Harold Meyerson

One Big Question

Last Thursday, I attended a conclave, sponsored by the Frederich Ebert Foundation, of about 20 American liberals (chiefly economists and union representatives) and 20 German social democrats (economists, unionists, Social Democratic Party officials, and a couple of stray businessmen) to see what we could learn from each country’s respective economic, social, and political arrangements. Early on, one German friend posed a question to us Americans: “Where’s your [i.e., America’s] learning curve?” What he meant was that Germany and much of continental Europe had relearned certain key lessons after the financial meltdown of 2008 and its calamitous aftermath that America had apparently failed to process—chiefly, the need for an active and resourceful government capable of regulating markets and boosting the economy when the private sector is flat on its back. To be sure, with Northern Europe (Germany in the lead) currently promoting austerity to Southern Europe (Greece above all), it’s not...

A Sign for OWS

We learn from Samuel Brittan’s column in the Financial Times today that when Winston Churchill was the U.K.’s chancellor of the exchequer in 1925, he wrote in a letter to a British Treasury official that he’d like to see “finance less proud and industry more secure.”

McEntee, Head of AFSCME, to Retire

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municiple Employees (AFSCME), the 1.4 million-member union that is the largest in the AFL-CIO, has told certain members of AFSCME's executive board that he will not run for re-election. McEntee has been heading AFSCME since 1981 and is the senior member of the AFL-CIO's executive council, as well as the longtime head of its political committee. In an e-mail yesterday to members of his own executive council, AFSCME Indiana leader David Warrick wrote: "Last night President McEntee called me to let me know he has decided to retire and will not be runnng for re-election. We did not discuss his reasoning for this decision but I had heard his health has not been the best lately. Under his direction our Union became not only the largest Public Sector Union in the nation, but also the largest Union in the national AFL-CIO, and I thanked him for his lifetime dedication to AFSCME and the labor movement. In our discussion...

The L.A. Dodgers, Sold into Freedom

Last night’s announcement by Frank McCourt that he has agreed to sell the L.A. Dodgers is being greeted in Los Angeles with the kind of rapture that would follow the abolition of smog or the resurrection of Marilyn Monroe. From the mayor to his political opponents on the Board of Supervisors to virtually every damned blogger in town, McCourt’s withdrawal has been greeted as the necessary prelude to restoring one of L.A.’s signature institutions—a key component of the L.A. identity—to its former glory. The saga of the Dodgers under McCourt is just one part of a chronicle of civic decline that has plagued Los Angeles for years. Since McCourt and his then-wife Jamie purchased the Dodgers in 2004 from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation—though they didn’t have enough money to fully pay up, and it’s suspected that News Corp closed the deal in full knowledge of that fact, and in full anticipation that the McCourts would show their appreciation by continuing to let Murdoch’s sports networks...

Strike While It's Hot

Today, Occupy Oakland ups the ante in Occupy Wall Street tactics: It has called a general strike for the city of Oakland. Nobody seriously expects that the general strike will turn into—well, a general strike. The kind of effort required to assure that establishments large and small either close their doors or allow their workers to wander off hasn’t really been attempted, as it was, successfully, across the Bay in 1934, when the San Francisco general strike did come pretty close to shutting the city down—the only time in American history when a general strike actually became general. (More on that below.) But a number of unions and left-of-center groups have endorsed today’s strike without actually calling upon their members to strike. The Oakland Education Association has urged its members to take a personal leave day to join the rally, or conduct teach-ins on the 1934 strike. A large SEIU local that represents city workers has said it would be a contractual violation for it to call...

