Must Read Op-Eds for October 17, 2011

Updated
 

 

AMERICA’S ‘PRIMAL SCREAM’  BY NICHOLAS KRISTOF
NEW YORK TIMES
The frustration in America isn’t so much with inequality in the political and legal worlds, as it was in Arab countries, although those are concerns too. Here the critical issue is economic inequity. According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt. Three factoids underscore that inequality: (1) The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans. (2) The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent. (3) In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.

Living under Communism in China made me a fervent enthusiast of capitalism. I believe that over the last couple of centuries banks have enormously raised living standards in the West by allocating capital to more efficient uses. But anyone who believes in markets should be outraged that banks rig the system so that they enjoy profits in good years and bailouts in bad years. The banks have gotten away with privatizing profits and socializing risks, and that’s just another form of bank robbery.

Economists used to believe that we had to hold our noses and put up with high inequality as the price of robust growth. But more recent research suggests the opposite: inequality not only stinks, but also damages economies. In his important new book, “The Darwin Economy,” Robert H. Frank of Cornell University cites a study showing that among 65 industrial nations, the more unequal ones experience slower growth on average. Likewise, individual countries grow more rapidly in periods when incomes are more equal, and slow down when incomes are skewed. That’s certainly true of the United States. We enjoyed considerable equality from the 1940s through the 1970s, and growth was strong. Since then inequality has surged, and growth has slowed.

OCCUPY WALL STREET’S CRONY CAPITALISM  BY GORDON CROVITZ
WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Occupy Wall Street organizers were clever in selecting their protest site. Zuccotti is not a city park, where sleeping overnight is prohibited. Instead, it is one of some 500 “privately owned public spaces” that New York City officials created as part of zoning deals with real estate developers. In the case of Zuccotti Park, the crony capitalism goes back to the 1970s, when U.S. Steel built the One Liberty Plaza office tower. In exchange for adding nine stories, city officials extracted an agreement that U.S. Steel would fund a 24-hour-a-day park across the street. These quasipublic spaces are notorious for leaving unclear who’s responsible for what.

PLAYING THE WAITING GAME ON THE HILL  BY DANA MILBANK
WASHINGTON POST
…Americans have already made a clear choice, repeatedly: They want their representatives to compromise. In the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 64 percent said lawmakers should attack the debt problem with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. But only 25 percent thought that lawmakers will agree on a plan. The lack of faith that lawmakers will do the obvious, necessary things goes a long way toward explaining why Congress enjoys an approval rate of 14 percent. In this case, good things do not come to those who wait.

THE GLOBAL DISCONTENT  BY DAVID IGNATIUS
WASHINGTON POST
Much of the world’s neo-populist anger is justified, given the greed and folly of recent years. What worries me is the echo of the 1930s, a similar period of economic change and dislocation. When the traditional business and political leaders seemed to have failed during the downturn of the ’30s, populist indignation veered sharply right and left — toward dangerous movements that expressed national indignation at the point of a gun. America was lucky then to have had, in President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a charismatic politician who could rehabilitate the center. And now? Not so lucky.

 

HERE’S THE HERMINATOR  BY GAIL COLLINS
NEW YORK TIMES
[S]how some respect. None of us are ahead in the presidential primary polls with a best-selling book about our journey to be the C.E.O. of Self… Take the guy seriously. Which I am trying to do, in matters beyond the ever-fascinating 9-9-9 tax plan. For instance, on the matter of immigration, Cain says that he thinks it would be a great idea to build an alligator-filled moat between the United States and Mexico. (“And make it a real big moat.”) So, in the spirit of political fact-checking, I called an expert, Frank Mazzotti of the University of Florida, who said that the cost of keeping the alligators alive in that climate “would be astronomical.” If there turned out to be a spot along the border where the alligators were comfortable, Mazzotti said, they could escape, multiply and create “all sorts of economic problems.”… On this one policy matter alone, we are talking about a mammoth drain on the national budget, plus a lot of endangered Arizona Chihuahuas. The Herminator’s got a lot of explaining to do.

