Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. He writes columns for The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe and the New York Times international edition. 

Recent Articles

The Real Debt Problem

(Photo: AP/Rex Features)
(Photo: AP/Rex Features) Demonstrators protest the recent deal imposed on Greece by the European Union outside the German Embassy in London. Note: This is adapted from the new preface to the just-published paperback edition of Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility . (Vintage) I n the era when it was common to throw people in jail as a punishment for debts they could not pay, the result was perverse for both debtor and creditor. The debtor’s economic life ended—in prison there was no way the inmate could earn money to repay debt; thus there was no way the creditor could be made whole. The invention of bankruptcy in 1706 during the reign of Queen Anne of England offered an ingenious solution. A magistrate would evaluate the assets of the bankrupt party; creditors would be repaid at so many pence on the pound; the debt would be considered discharged and the debtor could get on with his life. This was the origin of the modern Chapter 11 bankruptcy, in which a...

Trump’s Other Nightmare for the GOP: Running as an Independent

Donald Trump has performed an immense service by saying squirm-inducing things and thus forcing Republicans to either distance themselves from his idiocy—or not.

It’s a delightful vise, because Trump is now tied for first place in GOP presidential preference polls, with Jeb Bush. Attack him and you alienate Trump admirers. Fail to attack him and you look as crazy as he is.

It’s tempting to dismiss this lead as just celebrity and name-recognition, but one way or another the Donald is destined to play a major role in the 2016 campaign. He has the money and the ego, and he will be an embarrassment for the next 16 months.

And it gets worse (or better, depending on your perspective).

Trump is probably too much of a buffoon to get the Republican nomination, however he has pointedly refused to rule out running as an independent.

This is a wonderful turnabout from recent years, when independent candidacies haunted Democrats. In 2000, Ralph Nader running as a third-party candidate very likely denied Al Gore the presidency.

At the time, I begged Nader, whom I know well, to run instead in the Democratic primaries, but to no avail. This time, Bernie Sanders is playing the far more salutary role of challenging Hillary Clinton as a Democrat, and Sanders will not run as an independent should he fail to be nominated.

By contrast, the 2016 election could be like 1992, when third party crackpot H. Ross Perot ran as an independent—and at one point in the spring of 1992 was running ahead of both Clinton and his Republican rival, the sitting president George H.W. Bush. In the end, Perot drew off more Republican votes than Democratic ones, and Clinton was elected with just 43 percent of the popular vote.

The Republican game has been to fight about who can posture farthest to the far right. Now they are getting exactly what they deserve. For sheer lunatic appeal and demagogy, it’s hard to trump Trump.

The IMF Breaks with Europe on Greece—About Time!

As I’ve written on several occasions, the only player with the power to alter Europe’s disastrous demands on the long-suffering Greeks is the International Monetary Fund. Yesterday, the IMF acted.

In a stunning rebuke to the Germans and the rest of the sadists leading Europe’s Greek policy, an unnamed senior IMF official yesterday warned that Greece needs massive debt relief, at minimum $85 billion, or its economy will never recover and it will never be able to pay the rest of its debts. This is exactly what European officials have refused to concede.

This welcome and bold IMF stand throws a useful monkey wrench into the humiliating deal extracted over the weekend—especially since the IMF is one of the three entities that is supposed to enforce the deal. Conceivably, if Greece now were to decided to thumb its nose at Germany and the other brutal austerity-masters, the IMF could underwrite an alternative course.

One possibility would be for Greece to leave the euro and return to the drachma—but not as a punishment, as contemplated by the worst of the lot, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Rather, the IMF could provide new aid to Greece to make such a transition a plus for the Greeks by getting Greece out from under German diktats.

This brings the IMF full circle to the role proposed by its leading architect, John Maynard Keynes, when the IMF was created in 1944—to prevent foreign payments difficulties from pushing nations into self-deepening austerity. After a detour into the austerity camp, the IMF is returning to its roots.

Where did this change of heart come from? Economists at the IMF have long chafed at the absurd economic premises of the European leaders. But they key player in this surprise move was the IMF’s biggest shareholder, the United States.

Behind the scenes, the Obama administration and especially Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have been pressing the Germans to give the Greeks more room to breathe—to no avail until now. The IMF move was done with the full knowledge and encouragement of the United States government. Kind of makes you proud to be an American.

This was a good week for President Obama. The IMF move on Greece was overshadowed by the breakthrough in the nuclear talks with Iran. But if this latest IMF play, promoted by Washington, should prove to be a game changer, it will be as important a diplomatic achievement.

Delusion in the Desert

Dispatch from the libertarian FreedomFest convention in Las Vegas. 

AP Photo/John Locher
AP Photo/John Locher Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a news conference at FreedomFest Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . L AS VEGAS—I'm here at Planet Hollywood as the token liberal to participate in two debates—one on what is killing the American Dream; the other a mock trial of the Federal Reserve. Paul Krugman is also here, debating the cause and cure of inequality. We're outnumbered about a thousand to one. The annual FreedomFest convention of some 2,000 libertarian conservatives is doubly surreal. What better setting for libertarian dreams than fantastical Las Vegas—the free market as casino, made flesh. Like casino operators, these libertarians live on fantasies. They inhabit an imagined universe where markets never do anything wrong and government never does anything right. This is comforting because it is true by definition and thus resists any evidence to the contrary. Mostly they are very...

An Embarrassment of Riches

The Republican primary is drenched in money from super PACs and billionaire political investors. Could there be a silver lining?

(Photo: AP/Susan Walsh)
(Photo: AP/Susan Walsh) Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court in October 2013 protest weak campaign-finance laws. This article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . A s we approach 2016, the Republican Party has the biggest field of presidential contenders ever. This may be due to a bumper crop of potential leaders, but the more plausible explanation is money. Supreme Court decisions have liberated business moguls to invest in politicians, much as they might invest in racehorses, yacht competitions, sports franchises, and, more recently, charter schools. Given the right patron, a remotely plausible politician can become a contender. Scott Walker, as a swing-state governor who faced down public-employee unions, might well have been a strong candidate in any case, but support from the Koch brothers didn’t hurt. And so on down the line, to Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, et al.—15 at last...

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