8 key takeaways from Hillary Clinton's first major economic address of the 2016 campaign

The Democratic frontrunner staked out a progressive vision in New York today. Here's what you need to know

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published July 13, 2015 5:08PM (EDT)

  (AP/Richard Shiro)
(AP/Richard Shiro)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled her vision for a future American economy during a speech Monday at New York City's progressive New School. Insisting that America cannot simply replay its past successes, Clinton called for modern economic policies to tackle the modern global economy. The frontrunner called for progressive policies like cleaner renewable energy investment and investment in broadband networks with a greater diversity of providers, making a clear case for a progressive economic agenda but still not giving many details about her specific policy proposals.

Here are some highlights of the speech:

Economic growth must go hand-in-hand with fairness

Clinton opened her speech hitting the theme of fairness in the economy hard. "I believe we have to build a growth-and-fairness economy. You can't have one without the other," she explained. Calling it her mission from her first day to the last, Clinton vowed to “get up everyday” to fight for the American worker and outlined a vision for the American economy under a Hillary Clinton administration.

By far, the most detailed policy outlined by Clinton during her speech was her business profit-sharing plan. Clinton promised to go into the details of the plan later this week in New Hampshire, although she did lay out a clear and aggressive plan to discuss the economy during the 2016 campaign in 2016 terms.

Uber economy raises hard questions about workplace standards

Clinton acknowledged the changing landscape of the American economy. “This on demand or so-called gig economy is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation,” she said, “but it’s also raising hard questions about workplace protection and what a good job will look like in the future.”

Lamenting that “today’s marketplace focuses on the short term … and too little on long-term investments,” Clinton said America should try to shape the future global economy not succumb to it. Changes in our economy “don’t determine our destiny. The choices we make as a nation matter," she said.

Calling for action to protect American workers in the so-called Uber economy, Clinton vowed “to crack down on employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors”, calling the action “wage theft.”

Businesses should share profits with workers

"Hard-working Americans deserve to benefit from the record corporate earnings they helped produce," Clinton declared as she announced one of what she called her new ideas for the economy. “Studies show profit-sharing that gives everyone a stake in a company’s success can boost productivity and put money directly into employees’ pockets. It’s a win-win,” she explained. "I will propose ways to encourage companies to share profits with their employees. That's good for workers, and good for businesses."

As for her other specific proposals on the economy, Clinton essentially called for a continuation and final implementation of Obama’s policies and proposals. On taxes, Clinton said she supported the Buffett rule, closing the carried interest loophole and a crackdown on corporate tax inversion. She said she supported Obama’s move to expand overtime payment as well.

Must go beyond Dodd-Frank

Clinton said that “we have to go beyond Dodd-Frank,” the 2010 financial reform law, because “too many of our major financial institutions are still too complex and too risky."

“The problems are not limited to the big banks that get all the headlines," she said warning that "serious risks are emerging from institutions in the so-called shadow banking system including hedge funds, high-frequency traders and non-bank finance companies which receive little oversight at all." Clinton said that as president she would will appoint and empower regulators who will ensure no firm is too complex to oversee and prosecute individuals as well as the institutions when they commit wrongdoing. Clinton said that as often as possible the fines paid by bad actors on Wall Street should go to the American people either by funding infrastructure modernization or as a direct payment to taxpayers. Clinton said the current economy rewards some work like financial trading more than the work she called the backbone of our economy.

And citing “shocking” misbehavior on Wall Street like HSBC’s implication in a drug laundering scheme, Clinton said there can be no tolerance for criminal behavior. "Too often it has seemed that the human beings responsible get off with limited consequences...This is wrong— and on my watch, it will change," she pledged.

A future economy can’t afford to leave Americans behind

"The measure of our success must be how much incomes rise for hard-working families—not just for successful CEOs and money managers," Clinton said during her populist speech. But Clinton made the argument that an inclusive workplace is better for the economy, discarded the moral imperative for the economic bottom line. Citing her talks with business leaders, CEOs, she said, are eager to engage in their share of responsibility: “it’s not charity it’s clear-eyed capitalism.”

"We can’t afford to leave talent on the sidelines," Clinton said. “Talent is universal but opportunity is not,” she said acknowledging institutional barriers that keep young adults of color out of school and out of work. Clinton argued that for too many Americans the job openings were not there for the taking.

She said she supported Obama’s efforts to have universal pre-K in the next ten years and discussed the early childhood learning gap, citing a staggering vocabulary differential between students when kindergartners enter grade school. Clinton called on action from the faith and business community to ensure that every American child 0-4 has access to an adult who will read to them.

Clinton also argued that comprehensive immigration reform could serve as one of the main engines of economic growth in America. “I want you to hear this” Clinton stressed, "bringing millions of hard-working people into the formal economy would increase our GDP by an estimated $700 billion over 10 years."

Goodbye to “women’s issues”

Calling it “another key to strong growth that often goes overlooked & undervalued,” Clinton cited the need to break down barriers to joining the workforce for women. Clinton said that in a global competition America can’t afford to leave talent on the side lines. “When we write them off we shortchange our country’s future,” Clinton argued.

"It’s time to recognize that quality, affordable #childcare is not a luxury – it’s a growth strategy,” she said noting that she supported progressive policies like paid sick leave, maternity and paternity leave and affordable childcare. Clinton took issue with the categorization of such policies as “women’s issues,” noting the number of women in the workplace. Clinton also slammed the “outrage” of women earning less than men.

She hit the GOP top-tier hard, but made no explicit mention of Dem rivals

Marco Rubio’s tax plan is trash, Scott Walker is mean-spirited in his attacks on unions and Jeb Bush just doesn’t get the Fight for 15, Clinton argued.

"You may have heard Gov. Bush say last week that Americans just need to work longer hours. He must not have met very many American workers," Clinton told the crowd hitting top GOP hopeful former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. "Let him tell that to the fast food workers marching in the streets for better pay,” Clinton demanded serving a quick shout-out to the Fight for 15 campaign, “they don’t need a lecture—they need a raise."

"If we want to get serious about raising incomes, we have to get serious about supporting union workers,” Clinton said targeting latest Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker whose rise in the Republican Party stems from anti-union policies and campaigns.

Clinton never mentioned any of her Democratic rivals although a reading of her speech leaves little doubt that she has Bernie Sanders’ progressive rise at the top of her mind.

Being a grandma taught her to plant shade trees

After saying that she’s only here for reality-based debates,"let's get back to making decisions that rely more on evidence than on ideology," Clinton talked of the lessons her nine-month-old granddaughter Charlotte had taught her. "Maybe it's the grandmother in me," Clinton said, but "I believe part of public service is planting trees under whose shade you'll never sit."

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Elections Economic Policy Hillary Clinton Progressivism Wall Street