“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: Writing Off the Unemployed
Back in 1987 my Princeton colleague Alan Blinder published a very good book titled “Hard Heads, Soft Hearts.” It was, as you might guess, a call for tough-minded but compassionate economic policy. Unfortunately, what we actually got – especially, although not only, from Republicans – was the opposite. And it’s difficult to find a better example of the hardhearted, softheaded nature of today’s G.O.P. than what happened last week, as Senate Republicans once again used the filibuster to block aid to the long-term unemployed. [..]
If you follow debates over unemployment, it’s striking how hard it is to find anyone on the Republican side even hinting at sympathy for the long-term jobless. Being unemployed is always presented as a choice, as something that only happens to losers who don’t really want to work. Indeed, one often gets the sense that contempt for the unemployed comes first, that the supposed justifications for tough policies are after-the-fact rationalizations.
The result is that millions of Americans have in effect been written off – rejected by potential employers, abandoned by politicians whose fuzzy-mindedness is matched only by the hardness of their hearts.
Richard (RJ) Eskow: Reagan Remembered: The Failed Legacy of Our First Corporate Politician
January 20 marked 25 years since Ronald Reagan left the Presidency. And February 6 marked the 103rd birthday of the former sports announcer, actor, governor of California, and 40th president of the United States of America. Reagan’s economic legacy is one of failure, but in another way it could be argued that he was genuinely transformative: as the first celebrity politician for the modern corporate state.
Every president is ultimately judged on great ideas, visions, and responses to historical forces. Some of the forces which shaped the Reagan presidency could be seen with the unaided eye, like the fall of Communism (a long-developing trend which came to a head during the Reagan Administration). Others were less visible but nevertheless shaped his Presidency.
It’s ironic, given his professional history, but Reagan may have been less of an “actor” in the historical sense than any president of modern times. He was acted upon, by economic interests and social forces toward whom he demonstrated neither the ability to understand nor the willingness to learn.
The political posturing over raising the minimum wage sometimes obscures the huge and growing number of low-wage workers it would affect. An estimated 27.8 million people would earn more money under the Democratic proposal to lift the hourly minimum from $7.25 today to $10.10 by 2016. And most of them do not fit the low-wage stereotype of a teenager with a summer job. Their average age is 35; most work full time; more than one-fourth are parents; and, on average, they earn half of their families’ total income.
None of that, however, has softened the hearts of opponents, including congressional Republicans and low-wage employers, notably restaurant owners and executives. [..]
Evidence, however, does not stop conservatives from making the argument that by raising the cost of labor, a higher minimum wage will hurt businesses, leading them to cut jobs and harming the low-wage workers it is intended to help. Alternatively, they argue it will hurt consumers by pushing up prices precipitously. Those arguments are simplistic. Research and experience show that employers do not automatically cope with a higher minimum wage by laying off workers or not hiring new ones. Instead, they pay up out of savings from reduced labor turnover, by slower wage increases higher up the scale, modest price increases or other adjustments.
Which brings the debate over raising the minimum wage full circle. The real argument against it is political, not economic. Republican opposition will likely keep any future increase in the minimum wage below a level that would constitute a firm wage floor, though an increase to $10.10 an hour would help tens of millions of workers. It also would help the economy by supporting consumer spending that in turn supports job growth. It is not a cure-all; it is not bold or innovative. But it is on the legislative agenda, and it deserves to pass.
Robert Kuttner: The New American Hustle
The Oscar favorite (10 nominations), American Hustle, begins with the words “Some of this actually happened.” And it did. [..]
Fast forward nearly half a century. The biggest American Hustle of all, the financial frauds engaged in by America’s largest banks and their top officials, has resulted in no criminal prosecutions of senior executives. Only a few relative small fry have been convicted of the relatively minor crime of insider trading. Oh, they did convict Bernie Madoff, whose scam was evident for a decade to a whistle blower whom the SEC didn’t want to take seriously.
But there has been no FBI sting of senior bankers. In a sense, none is really necessary because the feds have an email trail demonstrating conclusively that bankers conspired to inflate the value of nearly worthless mortgage-backed bonds, to manipulate markets and to misrepresent the value of securities that they were simultaneously peddling to customers and betting against for their own profits.
Robert Reich: Why the Lousy Jobs Report Boosted Wall Street
The stock market surged Friday after the lousy jobs report. The Dow soared 160 points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq also rose.
How can bad news on Main Street (only 113,000 jobs were created in January, on top of a meager 74,000 in December) cause good news on Wall Street? [..]
But what’s bad for Main Street and good for Wall Street in the short term is bad for both in the long term. The American economy is at a crawl. Median household incomes are dropping. The American middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to keep the economy going. And as companies focus ever more on short-term share prices at the expense of long-term growth, we’re in for years of sluggish performance.
When, if ever, will Wall Street learn?
Imagine this metaphorical scenario. You are cruising along a highway and you are pulled over by a police officer. You’re not sure why you were stopped. The patrol officer approaches and gives the signal to roll down the window. You oblige. “How fast were you going?” the officer might ask after examining your license and registration. You answer honestly. “Do you know the speed limit on this highway?” might be the next question. Thinking it over, you realize that you do not know. For as long as you can recall driving along that stretch of highway, there were no signs anywhere indicating the speed limit. You don’t know if you were speeding or not! You explain this to the officer, and he confirms your suspicion — there are no speed limit signs on the road. In order to know the speed limit, he explains, you must purchase a highway law codebook. It costs $1000.
The officer proceeds to write you a speeding ticket.
Obviously, this scenario doesn’t make much sense. If the law is to be understood and obeyed, it must be public information. How can we follow the law if we don’t know what it is?
This is the astonishingly unfortunate reality for a large number of our nation’s laws — fire codes, building codes, electrical codes, food safety regulations, state and municipal codes and more. Obviously, there is a significant difference between highway laws and technical safety codes, but the root of the issue is the same — the public must have ready access to the law. The “signs” must be in plain sight for all to see.