Putting Americans back to work

Robert Reich

Kai Ryssdal: Don't know if you've been keeping track, but we're now, what, nine-something minutes into the program and the words "debt limit" have not yet been uttered. So, needless to say, nothing new on that front. Politicians and pundits have been saying for weeks now that the debt limit debate is a real test of leadership for Congress and the president.

Commentator Robert Reich says they're failing an even more important test.

Robert Reich: The job recession shows no sign of ending. This isn't a temporary jobless recovery. It can no longer be blamed on supply disruptions from Japan, Europe's debt crisis, high oil prices, or bad weather.

No, this is something else -- and it's going to be with us for years unless Washington wakes up. We're in a vicious cycle in which consumers won't buy more -- because they're scared of losing their jobs and their pay is dropping. And businesses won't hire because they don't have enough customers.

Washington, meanwhile, is playing a game of chicken over raising the debt ceiling, from which will emerge a stop-gap measure putting off most long-term budget decisions until after the election. But no one from the president on down is coming up with a plan to get Americans back to work. And the lack of leadership is appalling.

It's not for lack of ideas: Exempting the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for the next two years to put more cash in people's pockets, for example. Recreating the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps to put the long-term unemployed to work. Enlarging the Earned Income Tax Credit so lower-income Americans have more purchasing power. And allowing people who have lost part-time jobs to get partial unemployment benefits, so they too can buy.

What's lacking in Washington isn't ideas. It's political courage. The president doesn't think he can get a jobs plan through a fiercely partisan Congress, so he doesn't try. But that's no excuse. Average Americans are hurting, and the pain is not going away. The president needs to fight for their jobs and their wages. The battle over the deficit is a distraction from this far more important battle. He needs to explain to Americans what must be done. And put the burden on his opponents to explain why doing nothing is preferable.

Ryssdal: Robert Reich was secretary of labor for President Clinton. His most recent book is called Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. Our future includes David Frum in this space next week. 'Til then, tell us what you think -- click on this contact link.

About the author

Robert Reich is chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.
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Hey Chip Shirley, when tax rates where only that high on paper, nobody paid them because they had all kinds of deductions and whatnot. Also, roads were supposed to be paid for with fuel taxes, now that they haven't kept them up your answer is to use general taxes to make up for the politicians oversight? Don't lament people not being in soup lines, they didn't solve anything with the bailouts of businesses that should have well been liquidated, they just postponed it to the future and made the correction that much worse. The thing that made us so well off in the 50's and 60's was that the greatest generation bombed our primary industrial competitors back to the stone age. We'll they've re-emerged.

The point isn't jobs, it's production. If we wanted everyone to be busy we could outlaw construction equipment and go to hand tools. We need to get the central planners out of the way and let the economy reallocate resources to their first and best use. To do otherwise presumes that a small number of people like Reich are smarter than the combined wisdom of everyone else.

I'm a big fan RR. I live in Athens GA and work at UGA and call myself 'the Dixie Dove'.
THANK YOU for mentioning last night that from FDR to 1980 the income tax on the biggest earners stayed at 70% or higher. I have that in the title of my ...website at http://chipshirley.com/
Also, I know the reason we don't have the public support for public works projects that we had after the Great Depression. The bailouts of the banks and auto industry were WISE MOVES indeed, but sadly, by keeping the USA from totally bottoming out, we also made a situation where it wasn't as crystal clear as it should be (to the general public) exactly who and what was to blame for the crisis. Since people weren't put in soup lines, the Right has been able to slither out of the responsibility for the crash that they deserve. I guess it's also true that the bailout spending (which I know was wise) did make it harder to borrow more for public works, but I agree that we should borrow more for public works....
Here's my byline and e-mail...
-From 1940-80 the wealthiest Americans paid between 70% and 90% in income taxes and that's how we built...the American Dream. Between 1940-80 we fought and paid for WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, we built our entire US Interstate Expressway system and WE WENT TO THE MOON SIX TIMES-AND WE PAID FOR IT ALL!-

Would we expect anything less from a President and a Democratic Party that confuses "compromise" with "capitulation"?

More details about what could/should be done. I trust your judgement and wish you were back in a drivers seat.


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