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Intro: "When the applause among Democrats and recriminations among Republicans begin to quiet down - probably within the next few days - the President will have to make some big decisions. The biggest is on the economy."

Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)


Obama's Next Economy

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

08 October 12

 

hen the applause among Democrats and recriminations among Republicans begin to quiet down - probably within the next few days - the President will have to make some big decisions. The biggest is on the economy.

His victory and the pending "fiscal cliff" give him an opportunity to recast the economic debate. Our central challenge, he should say, is not to reduce the budget deficit. It's to create more good jobs, grow the economy, and widen the circle of prosperity.

The deficit is a problem only in proportion to the overall size of the economy. If the economy grows faster than its current 2 percent annualized rate, the deficit shrinks in proportion. Tax receipts grow, and the deficit becomes more manageable.

But if economic growth slows - as it will, if taxes are raised on the middle class and if government spending is reduced when unemployment is still high - the deficit becomes larger in proportion. That's the austerity trap Europe finds itself in. We don't want to go there.

This is why January's so-called "fiscal cliff" - $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases - is so dangerous. It's too much deficit reduction, too soon. Tax increases on the middle class would reduce their spending just when the economy needs that spending in order to keep growing, and cuts in government's own spending would make the problem worse.

If we go over the fiscal cliff, we're in another recession. Don't just take my word for it. That's also the view of the Congressional Budget Office and most private economic forecasters.

The way to ensure continued growth is to continue the President's payroll tax cut and extend the Bush tax cuts for income under $250,000, and continue government spending.

The way to increase growth is to permanently exempt the first $20,000 of income from the payroll tax and make up for lost revenues by raising the ceiling on income subject to it (that ceiling is now $110,100). And increase government spending - especially on critical public investments like education, job training, and infrastructure.

Any "grand bargain" on deficit reduction should contain a starting trigger - and that trigger should be when the economy can safely be assumed to be back on track. I'd make that trigger 6 percent unemployment and 3 percent economic growth for two consecutive quarters, and make sure that trigger was in the legislation.

The President needs to make it clear to the public that the only way we can achieve a better economy is through a larger and more buoyant middle class. If we continue lurching toward widening inequality and ever more concentrated income and wealth at the top, the vast middle class - as well as all those who aspire to join it - won't have the purchasing power to grow the economy and create more jobs.

That's why taxes must be increased on the wealthy, and the proceeds used to reduce the deficit over the long term, extend and enlarge the Earned Income Tax Credit (a wage subsidy for lower-income workers), and invest in education.

The President's victory doesn't give him a clear mandate to achieve any of this - the margin of victory was too small, and he didn't tell the American electorate explicitly that his priority would be creating jobs and growing the middle class instead of reducing the deficit.

But his victory gives him the attention of the nation and the authority that comes with having won reelection. It therefore gives him the opportunity to recast the economic debate. The upcoming fiscal cliff makes it particularly urgent he do so quickly.



Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock" and "The Work of Nations." His latest is an e-book, "Beyond Outrage." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

 

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+77 # LeeBlack 2012-11-08 11:58
There is ample evidence from Europe that austerity doesn't work.
A government's budget is not analogous to a family budget. Investing in infrastructure, environmental improvements put people to work and then we have more people working and paying taxes while also building a stronger community.

If the wealthy pay a little more in taxes to fund those investments they will be rewarded because there will be a healthy economy

Obama should not move too far right to meet the extreme right mid-way.
 
 
+69 # AndreM5 2012-11-08 12:15
O'B is already too far right! He doesn't have to run again, so label Boner and his fringe for what they are: lying tools of the 1% and the extremists in the American Taliban. They can't possibly represent more than 15% of the electorate so Boner knows he can't succeed. But it appears the Repub leaders simply can't rewire their brains even to improve their chances of winning in the future.

It is time to marginalize the truly loony in the House and wipe them from Congress in the next election cycle. Winning those campaigns starts now.
 
 
+13 # hilchris 2012-11-08 14:01
Absolutely agree!!
 
