Category Archives: cpe blog

Krugman on odds of achieving universal health care: w/ Clinton not bad, w/ Obama near zilch

Paul Krugman’s latest column asserts that Senator Clinton should be the clear favorite for those in favor of universal health care.

The principal policy division between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama involves health care. It’s a division that can seem technical and obscure — and I’ve read many assertions that only the most wonkish care about the fine print of their proposals.

But as I’ve tried to explain in previous columns, there really is a big difference between the candidates’ approaches. And new research, just released, confirms what I’ve been saying: the difference between the plans could well be the difference between achieving universal health coverage — a key progressive goal — and falling far short.

Specifically, new estimates say that a plan resembling Mrs. Clinton’s would cover almost twice as many of those now uninsured as a plan resembling Mr. Obama’s — at only slightly higher cost.


On the other hand, and mucking up the analysis of what’ll happen if Clinton is elected versus Obama (assuming one of them is indeed elected over the Republican candidate), is the idea I’ve seen advocated that Obama on the November ballot will better help in the election of lots more Democrats to the US House and Senate. The idea being that Clinton is more divisive, so even if she wins, there will be fewer middle-ground and moderate-Republican voters who will feel enthusiastic about the Dems in general, and so less likely to vote for other Dems on the ticket. But Obama is seemingly more unifying and uplifting of a character, and so good vibes for him will rub off on other Dems on the ticket. And if that’s true, then ironically Obama would have a Congress to work with that would be more amenable to a strong health care initiative, whereas Clinton would have a harder fight on her hand because the Congress she faced wouldn’t be as friendly to progressive causes. (Examples of this sort of analysis from The Nation and DailyKos.)

And is Krugman right that those opposed to universal health care will actually and successfully be able to kill an attempt by Obama to expand his policy vision by turning his primary campaign words against him? It seems plausible that he could change his vision and that, if this occurs during a honeymoon first 100 days following a landslide victory, brush aside those sorts of attacks without too much trouble. Maybe I’m being too optimistic. It’s just that I find myself reasonably convinced by the “Obama brings with him a stronger Congress than Clinton” arguments and so have been finding myself moving towards supporting him for that reason. (I’m in Vermont and our primary isn’t until March 6.)


[Update] It’s all pretty frustrating, this not being able to predict the future. I say that because I agree with something else that Krugman has said (though I can’t recall where to link to it at the moment) that establishing a viable universal health care system is enormously important, both for the wellbeing of the country in general, and for a left/progressive movement as well. It’d be like a new New Deal–it would provide a kind of shared benefit that tens-, hundreds of millions of people would feel and appreciate. They’d not only be better off, they’d know that it was the left that got them better off. Large numbers of people who felt that there was no useful difference between the Republicans and the Democrats would learn that in fact there is. (And even if you think there isn’t currently, the establishment of universal health care would in itself be the fact of difference.) Large numbers of people who think government is just a big joke would learn that government can indeed do some things–some very, very important things–right, do them better than the alternatives. A decent universal health care system, alongside a carbon cap-and-dividend system, would breathe vibrant new life into a progressive political movement. We’d gain a generation or more of new loyalty and energy.

And we need that loyalty and energy. There’s lots to be done, from avoiding the worst of global warming to eliminating poverty, from ending the Iraq war to rebuilding crumbling schools and other infrastructure. These things are big jobs and expensive. To do them right means having the backing of the majority of the people. To get that backing, the people have to feel–to know–that “we’re all in it together” is more than empty rhetoric. Universal health care is the achievable reality that makes that rhetoric tangible. It’s a policy of solidarity that makes each next step a little easier to achieve. It’s why I’ve been quipping (mostly to myself) for a while now that “universal health care is an environmental issue.” If we can provide universal health care that makes it one heck of a lot easier to convince people that we all have to face restrictions on energy consumption (and so consumption in general). We have to face both the restrictions and the benefits (of health care, of a healthy environment, etc.) together.

And so if in fact that’s all true, then boy oh boy will it be disappointing if Obama (or Clinton) is elected president–especially if he (or she) is backed by a newly enlarged Democratic majority in Congress–and yet fails to seize the opportunity. Boy oh boy, very disappointing.

