Axios' Felix Salmon (left) and Director of Harvard University's Center for Ethics Danielle Allen. Photo: Axios

A defining component of America's future will be how individuals prioritize the public good against the urge to privatize, Director of Harvard University's Center for Ethics Danielle Allen said Wednesday during a virtual Axios event.

The big picture: “The value of public good — which are government-funded services for the benefit or well-being of the general public — has come into focus throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Access to health care, government data and federal economic relief have played major roles in sustaining America.

  • But those systems are rickety due to years of underinvestment and a shift to privatization. As a result, they're struggling to meet residents' needs, Allen said.

What she's saying: "Why did the country not have an orientation towards the public good and a readiness to make a substantial public good investment to achieve that pandemic-resilient public health infrastructure right at the get-go?"

  • "When you ask that question, I think what you see is that we've spent so much time for the last few decades asking how we can privatize solutions that we literally don't know how to think about public good commitments and investments any longer."
  • Allen says investment in public good will define America's capabilities in responding to the coronavirus and other public emergencies.

The bottom line: "I think we just have to open space in people's imaginations for the concept of the public good. Instead of saying, 'How can we privatize that?,' we should be asking the question of, "How do we tell what['s] the public good? How do we spot the need for the public good?'"

Watch the event, "Reimagining capitalism in America."

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Updated Sep 23, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Reimagining capitalism in America

On Wednesday, September 23 Axios' Felix Salmon hosted a conversation on capitalism in America, featuring Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Director of Harvard's Democratic Knowledge Project Danielle Allen and founder and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Ventures John Hope Bryant.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal discussed the details of the Paycheck Recovery Act, examples of other countries that have taken measures to stabilize their economies through the COVID-19 crisis, and the importance of accessible health care.

  • On the Paycheck Recovery Act: "It [could be] an automatic stabilizer to the economy...So it doesn't require congressional approval and therefore congressional bickering over what a package should or shouldn't be. It automatically kicks in."

Danielle Allen unpacked how the erosion of labor's bargaining power over the course of the 20th century has contributed to income inequality and how investing in the public good can lead to a more resilient public health system and economy.

  • On an effective public health system: "Public goods and substantial investment in public health infrastructure is a public good...Federal government needs to invest in and support data systems. States need to build out boots-on-the-ground organizational implementation, rebuild the sort of practices of their public health organizations in order to deliver those goods in practice as services."

John Hope Bryant discussed economic inequality in America, the importance of financial literacy and more accessible job training and internships.

  • On how economic inequality has impacted Black communities: "Where have we succeeded? The arts and entertainment and sports. Why? Because the playing field is level and the rules are published. Free enterprise and capitalism, the rules aren't published."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with Omidyar Network CEO Mike Kubzansky, who discussed how the American economy can become reimagined to work for the public good.

  • "Markets are not laws of physics. They are actually built by political economy and interests and power and ideas, which means they can be also rebuilt in different ways and unbuilt in important ways as well."

Thank you Omidyar Network for sponsoring this event.

Amy Harder, author of Generate
5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Climate change goes mainstream in presidential debate

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty

The most notable part of Thursday’s presidential debate on climate change was the fact it was included as a topic and assumed as a fact.

The big picture: This is the first time in U.S. presidential history that climate change was a featured issue at a debate. It signals how the problem has become part of the fabric of our society. More extreme weather, like the wildfires ravaging Colorado, is pushing the topic to the front-burner.

Finally, a real debate

Photo: Morry Gash/AP

A more disciplined President Trump held back from the rowdy interruptions at tonight's debate in Nashville, while making some assertions so outlandish that Joe Biden chuckled and even closed his eyes. A Trump campaign adviser told Axios: "He finally listened." 

The result: A real debate.