Jobs for all–the impossible dream?

WPA+StrikeMy friend Matt Bruenig does consistently great stuff, but I have to object to his recent critique of the idea of a Job Guarantee (often called the government as an Employer of Last Resort, or ‘ELR’). I want to walk through his arguments, point by point.

This explainer by the illustrious Randy Wray provides background on the entire idea, including the macroeconomics of ELR, while Matt and I mostly stick to the mechanics.

He starts well, noting it isn’t the 1930s and you can’t put people to work by just handing them a shovel. Jobs require capital, quite true. I’d go further, jobs require capitalized organizations with plans. Call them public enterprises. Decide what sort of work ought to be done and set up assorted enterprises to tackle different jobs. They would provide public services and construct and maintain public facilities. They would supplement the efforts of state and local governments that in many cases fail to do what ought to be done, sometimes for lack of capability. They would utilize workers with a wide variety of skills. And they would be organized to handle more fluid ebbs and flows of employees.

Matt fears the supply of labor for such purposes as too variable to staff permanent organizations in continual operation. It seems to me that jobs could be provided in six month stretches, with the opportunity to re-up. Some employees would be permanent, and paid commensurately.

Work could focus on a sequence of one-off projects. With higher private employment and fewer ELR applicants, projects could proceed more slowly, or be postponed. Just because a project isn’t essential doesn’t mean it would not be worthwhile. Some applicants will have more skills than others, and some work will require more or less in the way of skill. There is already a lot of ‘churning’ in the labor market (people moving between jobs greatly outnumber those in and out of work). Business firms cope with it.

Permanent ELR-staffed operations would reduce unemployment and oblige the private sector to be more flexible. They could be focused on the most benighted localities that lack the resources to provide ample services and facilities. For instance, if the state of Texas won’t build sewers for people in the Rio Grande Valley, the Feds could set up there, train and employ local labor, and situate such communities to exercise more political power in the future. This bears some resemblance to the original War on Poverty, before the community action angle got smothered in 1967, when state and local politicians gained substantial control of the program.

What kind of work is worth Federal support? Day care centers and public schools could use teachers’ aides (properly vetted). Small-scale infrastructure work. Reclaiming unused urban land. Green retrofits of public facilities, and maybe privately owned structures and homes. There’s nothing to prevent a public enterprise from owning any kind of equipment it needs.

Training someone who subsequently leaves the ELR service doesn’t strike me as a problem. We train people now who never work for public institutions. There is a public value to job training. Nor is it a problem if people leave the service because they find something better. That’s the whole point: to force employers to compete for labor with institutions with better standards of employment. If nobody needed the last resort of public employment, that would be fine.

In general I think Matt’s notion of how an ELR system could work is too narrow. He ends by suggesting a modification in line with my discussion above, one that I don’t think goes against the grain of an ELR system.

Black lives and white lies

march1Even though it now seems like a long time ago, I freely admit the Bernie blow-up at Netroots Nation has made me a little crazy. Today I finally watched a video of the entire episode and I have to say the media reports severely distorted what actually took place. The story was of some huge confrontation between Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists. Sanders was said to be tone deaf to the urgency of racist police misconduct.

In the video, there is some very limited disruption of Sanders’ speech near the beginning and scattered, intermittent yelling afterwards. Mostly he was able to talk over them and get his message out, and mostly they let him. He could have handled it better by being more forthcoming in responding to the protest, but he did respond. I doubt anything he could have said would have made them all stop. (Martin O’Malley got much of the worst of the protests and was at least as clumsy in responding as Sanders.)

There has been more vitriol in the aftermath than at the event itself between often white Bernie supporters and often black supporters of the #BLM movement. Criticism of the anti-Bernie initiative is in my experience falsely interpreted as attacks on the intelligence of everyone in the movement, if not all black people. (I say anti-Bernie initiative because there has been no parallel criticism of Hillary Clinton, much less any intervention at her campaign events.)

At my family dinner table, growing up, “You’re nuts” (usually from my father) was never fighting words, much less grounds for lasting animosity. It was a normal part of argument. To me, criticism does not imply any lack of intelligence or sophistication on the part of anyone I criticize. If I want to insult you, you will know it. Indeed, any intense political activity is likely to be rife with criticism, flying in every direction. Why should #BlackLivesMatter be any different? The alternative is a movement of zombies.