Some popular vote numbers for the primaries

I was curious about overall popular vote numbers for the primaries this year. I’ve seen a number of pieces, particularly at DailyKos (like this one) pointing out that Democrats are going to the polls in much larger numbers than Republicans. But a little bit of searching came up with nothing as far as overall popular vote tallies. They’re out there, I’m sure, but I couldn’t find them easily. So I put some together and they’re over on my workplace blog, in case you’re curious.

Progressive Reasons for Reforming the Economy, 2008

[The following is a guest post emailed in to the Center for Popular Economics by a reader of CPE’s newsletter]

by Ben Leet

I am a retired school teacher who has done research on the U.S. economy partly for personal reasons and also because I had been teaching at a school in a poverty neighborhood in Oakland. There were many murders, crimes and depressing events in the neighborhood where I taught. Children brought in bullets that had passed through their walls, or one described a murder that happened in his back yard. Those were the worst examples, but violence was not uncommon. Bad economics, I concluded, contributed to poor student performance, poor behavior, and stunted emotional development. Here are the salient facts I’ve uncovered that point to a society mired in inequality.

Here are the problems we face: Read more

A bigger picture on jobs

Jared Bernstein (among many many many many many others, including Jonathan, who beat me to the punch below) dissects todays job numbers at EPI’s Job Picture. Particularly telling is this graph:

Job Growth, Year-on-Year

It shows that year-on-year job growth (a better indicator than the more volatile weekly or monthly job numbers that are widely reported) has been falling dramatically for almost a year now.


Here’s an even bigger picture from Calculated Risk’s entry on the jobs numbers. In addition to the detail on the slump in job growth over the last year, it’s also easy to spot the jobless recovery under Bush’s watch. During no other recovery period has job growth been so consistently low, than under GWB. And that’s with huge deficit spending and two wars! I used to think that no one could match Warren G. Harding. But, I really must say it: Worst. President. Ever!


I admit to feeling some of that “lack of consumer confidence” myself. No pink slips at my workplace, not that I’ve heard rumor about at least, but news like this doesn’t help.

Employers cut 17,000 jobs from their payrolls in January, Labor Department figures showed. Economists had been expecting a rise of 80,000.

The job losses were across all sectors of the economy including manufacturing and professional services.

“The economy is in recession mode,” said Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland.

On the topic of recessions and workers (employed or otherwise) and what we can expect, Working Life blogger Jonathan Tasini reports on analysis from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Why listen to what CEPR says? Well, for one, if the world had listened to CEPR, and, in particular Dean Baker, rather than the morons on Wall Street and on the flickering screen, we would have realized a housing bubble was a serious threat long time ago.

So, CEPR says: [click through to see for yourself]

Tax the Rich, Part III

Here‘s an interesting take (read the whole thing, it’s short!) on the Laffer Curve (the theoretical source of the arguments made by people like Rudy Giuliani, that cutting taxes increases government revenues). One reason is that the higher tax rates are, the more people will try to avoid them. Taking the logic, to it’s absurd conclusion:

If you’re the sort of person who is willing to use these tax avoidance schemes – and I would hazard to guess that not that many people in that situation are not – how low do tax rates have to be in order that you do not engage in those schemes? The answer: half a percent. Guess how low tax rates would have to be for someone making $200 million a year not to use the same schemes.

The implication, of course, is that we want to close the loopholes that allow corporations and the wealthy to dodge paying their share, unless you find 0.5% tax rate on Paris Hilton’s income (I do love to pick on her, but fill in the blank with whoever you want that makes more in a year than whole towns will make in their lifetime) to be a reasonable amount. Do you? I don’t.

I am supporting Obama

I am supporting Barack Obama in the Massachusetts Democratic Primary on 5 February 2008. I am going to vote for Barack Obama for the following reasons:

My previous candidates have dropped out after low levels of popular support. I thought Kucinich had an excellent platform. I thought that Richardson had the maturity and skills to be President.

It is now looking to be a two-person race in Massachusetts.

I think that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have really no discernible differences in their voting records or their platforms. Clinton did vote for the Iraq War and Obama opposed it, but there is not much difference between them.

