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 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...

Targeting Cheats

George Bush has left his challenger, John Kerry, with a huge fiscal headache. Kerry, as president, would need to drastically reduce the inherited budget deficit, much as Bill Clinton did in the 1990s. But Kerry also champions social investment that the country needs and that voters want -- in health care, education, and energy independence. Seemingly, the budget deficits are now so immense that Kerry cannot do both things, even if he carries out his promise to repeal tax cuts on people making over $200,000. But there is an ingenious way out of this fiscal trap. A Kerry administration should go after tax cheats, both individual and corporate, who now cost the U.S. Treasury something like $300 billion a year. Going after major tax cheats would be good politics as well as sound policy. Corporate individual tax evaders are overwhelmingly wealthy. They are either overt criminal tax evaders or corporate money launderers who take advantage of gaps in reporting requirements to hide profits in...

Statistics Lie

What is the matter with the whiny American voters? They keep telling pollsters that they think America is on the "wrong path." But don't they read the statistics? Don't they know that unemployment is at a comfortable 5.6 percent, that inflation is almost nonexistent, that the economy is growing smartly at around four percent? These happy statistics, alas, don't accurately capture the economic reality of ordinary people. Take inflation. It's true that measured inflation is very low, but look at all that's left out. In the case of health care, the government's consumer price index tracks the cost of medical services. But it is less precise about tracking who pays for them. If your employer's health plan is increasing your share of premiums and cutting the company's contribution or if the plan is increasing out-of-pocket charges or reducing what drugs it will cover, this shift is accounted for indirectly, after a lag of two years. But it hits your pocketbook immediately. And if rising...

Fighting Dirty

The Bush campaign has a problem. Almost any unflattering issue they bring up about John Kerry tends to reflect worse on President Bush. One thinks of the old proverb, "Never mention a rope in the house of a man who was hanged." On Monday, speaking at a fund-raiser in Houston, the President tried out what will doubtless be a Republican mantra: "Senator Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, for Nafta, for No Child Left Behind, and for the use of force in Iraq. Now he opposes the Patriot Act, Nafta, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the liberation of Iraq. My opponent clearly has strong convictions - they just don't last very long." There are two very persuasive rejoinders. For starters, most senators and congressmen also voted for No Child Left Behind and for force in Iraq, but quickly turned into critics because Bush pulled a bait-and- switch. Similarly, most legislators were stampeded into supporting the so-called Patriot Act, which increases permissible spying on Americans, and have...

Queer and Present Danger?

On May 17, gays and lesbians in Massachusetts will gain the right to marry, thanks to a 4-3 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In July, the Democratic presidential nominee, presumably John Kerry of Massachusetts, will triumphantly accept his party's nomination, also in Massachusetts. Seemingly, it would be hard to contrive a better symbol of the Republican claim that Massachusetts, and its favorite son, are outside the national mainstream. Kerry, traversing a political minefield, says he is for civil unions but not gay marriage. The Massachusetts political establishment, meanwhile, is in an uproar, with the Democratic House speaker and the Republican governor promoting a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Because the amendment process in Massachusetts takes a minimum of two years, thousands of gay and lesbian couples could be married in 2004 and ordered unmarried in 2006. More immediately, the Democratic National Convention could display a sideshow, with...

Pages