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“The GOP’s ‘Jobs’ Hypocrisy”: Their Own Party Is The Biggest Obstacle

I bring good news this new year! Conservatives have a jobs agenda, one that isn’t built around merely cutting taxes and regulations and getting the government out of the way so the free market can strut its stuff.

No—this includes… are you ready?… infrastructure investment, and a monetary policy less obsessed with keeping inflation under 2 percent. It’s new, it’s exhilarating, it’s brilliant! And it’s the same stuff that Barack Obama and most liberal Democrats have favored for years.

When David Frum, whom I respect a great deal, tweets that a new article should be thought of as “a ‘95 theses’ moment for the reformist right,” he gets my attention. So I clicked immediately and read through “A Jobs Agenda for the Right,” by Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute, from the new issue of National Affairs. I liked the essay and even agreed with a respectable percentage of what Strain had to say. But reading it was far more infuriating than reading something by a conservative and disagreeing with every syllable, because articles like Strain’s refuse to acknowledge, let alone try to grapple with, the central and indisputable fact that the contemporary Republican Party—his presumed vehicle for all this pro-jobs reform—has opposed many of these initiatives tooth and nail.

The first big measure Strain touts in his essay is infrastructure. “Anyone who has driven on a highway in Missouri or has taken an escalator in a Washington, D.C., Metro station knows that the United States could use some infrastructure investment,” he writes. He doesn’t lay out a specific program, but clearly he favors fairly broad public investment.

Um, OK. There are people who’ve been trying to do just that. And not only Barack Obama. John Kerry led this effort in the Senate, and he was joined by Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison (who’s since retired). Their attempts to fund a modest infrastructure bank were supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But it could never get anywhere because of rock-solid GOP opposition. Does Strain not even know this? Or is he pretending it never existed so he doesn’t have to deal with the political reality of Republican obduracy?

I think, of course, it’s the latter, and there’s further evidence for my guess in the way Strain talks about recent history. The 2009 stimulus was not a failure in infrastructure terms at all (has he read Michael Grunwald?). But even if you believe it was an infrastructure failure, or have to say so for political reasons, should you not acknowledge in fairness that it was Democrats and liberals who wanted it to have more infrastructure spending, and that nearly 40 percent of the bill took the form of tax cuts because that’s what Republicans demanded (before they decided en masse to vote against it anyway)?

From there, Strain turns to monetary policy, and this is even more comic. The Federal Reserve, he writes, should relax the 2 percent inflation target to get the unemployment numbers down. Uh, yes. It should. But it’s not as if Strain just originally thought of this. Liberals have been saying this ever since 2009, or 2008 even. And in response, conservatives have been saying that doing so will produce galloping inflation and destroy our economy. You’ve seen Ben Bernanke get badgered about inflation by Republicans from Paul Ryan on down for years. Inflation could have been 1.2 percent, or lower, but if Bernanke was up on the Hill, Republicans tore into him as if he were unleashing the mid-’70s on us again.

As I said, I agree with Strain. I agree when he writes: “In short, conservatives should see that there is a role for macroeconomic stimulus in getting the labor market back on its feet” and that “monetary policy with its eye on enabling growth can make a big difference.” Yes, they should. Well… how are they going to see that? Does Strain have some special pixie dust?

It’s astonishing that he can write this way, but it’s what they all do on the right. They maintain the fiction that their party is a party of rational people who will listen to rational argument and isn’t simply dug into a state of psychotic opposition to anything Barack Obama wants to do. Everyone watching our politics for the last five years knows that if Obama is for it, the Republicans will oppose it. Strain might say counting noses in the Senate isn’t his job. Well, OK. But at least he could acknowledge that his party has been preventing some of his own ideas from having any hope of becoming reality (he goes on to discuss other proposals, some of them more traditionally conservative, others that acknowledge a fairly strong governmental role in getting people back to work).

Usually, with regard to jobs and wage stagnation and poverty and so on, the problem is that conservatives deny empirical reality. This gives us people like Paul Ryan, for example, who genuinely seems to believe, in the face of the mountains of evidence about how the social safety net and federal entitlements have saved millions from lives of far worse destitution, that all government can do is make slaves of people. That’s bad enough.

But now, we have conservatives who accept enough empirical reality to agree that public investment is not a crime against nature, but who deny the political reality that the Republican Party stands in the way of progress. This may actually be worse. The only hope of changing Washington for the better is getting a Republican Party in which there are enough legislators who act like legislators again and who are willing to cross party lines occasionally for the sake of governance and the country. If conservative intellectuals keep pretending this isn’t a problem, there is no hope that it will change.

