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

Sanders, Trump, and the Hassles of Regular People

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders orders hot dogs at Nathans Famous in Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Sunday, April 10, 2016. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald. E very once in a while, I have an experience that sheds some light on why most of the 1 percent do not give a rip about the struggles of regular people, and why so many voters are turning to outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The other day, I was mistaken for a VIP, and was thus spared a lot of hassle. I suspect this sort of red-carpet treatment is normal if you are a notable. I can tell you, it was a thrill, even briefly, to be an accidental tourist in the executive class. I was on a last-minute trip, and in the sheer confusion of it all, I left my laptop on the plane. When I realized what I’d done and started getting my mind...

Race, Class, Jobs, and the 2016 Earthquake

Anthony Behar/Sipa/AP Images
Anthony Behar/Sipa/AP Images A woman wears a "Bernie because Black Lives Matter" pin at residential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders campaign rally at St. Mary's Park in the Bronx on March 31, 2016. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . I f you are old enough, you may recall the “dueling banjos” riff from the 1972 movie, Deliverance. The debate about who is getting the worst shafting from the economy—black Americans or downwardly mobile, white working class Americans—reminds me of dueling banjos. We have it worse: dinga-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding . No, we have it worse: dinga-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding . And if you remember Deliverance , you will also remember that it didn’t end well. Half a century after the civil rights movement, African Americans can rightly point out that in many respects things for blacks are worse than ever. After the subprime wipeout, which was often deliberately targeted at blacks, median black wealth is now just 8 percent of...

Lester Thurow, an Economist Ahead of His Time

Lester Thurow, one of the leading economists to challenge American inequality before that view became fashionable, died last week at 77. He spent most of his career at MIT, where he also served as dean of the Sloane School of Management between 1987 and 1993.

Born in Montana, he was a Rhodes Scholar, an avid mountain climber, and a full professor by age 30. And he was a genuinely nice person.

I got to know Les Thurow because we were part of a fairly small cohort of non-Marxian, left-of-center thinkers on economics.

Thurow joined Robert Reich, Ray Marshall, Jeff Faux, Barry Bluestone, and myself in 1986, to found the Economic Policy Institute.

We acted because virtually the entire mainstream economics profession had become something of a commercial for the proposition that markets are almost invariably efficient. Marxian economists, of course, had an entirely different view. But among non-Marxists, Thurow was perhaps the most eminent and well credentialed of those who challenged market verdicts as neither necessarily efficient nor just.

We founded EPI in part because there was a huge hole in the world of think tanks. Before EPI, there were outfits like the American Enterprise Institute on the right and the Brookings Institution in the center but no real left-liberal institution committed to high quality research.

Thinking about the years when Thurow was a well known public intellectual, one recalls what an uphill climb it was to get the American economics profession to take seriously the proposition that market outcomes could be wrong. Thurow lived long enough to see inequality become the leading economic issue.

He was criticized by many in the economics profession not only for his views, but for his insistence on writing clear prose that could be read by a broad audience. For this he was damned in some quarters as a mere popularizer.

His first major book, The Zero Sum Society, was written in 1980, a time when the economy was in big trouble from stagflation and the run-up of energy prices, and widening inequality first began to show up in the statistics. Thurow’s ingenious argument was that the economy was stuck because any reform that would make the economy as a whole better off would make some people worse off. Hence, the zero-sum conundrum.

And of course, the people who stood to lose were mainly the wealthy and the powerful. Thus was reform blocked.

The solution? More public sector intervention to override failed market outcomes—more reliance on democracy.

Thurow was writing at time when the conventional wisdom went in the opposite direction, but he stood his ground. Today, his views have a lot more company. His next book, Dangerous Currents: the State of Economics, published in 1983, was a careful critique of mainstream economic principles.

Thurow, like John Kenneth Galbraith or Albert Hirschman, was something of a loner in his profession. His method was historical and institutional, not rigorously quantitative. Though he had students, there was not really a Thurow “school” of economics.

Nonetheless, in the work of EPI and in the much broader legions of today’s economists who recognize the inefficiencies of markets, the role of political power, and the needless extremes of inequality, Thurow has plenty of company.

Sanders, Socialism, and the Shafted Generation

AP Photo/Young Kwak
AP Photo/Young Kwak A supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders holds a sign at a campaign rally in Spokane, Washington, Thursday, March 24, 2016. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . O nce again, Bernie Sanders has demonstrated, with a trifecta of big wins in Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington State, that he has broad and enthusiastic support, especially among the young. Equally astonishing is the large percentage of voters who say they are attracted rather than repelled by Sanders’s embrace of socialism. But if you’d bother to conduct your own focus group among Americans under 40, neither phenomenon should be surprising. Except for those graduating from elite universities, with either full scholarships or wealthy tuition-paying parents, this is the stunted generation—young adults venturing into a world of work, loaded with student debt, unable to find stable jobs or decent careers. This is also the post-Cold War generation, for whom...

Pages