Tue, Sep 27 2016 – 6:30pm
Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley; Former Secretary of Labor; Author, Saving Capitalism
Holly Kernan, Executive Editor for News, KQED—Moderator
In the midst of an unpredictable presidential election, get insight from a veteran political figure who knows Washington inside and out. Time magazine named Reich one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. Come hear his provocative thoughts on the presidential election and the future of America.
Here we are in “Infrastructure Week” and here we are with a new argument for a massive infrastructure investment project – worldwide.
Last week Peter Coy wrote at Bloomberg, in “How to Pull the World Economy Out of Its Rut,” about economist Larry Summers’ argument that we need massive public investment. Coy writes that Summers has been “jetting around the world” trying to convince central bankers “to reach out to the governments they work for … and insist on strong fiscal stimulus in the form of infrastructure spending and the like.” (i.e. “Public investment”.)
The case for this is very, very strong. Never mind that around the world infrastructure is crumbling. Just doing the basic job of government and making sure that things like infrastructure are up to par has fallen out of favor among the world’s elites, because “government spending.” Summers makes a different argument about why public investment – government spending on things countries and people and economies need – is essential to keep the world’s economy going.
Coy writes, “Summers’s deeper argument is that world growth is stuck in a rut because there’s a chronic shortage of demand for goods and services and a concomitant excess of desired savings.”
This Is Extremely Important And Summers Is Exactly Right
This is extremely important and Summers is exactly right on this. Too many people don’t have enough income, while a few people have lots of savings. But the few with lots of savings don’t have safe places to invest it because too many people don’t have enough income. In other words, the world faces a “chronic shortage of demand” and a “concomitant excess of desired savings.”
Capitalist economies necessarily move toward concentration of wealth, so over time a few people end up with lots of savings while most people get poorer. (Economist Piketty: “r > g” where ‘r’ is the rate of return on capital and ‘g’ is the rate of growth in the economy.) Since regular people participate in the economy by using money to demand goods and services, demand decreases as they get poorer.
Without something stepping in to break this cycle more and more of the resources end up in fewer and fewer hands, and after a while the entire system breaks down. Therefore in a capitalist economy government action is needed to redistribute “money” (resources and savings) away from the concentration at the top, back to more of “the people” so that they can again participate in the economy (demand).
This circle of money flowing around – demand gives savings good places to invest to meet that demand – shows why government redistribution is essential to keeping capitalist economies going. Taxing those who have a lot and using the money to build a sidewalk is redistribution because even poor people get to walk on the sidewalk. But even for those who hate the idea of redistribution, those sidewalks and roads and bridges and the rest are absolutely essential to economies. Even more essential, the jobs that are created to do the work building those things creates essential consumer demand.
The whole world is stuck in a rut because there is too much money at the top chasing insufficient demand.
Too Much Money At The Top Chasing Insufficient Demand
Wealth has concentrated. Inequality is extreme worldwide. The result is a worldwide “savings glut.” There is very little consumer demand so investment in things consumers/the private economy might buy is not bringing much of a return. This means there is too much money floating around the world looking for a safe investment that will bring a return. With few investments promising a safe return investors don’t want to risk investing.
Investment in the private sector has become too risky because of insufficient demand. So instead of finding private-sector investments, people are “parking” their money in government bonds. Governments that are safe are getting those savings to hold instead, sometimes even being paid (negative interest rates) to hold it.
Using different words, this shows there is a huge demand for government debt. That’s why the price has gotten so high (low interest rates mean there is a high price for a bond). Supply and demand: there is too much demand and too little supply of government debt.
Coy words it this way, “The interest rate, like any price, reflects supply and demand. It’s fallen because the demand for loans is weak and the supply of loans from savers, who have extra cash to deploy, is strong.”
The Things Governments Do Creates Demand In The Private Economy
The things governments do creates demand in the private economy when the private economy is not creating enough by itself. Infrastructure, investment in the people, education, job training, science and research, etc. are the underpinnings of the private economy later, but they wear out. Roads and bridges wear out, laid-off workers lose skills and well-educated people eventually get older and you need to do the next round of public investment. Our last round started drying up with the “Reagan era” ideology of “starve the beast” by killing government’s ability to spend.