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 3, 2014

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Jobs, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted”: Angry That They Don’t Receive Universal Deference

Robert Benmosche, the chief executive of the American International Group, said something stupid the other day. And we should be glad, because his comments help highlight an important but rarely discussed cost of extreme income inequality — namely, the rise of a small but powerful group of what can only be called sociopaths.

For those who don’t recall, A.I.G. is a giant insurance company that played a crucial role in creating the global economic crisis, exploiting loopholes in financial regulation to sell vast numbers of debt guarantees that it had no way to honor. Five years ago, U.S. authorities, fearing that A.I.G.’s collapse might destabilize the whole financial system, stepped in with a huge bailout. But even the policy makers felt ill used — for example, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, later testified that no other episode in the crisis made him so angry.

And it got worse. For a time, A.I.G. was essentially a ward of the federal government, which owned the bulk of its stock, yet it continued paying large executive bonuses. There was, understandably, much public furor.

So here’s what Mr. Benmosche did in an interview with The Wall Street Journal: He compared the uproar over bonuses to lynchings in the Deep South — the real kind, involving murder — and declared that the bonus backlash was “just as bad and just as wrong.”

You may find it incredible that anyone would, even for an instant, consider this comparison appropriate. But there have actually been a series of stories like this. In 2010, for example, there was a comparable outburst from Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman of the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private-equity firms. Speaking about proposals to close the carried-interest loophole — which allows executives at firms like Blackstone to pay only 15 percent taxes on much of their income — Mr. Schwarzman declared, “It’s a war; it’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

And you know that such publicly reported statements don’t come out of nowhere. Stuff like this is surely what the Masters of the Universe say to each other all the time, to nods of agreement and approval. It’s just that sometimes they forget that they’re not supposed to say such things where the rabble might learn about it.

Also, notice what both men were defending: namely, their privileges. Mr. Schwarzman was outraged at the notion that he might be required to pay taxes just like the little people; Mr. Benmosche was, in effect, declaring that A.I.G. was entitled to public bailouts and that its executives shouldn’t be expected to make any sacrifice in return.

This is important. Sometimes the wealthy talk as if they were characters in “Atlas Shrugged,” demanding nothing more from society than that the moochers leave them alone. But these men were speaking for, not against, redistribution — redistribution from the 99 percent to people like them. This isn’t libertarianism; it’s a demand for special treatment. It’s not Ayn Rand; it’s ancien régime.

Sometimes, in fact, members of the 0.01 percent are explicit about their sense of entitlement. It was kind of refreshing, in a way, when Charles Munger, the billionaire vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, declared that we should “thank God” for the bailout of Wall Street, but that ordinary Americans in financial distress should just “suck it in and cope.” Incidentally, in another interview — conducted at his seaside villa in Dubrovnik, Croatia — Mr. Benmosche declared that the retirement age should go up to 70 or even 80.

The thing is, by and large, the wealthy have gotten their wish. Wall Street was bailed out, while workers and homeowners weren’t. Our so-called recovery has done nothing much for ordinary workers, but incomes at the top have soared, with almost all the gains from 2009 to 2012 going to the top 1 percent, and almost a third going to the top 0.01 percent — that is, people with incomes over $10 million.

So why the anger? Why the whining? And bear in mind that claims that the wealthy are being persecuted aren’t just coming from a few loudmouths. They’ve been all over the op-ed pages and were, in fact, a central theme of the Romney campaign last year.

Well, I have a theory. When you have that much money, what is it you’re trying to buy by making even more? You already have the multiple big houses, the servants, the private jet. What you really want now is adulation; you want the world to bow before your success. And so the thought that people in the media, in Congress and even in the White House are saying critical things about people like you drives you wild.

It is, of course, incredibly petty. But money brings power, and thanks to surging inequality, these petty people have a lot of money. So their whining, their anger that they don’t receive universal deference, can have real political consequences. Fear the wrath of the .01 percent!

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 26, 2013

September 28, 2013 Posted by | Financial Institutions | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Big Shrug”: A Combination Of Complacency And Fatalism By Fiscal Policy Makers That Nothing Need Be Done Or Can Be Done

I’ve been in this economics business for a while. In fact, I’ve been in it so long I still remember what people considered normal in those long-ago days before the financial crisis. Normal, back then, meant an economy adding a million or more jobs each year, enough to keep up with the growth in the working-age population. Normal meant an unemployment rate not much above 5 percent, except for brief recessions. And while there was always some unemployment, normal meant very few people out of work for extended periods.

