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A Voice of Reason

Bob Herbert
New York Times

Demos, headquartered in New York City, grew out of a series of meetings of scholars, activists, journalists and elected officials who were concerned about the ever-increasing influence of the right on public policy. "The thinking was that there should be more moderate, liberal and left-of-center voices," said Miles Rapoport, the group's president. The group was formed in 2000, a year that would later see the disputed election that gave the presidency to Mr. Bush.

It didn't take long for Demos to begin issuing loud warnings about the danger that ever-increasing debt was posing to American households, while pointedly disputing the argument that over-the-top credit card debt was primarily the result of excessive consumer spending.

In a 2003 report called "Borrowing to Make Ends Meet," Demos spotlighted the increasing gap between the incomes and the day-to-day living costs of many low- and middle-income families. That report was updated steadily in subsequent years, and in 2007 Demos was reporting: "Many households have tried to cope with this financial imbalance by relying on credit cards to cover basic expenses that earnings do not meet. Homeowners, ominously, have then relied on cashed-out home equity -- $1.2 trillion over the last six years - largely to pay down those debts and to cover other costs of living."

Demos has responded with admirable real-world scholarship, a highly respected fellows program to encourage new writers and thinkers and steadfast efforts to promote civic engagement. (It's a big champion, among other things, of same-day voter registration.)

It's not just comforting but essential to have sane countervailing voices like Demos to remind us that government action is necessary to plan for the common good, to set proper rules for economic activity and to be a bulwark against predatory practices in the private sector.