Work Until You Die and Other Great Ideas From Third Way, Your Favorite 'Center-Left' Think Tank

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Every once in a while, something in the political wild finds you and is so perfect in its depravity that you can’t help but take a step back and marvel. A new report out this week from Third Way, a think tank that (falsely) presents itself as “center-left,” is one of those things.

The document is called “A New Generation of Ideas: A Social Contract for the Digital Age.” It professes to offer what Third Way calls the “opening bid of the ideas primary for 2020.”And boy oh boy is this document chock full of ideas, that ineffable currency which 2016 showed us is definitely how elections are really won and lost.


“We came to the realization that, along with everybody else in Democratic politics, we had gotten a lot of things wrong about how Americans were thinking and feeling,” Matt Bennett, a Third Way co-founder and alumnus of the Clinton White House, told The Washington Post. (This is perhaps a reference to the group’s ill-fated safari across Real America to figure out Trump voters, a colossal failure documented by Molly Ball in The Atlantic.)

So what is Third Way’s method of getting things right? In the report, much time is spent handwringing about how the “digital economy” is transforming the economy and the way we live. Tell me more about these forces I definitely haven’t heard about before (emphasis entirely Third Way’s):

Right now, America is creating jobs, but they are neither good enough nor spread widely enough to satisfy people. It’s far too difficult to get the skills needed to succeed in a rapidly shifting economy. And the benefits of work have so eroded that too few jobs provide a good life.


Those emphasized words provide a roadmap for where we’re going: work is your honorable ticket to the “good life,” rather than just a process of your boss exploiting your labor for profit.

Let’s see what else is contained in this “Social Contract for the Digital Age”:

Broadband for All will be a national campaign to link every American community to broadband infrastructure in just two years. Right now, broadband is out of reach for millions because of a lack of market incentives to lay fiber and build towers.


The problem is “market incentives,” you say? A good way to miss the point entirely! In reality, the public should have access to the internet because we paid to create it. The internet is a public good and should be treated like a socialized public utility.

Onto the next neoliberal thorn in my side:

Boomer Corps

Boomer Corps. Boomer Corps. Boomer Corps. Just the name makes me want to die. But let’s give them the chance to explain this one:

Will create an entirely new category of work through national service so that seniors can earn tax-free in retirement.

We have an on/off switch with work—you’re either employed or retired. Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers are taking the retirement route every day, despite worries that they haven’t saved enough—and despite a desire to keep being productive.


Instead of fully clocking out of the workforce, Boomers will have the opportunity to transition to a fulfilling, part-time job in national service.


Interesting! So it’s like the WPA, the New Deal public employment program that put people back to work during the Great Depression, but for old people. Reading on provides some proposed numbers: these poor souls will get an annual $12,000 stipend if they work 20 hours a week doing things like mentoring and coaching.

One massive problem here: those are still jobs. Although Boomer Corps (ugh) zeroes in on a very real problem—people are retiring later and later with less than ever saved up for their twilight years—it proposes patching things up with more of the same: work that you’re not getting paid enough to do.


Instead, what about, say, offering seniors guaranteed pensions so they can golf or watch M*A*S*H or spend time with their own grandchildren rather than hanging out with some strangers’ rugrats? Cloaking “work until you die” in dignified language about national service is a lie and a scam.

I’ll almost certainly have a brain aneurysm if I continue delving into the particulars of Third Way’s other proposals, which include a “college value guarantee” and creating one million new apprenticeship positions. To see where things went so horribly wrong, we have to go back to the intro.


“Income inequality is pernicious and immoral, but it does not describe voters’ primary daily concerns, experience, or needs,” the think tank claims. “To win and get a mandate, Democrats must make America’s cause their own.”

Income inequality is the problem, you stupid conservative idiots! The market is the problem and who has the capital is the problem. Any “solution” that attempts to use these forces to undo some of capitalism’s myriad harms will fail miserably. We know this in part because groups like Third Way and presidents like Bill Clinton already tried these kinds of things. They didn’t work then, and they won’t work now, no matter what Third Way says.