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September 5, 2012

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Posted: 05 Sep 2012 12:06 AM PDT

The Center Moves Far to the Right

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 05:37 PM PDT

Remember the good old days, when the center was closer to the center?:

G.O.P. Shift Moves Center Far to Right, by Eduardo Porter, NY Times: To hear Republicans on the campaign trail, the United States could not have elected a more left-wing president than Barack Obama, one more hostile to business or more eager to expand government power. Left-wing Democrats, I'm sure, would disagree. If they had their druthers, they would probably make a more liberal, more pro-big government choice. Somebody, perhaps, like Richard Nixon.

That's right. The Nixon administration not only supported the Clean Air Act and affirmative action, it also gave us the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the agencies the business community most detests, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to police working conditions. Herbert Stein, chief economic adviser during the administrations of Nixon and Gerald Ford, once remarked: "Probably more new regulation was imposed on the economy during the Nixon administration than in any other presidency since the New Deal."

Nixon bolstered Social Security benefits. He introduced a minimum tax on the wealthy and championed a guaranteed minimum income for the poor. He even proposed health reform that would require employers to buy health insurance for all their employees and subsidize those who couldn't afford it. That failed because of Democratic opposition. Today, Republicans would probably shoot it down.

Historians might protest that it is crazy to brand Nixon a lefty. ... Still, Nixon's initiatives would never pass muster in the Republican Party of today...

'An Orgy Of False Equivalence'

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 03:24 PM PDT

Here's a follow-up to the Clive Crook post yesterday:

Fact-Checking: A Clarification, by Clive Crook: Well perhaps I got a bit carried away in my previous post on this subject. Maybe it was a little over the top to say that Glenn Kessler is no better than a child murderer and should be fired and fed to wild dogs. Although I did mean this literally--I don't know why some suspected me of satire--it could be that hysterical indignation isn't my thing after all. In the end, you can't deny who you are, can you. Let me try a calmer pass at this issue. ...

If you read his post, you'll see why this comes to mind:

An Orgy Of False Equivalence, by Paul Krugman: That's what I expect over the next three days from the news media. There was no way to gloss over the extraordinary dishonesty on display in Tampa — but the urge to be "balanced" will probably mean enormous efforts to portray whatever Joe Biden, for example, says as being just as bad as Ryan's barrage of deceit. Never mind whether there's any real equivalence, which there probably won't be.
I hope I'm wrong.
I hope so too, but, well... you know. Not gonna happen.

'Was the Decline of American Unions Inevitable?'

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 01:50 PM PDT

Following up on a post earlier today, unions play an important role in giving workers political representation:

Was the decline of American unions inevitable? Ask Canada., by Brad Plumer: Since the 1960s, organized labor in the United States has been steadily withering. A half-century ago, 30 percent of all American workers were members of a union. By last year, that number had shriveled to 11.8 percent. Economists have proposed all sorts of explanations for the drop, from the shrinking of the U.S. manufacturing workforce to foreign competition that has made U.S. companies more hostile toward unions.
But a new paper (pdf) from Kris Warner of the Center on Economic and Policy Research suggests that the decline in U.S. labor unions wasn't simply due to inexorable economic forces. Government policies likely played a big role too. And the easiest way to see this, Warner argues, is by comparing unionization rates in the United States to rates in nearby Canada, "the country that is probably more like the U.S. than any other – economically, socially, and politically."
Here's the key graph from the paper:

Unions

Between the 1920s and 1960s, both countries saw a similar surge in union membership, thanks to changes in labor law and the growth of sectors ripe for organizing, such as automobile manufacturing. But around 1965, something changed. The two countries diverged. Union membership held steady in Canada, but plummeted in the United States.
So why the split? ... Warner suggests ... the biggest reason for the two nation's contrasting fates has to do with labor law. Canada's rules for organizing labor unions are largely overseen by its provinces, and, until recently, Canada's rules simply made it much easier for workers in the private sector to form a union. ...
There's a second key policy difference, too, Warner notes. In Canada, workers who have formed a union can seek arbitration to ensure that they actually get a contract. By contrast, in the United States, employers have much more freedom to delay that process. ...

Who Are We Becoming?

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 01:50 PM PDT

Brad DeLong:

Who Are We Becoming?: Torture Edition: Scott Lemieux: Torture Without Accountability:

Adam Serwer: Investigation of Bush-era Torture Concludes With No Charges | Mother Jones

It is not as though we got anything out of torture. We blackened our reputation for a generation and did substantial damage to our national security. We gave away a piece of our soul. And our torturers and our torture techniques--they are the techniques designed to elicit false confessions.

