Economy

Chicago, Yes; Wisconsin, Huh?

As Chicago teachers union officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office were assuring Chicagoans that they had reached an agreement Friday afternoon on their contractual dispute, a judge a hundred miles north in Madison, WIsconsin struck down as unconstitutional that state’s hugely controversial law banning collective-bargaining rights for public employees. As I write, the text of the judge’s decision is not yet available, but since a ban on public-employee collective bargaining exists in many states, either the judge found new grounds to declare the law unconstitutional, or he declared it so for reasons not related to the constitutionality of such prohibitions.

Ben Bernanke, the Newest Avenger

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Ben Bernanke’s announcement Thursday that the Fed would keep easing money sent the stock market soaring, but more important was his declaration that there is only so much the Federal Reserve can do.

The Fed’s latest move, approved by the policy-setting Open Market Committee, will buy a total of $85 billion in bonds every month, including $40 billion per month of mortgage-backed securities. This pumps vast sums into the economy. It is the equivalent of printing money.  Bernanke’s hope is to drive down interest rates generally, especially on home mortgages.

As Common As Dirt

In the fields of California, wage theft is how agribusiness is done.

(Photography by David Bacon)

One morning earlier this year, in the borderland town of Brawley, California, 75-year-old Ignacio Villalobos perched on a chair in his trailer, removed a plastic bag from the well of a rubber boot, and finished dressing for work. Dawn was still an hour away, and in the wan light of the kitchen, Villalobos took off his house sandals and pulled the bag over his right foot. He bunched it at the ankle, then slipped his foot into his boot.

“These shoes aren’t made for water,” he said, adding that morning dew and irrigation keep farm fields damp—even in the desert of the Imperial Valley where he was working. Villalobos estimated that a pair of decent used boots would run him $30, almost half a day’s wages; the bags were free.

Koch: It's Only Crony Capitalism When I Don't Benefit

The right-wing press is chock-a-block with articles decrying the Obama administration’s romance with industrial policy. So reflexive is this ideology that some of them are even written by major beneficiaries of industrial policy, whose sense of entitlement must be so ingrained that they fail to notice this anomaly.

Exhibit A appeared in Monday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page, in which Charles Koch of Koch Brothers fame took out after crony capitalism and industrial policy.

Angela Merkel's Bad Medicine

The German chancellor’s remedy of austerity is killing Europe, and the failure to contain financial speculation is spreading the epidemic.

(Flickr/World Economic Forum)

On July 26, as traders were once again deserting Spain’s government bonds, setting up the risk of a default and a deeper crisis of the euro, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank surprised and delighted financial markets. Speaking off the cuff in London, he vowed to do “whatever it takes” to save the European economy. 

Europe: Old Austerity in New Bottles

In late July, European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi, speaking off the cuff in London, pledged to do “whatever it takes” to save the Euro, including massive intervention in bond markets to keep speculators from extending the Greek disease to Spain and Italy, where interest rates were ominously rising. This impressed money markets for a few days—until investors realized that Draghi’s commitment came with big strings. Strapped countries benefitting from these purchases would first have to double down on austerity. No thanks, said the leaders of Spain and Italy.

Third Night of the DNC: TV & Twitter Review

So the DNC gave us a week that got more and more sober as it went on. By last night, we were down and dirty with tough choices and grim policies. Foreign policy dominated the early part of the evening, with a salute to military veterans that had many in my Twitter feed commenting on how strange it was that the parties have switched places. The Republicans hadn’t even mentioned the wars or the veterans; as conservative Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted, “Really was malpractice, and wrong, for Romney not to mention troops in Iraq, Afghanistan in convention speech.” And so for a night the Democrats became the party of LBJ again, the party of a strong military and uncompromising attack.

Second Night of the DNC: TV and Twitter Review

The early part of last night’s DNC TV show couldn’t match Tuesday night. As I wrote yesterday, that first night rocked out over the body issues: health care for all, equal pay for women, open LGBT military service, repro rights, equal marriage laws—the human values of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. The speakers preached, and the crowd roared. The night was, as Robert Kuttner writes, a full-on embrace of the social issues that the Republicans have been attacking for decades. You hate homos? We love them! You think women are lying sluts? We believe in women’s integrity! It was awe-inspiring and energizing.

Foreclosure Free-For-All

The CFPB is getting resistance from its allies on proposed mortgage policies. 

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

It's almost four years since the economy cratered, yet 11 million homes—accounting for 23 percent of all outstanding mortgages— remain underwater. The Obama administration's efforts to shore up the housing market by offering incentives for refinancing, rather than the government directly purchasing loans, has been an utter failure; countless homeowners have been left desperately negotiating with their lenders to modify the terms of their loan and more often than not, being tossed onto the street by mortgage servicers.

Where’s William Jennings Bryan When You Need Him?

(AP Photo)

The Financial Times is reporting that the Republican platform to be unveiled in Tampa next week calls for establishing a commission to examine whether the United States should go back on the gold standard. The theory behind this antiquarian fantasy, much loved by Ron Paul and his cult, is that by de-linking the dollar from the value of gold—a move begun by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and completed by President Richard Nixon in 1971—America’s leaders have debased our currency and loosed the genies of inflation, since the Federal Reserve can print as many dollars as it likes.

“Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier”

Another day, another survey charting the decline of the American middle class. Yesterday, the Pew Research Center weighed in with “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class,” to which they appended the kicker, “Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier.”

Five Things Government Does Better Than You Do

We know a lot less about how to manage money than we think.

(Flickr / Sheffield Tiger)

When Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and other hard-line conservatives talk about cutting the government’s budget, their primary rationale is that individuals can make better decisions with their own money than the government can. As Ryan himself said to an audience at Georgetown University, “We put our trust in people, not in government. Our budget incorporates subsidiarity by returning power to individuals, to families and to communities.” It sounds reasonable—of course we want individuals to have power, and of course we want communities to take care of their neediest members. And since conservatives have done a fine job of portraying the government as full of heartless, inept bureaucrats, allowing people to make their own decisions sounds better than the alternative.

Obama's European Socialist Empire

(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

It has been a long time since Europe has featured so prominently in an American presidential race. Republicans, in particular, have seen the crisis plaguing the Eurozone as an opportunity to attack president Obama, who—they claim—is leading America away from its core values and towards the sickly collectivism prevalent in the European Union. Mitt Romney, in one of those hilarious-but-horrifying Republican debates last September, spoke of a president “taking his inspiration […] from the socialist democrats in Europe," before pointing out that he, in contrast, believed in America.

Too Long, Didn't Read My Rights

A new website helps consumers understand legal agreements

(Flickr/farouq_taj)

I'm not a huge fan of the internet acronym tl;dr. For those who are unaware, it stands for "too long; didn't read." As someone who writes long features for a magazine, I like to think readers will read a longer piece of writing if it is properly engaging. However, there is one form of writing that certainly doesn't meet that standard: terms-of-service agreements.  Sure, you'll likely page through the agreements for longer, seemingly weightier agreements like mortgages and credit cards. But what about the daily legal pacts you sign as a matter of course? Want to buy something from the iTunes store?  You'll have to wade through over 15,000 words of legalese. Even then, should you want to download an app for your iPhone, you'll need to consent to yet another agreement.

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