James K. Galbraith


Recent Posts by James K. Galbraith

  • Federal Spending Is Not Trapped by the Social Safety Net

    Aug 2, 2012James K. Galbraith

    Setting the record straight on the math around entitlement programs.

    Setting the record straight on the math around entitlement programs.

    The nub of Bill Keller's recent essay on why Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid must be cut is a graph – taken from a report by a group called Third Way – that compares federal “investments” with “entitlements,” showing that one is in decline and the other is on the rise. As a baby boomer, former Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee, and an economist concerned with military matters (I chair the Board of Economists for Peace and Security), my antennae went up immediately.

    Note, as Keller acknowledges, that the federal budget counts weapons systems as “investments.” Back in the 1960s, we were building nuclear bombers, submarines, missiles, and warheads; today we are downsizing that arsenal, happily unused. Does Mr. Keller really think that those “investments” had anything much to do with economic growth? If so, he's misinformed.

    Even today, military procurement is around 40 percent of total federal “investment” – $221 billion out of about $540 billion in 2011, according to the Special Analyses in the Budget. Whatever you think of the F-35 and F- 22, it's just silly to add that number to (say) federal aid to education, another component of investment. The sum is not a gauge of anything.

    On the budget, Mr. Keller then asserts that “the arithmetic simply doesn't work.” He does not explain, but no matter; he's again misinformed. How do we know? Partly because the markets have full confidence in the US fiscal position – evidenced by record low long-term interest rates. And if you don't trust the markets, you can also look at the numbers, as I do here.

    In reality, an older population is partly the result of the great success of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which have since the early 1970s protected elderly Americans from destitution. Naturally, they live longer. And as the elderly become more numerous, the payout of the programs that support them must rise. There is nothing wrong with this. And it is wholly sustainable. The right measure is the share of total spending on this population in total GDP; Social Security (OASDI) was under 4.5 percentage points in 2009 and is projected to rise to 6.5 percent over the next 75 years. By what conceivable argument is this a crisis? (For a detailed discussion of the question of “burden” see my testimony to the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, February 25, 2009, co- authored with Warren Mosler and Randall Wray, available on request.)

    Mr. Keller's proposal for a higher retirement age deserves a word. Today, a very high share of Social Security recipients take the early retirement option at 62. Raising the “retirement age” is just a benefit cut for these most vulnerable, lowest-paid workers. It's the cruelest and most dishonestly presented of all so-called Social Security “reforms.”

    As for health care costs: yes, they should be controlled. But to attack Medicare specifically is to target the elderly for cuts simply because they happen to have a public insurance program. Keller's proposals would (mostly) apply to Medicare and non-Medicare funded care alike, which is a step in the right direction -- taking us away from the notion of “entitlement reform” in this area. But he is not careful enough to admit this.

    These are simple points, whose validity I believe anyone can judge.

    James K. Galbraith is the author of 'The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too'. He teaches at The University of Texas at Austin.


    Social Security image via Shutterstock.com.

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  • Vote 'No' to the Debt Deal and Call in the Constitution

    Aug 2, 2011James K. Galbraith

    thumbs-down-150Why the debt deal is a disaster. It's time to call in the Constitution.

    The debt deal is bad economics, dishonest government, and surrender to blackmail. The alternative is not default, but government under the Constitution.

    thumbs-down-150Why the debt deal is a disaster. It's time to call in the Constitution.

    The debt deal is bad economics, dishonest government, and surrender to blackmail. The alternative is not default, but government under the Constitution.

    On the economics: by slowly choking off public services, public investment and regulation, the deal sets the economy on a path to strangulation. Every dollar cut from the budget, now or later, is a dollar less of private income. Less private income means less consumption, less private business investment, fewer jobs. Tax revenues will fall, and the deficits and debt will in the end not be reduced. The so-called "cloud of debt" will not lift. Contrary to the foolish claim made by the White House today, there is no magic by which "lifting a cloud of uncertainty" produces growth. There is no confidence fairy.

    On dishonesty: the proposed cuts would reduce discretionary public spending as a share of GDP to what it was before the government had any major role in transportation, housing, education, safety, health, medical research or environmental protection. To where it was before the NIH or the CDC, before HUD, before the EPA, before OSHA, before the Department of Education. This is a false promise: those cuts cannot and will not be found. To promise them is to play to the gallery of the ignorant. To pretend that to make them would be good policy is to repudiate the entire past half-century. To make them would bring on a disaster, in many small and large ways, as the physical structures and legal and institutional protections built up over decades crumbled and fell apart.