At least when we sent Maher Arar to the Syrian Mukhabarat, the professionals there figured out pretty quickly that he was innocent and sent him back. Had our CIA kept hold of him, it would have elicited a false confession and still be claiming that he was a mastermind behind 911…

So I write:

I think the good guys have lost this permanently.

Impeaching or trying presidents and cabinet members for policies of torture is a vote loser, or so all the High Politicians think. And going after lower-downs creates very bad precedents for the future--for one thing, it then makes CIA agents slaves of the then-president because they must get their end-of-term plenary pardons before the administration changes. And the Roman Republic's fall teaches it how bad it is for people to fear that losing an election will land them in jail.

POTUS now has plenary power to arrest, detain, torture, or kill anyone on his say-so alone without ever having to explain why--a power William the Conquerer never claimed…

And somebody smarter than I am responds:

I would urge people to think of accountability as a generational project -- this is how it has worked out in Chile, Argentina, South Africa... the thing that can be done now is create opportunities for more participants to tell their stories, put on record what was done and who did it and how, so that the record gets fuller rather than thinner over time.

The Political Empowerment of the Working Class is the Key to Better Employment Policy

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 10:52 AM PDT

While I search for something fresh to post, here's a column of mine from June on the lack of adequate effort from Washington on the unemployment problem. The Republicans had almost nothing to offer the unemployed at their convention, and I'll be curious to see how much atteniton unemployment gets -- relative to other things such as the deficit -- at the Democrat's convention this week. I hope to be pleasantly surprised, but expect disappointment:

Why doesn't the unemployment problem get more attention? Why have other worries such as inflation and debt reduction dominated the conversation instead? As I noted at the end of my last column, the increased concentration of political power at the top of the income distribution provides much of the explanation.

Consider the Federal Reserve. Again and again we hear Federal Reserve officials say that an outbreak of inflation could undermine the Fed's hard-earned credibility and threaten its independence from Congress. But why is the Fed only worried about inflation? Why aren't officials at the Fed just as worried about Congress reducing the Fed's independence because of high and persistent unemployment?

Similar questions can be asked about fiscal policy. Why is most of the discussion in Congress focused on the national debt rather than the unemployed? Is it because the wealthy fear that they will be the ones asked to pay for monetary and fiscal policies that mostly benefit others, and since they have the most political power their interests – keeping inflation low, cutting spending, and lowering tax burdens – dominate policy discussions? There was, of course, a stimulus program at the beginning of Obama's presidency, but it was much too small and relied far more on tax cuts than most people realize. The need to shape the package in a way that satisfied the politically powerful, especially the interests that have captured the Republican Party, made it far less effective than it might have been. In the end, it had no chance of fully meeting the challenge posed by such a severe recession, and when it became clear that additional help was needed, those same interests stood in the way of doing more.

Republican policymakers give us all sorts of excuses for blocking further action to help the unemployed. We are told the problem is structural – there is a geographical or talent mismatch between labor availability and labor needs – and nothing can be done to help. But something can be done. We can help workers move to where the jobs are, encourage firms to locate in areas where workers are readily available, and help with job retraining. If mismatches are really the problem, why aren't Republicans leading the charge on these policies? If they care about the unemployed rather than the tax burden of the wealthy, then why are they allowing community colleges – one of the best ways we have of providing job training for new and displaced workers – to be gutted with budget cuts?

We are also told that the deficit is too large already, but there's still plenty of room to do more for the unemployed so long as we have a plan to address the long-run debt problem. But even if the deficit is a problem, why won't Republicans support one of the many balanced budget approaches to stimulating the economy? Could it be that these policies invariably require higher income households to give something up so that we can help the less fortunate? Tax cuts for the wealthy are always welcome among Republicans no matter how it impacts the debt, but creating job opportunities through, say, investing in infrastructure? Forget it. Even though the costs of many highly beneficial infrastructure projects are as low as they get, and even though investing in infrastructure now would save us from much larger costs down the road – it's a budget saver not a budget buster – Republicans leaders in the House are balking at even modest attempts to provide needed job opportunities for the unemployed.

The imbalance in political power, obstructionism from Republicans designed to improve their election chances, and attempts by Republicans to implement a small government ideology are a large part of the explanation for why the unemployed aren't getting the help they deserve. But Democrats aren't completely off the hook either. Centrist Democrats beholden to big money interests are definitely a problem, and Democrats in general have utterly failed to bring enough attention to the unemployment problem. Would these things happen if workers had more political power?

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