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

Taking the Low Road

The people who insist that outsourcing is a trivial problem are wrong -- but so are those who tell you that there is an easy solution. The basic dilemma has several parts. First, the productivity of workers in poor countries is running far ahead of the wages they receive. That means Mexican autoworkers, unlike their American counterparts, can't afford to buy the cars they build. This reality is unprecedented. There has always been a lot of trade between rich countries and poor ones. But the ability of the world's lowest-paid workers to work with advanced production technology, the dropping of barriers to trade, and the integration of a global information economy are all relatively new. The analogy to trade within large countries is entirely false. Imagine that Massachusetts was paying an average wage of $15.00 an hour, and Connecticut was paying one dollar. An awful lot of jobs would eventually go to Connecticut. The US has always had regional disparities in pay levels -- that's why...

Dear John

Senator John Kerry has enjoyed more party unity than any Democratic challenger in memory. Democrats are so eager to oust George Bush that the normally fractious party of the people is willing to cut Kerry immense amounts of slack. On the whole, that shift reflects overdue maturity. However, Kerry's honeymoon could founder on three key questions -- his budget strategy, Iraq, and his choice of running mate. Kerry-nomics . The Kerry camp, to the consternation of liberals, has now embraced deficit reduction as its economic centerpiece. The policy is sensible as far as it goes. But will it go too far and moot social investment? As economics, the premise is that a repeat of Clinton's performance in reducing the deficits accumulated by Reagan and Bush I will reassure money markets and restore high growth. As politics, the idea is: First, keep it simple. The Clinton era is associated with prosperity. Clinton turned deficits to surpluses. Ergo, Kerry should do likewise. Second, Kerry is being...

Thanks, Mr. President

Suppose John Kerry actually gets elected president. Here's what he has to look forward to. On the economic front, most observers expect higher interest rates in late 2004. Kerry will face a sluggish economy, and perhaps a double-dip recession. The reason for the higher interest rates is the Bush deficits. At some point soon, money markets will start demanding a better return if they are to keep buying government bonds. To undo the fiscal mess, Kerry would be torn between reassuring Wall Street with a lot of deficit cutting, and trying to find some funds to restore domestic social investment. Foreign policy and domestic security will not be pretty, either. As the focus shifts from imagined threats (Saddam Hussein) to real ones (the scandalously weak state of domestic preparedness against terrorist attack), a Kerry administration would need to spend more on everything from port security to Public Health Service monitoring of a possible biological or radiological attack. On the foreign...

Global Mess

Two pivotal recent events should make a shambles of President Bush's contention right after 9/11 that a War on Terrorism would be the defining mission of his presidency. In late January David Kay, the president's own chief weapons inspector, admitted that no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons were found in Iraq. That finally made it respectable to question the wisdom of the Iraq war. Then, last week, the explosive testimony of former counter- terrorism chief Richard Clarke invited intense discussion about whether the Bush administration had done enough to avert the 9/11 attack. However, a third and even more important inference is just now seeping into public consciousness: The failure to protect the United States against terrorism is ongoing, and directly related to Iraq. The Iraq detour has set back America's security in at least five mutually reinforcing ways. First, the war distracted top officials from domestic preparedness, which remains in organizational chaos. No senior...

Good Work

More than two decades ago, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Wassily Leontief imagined a world where productivity was so high that machines would produce all physical goods. There would be just one manufacturing job: the human worker who flipped the switch. Leontief wondered, what would everyone else do for a living? His answer was that the immense wealth generated by all that productivity would have to be redistributed so that other people would have useful employment providing services to complement all those physical goods. Otherwise, nobody could afford to buy the products. Leontief's industrial dystopia has arrived a lot sooner than most economists forecast. There have been "automation" scares before. But in our own era there were adequate mechanisms of redistribution, so that increased productivity eventually produced other jobs at decent wages. As recently as the 1990s, rising productivity ended up producing rising employment and earnings. Today, however, high productivity is...

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