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

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...

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...

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