Jonathan Rothwell

In a New York Times op-ed, Christina Romer, the former chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, argues--contra her former boss--that there is no compelling justification for policies aimed at supporting U.S. manufacturing. She lays out and rejects a few theoretical justifications for supporting manufacturing, including the idea that there are large positive externalities--large social benefits relative to what private companies can capture--tied to the sector. Her arguments are unconvincing.

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The Manhattan Institute just released a new study by economists Ed Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor called “The End of the Segregated Century.” It cheerfully notes that segregation is at its lowest level since 1910 and that all-white neighborhoods “are virtually extinct.” Their report seems accurate enough in describing the changes and is consistent, in many respects, with other research. Yet, in focusing exclusively on change, the report fails to convey that segregation is still quite high throughout much of America.

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With national conversations about inequality and fairness in the air, I’ve been thinking about what economic justice might look like to regions. I find the late John Rawls to be the most insightful philosopher on the subject of justice, so I’ve been re-reading his great works. First of all, Rawls argues a just society must meet a minimum standard for civil liberties--basically, those specified by the U.S. Bill of Rights. Next, access to what he calls primary goods--things we value like influence, security, income, respect--should be openly available to all.

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In the midst of nationwide protests over inequality, Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank, released a study arguing that most poor people in the United States shouldn’t actually be considered poor. Without offering a formal definition of poverty, they claim that Americans view poverty as deprivation in three things--food, clothing, and shelter--and by that standard, current poverty statistics grossly exaggerate the severity of living conditions.

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Imagine a federal government program that created one full time job for every $5,000 of taxpayer spending. Under this program, obligations are only made after many months of careful analysis by career officials at the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Energy, in consultation with independent private sector experts. On top of that, the program increases domestic U.S. energy production and vastly reduces the economic damage caused by pollution.

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No event is more closely linked to our current economic disease than the collapse of the housing market. The Wall Street Journal’s S. Mitra Kalita illustrates that nicely in a new story out of Hagerstown, Md.--a community whose rise and fall was heavily tied to housing. As the president tours the country promoting his stimulus (Jobs Act) plan, stories like this provide clues as to why the economic rebound has come up so short and also point to why another stimulus bill and massive relief to homeowners is so necessary. Federal Reserve flow of funds data shows that U.S.

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With the bankruptcy of the California solar-gear manufacturer Solyndra, the Department of Energy’s loan program has been excoriated for wasting tax payer money under suspicious circumstances. The program’s website refers to 63,000 jobs created with $38.6 billion of loans. Some, like those at the Washington Post, see this number and incorrectly conclude that the government has spent $600,000 per job.

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Several pundits and writers have recently suggested that the green economy is small and unlikely to be a major source of job growth anytime in the near future. So, the argument goes, it’s not a worthy investment. As evidence for the first claim, some critics of green policies have cited the job growth figures from our recent “Sizing the Clean Economy” report while arguing that the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar photovoltaic manufacturer, illustrates both the failures of green policies and the weakness of the industry.

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In his speech before Congress last night, President Obama argued to a somewhat skeptical public the role of the national government in responding to the continuing employment crisis.  To effectively address the crisis, however, it helps to start from a shared understanding of what the problem is. And on this count, there’s some disagreement, even among the experts. Some economists believe the fundamental problem is a mismatch between available jobs, and available workers.

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Great jobs, if only there were more of them. That, in a sentence, captures one of the main themes of our new report “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment.” And that’s why we need smart policies to overcome the financial barriers to scaling up the clean economy. On the first part, it turns out that a disproportionate percentage of green jobs are in decent-paying occupations that employ high percentages of workers without college-degrees, at a time when many of them are out of work.

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