I’ve participated in disruptions of speakers in the (distant) past, and with less justification than #BLM. My issue here is practical, not moral. What is the political fall-out from dumping on Bernie?

The good fall-out is that he has revised his platform to explicitly grapple with issues pertaining specifically to racist police misconduct. This was overdue. From this standpoint, he deserved a bonking. At the same time, some of the ‘demands’ of some in #BLM are ambitious to the point of fantasy. (My basis for this is the remarks made by protesters during and after the speeches.) How exactly is a candidate supposed to explain in five minutes how he or she is going to “end structural racism”? Does anybody really want a dissertation on how to perfect all the laws barring discrimination in employment, housing, and the like? It’s the kind of question that is not designed to elicit an answer.

The bad fall-out is the false impression that Hillary Clinton has some advantage on these issues. This is complete hogwash. If you examine her statements, you will find the actual policies aimed at racist police misconduct to be very thin. Body- and dash-cameras. Or course, we are finding out about police atrocities precisely from these cameras.

Hillary is good at providing anti-racist mood music but abstains from endorsing much in the way of specific remedies. She has the best PR that money can buy, and she has a lot of money. Hillary’s record includes support for hubby’s boost to mass incarceration and malignant “welfare reform,” among other dubious achievements. Bernie’s record is uninterrupted support for African-American interests, for fifty years. To date, there has been no parallel #BlackLivesMatter intervention in a Hillary event. Why not? Shouldn’t there be?

Who were the #BLM activists at Netroots Nation? My Facebook friend Bruce Dixon, a Black Panther back in the day, rips them up and down, asserting attendees at this conference are only interested in getting jobs and grants from liberals and Democratic Party apparatchiks. I think this is a little strong. First of all, there is often no way to know who is on the make and who is sincere since none of us are mind-readers. Second, it’s no sin to hope to advance the cause by working for Democrats. It may be a debatable political premise, but that’s a different matter, not a question of bad faith.

The real story here is not what happened at the conference, but post-conference commentary that invents contradictions between Bernie’s social-democratic politics and African-American interests. Such concoctions are deeply antithetical to any prospects for relief from racist police abuse, much less the entire menu of progressive concerns. There is a case for preferring Hillary to Bernie, on the grounds that she seems to have a better chance of beating any Republican (or did, until recently). There is no case that she provides more support for #BLM concerns.

Currently the Democratic primary is between two people. There is no getting around that. You ding one, you help the other.





The oppo on Bernie

140228155048-whispering-gossip-story-topAssorted Hillary Clinton stooges are telling lies about Bernie. I suspect that the HRC camp is seeding the ground for this effort, because paranoids have enemies too.

One area is immigration reform. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), supporter of Rahm Emanuel against Chuy Garcia for mayor of Chicago, has said “I don’t know if Bernie likes immigrants . . .” In 2007 Bernie voted against an immigration reform bill. It was co-sponsored by Teddy Kennedy, so it is fair game to question Bernie’s vote. It is not fair game to neglect his reason–that he thought the bill would further drive down wages. Not immigration in general, but that particular bill.

The 2007 bill was also opposed by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American Immigrant Lawyers Association, the AFL-CIO, 15 Senate Democrats, and depending on how you keep score, Senator Barack Obama. Any honest liberal who looks at the bill can find some bad stuff in it. Bernie did back an immigration reform bill in 2013. Hence, summary invocation of the 2007 vote as a definitive indicator of anti-immigrant views is simply libelous and prima facie evidence of bad faith, or at the least, lazy-stupid recirculation of Internet bullshit.

Guns. Here is a list of Bernie votes. Some could be classified as supporting gun control, others as not supportive. You could cherry-pick from either to exaggerate in either direction. If you say he is all one or the other, you’re lyin. You could say accurately that he has been on both sides of the fence. If you were generous you would say he was faithfully representing the people of Vermont.

