The Economy Hub
With Michael Hiltzik
On Obamacare, could all Democrats really be as clueless as Sen. Schumer?

The biggest political error committed by Democrats over the last four years has been to run away from their signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act. As a result, they've allowed Republicans and conservatives to depict a measure that improves the lives and health of millions of Americans as harmful, even un-American.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) disagrees about the Democrats' mistake. He thinks their mistake was passing the healthcare law in the first place, or at least putting it at the top of the Obama administration's first-term agenda.

It's a startling admission of political spinelessness. Schumer gets the positive impact of the legislation wrong, he gets the politics of it wrong, and he displays a shocking ignorance of the problems facing the American middle class. The only good thing about his remarks is that they confirm how bad today's Democrats are at messaging. Let's put it this way: Franklin Roosevelt would never have tried to discredit his own...

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Isn't it time for a shoppers' strike on Thanksgiving Day?

The only complaint about our commercial habits that has become more frequent than the one about Christmas decorations appearing in stores before Thanksgiving is the one about stores now opening on Thanksgiving.  

Most people are well aware of the creeping trend, if not the sheer creepiness of it. Loss-leader sales on "Black Friday" -- the day after Thanksgiving -- became something of a craze starting around 2002, when it became the biggest shopping day of the year, according to retail analysts. Soon the arms race began, with stores moving their Friday door openings back bit by bit into the wee hours of the morning, and finally to midnight Thursday. For many big retailers, the breach into previously sacrosanct Thanksgiving proper occurred in 2011.

Once that happened, the floodgates opened. According to a survey by Mother Jones (see accompanying graphic) several big retailers jumped back to 8 or 9 p.m. -- theoretically after dinner -- but this year have moved further back to 6 p.m....

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A look at poverty in America, from the inside

One little-recognized reality of poverty in America is how closely it lurks beneath the surface of even a successful professional life. A bad career turn, a couple of financial missteps, and -- here comes the dizzying plunge from middle class to underclass.

That's the lesson of a remarkable first-person account in the latest issue of the Hedgehog Review, published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture of the University of Virginia. Entitled "Falling," its author is William McPherson, 81, a published novelist, former editor of the Washington Post Book World and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, in 1977. (H/t James Wolcott.)

In unbashful detail, McPherson charts his descent from the comfortable middle class to life on Social Security, a meager pension and government antipoverty subsidies. He's not seeking the reader's sympathy, and he's not denying personal responsibility. "I got where I am today through my own efforts," he writes. "I can’t blame anyone else."


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New House GOP better for science -- by a micron

For many thinking Americans, the anti-intellectual core of Republican Party policies was made real during a 2007 primary debate among its 11 presidential candidates, when three raised their hands to say they doubted the theory of evolution.

More recently we've had climate-change deniers and skeptics placed in top GOP posts in Congress. Among them is Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, whose efforts to inject politics into government grantmaking procedures as chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology we've reported on here and here.

But Josh Krisch reports today for Scientific American that there are glimmers of light in what writer Chris Mooney memorably described as "The Republican War on Science." The glimmers come from the appointments for 2015 of Reps. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and John Culberson, R-Texas, as heads of two subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committees -- respectively, Health and Human Services; and Commerce, Justice and Science.

These posts as...

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What Jon Gruber said was dumb, but the Gruber controversy is much dumber

I’m probably not alone among journalists writing about the Affordable Care Act in finding that the lowest-information emails landing in my inbox lately come from people who have learned one thing about the act, and one thing alone: that some guy named Jonathan Gruber, its ostensible “architect,” said some insulting things about American voters’ stupidity and how they had to be gulled into supporting the bill.

So this is how low the debate over the most far-reaching social insurance program of our time has fallen. Never mind that the act has brought health coverage to at least 10 million Americans who didn’t have it before. Or that it has eradicated medical underwriting — that process by which insurance coverage denied policies to people with pre-existing conditions or jacked up their rates to unaffordable levels. Or that it has wiped out a broad range of traditional health insurance abuses. 

While we’re arguing over whether a working law should be invalidated by a health economist’s...

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Travel is broadening

Travel is broadening, so I'll be spending the next week or so expanding my horizons on a reporting trip. Posting on the Economy Hub will be sporadic at best through next Sunday. Feel free to catch up in the meantime by visiting the archives

Keep up to date with the Economy Hub. Follow @hiltzikm on Twitter, see our Facebook page, or email

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