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    On blackmail: This deal validates the making of real policy under the appearance of extreme threats. That process will not end here. And while Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid escaped in the first round, they are set up to fall in the second. The deal creates a new junta to force those cuts before the end of this year. The process is repellent, cruel, undemocratic, and designed to leave blood on the ground but not on anyone's hands.

    And the alternative? Is it economic disaster? No.

    The alternative is not default. No crisis need ensue. The Constitution forbids default -- not only on debt but also on pensions and on every public obligation of the United States. The Constitution is not a last resort; the 14th amendment is not obscure. It is the fundamental law, written in plain English. Debts, pensions and other obligations must be paid.

    The true alternative is that the President will have to assert the authority he has so far ducked: his duty as President to defend the Constitution. He has that duty. He has that authority. He has the legal means to exercise that authority. If pushed to the last resort, he will have to do what the Constitution demands, and what he should have done from the beginning.

    If the President cannot find the Constitution and the laws, then let the Democrats in the Senate show him where they are.

    James K. Galbraith is the author of 'The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too'. He teaches at The University of Texas at Austin.

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  • Hawk Nation: A Guide to the Catastrophic Debt Ceiling Debate

    Jul 11, 2011James K. Galbraith

    hawk-150President Obama's proposed debt ceiling deal is a disastrous solution to an imaginary fiscal crisis, but the pain it causes will be all too real.

    hawk-150President Obama's proposed debt ceiling deal is a disastrous solution to an imaginary fiscal crisis, but the pain it causes will be all too real.

    News reports hold that President Obama scored a political victory by agreeing to put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block to achieve a “go-big” $4 trillion deficit reduction. Speaker Boehner had to concede that Republicans won’t vote for any package that includes tax increases – and the deal died. So the gambit worked and the President emerged with a solid image as the alpha deficit hawk.

    To which one can only say: how nice for him.

    We’re in a summer that only Salvador Dali could paint, a reality so twisted that one almost yearns for the simple verities of the War on Terror or even the invasion of Iraq. Then as now, to be serious one must be a “hawk.” (The dove is a weakling, a loser, and the owl for practical purposes does not exist.) So let’s review some of the strange and mysterious faces of this ugly, vicious bird.

    The debt ceiling was first enacted in 1917. Why? The date tells all: we were about to enter the Great War. To fund that effort, the Wilson government needed to issue Liberty Bonds. This was controversial, and the debt ceiling was cover, passed to reassure the rubes that Congress would be “responsible” even while the country went to war. It was, from the beginning, an exercise in bad faith and has remained so every single second to the present day.

    Today this bad-faith law is pressed to its absurd extreme, to force massive cuts in public programs as the price of not-reneging on the public debts of the United States. Never mind that to force default on the public obligations of the United States is plainly unconstitutional. Section 4 of the 14th amendment says in simple language that public debts, once duly authorized by law and including pensions, by the way, “shall not be questioned.” The purpose of this language was to foreclose, to put beyond politics, any possibility that the Union would renege on debts and pensions and bounties incurred to win the Civil War. But the application is very general and the courts have ruled that the principle extends to the present day.

    What is going on in Congress at this moment already violates that mandate. It is an effort to subvert the authority of the government to meet and therefore to incur obligations of every possible stripe. It is an attack on the concept of government itself – as the “Tea Party” by its very name would no doubt agree. It therefore paints those deficit hawks who are using the debt ceiling to take budget hostages as enemies of the United States Constitution.

    The President, though supposedly a constitutional expert and though sworn to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution, will not say this. Instead he appears to treat the Constitution as an optional matter, to which he will not resort, in the hope that by negotiating with the hostage- takers he can reach some reasonable outcome that will preserve everyone’s good name. (The great Harvard legal scholar Laurence Tribe recently argued that the President cannot defy the debt ceiling on his own. That’s a debatable point.) It is as though Lincoln in 1861 faced with the siege of Sumter had sat down with Confederate commissioners to see what could be worked out.

    In Washington it appears that this assault on government has a large measure of elite and media support, if not on the crass details or vulgar personalities but because it could conceivably force the parties to do “what they should do anyway” – namely come to a long-term deficit and debt agreement. Such an agreement would cut spending, raise some taxes, put the projected debt-to-GDP ratio on a declining track, and solve the “government’s fiscal crisis.”

