Robert Kuttner

Our Corporate Saviors

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) In this March 31, 2015 file photo, people participate in rally in front of a McDonald's restaurant in New York. A pay bump for workers at some McDonald's restaurants, announced Wednesday, April 1, 2015, isn't likely to ease the pressures the chain is facing over labor issues. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . W hat are we to make of the fact that some big corporations are turning out to be the relative good guys, on issues as varied as same-sex marriage, the environment and even (to a limited extent) workers' wages? Last week, the governors of Indiana and Arkansas were forced to back down and dilute bogus "religious freedom" laws intended to shelter discrimination against gays and lesbians, in large part because their corporate bigwigs told them to stop embarrassing the state and scaring off business. In Indiana, these included the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, the Indiana Pacers, and even the Indy 500. In Arkansas, the pressure...

7 Reasons Why the 99 Percent Keeps Losing

iStockPhoto/© porcorex
iStockPhoto/© porcorex This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post . O ur current political situation is unprecedented. The vast majority of Americans keep falling behind economically because of changes in society's ground rules, while the rich get even richer—yet this situation doesn't translate into a winning politics. If anything, the right keeps gaining and the wealthy keep pulling away. How can this possibly be? Let me suggest seven reasons: 1. The Discrediting of Politics Itself The Republican Party has devised a strategy of hamstringing government and making any remediation impossible. Instead of the voters punishing Republicans, the result is cynicism and passivity, so the Republican strategy is vindicated and rewarded. The media plays into this pattern by adopting a misleading narrative that makes the gridlock in Washington roughly the equal fault of both parties—with lazy phrases such as "Washington is broken," or "politics is broken," or "partisan bickering." (...

The Dance of Liberals and Radicals

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo) U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, talks with civil rights leaders in his White House office in Washington, D.C., January 18, 1964. The movement leaders, from left, are, Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); James Farmer, national director of the Committee on Racial Equality; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and Whitney Young, executive director of the Urban League. This essay originally appeared at The Huffington Post . M arch 15 was the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson's best speech, his "We Shall Overcome" address applying the final round of pressure on Congress to enact the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Much of the speech invoked the bravery, dignity and historical rightness of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his fellow movement activists. All of which puts me in mind of the complex relationship between liberals and radicals. History shows that liberals...

Will the Fed Kill the Recovery Again?

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/AgnosticPreachersKid)
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/AgnosticPreachersKid) The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington, D.C. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T he Labor Department reported that the economy added 295,000 payroll jobs in February, the 12th straight month of job creation of better than 200,000 a month. And the Dow Jones Industrial Average promptly dropped by nearly 300 points. What gives? Do capitalists hate workers? Well, perhaps; but the immediate explanation is concern about the Federal Reserve. If unemployment keeps falling, the Fed is more likely to raise interest rates. And if the Fed raises rates, that's bad for the stock market because bonds start to be a better investment than stocks; and the expectation of flat or declining stock prices feeds on itself and sets off a wave of stock-selling. Supposedly, the assumption that the Fed will raise rates in the not-too-far-distant future has been already "priced in" to share prices. But that's...

Can Liberal Democracy Survive?

Architect of the Capitol
Architect of the Capitol This article appears in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . I n 1932, on the eve of FDR’s presidency, Benito Mussolini proclaimed, “The liberal state is destined to perish.” He added, all too accurately, “All the political experiments of our day are anti-liberal.” The democracies were doomed, Il Duce declared, because they could not solve crucial problems. Unlike the dictatorships, which were willing to forcefully use a strong state, the democracies could not fix their broken economies. Parliamentary systems were hamstrung politically. The democracies were also war-weary, conflict-averse, and ill-prepared to fight. The fascists, unlike the democracies, had solved the problem of who was part of the community. Mussolini’s ally, Adolf Hitler, was further contemptuous of “mongrelization” in American democracy. Who was an American? How did immigrants fit in? What about Negroes? The fascist states, by contrast, rallied their...

