Monday, March 30, 2015

Robert Kuttner: On Another Planet

Sometimes it really pays to read the guys on the other side and try to understand how they look at the world. Here's Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect wondering “Why the 99 Percent Keeps Losing.”

You and I understand this perfectly. The 99 percent is losing because liberals. But Kuttner, against all the evidence, thinks Republicans are to blame. And he still can't understand it.
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?
Well, he's got seven reasons. And the first one is that Republicans are to blame for the gridlock in Washington, and the experts agree.

Actually, I agree with Kuttner and the experts on this one. We Republicans and conservatives are fundamentally opposed to the continued expansion of the welfare state. We think that it is unjust and wicked. So of course we try to stop the Democrats expanding its injustice any way we can. Wouldn't Democrats do the same?

But the Democrats are hardly blameless, writes Kuttner.
Instead of seizing on the collapse of 2008 as a disgrace for laissez-faire economics, deregulation, Wall Street and the Republican Party, Barack Obama tried to make nice with the GOP, refrained from cleaning out the big banks that caused the mess, and drank the Kool-Aid of budget balance.
Actually, my impression is that the Democrats have been blaming the crash on “laissez-faire economics, deregulation, Wall Street,” not to mention greedy bankers. And as for Obama trying to “make nice with the GOP:” come on, pal. Obama doesn't even know how to make nice with Democrats.

Then Kuttner's all upset about the US Supreme Court and Citizens United. The court majority “has become an opportunistic subsidiary of the Republican Party.” If only! And what about Chief Justice Roberts waving through Obamacare, old chum?

Then there's economic inequality. In the years after World War II,
Shared prosperity was built on government activism promoting opportunity, strong unions providing decent wages even for the less educated, enforcement of other labor laws, debt-free public higher education, well-regulated financial institutions, a genuinely progressive income tax, and a trading system that did not promote outsourcing.
This is a standard Democratic talking point. Back in the Fifties America had good jobs at good wages, and then Ronald Reagan ruined it.

Yes but what about the changes to the economy and “how jobs are structured?” What about education and technology? That's “malarkey,” according to Kuttner. With the right politics, we'd whack corporate executives, grow unions, and windfall profits would be shared.

Yet with all this mess, Millennials aren't in the streets protesting. Maybe we could wake them up with “a one-time write off of all past student debt.” And hey, how about a “genuine mass movement?”
You mean like the Tea Party?

It's easy to dismiss all Kuttner's arguments as self-deceiving claptrap. But let us try to understand the point of view of the “other.”

There is an argument that politics could successfully strong-arm a one-time redistribution of income through labor and social insurance legislation half a century ago.  You could argue that it worked back then because the US bestrode the world economy like a colossus. Government could successfully force the economic system to funnel money to Democratic supporters.

Could it be that the decade of the Glorious Fifties was a special situation, never to be repeated?

Could it be that there is a limit to what politics and organizing and movements and taxes and regulation can accomplish in this world?

Could it be that progressives like Robert Kuttner are just plain wrong about what will help the 99 percent start winning?

On the conservative view you'd expect that when the Fed is printing money and keeping interest rates low, you'd have a stock market boom that would benefit the rich. When the government legislates a complex entitlement like Obamacare that puts huge new burdens on individuals and employers, you'd expect the economy to stumble and wages to crumble. When government mandates minimum wages and lays swingeing taxes on labor, you'd expect employers to be stingy with jobs and you'd expect a flourishing underground economy.

And you'd expect the 99 percent to go right on losing.

Liberals like Robert Kuttner like to sneer at fundamentalists that don't believe in evolution.

But what really matters is the science of whether minimum wages hurt the very people they are supposed to help, whether unions end up destroying the businesses they organize, whether government health care can ever be more than a hole to pour money through.

I just wish that the world would start sneering at liberal fundamentalism on economics.

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