    What fiscal crisis? The great unasked question in this summer of sound-and-fury is “why?” The United States has many problems at the moment: a high-and-stubborn unemployment rate, a foreclosure catastrophe, a slowing economy that has not recovered and will not recover from the Great Crisis, and the ongoing challenges of infrastructure, energy and climate change. Fiscal crisis? The entire thing is a figment, made up of wise-men’s warnings repeated endlessly and linked to the projections of technicians at the Congressional Budget Office and elsewhere.

    The projections, as I’ve written here, are made up of two economically impossible arguments. One is that there will be a big economic rebound, restoring near-full employment by 2013 or so. We’re already off that track, as some of us warned from the beginning. Of course, a recovery would reduce the deficit even if nothing were done. But CBO then recreates the exploding debt by assumptions, which include steady growth and low inflation, but sharply higher health-care costs and much higher short-term interest rates. These lead the projected debt to compound skyward, soon surpassing all previous records in relation to GDP.

    Is this possible? No it is not. The Federal Reserve would never raise the short-term interest rate as CBO projects, without a prior increase of inflation, which CBO assumes will not occur. If they did, the economy would collapse! And if they don’t, the debt does not compound out of control. I have presented these simple numbers here. For what it’s worth, if you believe the capital markets signal anything, they signal their disbelief in doomsday forecasts, in the long-term interest rate on US government bonds, every single day.

    Is it possible that cutting government is, by some other path, the way to economic recovery?

    There are many people who believe fervently in the resilience of the private sector and for whom government is just a burden. Some of those people are pure predators: resource magnates, media magnates, banking magnates. Others have blinded themselves to the role government actually plays in sustaining the advanced networks, human protections and social systems that make up our lives, and imagine that one can go back to the world of subsistence farming, church charity and credit from the corner store. But there were many fewer people in that world, they didn’t do what we do, and they didn’t live nearly so long.

    In broad terms, today’s government does four major things:

    – it provides for the national defense.

    – it purchases goods and services from the private economy for a wide range of public purposes, most of them individually quite small-scale in relation to GDP.

    – it regulates a wide range of private-sector activity, for safety, health, environmental and other purposes, including financial stability – or so one should hope.

    – it administers Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as other pension and health benefit programs.

    On what grounds are any of these functions too large? As an economist concerned with peace and security issues, I do believe we would be better off ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan quickly, that we could dispense with the real resource costs of many foreign bases, aircraft carrier groups, fighter aircraft and submarines and nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War. But these are security judgments, not broad economic ones. In other words, I would not cut a single dime of Pentagon spending that was actually necessary to defend the United States, in order supposedly to lower the interest rate on federal debt.

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    By the same reasoning, why should we cut transportation, or public health, or environmental protection, or scientific research, or bank inspectors or funds that support the public schools? One can argue these matters program by program - and one should. (I would happily cut ethanol subsidies and oil company tax breaks, for starters.) But there is no economic case for placing an overall limit, and it is obvious that the 500,000 public sector workers – including many teachers, police, fire and park rangers and librarians – who have lost their jobs since 2009 were doing good and useful things that are now missed. If sacking them had been good for the economy, we would be having a stronger recovery than we are.

    Finally there are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Unlike the military or the transportation program, Social Security is not a government purchasing program. It therefore takes nothing directly from the private sector. What it does, is provide insurance: it protects workers from poverty in old age, whether or not their families would otherwise be willing and able to support them. And it taxes all workers, whether or not they would otherwise be burdened with elderly parents, or survivors, or the disabled, to support. Along with Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security is a powerful protector of the entire working population – young and old. It redistributes purchasing power, in loose relation to past earnings, in a way that meets the basic needs of a large number of Americans who would otherwise, in many millions of cases, be destitute or medically bankrupt.

    What economic purpose would cutting such programs serve? To do so would again redistribute incomes. Many of the future elderly would be much worse off, and of course many would die younger than they otherwise would. Survivors and the disabled would suffer as well. In return, what would the federal government and the country gain? A release of real resources to the private sector? Social Security does not take real resources from the private sector! Lower interest rates? The idea is absurd, and not just because interest rates are low today. The notion that cutting Social Security would help keep interest rates down is absurd because interest rates are set in a way that has no relationship at all to the scale of Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.*

    This argument has nothing to do with the trope, oft-repeated and perfectly true, that the Social Security system does not contribute to the deficit. It would not matter if it did. The important question is: are benefits too high? Obviously not. How about payroll taxes - are they too low? There is no case for that either. One of the very few bright spots in recent policy was the decision to reduce payroll taxes on employees, temporarily, while leaving Social Security benefits alone.

