Robert Kuttner

No Jobs But Crappy Jobs: The Next Big Political Issue?

(AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty)
(AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty) Wal-Mart employee Nidia Flores arranges shirts, Thursday, August 7, 2014, in Brownsville, Texas. F or decades, the increasing precariousness of work has been a source of mass frustration for tens of millions of Americans. But the issue has been largely below the political radar. Politicians ritually invoke good jobs at good wages, yet presidents have been unwilling to name, much less remedy, the deep economic forces that are turning payroll jobs into what I've termed "The Task Rabbit Economy"—a collection of ad hoc gigs with no benefits, no job security, no career paths, and no employer reciprocity for worker diligence. But there are signs that maybe this issue is starting to break through. One manifestation of job insecurity is extremes of inequality as corporations, banks, and hedge funds capture more than their share of the economy's productive output at the expense of workers. The Occupy movement gave that super-elite a name: the One...

Education Alone Is Not the Answer to Income Inequality and Slow Recovery

Chris Ison/PA Wire via AP Images
O ur economy is now five years into an economic recovery, yet the wages of most Americans are flat. For the entire period between 1979 and 2013, median worker wages rose by just 7.9 percent while the economy’s growth and productivity rose 64.9 percent. The top one percent has made off with nearly all of the economy’s gains since 2000. I s there nothing that can be done to improve this picture? To hear a lot of economists tell the story, the remedy is mostly education. It’s true that better-educated people command higher earnings. But it’s also the case that the relative premium paid to college graduates has been declining in recent years. If everyone in America got a PhD, the job market would not be transformed. Mainly, we’d have a lot of frustrated, over-educated people. The current period of widening inequality, after all, is one during which more and more Americans have been going to college. Conversely, the era of broadly distributed prosperity in the three decades after World War...

Thoughtful, Prudent and Faltering: The Paradox of Obama

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014. N ew York Times columnist Tom Friedman's extended interview with President Obama shed some light on how Obama can be well-informed, thoughtful, prudent—yet still be seen as faltering as a foreign policy president. If you compare Obama with George W. Bush (OK — a low bar), Obama wins, hands down. Unlike Bush, Obama inhabits the reality-based foreign policy space, with no apologies. Unlike Bush, he has no messianic zealots among his advisers. He gives the kind of well-considered responses that suggest a president who carefully engages with truly difficult policy conundrums. Yet at the end of the day, he often comes across as vacillating and indecisive—an impression that can be fatal in his dealings with allies, adversaries, and, of course, any electorate. In the case of Iraq and ISIL's murderous assault on religious minorities and rivals, not to...

Cold Porridge For Regular People: The Myth of the Goldilocks Economy

This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T he economy grew at an impressive rate of four percent in the second quarter of this year, according to a government report released on Wednesday. But the stock market promptly tanked. The Dow lost more than 317 points Thursday and another 70 points Friday. What gives? Financial markets like it when the economy grows fast enough to signal that the recovery is continuing—but not so fast that labor markets might tighten and workers get more bargaining power to get raises. Markets also worry that if the economy grows too fast, the Federal Reserve might pull back from its policy of low interest rates. Not to worry, brave investors. The Labor Department weighed in with a report on Friday, revealing that the economy added only 208,000 more jobs in July, down from the June performance. The number of long-term unemployed was basically unchanged. Likewise the rate of labor-force participation. And the percentage of people employed...

Liberal Heroes Miss the Mark in Today's Times Columns

(AP Photo/ Francisco Seco)
New York Times columnist Charles Blow sure blew one this morning and, for good measure, so did Paul Krugman—our two most reliably liberal and intelligent columnists! Blow’s subject was the do-nothing Congress. Ordinarily thoughtful and original, this time Blow fell into the media cliché of assigning symmetrical partisan blame for Congressional inaction, as if the two parties were equally culpable. The piece was full of Blow’s signature: accurate statistics. This Congress has passed only 108 pieces of substantive legislation, the lowest in decades, he reports. It was in session an average of only 28 hours a week. Citing the usual cause of “polarization,” Blow indignantly concluded: “Legislating is only a hobby for members of this Congress. Their full time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar of acceptable behavior.” Excuse me, but the problem is not “Congress.” One party—the Democratic Party— behaves quite normally, seeking to do the public’s business. The other...

