Should American Progressives Be Calling for a “Public Option” in Banking?

November 30, 2011  |   Economics & Trade Politics and Policy Progressive Political Commentary

Should American Progressives Be Calling for a “Public Option” in Banking?

Proposals for a public banking option are almost unheard of in the U.S., where free-market orthodoxy has, throughout most of our history, held sway over collective approaches to the provision of public and private goods and services. Nonetheless, the concept deserves serious consideration based on the evidence in at least a couple of areas. First, there is the striking success of this model in other advanced and advancing economies for providing and directing lower-cost, long-term capital essential for growth. And second, while better financial sector regulation, oversight, and enforcement might mitigate the worst excesses of an opaque multinational private banking system, it remains doubtful that the resources of regulators can ever match those of the private banking system to circumvent regulations and evade the consequences of wrongdoing. It is now widely understood that the private global banking and financial system has failed to serve the “real” economy, or what we often call, “Main Street.” This is not just the case in the U.S. Europe’s problems, while largely due to an ill-designed monetary union and the high sovereign debt of certain member countries, has been exacerbated by the same short-term-profit-driven, casino approach that has characterized the U.S. financial sector. Perhaps the time has come to consider another model, one that treats banking and finance more like a public utility. A public bank would not have to be beholden to shareholders demanding a 20% annual return. It could circumvent incentives that induce management to take extraordinary risks (cognizant that in the worst-case

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The U.S. Postal System Crisis: Product of Conservative “Reform”

September 27, 2011  |   Politics and Policy

The U.S. Postal System Crisis: Product of Conservative “Reform”

Today, the postal unions representing America's postal workers is organizing a nationwide "Day of Action" to save the US Postal Service (USPS). National news media have reported extensively on the budget crisis facing the USPS, but has done a typically abysmal job of explaining why the crisis exists. These are the facts... Republicans, with the support of the Postmaster, are demanding service cuts and layoffs due to the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) inability to fund $5.5 billion due on September 30 to its federal retiree health fund. The expected 100,000 layoffs, in addition to exacerbating an already grim unemployment picture in the U.S., will hit African-Americans and veterans particularly hard – two groups that already have much higher unemployment rates than the national average. But apart from the employment issue, we need to be asking why the USPS is in such dire straits in the first place. The biggest budget problem by far facing the USPS is the mandate placed on it by an outgoing Republican congress in 2006, requiring USPS to pre-fund, over a decade, its employee pensions for 75 years. The USPS is among a handful of employers still offering a defined benefit pension plan that provides real security to retirees after a lifetime of work. The pre-funding requirement, never asked for by the postal unions, was and remains a poison pill for a federally run postal delivery service. No other pension plan, either public or private, is required to pre-fund pension obligations for 75 years into the

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Mexico: Victim of America’s War on Drugs

March 8, 2011  |   Mexico Politics and Policy

Mexico: Victim of America's War on Drugs Paul Crist, March 3, 2011 All is not well in the complex and multifaceted relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. A number of recent issues have heightened tensions, including the murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jamie Zapata, and the wounding of another agent on February 15th, on a highway near San Luis Potosi. That incident has once again ratcheted up jingoist rhetoric from some U.S. politicians and the sensationalist frenzy of U.S. corporate media. The Mexican government swiftly arrested alleged perpetrators, and have emphasized that the gun used, as most guns used in violent crimes in Mexico, came from north of the border. The leaking by Wikileaks of diplomatic cables written by U.S. Embassy personnel depicting Mexico's armed forces and police agencies as "inefficient, corrupt, riven by infighting," and "reliant on the United States for leads and operations" has infuriated Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Mexico continues to wait for the opening of U.S. highways to Mexican trucks, as called for under the North American Free Trade Agreement. (The U.S. Congress has blocked the program under pressure from industry groups, with arguments about highway safety and illicit drug and human trafficking concerns). Mexicans are angered by state-level measures to crack down on undocumented migrants such as the Arizona "papers please" law. Indiana just slipped through similar legislation while the media was focused on protesting workers, fighting to protect the right of collective bargaining. More states are sure to follow soon

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Economic Discontent and Conservatives’ Secret Weapon to Win the Class War

September 25, 2010  |   Economics & Trade Politics and Policy

Paul Crist August 13, 2010 Framing the Issue: Class War The white-hot anger on the “Tea Party” political right and the frustration on the political left largely spring from the same fundamental problem: A generation of increasing economic inequality, job insecurity, loss of privilege, and a once optimistic middle class that is under attack and demoralized. Political and mainstream corporate news media leaders avoid the term, but what we are confronting is class warfare in America.  The conflict is essentially between the owners of capital, and the owners of labor.  The battle lines are less clear than in the past, but this is not the first time in our national history that we’ve been here.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, there was only a small middle class relative to the population.  The period from 1940 to the 1960’s saw a tremendous growth of a middle class that, while their principal asset remains labor, also holds some capital assets (home equity, stock ownership, and retirement funds) that they fiercely desire to protect.  That has helped society’s true economic elites to enlist a substantial subset of the middle class to espouse a capitalist ideology that is largely in opposition to their real economic interests.  Asset price bubbles during the past several decades helped to strengthen the ideology of wealth acquisition through capital ownership among middle and working classes, but the bursting of the housing price bubble and consequent financial crisis has been a major blow to the middle class

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America’s System Failure: Only a Wave of Democratic Participation Can Save This Country

August 8, 2010  |   Paul Crist Politics and Policy

 I didn't write this... but posted it because it is well worth reading! America's System Failure: Only a Wave of Democratic Participation Can Save This Country As welcome as it was, the removal of George W. Bush was not enough to cure what ails us. It goes to the root of our political system. by Christopher Hayes  February 3, 2010 There is a widespread consensus that the decade we've just brought to a close was singularly disastrous for the country: the list of scandals, crises and crimes is so long that events that in another context would stand out as genuine lowlights -- Enron and Arthur Andersen's collapse, the 2003 Northeast blackout, the unsolved(!) anthrax attacks -- are mere afterthoughts. We still don't have a definitive name for this era, though Paul Krugman's 2003 book The Great Unraveling captures well the sense of slow, inexorable dissolution; and the final crisis of the era, what we call the Great Recession, similarly expresses the sense that even our disasters aren't quite epic enough to be cataclysmic. But as a character in Tracy Letts's 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County, says, "Dissipation is actually much worse than cataclysm." American progressives were the first to identify that something was deeply wrong with the direction the country was heading in and the first to provide a working hypothesis for the cause: George W. Bush. During the initial wave of antiwar mobilization, in 2002, much of the ire focused on Bush himself. But as the

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