Robert Kuttner

Three Reasons Liberals Lack Traction With Voters, Despite Conservative Failures

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File In this March 18, 2014 file photo, voters cast their ballots in the Illinois primary in Hinsdale, Ill. T oday’s conservatives have a problem. The middle class is increasingly anxious about its economic prospects, and with good reason. Inflation-adjusted earnings have declined for most people since 2000, long before the collapse of 2008. Young adults face more than $1.2 trillion in college debt, declining entry-level salaries, high costs of housing and childrearing, and dwindling employer health and pension benefits. With new public attention being paid to inequality of income and wealth, these concerns don’t exactly play to conservative strength. The era since 1981 has been one of turning away from public remediation, toward tax cuts, limited social spending, deregulation, and privatization. None of this worked well, except for the very top. For everyone else, the shift to conservative policies generated more economic insecurity. The remedies are those...

The American Prospect Continues

When we started The American Prospect with Robert Reich in 1990, our aim was to foster a “plausible and persuasive liberalism” by bringing together journalists and scholars into a public conversation about the future of American society and politics. In nearly 25 years, the Prospect has undergone numerous changes both in print and online, but as we return to a more direct role than we have had in recent years, the Prospect ’s mission remains the same—cultivating the ideas and the reporting needed to help build a democratic politics and a decent society. We are committed to keeping the Prospect as a strong and vital voice, both as a magazine (in both print and digital forms) and as a website. The magazine will continue its blend of analytical essays and deeply reported articles on politics, economics, and culture. The website will continue with fresh material to be updated daily. We will maintain our writing fellows program, which has helped to launch the careers of many of the best...

The State of Our Union? Economically Unjust

AP Images
To honor Martin Luther King, Jr., the White House declared a “day of service” in Dr. King’s memory, and President Obama spent a few minutes on Monday helping to serve meals in a soup kitchen near the White House. Talk about a tin ear, or a timid one. For starters, Martin Luther King’s life was not about soup kitchens. It was about radical, disruptive struggle to win civil rights; and then in his last five years it was about connecting racial justice to economic justice. Dr. King took pains to define the 1963 March on Washington as about jobs as well as justice. He was murdered while helping striking sanitation workers in Memphis fight for decent wages. If we had more good jobs, and less Republican assault on what’s left of our social safety net, we’d need fewer soup kitchens. The president might have honored Dr. King’s legacy by giving a speech about that. One can sympathize—to a point—with President Obama’s wish to downplay both the radicalism and the racial aspect of Dr. King. As...

David Brooks’s Worst Column Ever

Well, this is getting to be a habit. Alert readers may recall that a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Tom Friedman’s worst column ever, plugging efforts by a billionaire hedge fund friend to persuade college students that their enemy was Social Security. Now, Friedman’s colleague David Brooks has written an even worse column . It’s really hard to determine Brooks’ worst column ever, since he seems to turn out one every week. Brooks’ latest piece, in Friday’s Times , begins inauspiciously, “Suddenly, the whole world is talking about income inequality.” (Where has Brooks been, Jupiter?) He goes on to argue that the inequality debate is miscast. Income inequality, according to Brooks, has two entirely different parts—the pulling away of the very top (he’s surely right about that); and the poverty of the bottom. The trouble with the bottom, says Brooks, is that poverty isn’t just economic; it has complex socio-cultural roots, etc., etc., and you don’t solve it with measures like the...

A Dubious Budget Deal

The years of Republican obstructionism and the corporate campaign for deficit reduction have taken such a toll that merely the fact of getting a budget deal at all looks like a great achievement. This one is better than continued impasse, but the deal itself is a stinker. Representative Raul Grijanva, co-chair of the House progressive caucus, put it well: “I feel like punching myself in the face, but I’ll vote yes.” The deal does override the automatic sequester for this year. It will restore some $31.5 billion in sequester cut over the next two years in domestic spending, and a like amount in military spending. But those increases are against a backdrop of more than a trillion dollars of cuts over a decade. The deal nominally is deficit-neutral, because it adds new budget cuts in Medicare in 2022 and 2023. Even worse, the deal did not even include an extension of expiring extended unemployment insurance, at a time when the share long-term unemployed is stubbornly stuck. That...