7 Foreign Policy Crises That Show Republicans Prefer Disaster to Solutions

AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File
AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File In this April 25, 2013, file photo former Vice President Dick Cheney participates in the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. In an interview Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, Cheney said Republicans need to look to a new generation of leaders as the party deals with poor approval ratings following a 16-day partial-government shutdown. He said Republicans need to have "first-class" candidates and look to its strategy and a new generation. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . I t's hard to recall a time when the world presented more crises with fewer easy solutions. And for the Republicans, all of these woes have a common genesis: Ostensible American weakness projected by Barack Obama. People in the Middle East, former Vice President Dick Cheney recently said , "are absolutely convinced that the American capacity to lead and influence in that part of the world has been dramatically reduced by this president." He added...

5 Ways Wall Street Continues to Sandbag the Economy, and How to Fix It

Flickr/Alex E. Proimos
Flickr/Alex E. Proimos This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . The shocking thing about the financial collapse of 2008 is not that Wall Street excesses pushed us into the worst economy crisis since the Depression. It's that the same financial system has been propped back up and that elites are getting richer than ever, while the effects of that collapse are continuing to sandbag the rest of the economy. Oh, and most of this aftermath happened while a Democrat was in the White House. Consider: The biggest banks are bigger and more concentrated than ever. Subprime (subprime!) is making a comeback with interest rates of 8 to 13 percent. Despite Michael Lewis's devastating expose of how high speed trading is nothing but a technological scam that allows insiders to profit at the expense of small investors, regulators are not moving to abolish it . The usual suspects are declaring the housing crisis over, even though default and foreclosure rates in the hardest hit cities...

Three Reasons Liberals Lack Traction With Voters, Despite Conservative Failures

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File In this March 18, 2014 file photo, voters cast their ballots in the Illinois primary in Hinsdale, Ill. T oday’s conservatives have a problem. The middle class is increasingly anxious about its economic prospects, and with good reason. Inflation-adjusted earnings have declined for most people since 2000, long before the collapse of 2008. Young adults face more than $1.2 trillion in college debt, declining entry-level salaries, high costs of housing and childrearing, and dwindling employer health and pension benefits. With new public attention being paid to inequality of income and wealth, these concerns don’t exactly play to conservative strength. The era since 1981 has been one of turning away from public remediation, toward tax cuts, limited social spending, deregulation, and privatization. None of this worked well, except for the very top. For everyone else, the shift to conservative policies generated more economic insecurity. The remedies are those...

The American Prospect Continues

When we started The American Prospect with Robert Reich in 1990, our aim was to foster a “plausible and persuasive liberalism” by bringing together journalists and scholars into a public conversation about the future of American society and politics. In nearly 25 years, the Prospect has undergone numerous changes both in print and online, but as we return to a more direct role than we have had in recent years, the Prospect ’s mission remains the same—cultivating the ideas and the reporting needed to help build a democratic politics and a decent society. We are committed to keeping the Prospect as a strong and vital voice, both as a magazine (in both print and digital forms) and as a website. The magazine will continue its blend of analytical essays and deeply reported articles on politics, economics, and culture. The website will continue with fresh material to be updated daily. We will maintain our writing fellows program, which has helped to launch the careers of many of the best...

The State of Our Union? Economically Unjust

AP Images
To honor Martin Luther King, Jr., the White House declared a “day of service” in Dr. King’s memory, and President Obama spent a few minutes on Monday helping to serve meals in a soup kitchen near the White House. Talk about a tin ear, or a timid one. For starters, Martin Luther King’s life was not about soup kitchens. It was about radical, disruptive struggle to win civil rights; and then in his last five years it was about connecting racial justice to economic justice. Dr. King took pains to define the 1963 March on Washington as about jobs as well as justice. He was murdered while helping striking sanitation workers in Memphis fight for decent wages. If we had more good jobs, and less Republican assault on what’s left of our social safety net, we’d need fewer soup kitchens. The president might have honored Dr. King’s legacy by giving a speech about that. One can sympathize—to a point—with President Obama’s wish to downplay both the radicalism and the racial aspect of Dr. King. As...