 
+62 # AndreM5 2012-11-08 12:04
Reich has it right again. It is vital that the Prez immediately take charge with his bully pulpit and push the rabid loonies in the House over the cliff rather than our fragile economy.

I also agree that the ceiling on payroll taxes should be raised to at least $150,000.

I am unhappy with the "payroll tax cut" that was implemented because it damages SS and MC and risk making the damage permanent. A direct but temporary income tax cut for lower incomes is far better.

Raising the payroll tax ceiling will hit me personally but it is overdue.
 
 
+26 # Texas Aggie 2012-11-08 13:34
Why have a ceiling at all? And there is an argument for collecting payroll taxes on income other than wages and salaries.
 
 
+1 # brux 2012-11-08 15:14
I think the argument is that the higher the ceiling is the more progressive ... ie. redistributive it is ... the old socialism argument.

If that argument every applied any ounce of progressivism in the tax system has been wrung out of it now.
 
 
+10 # AndreM5 2012-11-09 12:21
You are missing the point entirely. SS is NOT a tax, it is more like an insurance policy or annuity with a defined benefit. There is a cap on the benefit so there is a cap on the contribution. The calculus is easy but we screwed the pooch by stealing from the Trust Fund (thanks Uncle Ronnie!) and then we forget to adjust the cap on contributions.

It should have been put in Gore's lockbox LONG ago.

SS is very special, it is a safety net, it was never intended to be a retirement plan and I personally don't want to see it lumped with income tax, progressive or not. I don't think of SS as part of the commons like gas taxes or income taxes that fund our communal good.

Wage earners pay into it with a expectation for the defined benefit later or if they have a catastrophic life event. The zombie-eyed granny-starver Paul Ryan received just such a benefit.
 
 
+20 # Lolanne 2012-11-08 13:53
Quoting AndreM5:
Reich has it right again. It is vital that the Prez immediately take charge with his bully pulpit and push the rabid loonies in the House over the cliff rather than our fragile economy.

I also agree that the ceiling on payroll taxes should be raised to at least $150,000.

I am unhappy with the "payroll tax cut" that was implemented because it damages SS and MC and risk making the damage permanent. A direct but temporary income tax cut for lower incomes is far better.

Raising the payroll tax ceiling will hit me personally but it is overdue.


AndreM5, You are in general quite right, especially your position on the payroll tax cut. I fear that the longer it is allowed to remain, the more it does, indeed, ultimately damage SS and MC. Not many people express that opinion, but it is a sound one.

I would, however, eliminate the ceiling on payroll taxes altogether. I see no good reason to cap it at all. Most of us pay it on the entire amount we earn; why should the big earners be treated differently? They will someday collect the full amount of SS due them, based on their earnings, so no part of their earnings should be exempt from payroll taxes.
 
 
+12 # independentmind 2012-11-08 14:52
Why have a ceiling? Maybe if there was no ceiling the CEO's won't be making quite as much, especially if it hits the shares etc. as well.
 
 
+4 # RLF 2012-11-09 07:49
Why should someone who is rich pay a smaller percentage than I do in payroll tax? Regressive taxation if I ever saw it. There should be no ceiling on the payroll taxes because it is just that...a tax...and the rich should pay at least the same percentage as me if not more.
 
 
+31 # Tje_Chiwara 2012-11-08 12:09
The President's victory speech was amazingly spot-on. He challenged US, including those who did not vote for him, to be engaged and work towards the common solutions. He did not dance. He did not clap for himself. He lectured in a careful subtle way about the need for the whole country to be involved in this discussion and effort, what he called true self-government.

We need to work broadly from all parts of the political spectrum to achieve the progress that we want. He can try to lead us, but unless we follow strongly, it will not happen. We need to propose workable solutions and support rational compromise when necessary.

He needs us now more than ever. We can't rely on him doing it for us. We need to cover his back and he will cover ours.
 
 
+10 # independentmind 2012-11-08 14:53
I think at one point in his cam[aign he said "Make me" and that's what we need to do.
 
