Weekly Audit: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama invited leading economic thinkers to a job creation summit on Thursday to help combat the worst unemployment crisis in decades. The stakes couldn't be higher: If Obama can't build momentum for robust legislation that will create jobs, the unemployment rate could remain in double-digits all the way through 2011.

In Salon, Andrew Leonard highlights some positive comments Obama made at the jobs summit. In an exchange with The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner, Obama said that the long-term budget deficit is an issue, but that the best way to reduce that deficit is to spur economic growth. When the economy is growing, the same tax rates reap greater returns for the government.

If the U.S. dramatically slashes economic support programs to clamp down on the deficit in the short-term, the economy is going to shrink. About two-thirds of the economic growth in the third-quarter of 2009 came from intiatives related to Obama's economic stimulus plan. If we cut back on stimulus, we lose more jobs and make the long-term deficit worse by hampering growth.

We've faced this kind of dilemma before and seen what happens when you focus too much on the deficit,  as Katrina vanden Heuvel emphasizes in a column for The Nation. "In 1937, just as there was some recovery from the Depression, the debt hawks swooped in and there was a return to the deficit reduction model," vanden Heuvel writes. "Things went south again. We don't need a repeat of that."

So Obama doesn't want to attack the deficit at the expense of jobs, which is good. But it's problematic that the President is still at the summit stage on the most politically pressing issue for Democrats, as Terence Samuel explains for The American Prospect. If the labor market doesn't start getting better soon, voter dissatisfaction with Obama's economic platform will impact other critical policy initiatives, from health care to climate change.

"The president is up against an unpredictable clock," Samuel writes. "With his approval rating hovering around 50%, he can't be sure how long Democrats in Congress will stick with him on anything if there is not some noticeable improvement in the jobs picture soon. The urgency on the job situation is not lost on Democrats in the House and Senate who must defend the seats of 18 Democrats in 2010."

Most of the pressure Obama now faces is to create jobs, not just save them. That's because his stimulus helped get the unemployment rate under control--we're still losing jobs, but not as fast as we were in January. But as Aaron Glantz notes for New America Media, the risk of heavier job loss is still present.

State governments are up against very difficult budget constraints, thanks to tax losses related to widespread layoffs and foreclosures. If they don't get help from the federal government, states will be forced to cut expenses, which means shedding more jobs. Glantz highlights a recent conference call with AFL-CIO leaders who warned that state and local governments could be forced to cut up to one million jobs in 2010 if Congress and President Obama fail to enact a major jobs bill.

David Moberg envisions an ideal jobs bill for Working In These Times. We need a major aid package to state governments, modernizing our schools and transportation network, a public-sector job program to fund important work in our communities, and a tax credit for companies that hire workers. The whole thing would only cost $400 billion and would create 4.6 million jobs. That could be enough money to move unemployment out of crisis-mode. Right now, about 15.4 million workers are out of a job. Half those workers have been put out of work over the course of the recession. Creating 4.6 million jobs would make an enormous difference.

And while the $400 billion price tag may sound like a big number, it's a drop in the bucket compared to our $9 trillion fiscal deficit. Going back to The Nation: As vanden Heuvel notes, the whole package could be paid for with a modest tax on risky Wall Street securities trading.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

There's more...

House Populists pushing Wall Street transaction fee bill

Members of the House Populist Caucus held a press conference on Thursday to endorse a bill that would "assess a small fee on Wall Street day traders to pay down the national deficit and invest in America's middle class families." From a press release issued by Populist Caucus Chairman Bruce Braley (IA-01):

"Our nation continues to be crippled by a struggling economy which has resulted in an astronomical unemployment rate of 10.2 percent," [Representative Peter] DeFazio [OR-04] said.  "The American taxpayers bailed out Wall Street during a crisis brought on by reckless speculation in the financial markets.  This legislation will force Wall Street to do their part and put people displaced by that crisis back to work." [...]

