Leading advocates say expanding the scope, scale, and breadth of these government-backed public goods can create opportunities for equitable access to housing, quality education, employment, and health care. That shifted understanding of what’s possible, combined with an embrace of collective responsibility, can create a society where all needs can be met, says Angela Hanks, chief of programs at the movement-oriented think tank Dēmos.
“Public goods are the foundation of a just economy,” Hanks says. “They strengthen communities and our economy overall. Public goods also ensure a basic standard of living and help correct the power imbalance between the wealthy and everyone else.”
But Hanks notes that corporate interests and the wealthy have weaponized the cultural myth of scarcity that suggests there are not enough resources to provide for all. This remains a major barrier to expanding public provisioning, despite its popularity. “There’s still a persistent belief around scarcity in this country, which among other things is deeply rooted in racism,” explains Hanks. “And it’s what corporations and the wealthy use to talk people out of public provisioning.”
Nevertheless, action to expand public goods is already taking place. To address the crisis in diabetes care, California Gov. Gavin Newsom contracted with a nonprofit drugmaker in March 2023 to create state-label insulin, which will make the lifesaving drug substantially more affordable and, presumably, lead to fewer people having to ration their supply because of high costs.
Elsewhere, states and municipalities are proposing public banks, like the one North Dakota has run for more than a century. By servicing local governments and operating in the public interest—by law—these entities could slash the huge sums governments now pay to private banks. Restoring postal banking, which the U.S. offered from 1911 to 1967, could help to service the 5.9 million unbanked and 18.7 million underbanked households in the U.S.
Reimagining prosperity demands a new economy that reflects shared values and a commitment to success and well-being that exists outside of an individual framework. This new prosperity also requires a grounded understanding of people and places, and a value alignment that sees the potential and possibility in something better.