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

Robert Rubin Speaks with Forked Tongue

There’s a smart op-ed piece in the Times by Robert Rubin—yes, that Robert Rubin—calling for a massive federal jobs program at decent wages. Rubin correctly points out that most people need good jobs, and that the vogue for a Universal Basic Income doesn’t solve that, and is very expensive.

What prevents us from having a jobs program at a scale that would make a real difference? One factor is the Democratic Party’s obsession with deficit reduction and budget balance as necessary tokens of fiscal virtue. That theme ran through both the Clinton and Obama administrations.

And the leading Democratic proponent of that view, along with his Republican Wall Street cronies like Pete Peterson, was the same Robert Rubin.

Now that the good jobs desert has brought us Trump, it’s nice that Rubin is having new thoughts. And tactically, it’s useful that Rubin now supports a massive federal outlay on jobs. But hypocrite and opportunist are among the kinder words to describe this man.

Wither the Democrats?

AP Photo/Steve Helber
AP Photo/Steve Helber Former President Barack Obama, right, speaks as Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam listens during a rally in Richmond A pparently not. Despite all manner of recrimination and schism, and lack of enthusiasm for the bland and risk averse Ralph Northam, Democratic voters realized the stakes and turned out in large numbers to elect him governor of Virginia. Right up until the impressive nine-point win, the election was a nail-biter. Polls showed a tightening race, and the run-up to the Virginia gubernatorial election began to feel feeling like the last days of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But there is nothing like a big win to heal splits and restore spirits. Northam’s secret weapon was the losing GOP candidate, Ed Gillespie, is a longtime party hack and lobbyist, who was far less convincing than Donald Trump as a rich man posing as a populist. He also tried to use the Trump playbook while distancing himself from Trump...

Manufacturing Lies

AP Photo/Eric Gay
AP Photo/Eric Gay A worker uses a lift to move rolls of sheet metal at LMS International in Laredo, Texas This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post. Subscribe here . D onald Trump promises to make American manufacturing great again. Yet all of his policies would do just the opposite. America was going to get tough on NAFTA, right? The goal was to “rebalance” trade among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Well, a parade of corporate lobbyists demanding that we keep NAFTA has caused the administration to put off negotiations. If NAFTA is renegotiated, the changes will be mostly cosmetic. And anyway, NAFTA is only a small part of American manufacturing woes. If we were serious about restoring good blue-collar manufacturing jobs, what would it take? For starters, we’d need an industrial policy, something that both political parties have rejected as meddling with the market. One place where we actually have a modest industrial policy is at the Energy Department, where government...

The Wieseltier Moment -- a Tipping Point

With the ouster of Leon Wieseltier for a long, sordid history of hitting on young women who worked in junior positions at The New Republic where he was literary editor for three decades, the women’s movement has achieved a goal that has eluded it for centuries. Powerful men, famous or not, are no longer exempt from being held accountable. Masses of women are willing to tell their stories. Boards of directors are compelled to act.

It was one thing for celebrity offenders to fall from grace—Cosby, Weinstein, et al. Leon Wieseltier is not a major celebrity, except perhaps in his own eyes. He’s a literary intellectual, who was about to launch a new quarterly magazine called Idea, underwritten by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs.

Wieseltier, with the appropriate literary flourish, issued an abject mea culpa:

For my offenses against some of my colleagues in the past I offer a shaken apology and ask for their forgiveness. The women with whom I worked are smart and good people. I am ashamed to know that I made any of them feel demeaned and disrespected. I assure them that I will not waste this reckoning.

Presumably he was aware of these serial offenses and shames before they went public? Maybe not.

It wasn’t enough to save his neck. When the litany of complaints surfaced, his benefactor Powell Jobs not only fired Wieseltier but killed the magazine.

When most regular people outside literary circles read the stories, their reaction was …. Leon who? But if Wieseltier can be held accountable, so will many thousands of others.

All over America today, men who held positions of power that they abused sexually two or ten or 20 years ago, are feeling just sick. You never know which former underling will decide to speak up, and whose heads will roll.

That includes college professors, executives of middling enterprises, managers of fast-food joints, directors of nonprofits—anyone and everyone. It’s about time.

This is an epochal tipping point. There will be a long overdue reckoning, and then maybe—maybe—men in positions of power will stop doing this, or at least think very hard about the risks. And women—all women—will feel, and be, newly empowered.

Virtue is said to be its own reward. In this case, virtue is also conducive to sound sleep for men who did not abuse their positions of power for sexual favors or coercions.

In social revolutions, change comes very slowly, and then abruptly. But the deeper change will be behavioral. Consensual hanky-panky will not end, but when there is an imbalance of power there is no such thing as consensual.

Wieseltier’s public shaming will be the first of many such falls from grace of non-celebrity offenders. And more men will behave more decently, or at least more prudently.

Is Trump Smart Enough to Reappoint Janet Yellen?

(AP Photo/Dake Kang)
(AP Photo/Dake Kang) Fed Chair Janet Yellen speaks to a student at a job training center in Cleveland on September 26, 2017. D onald Trump would be wise to reappoint Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. Trump has said he will decide by early November. Keeping Yellen would plainly serve Trump’s political interests. Yellen’s stewardship of the Fed has kept the recovery on track, stimulated inflation-free economic growth, and even permitted a little wage growth despite the wreckage of unions and the loss of labor power in the gig economy. The result is also record stock market levels. Yellen is one of Barack Obama’s best appointees, and perhaps the best Fed chair ever . Thanks to Yellen, Trump enjoys bragging rights for an economic boom not of his own making. So what’s not to like? For one thing, there’s the inescapable, galling fact that Trump’s nemesis, Obama, appointed her. For another, Yellen is a liberal Democrat. And third, Yellen found the economic sweet spot by combining strong...

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