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

Rethinking Free Trade

When Paul Samuelson, the dean of American economists, begins questioning the benefits of free trade, it is a bit like the pope having doubts about the virgin birth. But Samuelson, a Nobel laureate and the author of America's best-known economics textbook, has reopened a debate on the most settled issue in economics. He's done it with a stunner of an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that has created immense controversy -- and an opportunity for Americans to rethink previously unchallenged assumptions. Until now, any politician who questioned the universal benefits of free trade was ridiculed as a flat-earth type or a stooge for some declining industry or overpaid union whose work was best performed by lower-wage workers overseas so other U.S. consumers could benefit. This foreclosed a whole range of policy questions from debate. Ever since the economist David Ricardo offered the basic theory in 1817, economic scripture has taught that open trade, free of tariffs, quotas...

A Broken Promise to Children

One of the many lamentable things about this presidential campaign is how the real issues have been obscured in a sea of mud and deception. Exhibit A is education. President Bush campaigned as an education president and pledged to leave no child behind. His main legacy, however, is a most un-Republican brand of federal mandates on public schools, imposing high-stakes testing but without the funding to deliver the promise of better schools and teachers. Today happens to be the kickoff of the National Mobilization for Great Public Schools, a campaign organized by a coalition that includes Campaign for America's Future, ACORN, MoveOn, the National Education Association, some 40 groups in all. At last count, 4,000 teachers and parents had signed up to host house parties to organize an army of parents and others to press for adequate funding to back up the administration's rhetoric. Here are some appalling statistics, courtesy of the Mobilization and other research organizations: Headstart...

Prospects: George W. and Human Rights

George Washington set a standard that our current president disregards.

In his new book, Washington's Crossing , historian David Hackett Fischer recounts how humane treatment of prisoners was literally invented by George Washington on the battlefield in late 1776. Official British policy was to let field commanders decide whether to put captured enemy soldiers to the sword or to give quarter -- to keep captives alive in a barracks. Hence the expression give no quarter, which literally means to kill a captive on the spot. Washington wept, watching through a spyglass, as his troops, taken prisoner at the disastrous Battle of New York that November, were then slaughtered. After the first battle of Trenton, on December 26 and 27, where Washington's men captured several hundred Hessian mercenaries, Washington ordered his troops to treat the captives humanely. American soldiers risked their own lives, ferrying Hessian prisoners back across the Delaware. The Hessians were amazed to be treated with decency and even kindness, Fischer writes. American leaders...

Reframe Bush -- Fast

John Kerry is in trouble because the Bush campaign has seized control of what psychologists call the "frame" of this year's presidential contest. Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and company have framed the election starkly: Bush will keep us safe in a time of terror. He will put money in people's pockets by cutting our taxes, and somehow that will also be good for the economy. Bush and Cheney have also framed Kerry. He is inconstant, an effete elitist who lives in a lah-de-dah neighborhood, speaks a foreign language, keeps changing his mind on everything from Vietnam to Iraq. This signals that Kerry is culturally different from ordinary folks (like Bush) and that if he wavers on everything else, you can't trust him to be resolute on terrorists. If this imagery hardens, Kerry is toast. Experts who study how public issues become framed in people's minds, like Susan Bales of the FrameWorks Institute, say that you can't change views merely with evidence. You have to change the frame. For...

Time to Get Tough

Among Democrats, we are already hearing the recriminations. Is Kerry blowing it, and whose fault is it? Eight weeks before Election Day, the campaign is said to be turning into a referendum on Kerry rather than Bush. The president got his convention bounce (with more to come on September 11), and Democrats are already making dreaded comparisons with other lost but winnable races, like 1988 and 2000. Based on the issues, it's astonishing that Kerry is running slightly behind Bush. The Iraq War is an unpopular fiasco, the economy is not delivering for regular people, and Bush's repeat deceptions are far more disqualifying than Kerry's much-exaggerated flip-flops. As actor John Lovitz, playing a sinking Michael Dukakis listening to Bush the First blither through scripted remarks, memorably said on Saturday Night Live in 1988, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy." So, two questions: What is wrong with the Kerry campaign? And can it be fixed in time? Answers: Plenty, and Yes. Five big...

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