Friday, December 08, 2006

Is John Edwards getting tough on trade ?

Despite losing millions of manufacturing jobs, the stagnation of incomes among middle class Americans and a massive trade deficit, we still have many elitists who believe that "free trade" is the best thing since sliced bread. The reality that our standard of living is in decline thanks to self-destructive trade policies does not change the "free traders" insistence that "the world is flat."

Writing in his Capital Commerce column at http://www.usnews.com/, James Pethokoukis shares his fear that likely 2008 Democratic Presidential contender John Edwards is about to "raise the protectionist banner." Pethokoukis notes that Edwards has established a committee to explore running for the 2008 Democratic nomination led by former Michigan Congressman David Bonior. It seems that Bonior has consistently supported measures to secure American jobs while opposing unfair trade politicies - something that arrogant globalists tend to look at with displeasure.

"Before retiring from the House in 2002 and unsuccessfully running for governor of the Wolverine State, Bonior was one of the most protectionist members of Congress, not too surprising for a Michigan Democrat, of course. While in Congress, Bonior voted for withdrawing from the World Trade Organization, voted against presidential fast-track trade authority as well as giving China most-favored-nation trading status. His inclusion on Team Edwards leaves little doubt that the former trial lawyer will be the Sherrod Brown or Patrick Buchanan of the Dem primaries, bashing free trade and China all around the country." See complete article at http://tinyurl.com/y4qh8x

After reading the US News column, I am much more inclined to give John Edwards a second look as a 2008 Presidential possibility. As I recall, Edwards took a generally pro-fair trade position while in the U.S. Senate and on the campaign trail in the 2004 primaries but tended to downplay the issue. If Edwards is going to champion the interests of America's working class and middle class families, he might just surprise the political pundits and find a broad national base of support.

* THE GREAT RISK SHIFT

Jacob Hacker, a Fellow at the New America Foundation, has written an excellent book "The Great Risk Shift." Hacker explains how the so-called "Ownership Society" has destroyed the economic stability of our working and middle class. Listed below are some disturbing facts about the consequences of trickle down economics, deregulation and the weakening of collective bargaining for American families.

http://www.greatriskshift.com/facts.html

Income Insecurity

—The size of swings of pre-tax family income from year to year has tripled since the early 1970s. This sort of income instability—how far people move up and down the income ladder from year to year — has grown faster than income inequality—the gap between people on different points on the income ladder.

—The chance that a person with average demographic characteristics will experience a 50 percent or larger drop in income over a two-year period has risen from 7 percent in the early 1970s to 17 percent in 2002.

—Personal bankruptcy has gone from a rare occurrence to a routine one. In 2005, more than 2 million Americans filed for bankruptcy—up from fewer than 300,000 in 1980.—Income instability has risen just as quickly among the well educated as among the less well educated. As a result, college-educated workers today experience instability as great as workers without a high-school degree experienced in the 1970s.

Family Insecurity

— Parents with kids are much more likely than other adults to say they don't have enough financial resources to support themselves if they lose their jobs. All told, more than 70 percent of Americans say they could last no longer than 4 months without their current income before experiencing “significant financial hardship.”

— Married couples with kids are twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as are married couples without kids.— Families with children are more likely than other family types to lose their homes. Since the early 1970s, the mortgage foreclosure rate has increased fivefold. Each year in the last few years, roughly one in sixty households with a mortgage have fallen into foreclosure.

Job Insecurity

— Workers are scared. In 1982, amid a severe recession that had pushed the unemployment rate up to nearly 10 percent, a poll by the private business research firm ISR found that 12 percent of workers were “frequently concerned about being laid off.” In 2005, with the unemployment rate down to 5 percent, the number of Americans worried that they would lose their jobs was 35 percent.

— Although the unemployment rate has remained low, the rate of involuntary job loss has actually been steeply rising. In the 2001 recession, the rate of involuntary job loss was essentially the same as the levels reached during the deep downturn of the early 1980s. And the costs of job loss for workers are actually above the levels of the early 1980s, particularly for more educated workers.

— A major reason for the divorce between the unemployment and job-loss figures is that many of those displaced from jobs are not counted as unemployed, because they have stopped their employment search out of discouragement. In 2005, the “shadow unemployed” consisted of as many as 5.1 million men and women, which would raise the official unemployment rate to 8.7 percent.

Long-term unemployment

—that is, unemployment lasting longer than six months—is three times as high at the peak of the business cycle as it was in the 1960s. During economic downturns, the picture is even more worrisome. Long-term unemployment has been unusually high in each of the last two recessions, and educated and professional workers are most likely to experience it.

Health Insecurity— 46.6 million Americans lack health insurance, up from around 24 million in 1980. All of the decline is due to a drop in the scope and generosity of employer-provided health coverage. In 1980, the majority of employers at medium-to-large companies paid 100 percent of the premium for family health coverage. Today, fewer than a quarter do.

— Over a two-year period, more than 80 million adults and kids—one out of three nonelderly Americans—spend some time without the protection against ruinous health care costs that health insurance offers, and more than 50 million are uninsured for more than six months.

— One out of six working-age adults are carrying medical debt, and medical costs and crises were a factor in as many as 700,000 personal bankruptcies in 2001.

— Medicaid is now officially available to every poor child in America; yet the share of children who are uninsured has barely dropped and is still well above its level in the late 1970s. Only about 60 percent of poor children had health insurance coverage in 2002, and most of those who were uninsured lived in working families.

— With the exception of the recent prescription drug bill, Medicare coverage has remained largely unchanged since the 1960s, and still does not include a cap on catastrophic costs. As a result, seniors are actually paying a larger share of their income on medical care today than they did at the time of Medicare’s passage.

Retirement Insecurity

— In 1980, more than 80 percent of large and medium-sized corporations offered traditional “defined-benefit” pensions that provide a predetermined monthly benefit for the remainder of a worker’s life. Today, less than a third do. Instead, companies that provide plans now offer “defined-contribution” plans, such as the 401(k), in which returns are neither predictable nor assured.

— Between 1989 and 1998—a decade in which 401(k) coverage exploded and the stock market boomed—the share of families nearing retirement that found themselves likely to live on less than half of their prior income in retirement increased by a third, to more than 40 percent.

— Roughly three-quarters of 401(k) account holders in 2002 had less than the widely cited average of $47,000 in their account. The median among account-holders—which is a better measure of what’s typical—was around $13,000. And all these figures include only those who have 401(k)s. Only 53 percent of workers have access to a defined-contribution pension plan, and only 42 percent contribute to one.

— More than $100 billion dollars a year in lost income tax revenues is used to subsidize 401(k)s and other pension plans. Two-thirds of this total goes to the richest 20 percent of Americans, only 12 percent to the bottom 60 percent of Americans on the income ladder.