Who inspired you to do the work you are doing?
That’s a question I have not thought about for a long time. My professional life has definitely been shaped by a set of values that I was exposed to early in life. My parents believed in social justice and had a sense of fairness that I remember relating to as a youngster. One of their core beliefs was that we should not accept things as they are but work to make them better. This basic message was reinforced by my Rabbi, who I thought cared more about civil rights, social equality, and alleviating poverty than whether his congregants believed in God.
When I was a young adult, I learned that there was a long Jewish tradition of “takkun olam,” which means to repair the world. I don’t think of myself as particularly religious but I am inspired by the work of others who recognize our shared responsibility to make the world a better place. For me, this means we can’t accept pervasive poverty, discrimination, and economic insecurity, especially when our society is so prosperous.
What is the biggest challenge facing the United States and how would you fix it?
One of the biggest challenges facing the United States now is how difficult the climb up the economic ladder has become, especially for those who have to start at the bottom. For me, it is clear that future economic mobility requires access to both income and assets. We do need to create more high-quality, good paying jobs. But we also need to create more ways to connect people to savings and assets. The power of assets is not just that they can be deployed productively or tapped to weather unexpected events, but they have behavioral effects that can change the manner in which people think about and plan for the future.
Another challenge is that wealth and income inequality is on the rise, trends made more troubling by the persistence of intergenerational poverty and diminishing returns to labor. Expanding asset ownership, whether through savings or investment, has the potential to meaningfully connect economic opportunity with economic security and ensure that every member of society is afforded a stake in the commonwealth. If we don’t create more opportunities for families to build assets over time, inequality—especially wealth inequality—stands to get significantly worse.
Where can we find more of your work?
I direct the Asset Building Program at the New America Foundation. Our work is focused on finding ways to expand access to a range of economic resources, providing striving families a means to increase their economic security and move up the economic ladder. The Program serves as a leading voice on innovative policies to enable families in the U.S and around the world to accumulate savings, connect with wealth-building financial services, develop financial capability, and build and protect productive assets across the life course.
Through informed analysis, expert commentary, innovative policy development, and promotion of a constructive public discourse, we aim to advance ideas and solutions in a bipartisan fashion.Almost all of our work is accessible on the web. We aim to offer something for everyone. You can read our policy papers, watch public events discussing contemporary topics, listen to podcasts, read our daily blog, or even follow us on twitter. We are always looking for good ideas and feedback on our work, so please let us know what you think.
What advice do you have for young people interested in your field?
Don’t accept things as they are. You can play a part in making things work better of yourself as a citizen and not a consumer. Then, find ways to make your voices heard. I am continually amazed how the internet has opened up new avenues of communication where good ideas can find an audience. Similarly, citizens are needed more than ever as watchdogs to hold the work of government to account. We have a collective responsibility to point out things that need improvement. America is a democracy but we need the active engagement of our citizens to find and implement solutions to the problems of our time.
What is your favorite book?
There is no way I could name a favorite book. Books changed my life and I hope people keep writing them and reading them.
What do you when you are not saving the world?
I’m a family man and this endeavor takes a large amount of time. It is time well spent and I keep a steady list of things to do at home to make sure I am around. I just installed two rain barrels and am ready to plant the garden. My two teens don’t think I belong on instagram, though.
What are your comfort foods?
I like sauerkraut and fermented vegetables. I make my own, so it is a DIY activity. But I must admit that the rest of my family can’t stand the stuff.
Who is your favorite musician?
I love many different kinds of music from all over the world, but there is something to good old-fashioned, old-time American folk music, played on fiddles, banjos, and guitars. I like how those sounds are being kept alive by a new generation of players (some of whom even won Grammys this year!).