Building the Public Options Field

02. 13. 2024

Economic Security Project’s vanguard investment to shape markets to work for people and communities

We are harnessing the power of public options to address the most acute economic challenges facing Americans today. 

The Problem

Families struggle to make rent as housing costs skyrocket. Seniors can’t access affordable healthcare as private insurers deny basic coverage and pharmaceutical manufacturers drive up costs. Parents and caretakers dip into savings, choose between caring for children or aging parents, and balance multiple jobs and gigwork to find childcare options. Households and communities are locked into energy sources powered by fossil fuels, paying exorbitant prices all while private utility companies fatten profits and compound climate change. Entrepreneurs and artists face shrinking job opportunities and diminishing capital as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes the latest trend to entrench the unequal distribution of wealth and prosperity. 

Public Options

A public option would help address these textbook examples of broken and bloated markets. Public options are choices in the marketplace, like an apartment or insulin, that are provided, authorized, or procured by the government; that can coexist with private options to create positive outcomes such as economic choice for families and resilience for communities. By creating more competition in a consolidated market, public options are a critical lever tool to make markets work for people, instead of a handful of industry titans.  

Our Investments

Economic Security Project is launching the Public Options for America Fund, collaborating with 10 new grantees and 3 partners across multiple sectors, investing in the most promising and innovative public options models and leaders of today. The fund invests in housing, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, childcare, and energy, embracing public options as a critical tool for countering today’s market inequities. Our grantees and partners engage with public option models in unique and differentiated ways to advance the field: generating maximum grassroots and advocacy excitement; accelerating feasibility research on how to implement public options to maximize positive outcomes; strengthening technical assistance to implement public options democratically and successfully; and, deploying narrative interventions to showcase the positive role of public options in building equitable markets.

Investments and Partnerships include:

Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals: T1International is organizing and amplifying patient advocates in state and national media to push for public manufacturing of insulin across the country. Melissa Barber, Amy Kapczynski, and Reshma Ramachandran at Yale Law School and Yale School of Medicine are researching anticipated legal roadblocks to public pharma. Be A Hero is organizing constituencies to defend Medicare, our nation’s most cherished public healthcare program.

Food: Since September 2023, our state affiliate Economic Security Illinois has been partnering with leaders in Chicago and Venice, Illinois, to explore opening municipally owned grocery stores. HR&A Advisors is conducting feasibility studies integrating perspectives from subject matter experts, community leaders, and industry professionals. Vanderbilt Policy Accelerator is producing a guide for policymakers on public grocery stores.

Housing: KC Tenants is organizing tenants and producing a feasibility study on how to implement municipal-owned housing in Kansas City.

Childcare: Roosevelt Institute and Community Change are partnering on a participatory research project that explores how a public option can be used to support an equitable system that helps address the childcare crisis and meets the needs of childcare providers and families. 

Energy: Climate and Community Project in partnership with Taproot Earth is developing a vision for a public option for offshore wind with environmental justice campaigners. Maine People’s Resource Center is laying the groundwork for a campaign to create a public wind power developer so that offshore wind power production is controlled not by shareholders in a one-dollar, one-vote system, but by the people of Maine in the best interests of our children and their children. Citizens Utility Board of Ohio is organizing community members to access Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) grants and tax credits to transform their publicly-owned electric company into a green public option. California Public Banking Alliance is collaborating with local governments in establishing socially and environmentally responsible public banks, while also leveraging Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to supercharge the creation of local green banks. Coalition for Green Capital is partnering with local organizations in North and South Dakota to leverage public and private capital to expand access to residential and community solar. Center for Public Enterprise is providing technical assistance on how to channel federal climate funds into transformative public projects like local climate and green banks through public financing.

AI: Vanderbilt Policy Accelerator is exploring how we can swiftly leverage government action to ensure that control over AI, and the benefits that flow from it, go to the public, not just to Big Tech. The tech industry’s trends toward concentration and consolidation of power, data, and resources may not be new, but AI’s rapid development offers an opportunity to ensure it is also deployed for the public good. Our state affiliate Economic Security California is supporting legislation that would create a public cloud infrastructure program, CalCompute, to ensure all Californians benefit from AI.

To break down siloed groups and organizations working on public options in specific sectors and segments of the broader ecosystem, we’re building the infrastructure to weave this work together. These interventions include a Public Options Community of Practice that brings practitioners, activists, campaigners, strategists, and researchers together to build toward a future where communities thrive with flourishing public investment in public goods, and exploration of a Public Officials for Public Options Network that brings elected officials and government staff together to learn from each other in implementing public options.

We’re thrilled to supercharge a movement for public options at this critical juncture. Our investments and partnerships stake out a new vision of what our economy can look like. We’re betting on a future where families can pay heating bills, make rent, afford childcare; with a diverse and robust set of businesses and public partnerships that create the conditions for us all to thrive. Join us in this endeavor to explore how public options can build power for all of us.