Bernie and the Minutemen. A blogger I never heard of until today (too dumb to link to, who has now banned me from his comments feed) claims “[H]e is on the record supporting the vigilante and racist border militia group ‘The Minuteman Project’.” Really? This gentleman needs to bone up on the meaning of ‘on the record.’ What actually did happen is that Bernie voted for an amendment to an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security that included language prohibiting the Federal government from “provid[ing] a foreign government information relating to the activities of an organized volunteer civilian action group, operating in the State of California, Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona, unless required by international treaty.” This could be criticized, but not as supporting any racist militia group.

Why did he vote for it? I don’t know. A diligent blogger might have asked him. Appropriations bills for entire departments are voluminous affairs and votes are often cast to keep the process moving along, sometimes with inattention to obnoxious details.


I’ll be keeping up with this drivel as we go forward, since stupid things can grow in the intellectual wilderness of the Internet.



Hillary speaks

My friend and former boss Larry Mishel has an early take. Here’s another at TPM. And here’s the awesome Joe Stiglitz phoning in a very not-awesome plug (“Today Hillary Clinton began to offer . . . ” Began? How much more time does she need??)

Her main theme is raising middle class incomes by reversing wage stagnation. This is a good start, though any candidate could claim the same point of departure. Even John Ellis Bush Bush adviser Glenn Hubbard (“Grrr. Give it your best shot.”) acknowledges the need to reverse wage stagnation. It’s where you go with it that matters.

If wage stagnation is the result of “policy choices,” what were those choices, and what policies would reverse them? EPI where I worked for 18 years has been on this forever and arguably has moved the Democratic Party in this dimension, so for that kudos to them.

HRC’s biggest remedy is a $12 minimum wage. I would agree this would be a fine thing. The other measures on wage theft and overtime are welcome but second tier issues to me. More to the point is the discussion of the right to organize, so I ask again what we could rightfully expect in light of past, lackluster pursuit of this goal by Democratic politicians?

The commitment to full employment is another one of those things that everyone is always for. Or nearly everyone. How to do it? I don’t think she has the goods on this one. In her prepared text we can still see some phobic references to the national debt. There are references to the 90s boom, with the implication that it was due to deficit reduction. Wrong wrong wrong. She gets the relevance of tight labor markets, which is crucial, but how to get them?

I have to laugh, or cry, when I think back to the chatter that Bernie doesn’t care about black folks, and HRC does. Her remedy for the ‘hood is “empowerment zones,” which is Ronald Reagan/Jack Kemp bullshit. I could also note with displeasure her 50s nostalgia about how great the middle class had it, since the greatness was limited to white people.

The speech is being played as providing a concession to Bernie Sanders with a commitment to ‘fairness,’ while also nodding to the center with an affirmation of the centrality of growth. The former is said to be dependent on the latter. To the contrary, as a narrowly economic matter, OF COURSE we could have more ‘fairness’ right now at the same level of economic output. This would seem to make fairness contingent on future growth, which is not looking spectacular at the moment.

To be clear, there is some good stuff in the speech. My preference is to illuminate the sucky parts. She’s going to be the nominee, I’m going to vote for her, and she will probably win. In light of all that, I’d prefer people have a better idea of the gaps in her platform.

Hillarynomics, Cont’d

giphyWe are being told Ms Clinton will deliver a major economic policy speech tomorrow. What are we in for, and what should she say? A preview is offered here, though we’ve already had a preview of the preview (scroll down to here, then scroll up for the assorted installments of my Clinton oeuvre).

Here are some categories for statements that aim to make sense of the whole thing.

1. Choice of themes

2. Implicit principles and their implications

3. Relatively binding policy commitments

4. What do we really need to hear?

Themes. Choice of themes reflects what the candidate would like you to think he or she places high in importance. As such, they are potentially foundational to #2 and #3, or possibly just hot air.

Principles. Rhetoric about policy always rests on deeper principles, not necessarily made explicit. These principles may be constructive or specious. Whether they are politically effective is a different matter, one beyond the scope of this note.

