Economy

Occupy Wall Street: Seattle Redux?

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
As in the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, today’s nationwide Occupy Wall Street actions come in many shapes and sizes. There’s the enraged confrontations we’ve seen around Wall Street itself. There are the pre-arranged arrests we’ve seen in the banking district of downtown Los Angeles. There are permitted rallies sponsored by unions, which, as evening falls, will shift their locales to bridges around the nation in an attempt to loop the rebuild-the-decaying-infrastructure issue into the mélange of progressive causes that OWS champions. There’s an action for every mood and strategy –- though some strategies make a lot more sense than others. This afternoon, activists from unions (most particularly, SEIU) will march across bridges in Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, L.A., New York (the granddaddy of all urban bridges, the one-and-only Brooklyn), and damn-near any American city that has a creek, an overpass,...

Post Hoc Fallacy

Wednesday’s Washington Post deserves some kind of perverse award for advocacy journalism—in this case, for advocating the proposition that dire economic consequences will ensue if the congressional Super Committee fails to cut a deal for drastic deficit reduction. This is, of course, one side of an argument. Those on the other side, including myself, have argued that austerity in a deep recession makes no economic sense and that as a matter of politics, the Obama administration would be far better advised to let the automatic sequester formula take effect, knowing that it would have to be reopened because of Republicans’ horror of deep defense cuts and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Moreover, Social Security does not belong in this conversation, and Democrats are better off, substantively and politically, defending it against Republican proposed cuts rather than lumping it in with budget talks. But I digress. The Post has been an editorial champion of the Super Committee and...

Now What?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
E arly Tuesday morning, surprised by a violent police raid on Zuccotti Park, dozens of Occupy Wall Street activists stayed and accepted arrest, a few chained themselves to a tree (which was cut down by police), and others fled, though not all fast enough to escape tear gas. Later that morning, protesters returned expecting the city would yield to a temporary restraining order allowing their camp, but police ignored the order. Tuesday evening, defeated in court, occupiers returned to Liberty Plaza, filing in one or two at a time past watchful police. There were new signs (“Curfew 10 PM”), new rules (no lying down), and a newly urgent question: What’s next? For the two months since its birth, Occupy Wall Street -- and the international movement it’s inspired -- has been defined and driven forward through confrontations. Just as earlier threats to its existence helped make “Liberty Plaza” a teeming village and a household name, the latest attack could galvanize and inspire –- and keep...

The Robots Are Coming!

Google, we learn from Monday’s New York Times , has a secret lab in an undisclosed location in the Bay Area where it is developing robots. We don’t know what the Google-oids are working on there, but we do know that the company has developed and built a driverless car that has already traversed 100,000 miles on California roads without getting either a ticket or a scratch. Surely, though, there are innumerable now-human activities that could be performed efficiently, and eventually more cheaply, by robots. On Tuesday, the Robot Report (“Tracking the business of robotics”) ran a story that Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturer that employs roughly one million Chinese workers who assemble all of Apple’s products (and many of Dell’s and other high-tech companies) has broken ground on a factory in Taiwan to manufacture robots. Foxconn hopes to replace 500,000 of its Chinese workers, the Report says, with 1 million robots. If Foxconn succeeds at this venture, it will be yet another...

Bending the Rules

Congress keeps finding new ways to attack farm-bill reform.

Yesterday, the House and Senate released their final appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. Like the House bill passed in June , the bill, which provides funding to the Department of Agriculture, cuts a number of programs. The National Sustainable Agriculture coalition discusses the programs most hurt in a detailed blog post. One of the areas most hurt is conservation: On the whole, programs that help preserve land were cut by almost $1 billion. But the most senseless provisions were, perhaps, the ones that prevent the USDA from finishing revisions to the rules that govern how meat markets work. The rules, which are enforced by a division of the USDA known as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, regulate the markets through which chicken, hog, and cattle farmers interact with meatpacking companies. Food advocates have long described the ways in which power has consolidated among meatpackers so that a handful of companies control the...