When the private economy is doing well, savings finds places to invest. When savings is already thus engaged, interests rates rise. High interest rates mean government gets less when it sells its bonds. These higher rates are the market signal that government debt is not so much in demand, and governments need to borrow (and invest) less to keep the economy going. And because the private sector is going well people need fewer public services so governments don’t need to borrow to get the money to provide them…
The Markets Are Demanding That Governments Issue More Debt
Right now interest rates are extremely low – even negative in some countries. This high price for government debt means the markets are demanding that governments issue more debt. This is the law of supply and demand. Again: money markets are demanding more supply of government debt.
What should governments do with the money they get from selling more bonds? They should do what governments do with money. By definition this is “public investment.” Build roads, educate, feed people, etc. But instead of responding to the demands of markets, the anti-government ideology in control is forcing governments to do less, get smaller, need less money, issue fewer bonds.
For decades governments have been trying to follow the “less government” ideological mantra. But economics (and markets) says there is an essential role for government and public investment or economies don’t work. As governments withdraw from their role, economies stop working. Demand dries up, those with lots of money have nowhere to put it… and here we are. Secular stagnation.
So government cutbacks lead to low economy demand. The cycle is necessary, taxing the rich and using the money for government investment both creates demand at the time though spending and jobs, and the things it invests IN create demand later.
So the same thing has now been said about a dozen different and redundant ways here. People and the markets are demanding that governments around the world open up the spending spigot, invest in infrastructure and education and services other things governments do to make people’s lives better. The markets are demanding it and the proof is low interest rates on government debt. Not just here but worldwide.
Economists are still arguing over whether moving our jobs out of the country affects what the people still here get paid. Yes, really.
For example, Jared Bernstein in The Washington Post looks at different studies of the effect of moving jobs out of the country. One study, by economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson (referred to by Bernstein as “ADH”), was published in January by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The other, by economist Josh Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute, was published in 2013. Both found that moving jobs out of the country hurt the wages of not just the affected workers but everyone in the surrounding area. The question is, does this wage-depressing effect spread outside the local area?
Bernstein writes, “The analytic question is twofold. First, are American workers really hurt by trade competition, and second, if so, are there spillovers to those not directly in competition with imports?”
You’ve heard people ask, “How come they can come up with a couple trillion dollars to invade Iraq, or hundreds of billions for corporate tax cuts, but say we’re broke when we need to fix our infrastructure so pipes don’t contaminate children with lead poisoning?”
The answer is that the priorities of our current rigged “system” lead to choices like these by our current Congress. The taxing and spending in our government’s budgets reflect those priorities. As we all know, these priorities more and more often reflect the values and wishes of the “donor class” and less and less often reflect the values and wishes of the rest of us.
The CPC People’s Budget deals with the real needs of Americans and our economy. It makes major job-creating investments in our country through clean energy, infrastructure, housing, and education, which will increase opportunity for all and boost wages for working Americans. It financially supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans, supports women’s reproductive health, supports voting rights, makes debt-free college a reality for all students, provides a plan to halve poverty and more. It pays for this by eliminating corporate tax dodges and breaks.
Priority: Austerity Or Prosperity
Choose your priority:
● Austerity – the current “donor class” budgeting that benefits billionaires, Wall Street and giant corporations through cuts in things government does to make our lives and economy better, combined with cuts in taxes for billionaires and giant corporations. Austerity literally takes money out of the economy and “eats the seed corn.” When there are fewer jobs and people really need to find work, employers can pay as little as they can legally get away with, and pit the employees against each other. Meanwhile tax cuts defund our government’s ability to regulate what corporations and Wall Street do.
● Prosperity – a “People’s” budget that creates millions of jobs (resulting in higher pay for everyone) through investment in maintaining and modernizing infrastructure, launching green energy projects, making preschool and higher education freely available for anyone who wants to attend and supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans. This investment in our people and our economy’s future creates fertile soil in which people and businesses can prosper. When there are lots of jobs, companies will “bid up” wages and benefits to attract people to work for them.
