The first three for this:
No Jobs Bill, and No Ideas
It was all predicted, but the unanimous decision by Senate Republicans on Tuesday to filibuster and thus kill President Obama’s jobs bill was still a breathtaking act of economic vandalism. There are 14 million people out of work, wages are falling, poverty is rising, and a second recession may be blowing in, but not a single Republican would even allow debate on a sound plan to cut middle-class taxes and increase public-works spending.
The bill the Republicans shot down is not a panacea, but independent economists say it would have a significant and swift effect on the current stagnation. Macroeconomic Advisers, whose forecasts are often used by the Federal Reserve, said it could raise economic growth by 1.25 percentage points and create 1.3 million jobs in 2012. Moody’s Analytics estimated new growth at 2 percentage points and 1.9 million jobs. Those economists say that Republican ideas for increasing growth would have no measurable effects in the next year.
The Republicans offer no actual economic plans, only tired slogans about cutting regulations and spending, and ending health care reform. The party seems content to run out the clock on Mr. Obama’s term while doing very little. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, accused Republicans of trying to “suffocate the economy” in hopes that the pain would work to their political advantage. They are doing little to refute that charge.
Their lack of serious ideas was on full display in both the Senate and the presidential debate on Tuesday night in New Hampshire. The debate was ostensibly about the economy, but when the freshest and most-talked-about idea is Herman Cain’s ridiculous “9-9-9” tax plan, it is clear that the economy they were debating is not the one Americans are forced to live in. Mr. Cain — whose rise in the polls says everything you need to know about the amateur-hour decline of his party — wants to replace all federal taxes with a 9 percent levy on corporate income, personal income and sales. As Bruce Bartlett, an economist who has worked in Republican administrations, recently wrote in The Times, it is a formula designed to cut taxes for the rich and increase them for the poor, raising the deficit and doing nothing for growth.
The other candidates were no less vacuous. Mitt Romney offered an ash heap of used ideas, saying he would push a balanced-budget amendment, cut back on regulations, and go chest to chest with China on trade. Rick Perry, when he could be stirred to speak, vowed to somehow put 1.2 million people to work in the energy industry, as if the whole country were Texas and drills could pop up on every block.
Republican candidates fear the Tea Party too much to acknowledge that economists are solidly behind government intervention to awaken growth. The jobs bill rejected by Republican leaders will now be reintroduced piece by piece, and Republicans are not likely to go along with much more than an extension of the payroll tax cut (which is opposed by Mr. Romney). But at least the record is increasingly clear who is advocating real ideas and who is selling an empty vessel.
☞ Yesterday I linked to the Roubini piece, which takes more than a few minutes to read. So today, the Cliff’s Notes edition, or in this case the Joe Nocera edition – one of the best financial columnists around. Again, from the New York Times:
The title of the white paper is, admittedly, a mouthful: “The Way Forward: Moving From the Post-Bubble, Post-Bust Economy to Renewed Growth and Competitiveness.” It was commissioned by the New America Foundation, which hoped that it might “re-center the political debate to better reflect the country’s deep economic problems,” according to Sherle Schwenninger, the director of the foundation’s Economic Growth Program. Its authors are Daniel Alpert, a managing partner of Westwood Capital; Robert Hockett, a professor of financial law at Cornell and a consultant to the New York Federal Reserve; and Nouriel Roubini, who is, well, Nouriel Roubini, whose consistently bearish views have been consistently right. It is scheduled to be released on Wednesday.
I don’t know that anything at this point could re-center the political debate, so unyielding are the two parties. But as Congress prepares to take steps, through the deliberations of the already deadlocked supercommittee, that will likely further wound our ailing economy, “The Way Forward” ought to at least give our politicians pause.
Its analysis of our problems is sobering. Its proposed solutions are far more ambitious than anything being talked about in Washington. And its prognosis, if we continue on the current path, is grim. “Unless we take dramatic steps, it will be Japan all over again,” says Alpert. “Continuous deflation, no economic growth, in and out of recessions. And high unemployment.” Adds Hockett: “It will be like the economic version of chronic fatigue syndrome. A low-grade fever all the time.”