Why We Need Occupy Wall Street

AP Photo/John Minchillo
Today—the same day that New York’s Mayor Bloomberg had his cops clear Zuccotti Park—Richard Fisher, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, called for breaking up America’s biggest banks, calling them “too dangerous to permit.” Also today, Warren Buffett, in an interview posted on the Business Wire of Berkshire Hathaway, his company, continued his criticism of American plutocracy. “Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won,” Buffett said. “It’s been a rout. You have seen a period where American workers generally have gone no place, and where the really super rich as a group increased their incomes five for one in this rarified atmosphere.” All of which suggests that Occupy Wall Street has already been a stunning success in changing the nation’s public discourse. Not that Fisher and Buffett hadn’t criticized our economic policies well before OWS set up shop in Zuccotti Park, but they are now not just rich and powerful voices crying out...

Exit Berlusconi, Enter Uncertainty

AP Photo
It was a busy weekend in Italian politics. The Chamber of Deputies passed the latest round of austerity measures, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned, and President Giorgio Napolitano mandated Mario Monti, a respected economist and former EU commissioner, to form of a new government of national unity. The backdrop to all this frenzied activity was the country’s growing liquidity crisis: As Italy, the world’s third largest bond market, saw its borrowing costs rise to unsustainable levels in recent weeks, the rest of the planet could only watch in numb horror, as if observing a slow-motion car crash. On Monday, as Monti was in talks with the political parties for the formation of the new cabinet—made up almost exclusively of unelected technocrats—the main index of the Milan stock exchange opened with a 1 percent jump. By the end of the session, though, it was down 2 percent as were the main indices in Spain (-2.2 percent), Germany (-1.2 percent), and France (-1.3 percent). The...

Don't Save Republicans from Themselves

With the Super Committee near collapse, will the Democrats snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory? Republicans, by locking themselves into no new taxes at a time when two-thirds of Americans prefer to tax millionaires instead of cutting Social Security and Medicare, are in a nice pickle. Over the weekend, Republicans on the Super Committee proposed to trade about $300 billion in net revenue increases for more than $2 trillion in permanent tax cuts. Democrats, mercifully, did not take the bait. Some Republicans on the panel, such as Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, proposed a “two step” process, whereby the committee would agree on a target figure for revenue increases and leave the details to the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. But the Texas Two-Step is another trap. Cuts in Social Security and Medicare would be negotiated first, and the details of tax hikes would come later—after Democrats had given up their leverage. Senator Dick...

Generation Y Bother

Young adults entering the workforce today think they'll be worse off than their parents—they're not wrong.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The recession officially ended nearly two and a half years ago, in June 2009, but for the generation of young adults who’ve been trying to take their first steps into adulthood, its effects could shape the future for decades to come. Why is this recession different from other sharp downturns? The standard economic indicators fail to tell the whole story. Yes, unemployment rates for young people remain at the record-high levels they hit at the Great Recession’s peak in 2007, but this is typical for young workers, who tend to be the last group that recovers after a recession—and tend to feel its effects far after the economy has rebounded. The young baby boomers who bore the brunt of the 1981-1982 recession had lower earnings even 15 years after the economy recovered, and during that downturn, the economy only lost half as many jobs as during the Great Recession. For youth entering the workforce today, not only has the sour economy delayed their careers; they are entering a workforce...

Do Regulations Cost Jobs?

One clear consensus emerged at the Republican presidential debate on the economy last week: government regulations are stifling our economic recovery. "I’ve said I’m going to repeal every single Obama-era regulation that costs business over a hundred million dollars. Repeal them all," Rick Santorum said, to no disagreements from the other candidates who all envisioned a robust recovery once regulations were wiped from the books. "The real issue facing America are regulations. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s the EPA or whether it’s the federal banking, the Dodd-Frank or Obamacare, that’s what’s killing America," Rick Perry said, recalling details for a rare moment. "And the next president of the United States has to have the courage to go forward, pull back every regulation since 2008, audit them for one thing: Is it creating jobs, or is it killing jobs? And if that regulation is killing jobs, do away with it." Are regulations killing jobs? Not really, at least according to...