    If you wanted to build on that, the right steps would be to lower – not raise – the Social Security early retirement age, permitting for a few years older workers to exit the labor force permanently on better terms than are available to them today. This together with a lower age of access to Medicare would work quickly to rebalance the labor force, reducing unemployment and futile job search among older workers while increasing job openings for the young. It is the application of plain common sense. And unlike all the pressures to enact long-term cuts in these programs, it would help solve one of today’s important problems right away.

    Instead of this, what do we have, from a President who claims to be a member of the Democratic Party? First, there is the claim that we face a fiscal crisis, which is a big untruth. Second, a concession in principle that we should deal with that crisis by enacting massive cuts in public services on one hand and in vital social insurance programs on the other. This is an arbitrary cruelty. Third, a refusal to stand on the strong ground of the Constitution, against those whose open and declared purpose is tear that document and the public credit to shreds.

    In the Daily Beast on Sunday, Howard Kurtz wrote in optimistic terms of the prospects for a deficit bargain: “But away from the cameras, even sharp-tongued politicians recognize the imperative of avoiding the fate of Greece. It is a sign of the times that the Kabuki players of Washington may take a bow simply for averting catastrophe.”

    Kurtz did not say that the big Kabuki here was his own notion that somehow the United States might face the fate of Greece – a small and overmatched member of a currency zone it cannot control. He did not say that the catastrophe he fears – a default on US government obligations – was entirely the product of treacherous politics, abetted by an irresolute President who seems not to grasp the danger of allowing the Constitution to fail.

    And he did not say, that the deal he would applaud, with cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all the legitimate and necessary functions of government — would be for millions of Americans the catastrophe itself.

    * Short-term rates are whatever the Federal Open Market Committee dictates they should be. And if the Treasury wants to pay low interest rates on the debt, it can always issue short-term debt only -- or it can issue long bonds and the Federal Reserve can buy them back, maintaining the structure of interest rates it prefers. There is no market default risk, no threat to “solvency” from a “loss of confidence” – nothing the private sector can do to make the US government pay more than it wants do – a point that should be obvious from the fact that the Federal Reserve’s interest rate decisions are never overruled by the market. The only way the United States government can default is if it makes a political decision to do so – which is what the debt-ceiling hostage-takers threaten and what the Constitution forbids.

    James K. Galbraith is a deficit owl. He is the author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. He teaches at The University of Texas at Austin.

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  • Could Europe's Political Project Go the Way of the US Confederacy?

    Jul 11, 2011James K. Galbraith

    question-mark-150If the fundamental issues of the Greek crisis are addressed, Europe's political project may face the same fate as communism and the US Confederacy.

    question-mark-150If the fundamental issues of the Greek crisis are addressed, Europe's political project may face the same fate as communism and the US Confederacy.

    The collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and of the USSR in 1991 have become walled off in Western minds as events from an alien time and place. But they should remind us that the architecture of human governments is not eternal. Communism was once a powerful threat to its capitalist rivals. But when circumstances change, the bright hopes of an age are prone to crash in disillusion.

    Europe was a bright political project at the formation of the European Community and again when it expanded at the end of the Cold War. Its purpose was not so much power as peace: truly a noble vision. But that noble project was built on an end-of-history economics, on frozen-in-time free-market notions and on dogmatic monetarism linked to arbitrary criteria for deficits and public debt. In the wake of a global financial meltdown, these no longer serve. Unless they are abandoned soon they will doom Europe as surely as communism doomed the empire of the East.

    Europe's structure is also suspended between two stable formations: the federated nation state and the international alliance. This in-between structure is called a confederacy, and it is something that was tried and which failed in North America on two occasions, most recently in 1865. The South lost the US Civil War, in part, because it left too much power in state hands, and so could not in the end raise the funds or the men required to keep its armies in the field. And following defeat, it took almost seventy years -- until Roosevelt's New Deal in 1933 -- before sufficient measures were taken to begin to overcome the dire poverty and economic stagnation of that region. This history too has been walled off in modern minds.