Commitments. Some promises are relatively explicit and their fulfillment or lack thereof is observable. Others may be empty. For instance, a call for closure of Guantanamo is relatively serious, since everyone can see whether it happens or not, and it is under the power of the president. By contrast, a call for more infrastructure while good on the merits is weak, since the extent to which it actually happens is not obvious, and because failure to follow through can be blamed on the loons in the House.

Priorities. Some matters are real priorities, on the merits, even if they are very difficult to put across politically. A real leader would talk about such things.

Now we’ll consider what is being reported about the Clinton speech in light of this framework.

The first of these in the article is middle class incomes and wage growth. This is fine as a problem, though one test is whether a Republican could easily put forward the same issue. In this light the theme is weak. All politicians want you to get paid more. Inequality is more to the point. Republican efforts to encroach in this dimension have been more comical than substantive. I went into detail on that in prior posts. The summary is that HRC is saying relatively little of interest to the poor, and the tax the rich bits are more like sound bites than far-reaching tax policy. Aggrandizing labor is central to addressing inequality.

In principle the remedies should follow from the causes. The article says Clinton’s causes are “globalization, automation, and even consumer-friendly ‘sharing economy’ firms like Uber and Airbnb.” There’s something to globalization, very little to the vaunted sharing economy, and nothing at all to automation. On balance this all is about 80 percent bullshit. Not an auspicious start. The real cause is a forty-year assault on organized labor, facilitated by trade policy that is indifferent to the interests of domestic production workers.

I’ve discussed her purported remedies before, which include an infrastructure bank (will it have any money? from where?), small business tax cuts (why oh why?), energy projects (see ‘money,’ above), and child care (ditto). Why any of this would generate ‘good paying jobs’ as opposed to the other kind is left to the imagination, though some job is usually better than no job. The other problem is that all of this depends on Congress, the public tolerance for more government spending, and the disposition of the deficit. Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over. What will HRC say?

More politically relevant are her regulatory measures that I’d say have more political juice. These include paid family leave, medical leave, and the minimum wage. A tougher lift is supporting the right to organize unions. Somebody has to ask why this promise has been repeatedly abandoned by Democratic presidents.

The most rotten apple in the barrel is the talk about incentivizing ‘long-run thinking’ by corporations. I’m so old I can remember chatter about ‘patient capital’ from back in 1992. This translates into new tax cuts for corporations, something also supported by the Obama Administration. Message to HRC: it’s hard to make business firms do what they don’t want to do.

I am all for putting forward proposals that will cost money. The credibility of these proposals depends in part on the fiscal policy (deficit) stance, where HRC so far has been reticent. A more pragmatic issue is what we can expect for spending proposals in the current Congress. There is somewhat more weight deserved for areas where the president has more scope for independent action.

Everybody is out to uplift the middle class, as far as rhetoric goes. The Clinton platform is still light in this dimension. There is somewhat more beef in the inequality discussion. Both areas lack any meaningful treatment of causes. This brings us to what a candidate ought  to be talking about, as far as merits go.

There are immediate and somewhat less immediate hot buttons that ought to be pushed. All of them are germane to the “middle class” and inequality. In the immediate term, the missing themes are:

*  The Fed should be jawboned out of raising interest rates this year, since the labor market and wage growth are still weak;

*  Puerto Rico needs help this week, but that should not obscure the more general fact that the states have yet to recover from the Great Recession. It’s time to start talking about general fiscal assistance, A.K.A. ‘revenue sharing.’

*  The U.S. should be weighing in with the Germans to help Greece, rather than flush it down the  toilet.

Somewhat less immediate but of more lasting relevance:

*  The decline of living standards points up the need for more social insurance, which in the same breath reduces inequality.

*  The public sector — Federal, state, and local — needs to be restored, minus the bloat in the defense and homeland security establishments, which by the way also reduces inequality.

*  Getting serious about climate change will require more than a scattering of clean energy projects. We will need carbon taxes, international diplomacy, and probably more foreign aid to enable under-developed nations to leapfrog fossil fuel dependence.

*  ObamaCare lives, now the challenge is to increase the ACA subsidies and further expand Medicaid and Medicare.

*  Reform welfare reform.

*  A jihad against Wall Street, in terms of regulation and the financial transactions tax.

