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

Why Social Security Beats All Rivals -- And the Case for Expanding It

More retirees are relying exclusively on Social Security than ever before. The program itself is sound—but it needs to be expanded. 

AP Photo/Jon Elswick
AP Photo/Jon Elswick The cover page for the summary of the 2015 Status of the Social Security and Medicare Programs released by the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees is photographed Thursday, July 23, 2015, in Frederick, Maryland. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T his is the season when we hear calls to cut Social Security. That's because of the annual trustees report on the system's financial condition. Last week, the trustees reported that Social Security can pay all of its projected obligations through about 2034. To keep faith with today's workers and tomorrow's retirees, Social Security will need additional funds, though the shortfall is entirely manageable if we act in the next few years. The report prompted the usual right-wing blarney about cutting benefits or privatizing Social Security, as well as familiar bleatings from billionaire deficit hawks about the need to delay the retirement age for people far less fortunate. One part of the...

Why Liberals Have to Be Radicals

(Photo: AP/Charlie Neibergall)
(Photo: AP/Charlie Neibergall) Democratic presidential candidates stand on stage during the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner on July 17 in Cedar Rapids. From left, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Hillary Clinton, and Lincoln Chafee. J ust about nothing being proposed in mainstream politics is radical enough to fix what ails the economy. Consider everything that is destroying the life chances of ordinary people: Young adults are staggered by $1.3 trillion in student debt. Yet even those with college degrees are losing ground in terms of incomes. The economy of regular payroll jobs and career paths has given way to a gig economy of short-term employment that will soon hit four workers in 10. The income distribution has become so extreme, with the one percent capturing such a large share of the pie, that even a $15/hour national minimum wage would not be sufficient to restore anything like the more equal economy of three decades ago. Even the mainstream press acknowledges...

The Real Debt Problem

(Photo: AP/Rex Features)
(Photo: AP/Rex Features) Demonstrators protest the recent deal imposed on Greece by the European Union outside the German Embassy in London. Note: This is adapted from the new preface to the just-published paperback edition of Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility . (Vintage) I n the era when it was common to throw people in jail as a punishment for debts they could not pay, the result was perverse for both debtor and creditor. The debtor’s economic life ended—in prison there was no way the inmate could earn money to repay debt; thus there was no way the creditor could be made whole. The invention of bankruptcy in 1706 during the reign of Queen Anne of England offered an ingenious solution. A magistrate would evaluate the assets of the bankrupt party; creditors would be repaid at so many pence on the pound; the debt would be considered discharged and the debtor could get on with his life. This was the origin of the modern Chapter 11 bankruptcy, in which a...

Trump’s Other Nightmare for the GOP: Running as an Independent

Donald Trump has performed an immense service by saying squirm-inducing things and thus forcing Republicans to either distance themselves from his idiocy—or not.

It’s a delightful vise, because Trump is now tied for first place in GOP presidential preference polls, with Jeb Bush. Attack him and you alienate Trump admirers. Fail to attack him and you look as crazy as he is.

It’s tempting to dismiss this lead as just celebrity and name-recognition, but one way or another the Donald is destined to play a major role in the 2016 campaign. He has the money and the ego, and he will be an embarrassment for the next 16 months.

And it gets worse (or better, depending on your perspective).

Trump is probably too much of a buffoon to get the Republican nomination, however he has pointedly refused to rule out running as an independent.

This is a wonderful turnabout from recent years, when independent candidacies haunted Democrats. In 2000, Ralph Nader running as a third-party candidate very likely denied Al Gore the presidency.

At the time, I begged Nader, whom I know well, to run instead in the Democratic primaries, but to no avail. This time, Bernie Sanders is playing the far more salutary role of challenging Hillary Clinton as a Democrat, and Sanders will not run as an independent should he fail to be nominated.

By contrast, the 2016 election could be like 1992, when third party crackpot H. Ross Perot ran as an independent—and at one point in the spring of 1992 was running ahead of both Clinton and his Republican rival, the sitting president George H.W. Bush. In the end, Perot drew off more Republican votes than Democratic ones, and Clinton was elected with just 43 percent of the popular vote.

The Republican game has been to fight about who can posture farthest to the far right. Now they are getting exactly what they deserve. For sheer lunatic appeal and demagogy, it’s hard to trump Trump.

The IMF Breaks with Europe on Greece—About Time!

As I’ve written on several occasions, the only player with the power to alter Europe’s disastrous demands on the long-suffering Greeks is the International Monetary Fund. Yesterday, the IMF acted.

In a stunning rebuke to the Germans and the rest of the sadists leading Europe’s Greek policy, an unnamed senior IMF official yesterday warned that Greece needs massive debt relief, at minimum $85 billion, or its economy will never recover and it will never be able to pay the rest of its debts. This is exactly what European officials have refused to concede.

This welcome and bold IMF stand throws a useful monkey wrench into the humiliating deal extracted over the weekend—especially since the IMF is one of the three entities that is supposed to enforce the deal. Conceivably, if Greece now were to decided to thumb its nose at Germany and the other brutal austerity-masters, the IMF could underwrite an alternative course.

One possibility would be for Greece to leave the euro and return to the drachma—but not as a punishment, as contemplated by the worst of the lot, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Rather, the IMF could provide new aid to Greece to make such a transition a plus for the Greeks by getting Greece out from under German diktats.

This brings the IMF full circle to the role proposed by its leading architect, John Maynard Keynes, when the IMF was created in 1944—to prevent foreign payments difficulties from pushing nations into self-deepening austerity. After a detour into the austerity camp, the IMF is returning to its roots.

Where did this change of heart come from? Economists at the IMF have long chafed at the absurd economic premises of the European leaders. But they key player in this surprise move was the IMF’s biggest shareholder, the United States.

Behind the scenes, the Obama administration and especially Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have been pressing the Germans to give the Greeks more room to breathe—to no avail until now. The IMF move was done with the full knowledge and encouragement of the United States government. Kind of makes you proud to be an American.

This was a good week for President Obama. The IMF move on Greece was overshadowed by the breakthrough in the nuclear talks with Iran. But if this latest IMF play, promoted by Washington, should prove to be a game changer, it will be as important a diplomatic achievement.