A State of Chaos

How political failures and stagnant institutions brought Greece to the brink of collapse

A protester chants slogans during a protest in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens on Saturday, Oct. 15 2011. About 2,000 protesters turned up at Syntagma Square, outside Parliament, to protest against a new austerity package that is to be voted upon on Thursday. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)
(AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis) About 2,000 protesters turned up at Syntagma Square, outside the Greek parliament, to protest against a new austerity package agreed to in October. G reece is at the breaking point. The autumn air is filled with despair at falling living standards and the inability to meet ever-burgeoning tax burdens and with fury at the political class, members of which are routinely mobbed, showered with eggs and yogurt, even occasionally beaten. Because of striking public-sector unions, Athens regularly lacks public transport, and its streets are often strewn with garbage. The young, with little hope of productive work, divide their time between rioting and looking for a promising place to emigrate. The older generation, those with families, medical bills, and after-school tuition fees, grimly hold on, cutting consumption down to the absolute necessities and eating into their savings to survive. Sometimes, they take to the streets, too. The middle class, such as it was,...

Occupy Oakland

Each week, the Prospect will be profiling a different "Occupy Wall Street" protest across the country. This week: Oakland. Slideshow Occupy Oakland Encampment Over Time Organizers of Occupy Oakland called for a general strike Nov. 2 as a move against the one percent. Protesters expected thousands to march in solidarity with the group. The bay area's protest has been marked by violent clashes with police resulting in the critical injury of Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, 24.

Rosie the Riveter and the Ironies of Bentonville

When the doors swung open this morning on Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas—funded to the tune of $1.4 billion by the Walton Family Foundation—one of its prize possessions was Norman Rockwell’s iconic World War II-era painting of Rosie the Riveter. The painting features a confident, insouciant Rosie on her lunch break, eating a sandwich, with a riveting gun on her lap, a copy of Mein Kampf that she uses as a footstool, and an American flag fluttering in the background. Given the Walton family’s epic history of mistreating its company’s workers, and its company’s female workers more particularly, the inclusion of Rosie in the permanent collection is almost too ironic for words. Nonetheless (otherwise, this blog post would end right here), a few facts from the annals of Wal-Mart (approximately 48 percent of whose stock is still owned by the Walton family) are in order. Such as the average hourly wage of its 1.4 million American employees...

We're Not in Athens Anymore

The selection of Loukas Papademos as prime minister heralds a new era in Greek politics.

Greek and international media cover the statements of the new Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos , centre, outside the presidential palace in Athens, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011. Papademos was named Thursday as the prime minister of the new Greek interim government, charged with keeping the debt-strapped country out of bankruptcy and firmly in the 17-nation eurozone. After four days of intense political negotiations, the 64-year-old former vice president of the European Central Bank was chosen to lead a coalition backed by both the governing Socialists and opposition conservatives that will operate until early elections in February. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Greeks, Europeans, and anyone else who knew the score breathed a huge sigh of relief at the news that Loukas Papademos, the former deputy head of the European Central Bank, will be Greece’s new prime minister. His appointment, especially compared with some of the other names that were bandied about during the past few days as candidates for the post, is the best one could have hoped for if—at least if one believes that Greece belongs in the eurozone and that an exit from it, which became an ominously fashionable topic of discussion among Europe’s leaders the last few days, would be a disaster not only for Greece but for the whole euro project. As I mentioned Monday, Papademos is a serious man, who has the background and the respect among European leaders that will allow him to guide Greece through the treacherous months ahead. As the country moves forward—his term is expected to last about four to five months, though as he said yesterday, there is no fixed date for new elections—his...

Obama’s Secret Weapon

Will the electorate blame Congress—not the president—for the sour economy?

(Flickr/DRStarbuck)
Michael Tomasky’s piece deserves a few responses. He begins with some unnecessary swipes at political science: Politics is sometimes a science and other times an art. So here we sit, with the election exactly a year away, and the conventional wisdom in the political press is largely driven by the political-science theory of presidential elections and economic determinism: that is, that the results of presidential elections are pretty much strictly a function of economic conditions, and if those are bad (defined by various measures, chiefly the jobless and growth rates), the incumbent will lose. By that theory, Barack Obama is pretty well doomed. And yet I don’t know a soul who thinks he doesn’t stand a decent chance of winning next year. Let’s ignore the oxymoron “pretty much strictly” and assume Tomasky means “strictly.” First point: This is not what political scientists think about presidential elections. Since I’ve written a direct response to the very Economist article that...

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