I think Barack Obama is a break with the dead centered politics of the past. He represents a younger generation and is bringing young people into the Democratic Party. His speeches inspire and bring people together.

Barack Obama is not married to Bill Clinton!

Hillary represents a continuation and a vindication of the Clinton administration. I did not see any reason to carry on with “Clintonism” in 2000, and I do not see any now. Bill Clinton spent six of his eight years in the White House hanging on to power and doing little for the country. No health care program, no reduction of wasteful military spending, no real reduction of poverty, no serious federal aid to education, etc. Global warming got worse under Clinton.

The Clintons have consistently supported the interests of their wealthy campaign contributors. They are not New Deal Democrats. The Clintons are active supporters of the Democratic Leadership Conference, which is, at best, a moderate to conservative group, which caters to the interests of corporate America. Jesse Jackson called them the Democrats of the Leisure Class.

Barack Obama’s life story is compelling. He is a product of the civil rights movement and represents the coming of age of that movement. He will literally offer a new face for America to the world. I think this is a positive and necessary change for the good.

I do not know how the politics of 2008 will play out. We might see a Romney/McCain ticket with the GOP. We might even see a Clinton/Obama ticket on the Democratic side. Nonetheless, I think it is important to give Obama a boost in Massachusetts. This will encourage Hillary to reconsider some of her positions and might even change the entire dynamic of the Democratic contest.

If Hillary wins big on Super Tuesday that will be good news for her and Bill, but it will not be good news for the Democratic Party.

Yours truly,
25 January 2008 John J. Fitzgerald

Chemical weapons in a class war?

Bruce E. Levine has an interesting article over at Alternet on the use of psychiatric medication to tame defiant youth. Some tantalizing excerpts:

For a generation now, disruptive young Americans who rebel against authority figures have been increasingly diagnosed with mental illnesses and medicated with psychiatric (psychotropic) drugs.

Disruptive young people who are medicated with Ritalin, Adderall and other amphetamines routinely report that these drugs make them “care less” about their boredom, resentments and other negative emotions, thus making them more compliant and manageable. And so-called atypical antipsychotics such as Risperdal and Zyprexa — powerful tranquilizing drugs — are increasingly prescribed to disruptive young Americans, even though in most cases they are not displaying any psychotic symptoms.

Many talk show hosts think I’m kidding when I mention oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). After I assure them that ODD is in fact an official mental illness — an increasingly popular diagnosis for children and teenagers — they often guess that ODD is simply a new term for juvenile delinquency. But that is not the case.

Young people diagnosed with ODD, by definition, are doing nothing illegal (illegal behaviors are a symptom of another mental illness called conduct disorder). In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) created oppositional defiant disorder, defining it as “a pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior.” The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.” While ODD-diagnosed young people are obnoxious with adults they don’t respect, these kids can be a delight with adults they do respect; yet many of them are medicated with psychotropic drugs.

Throughout American history, both direct and indirect resistance to authority has been diseased. In an 1851 article in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, Louisiana physician Samuel Cartwright reported his discovery of “drapetomania,” the disease that caused slaves to flee captivity. Cartwright also reported his discovery of “dysaesthesia aethiopis,” the disease that caused slaves to pay insufficient attention to the master’s needs. Early versions of ODD and ADHD?

In Rush’s lifetime, few Americans took anarchia seriously, nor was drapetomania or dysaesthesia aethiopis taken seriously in Cartwright’s lifetime. But these were eras before the diseasing of defiance had a powerful financial ally in Big Pharma.

It would certainly be a dream of Big Pharma and those who favor an authoritarian society if every would-be Tom Paine — or Crazy Horse, Tecumseh, Emma Goldman or Malcolm X — were diagnosed as a youngster with mental illness and quieted with a lifelong regimen of chill pills. The question is: Has this dream become reality?

Conflict of interest alert: I work for Chelsea Green Publishing, publishers of Levine’s recent book, Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic.

A poem

A friend just sent this to me. It’s an English folk poem, circa 1764, so he says.

They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose.

The Law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.

The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common’
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.

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