It’s clear that the markets don’t want Silvio Berlusconi to continue as Italy’s prime minister. They were cheered yesterday, briefly, when word got around that Berlusconi was stepping down, then subsided into their accustomed grumpiness when he denied it. (We know this by following the interest rates on Italy’s bonds, which are soaring, save during the brief moment when it was thought Berlusconi’s departure was nigh.)
It may be that all the millions of dollars spent by both sides and the tens of thousands of precinct walks they (well, chiefly labor) undertook in the battle to repeal Ohio’s Senate Bill 5, which nullified the collective-bargaining rights of the state’s public employees, merely ensured that Ohioans would vote the way they originally intended to. The latest poll taken before today’s election—from Public Policy Polling (PPP), completed this past weekend—showed that voters backed repeal by a whopping 23-point margin, 59 percent to 36 percent. As PPP noted, voters also backed repeal by a 23-point margin when they were first polled back in March.
Last Thursday, I attended a conclave, sponsored by the Frederich Ebert Foundation, of about 20 American liberals (chiefly economists and union representatives) and 20 German social democrats (economists, unionists, Social Democratic Party officials, and a couple of stray businessmen) to see what we could learn from each country’s respective economic, social, and political arrangements. Early on, one German friend posed a question to us Americans: “Where’s your [i.e., America’s] learning curve?”
We learn from Samuel Brittan’s column in the Financial Times today that when Winston Churchill was the U.K.’s chancellor of the exchequer in 1925, he wrote in a letter to a British Treasury official that he’d like to see “finance less proud and industry more secure.”
Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municiple Employees (AFSCME), the 1.4 million-member union that is the largest in the AFL-CIO, has told certain members of AFSCME's executive board that he will not run for re-election. McEntee has been heading AFSCME since 1981 and is the senior member of the AFL-CIO's executive council, as well as the longtime head of its political committee.
In an e-mail yesterday to members of his own executive council, AFSCME Indiana leader David Warrick wrote:
Last night’s announcement by Frank McCourt that he has agreed to sell the L.A. Dodgers is being greeted in Los Angeles with the kind of rapture that would follow the abolition of smog or the resurrection of Marilyn Monroe. From the mayor to his political opponents on the Board of Supervisors to virtually every damned blogger in town, McCourt’s withdrawal has been greeted as the necessary prelude to restoring one of L.A.’s signature institutions—a key component of the L.A. identity—to its former glory.
David Brooks’ column today is one of his better ones—noting that the U.S. is plagued by two kinds of inequality, that which divides the top one percent from everyone else, which is prevalent in our major cities, and that in smaller cities and rural areas, where college grads are doing OK but where the bottom has fallen out for those Americans who don’t complete college or, worse, high school. The gap between the lives of college grads and others has widened not just in terms of income but health, diet, marriage stability, and the percentage of children born and raised out of wedlock.
Last Friday, the Social Security Administration released its figures on how much money Americans made in 2010 from wages, salaries, and tips (but not from capital gains, dividends, or rents). Turns out that the 150,398,796 Americans for whom employers issued W-2 forms made just over $6 trillion in net compensation. If you calculate the raw mean average, that comes out to $39,959.30 per worker. But 66 percent of wage earners actually made less than that (or that amount exactly)—which means, the high level of pay for upper-income workers produced a much higher mean average than the average American worker actually makes. The median wage—the dollar amount that 50 percent of wage earners made more than, and 50 percent made less than—was $26,363.55.
Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs hit the bookstores on Monday (or, worse, the websites that have replaced bookstores as the place where people go to buy books), and the more piquant details have already started popping up in the press. Among those details—actually, it’s a good deal more than details—is Jobs’s Manichean view of humankind (at least, those elements of humankind with whom he came into contact). As Michael Rosenwald summarizes it in Monday’s Washington Post:
On Wednesday afternoon, within a few minutes of one another, many of America's leading unions -- the Service Employees, the Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers -- not to mention labor's omnibus federation, the AFL-CIO -- all released endorsements of Occupy Wall Street and its ongoing demonstrations in New York's (and the world's) financial center. Nothing surprising here -- other individual unions and numerous local unions had already released statements of support for OSW, and the AFL-CIO itself has held several demonstrations on Wall Street since the financial collapse of 2008.
There are two ways to look at the new four-year contract between the United Auto Workers and General Motors that was unveiled yesterday. The first is to note that by the standards of today's economy, the auto workers got about as good a deal as anyone could imagine. The second is to note that the standards of today's economy don't allow for the kind of vibrant, sizable middle class for which America was once famed -- and which the UAW's contracts in particular did so much to build.
President Obama's address to Congress tonight was really two speeches in one. The first laid out his jobs plan -- substantively, an attempt to forestall a double-dip recession. The second laid out a longer-term economic vision that promised, however vaguely, to restore American manufacturing.
Politically, both plans are aimed at shoring up the president's support within the Democratic base: the jobs plan by its relative expansiveness (compared to the low-ball estimates the White House was putting out earlier this week so that Democrats would be pleasantly surprised at the plan's actual scope), the manufacturing plan by its promise to use state power, in some unspecified way, to help restore middle-class jobs.
Fully 57 of Mitt Romney's 59 policy proposals to fix the American economy are as indistinguishable as Heinz's 57 varieties of ketchup (and a lot less fun than Hitchcock's 39 Steps). They are absolute standard-issue Republican dogma -- reduce corporate taxes, pass the free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama (have you ever seen a prediction of how many jobs our free-trade agreement with Panama would create, even excluding the number of jobs it would destroy? Does it ascend beyond single digits?), repeal Obamacare, kneecap unions -- utterly usual, utterly unsurprising.
In an economic downturn -- in fact, at anytime -- no one disputes that an individual state lacks the capacity of the federal government to stimulate the economy. Not even Jerry Brown, the governor of America's mega-state, whose economy is larger than all but seven nations, disputes that.
"We've got the plan Obama has been looking for -- and if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you, too," Brown said recently. Even in a state as large as California, he continued, "we don't have the instruments of massive fiscal capacity that the United States government has."
Harold Meyerson is the editor-at-large at The American Prospect and a columnist for The Washington Post. His articles on politics, labor, the economy, foreign policy, and American culture have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, The New Statesman; the op-ed, commentary, and book review sections of The New York Times, The Washington Post, andthe Los Angeles Times, and in numerous other publications.