 

LOSING THEIR IMMUNITY  BY PAUL KRUGMAN
NEW YORK TIMES
Money talks in American politics, and what the financial industry’s money has been saying lately is that it will punish any politician who dares to criticize that industry’s behavior, no matter how gently - as evidenced by the way Wall Street money has now abandoned President Obama in favor of Mitt Romney. … You see, until a few weeks ago it seemed as if Wall Street had effectively bribed and bullied our political system into forgetting about that whole drawing lavish paychecks while destroying the world economy thing. Then, all of a sudden, some people insisted on bringing the subject up again. And their outrage has found resonance with millions of Americans. No wonder Wall Street is whining.

 

ELIZABETH WARREN’S APPEAL  BY EDITORIAL
NEW YORK TIMES
She is a remarkably eloquent and appealing Senate candidate. “Washington is well wired for big corporations that can hire armies of lobbyists,” she said last month, soon after joining the race. “But it’s not working very well for middle-class families, and that’s what I care about.” She is both knowledgeable and accessible when she explains the destructive credit-swap and subprime mortgage games that created the financial crisis. She draws a detailed map back to the early deregulation of the 1980s that began to rip the nation’s economic fabric — the same deregulatory fervor the Republicans are preaching today.

NICE GUY FINISHING LAST  BY FRANK BRUNI
NEW YORK TIMES
The current climate’s all wrong for Huntsman’s fundamentally cool-headed approach. He’s not just a fish out of water; he’s a hapless porpoise in the Sahara. This is the red hot moment of Occupy Wall Street on the left and the Tea Party on the right… Huntsman has tried over time to fire himself up and dumb himself down… But to my eyes he could never get comfortable doing it and at times looked slightly abashed. It’s as if he’s still somewhat confounded by the oversimplified discussion he has joined and the underwhelming company he’s keeping. You can’t really blame him. But you can pretty much kiss him goodbye.

WALL STREET PROTESTS SHOW POWER OF PLACE  BY MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
NEW YORK TIMES
That the message of the Zuccotti Park occupiers is fuzzy somewhat misses the point. The encampment itself has become the point…  [D]emonstrators also reveal themselves to each other. Egyptians described this phenomenon at Tahrir Square. Tea Partiers have talked about it, too. Protesters don’t just show the world a mass of people. They discover their own numbers — people with similar, if not identical, concerns. Imagine Zuccotti Park, one protester told me, as a Venn diagram of characters representing disparate political and economic disenchantments. The park is where their grievances overlap. It’s literally common ground.


ONLY FAMILY ECONOMICS, RICK SANTORUM GETS IT ONLY PARTIALLY RIGHT  BY E.J. DIONNE
WASHINGTON POST
Conservatives often say that tax policies should be more helpful to families raising children. I agree. But this can’t be yet another excuse for cutting taxes on the wealthy. … It does not demean the heroic work of dedicated single mothers to say that two-parent families have a better shot at prosperity. So I’m glad Santorum brought up the issue. But let’s focus on practical ways to make the family stronger. Using pro-family slogans to divide us against each other won’t do much for any sort of family.

MAKING OBAMA FEEL POWERLESS  BY ELI SASLOW
WASHINGTON POST
When he left for Harvard Law School after three years in Chicago, Obama knew he wanted to become a politician, a job that would allow him to listen to people’s problems and enjoy the simple satisfaction of solving them. Now he was the most powerful politician of all — but fixing problems seemed more difficult and satisfaction more elusive. He had yet to make progress on key campaign promises to reform education and immigration. Just this past week, his jobs bill failed to move forward in the Senate. When we spoke, Obama didn’t blame the gridlock and partisanship of a divided capital, but instead stressed the paradoxical limitations of his office. Meanwhile, the letters kept coming. The president said he wondered whether a community organizer might have an easier time responding to them.

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Must Read Op-Eds for October 17, 2011

Updated