Larry Summers and UK shadow chancellor Ed Balls, the Commission has brought together leaders from business, policy-making, politics and academia to help provide a fresh set of policy recommendations for our economies.
Promoted by shared challenges, the progressive agendas that have emerged to respond to them have both commonalities and differences of emphasis.
In the UK, Ed Miliband has outlined the need for a new economic settlement, including a commitment to reset our energy markets to ensure greater competition and better regulation in the public interest; reform of the retail bank sector to promote greater dynamism and ensure that it is able to finance the real economy; an increase to the minimum wage above the level of average wages; and putting in place incentives for companies to go further and pay their workers a living wage.
In the US, the focus will be on investments in infrastructure, increasing the minimum wage, comprehensive immigration reform that increases growth, modernizing our workplace policies to address the needs of women and families, and a fairer tax code that is good for business and families.
Ed Miliband's visit to Washington DC provides a timely reminder of the the new post-Crash challenges faced by both our nations and our progressive movements. But beyond that, it is an opportunity for two leaders who both understand that economic growth comes from not the top down, but the middle out, and who share with common values, to share ideas on how to meet these challenges, and to think strategically about how they can work together in the future to build a fairer and stronger future for their countries.