 
+3 # dipierro4 2012-11-08 19:43
No, the victory speech was not spot-on. The 1st thing he said we would have to attack was the deficit. Just like before: He wins a victory and then hands the dialog over to the other side, to frame it for him.
 
 
0 # engelbach 2012-11-09 16:00
That's exactly what he has done.

I see no reason to expect second-term Obama to be any different from the first, his campaign rhetoric notwithstanding .
 
 
+25 # fredboy 2012-11-08 12:17
Put simply, he needs to now champion the economy. He can do this best by championing all of us and what we believe in: hard work, creativity, excellence, and positivity. And fairness to all.

We all should now look at the influence some of the MBA programs are having on this. I retired early from an MBA program that required students to attend an economics course that was for all intents and purposes an indoctrination into the beliefs espoused by Milton Friedman. I was reminded of this my final year when a student in my class bellowed "Employees are nothing but expendable human capital--we owe them nothing! We just learned that in our economics class."

So many now teaching in the nation's MBA programs earned their doctorates during the Reagan years when selfishness and "yuppie" values were prized. They are a source of the selfishness and viciousness that now prevails in our markets. I think it's now time to cast a spotlight on these practices and beliefs and measure their current and potential impact on our nation.
 
 
+5 # ABen 2012-11-08 20:25
Well said Fred! Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of economics has had far too much influence in the discussions on how to reshape and re-envision the U.S. economy. This Randian characterizatio n of people in the workforce as "takers" and investors and employers as "makers" is wildly simplistic and misrepresents the fundamentals of the employer/employ ee/investor relationship.
 
 
+7 # Dion Giles 2012-11-08 22:52
Goods and services are wealth. Those who create goods and services, personally, with their own hands and brains, are the ONLY human creators of wealth. Financial investment is not about creating wealth, it is about permitting those who create wealth to create it, and diverting as much as possible into the hands of the non-producing investors. No economic nostrums that ignore this can solve economic problems, but can only create them.
 
 
+2 # engelbach 2012-11-09 16:01
Well said! I wish I could give you more than one plus.
 
 
+11 # SMoonz 2012-11-08 12:20
Reinstate Glass-Steagall, end the Fed, create a NAWAP style project and this will help us get back on track. However, Obama won't talk about these things and neither will Congress and so nothing will change anytime soon. Four more wasted years.
 
 
+8 # independentmind 2012-11-08 14:55
We have to keep the pressure on them all - that's the only way to change things.
 
 
+4 # engelbach 2012-11-09 16:03
The last time we put pressure on Obama he branded us "the professional left."

By all means, keep up the pressure.

But the best pressure would be to let the Democrats know that we're fed up with their impotence and betrayals.

Labor Party 2016!
 
 
+10 # freeportguy 2012-11-08 12:27
With the GOP in the picture all too willing to take hostages then blame Obama, don't be surprised we end up in recession again...
 
 
+11 # brux 2012-11-08 13:18
The problem is that the recession is only for the middle and working classes, the corporations are still doing fine and can wait as long as it takes for us to forget or die off.
 
 
+7 # bmiluski 2012-11-08 13:25
Not if the president takes it to "the people". He should use Bill Clinton to do it.
 
 
+3 # brux 2012-11-08 19:49
I agree, but why does barack obama need bill clinton to make all his points?
 
 
+27 # engelbach 2012-11-08 12:28
"Our central challenge, he should say, is not to reduce the budget deficit. It's to create more good jobs, grow the economy, and widen the circle of prosperity."

Bob, we've been telling him this for four years. He doesn't listen.

If by some miracle he did decide to do the right thing, he would have to reframe the issue and admit that his previous course -- and that of the GOP -- was wrong.

His past acquiescence to the right works against his being able to make such a change.

But keep pushing. Letting things go as they are will be disastrous.
 
 
+18 # BradFromSalem 2012-11-08 12:34
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has already figured out an optimal solution to the fiscal crisis.

