NDN Blog

The Global Economic Threat Level: Brown

Gordon Brown, likely future leader of Britain, writes in this morning's FT on the need for extra vigilent support for free trade and open markets.

Across the world, we are seeing not only the impact of terrorism and geo­political uncertainty on our economies. We are also seeing a surge of protectionism. Whether it is called “populism” in Latin America, the promotion of “national champions” in Europe or “nativism” in the US, the same sentiments are sadly fuelling isolationism in parts of the world, anti-Americanism in others and anti-globalisation forces almost everywhere.

These are now magnified by one of the most ominous summer setbacks – the damaging collapse of the world trade talks. We must all wake up to the reality that, without the forward momentum a new trade agreement would give, we risk rolling backwards to the age of beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism and the further threats to stability that would flow from it.

We couldn't agree more, Gordon. Simon and Rob are working on a new NDN memo outlining opportunities to support and defend the open trade consensus in the run in to the elections.

Labor Join Economic Debate

The headline on this piece is, i must say, a little unfortunate. Was there a time when the Labor movement was, you know, unfazed and mildly disinterested in the future of the economy? Anyway, apparently, if there was, that time is now over: Labor are to join the debate over the future of the economy. Hopefully this will be a cause for some genuine debate. The signs are mixed from the article, an interview given by the man behind the push:

In an attempt to devise an alternative, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a Wall Street executive, is pushing his own “Hamilton Project” through various think tanks – with the aim of getting the Democrats to adopt its principles as theirs for the future of the economy. But Rubin’s principles, Baugh says, mimic those of the GOP in key areas, including “free trade” and refusal to do anything about the deindustrialization of the U.S. That’s where IUC’s project comes in, as a counterweight on the workers’ side.
 

Problematically, this mimics the sentiment behind this long, slightly unhelpful interview with Rubin in the Nation last month. We'll put aside for a minute how curious it is to think the best way to begin a debate on the economy is knocking copy directed at probably the best Treasury Secratery since the Second World War. Rubin's record of prosperity is probably the single most important reason that the Democrats are now more trusted on the economy. Perhaps a better start might be to train all our guns on the Republicans? NDN will begin this next week, when we turn our blog over for a fews to talk of the economy with some exciting guest bloggers, and release a new report examining the economic legacy of the current administration. Pretty reading it ain't.

 

Instat Research: By 2009 10% of all Mobile Users will be Mobile Video Subscribers

In keeping with the theme on the blog watching viral and  personally created online video, there is good new data from Instat Research out today on Mobile Video. In short, they predict that long form mobile video should come together by 2008-2009,  and by 2009 1 out of 10 mobile subscribers will also be mobile video subscribers. Here is a snippet from the Instat press release:

“The market for long form mobile/portable video content (video content of greater than 30 minutes) is currently in an experimental phase, and will likely remain at this stage for at least two years, reports In-Stat. By 2008, however, the industry will begin to gain traction and demonstrate its long-term potential…”

  • It is not clear if users will prefer an all-purpose multimedia cellular phone or separate voice and multimedia devices.
  • Mobile video subscribers stand to represent over 10% of US wireless subscribers by 2009.
  • Roughly one out of eight respondents in an In-Stat survey of mobile users expressed interest in mobile video for the cellular market.

Where have all the core Republican voters gone?

The Republican Party has a new political problem on their hands to go with continued bad news coming out of Iraq and a slowing economy. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press have published the results of a poll that shows a 14% drop in support for the Republican Party among Catholics and white evangelical protestants.

Christian conservatives seem to be finally realizing that while Republicans campaign on opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research, once in office their focus is on passing regressive, unsustainable tax cuts and misguided attempts to reshape the Middle East:

"...religious conservatives could feel betrayed that some Republican politicians recently voted to back stem cell research, and that a Republican-dominated Congress failed to pass an amendment outlawing same-sex marriage."

Think of this experiment in conservative government as the antithesis of the progressive success in the 1990s. President Clinton campaigned on the very progressive idea of building a 21st century economy that could bring hope and opportunity to all Americans, and then delivered on it. Check out Thomas Frank for more on the bait and switch at the center of Republican electoral strategy.

Additionally, the poll revealed that 61% of Americans believe that there should be "immediate government action" to combat global warming. It should be noted that in the past year leading evangelical Christians have begun speaking out against Bush Administrations global warming policy, or lack thereof.

Are Republicans losing touch with one of their base constituencies and will it hurt them come election time? We'll find out in just over ten weeks. Until then, you can be sure NDN and the New Politics Institute will be tracking these shifting demographics, almost as closely as Karl Rove.

