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

Good Hearts

The U.S. government ranks near the bottom of tsunami aid givers when national income is measured against assistance. So President Bush, in line with his general view of privatization as panacea, is enlisting private charity to fill the gap. A parade of corporations has lined up to reap some easy publicity. Citigroup, with profits of $17.85 billion in 2003, will donate $3 million, or an infinitesimal proportion of its profits. The same Citigroup got $4.6 billion in tax breaks in 2001-03. That's billion . The $350 million pledged by the Bush administration, some of which will be diverted from other relief needs, represents 0.003 percent of our national income. Europe, on average, is spending about triple that. "The greatest source of America's generosity is not our government," the president intoned as he drafted Bill Clinton and his own dad to pass the tin cup. "It's the good heart of the American people." Herewith, a different view: The good heart of the American people can be...

What Social Security 'Crisis'?

Bush's entire plan for Social Security privatization rests on the premise that the system is in severe crisis. But a careful look at the numbers suggests that the financial crisis is largely a myth. For years, the Social Security trustees have used very conservative assumptions about future rates of economic growth, productivity growth, and growth of the labor force. These assumptions, in turn, affect the projected payroll tax collections that will fund Social Security payouts. Five years ago, in the late 1990s, they estimated the long-term economic growth rate at just 1.7 percent. The reality has been well over 3 percent. Most economists now believe the economy can do a lot better than 1.7 percent annual growth. In its 1997 report, the Trustees projected that the system would no longer be able to meet all its obligations by 2029. Just six years later in 2003, based on their acknowledgement of stronger economic growth, the Trustees moved the crisis date back to 2042. So if the system...

Will's Cheap Shot

The other day, columnist George Will took a swipe at what he called "Kuttnerism" -- the sin of liberal condescension toward middle Americans. I have long observed that when Democrats and liberals honor the pocketbook struggles of regular people, social tolerance is more easily advanced and accepted. For instance, Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy championed workaday Americans -- and were able to expand minority rights at a time when most whites needed some prodding. They had built the necessary political capital to advance minority rights without being punished by socially conservative voters. In that spirit, I wrote in the December issue of The American Prospect that "Bill Clinton won election by declaring, as a matter of values, that people who work hard and play by the rules should not be poor. Middle America forgave him for treating gays as people." Will's column began, "Some liberals cannot control their insuppressible reflex to look down their upturned noses at the...

Thinking Even Bigger

Just over the next horizon are even bolder reforms. They include: Instant-Runoff Voting. With instant-runoff voting, you designate more than one choice. If your candidate isn't in the top two, your vote automatically goes to your second choice. With this system, now used for local elections in San Francisco, supporters of insurgent candidates can vote for their first choice without risking the unfortunate consequence of helping elect their last choice. If instant-runoff voting had been in effect in 2000, Al Gore -- the second choice of most Nader voters -- would have become president. As Rob Ritchie of the Center for Voting and Democracy explains, instant-runoff voting simulates runoffs, but in a single election -- thus guaranteeing that the winner is actually the choice of a majority. The system has two big benefits: Partisans must think in terms of practical coalition politics, because candidates need to attract second-choice votes and first-choice ones, and democracy is energized, as...

The Battle Begins

For decades, Social Security was called the "third rail" of American politics. Suddenly, privatization sounds like a done deal. Not so fast.

Social Security is the most successful program that tangibly delivers on the core philosophy of the Democratic Party -- namely, that ordinary people depend on government for economic security that markets can't provide. Unlike recent token programs, Social Security delivers serious money, to the middle class and the working poor alike. Without Social Security, a third of America's seniors would be destitute. Despite its broad popularity, however, Social Security could succumb to a Republican privatization scheme as early as April. Yet this could also be the comeback battle in which Democrats recover both their souls and their political energy. They could hand George W. Bush a rare, humiliating defeat that breaks his winning streak and exposes Republican divisions. Bush wants to divert part of the Social Security payroll tax to a new system of private retirement accounts. Privatization would be partial and optional. Individuals could still stick with traditional Social Security for all...

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