None of this should be taken as a political criticism. I don’t doubt that Clinton Inc. knows more about winning the election than I do. These arguments are directed at activists outside the Clinton machine.

My famous friend Jared Bernstein has a rosier view than I. He says diagnosis is important, but in the HRC story I don’t see a good diagnosis, as I indicated above. The increase in inequality is not a diagnosis, it’s a symptom of something else. Globalization/automation/Uberismo is mostly baloney. The promises on things that cost money depend on unstated views on revenues, budget reallocations, and deficits. On balance, HRC still needs some good stiff criticism, not because it will change her mind, but because it will improve the minds of her supporters.

Also, Jared, my dog could eat your cat:


Race, Class, and Twitter

150305120314-bernie-sanders-gallery-exlarge-169A couple of days ago I endured an unedifying Twitter war with a posse of Hillary Clinton supporters, led by Salon.Com editor Joan Walsh. This should be surprising since my followers are very few in number by Twitter standards — less than a thousand. Ms Walsh has 143,000 or so. Why would she or anyone else care what I said about the Clintons? The fervor of the response bespeaks a real anxiety on her side. The logic of the responses variously suggested a) stupidity, b) dishonesty, c) professional Clinton trolls, or d) all three.

Call me paranoid, but I see a cowardly, intellectually dishonest campaign to diminish Bernie Sanders. The ultimate target is not Sanders himself, since his prospects for victory in the primaries are seldom viewed as great. The real target is the political credibility of progressive reform that addresses class. The alternative to such reform is the mush we get from the Clintons and allied Democrats. Hillary’s fans march under the banner of neo-liberalism. There was a similar smear campaign directed at Dennis Kucinich in 2004. I think the world of Dennis, but his chances were even slimmer than Sanders’. The attacks made no more sense than those on Sanders, as far as electoral competition was concerned.

The signs of such a campaign include:

*  Two columns by Joan Walsh. The first suggests Bernie suffers from “racial myopia.” The more recent one attributed his support to media puffery founded on hatred for Hillary.

*  Rep Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) saying “I’m not sure Bernie likes immigrants.”

* Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) claiming Bernie is too extreme.

In my opinion, saying someone has a race problem is code for racism. I view it as slanderous. Hillary tweeters claim it merely refers to Sanders’ purported indifference to issues of importance to African-Americans. Pretty rich in that Bernie is a veteran of the civil rights movement while Hillary was a Goldwater Girl. Of course that was long ago. Since then Sanders has remained attached to his radical roots. For a time Hillary evolved in a genuinely progressive direction. But she also married you-know-who and wound up in the Rose Law Firm and on the board of Walmart.

Under the Clinton Administration we witnessed the abolition of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the ballooning of mass incarceration, the rubbishing of the nation’s foremost intellectual on minority voting rights — Lani Guinier, the militarization of local police forces, and the total failure of health care reform. How you transmogrify that into a creditable civil rights record for Hillary is a mystery to me. Ms Walsh makes an effort. Her basis for Hillary’s civil rights cred is a couple of recent pronouncements and hiring some African-Americans in her campaign.

About the clownish Rep. Gutiérrez and his clownish comment, we cannot resist pointing out that in the recent Chicago mayoral race, he supported Rahm Emanuel while Bernie supported Chuy Garcia.

Invocations of anti-racism to disrupt movements attentive to class issues are nothing new. Coming from authentic anti-racist campaigners, such commentary would be worth consideration. Coming from Clintonites, it’s a joke.

Of course in the U.S., if not everywhere, race and class issues are intertwined. Advocacy of universalist measures in the interests of the working class disproportionately help oppressed minorities but do not necessarily combat the virus of discrimination. Unfounded claims that Sanders is uninterested in race aim to throw him off his message, which is resonating. (I read that in Salon.)

I should be used to Twitter, but this was the first time I experienced a giant wave of mostly dumb tweets. Writers of some notoriety, especially pertaining to issues in feminism, have had it much worse. What you see are all the usual fulminations from those with weak minds. Claims that you have exalted your own importance. Attributions of things you never said, sometimes with quotes. Assorted straw men. Just flat, shameless misstatements of fact.

