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Kuttner: The Left Edge of the Possible

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  • Ed Pearl
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/the-left-edge-of-the-poss_b_828907.html The Left Edge of the Possible It s not that my own views and values have
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2011
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/the-left-edge-of-the-poss_b_828907.html

      The Left Edge of the Possible

      "It's not that my own views and values have become more radical in two
      decades. What has changed is that the American political center has shifted
      further to the right, while the twin assault on the good society by the
      private financial system and the organized right has become more intense."

      Robert Kuttner
      HuffingtonPost: March 2, 2011

      My friend, the late Mike Harrington, used to describe his politics as "on
      the left wing of the possible." It's a fine aspiration. But if anything,
      economic problems have become more politically intractable since Mike died
      in 1989.

      Scanning the various economic ills afflicting our Republic and its citizens,
      it's evident that nearly all of the solutions lie beyond what is currently
      deemed thinkable in mainstream politics -- beyond the left edge of the
      possible.

      It's not that my own views and values have become more radical in two
      decades. What has changed is that the American political center has shifted
      further to the right, while the twin assault on the good society by the
      private financial system and the organized right has become more intense.

      There are only two possibilities: either we act to expand the boundaries of
      the possible, or we suffer the consequences.

      Consider these five prime economic challenges:

      Economic Recovery and the Budget. We are told by Beltway solons of both
      parties that the prime malady harming the economy is the budget deficit. But
      nobody can explain how fiscal austerity will promote economic recovery. On
      the contrary, the more we cut, the more we retard economic recovery and the
      more we remove the cushions that make the recession slightly more bearable
      for regular people.

      Out here in the real world, the problem isn't the deficit; it's the
      recession, the high rate of joblessness and the stagnant earnings.

      The solution? Significantly more public investment to get the economy on a
      faster road to recovery and to generate more and better jobs. In the short
      run, the deficit increases. But over time the economy grows faster and the
      debt burden recedes.

      Unfortunately, both parties are mainly jousting over budget cutting. We have
      the party of cuts versus the party of deeper cuts. Neither is putting forth
      a serious recovery plan. The win-win solution that benefits Main Street is
      beyond the left edge of the possible.

      The Health System. Once recovery comes and tax receipts return to something
      like normal (assuming that the right doesn't further gut the tax code),
      America doesn't have a deficit problem; we have a health system problem.

      President Obama's Affordable Care Act insures more people, but does so
      through the private insurance system, and doesn't reduce overall health care
      costs. The Republicans would cut costs by cutting care.

      Every other wealthy nation insures everyone for about 10 percent of GDP. Our
      system leaves out some 50 million people, and costs 17 percent of GDP.
      That's a difference of seven percent of GDP, far more than the structural
      budget deficit.

      The solution? National health insurance, of course; or if you'd like to
      sound more like motherhood and apple pie, Medicare for All. Polls show that
      large majorities of Americans support it. But in mainstream politics,
      national health insurance is considered beyond the left edge of the possible
      (makes you wonder who controls mainstream politics.)

      The Banking/Housing Mess. Seven million Americans are on a path to
      foreclosure, one home in three has more mortgage debt than the value of the
      home, and housing values declined last year in 18 of the top 20 metro areas.
      Home ownership as a ticket of lifetime asset accumulation is being denied to
      the next generation.

      The Administration's relief program, the Home Affordable Modification
      Program or HAMP, is voluntary to the banks. It is helping less than one out
      of ten homeowners in trouble. Stronger medicine to keep people in their
      homes is rejected because it would force banks to recognize losses. So
      foreclosures continue and housing prices continue to sag.

      The solution: give bankruptcy judges the power to order reductions in
      mortgage principal owed. Use leverage on banks rescued by government to
      insist on deep refinancings, so that distressed homeowners are not forced
      onto the street. In the long run, banks would incur less loss, neighborhoods
      would be less blighted.

      Are you kidding? The banks would never sit still for this, and they own too
      many legislators of both parties. The common-sense solution is in the usual
      place -- beyond the left edge of the possible.

      American Economic Competitiveness in the World. We are getting our clock
      cleaned by Chinese state capitalism. "We," in this case, is the American
      economy. American-owned business is doing just fine.

      The rules of the trading system, as indulged by U.S. presidents of both
      parties, allow China and other mercantilist nations to subsidize their
      industry, and to make American business an offer it can't refuse -- locate
      in China on our terms, and you get state subsidies and docile workers. All
      you have to do is give sensitive trade secrets to your new Chinese partners,
      who will soon displace you.

      The U.S., uniquely among western nations with the exception of Britain,
      doesn't mind if domestic industry gets hollowed out. Industrial policy is
      considered a sin, but it's okay for our fate to be an artifact of China's
      industrial policy.

      The solution: one set of rules for all nations that benefit from the trading
      system, and strategic investments to rebuild U.S. industry.

      Sorry, neither party will touch that one with a rake -- beyond the left edge
      of the possible. Business may complain a bit about intellectual property
      theft, but basically the business elite likes the present deal just fine.

      Petroleum and Global Climate Change. Rising oil prices, reflecting
      revolutionary events in the Middle East, have dealt another setback to the
      shaky U.S. economy. Imported oil adds hundreds of billions of dollars to our
      trade deficit, and contributes to escalating global climate change.

      You would think that investment in clean, domestic, job-creating,
      revolution-proof renewable energy, would be a no-brainer.

      But that sensible policy is in the usual place, beyond the left edge of the
      possible.

      Every one of these areas has in common this reality: the longer we delay the
      sensible solution, the more we suffer. Only bankers, corporate elites and
      oil companies gain. Tea parties benefit from the citizen confusion and
      frustration.

      None of these alternative policies is extreme. They are simply impossible
      given the present constellation of American politics. Rather, it is the
      politics that pass for mainstream conventional wisdom that are extreme -- in
      the sense of extremely unhelpful.

      I draw one simple conclusion. We need to take back our politics, so that
      what is sensible is also possible. Maybe, just maybe, events in Madison and
      elsewhere are the beginning of that process.

      Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a senior fellow at
      Demos. His latest book is A Presidency in Peril.
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