Economy

How President Obama's Economic Message Could Backfire in 2012

If there was anything notable about President Obama’s speech in Osawatomie, Kansas last week, it was the extent to which he attacked economic inequality in the United States, and its deletrious effects on income mobility: [O]ver the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. A few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50–50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance fell to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class. It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle...

Legislative Legerdemain

AP Photo/Yves Logghe
So you think congressional Republicans are the only right-wingers who like to append their pet (and sometimes, wedge) issues—like the Keystone pipeline—to must-pass legislation like the payroll tax-cut extension? Guess again—it looks to be a trans-Atlantic syndrome. Turns out that David Cameron, Britain’s Tory prime minister, went to Brussels for the EU summit last week with exactly the same strategy. As the heads of government of the other 26 member states debated German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposal to regulate national budgets more tightly (itself a wildly irrelevant idea to the crisis of Greek, Italian and Spanish solvency, but that’s another story, which I wrote about in today’s Post ), Cameron cleared his throat and proposed a series of measures designed to protect the City—the London-based banks that dominate the British economy and helped bring about the crash of 2008. Cameron was operating under the theory that the Germans and the French so desperately needed unanimous...

Important Election News from Across the Pond

Over the last week, there has been a torrent of stories illustrating the extent to which the Obama re-election team is observing the Republican presidential contest and developing their strategy for the general election season. And while I’m sure that the Obama team has devoted a fair amount of attention to events in the GOP, I’m also sure that they’ve devoted even more time to events across the Atlantic, where—as Carmel Crimmins and Gavin Jones note for Reuters —austerity has pushed Europe to the edge of another recession: With the crisis spreading like wildfire through the currency bloc’s core, pushing up borrowing costs to unsustainable levels, countries are relying more on blunt budget cuts, than time-consuming and difficult structural reforms, to get results. The upshot is ballooning dole queues, shuttered businesses and public services stretched to breaking point. There’s no question that a second European recession would trickle down to the United States and compromise our...

Britain Hesitates

David Cameron's veto of an EU integration plan reveals England's deep skepticism about the union.

AP Photo/Yves Logghe
European leaders went one better this time. Not content with failing to resolve the debt crisis tearing through the eurozone and threatening a global recession, they have now managed to create a new source of instability: the rift between Britain and the rest of the European Union, whose consequences may prove to be momentous indeed. It was a long time coming. The tension between the eurozone “ins” and the ten non-Eurozone “outs” has been building throughout the debt crisis, which has forced the states belonging to the common currency to take extraordinary—and yet woefully insufficient—measures to keep the euro from spectacularly collapsing. In the Brussels summit that ended yesterday, France and Germany, drivers of the push toward an ever closer union, were unable to persuade British Prime Minister David Cameron to back their plan for greater fiscal integration. The deal-breaker was a demand by Cameron for special treatment for Britain’s lucrative financial-services industry. Though...

Elizabeth Warren: Bailout Queen

Karl Rove’s latest ad has to set an all-time record for hypocrisy and factual inversion. The ad actually manages to blame Elizabeth Warren for the bank bailouts. As anyone who hasn’t spent the past three years in a cave must know, Warren has been the nation’s single most effective, relentless, and brave critic of the bailouts. It was that service as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel that made her one of America’s most admired public leaders. The ad slyly begins with Warren speaking, leading the viewer to imagine that this is a Warren ad. Warren says, “The first thing I’m going to promise is that I’m going to be a voice in the room on behalf of middle-class families.” Then a sneering female voiceover cuts in, and asks, “Really? Congress had Warren oversee how your tax dollars were spent bailing out the same banks that caused the financial meltdown, bailouts that helped pay big bonuses to bank executives while the middle class lost out.” The ad concludes, “Tell Professor Warren...

The Wrong Fix

AP Photo/Bernd Kammerer
Yesterday, both Bob Kuttner, here in the Prospect , and I , in my Washington Post column , noted that the deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy struck to save the Eurozone will inflict years of austerity on European nations that are already mired in depression. Spain, for instance, has an unemployment rate of about 20 percent and a youth unemployment rate that is approaching a mind-boggling 50 percent. It needs a massive Keynesian jolt to its economy, not budgetary constraints that will condemn it to a decade or quarter-century of penury. Both Bob and I also noted that the Merkel-Sarokzy solution was based on a misdiagnosis of Europe’s woes. Some of Europe’s current basket cases were actually running budget surpluses in the years before the Lehman meltdown. Ireland and Spain weren’t overspending at all—but the banks and investors speculating on their housing markets most certainly were. When their banks went under, their economies collapsed,...

Made in America — Again

Leaders discuss returning manufacturing to the U.S. in a Prospect roundtable.

AP Photo/Madalyn Ruggiero
Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. In an article last year, Grove proposed levying tariffs on goods produced offshore and dedicating the funds to help companies scale up production in the United States. Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. There are three distinct causes for the jobs we’ve lost. First, the declining demand for products. So everybody focused on the stimulus—they assumed that the demand cycle and the employment cycle are related like they used to be. But they’re not. I don’t understand pure Keynesianism at a time of global flows like we have now. If we turn on a spigot to increase demand for consumer products, we need to have some factor that measures the portion that goes to a domestically made product. That portion in the last ten years must have changed in a very major way. You want a measure? How about asking for the...

Europe's Deal: So Who Wins?