Slightly more interesting was the gambit of focusing on Sanders’ purported relationship with the National Rifle Association. I won’t rehash the arguments for and against because I don’t care about them. What is noteworthy was the extent of detail provided, the accuracy of which I couldn’t vouch for, on Sanders’ gun record. Somebody has compiled a list of anti-Sanders talking points pertaining to guns.

As noted above, the intent of the trolls is to throw the Sanders movement off-message. Their arguments are not worth engaging in their own terms. Matters of class have been excluded from the national dialog. Not incidentally, race has not fared well either. I fully expect Bernie to give the latter the attention it deserves. The trip is just starting, and the best is yet to come.

This is why we can’t have nice things

Actual new summer television shows.

Monster in My Family, Wednesday, July 1; 9 on LMN. Docuseries introduces the relatives of serial killers to members of the victims’ families.

Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang, Friday, June 26; 9 on Showtime. Documentary follows the former NBA star, who has an unlikely friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, as he tries to stage a friendly basketball game in the country to promote peace between to the two nations.

Boom! Thursday, June 25; 8 on Fox. Based on a popular Israeli game show, contestants have to answer trivia questions to help them defuse a “bomb” before it goes off.

The Seven Year Switch, Tuesday, July 7; 9 on FYI. Four couples who’ve hit a wall in their relationships get a chance to spend two weeks in an “experimental” marriage with a different mate, to see if a different perspective addresses some of their issues.

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! Wednesday, July 22; 9 on Syfy. The destructive annual weather event strikes Washington this time.

Significant Mother, Monday, Aug. 3; 9:30 on CW. Sitcom about a Portland restaurateur (Josh Zuckerman) who discovers that his roommate is dating his mother (Krista Allen).

Food to Get You Laid, Sunday, Aug. 16; 8:30 on Logo. Expert chef Ronnie Woo guides couples who want to take things to the next level in the kitchen.

Hillarynomics, the first in an endless series

After my previous post, burdened by the lack of a text for Hillary’s speech today, now I have the text and a bit more to offer. Most of what I said below holds up in light of the actual text. There’s a lot to like in the speech, but in my view there are some serious analytical shortcomings not necessarily visible to the naked eye.

The all-American value of being rewarded when you put in extraordinary effort is upheld.sloth But suppose you don’t feel like making an extraordinary effort, just an ordinary one? Suppose you work to live, not live to work? Don’t you deserve some modicum of economic security? To paraphrase the great Senator Roman Hruska, don’t slackers deserve some representation? (I recently came across this delightful piece on sloth from Thomas Pynchon.)

In a related vein, the middle class is said to need “growth and fairness.” In fact, economic growth is not the be-all and end-all for the working class. You can have growth along with increased inequality, where the benefits to growth are not broadly shared. Have HRC and her economic mavens been asleep for the past two years? I discount the qualifier of ‘fairness’ because its meaning in common political rhetoric has been watered down to the point of meaninglessness.

Several times HRC gives a shout-out to balanced budgets, even paying off the national debt. This is deeply wrong-headed economic policy, especially in the current period. Combined with her tax cut proposals, you have to wonder where any money for her spending initiatives would come from. It suggests she is under some delusion that the elimination of budget deficits under President Bill in the late 90s had something to do with the economic boom. For another view, see my friend Bob Pollin’s book, Contours of Descent.

The critique of the Republican economic policy appears to hinge on a bogus connection between the Bush tax cuts and the 2007-08 financial meltdown. Obama used to flog this horse too, as in “Well they cut taxes and look what happened.” This analysis glosses over the financial deregulation of the 90s in which Bill Clinton played no small part. It fundamentally misunderstands what happened to cause the financial system to blow up.

The rhetoric about “long-term economic value” refers to business investment. More investment is always welcome, but that’s not the biggest problem at the moment. Private investment has recovered reasonably well since 2008. The big shortfall in this mediocre recovery has been in public spending, including public investment, by Federal, state, and local governments.

And finally, there was this, to which I can only say yuck:

“No other country is better equipped to meet traditional threats from countries like Russia, North Korea, and Iran – and to deal with the rise of new powers like China.”

But I’m not doing foreign policy today.

