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Back to Full Employment (Boston Review Books) Hardcover – June 29, 2012
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In this powerful and persuasive work, Robert Pollin shows why full employment should be both a progressive priority and a national one. I honestly wish I could make every last lawmaker in Washington read this book.(Chris Hayes, Host of Up with Chris Hayes, MSNBC)
Casting aside the assumptions of the failed neo-liberal model, Robert Pollin explains the centrality of full employment to a decent society and provides nothing short of a blueprint to achieve it. Pollin lights the way forward with a roadmap for a sustainable economy for generations to come and poses the burning question, "If not now, when?" Intelligent, inspirational, and -- a rarity among economic writings--accessible for all those seeking passage out of the 'austerity trap' delusion.(Rose Ann DeMoro, Executive Director, California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee)
Recovering a low unemployment rate after the financial crisis is essential; keeping it low in the long run is crucial for the economy. Robert Pollin's book gives the background you need to understand the problems, and outlines the policies needed to achieve these goals. Essential reading for everyone pursuing an egalitarian, democratic economic system.(Lance Taylor, Arnhold Professor, Department of Economics, New School for Social Research)
…Pollin covers the history, economics, and politics of the issue, and proposes an entirely persuasive program for getting there.(Robert Kuttner The American Prospect)
… Back to Full Employment offers some much-needed clarity as we head into the election season.(Anis Shivani Huffington Post)
About the Author
Robert Pollin is Professor of Economics and Codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Austerity and coauthor of A Measure of Fairness: The Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the United States.
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One issue with the book (perhaps a pet peeve of mine) is Figure 1 and Figure 2. The data is no doubt right (I've seen it elsewhere) but there is no need to magnify the drop in real wages in the 1972-1995 time period compared to productivity gains (Figure 1) by having the y-axis origins be non zero. Similarly Figure 2 leaves an impression of a 80-90% drop in household wealth due to the 2008 "financial crisis". Truth is the drop was about 25% overall. The truth of his case does not need these graphical distortions. Figures 3-6 are fine.
Figure 6 is a key chart when discussing strategy to reach near full employment. I would want to see more discussion (there is some qualitative discussion and a couple of quantitative self references) on why education spending is so much better in terms of jobs created (26.7) per 1$M spent - fossil fuel industry (5.2), military (11.2), and green (16.8) sectors. The two referenced articles are found easily enough (thanks Google), but reading them I get the impression one is biased against the military and one against the fossil fuel industry and education is favored w/o much backing. For other reasons both the military and fossil fuel industries do not deserve more deliberate spending (military due to our already massively overspending vs any other country and fossil fuels for reasons of controlling global warming/climate change/ghg emissions). But economically, jobs are jobs and getting money into the hands of spenders as opposed to hoarders is important to full recovery.
These two concerns only knock it down to a 4 star (I would have given it 4.5 stars if that be possible).
In his latest book, _Back to Full Employment_, Pollin is arguing for socio-economic policy to stabilize the American economic system, and consequently the global economy.
Pollin fully understands that there exists an ethical argument for full-employment. After all, if tens of millions of American workers are unemployed, what does it matter to them how much wealth the economy generates or how many goods and services are produced. However, the thrust of Pollin's argument is not per se ethical, rather his argument is economic. Macroeconomic stability and sustainable growth depends on American workers having jobs.
Pollin argues that the American economy can be stable, with low inflation, and unemployment levels of 4 percent or less. Indeed, the best way out of the recession is policy geared toward full-employment and job creation. Austerity advocates and deficit hawks are shown to be wrongheaded and faulty in their illusionary anxieties.
Although Pollin maintains the primary problem undermining a more robust recovery remains an (aggregate) "demand" problem, he does accept that there exists supply issues manifest from the financial industry. In short, American households and small businesses are unable to obtain loans that they desire. For this reason Pollin supports the idea of reducing financial "risk."
Pollin is quite careful to minimize "crowding-out" from job creation. Research with his Political Economy Research Institute colleagues shows that the best, or most effective, industries for job-creation are clean energy and education (more jobs per dollar spent than fossil fuel industry and military).
In addition to job-creation policy, Pollin advocates three complementary policies. First, an industrial policy that benefits from federal funds for research and development analogous to the pentagon, but specifically geared toward new technology and innovation (rather than as a secondary effect from war production). Second, financial regulation that curtails the noxious speculation that has come to define the American economy since the 1980s (Pollin calls this the "Keynesian problem"). Third, fiscal policy that decreases income and wealth inequality, while also in the long-run decreasing the federal deficit.
Pollin further argues that any American macroeconomic policy must also recognize the global impact it will have on the rest of the world. In this sense, Pollin condemns policy that merely exports our recession to our trade partners. In other words, our domestic macroeconomic policy has to be sensitive to the global crisis and international economic well-being.
Finally Pollin insists with urgency, the time to do something is not after recovery. Rather economic recovery radically depends on the job-creation now, industrial R&D policy now, financial soundness now, long-term fiscal health now.
In the end this is a very accessible and provocative little book. It promotes a political agenda for all Americans to receive benefit and reward from the American capitalist system. It is not clear that the political awareness and political-will currently exists for such an agenda. Pollin cites Gar Alperovitz in his acknowledgements, Alperovitz argues there is no political-will for such an agenda on the horizon, and any pro-worker policy will have to come from workers themselves, not politicians America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy. Nonetheless, this is an important little book, which will have a significant impact on policy debates going into the presidential elections in the fall.
As a postscript, I have used Pollin's _Contours of Descent_ in my macroeconomic courses since its publication, I intend to employ _Back To Full Employment_ in my courses to initiate awareness (and discussions) to pro-worker policy that could stabilize the economy. It is well argued and highly accessible book.
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