NDN Blog

Are We Better Off? Wrong Debate, Says Krugman

As Paul Krugman writes this morning, whether or not the "typical American family better off than it was a generation ago" has become the subject "of an intense debate these days, as commentators try to understand the sour mood of the American public." Its been a fascinating debate to watch unfold over the last month or two, much of it happening online (and being summed up publically in Krugman's collumns) . The catalyst was the updating of a landmark academic study during the summer, complete with stark new figures on income concentration. This debate is particularily germaine here in America because the same trends simply don't show up in lots of other countries. Simply put: the French trade more than the US, have more mobile phones, use the internet just as much, and have plenty of immigration. But their society has got no more unequal over the last 20 years.

Krugman references an ongoing debate about the middle class, a pretty clear not to this ongoing scrap at The American Prospect, in which Steven Rose of 3rd Way and Larry Mishel of EPI go statistical toe to statistical toe over the fullness of America's middle class glass. The gist of the debate is this. We know incomes and wages haven't risen much since the mid 1970s, with the exception of the late 1990s, with the last few years especially bad. On the way we gained iPods and the internet, which is nice. But our parents took all the good beach front property, and our commute got longer. Are we better off? Krugman says this is "the wrong debate" - instead we should be trying to find out why all the iPod and internet goodness (meaning productivity and technological advancement) hasn't made us even better off. This is an odd argument, on the face of it. The question of whether we actually are better off would seem to me prior to whether we ought to be better off than we are. Nonetheless, the argument is well put:

The United States economy is far richer and more productive than it was a generation ago.... In 1973, there were no personal computers, let alone the Internet. Even fax machines were rare, expensive items, and there were no bar-code scanners at checkout counters.....Yet in spite of all this technological progress, which has allowed the average American worker to produce much more, we're not sure whether there was any rise in the typical worker's pay.

That's why the debate over whether the middle class is a bit better off or a bit worse off now than a generation ago misses the point. What we should be debating is why technological and economic progress has done so little for most Americans, and what changes in government policies would spread the benefits of progress more widely.


Rebuilding the National Consensus on Trade

Simon and Rob released a new Memo from NDN today, on trade policy. The text of his e-mail is below.


This is a critical time for those of us who believe in open markets and trade liberalization.

The current global trade negotiations, the Doha Round, have collapsed. In the wake of five years of accelerating globalization, during which American wages have stalled and job creation has slowed, the national consensus to continue to liberalize trade –one that has helped America and the world prosper for more than fifty years -- is under threat.

Today Rob Shapiro and I are releasing a detailed new memo – Rebuilding the National Consensus on Trade - outlining why Democrats and Republicans must act now to reverse President Bush’s failed leadership on trade liberalization.

You can read the memo online here, or download a PDF version here.

In the memo we examine why poor Republican leadership and greater economic anxiety explain Doha’s collapse. We also outline 6 specific areas where progressives can fight back this fall, and lay out the beginnings of a strategy to help rebuild our national consensus on liberalization in the future.


Simon Rosenberg 



NDN in the News

Simon is in The Hill today discussing the importance of meaningful immigration reform and the need for Democrats to include it in their new agenda.

Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, a political advocacy organization that has spent millions on drawing Hispanic voters into the Democratic Party fold, defended the Democratic record on immigration. Still, he chided leaders for their omission....“Given how much energy and time Democrats have put into trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform, it’s unfortunate that immigration hasn’t made it into the document, because the party has made it a priority,” said Rosenberg......Rosenberg urged Democrats not to run away from the issue of immigration, vowing that it’s a debate they will win over Republicans, many of whom are focusing exclusively on a tough law-and-order approach to illegal immigration....Rosenberg predicted that some Democrats would spend a lot of money highlighting immigration this fall....“We’re going to see a lot of back-and-forth in paid media on immigration,” he said. “We have nothing to fear. We have a plan to solve the problem and [the Republicans] don’t.”

Fighting Dirty

Any lingering questions about Republican campaign strategy in the final fifty days are being answered.  Those of you hoping for a substantive debate on the challenges facing our nation shouldn't hold your breath.  Facing the loss of control of one or even both houses of Congress, Republicans are planning on utilizing what Bill Clinton called the "personal politics of destruction" against their opponents.  The Washington Post reports that:

Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.

There is no time to lament the death of civility in political debate, because the strategy is already underway.  Yesterday, House Majority Leader John Boehner said that Democrats are "more interested in protecting terrorists than in protecting the American people."  And this strategy of making outlandish attacks is being parroted by Republicans across the country, from Rick Santorum to the President in his "non-political speech" Monday night.

How effectively Democrats deflect these attacks and keep the focus on Republican failures of governance will determine who wins in November, and could also send a message that the era of Rovian character assassination politics is over.   