David Brooks’s Worst Column Ever

Well, this is getting to be a habit. Alert readers may recall that a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Tom Friedman’s worst column ever, plugging efforts by a billionaire hedge fund friend to persuade college students that their enemy was Social Security. Now, Friedman’s colleague David Brooks has written an even worse column . It’s really hard to determine Brooks’ worst column ever, since he seems to turn out one every week. Brooks’ latest piece, in Friday’s Times , begins inauspiciously, “Suddenly, the whole world is talking about income inequality.” (Where has Brooks been, Jupiter?) He goes on to argue that the inequality debate is miscast. Income inequality, according to Brooks, has two entirely different parts—the pulling away of the very top (he’s surely right about that); and the poverty of the bottom. The trouble with the bottom, says Brooks, is that poverty isn’t just economic; it has complex socio-cultural roots, etc., etc., and you don’t solve it with measures like the...

A Dubious Budget Deal

The years of Republican obstructionism and the corporate campaign for deficit reduction have taken such a toll that merely the fact of getting a budget deal at all looks like a great achievement. This one is better than continued impasse, but the deal itself is a stinker. Representative Raul Grijanva, co-chair of the House progressive caucus, put it well: “I feel like punching myself in the face, but I’ll vote yes.” The deal does override the automatic sequester for this year. It will restore some $31.5 billion in sequester cut over the next two years in domestic spending, and a like amount in military spending. But those increases are against a backdrop of more than a trillion dollars of cuts over a decade. The deal nominally is deficit-neutral, because it adds new budget cuts in Medicare in 2022 and 2023. Even worse, the deal did not even include an extension of expiring extended unemployment insurance, at a time when the share long-term unemployed is stubbornly stuck. That...

Peter B. Lewis: An Original

AP Images/TONY DEJAK
Peter B. Lewis died suddenly of a heart attack on Saturday at the age of 80. A billionaire chief executive of the Progressive Insurance Company, Peter was a true progressive in his values and his deeds. After his father’s death, Peter and his mother took charge of the company. He became chief executive in his early 30s and built Progressive from a small 100-employee company into America’s fourth-largest auto insurer, with $17 billion in premiums and 26,000 employees. He expanded his market by insuring high-risk customers, deliberately offering price comparisons with competitors, and setting claims promptly. He led Progressive with exemplary transparency. Peter was a philanthropist extraordinaire, supporting the arts, education, progressive politics, and marijuana legalization. Among his causes were the Center for American Progress, the American Civil Liberties Union, Media Matters, and The American Prospect . He was one of the early principals of the Democracy Alliance, a consortium...

Krugman Boots One

Paul Krugman has played an indispensable role challenging the conventional wisdom during the financial crisis and the slump that followed. He has been proven right again and again in his brilliant debunking of austerity as the cure for recession. Therefore, it was astonishing to read a rare, truly wrongheaded Krugman column in Monday’s New York Times . The offending column is titled “ A Permanent Slump? ” In it, Krugman proposes that something fundamental—something structural—has changed in the economy so that the new normal is what economists call “secular stagnation,” or as Krugman puts it, “a persistent state in which a depressed economy is the norm, with episodes of full employment few and far between.” As I read through the column, I kept waiting for the pivot. Surely Krugman was setting up this claim as a straw man, the better to demolish it. But, no. Krugman evidently buys this view. Even worse, the expert whose research he cites in defense of this thesis is one Lawrence...

Bretton Woods Revisited

AP Images
AP Images O n July 22, 1944, as allied troops were racing across Normandy to liberate Paris, representatives of 44 nations meeting at the Mount Washington resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, created a financial and monetary system for the postwar era. It had taken three weeks of exhausting diplomacy. At the closing banquet, the assembled delegates rose and sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” The fellow in question was John Maynard Keynes, leader of the British delegation and intellectual inspiration of the Bretton Woods design. Lord Keynes, the world’s most celebrated economist, was playing a tricky dual role. He had proposed a radical new monetary system to free the world from the deflationary pressures that had caused and prolonged the Great Depression. Bretton Woods, he hoped, would be the international anchor for the suite of domestic measures that came to be known as Keynesian—the use of public spending to cure depression and the regulation of financial markets to prevent...

Pages