Peter B. Lewis: An Original

AP Images/TONY DEJAK
Peter B. Lewis died suddenly of a heart attack on Saturday at the age of 80. A billionaire chief executive of the Progressive Insurance Company, Peter was a true progressive in his values and his deeds. After his father’s death, Peter and his mother took charge of the company. He became chief executive in his early 30s and built Progressive from a small 100-employee company into America’s fourth-largest auto insurer, with $17 billion in premiums and 26,000 employees. He expanded his market by insuring high-risk customers, deliberately offering price comparisons with competitors, and setting claims promptly. He led Progressive with exemplary transparency. Peter was a philanthropist extraordinaire, supporting the arts, education, progressive politics, and marijuana legalization. Among his causes were the Center for American Progress, the American Civil Liberties Union, Media Matters, and The American Prospect . He was one of the early principals of the Democracy Alliance, a consortium...

Krugman Boots One

Paul Krugman has played an indispensable role challenging the conventional wisdom during the financial crisis and the slump that followed. He has been proven right again and again in his brilliant debunking of austerity as the cure for recession. Therefore, it was astonishing to read a rare, truly wrongheaded Krugman column in Monday’s New York Times . The offending column is titled “ A Permanent Slump? ” In it, Krugman proposes that something fundamental—something structural—has changed in the economy so that the new normal is what economists call “secular stagnation,” or as Krugman puts it, “a persistent state in which a depressed economy is the norm, with episodes of full employment few and far between.” As I read through the column, I kept waiting for the pivot. Surely Krugman was setting up this claim as a straw man, the better to demolish it. But, no. Krugman evidently buys this view. Even worse, the expert whose research he cites in defense of this thesis is one Lawrence...

Bretton Woods Revisited

AP Images
AP Images O n July 22, 1944, as allied troops were racing across Normandy to liberate Paris, representatives of 44 nations meeting at the Mount Washington resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, created a financial and monetary system for the postwar era. It had taken three weeks of exhausting diplomacy. At the closing banquet, the assembled delegates rose and sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” The fellow in question was John Maynard Keynes, leader of the British delegation and intellectual inspiration of the Bretton Woods design. Lord Keynes, the world’s most celebrated economist, was playing a tricky dual role. He had proposed a radical new monetary system to free the world from the deflationary pressures that had caused and prolonged the Great Depression. Bretton Woods, he hoped, would be the international anchor for the suite of domestic measures that came to be known as Keynesian—the use of public spending to cure depression and the regulation of financial markets to prevent...

The Next Battle at the Fed

AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais W ith the Administration’s stunning decision to name Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve, at least one major government institution will weigh in strongly on the side of economic recovery, right? Well, maybe. First, of course, Yellen has to be confirmed. That, thankfully, seems a good bet. But there is also the problem of three vacancies on the seven-member Fed Board of Governors, which President Obama will soon fill. If the wrong people are appointed to these jobs, Yellen’s ability to aggressively use low interest rates to strengthen the recovery will be destroyed. But why would Obama do that? The Treasury and Wall Street crowd who dearly wanted Larry Summers rather than Yellen will now be focusing on the three other seats. If they can’t get their man in as chair, at least they can narrow the options of the woman who got the job. The same insiders who pressed Obama to go out on a limb for Summers will be pushing hard for Wall-Street-friendly...

Beware a Grand Bargain

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
W ill President Obama and the Democrats win a major battle only to lose the war? The longterm war that Republicans are fighting is a deadly serious struggle to destroy the most important and valued achievements of the New Deal-Great Society legacy, Social Security and Medicare. Wall Street billionaires like Peter G. Peterson and Stanley Druckenmiller have been softening the ground for decades by claiming that Social Security is bankrupting the country and destroying future prospects of America’s youth. So there is a kind of pincer movement between the scorched-earth Republicans of the Tea Party, willing to shut the government if they don’t get their way, and the more mannered Wall Street Republicans who want to gut social insurance for the alleged good of the country. It adds up to the same thing—cut or privatize the Democrats’ two crown jewels. What’s worse, even though Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were able to maintain 100 percent party unity in their House and Senate caucuses in...