The paper’s central premise is something I’ve been hearing from Alpert for more than a year now: this time, it really is different. What he and his co-authors mean by that is that the bursting of the debt bubble three years ago was not just a severe example of the ups and downs that are an inevitable part of American capitalism. Rather, it was the ultimate consequence of the modern global economy. Chief among the changes that have taken place is the integration of China, Russia, India and other countries into the global economic mainstream. The developed world once had maybe 500 million workers. Today, say the authors, we’ve added another two billion people to the global work force.
That change alone has had a great deal to do with the stagnant wages, income inequality and the oversupply of labor in America that was masked by rising home prices and access to credit. The bursting of the bubble exposed how much the American economy depended on cheap credit. Now that the curtain has been pulled back, cheap credit alone can’t fix our problems. The country is in a deflationary cycle that is very difficult to get out of: as wages decrease (or more workers become unemployed), people become afraid to spend. Assets like homes drop in value. Businesses react by lowering prices and laying off yet more workers — which only triggers a new round of deflation. The only thing that doesn’t change is the unsustainably high debt that was accrued during the bubble.
How can we break this cycle? Like most mainstream economists, Alpert, Hockett and Roubini roll their eyes at the calls for immediate government deficit reduction, which led to the creation of the supercommittee. Reducing government spending in the short term will only make things worse.
Instead, they believe that this is perhaps the best time in recent history for the government to take on a sustained infrastructure program, lasting from five to seven years, to create jobs and demand. “Labor costs will never be lower,” says Hockett. “Equipment costs will never be lower. The cost of capital will never be lower. Why wait?” Their plan calls for $1.2 trillion in spending — not all by the government, but all overseen by government — that would add 5.2 million jobs each year of the program. Alpert says that current ideas, like tax cuts, meant to stimulate the economy indirectly, just won’t work for a problem as big the one we are facing. Indeed, so far, they haven’t.
Their second solution involves restructuring the mortgage debt that is crushing so many Americans. It is a complex proposal that involves, for some homeowners, a bridge loan, for others, a reduction in mortgage principal, and, for others still, a plan that allows them to rent the homes they live in with the prospect of buying them back one day.
Finally, they call for a “global rebalancing,” which includes a radical change in the current dysfunctional relationship between creditor and debtor nations, and even a new global currency that would be administered by the International Monetary Fund.
It is impossible to do justice to “The Way Forward” in this space. It is rich in supporting data, deeply nuanced, with as clear-eyed a view of our economic predicament as I’ve ever read. Though it is not exactly beach reading, by academic standards it is quite accessible.
You can find it at [here]. You should read it — even if your congressman doesn’t.
FRANK AND PAULA
I don’t want the week to end without saying goodbye to Paula Ettelbrick, long a leader in the fight for LGBT equality; and Frank Kameny, who had the courage to picket the White House for gay rights – in 1965, for crying out loud, when virtually nobody talked of such things, let alone in public, with signs. And who, even earlier, had had the courage to sue the government and take his case to the Supreme Court in 1961. Can you imagine? As someone who, a dozen years later, and four years after the Stonewall riot, lacked the courage to use his own name when writing about such things, I barely can.
I saw Paula August 13 at a fundraiser for the Stonewall Community Foundation. I knew she was in the late stages of her illness, but there she was, clear-eyed, clear-throated, and clear-headed as ever, thanking 49 folks who had just swum 4 miles across from Long Island to Fire Island to raise money for Stonewall’s good works, and inspiring us – with a smile – to keep on keeping on. She died last Friday.
Whenever I saw Frank – whenever anyone saw Frank – he made a point of pitching his signature phrase: “gay is good.” Modeled on, “black is beautiful.” Increasingly, even though the phrase hasn’t necessarily caught on, the concept has. Gay is good. Frank Kameny was not nearly as well known as he should have been, but upon his death his photo made the front page of . . . yes . . . the New York Times.
Quote of the Day
Every debt is ultimately paid, if not by the debtor, then eventually by the creditor.~Jim Grant
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