Wages Rocket To Just Below 2002 levels

There is a sense in which you know something is on the agenda only when the other side begins to fight back. So Edward Lazear's remarks yesterday are just a further example of the administration's coming-to-terms with its poor ratings for economic handling. There has clearly been a concerted push on national security since the Vice-President's Sunday interview. But, spurred on by a certain cheeryness about the fall off in pump prices, there seems to be an ongoing campaign to talk up the economy also. The FT piece - written by Edward Luce, who also wrote the first front page story on the subject a month ago - gives a good account.  

Mr Lazear on Tuesday pointed to a 4.1 per cent increase in nominal workers' compensation in the first six months of this year as evidence that employee remuneration was starting to catch up with productivity growth, which has achieved an average annual 3 per cent increase since the US economic recovery began five years ago.

However, critics of the Bush administration say that real wage growth, which excludes the inflationary cost of healthcare that has fuelled compensation growth, continues to languish at or below annual inflation...... met with growing scepticism among economists who point out that real wages for most Americans are marginally below where they were four years ago, in spite of strong overall growth in gross domestic product. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average hourly wage for private sector non-farm workers was $8.17 in August 2006 (at 1982 prices) compared with $8.23 in August 2002.

8.17 plays 8.23. Its like split times in the 60 yards dash. Woosh! Wages are rising so fast they are just a hair's breadth from zooming passed where they were four years ago. I think this cartoon in the Post a few days back put it best.

Blair on Globalization

Tony Blair is a dead politician walking after the palace coup staged against him last week. Still, given the furore over the President's not-quite-what-you'd-call-non-partisan remarks of a few days ago, i'm still impressed by the ability of the British PM to properly describe world events. This is from a speech he gave yesterday:

Globalisation is so often debated today that it can just elicit a yawn. 'The world is interdependent' has become a cliche. What isn't cliched, however, is the response to it. For the first time, I can sense building up, here and round the world, a division, not of ideology but of attitude, as to how we deal with the consequences of globalisation. Ten years ago, the response was reasonably clear and adopted by consensus.Yes, globalisation was at one level frightening, in its pace and reach; but the only rational response was to manage it, prepare for it and roll with it.

I don't think there is that consensus today. There is a mindset of fear that is different and deep. People see the burgeoning economic power of China, India and the emerging economies threatening jobs and stability.....What has changed is the interplay between globalisation, immigration and terrorism. Suddenly we feel under threat: physically from this new terrorism that is coming on to our streets; culturally as new waves of migrants change our society; and economically because an open world economy is hastening the sharpness of competition.

A stretch to think he might have managed the world "interplay", but imagine if President Bush had said something like that instead. But he won't. Perhaps the best option would be a Blair-for-Connecticut write-in campaign after all. 


The Washington Monthly on the GOP, Immigration and Hispanics

Rachel Morris has an excellent piece on the battle for Hispanics in the current edition of the Washington Monthly.  The first two graphs set the tone, and it is a piece well worth reading:

"Karl Rove’s storied partnership with George W. Bush, now in its second decade, has long been concerned with more momentous matters than simply winning elections. Famously, Rove has sought to engineer a seismic realignment in American politics. To that end, he’s perfected two signature strategies. He’s mastered a “base-in” approach, designing policy positions first for the party’s core conservatives, then marketing them to moderates (in contrast to the “center-out” model preferred by Bill Clinton). At the same time, Rove has made ingenious appeals to new constituencies that he believed were already Republicans, but just didn’t know it. Because these tactics defy all kinds of conventional wisdom and have delivered Bush a string of victories, they’ve won Rove a reputation for political genius. Stories about him invariably make dazzled references to his latest scheme to bring some unlikely group into the GOP fold: black conservatives, Arabs in Michigan, outlier Jews.

But for Republicans eyeing a long-term majority, the Hispanic vote is considered the real prize, particularly immigrant Hispanics. While two thirds of registered U.S.-born Hispanics reliably vote Democratic, foreign-born Hispanics remain up for grabs. This group now comprises nearly half the Latino electorate, which has tripled between 1980 and 2004 to 10 million voters; that figure is expected to double by 2020. For Republicans, this growth is especially important, because their core constituency—white voters—is in demographic decline. But what makes Hispanic voters so coveted by both parties is also their location on a stratified electoral map. As the last two presidential contests have demonstrated, the Democrats have a lock on the Northeast and California, while Republicans hold the South; the two parties split the Midwest. The real battleground is the West and Southwest, traditionally GOP regions that have been drifting leftward, partly because of their growing concentrations of Hispanic residents. If one party wins their loyalty, the theory goes, it holds the key to a generation of political dominance."