    The distinctive combination of millenarian economic ideas and unstable political structure faced a powerful shock from the global meltdown. Faced with vast holdings of toxic US assets, investors sought to cut their losses by selling weak and small sovereigns: Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain. Thus yields soared on those debts, while they fell simultaneously on US, German, French and British bonds. There was no sudden discovery that Greece was ill-managed or that Ireland had had an unsustainable construction boom. Those facts were known. The new event was the meltdown, the flight to safety, and the waves of predatory speculation that have followed.

    Therefore what happened was a solvency crisis of the banks, as always happens in debt crises. It was true in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration, no less, felt obliged to prepare a secret plan to nationalize all the major New York banks should a single major Latin American debtor declare default. It was true in 2008-09, when preventing the imminent collapse of Bank of America, Citigroup and others trumped all other U.S. policy concerns. It is obvious that the entire recent thrust of European policy has been to find ways to paper over the problems of Europe's banks: with phony stress tests, with new loans, with loud talk, with denunciations of profligacy in Greece or anywhere else -- with anything except an honest examination of what lies at the heart of the problem.

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    Today Greece -- under a resolute government and against heavy internal protest -- has met the onerous conditions imposed on it. But for what? For loans that are immediately recycled to the European banks, adding nothing to Greece's prospects except more debt? This will not lower interest rates, restore growth, or bring success to ongoing internal reforms. It is an intolerable situation and it will not continue for long.

    Along one road there lies a future of defaults, panic, dissolution of the eurozone, and hyperinflation in the exiting countries, with a collapse of the export markets for those that remain. The final consequence will be large population movements -- as happened from the American South. For if Europe insists on reducing its periphery to poverty, it cannot expect those affected to sit still and accept their fate.

    Along the other road lies the assumption of common responsibilities for sustained convergence, based on a new economics of mutual support. Along this path sovereign debts below the Maastricht ceiling will be taken over and converted to European bonds and there will be a public-private investment program to restore growth and employment -- as some of Europe's wisest leaders demanded in a manifesto just a few days ago. There will follow in due course the constitutional reforms needed to adapt Europe and its policies to the conditions of the post-crisis world.

    Europe must therefore choose, and soon, as De Gaulle said in 1969, "between progress and upheaval." "Entre le progrès et le bouleversement."

    James K. Galbraith holds the Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government-Business Relations at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin. His next book, "Inequality and Instability", is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

    This article originally appeared at the Deutsche Welle website.

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  • Galbraith on the Irrationality of Regressive Budget Cuts

    May 19, 2011James K. Galbraith

    The following is a transcript of James K. Galbraith's opening remarks at the Economists for Peace and Security Symposium on the Crisis in the States and Cities, delivered April 12th, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

    We meet today at a moment when the normally useful distinction between sense and nonsense seems to have disappeared on a bipartisan basis. All around us key points of principle have been given up. The political struggle is over what to cut and what to save, over how to bargain, and not over what to do.

    The following is a transcript of James K. Galbraith's opening remarks at the Economists for Peace and Security Symposium on the Crisis in the States and Cities, delivered April 12th, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

    We meet today at a moment when the normally useful distinction between sense and nonsense seems to have disappeared on a bipartisan basis. All around us key points of principle have been given up. The political struggle is over what to cut and what to save, over how to bargain, and not over what to do.

    In economic policy, magicians and necromancers have taken charge, brewing a toxic vat of program cuts and deregulation, from which they promise that, somehow, jobs will emerge. Serious people cite serious people on the subject of what serious people permit themselves to think. Meanwhile, the crisis in the country deepens, and hopes for a coherent strategic response to it recede.

    You can see this in the content just revealed of the latest budget deal, which – as we increasingly face an environmental challenge and an energy crisis – targets the Environmental Protection Agency and the transportation system. And in the service of what? Deficit control and debt reduction. On this subtle, technical and deservedly obscure topic, today everyone is an expert because everyone adheres to the one true thought. We are witnessing one of the greatest waves of mass hysteria of all time, the fruits of one of history’s most intense and successful propaganda campaigns.

