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

Religious Right Hijacks Stem Cell Debate

I recently participated in a debate at the Harvard Medical School on the ethics of stem cell cloning. A co-panelist was Dr. Michael West, a Massachusetts biotech executive. His announcement a week earlier of a supposed breakthrough in human cloning nearly stampeded the Senate into banning cloning even for therapeutic purposes. There are indeed many ethical issues here, but the religious right has so thoroughly hijacked the conversation that the knotty scientific and ethical questions get sidetracked. On the issue of stem cell research, the gap between the scientific and religious cultures has never been wider. West tried to reassure several right-to-lifers in the Harvard audience by respectfully engaging them on their own terms. He explained that the early embryonic cells that his laboratory tries to turn into specialized tissue for therapeutic purposes hadn't even ''individuated'' yet. He even tried recourse to scripture. But you can't debate facts, much less scripture, with someone...

Comment: Tax and Spend

P resident Bush insisted that we could afford both a tax cut and the shoring up of Social Security. He was dead wrong. So the Democrats could hardly pick a better set of galvanizing issues. But as Robert Borosage points out in "The Austerity Trap" (see page 13), many Democrats are taking surplus-worship to such an extreme that they are in danger of losing their raison d'être as a party. This odd condition reflects a collision of two trends. First, the Republicans are genuinely vulnerable on the tax cut and on Social Security. But second, conservative Democrats are determined to expunge the Democrats' legacy as the party of "tax and spend." The trouble is, the Democrats' signature programs are nothing if not tax and spend. Social Security raises trillions of dollars in payroll taxes and spends the money on secure retirement. Medicare, likewise, is tax and spend. So is public education. As a party, you can't make your centerpiece the defense of Social Security and Medicare, much less...

Comment: Different Strokes

V ice President Gore has unveiled a supplemental retirement plan. The government would match private savings put aside by working families, with a match as generous as three to one for families with incomes under $30,000. Families with incomes as high as $100,000 could qualify for a partial match. The plan works through refundable tax credits, so if your tax liability were lower than the earned tax credit, the government would just provide cash. The supplemental savings account, like Social Security, would be blocked until retirement. The plan would cost about $20 billion a year. The plan nicely sums up Al Gore's strengths and weaknesses as candidate, leader, and policy wonk. On the plus side, Gore's proposal is a supplement to America's basic retirement plan, and not a Bush-style raid on it. It uses government subsidy to build the assets of low- and middle-income working families. Bush, by contrast, would offer...

Rampant Bull

Are liberals failing to rise in defense of their greatest legacy? As calls for privatizing Social Security grow louder, the time has come for a bold new defense of universal social insurance.

I n 1981, a young aide to Ronald Reagan named Peter Ferrara proposed a scheme to privatize Social Security. At the time, a serious shortfall was projected in the system's long-term financing. Even at his zenith, however, Reagan knew better than to tamper with America's best-loved (if most redistributive and costly) public program. Ferrara, the author of a Cato Institute book titled Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction , proposed to scrap the whole system in favor of private individual retirement accounts (IRAs). This was surely dear to the hearts of Reaganites-but Ferrara was kept far from the administration's Social Security policy, and even farther from the press. Social Security's financial crisis is exaggerated, but its political vulnerability and the allure of wealth creation are real. Herewith, a rebuttal and a proposal. A year later, a bipartisan commission headed by Alan Greenspan, with Democrats Daniel Patrick Moynihan and former Social Security Commissioner Robert...

A Misguided Goal for Social Security

The stock market has been pretty stagnant. Despite one rate cut after another by the Federal Reserve, the market shows no signs of reverting to its 1990s performance any time soon. One casualty of a bear market is likely to be the campaign to privatize Social Security. President Bush has appointed a commission on Social Security that includes only members in favor of at least partial privatization of the program. The privatizers argue that the stock market over time pays a better rate of return than Social Security. Supposedly, if we allow people to put at least part of their payroll tax contributions into personal accounts, they will retire with more money. Moreover, this higher rate of return is touted as the cure for a system projected to run serious red ink in 30 or 40 years. If people can put some money into personal accounts, supporters argue, Social Security's financial shortfall will ease because so much more income will accumulate. Put aside for a moment the fact that Social...

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