A Spine Is a Useful Thing to Have

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci H ow much damage have the Republicans done to themselves going into the elections of 2014 and 2016? And has President Obama resolved to hang tough, not just in this round, but in the one that follows and the one after that? The contrived shutdown crisis proved two things. It proved that Republicans are split down the middle between a lunatic, fundamentalist wing that prefers wreckage to governing and a pragmatic wing often allied with Wall Street. And it proved once and for all that being tough in the face of blackmail beats appeasement that only courts more rounds of blackmail. Business elites applied escalating pressure on the Republicans not to let the United States default on its debt. In the end, 144 House Republicans voted against the measure, and 87 voted for it. That 144, though, exaggerates somewhat the true strength of the Tea Party faction. Some of that vote was a protest against the failure of the Democrats to give anything in return. For now, public...

Take the Fourteenth!

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
Remember the proposals that were current back in 2011 to have President Obama invoke his authority under the 14 th Amendment to keep funding America’s public debt, even without approval from Congress? Well, that proposal has suddenly become highly relevant again, even urgent. Prior to 1917, Congress did not even require periodic legislation to increase the debt ceiling. Statutory approval was added as part of the large increase in World War I borrowing. The 14 th Amendment, approved after the Civil War, included several provisions, but the key one for our purposes was Section 45. It provided that: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion….shall not be questioned.” The intent was to make sure that Union war debts would be paid and Confederate ones would not be. A number of constitutional scholars believe that this provides ample authority...

Tom Friedman’s Worst Column Ever

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Sometimes, Tom Friedman writes a column that is such complete baloney it makes you want to retch. Rather than risking soiling my shoes, here is a point-by-point rebuttal to Friedman’s opus du jour, titled: “ Sorry, Kids. We Ate It All .” Friedman’s column swallows whole the budgetary malarkey of the corporate Fix-the-Debt lobby and its Wall Street sponsors. Namely, the reduced horizons of the next generation are the result of the gluttony of old folks—and of unions. But what makes this piece especially appalling (and emblematic) is that the hero of Friedman’s piece is one Stanley Druckenmiller, a hedge-fund billionaire who has appointed himself as the Paul Revere of deficit reduction to warn America’s college students that The Seniors Are Coming. In passing, Friedman discloses that Druckenmiller is also “a friend.” So on top of the absurd logic of the piece, Friedman is guilty of a conflict of interest—using the most valuable real estate in American journalism to do a favor for a chum...

Thinking the Unthinkable

Listen up, class. World War I never happened. It didn’t happen because nobody wanted it, and everybody grasped the horrific risks. In the event, the common European civilization was destroyed, three empires fell, 16 million people died, and 20 million were wounded. So World War I couldn’t happen because everyone knew how awful it would be. In August 1914, virtually all leaders anticipated a short set of skirmishes, a readjustment of borders as in other recent wars, and everyone would be home for Christmas. But, you know, stuff happens. Then there was the American Civil War. It didn’t happen either. Many Southern leaders knew that staying in the Union and accepting some limitations on slavery in the territories and new states would allow them to keep their “peculiar institution” and avoid the economic catastrophe of a war on their soil. Oops. Thus the Republican game of chicken with the debt default. It can’t happen because its consequences would be too unthinkable, right? The stock...

An Ignoble Prize

Eugene Fama, one of the winners of this year’s Nobel in economics, is the fellow who proposed that all markets are efficient all of the time—more precisely that market pricing accurately captures all available information and thus creates “correct” prices. Fama also insisted that there is no such thing as a price bubble. Somehow, the man missed one of history’s great bubbles and the collapse that followed—an epic case of markets getting prices wrong. He also missed the fact that markets have incorrectly priced carbon, leading to global climate disaster, which Lord Nicholas Stern correctly termed “history’s greatest case of market failure.” For this, they give the man a Nobel. What timing! The mind boggles in search of an apt comparison. It’s like giving a posthumous Nobel in physics to Ptolemy rather than Copernicus for demonstrating that the sun revolves around the earth. Or maybe in biology not to Gregor Mendel or Charles Darwin but to Trofim Lysenko, Stalin’s court geneticist, for...

Pages