Opinion

The Great Debate

Today’s South is boldly moving backward

mahurin for bishop

We used to call it the “New South.” That was the era after Reconstruction and before the Civil Rights laws — when the states of the old Confederacy seemed most determined to preserve a social and economic order that encouraged low-wage industrialization as they fought to maintain Jim Crow.

What was then distinctive about the South had almost as much to do with economic inequality as racial segregation. Between roughly 1877 and 1965, the region was marked by low-wages, little government, short lives and lousy health — not just for African-Americans but for white workers and farmers.

Volkswagen employees work on the assembly line of the 2012 VW Passat in Chattanooga TennesseeThe Civil Rights revolution and the rise of an economically dynamic Sun Belt in the 1970s and ‘80s seemed to end that oppressive and insular era. The Research Triangle in North Carolina, for example, has more in common with California’s Silicon Valley than with Rust Belt manufacturing. The distinctive American region known as the South had truly begun to vanish.

This is the thesis of economic historian Gavin Wright’s new book on the economic consequences of the civil rights revolution, Sharing the Prize. Ending segregation, Wright argues, improved the economic and social status of both white and black workers The South became far less distinctive as wages and government-provided benefits increased to roughly the national level.

But the New South has returned with a vengeance, led by a ruling white caste now putting in place policies likely to create a vast economic and social gap between most Southern states and those in the North, upper Midwest and Pacific region. As in the late 19th century, the Southern elite appears to believe that the only way their region can persuade companies to relocate there is by taking the low road: keeping wages down and social benefits skimpy. They seem to regard any trade union as the vanguard of a Northern army of occupation.  

America is not broke

“We’re broke.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Tea Party groups have repeated that phrase so frequently that it must be true, right?

But America is not broke. Our short-term budget outlook is stable, and our long-term challenges are manageable if both sides are willing to compromise. So why would politicians falsely claim that we’re broke? To justify radical changes to our nation’s social contract that Americans would never accept any other way.

This may be surprising, given how much we hear about a looming “debt crisis.” But annual budget deficits have fallen by almost two-thirds over the past five years. The total national debt is actually projected to shrink in each of the next three years as a share of the economy.

The future of free-market healthcare

Over nearly a century, progressives have pressed for a national, single-payer healthcare system. When it comes to health reform, what have conservatives stood for?

For far too long, conservatives have failed to coalesce around a long-term vision of what a free-market healthcare system should look like. Republican attention to healthcare, in turn, has only arisen sporadically, in response to Democratic initiatives.

Obamacare is the logical byproduct of this conservative policy neglect. President Barack Obama’s re-election was a strategic victory for his signature healthcare law. Once the bulk of the program begins to be implemented in 2014 — especially its trillions of dollars in new health-insurance subsidies — it will become politically impossible to repeal. And as the baby boomers retire and Obamacare is fully operational, government health spending will reach unsustainable levels.

GOP and the blue state budget time bomb

Many economists and analysts are concerned that the next candidate for a federal bailout is not still-too-big-to-fail banks but financially irresponsible states. We have written about the threat that failed states such as California, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland and New York pose to the fiscal health of the nation.

But the problem is bigger. In coming years, University of Chicago economics professor Brian Barry predicts, “Both parties are likely to clash over state-budget issues at the national level, no matter what happens to federal taxes or healthcare spending.”

Skyrocketing unfunded state pension liabilities, up to $4 trillion according to some estimates, are driving already financially troubled states down the path to insolvency,  and there appears to be no political will to address the problem. States in the most dire fiscal situations are high-tax, left-leaning and Democratic-controlled, and according to Barry pose a “long-term threat to the permanent national majority that many Democrats believe they see emerging from the past two presidential elections.”

Why left should seek a fiscal deal

“I am looking forward to reaching out,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday night after he had won reelection, “and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together.”

The progressive community must understand this and put aside its rigidity to help him meet this goal. As Obama also said early Wednesday morning, “We’ve got more work to do.”

Yet a network of liberal groups, on Thursday, plan to demand a national day of action against a balanced, grand bargain that could pull the nation back from the fiscal cliff it faces. The beef of this progressive coalition is that a real budget deal would almost certainly cut Medicare spending and may possibly include a proposal to make Social Security solvent through the century.

The sham of Simpson-Bowles

Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson deserve some kind of medal for creating the widely held perception that their plan for reducing the deficit and debt is anything other than a bad proposal.

It has been nearly two years since the commission they chaired, which I served on, finished its work. The duo’s proposal has attained almost mythical status in Washington as the epitome of what a “grand bargain” should look like.

But everyone look again. They will discover that it is far less than meets the eye.

Peddling damaged goods

steffie-himmelstein-combo– Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. David Himmelstein are both associate professors of medicine at Harvard Medical School and primary care doctors at Cambridge Hospital. They co-founded Physicians for a National Health Program. –

Once they’re finished mandating that we all buy private health insurance, Congress can move on to requiring Americans to purchase other defective products. A Ford Pinto in every garage? Lead-painted toys for every child? Melamine-laced chow for every puppy?

Private health insurance doesn’t work. Even middle class families with supposedly good coverage are just one serious illness away from financial ruin. In a study carried out with colleagues from Harvard Law School and Ohio University we found that medical bills and illness contributed to 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies in 2007 – a 50 percent increase since 2001. Strikingly, three quarters of the medically bankrupt had insurance – at least when they first got sick.

Uncle Sam pays for middle-class health care

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. –

On January 29, the U.S. Senate passed the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), originally enacted in 1997 as an addition to Medicaid. It would have expired on March 31, potentially leaving over 7 million children without health insurance.

The bill passed 66 votes to 32, with several Republicans joining Democrats to pass the bill. The Republican leadership wanted to expand SCHIP spending by $5 billion over five years, an annual increase of 20 percent. In contrast, congressional Democrats succeeded in increasing SCHIP by $32 to $39 billion over five years, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, almost tripling the program by 2013.

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