National Security and the 2016 Election

(Photo: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)
(Photo: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv) Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Israel in November 2012. This article originally appeared at the Huffington Post . Y ou may recall a campus slogan from another era, "Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Western civ. has got to go." That was at Stanford University in 1987, part of a wave of demands to limit traditional courses featuring dead white males, in favor of cultural pluralism. Sure enough, many colleges a generation later have more varied courses. Today, however, there are people out there who feel that western civilization really does have to go — not the courses but the thing itself. And they seem to be gaining. Call me sentimental, call me privileged, but I have a certain fondness for western civilization. Let me count the ways. I like the rule of law. I like the Enlightenment sensibility that a wide variety of religions and viewpoints must be accommodated. I like the connection of free speech and free inquiry to the scientific...

Will E.U. Leaders Wreck Europe’s Economy to Teach Greece a Lesson?

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) Pro-government protesters passes in from of a banner outside Greece's parliament to support the newly elected government’s push for a better deal on Greece’s debt, in central Athens, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The protests held in Athens by around fifteen thousands supporters of the left-wing Syriza party as the new Greek government on Monday, February 16, presented its proposals to skeptical rescue lenders at a euro zone finance ministers' meeting in Brussels. G reece and the European Union are now in a final showdown. And if you had to place odds, the likelihood is that the stubbornness and folly of Europe’s senior leaders will create a catastrophe for both Greece and the E.U. On Monday, at a key meeting of finance ministers in Brussels, the Greek negotiators walked away from a demand that Greece recommit to the terms of the current austerity program as the precondition for extending talks on possible easing of the terms. In return, E.U. leaders had...

Will the Recovery Finally Translate into Better Wages?

(iStockPhoto/© JLGutierrez)
whitehouse.gov Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen and President Barack Obama. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T he good news about the economy's improved job creation dominated the weekend's headlines. Many commentators concluded that the economy is finally shaking off the effects of the financial collapse of 2008 and the long period of stagnation that followed. The creation of 257,000 new jobs in January is surely good news, as is the long-awaited increase in wages, reported at half of one percent in that month. Even so, the one-year increase in wages has been only 2.2 percent, barely more than 1 percent when adjusted for inflation, and it's been a long time since most workers have seen substantial raises. In this recovery, the economy has been creating more low-wage jobs than high-wage ones. The shift from standard payroll jobs to temp and contract work continues. The uptick in the measured unemployment rate, from 5.6 percent to 5.7 percent, suggests...

We're Jailing the Wrong People. We Need to Jail More of the Right Ones: Corporate Criminals

iStockPhoto/© pkline
(Photo illustration @pkline/iStockPhoto) This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post under the title, "We Should Send More People to Jail." Y ou know the statistic. We incarcerate a higher proportion of the population than any other country does. Russia and South Africa rank respectively second and third. Hundreds of thousands of young, now aging, men, are doing hard time for possession of small amounts of drugs. More and more people find themselves in jail because they got caught with bench warrants for their arrest for exorbitant fines they could not afford to pay. More than a century after debtors prisons were abolished, thousands are again behind bars because of debts. But one category of felon is free on the street. I refer, of course, to corporate criminals. Consider the case of a checkout clerk at Walmart who puts her hands in the till and walks off with a couple of hundred bucks of the company's money. That clerk could expect to face prosecution and jail. Now...

Are the Elites Catching Up with the People?

(Rex Features via AP Images)
I nequality has at last arrived as the issue that mainstream politicians can’t ignore. You see it in Obama’s better-late-than-never embrace of “middle-class economics” as the signature theme in his State of the Union address; and in a surprisingly leftish report of a commission co-chaired by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. The new report by the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity , convened by the Center for American Progress, is frank in its acknowledgment of the inequality crisis. “Today, the ability of free-market democracies to deliver widely shared increases in prosperity is in question as never before,” the report declares. It calls for several measures of the sort that the labor movement, the Economic Policy Institute, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and others on the left edge of Democratic politics have been urging for years. What’s surprising is not what’s being said but who’s saying it. For instance, the commission offers a frank statement of what’s wrong with...