The People’s Budget will:
● Provide a $1 trillion investment to repair roads and bridges and ensure the restoration of our crumbling infrastructure.
● Create 3.6 million good-paying jobs to push our economy back to genuine full employment by targeting a 4 percent unemployment rate.
● Make corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, cracking down on loopholes and avoidance schemes.
● Make debt-free college a reality for all students by overhauling the student loan system, which currently leaves college students saddled with unmanageable levels of debt.
● Take bold action to fight climate change and invest in a clean-energy economy that supports green jobs with good wages.
… sharp contrast between the progressive vision of a government working to strengthen working families and make our economy and politics more fair, and a conservative vision of government all but abandoning struggling families while coddling the wealthy and powerful.
It’s your choice: Choose the current priority of austerity that benefits billionaires, corporations and Wall Street or a prosperity People’s Budget that invests in our economy – and us.
The Progressive Caucus People’s Budget is a bill in front of our Congress. All it takes is enough votes and it becomes the budget of our country. If you choose prosperity, here are some things you can do to help push this budget through Congress:
Our country’s “free trade” agreements have followed a framework of trading away our democracy and middle-class prosperity in exchange for letting the biggest corporations dominate.
There are those who say any increase in trade is good. But if you close a factory here and lay off the workers, open the factory “there” to make the same things the factory here used to make, bring those things into the country to sell in the same outlets, you have just “increased trade” because now those goods cross a border. Supporters of free trade are having a harder and harder time convincing American workers this is good for them.
Free trade is when goods and services are bought and sold between countries without tariffs, duties and quotas. The idea is that some countries “do things better” than other countries, which these days basically means they offer lower labor and environmental-protection costs. Allowing other countries to do things in ways that cost less “frees up resources” which can theoretically be used for investment at home.
“Free trade”: The elites are selling it but the public is longer buying it. Look at the support for Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump, especially in light of Sanders’ surprise 20-point comeback in this week’s Michigan primary. With primaries coming soon in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, will Sanders’ trade appeal resonate again?
Voters See Free Trade Killing Their Jobs And Wages
Voters have figured out that our country’s current “free trade” policies are killing their jobs, wages, cities, regions and the country’s middle class. Giant multinational corporations and billionaires do great under free trade, the rest of us not so much.
Elites say increasing trade is always good. But when you close a factory here, then open the factory “there” and bring the same goods back to sell in the same outlets, you have “increased trade” because those goods now cross a border. The differential between wages paid here and there goes into the pockets of the executives and shareholders. Those unemployed American workers add to wage pressures on the rest of us. Inequality increases.
There are other bad consequences as the effects of free trade ripple through local economies. The stores and gas stations and restaurants where the workers shopped and dined have to cut back. The factory’s suppliers have to cut back and lay off, too. Property values drop in the neighborhoods where all of those workers lived. The local tax base erodes. Roads and buildings and downtowns deteriorate… (The old lead pipes going to the houses do not get replaced.)
On a national scale, these local effects add up to a tragedy.
The national industrial ecosystem collapses as well. The manufacturing “know-how” migrates out of the country. The schools that taught people how to do what the factory did drop those classes. The investors who know how to evaluate manufacturing proposals go away. The raw materials pipeline migrates away. Reviving the outsourced industries will require tremendous and nationally coordinated investment.
For decades we’ve been told all this is actually good for “us.” But people have come to understand that the “us” this is good for doesn’t include about 99 percent of “us” or our country.
Trade Behind Sanders’ Michigan Upset
Sanders’ Michigan primary upset was most likely driven by his repeated trade message. Michigan’s primary upset demonstrates again that voters have caught on that our country’s trade policies have sent millions of jobs out of the country, put tremendous downward pressure on wages, decimated regions of the country (Flint, Detroit, the “rust belt”) and are dealing a death blow to America’s middle class.
Watch this Sanders ad on the damage our trade deals have done:
While people talk about “NAFTA” (the North American Free Trade Agreement) the term is really used as a shorthand for all of our country’s disastrous trade policies, including the millions of jobs and tens of thousands of factories outsourced to China.
