Saturday, February 2, 2013

Robert Reich On Why the U.S. Economy Is Stagnant, What Structural Forces Are Responsible, and Who Should Be Held Accountable For Fixing It

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Far too many politicians, journalists, policy analysts, so-called 'pundits', and even some unduly awestruck citizens are wasting our precious time telling us only what we want to hear or conversely telling us only what they think we (according to them) should be hearing. Thankfully, there are still some real social critics, organizers, progressive activists, and dedicated educators around who insists only in telling us what we NEED to hear, and doing it with actual knowledge, insight, integrity, intellectual honesty, and political courage. One of those always useful and valuable individuals is the renowned labor economist, teacher, and genuine public intellectual Robert Reich.  Please read what he has to say and pass the word.  Why?  BECAUSE IT'S THE TRUTH...We are in very deep trouble and there's no end in sight.  Reich reminds us exactly what nefarious forces are responsible and who should be held completely accountable and why--aside from ourselves...


The Jobs Report, and Why the Recovery Has Stalled
Saturday, 02 February 2013
By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog | Op-Ed

We are in the most anemic recovery in modern history, yet our political leaders in Washington aren’t doing squat about it.

In fact, apart from the Fed – which continues to hold interest rates down in the quixotic hope that banks will begin lending again to average people – the government is heading in exactly the wrong direction: raising taxes on the middle class, and cutting spending.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that American employers added only 157,000 jobs in January. That’s fewer than they added in December (196,000 jobs, as revised by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). The overall unemployment rate remains stuck at 7.9 percent, just about where it’s been since September.

The share of people of working age either who are working or looking for jobs also remains dismal – close to a 30-year low. (Yes, older boomers are retiring, but the major cause for this near-record low is simply the lack of jobs.)

And the long-term unemployed, about 40 percent of all jobless workers, remain trapped. Most have few if any job prospects, and their unemployment benefits have run out, or will run out shortly.

Close to 20 million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed.

It would be one thing if we didn’t know what to do about all this. But we do know. It’s not rocket science.

The only reason for employers to hire more workers is if they have more customers. But American employers have not had enough customers to justify much new hiring.

There are essentially two sources of customers: individual consumers, and the government. (Forget exports for now; Europe is contracting, Japan is a basket case, China is slowing, and the rest of the world is in economic limbo.)

American consumers – whose purchases constitute about 70 percent of all economic activity – still can’t buy much, and their purchasing power is declining. The median wage continues to drop, adjusted for inflation. Most can’t borrow because they don’t have a credit record sufficient to allow them to borrow much.

And now their Social Security taxes have increased, leaving the typical worker with about $1,000 less this year than last.

The Conference Board reported last Tuesday consumer confidence in January fell its lowest level in more than a year. The last time consumers were this glum was October 2011, when there was widespread talk of a double-dip recession.

The only people doing well are at the top – but they save a large part of what they earn instead of spending it.

Overall personal income soared by 8 percent in the final three months of 2012 compared to an increase of just over 2 percent in the third quarter, but this income didn’t go into the pockets of the middle class. It went into the pockets of people at the top.  Wages and salaries grew a measly six-tenths of one percent.

Most of the rise in personal income in the last quarter was from companies rushing to pay dividends before taxes were hiked in 2013, and from an upturn in personal interest income. Both these sources of income went mostly to the well-to-do.

This explains why consumer spending is dropping. The Commerce Department said Thursday consumers’ spending rose 0.2 percent last month. That’s slower than the 0.4 percent increase in November.

So if we can’t rely on consumers to stoke the economy, what about government? No chance. Government spending is dropping, too.

The major reason the economy contracted between the start of October and end of December 2012 was a major reduction in government spending in the fourth quarter.

Government spending has declined in nine of the last ten quarters, but it took a precipitous drop in the last quarter. This was mainly because military spending fell 22.2 percent. That’s the largest fall-off since 1972 (mainly due to reduced spending on the war in Afghanistan, and worries by military contractors about further pending cuts). State and local spending also continued to fall.

Personally, I’m glad we’re spending less on the military. It’s the most bloated part of the government. Major cuts are long overdue. But the military is America’s only major jobs program. Cutting the military without increasing spending on roads, bridges, schools, and everything else we need to do simply means fewer jobs.

What’s ahead? More of the same. So what possible reason do we have to suspect the recovery will pick up speed? None.

Don’t count on consumer spending. Wages and benefits continue to drop for most people, adjusted for inflation. States are hiking sales taxes, which will hit the middle class and the poor hardest. Deficit hawks in Washington are contemplating additional tax hikes on the middle class.

Housing prices are stabilizing, thankfully. But one out of five homeowners is still underwater, and the ranks of people renting rather than owning are rising. Health-care costs are also rising for most people in the form of higher co-payments, deductibles, and premiums.

Don’t count on government, either. Government spending continues to head downward. The White House has already agreed to major spending cuts, some to go into effect this year. Coming showdowns over the next fiscal cliff, appropriations to fund government operations, and the debt ceiling will likely result in more cuts.

More jobs and faster growth should be the most important objectives now. With them, everything else will be easier to achieve – protection against climate change, immigration reform, long-term budget reform. Without them, everything will be harder.

Yet we’re moving in the opposite direction — following Europe’s sorry example of failed austerity economics.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock" and “The Work of Nations." His latest, "Beyond Outrage," is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

Official Presidential portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Photo: Frank O. Salisbury 


This article is equally important--and for the exact same reasons.  Please read carefully and pass the word...


