Galbraith: How To Shrink the Labor Force

James Galbraith has a very interesting idea for how we can help the economy and create jobs without spending money (though he does think spending money is the right course). Galbraith says we need to shrink the labor force by lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 55, as well as temporarily removing the early retirement age, which will allow people to retire earlier. Add in more funding for college, and you’ve reduced the work force and lowered unemployment, while providing substantial benefits through programs that we all know work well. Getting on to why the government needs to still actually spend money, Galbraith writes:

But with work to do and people to do it, the government should spend more. States and localities could hire teachers, teachers’ aides, doctors and nurses, fire and police, librarians and park attendants and street cleaners. If they do not have the cash, the easy way to create jobs is for Washington to write checks. This is called “revenue sharing” and it was invented by President Richard Nixon.

Galbraith’s ideas represent three major prongs of progressive policy that has been pushed through legislation recently or is expected to be done soon. Health care reform briefly looked at, but did not include, lowering the age people were eligible for Medicare. While most expect Social Security “reform” will inevitably lead to a shrinking of the program, the best course would actually be to expand it in ways that help more people. And jobs bills before Congress – including one rejected yesterday by the Senate – have the opportunity to provide states with major funding to support the important work of fire fighters, teachers, police, and medical professionals. That is, the pieces of Galbraith’s plan aren’t outside the range of conversations going on in Washington. The problem is that these are not Serious ideas held by Serious people, only by dirty hippies and accomplished economists with an honest understanding of the crisis our country is in. Conventional Wisdom says these are Unserious ideas and so I don’t have any hope that we’ll get this sort of smart, progressive, policy making out of decision-makers in Washington.

China Jails Karma Samdrup

I’m just getting word that Tibetan environmental activist Karma Samdrup has been sentenced to 15 years over bogus charges of political activities that defy even the cynical standards of the Chinese government’s crackdown in Tibet.

Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times had a great piece on Karma Samdrup and his brothers, as well as other instances of the Chinese government’s crackdown on Tibetan intellectuals, artists, and activists.  I’ve seen a lot of crazy cases where the Chinese government drums up charges against Tibetan political figures, but the Samdrup case goes so far beyond what even the CCP does, that it is truly Kafka-esq. What makes it particularly remarkable is that Samdrup is a wealthy art dealer and environmentalist who is widely known in China and viewed as someone who has really worked within the system and did not engage in politics.

Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet summed up what’s happening with the current crackdown well:

Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet said the recent arrests of about 50 poets, bloggers and songwriters represented the most concerted attack on the educated and artistic elite since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976.

“It appears that almost any expression of Tibetan identity can be categorized as separatist or reactionary,” she said in an interview from London. “These are not angry monks raising their fists in protest but people working within the system who are engaged in work that’s essential for a healthy civil society.”

What is also remarkable is the extent to which a number of the recent cases of China detaining and jailing Tibetans have received a fair deal of international attention, including that of the writer Shogdung, the musician Tashi Dhondup, the blogger Kunchok Tsephel, and the film maker Dhondup Wangchen.

The Chinese government is petrified of Tibetans. That much is clear. What is frightening is that they are more scared of Tibetans than what the outside world thinks of their actions. Though, that may be a statement about how little the West is willing to pressure the Chinese government on human rights and political prisoners.

“Tax and Axe”

The austerity measures unveiled by the David Cameron’s conservative government in the UK are really brutal and certain to put a huge hurt on working families in Britain. But at least conservatives across the pond have the honesty to recognize that if deficit concerns are to be addressed, you can’t simply cut spending and not raise taxes. I don’t know enough about how the tax hikes are distributed, though it’s clear they will disproportionately hurt lower income Britons based on the hike in the VAT and the capital gains tax is still relatively low.

Nonetheless, deficits are not the problem when the economy is in freefall and unemployment is rising. I don’t think the conservative plan in UK will help solve their economic problems. But at least, and this really isn’t much but for the fact that conservatives in the US are so fundamentally dishonest and craven, they are willing to tax the rich more as well.

McChrystal vs Obama

While I agree with Chris Bowers that Gen. Stanley McChrystal cannot be afforded any special treatment because he is a General when it comes to disrespecting and undermining his superiors, I also agree with Jim White that McChrystal should be getting called back to Washington to undergo a serious re-evaluation of our policies in Afghanistan and ending the war. Of course, I don’t expect McChrystal to neither be fired nor be commanded to fundamentally change our presence in Afghanistan.

As an interesting counterfactual, I wonder what would happen if Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden’s chief economic adviser and a real progressive, went to the press with complaints about the feckless economic policies the administration has pursued, eschewing job creation and stimulus spending in favor of deficit hawk rhetoric. I can’t imagine there would be any other resolution than him being fired. But we’ll see what happens with McChrystal.