So how, in those long-ago days, would we have reacted to Friday’s news that the number of Americans with jobs is still down two million from six years ago, that 7.6 percent of the work force is unemployed (with many more underemployed or forced to take low-paying jobs), and that more than four million of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six months? Well, we know how most political insiders reacted: they called it a pretty good jobs report. In fact, some are even celebrating the report as “proof” that the budget sequester isn’t doing any harm.

In other words, our policy discourse is still a long way from where it ought to be.

For more than three years some of us have fought the policy elite’s damaging obsession with budget deficits, an obsession that led governments to cut investment when they should have been raising it, to destroy jobs when job creation should have been their priority. That fight seems largely won — in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the sudden intellectual collapse of austerity economics as a policy doctrine.

But while insiders no longer seem determined to worry about the wrong things, that’s not enough; they also need to start worrying about the right things — namely, the plight of the jobless and the immense continuing waste from a depressed economy. And that’s not happening. Instead, policy makers both here and in Europe seem gripped by a combination of complacency and fatalism, a sense that nothing need be done and nothing can be done. Call it the big shrug.

Even the people I consider the good guys, policy makers who have in the past shown real concern over our economic weakness, aren’t showing much sense of urgency these days. For example, last fall some of us were greatly encouraged by the Federal Reserve’s announcement that it was instituting new measures to bolster the economy. Policy specifics aside, the Fed seemed to be signaling its willingness to do whatever it took to get unemployment down. Lately, however, what one mostly hears from the Fed is talk of “tapering,” of letting up on its efforts, even though inflation is below target, the employment situation is still terrible and the pace of improvement is glacial at best.

And Fed officials are, as I said, the good guys. Sometimes it seems as if nobody in Washington outside the Fed even considers high unemployment a problem.

Why isn’t reducing unemployment a major policy priority? One answer may be that inertia is a powerful force, and it’s hard to get policy changes absent the threat of disaster. As long as we’re adding jobs, not losing them, and unemployment is basically stable or falling, not rising, policy makers don’t feel any urgent need to act.

Another answer is that the unemployed don’t have much of a political voice. Profits are sky-high, stocks are up, so things are O.K. for the people who matter, right?

A third answer is that while we aren’t hearing so much these days from the self-styled deficit hawks, the monetary hawks — economists, politicians and officials who keep warning that low interest rates will have dire consequences — have, if anything, gotten even more vociferous. It doesn’t seem to matter that the monetary hawks, like the fiscal hawks, have an impressive record of being wrong about everything (where’s that runaway inflation they promised?). They just keep coming back; the arguments change (now they’re warning about asset bubbles), but the policy demand — tighter money and higher interest rates — is always the same. And it’s hard to escape the sense that the Fed is being intimidated into inaction.

The tragedy is that it’s all unnecessary. Yes, you hear talk about a “new normal” of much higher unemployment, but all the reasons given for this alleged new normal, such as the supposed mismatch between workers’ skills and the demands of the modern economy, fall apart when subjected to careful scrutiny. If Washington would reverse its destructive budget cuts, if the Fed would show the “Rooseveltian resolve” that Ben Bernanke demanded of Japanese officials back when he was an independent economist, we would quickly discover that there’s nothing normal or necessary about mass long-term unemployment.

So here’s my message to policy makers: Where we are is not O.K. Stop shrugging, and do your jobs.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 9, 2013

June 10, 2013 Posted by | Economy, Jobs | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Focus Should Be On Jobs”: Ben Bernanke Clearly Explained What’s Still Wrong With The Economy

In recent congressional testimony, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke clearly explained what’s still wrong with the economy, outlined the Fed’s thinking on monetary policy and strongly implied that fiscal policy is still off base. His account and policy recommendations reflect mainstream economic thinking – and, thus, run counter to much of the economic doctrine that’s driving Republican budget policies.

Here’s how Bernanke sees the economy: though payroll employment has expanded by about 6 million jobs since its low point and unemployment has dropped by about 2.5 percentage points from its peak, the job market remains weak overall. I couldn’t agree more.

Bernanke points to the same indicators I would. The unemployment rate is still too high, too many of the unemployed have been looking for work for more than six months, too many people have stopped looking at all while job prospects remain dim, and nearly 8 million people are working part time even though they’d prefer full-time work. I’m glad to see him emphasize how “extraordinarily costly” this situation is:

Not only do [high levels of unemployment and underemployment] impose hardships on the affected individuals and their families, they also damage the productive potential of the economy as a whole by eroding workers’ skills and – particularly relevant during this commencement season – by preventing many young people from gaining workplace skills and experience in the first place. The loss of output and earnings associated with high unemployment also reduces government revenues and increases spending on income-support programs, thereby leading to larger budget deficits and higher levels of public debt than would otherwise occur.

