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

It Can Happen Here

”How did you go bankrupt?” ”Two ways. Gradually, and then suddenly.” Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises Countries go broke gradually, by borrowing so much money that creditors lose confidence in their ability to pay the debt back. Then, they go broke suddenly as creditors stop lending. This has happened to more than a dozen third-world nations, who had the additional misfortune of having to borrow in dollars. As their own currency lost the confidence of world markets, they lost value against the dollar. This only increased their real debt burden. The optimists say, ''It can't happen here." First, we're the people who print dollars. So if the dollar is losing value, it just means the money that we owe the rest of the world is getting cheaper. Lucky us. Second, we enjoy a codependency with our creditors. For instance, China, which keeps lending us money to finance our deficits, may be accumulating dollar credits that are losing their real worth. But China needs us to keep absorbing...

Off the Wall

The Wall Street Journal editorial page is without peer when it comes to spin, but the editors hit a new low with Wednesday's lead editorial, headlined "All You Need to Know." The title refers to the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the soaring deficit. The whole point of the report is to warn that that the "baseline" deficit, which appears to gradually decline between 2005 and 2016, is entirely misleading and understated because it leaves out crucial and costly items. Omitted are anticipated spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, the costs of making George W. Bush's tax cuts permanent (as both Bush and the Journal want), the real Medicare outlays once the drug benefit takes effect, and widely expected relief from the alternative minimum tax. Once these widely expected outlays are factored in, the real deficit does not dwindle to under a hundred billion dollars a year by 2011, as the misleading baseline figure forecasts, but soars to well over half a trillion a year, and...

Feeling Secure

Something almost unprecedented is happening to George W. Bush -- and on his big day. Leading Republican legislators are raining on his parade. One by one, key Republican congressional leaders are distancing themselves from Bush's Social Security privatization plan. On Tuesday, House Ways and Means chair Bill Thomas unkindly termed the Bush plan "a dead horse." Yesterday, Louisiana Representative Jim McCrery (who chairs the Social Security Subcommittee) sounded almost desperate, echoing Thomas's stunning statement that, in order to get "Democrats on board," Republicans would even consider raising the ceiling on the payroll tax. For the first time, a signature Bush initiative could go down, before it is even put into legislative form. And there is only one reason: Democrats are unified in their opposition and are hanging tough. Bush, after all, has legislative majorities in both Houses. But privatizing Social Security requires either raising taxes, or cutting benefits, or increasing the...

Minimum Wins

The Democratic National Committee will meet in February to choose a new party chairman. There is more jockeying than usual, with debates about whether the party should move left or right, hawk or dove, spiritual or secular, populist or what. Here's an instructive story you (and many national Democratic leaders) may have missed: President Bush carried Florida handily last November. But there was something else on the Florida ballot that got little national attention -- an initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $6.15 an hour. The initiative was put on the ballot by the community organizing group ACORN and a coalition of unions, MoveOn, and others with 975,000 signatures. The minimum wage initiative was opposed by nearly all Republicans and business groups. Not only did the initiative win by a stunning 72 to 28 percent; it won in every single Florida county, even rock-ribbed Bush territory. The Kerry campaign, hooked to a relentless message that the candidate had to identify with...

A Worldly Economist

An ode to Robert L. Heilbroner, who died on January 4.

Robert L. Heilbroner, who died January 4 at the age of 85, was one of a dwindling generation of professional economists who had broad humanistic curiosity and progressive values, and who wrote graceful prose for a large audience. Heilbroner was first and foremost a student of the history of economic thought. His masterwork, The Worldly Philosophers , written in 1953, was once required reading in introductory economics courses. His characterization of the great political economists was perfect: They were moral philosophers with empirical curiosity -- worldly philosophers Heilbroner was not just their chronicler. He was one of them. His great lifelong project, with Smith, Mill, Marx, and Keynes, was to get his mind around the capitalist system and to figure out how the thing worked. His other truly great book was a short work written in 1985, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism . Like Marx, with whom he had an intellectual love-hate relationship, Heilbroner understood capitalism as a...

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