Half-Right Brooks

David Brooks’ column today is one of his better ones—noting that the U.S. is plagued by two kinds of inequality, that which divides the top one percent from everyone else, which is prevalent in our major cities, and that in smaller cities and rural areas, where college grads are doing OK but where the bottom has fallen out for those Americans who don’t complete college or, worse, high school. The gap between the lives of college grads and others has widened not just in terms of income but health, diet, marriage stability, and the percentage of children born and raised out of wedlock. Brooks isn’t the first conservative to have noted the disintegration of family life within America’s working class; Rich Lowry at National Review has also picked up on this. But neither Brooks, in today’s column, nor Lowry take the necessary further step of identifying what exactly has caused all this. If they want to take that step, they should check out the collected works of William Julius Wilson, the...

What Americans Make

Last Friday, the Social Security Administration released its figures on how much money Americans made in 2010 from wages, salaries, and tips (but not from capital gains, dividends, or rents). Turns out that the 150,398,796 Americans for whom employers issued W-2 forms made just over $6 trillion in net compensation. If you calculate the raw mean average, that comes out to $39,959.30 per worker. But 66 percent of wage earners actually made less than that (or that amount exactly)—which means, the high level of pay for upper-income workers produced a much higher mean average than the average American worker actually makes. The median wage—the dollar amount that 50 percent of wage earners made more than, and 50 percent made less than—was $26,363.55. Twenty-six thousand bucks is what the average American worker makes on the job. That’s right in line with the figures for median household income, which hover around $49,000 once you total the income for everyone at home who has a job. To be...

Steve Jobs and the Chinese Wall

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs hit the bookstores on Monday (or, worse, the websites that have replaced bookstores as the place where people go to buy books), and the more piquant details have already started popping up in the press. Among those details—actually, it’s a good deal more than details—is Jobs’s Manichean view of humankind (at least, those elements of humankind with whom he came into contact). As Michael Rosenwald summarizes it in Monday’s Washington Post : In his personal life, [Jobs] was capable of seeing people in only two ways – as enlightened or as bozos. There was no in-between, and he would ruthlessly cast aside whoever he deemed a bozo…. Those who were deemed enlightened were granted the right to work with Jobs in his binary world where products were either ‘the best’ or ‘totally [expletive],’ Isaacson writes. Isaacson’s description may make it easier to understand Apple’s production process, in which its products were designed to a fare-thee-well in...

How the Times Have Changed, Part 386

On Wednesday afternoon, within a few minutes of one another, many of America's leading unions -- the Service Employees, the Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers -- not to mention labor's omnibus federation, the AFL-CIO -- all released endorsements of Occupy Wall Street and its ongoing demonstrations in New York's (and the world's) financial center. Nothing surprising here -- other individual unions and numerous local unions had already released statements of support for OSW, and the AFL-CIO itself has held several demonstrations on Wall Street since the financial collapse of 2008. But for geezers like me, who came out of the student left of the '60s that found itself in various pitched battles with organized labor, the difference between then and now couldn't be greater. To review the bidding for a moment, the AFL-CIO under the leadership of George Meany (and later, Lane Kirkland), while an indispensable champion of most domestic progressive legislation, was an ardent...

When Even the Good News Is Bad

There are two ways to look at the new four-year contract between the United Auto Workers and General Motors that was unveiled yesterday. The first is to note that by the standards of today's economy, the auto workers got about as good a deal as anyone could imagine. The second is to note that the standards of today's economy don't allow for the kind of vibrant, sizable middle class for which America was once famed -- and which the UAW's contracts in particular did so much to build. The new agreement -- which the 48,500 UAW members employed by GM will vote on over the next ten days -- commits GM to reopening its plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and increasing production at five more U.S. plants, thereby creating 5,100 new jobs. New hires, however, won't be making what more senior workers get. The two-tier system of worker pay, which the UAW was compelled to accept when the Detroit Three were hanging by a thread, is actually strengthened in the new contract. Under the current contract,...