NYT Today - The Wage Stagnation Consensus Grows Ever Stronger

Last month, Rob and Simon wrote a memo here arguing that there was a growing progressive consensus on wages. We've noted further bad news since. The point was that the whole progressive family could gather round the issue of declining real wages for most Americans, and combine that with the campaign to raise the minimum wage, as a way to get a grip on the various complicated ways in which the Bush economy wasn't delivering for most americans. It turns out we were wrong. It is now clear this isn't just a progressive consenus. This long piece in the New York Times today makes clear that evidence of stagnant incomes is so overwhelming that this is now a national consenus too. And in particular we're delighted they picked up that this is now very likely to be the first post-war expansion in which median wages did not rise.

With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.

It is important to note that the Repbulican response is changing rapidly over time. There have been four phases: dishonesty, denial, assertion and admission. We began with outright intellectual dishonesty when the President argued that (nominal) wages were rising. It then morphed into denying it was structural problem, and emphasis of the lag effect to catch up with productivity. This changed again at Bush's weekend powwow, where he asserted the economy was good, without addressing this issue. In recent weeks - following the front page story in the FT - it is a mixture of admitting there is a problem and hoping for the best. And then on Friday we had Bernanke, speaking in Central banker code but speaking publically nonetheless:

In a speech on Friday, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, did not specifically discuss wages, but he warned that the unequal distribution of the economy’s spoils could derail the trade liberalization of recent decades. Because recent economic changes “threaten the livelihoods of some workers and the profits of some firms,” Mr. Bernanke said, policy makers must try “to ensure that the benefits of global economic integration are sufficiently widely shared.”

Republicans can point to the unerlying wages problem being a long-term trend, at least for male workers. But they simply cannot avoid the fact that the issue is beginning to bite because of a set of interconnected "made under Republican leadership" issues they are doing noting to fix. In no particular order, these are: slowing housing values, sharply rising consumer debt, fast price hikes on commodites (.g. oil) and non-tradeable goods (e.g. college education); and the crisis in the funding of pensions and healthcare cost for American business. On these issues, it is clear it doesn't matter if the GOP chose denial or hoping-for-the-best: noting much is going to change. And the NYT piece backs this up:

Until the last year, stagnating wages were somewhat offset by the rising value of benefits, especially health insurance, which caused overall compensation for most Americans to continue increasing. Since last summer, however, the value of workers’ benefits has also failed to keep pace with inflation, according to government data.

Which is why NDN over the coming weeks will be putting this issue at the top of our agenda in the run-in to the elections.

Spike Lee's Katrina documentary is awfully good

I watched the first half of the new Spike Lee HBO documentary last night.  It is powerful, well done, and very evocative.  You can watch it any time on HBO on demand, and I think it is playing again the next few nights.  

It is hard to find the words to describe my feelings about Katrina.  I've spent time in New Orleans.  I know Senators Landrieu and Breaux well, and my wife and even got a little tour of the French Quarter late one night from Senator Landrieu, whose father of course was once mayor of New Orleans.  When Katrina struck I was home, on paternity leave, with our new daughter Kate, so I was watching a lot more TV than I usually do.  And our whole family watched the incredible drama of Katrina unfold. 

The movie reminds all of us, without being clubbing one over the head, that what caused the destruction of New Orleans was not the hurricane itself, but the breaching of the levees sometime after the storm passed.  There is an extraordinary scene where a man is running through downtown New Orleans - which is relatively calm at this point - and says to the camera crew that a levee has broken and water is pouring in.  They seemed suprised, and said they would look into it. 

And then the inaction.  The deaths.  The suffering.  The suffering. 

I wrote at the time that Chertoff should have been fired, and I still can't believe he is in the job.  His inaction killed people.  There is no question,  Killed people.  And all told there are now 4500 dead and missing, a city destroyed, billions spent and not a whole lot to show for it.  It is a shameful and terrible thing, what has happened to New Orleans and her people, and I hope that it haunts Bush and his crew for the rest of their lives. 

At the time all this unfolded NDN was very active.  One of the better pieces we published you can find here.  And we will be having more to say about Katrina and New Orleans in the days ahead. 

On Iraq, Democrats are offering a clear and unified message

A front page Post piece offers a lot to chew on:

"Most Democratic candidates in competitive congressional races are opposed to setting a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, rejecting pressure from liberal activists to demand a quick end to the three-year-old military conflict.

Of the 59 Democrats in hotly contested House and Senate races, a majority agree with the Bush administration that it would be unwise to set a specific schedule for troop withdrawal, and only a few are calling for substantial troop reductions to begin this year, according to a Washington Post survey of the campaigns.

The large number of Democrats opposed to a strict timeline for ending the military operations runs contrary to the assertion by President Bush and top Republicans that Democrats want to "cut and run" amid mounting casualties and signs of civil war. At the same time, the decision by many Democrats to refrain from advocating a specific plan for withdrawal complicates their leaders' efforts to convince voters that they offer a clear new direction for the increasingly unpopular war."