These are current member of congress that have pledged themselves to support Progressive solutions that put people first. Their solution to stay away from the cliff and get on the right path is called the "Deal for All". Tell your Congressperson to support it, along with the Caucus' Budget for All.
My Congressman won re-election by the skin of his teeth, I will not vote for him again unless he vocally supports this solution.
 
 
+2 # brux 2012-11-08 13:17
Can you summarize this or do you have a link to this?
 
 
+7 # dkonstruction 2012-11-08 13:36
Quoting BradFromSalem:
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has already figured out an optimal solution to the fiscal crisis.

These are current member of congress that have pledged themselves to support Progressive solutions that put people first. Their solution to stay away from the cliff and get on the right path is called the "Deal for All". Tell your Congressperson to support it, along with the Caucus' Budget for All.
My Congressman won re-election by the skin of his teeth, I will not vote for him again unless he vocally supports this solution.


Thanks for the reminder Brad and for drawing people's attention to the credible, common sensical progressive budget/fiscal alternatives that are already out there and which we need to start getting behind.

The Congression Progressive Caucus' proposal is called the "Deal For All" and can be found at:

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.RES.733:

They also have a much more comprehsensive budget proposal ("The People's Budget") that progressives should get behind and start pushing the administration and the democratic leadership to get behind.

http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/the-peoples-budget/
 
 
+6 # BradFromSalem 2012-11-08 14:29
Thanks for posting the links. One small correction the last budget proposal from the Progressive Caucus was "A Budget for All". Personally, I prefer that to People's Budget, it allows jerkwads like Rep. West to call the Caucus, Communists. Not that the name bothers me any, but it does have a negative connotation.

As far as my Congressman goes, he is a member of the Caucus, but when I spoke to him about the Budget plan 2 months ago he said its too late. Where was he when it wasn't too late? Only a handful of the Caucus makes any noise, most of them attach their names to it so they get Progressives to vote for them.
I mentioned this a few months ago, I plan to start right now alerting my Congresspeople, including my new Senator, that every time there is a camera in their face mention the Deal for All and the Budget for All. I know between now and January 1st, both of my Senators in 2013 will have a lot of camera time.

At the very least, it will alert the American public that there are alternative solutions.
 
 
+3 # dkonstruction 2012-11-08 14:35
Quoting BradFromSalem:
Thanks for posting the links. One small correction the last budget proposal from the Progressive Caucus was "A Budget for All". Personally, I prefer that to People's Budget, it allows jerkwads like Rep. West to call the Caucus, Communists. Not that the name bothers me any, but it does have a negative connotation.

As far as my Congressman goes, he is a member of the Caucus, but when I spoke to him about the Budget plan 2 months ago he said its too late. Where was he when it wasn't too late? Only a handful of the Caucus makes any noise, most of them attach their names to it so they get Progressives to vote for them.
I mentioned this a few months ago, I plan to start right now alerting my Congresspeople, including my new Senator, that every time there is a camera in their face mention the Deal for All and the Budget for All. I know between now and January 1st, both of my Senators in 2013 will have a lot of camera time.

At the very least, it will alert the American public that there are alternative solutions.


thanks for the correction Brad...hadn't seen "A Budget For All" which i'm assuming is different than their "Deal for All"...will have to check it out later after work. thanks for the correction and heads up brad.
 
 
+4 # dkonstruction 2012-11-08 14:39
Thanks Brad....found it...here's the link to their latest "Budget For All"

http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/budget-for-all/
 
 
+4 # Barebonesart 2012-11-08 12:35
My father used to say that when money changed hands 7 times it was back in the governments coffers. This was in reference to government spending during the Great Depression. Is there any truth to this? It makes sense to me.
 
 
+4 # brux 2012-11-08 13:16
i think now it ends up in China or in American investors hands who are investing in China! ;-)
 
 
+3 # BradFromSalem 2012-11-08 13:17
I think its about 5 times, but what a nice simple way to put it.
 
 
+6 # dkonstruction 2012-11-08 14:19
Quoting Barebonesart:
My father used to say that when money changed hands 7 times it was back in the governments coffers. This was in reference to government spending during the Great Depression. Is there any truth to this? It makes sense to me.