While unemployment is still a major concern, inflation isn’t. Therefore, the Fed is appropriately interpreting its “dual mandate” to foster both “maximum employment” and “price stability” as requiring “a highly accommodative monetary policy.” That means keeping its short-term interest rate target as low as possible until unemployment falls closer to normal long-term levels and monitoring its program of purchasing longer-term assets – as long as inflationary expectations remain low. As the Fed notes, this policy carries some risks, but the risks and costs of continuing high unemployment are far greater.

Republicans, in contrast, want to remove “maximum employment” from the Fed’s policy concerns. They seem to see our most pressing problem as the possibility of future inflation, not the reality of current high unemployment. The Republican chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, where Bernanke testified, wants to replace the dual mandate with a single mandate for long-term price stability. Even some conservatives recognize that, during major recessions, that’s a recipe for disaster. An even more extreme policy – a return to a gold standard – made it into the 2012 Republican platform.

On fiscal policy, Bernanke recognizes that recent policy decisions have tilted too far toward short-term budget austerity, while largely ignoring longer-term budget challenges. He neither shared Republicans’ disdain for stimulus policies nor endorsed their flirtation with “expansionary austerity” arguments.

Federal fiscal policy, taking into account both discretionary actions and so-called automatic stabilizers, was, on net, quite expansionary [emphasis added] during the recession and early in the recovery. However, a substantial part of this impetus was offset by spending cuts and tax increases by state and local governments, most of which are subject to balanced-budget requirements, and by subsequent fiscal tightening at the federal level.

While too much fiscal restraint has hampered the economic recovery, policymakers have done little to address longer run fiscal challenges that will begin to reappear later in the decade. Bernanke’s counsel:

Importantly, the objectives of effectively addressing longer-term fiscal imbalances and of minimizing the near-term fiscal headwinds facing the economic recovery are not incompatible. To achieve both goals simultaneously, the Congress and the Administration could consider replacing some of the near-term fiscal restraint now in law with policies that reduce the federal deficit more gradually in the near term but more substantially in the longer run.

By contrast, the House Republican budget goes full bore on deficit reduction, starting immediately – jobs be damned.

 

By: Chad Stone, U. S. News and World Report, May 24, 2013

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Federal Reserve, Jobs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s All Your Fault”: Federal Reserve Chair Calls Out Congress For Being The Drag On The Economy

The stock market is testing new highs, the unemployment rate is declining and consumer confidence is at a six-year peak, but the Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke wants Congress to know that things could be a lot better.

Testifying Wednesday in front of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Bernake pointed out that the economy has been improving, but one obstacle is keeping a real recovery from sparking — them:

“Most recently, the strengthening economy has improved the budgetary outlooks of most state and local governments, leading them to reduce their pace of fiscal tightening. At the same time, though, fiscal policy at the federal level has become significantly more restrictive. In particular, the expiration of the payroll tax cut, the enactment of tax increases, the effects of the budget caps on discretionary spending, the onset of the sequestration, and the declines in defense spending for overseas military operations are expected, collectively, to exert a substantial drag on the economy this year.”

President Obama was able to delay serious austerity — tax increases paired with budget cuts — from coming into effect until this year. This delay has given housing a chance to recover, as evidenced by strong recent earnings from The Home Depot.

However, there’s no doubt that the payroll tax holiday, which Republicans never considered extending, is affecting every America who lives paycheck to paycheck. The sequester will take $85 billion and 750,000 jobs out of the economy this year. Even the ending of the Bush tax cuts on income over $400,000 will take some steam out of the economy, though tax breaks for the rich have the least stimulative benefit for the economy.

Bernanke points out that the biggest problem with the sequester is that it has no real effect on the actual problem this country faces — the long-term deficit.

“Although near-term fiscal restraint has increased, much less has been done to address the federal government’s longer-term fiscal imbalances,” he said. “Indeed, the [Congressional Budget Office] projects that, under current policies, the federal deficit and debt as a percentage of GDP will begin rising again in the latter part of this decade and move sharply upward thereafter.”

Basically, Bernanke is echoing what New York Times‘ columnist Paul Krugman has been saying for years: Get the economy going, then worry about long-term fixes.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, May 22, 2013

May 24, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Economy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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