“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.
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Paul Krugman: Profits Without Production
One lesson from recent economic troubles has been the usefulness of history. Just as the crisis was unfolding, the Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff – who unfortunately became famous for their worst work – published a brilliant book with the sarcastic title “This Time Is Different.” Their point, of course, was that there is a strong family resemblance among crises. Indeed, historical parallels – not just to the 1930s, but to Japan in the 1990s, Britain in the 1920s, and more – have been vital guides to the present.
Yet economies do change over time, and sometimes in fundamental ways. So what’s really different about America in the 21st century?
The most significant answer, I’d suggest, is the growing importance of monopoly rents: profits that don’t represent returns on investment, but instead reflect the value of market dominance. Sometimes that dominance seems deserved, sometimes not; but, either way, the growing importance of rents is producing a new disconnect between profits and production and may be a factor prolonging the slump.
New York Times Editorial Board: The Fed’s Next Move
The recent announcements by the Federal Reserve have generated huge interest – and, on Wall Street, a sell-off costing the Dow Jones industrial average more than 500 points in two days. Only six weeks ago, the Fed was talking about continued “downside risks to the economic outlook.” On Wednesday, however, it said these risks had diminished since last fall, and that it expected further improvement to drive the jobless rate down to 7 percent by mid-2014, at which point it would end its stimulative bond-buying programs. [.]]
The Fed is in a spot. If it continues its bond-buying programs, bubbles could form; but worse, if it ends the programs prematurely, economic weakness could persist and deepen.
The Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, said that the plan could change as conditions warrant. That is reassuring. Still, the Fed can’t keep buying bonds forever. The real responsibility for boosting the economy lies with Congress, where Republicans have thwarted most attempts to spur growth, create jobs and strengthen the safety net, while successfully focusing the attention of the Obama administration on deficit reduction – exactly the wrong remedy for today’s economy.
For proof that the current surveillance programs are ripe for abuse, Americans need only look at what preceded them.
Since we learned that the government has been collecting and storing Americans’ call data for years, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein; her counterpart in the House, Mike Rogers; and James Clapper, director of national intelligence, have been trying to claim it is not as bad as it sounds. The collection doesn’t include the content of communications, merely “metadata,” they argue, and anyway, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court limits the circumstances under which the government can access this information. “The court only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization,” says Clapper.
In other words, the government’s response amounts to “trust us.”
But Americans have good reason to distrust the program, which, according to The Washington Post, is called MAINWAY. That’s true not just because history reminds us that the government has abused surveillance authorizations in the past, as it did when it used COINTELPRO to spy on dissidents decades ago. It’s also true because one of the direct predecessors of this program proved ripe for abuse.
Dean Baker and David Rosnick: Do Wall Street and the 1 Percent Thrive at the Expense of Our Kids?
One of the most compelling lines put forward by those seeking cuts in Social Security and Medicare is that spending on the elderly is coming at the expense of our children. The people putting forward this argument typically point to the high percentage of children living near or below the poverty line. The argument is that if we could cut money for programs that primarily serve the elderly then we would free up money that could be spent to ensure that the young get a decent start on life.
There are many reasons this logic is faulty, most importantly by implying that there is any direct relationship between the money we spend on seniors and the money we spend on our children. Even if we were to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare there is no mechanism that ensures the money saved would go to helping children. It is entirely possible that the money would simply be diverted to tax cuts targeted to the wealthy or for some other purpose.
Stan Sorscher: “Free Trade” Was Never Really About Trade
First, let me say that I am 100% in favor of trade. Trade is when we do what we do best, they do what they do best, and we trade. Trade, done right, will raise living standards.
If trade is good, then free trade must be better, right? So consider this old joke about “free trade.”
It’s not free.
It’s not trade.
Twenty years after NAFTA we can add that it doesn’t work. It’s bad for millions of workers, families and communities around the world.
“Free trade” is not free. Our free trade policy encourages production to leave the country. We’ve lost millions of manufacturing jobs. More than 60,000 manufacturing plants were closed between 2000 and 2010 as production moved overseas. These costs are real.
Jim Hightower: Repeal the Patriot Act
It’s back. The Patriot Act – that grotesque, ever-mutating, hydra-headed monstrosity from the Bush-Cheney Little Shop of Horrors – has risen again, this time with an added twist of Orwellian intrusiveness from the Obamacans.
Since 2006, Team Bush, and then Team Obama, have allowed the little-known, hugely powerful National Security Agency to run a daily dragnet through your and my phone calls – all on the hush-hush, of course, not informing us spyees. Now exposed, leaders of both parties are piously pointing to the Patriot Act, saying that it legalized this wholesale, everyday invasion of our privacy, so we shouldn’t be surprised, much less upset by NSA’s surreptitious peek-a-boo program. [..]
It’s not enough to fight NSA’s outrageously invasive spying on us – the Patriot Act itself is a shameful betrayal of America’s ideals, and it must be repealed.