I contend that the points above are not nit-picking but important weaknesses in the speech. I may be some kind of radical crackpot, but the points I make do not rely on any sort of radical economics. If we’re going to take a speech seriously, I think I’m justified in the issues I raise. They are not trivial.

Promises, promises

hillary_rays1I wanted to dissect the economic piece of Hillary’s speech, but thus far the text is not available. So I’m going by a slide from her web site. I come neither to praise nor condemn, but to illuminate. Of course in general the reliability of campaign promises is a long-standing joke. Nevertheless, they are signals that merit interpretation.

I don’t want to get sidetracked into the problem of how to pass anything good when the House of Representatives is controlled by loons. HRC will have to answer that question herself. My interest in this post is in policies that may not have immediate practical political relevance. You have to start by imagining things for them to have a chance in the real world. The Teabaggers understand that. In the states, they’ve done well for themselves crippling trade unions, gutting public education, brutalizing welfare recipients, and making abortion extremely difficult to obtain. Their vile dreams are coming true.

When it comes to promises, some need to be taken more seriously. There are clichés, but there can also be real markers that stick to the candidate and have some power when they are invoked later. Taking a look at the economic component of Ms Clinton’s “Four Fights” (“Building an economy for tomorrow”), we have the following bullet points (quoted verbatim, numbered by me):

1) Reward businesses that invest in long-term value;

2) Rewrite the tax code so that it rewards hard work and investments at home;

3) Give new incentives to companies that give their employees a fair share off the profits;

4) Unleash a new generation of entrepreneurs and business owners;

5) Restore America to the cutting edge of innovation;

6) Make America into the Clean Energy Superpower;

7) Connect workers to their jobs and businesses with 21st century infrastructure;

8) Establish an infrastructure bank;

9) Make college affordable to all;

10) Provide lifelong learning for all workers.

My take:

1) I’m only a Ph.D. economist. I have no idea what “long-term value” is supposed to mean here.

2) How? If we’re shifting the tax burden away from labor to “reward hard work,” it has to go to capital, posing a problem for rewarding investment. If we’re reducing taxes on both sides, we’re now into bankrupt 1980s style supply-side economics. (Side note: rewarding investments ‘at home’ instead of in, say, Malaysia, raises all sorts of technical problems.)

3) What incentives? Tax cuts? What’s a “fair share”? How do you replace the revenue? Maybe Paul Ryan knows.

4) Let’s note that most business start-ups FAIL. It’s wonderful that some are willing to take the risk, but the well-being of most depends on what they are paid working for somebody else. In any case, do I have to ask how this happens?

5) The “cutting edge of innovation” takes the prize in this list for vagueness. The vaguer the promise, the less vulnerable the promiser is to pressure later on.

6) This is one of the better ones, which I’m all for, since the results or lack thereof are relatively tangible, hence more pressure is implied on the promiser. Kind of like a promise to close Guantanamo. It’s pretty clear whether it gets done, or not, relatively speaking.

7) I like this one too. It can only mean more and better rail systems and broadband. Once again the results are susceptible to monitoring by ordinary citizens. As in #6 I’m not worried about finance, since such investments are best financed by borrowing, which for the Federal government is absurdly cheap these days.

8) I’m all for an infrastructure bank. Will it have any money? From where? If you’re promising a bank you’re promising that some capital will be available. Will the Gov be raising money by selling bonds to rich people that get favorable tax treatment or benefit from guarantees against default? That would take some of the juice out of this item. (Note: politically under most any circumstances, it’s hard to see any Congress surrendering investment decisions to an independent agency.)

9) This is good. I like the idea of hammering on this problem, even with no specific fixes, since it raises the odds of some remedies later.

10) Lifelong learning is just yesterday’s mashed potatoes. I don’t see a huge role for the government here. We might expect yet another tax credit of some type. What we really need is a tight labor market. That will cause wages to rise and pressure business firms to pay for worker training.

In summary, there is some hot air, some potentially wrong directions, and some constructive themes. Naturally, compared to any Republican candidate, this is all mother’s milk. More interesting would be how it plays in comparison to Bernie Sanders’ Twelve Point Program. A subject for another post.