If the federal government can’t pay its bills, then millions of Americans can’t pay theirs

The debt default stalemate is careening toward next week’s hard deadline.  And while there has been solid coverage of the catastrophic consequences of the nation defaulting on its obligations, it’s worth highlighting the voices that are directly connecting the dots between communities’ wellbeing and the economy.

For instance, Center for American Progress’ Jean Ross writes:

While individuals and businesses would ultimately receive payments, temporary disruption could impair the ability of federal workers, businesses, and those who rely on federal payments—such as Social Security recipients—to pay their own bills with resulting impacts that would ripple through the economy at-large.

Topos has conducted extensive multi-method research on the ways Americans think and communicate about the economy, across geographies and demographics. These efforts have enabled us to test promising strategies to advance models of the economy that both stay true to our values AND effectively compete with the current mental models that hold us back.

In short, too often discussions of “the economy” are about vague economic conditions or about what businesses need, as opposed to reinforcing the important and true idea that our friends at the Groundwork Collaborative assert: “We are the economy.” 

A narrative framework that focuses on people’s wellbeing (ALL people’s wellbeing) as what is necessary to drive our economy is a powerful tool to add to our moral and justice-oriented tools in the box.  

We should use every opportunity to include explanatory messages reinforcing that people’s wellbeing is at the center of the economy. For example, in the current debt default debate, the following addition to the conversation reminds folks this is about people, not politics: 

If the federal government can’t pay its bills, then millions of Americans can’t pay theirs. When the federal government runs out of money, that means social security payments, veterans benefits, tax refunds, child tax credits, salaries for postal employees, the military, national park and air traffic control staff, and more, are all at risk. Millions of Americans won’t be able to pay their bills and that ripples throughout our communities. By refusing to pay our nation’s bills, MAGA Republicans are holding millions of Americans hostage.

Looking for more resources? Check out our short summary of the essential elements of a people-first paradigm: Acting on Our Values is Good Economics: A Narrative Paradigm Shift to a People-First Economy.

And listen to Topos Senior Fellow Isaiah Bailey talk through a people-first narrative framework and promising pathways forward in the short video below from our recent Think Big Narrative Learning Community meeting.