Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. He writes columns for The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe and the New York Times international edition. 

Recent Articles

Market, State, and Dystopia

A dystopia is a utopia in reverse. The post-1980 era is likely to be remembered as a free market dystopia--a headlong compulsion to throw away the mixed economy that was built on the ruins of depression and world war in favor of a marketized society. This compulsion has been ground into the lenses of the press, the economics profession, and the political class generally. It is presumed that greater marketization is desirable and in any case inevitable, despite accumulating evidence to the contrary. And though we now have a Democratic president of liberal spirit, who is well placed to reverse the conservative assumptions of the 1980s, the White House is providing scant intellectual revision. Much of the New Democrat creed accepts the premise that more of society should be marketized; it just wants to do the job more humanely. To look at today's economic conundrums, against the turbulent economic history of the twentieth century, is to appreciate the continuities of a recurring malady:...

The Limits of Markets

The claim that the freest market produces the best economic and social outcome is the centerpiece of the conservative political resurgence. But without government intervention, the market can destroy a lot of things--including itself.

Adapted by the author from Everything for Sale : The Virtues and Limits of Markets , Alfred A. Knopf / Twentieth Century Fund, published January 1997. T he claim that the freest market produces the best economic outcome is the centerpiece of the conservative political resurgence. If the state is deemed incompetent to balance the market's instability, temper its inequality, or correct its myopia, there is not much left of the mixed economy and the modern liberal project. Yet while conservatives resolutely tout the superiority of free markets, many liberals are equivocal about defending the mixed economy. The last two Democratic presidents have mainly offered a more temperate call for the reining in of government and the liberation of the entrepreneur. The current vogue for deregulation began under Jimmy Carter. The insistence on budget balance was embraced by Bill Clinton, whose pledge to "reinvent government" was soon submerged in a shared commitment to shrink government. Much of the...

Of Our Time: Surplus Worship

There are two great fiscal legacies of American liberalism since Franklin Roosevelt. One is the invention and broad public acceptance of social insurance—notably Social Security, unemployment compensation, and Medicare. The other is the use of public spending, both to increase human and physical productivity over the long term and for macroeconomic stimulus during recessions. There are of course other activist uses of modern government—to regulate economic inefficiency and to advance social justice—but social insurance and social investment are the two fiscal pillars of modern liberalism. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration, seconded by far too many nominally liberal economists, is needlessly sacrificing the latter to salvage the former. In order to "save Social Security," such conservative conceits as permanent surpluses and the discrediting of public and social investment are suddenly conventional wisdom at the White House. Some of this is merely...

How to Rescue the Economy

The economy now seems headed for serious recession. How to fight a shadowy enemy is necessarily Topic A, but rescuing the economy is not far behind. The economy is plummeting for several interrelated reasons. The stock market was already falling sharply before Sept. 11. The speculative excess of the late 1990s financed trillions of dollars of investments that will never return profits. Once investors grasped that, the market headed south. So this is not just a blow to investor psychology; the economic blow is real. A second source of weakness is consumer spending. Even before Sept. 11, there had been tens of thousands of layoffs and the unemployment rate had risen sharply, to 4.9 percent. Now, several key industries such as insurance, airlines, hotels, and financial services have felt the effects of the attack directly, and consumers are spending less money generally. This intensifies the squeeze on corporate profits and investments. Earlier this year, continued consumer spending,...

Ironically, Gore's Biggest Worry May be About Oil

The record economic boom is near a tipping point. Although no serious inflation is being generated by the sizzling economy, increases in oil prices show up in the general price index. They also worsen America's balance of trade. Meanwhile, the weakness of the euro is depressing profits that American companies earn abroad. On all these counts, the stock market is getting very nervous. A big stock market correction would cool off both consumer and business spending. It might scare off the foreign investors who keep buying our bonds. In this context, a misstep by the inflation-phobic Federal Reserve could help send the economy into deep recession. Al Gore must be praying that the economy holds up until Nov. 7. His friend and mentor Bill Clinton must be using every diplomatic lever to pressure OPEC to open the spigots. Our European allies, faced with consumer revolts over the price of gasoline, are doing likewise. The weakness of...

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