The exit polling from Michigan indicates that most voters there are wary of free trade agreements — and that Sanders and Trump drubbed their opponents among those voters.
According to CNN, 58 percent of Democratic voters polled after casting ballots said they believe U.S. trade with other countries takes away U.S. jobs, compared with just 30 percent who said they believe it creates them. Among that group, Sanders won by a whopping 17-point margin: 58 percent to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s 41 percent. He won the primary overall by less than a 2-point margin.
[. . .] Trade — and resentment toward U.S. trade policy — has been the sleeper issue in 2016. By eliminating trade barriers with low-wage countries, the North American Free Trade Agreement and subsequent treaties over the past two decades have encouraged U.S. companies to move jobs to countries where workers are paid less.
Sanders has made a point of pressing Clinton on trade throughout the Democratic debates, including just days ago. The Vermont independent has been a vocal opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries championed by President Barack Obama. Clinton’s stance on the deal hasn’t beennearly as clear.
Mr. Sanders pulled off a startling upset in Michigan on Tuesday by traveling to communities far from Detroit and by hammering Mrs. Clinton on an issue that resonated in this still-struggling state: her past support for trade deals that workers here believe robbed them of manufacturing jobs. Almost three-fifths of voters said that trade with other countries was more likely to take away jobs, according to exit polls by Edison Research, and those voters favored Mr. Sanders by a margin of more than 10 points.
The salience of trade, in a state where unemployment had tumbled more than half since the start of the Great Recession, blindsided a Democratic Party that has struggled to find coherence between its labor base and its neoliberal leadership. It also worried Republicans, whose leaders and donors are resolutely in favor of free trade.
“There has been a bipartisan conventional wisdom that the damage done to working-class jobs and incomes are simply part of inevitable changes, ones we cannot and should not challenge,” said Larry Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Even President Obama is blaming inequality problems on technological change, which is not even a plausible explanation for post-2000 America. People correctly understand that many elites simply believe that wage stagnation is something we cannot change.”
… In Michigan, exit pollsters for the first time asked voters whether they thought trade created or took away American jobs. The “take away” faction made up 55 percent of the Republican primary vote and 57 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Trump won the GOP faction with 45 percent, and Sanders won the Democratic side with 56 percent.
A YUGE part of Donald Trump’s appeal is his position on trade. A new poll shows that 66% of Republican voters oppose TPP.
Last week’s post, Trump Taps Into Economic Anxiety Resulting From ‘Free Trade’ noted that “Trump is tapping into an economic anxiety felt by many, many Americans. Our trade policies are at the root of this anxiety, and Trump knows it and says it, and people nod their heads.” Here is Trump speaking after the “Super Tuesday” primaries:
Our nation is in serious trouble. we’re being killed on trade, absolutely destroyed, China is just taking advantage of us. I have nothing against China, I have great respect for China but their leaders are just too smart of our leaders, our leaders don’t have a clue. And the trade deficits at 400 billion dollars and 500 billion dollars, are too much, no country can sustain that kind of trade deficit. It won’t be that way for long, we have the greatest business leaders in the world, on my team already, and believe me we’re going to redo those trade deals and it’s going to be a thing of beauty.
Trump has been sounding this message throughout his campaign. Here is Trump on trade from last November:
“I’ll tell you, there’s one thing that we’ve very similar on,” Trump said during a town hall hosted by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “He knows that our country is being ripped off big league, big league, on trade.”
1. A message of economic populism, particularly protectionism, is much more potent in the Rust Belt than we understood.
Most Michiganders feel like they are victims of trade deals, going back to NAFTA under Bill Clinton, and they’re deeply suspicious of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Outsourcing has helped hollow out the state’s once mighty manufacturing core.
Trump and Sanders both successfully tapped into this.
Six in 10 Michigan Democratic primary voters said international trade takes away U.S. jobs, and Sanders won these voters by roughly 20 points, according to preliminary exit poll data reported by CNN. Only 3 in 10 thought trade creates jobs; Clinton won that group.
