Robert J. Samuelson

Samuelson: 'Boomsday' Is Approaching

Cassandra Devine knows how to solve the coming "entitlements" crisis, preordained when the 77 million baby boomers begin hitting 65 in 2011: pay retirees to commit suicide, a program she calls "transitioning." Volunteers could receive a lavish vacation beforehand ("a farewell honeymoon"), courtesy of the government, and their heirs would be spared the estate tax.

The Stubborn Welfare State

Spend a moment studying the small charts below. They illuminate why another of our annual budget battles--begun last week, when President Bush submitted his 2008 proposal--seems so fruitless and (yes) repetitious.

The Politics Of Symbolism

Fulfilling their promise, democrats in the House have voted to raise the minimum wagefrom its current $5.15 an hour to $7.25 by 2009. But before you count the big gains for low-income families, consider this fact: among the poorest fifth of U.S. households (their 2005 incomes: less than $19,178), only one in seven actually has a full-time, year-round worker.

The Economic Mega-Worry

The start of a new year is a good time to take stock, and there are few better indicators of our long-term economic prospects--and also our prospects for political and social peace--than productivity.

Rebalancing the Economy

Consider it a good omen. in October, the u.s. trade deficit dropped unexpectedly to $58.9 billion, about $5.4 billion less than in September. Although the largest cause was lower oil prices, strong American exports--up 14 percent from a year earlier--also contributed significantly.

A Man of Ideas in the Arena

What Keynes said was true of economist Milton Friedman, who died last week at 94, except that Friedman's immense influence emerged well before his death. He belongs on any list of the 100 most important people since World War II.

The Next Capitalism

When he died in 1848, John Jacob Astor was America's richest man, leaving a fortune of $20 million that had been earned mainly from real estate and fur trading.

The Worrying Housing Bust

We are at the endgame for housing. Until recently, our national motto has been "in real estate we trust." Just last week, the Census Bureau reported that median home prices after inflation rose 32 percent from 2000 to 2005.

Wal-Mart's A Diversion

It's not surprising that, as the new york Times reports, leading Democratic politicians have latched onto bashing Wal-Mart as a "new rallying cry" that "could prove powerful in the midterm elections and in 2008." America's political culture routinely demands at least one hideous corporate villain.

Is Oil at the Tipping Point?

It's been a minor miracle: the presumed power of soaring oil prices to cause an economic crisis has turned out to be more myth than reality. We Americans have grumbled loudly about rising gasoline prices while tanking up as if almost nothing has happened.

Facing Up To Inflation

If the Federal Reserve raises interest rates at the end of June, as seems probable, it will likely be criticized for making a fetish of inflation and, in the process, risking an American or global recession.

The Guardians Of Complexity

Almost everyone agrees we could make the income-tax system simpler, friendlier and more economically sane. But we haven't, and we probably won't. Getting from here to there is just too exhausting politically.

Greenspan's Real Legacy

No man's reputation is safe on his retirement, and so it is with Alan Greenspan's. History's verdict will await subsequent events that reveal the long-term consequences of his 18 years as chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The Return of The Gold Bugs

The price of gold passed $500 an ounce last week, its highest level since the late 1980s. This is either an ominous development--or it isn't. You can make the case that higher gold prices (up 23 percent from 2004's average) warn of worsening inflation.

The Coming Drug Bust?

Good policy can make for good politics, and bad policy can make for bad politics. Republicans may be about to discover this truism with their Medicare drug benefit, passed by Congress in 2003 and scheduled to take effect in January.

Worry While You Spend

One puzzle these days is why Americans are so confident at the shopping mall and so glum in opinion polls. By many measures, the country's prosperity is broad-based.

It's Not Your Dad's Oil Story

We have all the telltale signs of an inflation breakout: a big jump in oil and energy prices; an increase in the price of gold, often an inflation hedge; a low unemployment rate (5.1 percent in September, despite Katrina) that could push up wages.

So Long to the Wealth Effect?

Ours is a wealth-driven era, when huge increases in home values and (before that) stock prices make people feel richer and cause them to buy more. They spend more of their regular incomes, borrow more or sell something, most likely stocks.