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Nation Topics - Economy

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The challenge to global capitalism is more relevant now than before September 11.

Enron's power project in India demonstrates who benefits from globalization.

(With apologies to Stephen Foster)

The Enron hearings stretch ahead,
Doo-dah, doo-dah,
Until the final soundbite's said.
Oh, doo-dah day.

Pols will posture night,
Pols will posture day.
They'll show the voters just how tough they are,
Browbeating some CPA.

They'll talk of all the laws they'll make,
Doo-dah, doo-dah.
And meanwhile they're still on the take.
Oh, doo-dah day.

Pols will posture day,
Pols will posture night.
The guy who's shmeered them for a dozen years
Now is the guy they'd indict.

George W. Bush must be feeling an acute sense of déjà vu these days, as the dubious dealings of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, LLP take center stage in the Enron scandal.

What would Jesus do? It's a no-brainer; he would leave the Christian Coalition, take a consulting job with Enron and then use his divine power to make George W. Bush president.

To the economy, September 11 now appears to have been a transient shock. Sales, confidence and the stock market plunged, but then returned. As the dead cat bounced, optimists declared recovery to be near. The so-called stimulus package died. And so we now face a classic test of the predominant economics: Either recovery will happen, or it won't.

I'm betting against it. For the aftermath of September 11 also boosted the economy in several equally transient ways. Lower interest rates spurred mortgage refinancing. The tax rebates added to personal income and savings. Oil prices fell sharply. Good weather extended the building season. And the automakers took heroic losses to clear their inventories, as did retailers at Christmas. All of this, so to say, fanned the embers. None of it provided new fuel.

Meanwhile, larger depressive forces remain in place. Investment continues to fall; unused capacity continues to rise. The automakers are shutting down and laying off. Consumer spending has slowed. Exports slump as recession deepens around the world. Enormous deficits are opening in state and local budgets, with spending cuts or tax increases already estimated at nearly $100 billion for next year. About 8 million Americans are jobless now, 2.5 million more than a year ago.

Last year's tax cut was supposed to keep America growing. It failed. The Republican goal remains, naturally, to get another tax cut. This is not really economic policy, merely another tactical variation on a permanent agenda. Call it ripoff as a philosophy. Enron writ large.

Democratic strategy has been to help the wounded and hope for the best. Extended unemployment insurance and healthcare would be useful. But they're not enough. Democrats are having trouble leaving their illusions--budget surpluses, debt reduction, "fiscal responsibility." In truth, budget deficits are normal. Right now large budget deficits are necessary. The job is to end the recession, to restore full employment, to recreate conditions for growth. If small steps won't achieve this, large ones are demanded.

Alan Greenspan, meanwhile, has lost relevance. He may cut interest rates some more. It won't hurt, but it won't give us recovery. "Pushing on a string," they used to call it. Business investment won't return until profits do, and that won't happen until consumers have paid down some of their debt. That will take time--maybe a lot of time.

What, then, are the choices? Just two. Temporary, progressive tax cuts may still be considered. One might extend the earned-income tax credit or roll back payroll taxes for three years--meanwhile freezing the 2001 tax cut at present levels in order to reimburse the Social Security trust fund. That would be useful, but the effect would be limited by the need of households to raise their savings and reduce their debts. Half of last year's rebates were saved, not spent. Even good tax cuts would now face the same problem. The egregious 2001 tax cut, meanwhile, should be frozen at current levels, partly to reimburse the Social Security trust fund.

The other choice is: Increase public spending. All now agree that spending, in general, is needed. It follows that if households won't, government must. We need spending not just to provide a temporary boost but to sustain activity until the private sector is ready to spend again. This is the time for schools, transportation systems, housing, the environment, a real energy policy based on conservation and mass transit to cut our dependence on oil, and prescription drug benefits. Why not a new home-health-aide program for seniors? There's work to do. There are people to work. Bring them together!

The most immediate crisis, deserving attention before any other, is in the states and cities. State and local budgets should not be cut. But how to prevent this? By recreating a revenue sharing program for the states, with a pass-through to cities, on a scale sufficient to plug the budget gaps. How much? Let's say $100 billion in the first year. Pass it with very few strings, as a block grant, and get past the Washington gridlock. Revenue sharing has Republican lineage; it ought to be a bipartisan cause today. The federal government should also make it easier for states to borrow in support of their capital programs.

This slump may well get much worse before it gets any better. Accordingly, we must save ourselves. There is no danger in doing too much. This is not a moment for caution. It is not a moment for faith. It is a moment, surely, for action.

The Supreme Court has made a decision that is wrongheaded, and wrong.

Blogs

With all the normal doors of recourse shut to average citizens, protesters go to jail in order to protest severe budget cuts.

April 8, 2011

The argument that tax cuts to wealthy will create jobs doesn't make sense.

April 7, 2011

Despite the fact that a majority of Americans want defense spending cut and the wealthy taxed at higher rates, Congress has shown only a willingness to slash social programs.

April 7, 2011

National teach-in staged on college campuses across the country came to UMass Amherst Tuesday. The teach-in called for greater economic equality in America.

April 6, 2011

First-time candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg declared victory in her bid to unseat a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice closely aligned with the union-busting governor Scott Walker.

April 6, 2011

Even in contests for local posts, the message is: “Defend Madison (or Milwaukee, or Appleton, or Racine) against the assault from Scott Walker."

April 5, 2011

Nationwide, workers are pushing back against hundreds of anti-union bills and widespread budget cuts.

April 5, 2011

Students in Indiana gathered to tune into a national teach-in holding corporations, banks and political parties responsible for the economic situation facing America today.

April 5, 2011

Students gathered at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to participate in a national teach-in hosted by Frances Fox Piven and Cornel West.

April 5, 2011