What a Second-Term Obama Can Learn From FDR
Saturday, 19 January 2013
By David Woolner, Next New Deal | Op-Ed

To achieve progress in his second term, President Obama must recognize that his opponents aren't really interested in a "grand bargain."

"My fellow countrymen. When four years ago we met to inaugurate a President, the Republic, single-minded in anxiety, stood in spirit here. We dedicated ourselves to the fulfillment of a vision—to speed the time when there would be for all the people that security and peace essential to the pursuit of happiness. We of the Republic pledged ourselves to drive from the temple of our ancient faith those who had profaned it; to end by action, tireless and unafraid, the stagnation and despair of that day. We did those first things first.

Our covenant with ourselves did not stop there. Instinctively we recognized a deeper need—the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization… To do this we knew that we must find practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men. —Franklin D. Roosevelt, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1937

Just over three-quarters of a century ago, in his second inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt, reflecting on the accomplishments of the New Deal in mitigating the worst effects of the Great Depression, noted that “the greatest change we have witnessed [over the past four years] has been the change in the moral climate in America.” Among “men of goodwill,” he went on, “science and democracy together offer an ever-richer life and ever-larger satisfaction to the individual. With this change in our moral climate and our rediscovered ability to improve our economic order, we have set our feet upon the road of enduring progress.”

FDR based this assumption on the idea that what had transpired over the course of his first term—a first term which brought us, among other things, Social Security, unemployment insurance, the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining, the separation of commercial and investment banking, the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the establishment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the largest single drop in the unemployment rate in the nation’s history to date, and an average annual economic growth rate of 14 percent—was directly tied to a new understanding of the role of government. This new understanding, he noted, was based on the “fulfillment of a [collective] vision…to speed the time when there would be for all the people that security and peace essential to the pursuit of happiness.”

Equally important, however, was FDR’s assertion that in arriving at this new vision of government the people understood that it was critical to find “practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men,” to recognize the “need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization.”

In essence, what FDR offered the American people was a new vision for the future. This new vision was based the fundamental idea that it was only the power of democratic government that could provide the means to counter “the blind economic forces” and “blindly selfish men” who had profaned democracy and brought the country to ruin in the dark days of the early 1930s.

There is much in this speech that still holds relevance for Americans today. In the massive loss of manufacturing jobs and the globalization of the world’s economy in the last few decades, we can see at work “the blind economic forces” of which FDR spoke. And in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the power of the “blindly selfish men” on Wall Street is all too familiar. So too—thanks to the onset of the Great Recession—is the anxiety, fear, and bewilderment that he noted plagued the American people on the eve of his first inaugural. What is missing, sadly, is the contravening narrative, the covenant that FDR made with the American people, the understanding that the reforms achieved in his first term had made the exercise of all power more democratic by bringing:

…private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public’s government. The legend that they were invincible—above and beyond the processes of a democracy—has been shattered. They have been challenged and beaten.

President Obama has for the most part shied away from the idea that the real challenge to our democracy stems not from the dysfunctional nature of Congress, but rather from the forces of wealth and privilege who see themselves as “above and beyond the process of democracy.” Rather than take on these forces directly, he speaks instead of asking the wealthy to “pay their fair share in taxes,” of building a consensus, of taking a “balanced approach,” of striking a “grand bargain” that would “make sure that middle-class folks aren’t bearing the entire burden and sacrifice when it comes to some of these big challenges.” In taking this approach, the president argues that he is following the will of the American people, who made it clear through his re-election that they want compromise and action. These may be noble sentiments, but they fall far short of expressing what the American people truly want from their president, which above all else is leadership.

The sad fact is that we now live in a society where the income disparity between the rich and the rest of us now stands at its worst level since the late 1920s—just before the onset of the Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office, for example, recently reported that between 1979 and 2007 the top 1 percent of households doubled their share of pretax income while the bottom 80 percent of American households actually saw their share of income decline. In a similar study, a recent Census Bureau report notes that the average white male worker earns roughly the same hourly wage that he would have made in 1978, adjusted for inflation, while the average CEO’s pay has increased by roughly 600 percent.

As was the case in the 1920s, such a drastic mal-distribution of wealth is clearly not sustainable, as it makes it very hard for the average worker to sustain the level of purchases necessary to maintain our largely consumer-based economy. Hence, if we truly want to find a way to grow our economy—as the president insists he does—then we must find a way to address this critical structural imbalance in our economy. And this means real reform, the type of reforms we saw in the New Deal, reforms that brought about the birth of the post-1945 modern American middle class that now seems to be so rapidly disappearing.


So rather than beat about the bushes, President Obama might do well to recognize—as FDR did—that the forces of wealth and privilege weighted against him are not really interested in a compromise or a “grand bargain.” What they want is to maintain the economic and political status quo in what FDR once rightly called the “false belief” that happiness can only be achieved “in the mad chase of evanescent profits.”

To overcome these entrenched forces, President Obama will need to provide the country with much more than his somewhat vague efforts to meet the other side halfway. He must learn to recognize that above all else it is his responsibility to give voice to the common aspiration of the people and provide them with a vision for the future -- a vision that recognizes government’s fundamental responsibility to fashion a more just and equitable society, a vision based on the truism, as FDR said in his second inaugural, that:

"We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world."

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute, and associate professor of history at Marist College, in Poughkeepsie, New York. A specialist in Anglo-American relations and U.S. foreign and economic policy under Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dr. Woolner has delivered papers on FDR’s foreign and domestic policy in Canada, the United States, France, Russia, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Korea.