Another way to look at it is how much revenue does $1 of gov't spending generate? Of course it depends on the type of spending but estimates i've seen of the GI bill, for example, is that it paid for itself 7 times over so republican notion that all gov't spending is bad (except for defense) and equal is simply not true.
 
 
+17 # EGH 2012-11-08 12:55
I think that it will help if we change the term domestic spending to domestic investment. Government funding of infrastructural projects that create jobs, and tax cuts for the poor and middle classes bring positive returns. More than merely increasing the tax base among the newly employed, the multiplier effect of each dollar spent in the economy serves to positively amplify the effect of government investments.
Moreover, we will create a demand pull rather than trickle down effect on the economy.
Last but not least should be a systematic effort to educate the public as to difference in these two concepts so that common sense may start to prevail.
 
 
+1 # bmiluski 2012-11-08 13:33
You are so right. It sould be domestic investment. Very nice.....
 
 
+7 # Texas Aggie 2012-11-08 13:39
What you say is absolutely true. The problem comes in that the prevailing winds in the republican party don't deal in edjumakashun. They have their faith and by God, they will die for their faith (and take the rest of us with them.)
 
 
+4 # brux 2012-11-08 13:07
I'm scared and after all this preparing for Obama to comrpomise, i.e. cave to the Republicans and not do what Robert Reich is suggesting.

Since as Reich says the President did not win by a large margin, nor did he specifically say what he was going to do should he be re-elected except in broad terms ... what is likely is that he is going to continue to coast letting events overtake his decisions and then compromising.

What else can he do?

What can we all do to let the President know we do not want to see him to do that, and what other alternatives can we give him when dealing with Republicans since they still have the majority in the House?
 
 
+7 # 4yourinformation 2012-11-08 14:32
The deal is practically done now. The Grand Bargain was alluded to in leaks that tell of Obama telling the Des Moines Register that he will give the GOP $2.50 of cuts for every $1.00 of taxes to attack the deficit. That means austerity. We're sunk.

Obama has plenty of guts when he's droning over Afghanistan and sending Seal Team 6 to kill some extremist in a robe, but Wall Street and Bonerhead are going to get what they want.
 
 
+3 # brux 2012-11-08 19:51
The value added from Obama seems to be that he is an image that the US will accept bad news from easier than an old white guy. Pretty revolting ... he is a marketing placeholder.
 
 
-2 # golferdawn 2012-11-08 15:50
I really appreciate the positive posts with concrete ideas for moving forward - otherwise, I wish you'd leave your negative thoughts to yourself. We need to be serious and find a plan to work together to make the changes we need.
 
 
+3 # freeportguy 2012-11-08 16:05
You run this blog or what...?
 
 
+2 # ahaywood 2012-11-08 16:04
#4yourinformati on don't believe everything you hear. Let's see what happens in this lame duck session. What we need to do is 'go off the cliff' as MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell suggested and call the Republican's bluff. Then congress will have no alternative but to fix things because their little tax scheme will be over and there will be nothing to blackmail the president and the people with. I say...go off the cliff... and screw the House of Representative members who have not heard us loud and clear. We want change..it is not only up to OB..we have a say in this as well. USA USA USA!!! Wish the president good luck instead of worrying.
 
 
+6 # Interested Observer 2012-11-08 16:34
Austerity is just the way the rich make everyone else pay their gambling debts.
 
 
+5 # sofi12 2012-11-08 16:57
I liked Reich's plan. I would add that since a majority of Americans vastly favor full Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and full funding for education (The figures for each vary -- ca 80% or so). I don't wish to see ANY cuts to these programs. As Paul Krugman has pointed out, "compromise" today in Washington usually occurs between the center -right and the extreme-right. Raise the cap limiting payments to the Social Security fund ,for a start. Tax those who can afford more ( and not just 3% more, the top earners during the Eisenhower paid over 90% in income tax!) The President and the VP need to use the bully pulpit to educate Americans what is required to improve our economy
 
 
0 # tabonsell 2012-11-08 19:51
Reduced government spending is never a solution to budget deficits.

