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Vol. LXV, No. 45
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
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Paul Krugman Is Among Panel of Experts Convened to Address Despair of Joblessness

Anne Levin

With unemployment only a percentage point away from Depression-era level and protesters holding demonstrations across the country, the American economy is in serious jeopardy. But there are positive steps to be taken, a panel of three experts, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, told a capacity crowd during a discussion on Sunday, November 6 at Nassau Presbyterian Church.

Sponsored by the Mid-Jersey MoveOn Council and several other organizations including the Coalition for Peace Action, the Princeton Community Democratic Organization [PCDO] and the Witherspoon/Jackson Neighborhood Organization, the discussion began with individual presentations and concluded with an extensive question-and-answer period. The event, which featured Mr. Krugman; Larry Hamm, state chair of the People’s Organization for Progress; and Carol Gay, president of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, was part of the American Dream Movement’s national campaign to focus on the jobs crisis.

“We are living in surreal times, in a bad way,” said Mr. Krugman, who is Woodrow Wilson Professor of Economics at Princeton University. “The suffering is enormous. The number of people who have been out of work for a really long time, four million for over a year, hasn’t happened since the Depression. It’s as bad as any European country, except without the social safety net.”

Mr. Hamm called the state of the economy “disastrous.” In Newark’s black community, he said, the level of joblessness is up to 70 percent in some segments of the city. The People’s Organization for Progress has been engaging in daily protests in Newark since last June 27. Mr. Hamm said the demonstrations will continue for at least 381 days, comparing it to the Montgomery Bus Boycott which ended segregated seating on public transit in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956.

Mr. Hamm outlined the goals of the protests, starting with a national jobs program. “We need a 21st century WPA,” he said, referring to the Works Progress Administration public works projects of the New Deal. “We need to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spend that money on job creation and health care.” Protection of workers’ rights to unionize and collectively bargain, a transition to universal health care, full funding for education, affordable college educations for all, and an end to student debt were also on the list.

“We support all the occupations,” Mr. Hamm said, referring to demonstrations underway nationwide and across the world. “Join us in Newark. We must build a national movement for the radical transformation of our socio-economic system.”

Describing the state of the economy, Ms. Gay said the inequality gap is the widest it has been in 80 years. “A small wealthy elite has enriched itself at the expense of the majority,” she said, adding that many corporations are not only not paying taxes but are receiving subsidies as well. The current stimulus program hasn’t done enough, and the Jobs Act of 2011 is cause for concern. Cuts, she said, are not the answer. Echoing some of Mr. Hamm’s recommendations, she called for a reclaiming and redirecting of capital, rescinding the Bush-era tax cuts, bringing troops home, downsizing military bases overseas, and cancelling the Star Wars program.

“I think we are on the cusp of a great movement,” she concluded. “The 99 percent must take to the streets if we think a better world is possible. We can’t wait any longer. We must embrace this wonderful uprising that is happening.”

Mr. Krugman said joblessness is extensive and far-reaching. “I live a sheltered life, and even I know people in desperate straits,” he said. “What makes it so surreal is that it is not a mystery about what is happening and what can be done to solve it. The solutions are not fundamentally complicated. There is just not enough spending.”

Debt forgiveness is one action that would help, he said. At the same time, the federal government, which can borrow at two percent, should be spending on such projects as building a rail tunnel under the Hudson River, which New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cancelled last year.

Mr. Krugman said there has been “a hijacking of the American economic crisis.” For much of the past two years, it has been all about deficits. “We need to change the conversation,” he said. “This is where Occupy Wall Street has been so amazing. It is an opening. It is also a very nervous moment, because it’s very possible that a year from now, we could have a government that’s even worse than what we have now.”

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