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

Comment: Diminished Expectations

One of my New Year's resolutions was to clean out my study. I am something of a pack rat. I have research files on every book and major article I've written going back to the 1970s, mostly sorted by topic. Throwing away outdated material under such headings as "budget," "unemployment," "savings rate," and "inflation," I realized just how miscast were so many of the assumptions and policy debates of the century's closing decades. For instance, I have a shelfful of stuff slugged "competitiveness"--ponderous reports from think tanks, transcripts from congressional hearings, clippings, books. America was said to have a "competitiveness" problem, remember? Join the conversation! Discuss this article in Political Prospects , part of The American Prospect's Online Forums . The right had a story. America was not "competitive" because of excess regulation, high taxes on capital, low rates of private...

Comment: Boom Box

This month, the economic boom enters its 107th month, making it the longest expansion in U.S. history. But there are now two small clouds on the economic horizon. With the economy having grown in the fourth quarter of 1999 not at the 3- or even 4-percent annual rate that most economists now consider sustainable, but at 5.8 percent, the Federal Reserve will try to temper the economy's growth. And just to give the Fed ammunition, the oil exporting countries have lately succeeded in restricting output and raising the price of crude oil, which filters through to the measured rate of inflation. Nothing scares central bankers like inflation, never mind whether it has any connection to domestic economic "overheating." The growth rate has soared to levels not seen since the 1960s because the new economy really is new. Technology that took more than two decades to gestate is finally bearing fruit in higher productivity, in applications as diverse as retail sales,...

The Limits of Markets

The claim that the freest market produces the best economic and social outcome is the centerpiece of the conservative political resurgence. But without government intervention, the market can destroy a lot of things--including itself.

Adapted by the author from Everything for Sale : The Virtues and Limits of Markets , Alfred A. Knopf / Twentieth Century Fund, published January 1997. T he claim that the freest market produces the best economic outcome is the centerpiece of the conservative political resurgence. If the state is deemed incompetent to balance the market's instability, temper its inequality, or correct its myopia, there is not much left of the mixed economy and the modern liberal project. Yet while conservatives resolutely tout the superiority of free markets, many liberals are equivocal about defending the mixed economy. The last two Democratic presidents have mainly offered a more temperate call for the reining in of government and the liberation of the entrepreneur. The current vogue for deregulation began under Jimmy Carter. The insistence on budget balance was embraced by Bill Clinton, whose pledge to "reinvent government" was soon submerged in a shared commitment to shrink government. Much of the...

Of Our Time: Surplus Worship

There are two great fiscal legacies of American liberalism since Franklin Roosevelt. One is the invention and broad public acceptance of social insurance—notably Social Security, unemployment compensation, and Medicare. The other is the use of public spending, both to increase human and physical productivity over the long term and for macroeconomic stimulus during recessions. There are of course other activist uses of modern government—to regulate economic inefficiency and to advance social justice—but social insurance and social investment are the two fiscal pillars of modern liberalism. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration, seconded by far too many nominally liberal economists, is needlessly sacrificing the latter to salvage the former. In order to "save Social Security," such conservative conceits as permanent surpluses and the discrediting of public and social investment are suddenly conventional wisdom at the White House. Some of this is merely tactical; some of it is...

Comment: Speed Bumps

W ill the economic expansion just keep rolling on? Probably not. The economy has certainly demonstrated that it can sustain higher rates of growth than most economists thought possible. This higher speed limit is one part technology, one part greater competition, and one part belated recognition that the earlier pessimism about the economy's potential was wrong. The economy could well have achieved somewhat higher growth and fuller employment without inflation all along. Even so, that doesn't mean we'll never have another recession. The entire history of industrial capitalism is one of unexpected shocks. These setbacks have often been compounded by bad policy. Most recent recessions have resulted from the Federal Reserve overreacting to inflationary pressures or using the wrong tools. The current Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan, has been less inflation-phobic than most of his predecessors. But Greenspan is now playing a very risky game, tightening money even while inflationary pressures...

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