Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

China, technology and the U.S. middle class

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 15, 2013 16:27 UTC

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 12, 2013. Jason Reed/REUTERS

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech this week confirmed it: The pre-eminent political and economic challenge in the industrialized democracies is how to make capitalism work for the middle class.

There is nothing mysterious about that. The most important fact about the United States in this century is that middle-class incomes are stagnating. The financial crisis has revealed an equally stark structural problem in much of Europe.

Even in a relatively prosperous age — for all of today’s woes, we have left behind the dark, satanic mills and workhouses of the 19th century — this decline of the middle class is more than an economic issue. It is also a political one. The main point of democracy is to deliver positive results for the majority.

All of which is why understanding what is happening to the middle class is urgently important. There is no better place to start than by talking to David Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Autor is one of the leading students of the most striking trend bedeviling the middle class: the polarization of the job market. That is a nice way of saying the economy is being cleaved into high-paying jobs at the top and low-paying jobs at the bottom, while the middle-skill and middle-wage jobs that used to form society’s backbone are being hollowed out.

But when I asked him this week what had gone wrong for the U.S. middle class, he gave a different answer: “The main problem is we’ve just had a decade of incredibly anemic employment growth. All of a sudden, around 2000 and 2001, things just slowed down.”

Making the most of diversity

Chrystia Freeland
Nov 16, 2012 15:17 UTC

For America, 2012 will go down in history as the year of the Latinos, the blacks, the women and the gays. That rainbow coalition won President Barack Obama his second term. This triumph of the outsiders is partly due to America’s changing demographics. And it is not just the United States that is becoming more diverse. Canada is, too, as is much of Europe.

That is why it is worth thinking hard about how to make diverse teams effective, and how people who straddle two cultural worlds can succeed. Three academics, appropriately enough a diverse group based in Asia and America, have been doing some provocative research that suggests that our ability to comfortably integrate our different identities – or not – is the key.

In “Connecting the Dots Within: Creative Performance and Identity Integration,” Chi-Ying Cheng of Singapore Management University, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and Fiona Lee, also at the University of Michigan, argue that ethnic minorities and women in male-dominated professions are most creative when they have found a way to believe that their “multiple and conflicting social identities are compatible.”

Obama, the super-rich and the election

Chrystia Freeland
Nov 9, 2012 18:03 UTC

Among the losers in the United States this week are the super-rich, who spent unprecedented millions to evict President Barack Obama from the White House. The investing class turned sharply and vociferously against the president many of them had supported in 2008. On Tuesday night, the plutocrats lost their shirts.

“Boy, they threw away a lot of money,” Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor, told me. “It was very interesting to hear on Tuesday night about all the corporate jets packed in Logan Airport” for Mitt Romney’s party in Boston.

One of the important questions in the United States today – and, eventually, in all democracies where income inequality has risen sharply, which is to say in pretty much all democracies – is what impact the political ineffectiveness of the super-rich at the ballot box will have on how the country is actually governed.

‘We can’t inflate our way to prosperity’

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 12, 2010 18:43 UTC

“There is no other policy tool available [besides quantitative easing],”‘ Laura Tyson, a former chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisors, said at this morning’s Reuters/YouTube live debate on how to fix the economy. Tyson argues that additional Fed purchases of long-term bonds is the most viable way to energize the U.S. economy since a new fiscal stimulus bill is unlikely to pass Congress:

She appears alongside Glenn Hubbard, another former CEA chairman, who maintains the Fed will spend another $1 trillion to lower rates by 20 basis points. “We can’t inflate our way to prosperity,” he said.

Tyson disagrees and thinks the risk to inflation is low. She admits we have to convince the rest of the world that the U.S. has no intention to inflate away its debt.

Obama should call a truce with Wall Street

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 13, 2010 13:36 UTC

The pre-election economic treats that President Barack Obama handed out this week included several intended specifically for business: research and development tax credits, for instance, and the small-business tax breaks he is pushing to introduce in the face of Republican congressional opposition.

But these familiar sweeteners won’t be nearly enough to reverse one of the most significant estrangements of the first two years of the Obama administration — the rift between the White House and business.

Two years ago, candidate Obama was the darling of the CEO class: Hedge fund titans, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and even registered Republican chief executives from the Midwest flocked to his banner. Today, America’s business leaders — even those who raised millions for him in 2008 — have turned on their president: “Socialist” is among the nicer epithets some use when describing Obama.

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