In four times that has happened, devastation followed. After WWI and WWII government spending was reduced about 60% and depression or sever recession followed. Hoover cut spending in 1932 and a normal depression became the Great Depression. FDR gave into right-wing whining in 1937 and cut spending only to see four years of recover from the Great Depression immediately reversed with the GDP contracting and unemployment skyrocketing.

We don't even have to balance the budget. Jimmy Carter lowed the debt as a ratio of GDP to 32.5% (lowest since WWII) and never ran a surplus; he merely grew the economy more than he grew the debt. Reagan, on the other hand, skyrocketed that debt to past 68% of GDP and put us on the rod to financial ruin.

We don't even have to raise taxes on the wealthy. The correct course is to end the freeloading by hundreds of corporations that pay little or no tax while getting billion of dollars from the Treasury in handouts or contracts from the Pentagon.

The perfect solution is proposed in the book "Saving America: Using Democratic Capitalism to Rescue the Nation from Economic Folly." The President, his economic team and every member of Congress should read it and take to heart its proposals.


.
 
 
+2 # engelbach 2012-11-09 16:07
We definitely have to raise taxes on the wealthy. The tax cuts were a major reason for the deficit.
 
 
+2 # tabonsell 2012-11-09 17:45
Tax cuts for the wealthy are not the only reason for the deficit.

After World war II and into the 1950s individuals paid 53% of all income taxes. Corporations and other businesses paid 47% of income taxes.

We have constantly lowered taxes on business – especially on the corporations – and piled it onto individuals so that now business' share of income tax paid is less than 10%.

Just end corporate freeloading and lesson the burden on individuals will do much more good that hiking taxes on the wealthy. But raising taxes there wouldn't hurt but that isn't the total answer.
 
 
+6 # MidwestTom 2012-11-08 19:53
We should add a balance sheet, or net worth tax on top of income taxes. Say anyone with a net worth of over $10 million, has to pay an additional 3% of his net worth per year in taxes. Simply raising the income tax does not address the gigantic wealth accumulate during the last two tax decades.
 
 
0 # Dion Giles 2012-11-09 19:18
The most important person in a democratic republic is the elected President. Therefore nobody else is important enough to warrant a takeaway income of more than the President's salary. The democratic thing to do would be to set the President's salary as a benchmark and tax any income above that at 100c in the dollar. It's not cloud cuckoo land - Eisenhower came quite close back when Republicans were republicans.
 
 
+2 # Blast Dorrough 2012-11-09 22:11
The working class is dealing with an incorrigible Criminal Class that were united to the man and woman for four years to sabotage the presidency of President Obama. No caving in to these usurping Monocrats. Tax them at a 95% rate until the debt is paid that they created. Then tax them at the 92% rate that was considered fair in the 1950s but reduced to 13% or nothing at all via corruption over the years. I get repulsed over Demo politicians saying that these reprobates must consider paying "a little more." They didn't just steal "a little more." They stole the wealth and pensions of the middle-class with impunity. This Criminal Class should be charged under the RICO laws and jailed without bond until trial. They must get the same justice that millionaire drug dealers experience. This Criminal Class are government-made free-loaders having dependency on "legalized" corruption and "legalized" welfare in every imaginable form amounting to billions and trillions. Until they are held accountable for their criminality change will never come for the 99%. Demand that they FixTheDebt of their own creation.
 
 
0 # metamind 2012-11-12 06:27
We need a debt Jubilee. We need to forgive all debts, especially for homes. We need to stop the foreclosures. We need a new economic system, one based on cooperation and consensus rather than competition and control. We have abundance. We need to cooperate to share it intelligently. Millions of empty houses falling into worthlessness is not intelligent. It's foolish.

The Rolling Jubilee proposed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Qs9w1XlJKE is a scam in my opinion. We simply need to change the "rules of government." We need to get political and change Congress so that WE THE PEOPLE can make the rules of money rather than leaving it all up to the one percenters.
 

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