The legislation will assess a small securities fee on the following transactions:
·         Stock transactions (tax rate will be 1/4 of 1 percent--0.25%),
·         Futures contracts to buy or sell a specified commodity of standardized quality at a certain date in the future, at a market determined price (tax rate will be 0.02%),
·         Swaps between two firms on certain benefits of one party's financial instrument for those of the other party's financial instrument (tax rate will be 0.02%)
·         Credit default swaps where a contract is swapped through a series of payments in exchange for a payoff if a credit instrument (typically a bond or loan) goes into default (fails to pay) (tax rate will be 0.02%),
·         And options, which are contracts between a buyer and a seller that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy or to sell a particular asset on or before the option's expiration time, at an agreed price (at the rate of the underlying asset).

To ensure the tax is appropriately targeted to speculators and has no impact on the average investor and pension funds, the tax will be refunded for:

1)      tax-favored retirement accounts,

  1.      education savings accounts,
  2.      health savings accounts,
  3.      mutual funds and,
  4.      the first $100,000 of transactions annually that are not already exempted.

Braley spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki told me that as of this morning, the bill has 21 co-sponsors, 14 of whom belong to the Populist Caucus.

The bill has at least one champion in the Senate. HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin appeared with Populist Caucus members at yesterday's press conference. I don't know whether any Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee is willing to push for this measure.

I haven't seen any reaction yet from the Obama administration. Supporting this bill should be an easy call, but my hunch is that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and senior presidential adviser Larry Summers will have Wall Street's back on this one. Here's hoping I am wrong about that.

There's more...

House Votes For Easier College Access

Crossposted from Hillbilly Report.

The House of Representatives voted today to shift student loans to the government freeing up $80 million dollars for other investments. The Student Loan and Fiscal Responsibility Act now goes to the Senate where most believe it will be enacted and signed by President Obama. Proponents of the bill cited that it would assure that students could still get loans in a tough economy and that it would save money to be re-invested. Republicans touted that it was more big government that would take loans away from their buddies in the credit industry and that it would add to the deficit, ingnoring that it would actually save money.

There's more...

Weekly Audit: Four More Years of Bailout Ben

By Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger

After Ben Bernanke allowed an $8 trillion housing bubble to ravage the global economy and nearly destroy the U.S. financial system, President Barack Obama has decided he deserves another term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. (The UpTake has video of Obama's announcement here.) As the Fed Chair, Bernanke has more economic power than any other person on the planet. By heading the committee that sets interest rates, he can control the economy's rate of growth or contraction; as head regulator of the largest banks, Bernanke has more influence over the rules of the economic game than anyone else.

Why is the Bernanke reappointment a mistake? Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive turns to Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent democratic socialist from Vermont. Put simply, Bernanke is completely culpable for allowing an economic crisis to foment.

"Like the rest of the Bush administration, he was asleep at the wheel during this period and did nothing to move our financial system onto safer grounds," Sanders said.

Corporate media generally neglects to mention Bernanke's role at the Fed prior to 2008, and instead credits him with stopping a second Great Depression. It's true that the Fed has done everything possible to keep Wall Street from imploding, but Bernanke also repeatedly insisted that the subprime mortgage crisis would be "contained" as late as 2007 and made no plans for a situation that might prove worse than his rosy forecasts.

As William Greider explains for The Nation, it's a bit too soon to celebrate our economic salvation at Bernanke's hands. Small banks are failing at an alarming rate, job losses remain heavy and households are being squeezed by plummeting property values and growing credit card debt.

Greider emphasizes that Bernanke repeatedly bailed out financial giants without demanding anything in return, which bodes poorly for any future economic crisis. Kenneth Lewis remains Bank of America's CEO, even though the company has needed $45 billion in taxpayer funds to date, and high-level Fed officials think Lewis may be guilty of securities fraud. On the one bailout where the Fed did assume ownership of the company and discharge it's top-level management, AIG, the deal was structured to funnel no-strings-attached money to other Wall Street companies. Goldman Sachs raked in $12.9 billion from the arrangement. It's one thing to funnel money to financial firms in the name of economic necessity. It's quite another to allow executives at those companies to be paid like princes and subsidize their shareholders.