Lets look at that last graph.  I agree with the first sentence.  Given how unpopular the war has become, the only strategy Republicans now have is 1) change their position on the war as Chris Shays just did; 2) argue that Democrats would make it worse.  I still believe both from a governing and public opinion standpoint a timetable for withdrawal is not the best option on the table.  So I think those Democrats who are rejecting "strategic redeployment" will be well served this fall, and will make it much harder for the GOP to succeed at their "cut and run" campaign. 

But I do not in any way agree with the 2nd part of the graph.  Democrats have presented a united front - we are unhappy with what is happening in Iraq, and want a new course.  Some want strategic redeployment.  Others don't.  There is no simple solution to what's happening in the Middle East, and we are doing the right thing by forcing a public and spirited debate.  Only from that debate will we settle on the best course.

While we may not agree on the details, the Democratic message is clear and simple - we want a new path in the Middle East, and once in power, will be sitting down with the President to find a new American strategy for success in the troubled region.  This position is both the responsible one, and the clear winner in terms of public opinion. 

For more, see my recent appearance on Fox News Sunday. 

Waking up from their long slumber

There is mounting evidence that the Bush team is waking up to the economic and fiscal reality of our day.  Recently Secretrary Paulson acknowledged that declining wages was an issue, a reversal from his Senate testimony a few months before.  And now, as James writes below, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke makes a very compelling case that the current wave of globalization is making it much tougher to create broad-based prosperity here and around the world. 

This slow awakening is a first step to creating a national conversation about what to do about it.  But as they wake to this critical reality, they will also have to wake to the other things that have gone on on their watch - reduced revenue for the federal government coupled with radical increase in spending, no strategy for dealing with the fiscal realities of the retirement of the baby boom, a declining dollar and a soaring current account deficit, the overleveraging of the American consumer, rising health care, energy, pension and college costs, and a rise in poverty. 

The fiscal and economic challenges facing America are significant.  Until recently the governing party's response was in essence "stay the course" - more tax breaks for the wealthiest among us.  It is a politically and morally bankrupt course, and one for the good of the nation must be ended.  The waking of Paulson and Bernanke is a good sign we are headed, eventually, towards a better path. 

Reaching Hispanics With Soccer

I think i'll leave this article without too much comment. In relation to the wisdom NDN's soccer campaign, i'd say it pretty much speaks for itself:

_______________________________________________________________

On soccer Sundays, Hispanic immigrants crowd parks across nation

By MATT REED Associated Press Writer

(AP) - COLUMBUS, Ohio-The buzz of a nearby highway can't drown out the yelling, the shouts in Spanish, the referee's whistle - the sounds of soccer being played on a weekend afternoon.

At Rhodes Park on any given summer Sunday, families and friends gather to watch teams with names such as Club Chiapas, Cantaranas or Quiroga - names that recall professional soccer teams or home villages in Mexico and Honduras.

As more immigrants settle outside the Southwest, Hispanic soccer is becoming more competitive and organized around the country and attracting interest from businesses looking to reach young Hispanic immigrants.....The secret is to reach Hispanics where they are, and they're gathering on the soccer fields, not at high-end malls.......

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Wise Words from Ben Bernanke on Globalization

Fed Chair Ben Bernanke is off in Wyoming at the moment, at the Fed's annual economic pow-wow. Moving on from how wonderfully nerdy the cocktail chat must be, Bernanke gave a really very interesting speech about Globalization this afternoon. Its full of intriguing history lessons, and includes a fun quote from that noted sage of the global economy, Martin Luther.

The most interesting issue from NDN's point of view are the parallel's he draws between the current period of global integration, and previous analgous times in history. His lessons are particularily apt: 

A second conclusion from history is that national policy choices may be critical determinants of the extent of international economic integration. Britain's embrace of free trade and free capital flows helped to catalyze international integration in the nineteenth century. Fifteenth-century China provides an opposing example. In the early decades of that century, the Chinese sailed great fleets to the ports of Asia and East Africa... These expeditions apparently had only limited economic impact, however... Evidently, in this case, different choices by political leaders might have led to very different historical outcomes.

At a time in which the rise of protectionist sentiment is evident in America, we would do well to head his words. Integration made by policy can be so undone. But perhaps his third lesson is even more important at present: 

Social dislocation, and consequently often social resistance, may result when economies become more open. An important source of dislocation is that--as the principle of comparative advantage suggests--the expansion of trade opportunities tends to change the mix of goods that each country produces and the relative returns to capital and labor. The resulting shifts in the structure of production impose costs on workers and business owners in some industries and thus create a constituency that opposes the process of economic integration. 

This is wise advice for those around the President, including sadly his otherwise impressive new Treasury head, who think nothing needs to be done to help those currently not feeling the benefits from Globalization and Trade. As Robert Rubin has said recently, the case for trade is overwhelming, but its benefits must be broadly-enjoyed. The clear and present danger is that a globalization whose benefits are enjoyed by only a few cannot be sustained. Bernanke seems to understand this. We must hope his boss can be won round soon enough. 

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