A Break In the Greek Tragedy

(Tsipras at podium: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File) (Tsipras on Election Day: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File) Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza left-wing party, speaks to his supporters outside Athens University Headquarters on Sunday, January 25, 2015. A triumphant Tsipras told Greeks that his party's win in Sunday's early general election meant an end to austerity and humiliation, and that the country's regular and often fraught debt inspections were a thing of the past. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope should count itself lucky that a left-wing anti-austerity party won the Greek elections, swept into office by citizens who've had enough. Elsewhere in Europe, seven years of stupid, punitive, and self-defeating austerity policies have led to gains by the far right. If a radical left party is now in power in Athens and sending tremors through Europe's financial markets, the E.U.'s smug leaders and their banker allies in Frankfurt, Brussels and Berlin have only themselves to blame. Alexis Tsipras, leader of the...

The Politics of Gesture

(AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
(AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool) President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Janunary 20, 2015, in Washington. A version of this article first appeared at The Huffington Post . I f Tuesday's State of the Union address told us anything, it's this: We are seeing a somewhat bolder Barack Obama. In his speech, the president unveiled a litany of what he calls "fourth-quarter initiatives." Some of these can be accomplished by executive order; most will require legislation. The measures that can be achieved by presidential order include reducing the down-payment or interest on federally insured mortgages to stimulate home ownership. Obama has already used his executive power to suspend deportation of some 5 million undocumented Dreamers and in some cases their parents. He has required federal contractors to pay something closer to a living wage. He recently ordered federal agencies to give new parents up to six weeks...

Obama's State of the Union Preview Serves Up Pretty Weak Brew

whitehouse.gov/video screenshot
whitehouse.gov screenshot President Obama delivers remarks about his new community college proposal at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, January 9, 2015. "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized." —Daniel Burnham I recently got an email invitation from a Democratic congressional office to come to a "watch party" to view President Obama's State of the Union address. His "fourth-quarter priorities," according to the White House-inspired talking points of the message, are "home ownership, free community college, and high-paying jobs." That sounds pretty good. But if you unpack the specifics, the president is offering pretty weak tea. Free community college sounds terrific. Community college is the great American institution of the second chance. Obama proposes to have the federal government cover 75 percent of the cost, if states will participate. This could save students an average of over $3,...

Meet Austerity's Kissing Cousin: A Terrible Trade Deal

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP Photo/Martin Meissner) People protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) at the final election party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) prior E.U. Parliament elections in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday, May 23, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope is right on the edge of another downward lurch into prolonged deflation. GDP growth is hovering right around zero. Germany, as an export powerhouse, continues to thrive, but at the expense of the rest of the continent—victims of German-imposed budget austerity demands. The euro, which keeps sinking against the U.S. dollar, is now trading at just $1.20, its lowest level in four and a half years. Unemployment outside prosperous Germany remains stuck at over 12 percent. All of this weakens the political center that supports the E.U., and increases the appeal of far-right parties. (You wonder if Europe's leaders bother to read their own history. When there is protracted...

Intrigue: Doth Chuck Schumer Protest Too Much When Called 'Enabler' of Bad Budget Deal?

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, talks on a phone as he walks from the Senate subway on Capitol in Washington, Friday, December 12, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . L ast week, I wrote a piece lamenting the fact that so many Democrats had voted for a budget package that gutted a key provision of the Dodd-Frank Act. The so called swaps push-out provision, now repealed, required banks to separate their speculative business in derivatives from depository banking covered by government insurance and further protected by the Federal Reserve. The broader budget deal, technically a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through next September, also cut a lot of needed public spending and added several odious riders, including one that raises the ceiling on individual campaign contributions to party committees about tenfold. Had Democrats resolutely opposed the deal, I argued, it would have revealed Republicans...

Pages