Political Economist & Best-Selling Author
Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine and Meyer and Ida Kirstein Professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week, and continues to write columns for Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times international edition. He was a founder of the Economic Policy Institute and serves on its board and executive committee. Read More >
Populism and Globalization
Stephen Bannon was the architect of Donald Trump's strategy of cozying up to white nationalists. In an interview with Robert Kuttner, Bannon said, "The Democrats—the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” Bannon’s economic nationalism meant investing seriously in public infrastructure; taking a harder line on trade; and delivering some good jobs to American workers. Trump did not go along with that part of the strategy. So Bannon lost his job—and Trump keeps losing public support. Robert Kuttner explains what Bannon was up to—and how his tell-all interview was the last straw that got Bannon fired.
It looks as if most Democrats in Congress will sponsor the Sanders bill for single-payer health insurance: Medicare for All. In some ideal world, that might save costs, get rid of middlemen, and maximize choice. But it’s awfully hard to get from here to there in one fell swoop. For starters, there would be a massive tax increase. But can we get some of the benefits of universal care, more gradually? Examples are a Medicare buy-in for people over 50; universal Medicare coverage for people under 25. A Medicare option in counties with fewer than three competing private insurance providers. Or a single-payer plan in one state. Which of these are practical steps forward, and why?
How should America—and American companies—be competing against China? The Chinese have a strategy of state-led capitalism that attracts some US-based companies with subsidies and pools of cheap labor—but conditions their entry on technology transfer to Chinese partners and limits on sales into China’s domestic market. This is a good deal for some US multinationals, a bad one for others. How should we compete against China? What would be “fair?” What should US trade policy be? An essential presentation for any company considering doing business in China or investing in those that do.
Technology always destroys jobs—but creates other jobs. This is a story that goes back to the industrial revolution. Each generation thinks that its technology is different. In the late 1930s, many economists thought that we were stuck at a permanent plateau of high unemployment, but then along came the war and war production—and America had more jobs than workers. Is there something uniquely job-destroying about artificial intelligence and today’s machines? Not if we get the rest of economic policy right.
Should globalization be rolled back or replaced with protectionism? That’s the wrong question. The right question is: What kind of globalization? During the postwar boom, we had rules of globalization that allowed plenty of good jobs for America workers—and a trade surplus. And if you think that was just a legacy of World War II, think again—there was no such legacy after World War I. If we can define a brand of globalization that produces good jobs for American workers, the populist reaction will fade. If not, welcome to the Trump Era.
If we are to reclaim our democracy, it's urgent that Democrats oust Donald Trump from the presidency. But that's not sufficient. The economy also needs to be reclaimed from the top One Percent, so that ordinary people whose living standards have been slipping for decades cease turning to populist strong men offering magical solutions — even as Trump and his allies double down on an economy of, by, and for the top. The challenge is further complicated by the allure of identity politics, and the need to build bridges across America's tribal divides. Can all this be done? Yes, but it will take leadership, a strong politics, and a dose of luck.