As economist James K. Galbraith discusses in a piece for The Washington Monthly, it's not clear if Bernanke and Co. actually saved the economy. Even if the financial system gets back to normal functioning, that stability has been purchased with massive taxpayer support. In order to do just about anything involving finance in the United States, a company now needs a very explicit government seal of approval to convince investors that they're safe to do business with. Just ask Colonial Bank, which failed earlier this summer after being denied bailout funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

But there has been secret support as well. Bernanke's Fed committed over $2 trillion in emergency loans to keep the financial system from collapsing during the crisis, and has refused to tell the public who got the money, and on what terms. We don't know who we saved, or at what the consequences of this massive bank support operation will be. Bernanke always believed that rescuing Wall Street would prevent major damage to the broader economy, but Galbraith questions whether the economy would be stronger if policymakers had focused more on direct aid to workers and homeowners, including an earlier, more robust economic stimulus package.

"Perhaps the right thing would have been less focus on saving banks, and much more on saving jobs, families, and homes."

Writing for In These Times, Roger Bybee profiles a new group called Americans for Financial Reform, which is  pushing for changes on Wall Street and fighting against business-as-usual at the Fed. The bank lobby is probably the most powerful interest group on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a strong and consistent voice urging lawmakers to protect the entire economy, rather than the banks. The very structure of the Fed makes it more responsive to Wall Street interests than those of the general public. Private-sector banks like Citigroup and Bank of America are shareholders in each of the Fed's regional branches, while private-sector bank executives sit on the board of directors at each branch. Since the boards get to name the regional presidents, private-sector bank CEOs are given major power to name their own regulators. Regional presidents also rotate through positions on the Fed's monetary policy board, making decisions to set interest rates.

The Fed's institutional structure, and its reliance on mainstream economists overly acquiescent to the financial sector has helped fuel the boom-and-bust bubble economy, as the Real News explains in this video piece.

In addition to the turmoil surrounding the Bernanke appointment, the recent budget deficit projections have been receiving a lot of attention lately. By throwing around a lot of big numbers that end in "trillion," deficit hawks have created the impression of crisis where none exists. The government will have a $1.6 trillion shortfall this year, equal to about 11% of the U.S. economy. That's the highest such number since the U.S. economy started to soar in the years after World War II, high enough to mobilize CNBC pundits to warn of financial apocalypse and a bankrupt U.S. government.

But as Robert Reich notes for Salon, it's not really worth getting too worked up over the current deficit projections. In a recession, countries want to run a deficit: the government needs to fill hole created by the drop-off in private-sector economic activity. If the U.S. doesn't run a big deficit, it will shed millions of additional jobs. And the country is nowhere near losing control of its currency. The federal debt stands at about 54% of our economic output right now, and is projected to reach 68% by 2019. But Reich notes that in 1945, the number was far higher: 120%. This number shrank dramatically over the next few years, not because of draconian cuts to government programs, but because the economy grew so much that the debt burden became less severe. We are nowhere near a crisis with the budget that compares to the current unemployment crisis, so pulling back spending right now doesn't make much sense.

Bernanke has always argued that the Fed chair's only duty is to control inflation. But managing the economy means not only attending to inflation, but making sure the true engine of economic growth--financially secure households--isn't sacrificed to the short-term interests of a few Wall Street elites. Bernanke failed to block that economic predation early in his tenure as Fed Chairman. If Bernanke is going to be with us for another four years, President Obama needs to find other ways to restore our economic balance.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy and is free to reprint. Visit StimulusPlan.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

There's more...

Republican Hypocrisy on the Deficit and Healthcare

Crossposted from Hillbilly Report.

Boy, to hear many Republicans tell it they have been the watchdogs of fiscal responsibility. They have recently begun squawking about deficits and spending. They try to say our country is spending too much and we cannot afford Universal Healthcare. Of course, they conviently leave out the facts about why our deficit is where it is right now.

There's more...

Diaries

Advertise Blogads