One-third of voters said Clinton is too pro-business. Sanders won more than four in five of them.
… Clinton, after speaking supportively of the TPP, flip-flopped once the agreement was signed.
4. Free trade is Clinton’s albatross. Just as the cable networks were calling the shocker for Sanders, an email popped into my inbox from one architect of Obama’s 2008 triumph, who was travelling overseas. “Americans really hate free trade,” he wrote. “Don’t know how else to explain it. Same thing running through republican race.”
Clinton … has the burden of schlepping the albatross of NAFTA with her throughout the Midwest. This is where voters’ lack of trust and her core belief in the value of open markets for American manufacturers collide: When Clinton questions free trade nobody really believes her; Sanders’ thunderous anti-free trade talk taps a vein of deep grievance, his cash advantage allowed him to saturate markets with word of his opposition to TPP and NAFTA – and his debate-stage answer on the topic was pithier and more convincing than Clinton’s.
Will Sanders’ Trade Position Resonate In Upcoming Primaries?
And a new statewide poll of likely Ohio voters finds trade will likely be a dominant issue in the March 15 primary, as vast majorities of respondents worry that the United States has “lost too many manufacturing jobs” and think it would be effective to “crack down on foreign countries that violate their trade agreements.”
… Conducted Feb. 27 to March 2 by Public Opinion Research and The Mellman Group, the poll looked at voter opinion on trade, manufacturing and the presidential candidates. Researchers discovered that while support for American manufacturing is nearly universal, majorities of respondents are worried about a shrinking middle class and the impact of manufacturing job loss.
Most participants are also concerned about foreign trade, including with China. Ninety-one percent agreed that it’s time for crack down on countries that violate trade agreements, and 83 percent said that it is important that China is officially declared a currency manipulator.
… Other key findings:
● 93 percent of participants worry that the U.S. has “lost too many manufacturing jobs in this country.”
● 74 percent of participants have unfavorable views of “manufactured goods made in China,” including 77 percent of “conservative” respondents.
● 96 percent of participants are favorable of “manufactured goods made in America,” including 98 percent of “conservative members of the GOP.”
● 92 percent of participants think that “too many jobs are being shipped overseas” and 86 percent are worried they “don’t seem to manufacture anything here in America anymore.”
Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina have also been hammered by outsourcing of jobs caused by trade policies and likely have similar sentiments.
There Is A Better Way To Do Trade
Current U.S. trade policies are written by representatives of multinational corporations with the intent of locking in their dominance while driving wages and environmental costs down. The resulting agreements are clearly in their interests and not the rest of us. Our country’s enormous, humongous trade deficit is a metric for understanding the damage being done to our country.
Now that the public is clearly rejecting the current trade approach, there are alternatives available. Just having non-corporate stakeholders including representatives of labor, consumer, human rights, environmental and other groups at the table would bring about a more fair and just trade regime.
● Protect Congress’ Authority to Set Trade Policy
● Restore Balanced trade
● Put Workers First
● Stop Currency Manipulation
● Expand Buy America Procurement Practices
● Protect the Environment for Future Generations
● Prioritize Consumers above Profits
● Protect Nationhood Rights
● Secure Affordable Access to Essential Medicines and Services
● Respect Human Rights
● Provide a Safety Net for Vulnerable Workers
● Create shared gains for the workers whose labor creates society’s wealth.
● Strengthen protections for the environment. Companies must not use trade rules to pit one country’s environmental rules against another, as they seek the lowest-cost place to produce.
● Protect the freedom to regulate in the public interest.
● Set rules for fair competition. Workers of a nation must not be unduly disadvantaged by unfair economic competition resulting from choices about how to organize their economies.
● Include strong rules of origin so that trade agreements are not merely a conduit to ease the global corporation’s race to the bottom.
● Not provide extraordinary privileges to foreign investors.
● Effectively address currency manipulation.
● Retain the ability for all nations to stimulate their economies through domestic infrastructure and spending programs.
● Protect the right of governments to choose the scope and level of public services to provide.
● Protect intellectual property (IP) in a fair and balanced manner.