Obama's Two Speeches in One

President Obama's address to Congress tonight was really two speeches in one. The first laid out his jobs plan -- substantively, an attempt to forestall a double-dip recession. The second laid out a longer-term economic vision that promised, however vaguely, to restore American manufacturing. Politically, both plans are aimed at shoring up the president's support within the Democratic base: the jobs plan by its relative expansiveness (compared to the low-ball estimates the White House was putting out earlier this week so that Democrats would be pleasantly surprised at the plan's actual scope), the manufacturing plan by its promise to use state power, in some unspecified way, to help restore middle-class jobs. Both plans are also aimed beyond the Democrats' core constituencies, however. Parts of the jobs plan -- certainly, the payroll tax cuts to both employers and employees -- will be hard for the Republicans to oppose if Obama and the Democrats simply hammer home these proposals day...

Two of Mitt's 59

Fully 57 of Mitt Romney's 59 policy proposals to fix the American economy are as indistinguishable as Heinz's 57 varieties of ketchup (and a lot less fun than Hitchcock's 39 Steps). They are absolute standard-issue Republican dogma -- reduce corporate taxes, pass the free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama (have you ever seen a prediction of how many jobs our free-trade agreement with Panama would create, even excluding the number of jobs it would destroy? Does it ascend beyond single digits?), repeal Obamacare, kneecap unions -- utterly usual, utterly unsurprising. But two are interesting. One of them is a proposal Romney promises to implement by executive order on his first day as president: Label China as a currency manipulator and assess tariffs on Chinese imports if China doesn't float its currency. This is an idea that unions and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party have been urging on the Obama administration since it took office. Indeed, when the...

California's Economic Stimulus

In an economic downturn -- in fact, at anytime -- no one disputes that an individual state lacks the capacity of the federal government to stimulate the economy. Not even Jerry Brown, the governor of America's mega-state, whose economy is larger than all but seven nations, disputes that. "We've got the plan Obama has been looking for -- and if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you, too," Brown said recently. Even in a state as large as California, he continued, "we don't have the instruments of massive fiscal capacity that the United States government has." Whatever the limits of stimulus in one state, Brown today unveiled a plan to help California -- which has the highest unemployment rate of any state except next-door Nevada -- create jobs. He asked the legislature to enact a proposal that would help start-ups and reward businesses that employ Californians. His plan would create an employer tax credit of $4,000 for every new employee hired in state, for which firms with up...

Democrats: Bankers 'R Us

David Callahan notes today that with its conversion to an adjunct of the Tea Party, the Republicans -- historic home of the nation's financial elites -- have sent those elites streaming (and screaming) toward the Democrats. David is surely right, and, as he notes, this is the latest step in the decades-long story of Wall Street's partisan realignment -- and the corollary story, which is the Democrats' growing subservience to finance. The modern Democratic Party (dating from FDR) always went to Wall Street for key Cabinet positions and such, which is how the likes of Dean Acheson, John McCloy, C. Douglas Dillon, Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin, and Tim Geithner ended up in positions of power. The Wall Streeters who served Democratic presidents, though, were either Democrats themselves or Rockefeller Republicans, whose ideological divergences from mainstream Democrats weren't necessarily all that great. But the post-Reagan movement of Wall Streeters into Democratic ranks is nonetheless a...

Hot Stock Tip: Mac and Cheese

Good thing the debt-ceiling deal reassured the market. Stocks, which have been declining steadily for the past two weeks, plunged today on poor job-creation reports in the U.S., a slowdown in manufacturing in both the U.S. and Europe, apprehension about China's ability to keep buying construction and manufacturing equipment, the poor economic performance of Southern European nations, and the fear that the euro -- and just maybe European continentalism, too -- won't withstand the doubts about Italy's economy, Europe's fourth largest. In Europe, stocks took their biggest one-day hit in the past 15 months. In the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 512 points today, a decline of 4.3 percent - its steepest one-day drop since late 2008. The broader S&P index declined 60 points, a fall of 4.8 percent. News was just as bad at the NASDAQ, whose (largely tech) stocks fell by 137 points -- 5.1 percent. Any stocks up today? In the face of a general rout, Kraft Foods rose by about...

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