While I've been laid up, I've been reading Krugman and Wells' introductory economics text. (I've been aware that there are gaps in my basic understanding of economic principles, and if I'm going to read an intro text, then why not the best, you know?) The book is wonderfully clear and well-written, and introduces a lot of key ideas pretty early in the going.
Which is a good thing, because I'm not very far in yet. But the book is already giving me a framework to think about economic issues that I didn't have before. For instance, K&W ask, "How do we know how well [a market] economy is doing?" The yardstick they give is whether that economy is using its resources efficiently: "Economists say an economy's resources are used efficiently when they are used in a way that has fully exploited all opportunities to make everyone better off. To put it another way, an economy is efficient if it takes all opportunities to make some people better off without making other people worse off." (Emphasis in original.)
Putting it like that tells you right away that our economy is doing a pretty crappy job right now: we have plenty of work that needs doing and isn't getting done (just in terms of crumbling infrastructure alone), and lots of people who have no work. We have not fully exploited all opportunities to make everyone better off - far, far from it. The notion that our economy's doing what it should, and that it's just going to take time to work things through, is wrong - our economy is leaving massive amounts of unused resources on the table, and as a result, wasting big chunks of the lives of millions of Americans.
It would be nice if one of the two major parties still considered high unemployment to be enough of a problem to actually talk about it on a regular basis.
Yglesias asks what Americans have less of than they used to. Krugman answers, time. Glad to hear him say it, because while it's been one of my main axes to grind for maybe 15 years now, it's never been on the political radar at all, and more people read Krugman than read me. But I'll say it again: enshrine two weeks' vacation and one week's sick leave in the law. Who could disagree with that? And overtime shouldn't be a free resource for employers, excepting only workers making a few multiples of the median wage.
If the government needs more revenue, a financial transactions tax would be a good place to start.
Bobby Jindal wants to increase taxes on 80% of Louisiana residents in order to finance a tax cut on the rich. He won't be the GOP nominee in 2016 no matter what K-Drum thinks, more's the pity: the ads would write themselves. But to borrow a riff from Atrios, I'm old enough to remember when the GOP wanted to cut taxes for everyone (they'd cut taxes for the rich a lot more, of course, but they'd at least cut everyone's taxes to some degree). Yet over the past year or two, it seems to have hardened into GOP dogma that the moochers and takers aren't paying enough taxes and should be paying more, in addition to the continuing orthodoxy that the rich are paying too much in taxes and should be paying less.
Good luck with that message at election time, guys.