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Congress's Attempt at Financial Reform Is Very Weak Broth

The latest efforts to reform Wall Street don't away with too-big-to-fail banks, and that's a big problem -- here's what progressives are saying about it.

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In a blog post for Working In These Times, Roger Bybee highlights a piece by Harvard University Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren, who emphasizes the hardships faced by ordinary families. The statistics are grim—one-eighth of Americans are on food stamps, one-eighth cannot pay their mortgages and 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month.

We need to take serious steps to get people back to work. Mass unemployment means that consumers don’t spend money, which means that companies don’t sell as much, which makes companies lay off more workers to cut costs. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. The market can’t fix unemployment without help.

So Obama’s Dec. 8 speech announcing a new job-creation plan was a welcome event. But the concrete aspects of Obama’s plan are not effective. All the tax cuts in the world won’t necessarily put people back to work. Obama did endorse a public jobs plan which involved the government hiring people to improve the nation’s infrastructure and clean up communities ravaged by the economic crisis, but he shied away from any specific numbers.

As David Roberts explains for Grist, Obama’s willingness to sign off on a $23 billion program for environmentally friendly home renovations is a step in the right direction. The plan is being referred to as “cash-for-caulkers” and is modeled on the very successful cash-for-clunkers program. The government will pay people to increase the energy efficiency of their homes, helping people cut down on utility bills and increasing the demand for construction labor and products like new windows and doors. It’s a good idea. But if all we get are tax cuts and $23 billion for greener homes, the jobs bill is not going to assuage the unemployment crisis.

There is no reason to be concerned about the cost of a thorough jobs program. Taxpayers committed trillions of dollars to help the financial sector weather the economic storm. Anybody who is worked up about the prospect of spending money on jobs should read Amitabh Pal’s piece for The Progressive. A modest tax on speculative trades of stock and derivatives could easily raise $150 billion a year to finance a robust jobs program.

At this point in the economic downturn, the government needs to take much stronger steps to rein in Wall Street and create jobs. We know what needs to be done to protect the economy from risky banking and we can afford to fix the unemployment crisis. All we need is the political will.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Zach Carter writes a weekly blog on the economy for The Media Consortium. His work has appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and on CNBC.