NDN statement on immigration reform

Yesterday Speaker Hastert made it official. The House Republicans have chosen to walk away from a deep and broad bi-partisan coalition - including President Bush, John McCain, Mel Martinez, a majority of the US Senate, the RNC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, immigrant groups - who were poised to make great progress on immigration reform this year.

Rather than working with this impressive bi-partisan coalition the House Republicans have chosen to pursue a set of policies that, while appealing to some, will simply not be enough to solve the immigration problem.

The American people are looking for a new direction this year because the governing party has been so unsuccessful at tackling tough problems. Their foreign policy has failed to bring about promised results despite hundreds of billions spent, tens of thousands of casualties and plenty of time; their economic policy has resulted in out-of-control spending, huge deficits and a declining standard of living for most Americans; and now on immigration, when a sensible and comprehensive bill is offered, one that would go a long way to solving the challenge of immigration, they walk away.

The Republican Party no longer has the vision, courage, or the toughness to govern America at this time of tremendous challenge. Their failure to pass meaningful immigration reform this year - despite controlling all of Washington and with unqualified support from Democrats - is one of the most graphic demonstrations of their inability to do what it takes to make America a great nation in the 21st century.

The ABC Movie, part II

Depsite my reservations I watched the first part of Path to 9/11 last night.  As an ABC alumnus, I have been stunned to watch this whole extraordinary set of events unfold, something I wrote about last week.  I kept thinking - okay, okay, they are just blowing this thing, it can't seem so thoroughly right-wing, and out of control.....

But in the run up I went from disbelief to believing this was a successful use of the public airwaves to promote a right-wing agenda.   The first moment was when ABC released a statement mid-week saying that the show was not yet finished and therefore it would be "irresponsible" to offer a critique.  And this was after review DVDs had been sent to the press. meaning that reviewers would be offering what was in ABC "irresponsible" reviews across the nation.  It seemed more like a response one would get in politics than in the entertainment business. 

The second moment was when ABC refused the President of the United States and any progressive commentators an advance copy of the show, even though right-wing bloggers and commentators had gotten copies at least a week in advance.  Again, this was not about the content of the show itself, which we didn't have access to, it was about what was becoming a purposeful right-wing influenced media strategy.  How could ABC turn down the President, and essentially give him the back of the hand? At one point, director Cunningham was quoted saying something like I have my CIA consultants and Clinton has his. 

So I watched.  And what I saw was amazing.  It was a right-wing hit piece on Clinton and the Administration.  Repeated, gratuitous slaps at the President.  But above all, as others have noted, the core segment of the whole first part was the near capture of Osama in the summer of 1998, culminating in the moment when Sandy Berger doesn't give the go ahead to the operatives in the field.  As we all know by know, of course, that scene never took place, and we never had operatives in the field that summer.  The whole key segment of the first night, the one that places the blame right at Clinton and Berger simply never took place.  It is scandalous. 

I am still amazed by what I saw last night, and saddened by it all.  How this thing got through ABC is a mystery.  Controls are in place in the network to prevent things like this from happening.  But as Iger digs out, he needs to come to grips with not just the production, but the marketing.  His communications folks were in on it too. 

For a depressing and remarkable piece about the background of the team who produced the movie, read Max Blumenthal's latest piece.  It is now clear that thing film was in part the project of a Richard Scaife funded group, yes, the same man who has been bankrolling the conservative movement for years. 

But how could that be? Bob Iger, by all accounts a good man, needs to come clean here. 

At the end of the day that we should take a degree of solace in the film.  The grim reality of their failed ideological movement, government and President has forced the conservatives to turn to fiction to get their message out. 

Republicans buy off journalists in Florida

For the past several years I've been discribing the modern conservative movement and their Republican leaders as an "Information Age Tammany Hall."  It is a modern, and different, kind of political machine, but it is a classic political machine nonetheless. 

A few days ago, another piece of the machine unraveled.  In Miami, the political base of Jeb Bush, ten independent journalists and commentators were discovered to also be on the US government payroll, a seldom listened to TV and radio operation directed at sending American media to Cuba called TV Marti.  Given Jeb's relationship to this community, it is impossible to believe that he was not personally involved in the decisions on whom to pay off. 

As anyone who has worked in Miami knows, the Cuban media there is wildly Republican.  It seldom criticizes the Bush family, Republican Cuban leaders or the Republican Party.  In many ways it has been Rush Limbaugh and Fox News rolled into one.  Now we know one of the reasons why - payola. 

Our Miami-based Hispanic Strategy Center director Joe Garcia described the TV Marti payola scandal to the St Pete Times this way: "They have turned it into a banana republic radio station that is used for political patronage". 

My hope is the media there keeps digging on this one.  At some point it will all head right back to the two Bush brothers.

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