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Sep 06 2010

Punting the Pundits

Punting the Punditsis 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.

Paul Krugman: 1938 in 2010

Here’s the situation: The U.S. economy has been crippled by a financial crisis. The president’s policies have limited the damage, but they were too cautious, and unemployment remains disastrously high. More action is clearly needed. Yet the public has soured on government activism, and seems poised to deal Democrats a severe defeat in the midterm elections.  

The president in question is Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the year is 1938. Within a few years, of course, the Great Depression was over. But it’s both instructive and discouraging to look at the state of America circa 1938 – instructive because the nature of the recovery that followed refutes the arguments dominating today’s public debate, discouraging because it’s hard to see anything like the miracle of the 1940s happening again.

Robert Reich: The Real Lesson of Labor Day

Welcome to the worst Labor Day in the memory of most Americans. Organized labor is down to about 7 percent of the private work force. Members of non-organized labor — most of the rest of us — are unemployed, underemployed or underwater. The Labor Department reported on Friday that just 67,000 new private-sector jobs were created in August, which, when added to the loss of public-sector (mostly temporary Census worker jobs) resulted in a net loss of over 50,000 jobs for the month. But at least 125,000 net new jobs are needed to keep up with the growth of the potential work force.

Face it: The national economy isn’t escaping the gravitational pull of the Great Recession. None of the standard booster rockets are working. Near-zero short-term interest rates from the Fed, almost record-low borrowing costs in the bond market, a giant stimulus package, along with tax credits for small businesses that hire the long-term unemployed have all failed to do enough.

That’s because the real problem has to do with the structure of the economy, not the business cycle. No booster rocket can work unless consumers are able, at some point, to keep the economy moving on their own. But consumers no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services they produce as workers; for some time now, their means haven’t kept up with what the growing economy could and should have been able to provide them.

Robert Kuttmer: Not Just Jobs — Good Jobs

On Labor Day 2010, we are short at least 25 million jobs. And just as importantly, we don’t have enough jobs that pay decently.

The press last week was full of stories that the jobs picture was not as dismal as feared.

The economy is actually generating jobs again — just not enough to make a dent in the backlog of 15 million Americans officially out of work and another 8 million with part time jobs seeking full time ones, and millions more out of the labor force entirely.

In the government’s most recent report, released Friday, officially measured unemployment actually increased to 9.6 percent, just one tenth of a point below its rate last Labor Day.

The stock market rose on reports that we will avert a “double-dip” recession. Economic growth is still in positive territory. But the economy grew at a decent rate after the Great Depression bottomed out in 1933, as well. Nonetheless, unemployment remained stuck in double digits for the next seven years, until World War II.

As in the middle and late 1930s, economic growth is positive — just not strong enough to create sufficient jobs. This, of course, is the lingering fallout from the financial collapse of 2008, just as persistent unemployment in the Depression was the legacy of the Crash of 1929.

But there is a larger story here that predates the recent financial collapse. The economy not only has a scarcity of jobs, but a shortage of good jobs. And while Republicans would resist legislating a serious public jobs program, the administration should fight for one anyway.

Jane White: Work Until You’re Dead? That May Be the Only Option for Many Americans

any Americans are likely to have to work until they are dead, not as a result of Social Security shortfalls but because of their inadequate 401(k) savings or the fact that they have no retirement plan at all. This disaster has not dawned on the mutual fund companies that manage retirement assets, much less debated on Capitol Hill. Given that the first wave of Boomers is scheduled to turn 65 in 2011, Attention Must be Paid.

Here’s the raw deal in a nutshell: Unless you’ve got Chief and Executive in your job title — including “Ousted Disgraced CEO” — you are probably pension-poor, even if you earn a six-figure salary. That’s because only 11% of the private sector population is covered by a regular pension. Unlike during the postwar Fabulous Fifties and the Soaring Sixties when America was a “fortress economy” and almost half of the private sector was covered, currently even most employees of big companies can’t count on one. Only 17 of the Fortune 100 companies offer a traditional pension to new hires.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: No Holiday for Labor Unions

Labor Day this year comes draped in mourning. More than half of all workers have experienced a spell of unemployment, taken a cut in pay or hours, been forced to go part-time or seen other such problems during and after the Great Recession. Collapsing stock and house prices have destroyed a fifth of the wealth of the average household. Nearly six in ten Americans have canceled or cut back on holidays. Amidst all this, workers increasingly don’t even have labor unions as a potential answer to their insecurities — despite the fact that, of all the institutions in America, they more often than not got it right on the big issues facing the country, generally in the face of a bipartisan political and elite consensus.

Unions are in trouble. They represent less than 13 percent of the workforce and less than 8 percent of private workers. Union workers still receive higher wages and are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, pensions and paid sick leave than non-union workers. But when unions represented over 33 percent of all private workers in the 1940s, they drove wage increases for everyone — non-union firms had to compete for good workers. Now, unions struggle just to defend their members’ wages and benefits. Over the past decade before the Great Recession, productivity soared, profits rose and CEO pay skyrocketed, but most workers lost ground.

David Sirota: Despite Celebration, the Iraq War Continues

Something about 21st century warfare brings out Washington’s lust for historical comparison. The moment the combat starts, lawmakers and the national press corps inevitably portray every explosion, invasion, front-line dispatch, political machination and wartime icon as momentous replicas of the past’s big moments and Great Men.

9/11 was Pearl Harbor. Colin Powell’s Iraq presentation at the United Nations was Adlai Stevenson’s Cuban Missile Crisis confrontation. Embedded journalists in Afghanistan strutted around like the intrepid Walter Cronkite on a foreign battlefield. George Bush was a Rooseveltian “war president.” The Iraq invasion was D-Day.

A byproduct of reporters’ narcissism, politicians’ vanity and the Beltway’s lockstep devotion to militarism, this present-tense hagiography ascribes the positive attributes of sanitized history to current events. And whether or not the analogies are appropriate, they inevitably help sell contemporary actions-no matter how ill-advised. As just one example: If 9/11 was Pearl Harbor, as television so often suggested, then American couch potatoes were bound to see “shock and awe” in Baghdad as a rational reprise of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

Of course, after we were told seven years ago that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” and after an historically unique conflict that has lasted longer than almost any other, you might think the press would start questioning the government’s martial stagecraft. You might also think all the comparisons to the past would stop. Instead, D.C. journalists and lawmakers are now celebrating the supposed withdrawal from Iraq, implicitly presenting the White House’s August announcement as the second coming of V-J Day.

The trouble is that the announcement is anything but, because the war isn’t even close to over. And we know that because the military is quietly acknowledging as much.

Iraq combat is far from over

U.S. soldiers help repel deadly attack on Iraq army headquarters

At least 18 people, none of them Americans, are killed and 39 wounded in the attack by insurgents. The incident comes five days after President Obama declared an end to U.S. combat operations in Iraq.