The grand bargain between Germany, France, and the European Central Bank (ECB) is being hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough that will save the euro and the European Union (EU). The essence of the deal is this: EU nations commit to an enforceable austerity program, which is ad hoc for now but will eventually become a formal part of the EU treaty. It will take the shape of tight limits on budget deficits, with penalties. That, in turn, gives the ECB the fig leaf it needs to heavily support purchases of bonds from countries like Italy, whose debt has come under speculative attack. All of this reassures markets, and the cost of borrowing comes down. In turn, bank holdings of sovereign bonds retain their value. To make this deal possible, Germany has backed off its absolute opposition to supporting weaker economies and using the ECB to tacitly support sovereign debt. And France has agreed to give up some of its cherished fiscal sovereignty to the EU. Isn’t this wonderful? No, it’s terrible...

GOP vs. Job Creators

In the ongoing battle over extending the payroll tax cuts that currently save the median American household about $1,000 a year, one salient point is commonly overlooked: The proposal that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are championing also cuts in half the payroll tax for employers. Currently, employers are subjected to a payroll tax of 6.2 percent on every paycheck they write. The Democratic proposal would reduce that to 3.1 percent on the first $5 million in taxable payroll—that is, it would chiefly benefit small and middle-sized businesses. Yet every Senate Republican but one (Maine’s Susan Collins) voted against this proposal when it came to a vote on Thursday, complaining that it taxed job creators by proposing to off set the tax cut by raising taxes on individuals and couples for that portion of their annual income in excess of $1 million. Never mind that that the Treasury Department has concluded that only 1 percent of those taxpayers are small businesses...

Schooling Capitalism

T his week, both coasts saw student marches on Monday and big-city police raids on Tuesday. As the chancellors of the University of California met by teleconference, students throughout the U.C. system held demonstrations and teach-ins opposing tuition hikes and police violence. At U.C. Davis, they called a student strike. Meanwhile, their counterparts at the City University of New York marched on their own board of trustees as it voted on five years of tuition hikes. Tuesday, Philadelphia police cleared occupiers out of city hall’s Dilworth plaza to make way for a $50 million renovation project. The raid followed multiple ostensible deadlines, and weeks of controversy within the camp and between occupiers and the city over whether they would relocate to a new space (many have). Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who earlier in his career was attacked for ACLU ties, drew criticism for restricting most journalists to a “First Amendment zone” as police forced out Occupy LA Tuesday...

Game Plan

With a labor agreement tentatively in place, the NBA's next challenge will be bringing the fans back.

AP Photo/Mike Segar
With its labor dispute nearly behind it, the NBA is facing another mammoth problem: winning fans back. In a time when the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high and the economy won’t grow, many basketball fans viewed the NBA strike as an ugly and petty fight of rich players against wealthy owners over a few more million. “It’s the most ridiculous thing I saw in my life,” one longtime fan ranted to the New York Post. “They make so much money. It’s childish.” Childish or not, as the National Basketball Association welcomes back its players after reaching a tentative deal last Saturday, it has to figure out a way to bring back fans who were stung not only by the lockout, but by years of expensive ticket prices, the LeBron James-decision fiasco, and players throwing tantrums. The five-month labor crisis and resulting lockout, which came after the players’ association and NBA owners’ inability to reach an agreement over a variety of issues from players’ salaries to revenue sharing after...

GOP vs. Job Creators

Republican opposition to extending the payroll tax misses the point.

In the ongoing battle over extending the payroll tax cuts that currently save the median American household about $1,000 a year, one salient point is commonly overlooked: The proposal that the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats are championing also cuts in half the payroll tax for employers. Currently, employers are subjected to a payroll tax of 6.2 percent on every paycheck they write. The Democratic proposal would reduce that to 3.1 percent on the first $5 million in taxable payroll – that is, it would chiefly benefit small and middle-sized businesses. Yet every Senate Republican but one (Maine’s Susan Collins) voted against this proposal when it came to a vote on Thursday, complaining that it taxed job-creators by proposing to offset the tax cut by raising taxes on individuals and couples for that portion of their annual income in excess of $1 million. Never mind that that the Treasury Department has concluded that only 1 percent of those taxpayers are small...

NBA, Final

A league labor agreement includes a surprising caveat to protect owners from ... themselves.

AP Photo/Hans Deryk
After spending almost half the year in a pitched labor dispute that shutdown league operations, the NBA owners and players union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement last weekend. The reformed players union—which had disbanded last month to file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners as a negotiating tactic—and league representatives are set to meet again Friday afternoon to come to official terms on the ten-year contract. As long as the final details (such as drug testing and player age restrictions) are worked out over the next week, a shortened 66-game season will kickoff on Christmas Day. The general consensus on the deal is that the owners came out ahead at the players' expense. The old contract had stipulated that 57 percent of basketball-related income go toward players' salaries, while the new deal reduces that number to 51 percent next season, and possibly even lower in years to come. But the fight wasn't just about the overall divide of money, and for the other...

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. His decision to reject the settlement—in which Citigroup would have to pay $285 million but not have to admit any wrongdoing—was praised as a win, at least in spirit, for the Occupy Wall Street crowd, and indeed it may have some positive effects, including letting banks know they can't get off that easy. But it is...

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. But that’s the extent of the good news in today’s report. Yes, the unemployment rate has fallen to 8.6 percent, but a substantial portion of that was driven by a shrinking labor force—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the civilian labor participation force (the sum of employed and unemployed workers) declined by 0.2 percentage points to 64 percent. In other words, as people give up on finding work, they leave the labor force and place downward pressure on the unemployment measure, despite the fact that they’re still unemployed...

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