● Protect the unique U.S. transportation regulatory and legal structure.
● Protect the right of governments to secure the integrity and stability of their financial systems.
● Be negotiated in an open, democratic and accountable manner.
● Be flexible and responsive.
“When you dare to do big things, big results should be expected. The Sanders program is big, and when you run it through a standard model, you get a big result.” – James K. Galbraith
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says he wants the American people to join him and “fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all.” His website outlines a number of proposals toward this end, including increasing taxation of corporations and the wealthy and using the money to repair the country’s infrastructure, extending public education four years to cover college, extending Medicare to everyone, expanding Social Security and addressing climate change.
Gerald Friedman, a respected economist (and Clinton supporter by the way) took a look at Sanders’ proposals, ran the revenue and spending numbers through a standard economic model, and suggested that the very high level of spending would provide a “significant stimulus to an economy that continues to underperform, with national income and employment at levels well below capacity.” This stimulus could lead to several positive economic outcomes, including increasing gross domestic product growth to 5.3 percent a year, cutting unemployment to 3.8 percent and increasing wages by 2.5 percent per year. This, combining with the revenue proposals, would bring a budget surplus. Friedman wrote:
Everyone understands that our (and the world’s) economy is underperforming. While U.S. unemployment is down, people are finding jobs that underpay and/or don’t provide enough hours. Regular people just don’t have enough to get by – never mind enough to drive consumer economies. The lack of pay causes a drop in consumer demand, which leads to economic malaise.
Economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it clearly: “The only cure for the world’s malaise is an increase in aggregate demand.”
There is one taboo of economics that the government is hiding from the public, argues David Graeber: it is the fact that if the government balances its books, it becomes impossible for the private sector to do the same. And, he claims, this inevitable debt often gets landed on those in society least able to pay it back
One of the selling points for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is that it will “increase trade.”
Here’s the thing. If you close a factory in the U.S., lay off all of the workers, devastate the surrounding community, and move the production to a low-wage country like Vietnam, bring the same goods back to the U.S. and sell them in the same stores, you have just “increased trade” because now those goods cross a border.
Plus you have the added bonus that executives and shareholders can pocket the wage difference (or park the money in the Cayman Islands). Hopefully they can also pocket the difference in environmental protection costs, workers safety costs, etc., because in places like Vietnam, good luck with ever getting those things.
Economists will tell you that moving the factory to Vietnam is an efficient allocation of resources. The workers and factory here in the U.S. can now be used for something that “we do better here in the U.S,” they might say, and the workers will be rehired at a better wage. The repurposed factory will sell higher-value things to the world that more than make up for the loss of exports of what the factory had been making.
Look around you. Is that what is happening as a result of our trade policies? No; we instead have a massive trade deficit. Entire regions of the country are shifting to third-world status, downtowns boarded up, foreclosed houses falling down, people feeling hopeless… and a few people get more and more wealthy at the expense of the rest of the world.
Regular Americans see their standard of living falling as a direct result of trade policies designed to break unions and increase the wealth and power of a few at the top. Many workers in other countries have few rights, the environment is not protected, government and self-determination are undermined…
If our trade policies were combined with policies that share the benefits from lower production costs, etc. with all of us on all sides of trade borders, then increased trade would be a good thing. That is not what is happening. The trade policies are designed to break worker power and to break governmental power.
So, yes, TPP will “increase trade.” Which means more and more jobs and production moving out of the U.S.
“I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.” – Senator Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders billed his talk Thursday at Georgetown University as a speech on “democratic socialism,” but it was immediately clear that what Sanders was really talking about were not the ideologies of a Cold War adversary but deeply American traditions of fairness that have been under attack by ideologues brandishing American flags.
Sanders anchored his speech as building on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” address. “Real freedom must include economic security.” he said. “That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did.”
In the presidential campaign Republican candidates are proposing even more austerity as a solution to the lackadaisical recovery, combined with tax cuts for the rich and deregulation of Wall Street and the giant corporations. Democrats, on the other hand are proposing infrastructure investment and a number of other positive solutions.