Economy

Justice, Deferred

It may be frustrating when federal watchdogs strike toothless deals with Wall Street, but it reflects regulators' alarming lack of resources.

During the early aughts, the financial sector freely gambled with money implicitly or directly guaranteed by taxpayers, selling securities based on worthless subprime mortgages to their customers. We all know how that turned out. Yet those responsible for the worst recession since the Great Depression have for the most part escaped federal prosecution. Given this context, it is easy to understand why United States District Court Judge Jed Rakoff angrily rejected a proposed deal between the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Citigroup over the company's practice of selling toxic mortgage-backed securities to its customers at the same time it bet against them.

Way Down in the Hole

The big number from today’s labor report is 0.4, the percentage by which unemployment dropped in November. Overall, the economy created 120,000 jobs (compared to 100,000 for the previous month) and the unemployment rate declined to 8.6 percent, a substantial improvement over where the economy was in the previous month. In addition, the employment numbers for September and October were revised upwards by a total of 70,000 jobs, another positive sign.

The Cost of Free Trade

Every president asserts that the next trade treaty will turn America into an export powerhouse, but that's just not true.

Any renaissance of American manufacturing must begin by fundamentally reversing our trade policies—both in general and in particular toward China. Over the past two decades, leading U.S. manufacturers, both the venerable (like General Electric) and the new (like Apple), have offshored millions of jobs—by one recent estimate, 2.9 million—to China to take advantage of the cheap labor, generous state subsidies, and low currency valuation that are linchpins of China’s mercantilist development strategy.

Bring Back the Space Race

To remain competitive, the U.S. needs to rebalance its portfolio of talent.

After the Soviets launched Sputnik, the U.S. created NASA and funneled millions of resources into technological and scientific research to shore up U.S. competitiveness. In China today, the government has had the foresight the U.S. once did and has put in place a talent program to support its students in the pursuit of higher education and innovation. Returning to the investment in science education of the Sputnik days and fostering technical talent like the Chinese may at once help reduce U.S. employment and make the country more competitive technologically.

Just TELL Me You're Gonna Invade My Privacy

Federal regulators have reached a settlement with Facebook over privacy violations—but it's just a slap on the wrist for an industry that regularly sells user data.

Washington, D.C., and Facebook Inc. took part yesterday in another round of what we might call "working on their relationship." But that we're fixated on specific privacy violations rather than the day-in-day-out use of our personal data lets us know that there's a limit to the conversation in which they're engaged.

Good News, Bad News for Europe

The good news? France and Germany seem to be in agreement. The bad news? They agree Europe needs more belt tightening so that bankers can get more relief.

The leaders of France and Germany, reportedly, are discussing ways to compel European nations to have a common fiscal policy without resorting to the cumbersome process of amending the EU treaty. This was enough to reassure stock markets for the moment, which are nothing if not subject to herd instincts.

But who are we kidding here? More austerity may appease the bankers’ need for their pound of flesh, but it will only make the Great Deflation worse. A common fiscal policy is a good idea, but one biased towards austerity is exactly the wrong medicine

Life, Monetized

In Deadly Monopolies, Harriet A. Washington asserts that corporations now own life itself.

In 2010, Rebecca Skloot published The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a New York Times bestseller about a poor black woman in the late stages of cancer in 1950s Baltimore whose doctor removed cervical tissue from her without her knowledge. By remaining viable outside of Lacks’s body, the cells became “immortal” and thus quite valuable; scientists using them have been able to pursue research that would have been unimaginable beforehand, leading to achievements such as the polio vaccine and advances against cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

For Europe, High Stakes in Greece

Stabilizing one teetering economy won't end the eurozone's dance of death.

The problems of the euro turned critical when the Greek government nearly defaulted in May 2010 and the International Monetary Fund and European Union agreed to a bailout. In truth, the 17-nation euro area had deep troubles long before that. Its oversized and undercapitalized banks, its common monetary policy but diverse and fragmented fiscal policies, the persistent economic imbalances among nations that use the euro, and a cumbersome decision-making structure all made the euro-area economy vulnerable. The crisis, which still bears the mark of the Greek tragedy that first set it off, has now spread far beyond Greece.

A More Perfect Union

Emily Dopper and her boyfriend, Willem van Leeuwen, tourists from the Netherlands, were on their way to lunch at the Boathouse restaurant in New York’s Central Park when they encountered the picket line. Clay Skaggs, a striking waiter, intercepted them. “We’re asking you not to eat here,” he said in a tone of polite explanation. “They practice sexual harassment, and they stole $3 million in wages over two years. They also got a C-rating on their health inspection.”

Dopper looked dejected and unconvinced. “We came here to Central Park all the way from Europe,” she said.

Woe Is Europe

A week of credit-rating downgrades and skyrocketing interest rates fuels fears the monetary union is doomed.

Thanks, But No Thanksgiving

Employees and consumers fight back against "Black Friday," which increasingly starts on the holiday itself.

It may feel as traditional as leftover turkey, but it’s only been since the 1960s that retailers have named the day after Thanksgiving, when bargain shoppers hunt for discount goods like big game, "Black Friday." But this year, black could just refer to the pall cast on store employees’ holidays, which have been increasingly cut short in an effort to start the sales earlier and earlier.

In Nebraska, rumors of a Thanksgiving midnight opening at the Omaha North Target store where Anthony Hardwick has worked for the past three years first circulated on Facebook. By the time store managers confirmed that employees were scheduled to start their shifts at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, the part-time parking attendant had taken matters into his own hands.

Ivy League Brain Drain

At Yale, OWS-inspired protesters target recruiters for the country's major finance firms.

She was tall, blond, standing in the lobby of a swanky hotel in downtown New Haven. She came for the recruitment seminar by Morgan Stanley, the banking and investment firm. Like the other Yale University students who attended, she came to learn more about starting a lucrative career on Wall Street. And like most of the people I interviewed that evening, she seemed afraid.

What to Read Before You Unwonk Tonight

  • Jonathan Chait wrote a truly excellent essay in this month’s issue of New York that refuses to sympathize with the liberal journalists and scholars who have been writing damning commentary on Democratic presidents since the early 20th century.

What Happened to the Tea Party?

When the 2012 Republican nominating contest was getting underway earlier this year, it was widely predicted (I predicted it myself) that the race would eventually come down to a contest between an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, and a Tea Party candidate more appealing to the party's base. It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time; after all, the Tea Party had energized the GOP and propelled it to the historic 2010 congressional election victory. With its anti-Obama fervor, the Tea Party was the focus of all the GOP's grassroots energy, to such a degree that nearly every Republican felt compelled to proclaim him or herself a Tea Partier.

Super-Duper Failure

As many of us have been hoping and praying, the Super Committee fell of its own weight, making room for a much better debate about where budget cutting fits into a recovery strategy (if at all), and how to raise taxes progressively in order to finance the investments and jobs that America needs.

President Barack Obama was unwise to make this devil’s bargain in the first place; he has since moved on to emphasizing jobs and recovery. The Super Committee crack-up should be the last gasp of the “bipartisan” folly about deficit reduction as key to recovery—which the president himself gave a big boost with his appointment of the late Bowles-Simpson Commission.

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