    As a professional economist and one with a background in political work – I was here on Capitol Hill for many years, worked for the Congress – I am impressed. I am even in awe. Practically every avenue of debate has been closed off. And not by argument. Not even, as was the case thirty years ago when a few of us tried to stand in the way of the juggernaut of the Reagan economic policies, not even by the convinced philosophical positions of effective public intellectuals. But rather by endless repetition of the same slogans, repeated and barely detectable changes in the foundation of the argument, and silence in the face of criticism. That there are many economists, experienced people, impeccable credentials, who don’t buy the line, that history and comparative experience contradict it, is a secret to most people. We are hidden in this discussion behind a wall of invisibility.

    Now I am not excessively worried at the moment, to be frank, as an economist by the recent rounds of short-term budget cuts. The lost income, after all, will be offset by falling tax revenues and increasing unemployment insurance, applications for disability, and so forth. And so the overall effect on total income will not be that large, just as the effect of the financial crisis was not that large. The deficit will not decline very much, and things will go on much as before. The regret here is that in most cases, we needed to do what we are not going to do. The environment and transportation are good things, even if an extra engine for a fighter aircraft can be dispensed with. It’s merely foolish to give these things up on the pretense that you are accomplishing something, when you’re not.

    What worries me more is the prospect – which I think hangs over us all – that there will be a bi-partisan compromise on so-called “long-term deficit reduction,” the issue which even people who think themselves to be sensible and progressive concede must be dealt with, and that this compromise will do irreparable damage to the well-being of large parts of the American population, to what remains of the basic social infrastructure supporting what remains of the American middle class – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

    And for what?

    The idea that there is an economic rationale for dismantling these most successful and effective social insurance programs, that have performed well and efficiently, with very low administrative costs, for many decades – close on to 70 years in the case of Social Security; since 1965 in the case of Medicare... the idea that the capital markets, for example, demand such an overthrow of these institutions is plainly absurd. The capital markets tell you every morning at what rate they are prepared to lend to the government of the United States for ten, twenty and thirty years into the future. And if people who have money, have their own money on the line, were seriously worried about the prospect that the United States government could not service its debts, or the prospect that the United States dollar will fall victim to a massive inflation, they would not be willing to lend to the United States government on the extremely favorable terms that everybody can see are now available. There is something wrong with this story.

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    And the idea that we should frame policy around a set of computer forecasts, produced even by so lofty and irreproachable an organization as the Congressional Budget Office when the capital markets don’t take these forecasts seriously, and when anybody examines them, as very few people do, can see they are internally inconsistent and not reflective of any history of our economy, is even more absurd.

    Meanwhile, it’s out in the country, and out in our states and our cities, that the immediate consequences of this policy environment are being felt. I live in Texas, and in my home state – which is far from being the worst affected by the financial crisis and the recession – my daughters bring home from school reports of the teachers in their public schools who will not be there next year, who have been laid off because the school district is facing a massive budget shortfall.

    What will that do? Of course, it will degrade the quality of the public programs that my children, many children, are in. What will the teachers do? Well, they will apply for jobs in the private schools to which middle class parents will feel forced to flee. And they will be hired and they will teach what they taught before, but for lower pay and at higher cost. This is supposed to be an economic improvement? Someone should explain to me where it comes from.

    We are seeing cuts in Medicaid which I am told by nurses will produce closures of nursing homes. And what will people in those homes do? Many of them don’t have another place to go. So, of course, they will go to the emergency rooms and they will end up filling hospital beds. And guess what? This will be very good for the economy, because the hospital beds are much more expensive than the nursing beds. Hmm?

    And I ask you, Where is the rationality in this? Where is the sense of organized purpose? Where is the goal of improving the performance of our economy? Or the living standards of our people? It is nowhere to be seen. In the rush to achieve things which are driven by some metaphysical notions that have become attached to accounting concepts.

    And of course, looming over these issues, is the ugly question of power. The question really, which we have so vividly seen played out in the state of Wisconsin recently, but present many places in the country, of whether public servants – public employees – in this country have any rights to negotiate the terms of their employment.

    Is there hope? I suggest that there is hope only if some of the people who we have assembled today are finally heard from, and if the proposals that they will be offering at this symposium are able to reach out and find a base of support in the country, if their voices can cut through the fog of propaganda and, really, of indifference to what is happening in the country that clouds so much of our policy dialog today. It is not an easy task.

    .. but as was said fifty years ago, Let us begin.

    James K. Galbraith is a Vice President of Americans for Democratic Action. He is General Editor of “Galbraith: The Affluent Society and Other Writings, 1952-1967,” published by Library of America. He teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

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