37 ways to un-rig the U.S. economy so it no longer favors the rich

Joseph Stiglitz, Elizabeth Warren and the Roosevelt Institute weigh in on the defining issue of the 2016 elections

37 ways to un-rig the U.S. economy so it no longer favors the rich
Joseph Stiglitz
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

A new report written by scores of progressives economists has laid out an detailed agenda to dismantle, reverse and fix how the laws and policies governing the American economy are rigged to benefit the wealthiest individuals and largest corporations.

The report, “Rewriting The Rules Of The American Economy: An Agenda For Growth and Shared Prosperity,” has just been released by The Roosevelt Institute, where Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined its chief economist Joseph Stiglitz at its press conference.

“The American economy no longer works for most Americans… What is causing this dysfunction?” the report opens, then answering that question and making dozens of specific law and policy changes, listed below.

“Some point to technological change or globalization,” it said. “Some posit that government has shackled the free enterprise system and hobbled business. Some say that our economy is simply rewarding the risk takers and job creators who have earned the riches coming their way… None of these arguments gets it right.”

“Skyrocketing incomes for the 1 percent and stagnating wages for everyone else are not independent phenomena, but rather two symptoms of an impaired economy that rewards gaming the system more than it does hard work and investment,” it states. “The roots of this dysfunction lie deep in the rules and power dynamics that have prioritized corporate power and short-term gains at the expense of long-term innovation and growth. The outcomes shaped by these rules and power dynamics do not make the economy stronger; indeed, many make it weaker.”

What follows are 37 specific laws and policy changes to restore fairness and balance to the economy without undermining American capitalism.

Fix The Financial Sector

1. End “too big to fail” by imposing additional capital surcharges on systemically risky financial institutions and breaking up firms that cannot produce credible living wills.

2. Better regulate the shadow banking sector.

3. Bring greater transparency to all financial markets by requiring all alternative asset managers to publicly disclose holdings, returns, and fee structures.

4. Reduce credit and debit card fees through improved regulation of card providers and enhanced competition.

5. Enforce existing rules with stricter penalties for companies and corporate officials that break the law.

6. Reform Federal Reserve governance to reduce conflicts of interest and institute more open and accountable elections.

Incentivize Long-Term Business Growth

7. Restructure CEO pay by closing the performance-pay tax loophole and increasing transparency on the size of compensation packages relative to performance and median worker pay and on the dilution as a result of grants of stock options.

8. Enact a financial transaction tax to reduce short-term trading and encourage more productive long-term investment.

9. Empower long-term stakeholders through the tax code, the use of so-called “loyalty shares,” and greater accountability for managers of retirement funds.

Make Markets Competitive

10. Restore balance to intellectual property rights to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

11. Restore balance to global trade agreements by ensuring investor protections are not prioritized above protections on the environment and labor, and increasing transparency in the negotiation process.

12. Provide health care cost controls by allowing government bargaining.

13. Expand a variant of chapter 11 bankruptcy to homeowners and student borrowers.

Rebalance The Tax System

14. Raise the top marginal rate by converting all reductions to tax credits and limiting the use of credits.

15. Raise taxes on capital gains and dividends.

16. Encourage U.S. investment by taxing corporations on global income.

17. Tax undesirable behavior such as short-term trading or polluting and eliminate corporate welfare and other tax expenditures that foster inefficiency and inequality.

Make Full Employement The Goal

18. Reform monetary policy to give higher priority to full employment.

19. Reinvigorate public investment to lay the foundation for long-term economic performance and job growth, including by investing in large-scale infrastructure renovation: a 10-year campaign to make the U.S. a world leader in innovation, manufacturing, and jobs.

20. Invest in large-scale infrastructure renovation with a 10-year campaign to make the U.S. a world infrastructure innovation, manufacturing, and jobs leader.

21. Expand public transportation to promote equal access to jobs and opportunity.

Empower workers

22. Strengthen the right to bargain by easing legal barriers to unionization, imposing stricter penalties on illegal anti-union intimidation tactics, and amending laws to reflect the changing workplace.

23. Have government set the standards by attaching strong pro-worker stipulations to its contracts and development subsidies.

24. Increase funding for enforcement and raise penalties for violating labor standards.

25. Raise the nationwide minimum wage and increase the salary threshold for overtime pay.

Expand Access to Labor Markets and Opportunities For Advancement

26. Reform the criminal justice system to reduce incarceration rates and related financial burdens for the poor.

27. Reform immigration law to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.

28. Legislate universal paid sick and family leave.

29. Subsidize child care to benefit children and improve women’s workforce participation.

30. Promote pay equity and eliminate legal obstacles that prevent employees from sharing salary information.

31. Protect women’s access to reproductive health services.

Expand Economic Security And Opportunity

32. Invest in young children through child benefits, early education, and universal pre-K.

33. Increase access to higher education by reforming tuition financing, restoring protections to student loans, and adopting universal income-based repayment.

34. Make health care affordable and universal by opening Medicare to all.

35. Expand access to banking services through a postal savings bank.

36. Create a public option for the supply of mortgages.

37. Expand Social Security with a supplemental public investment program modeled on private Individual Retirement Accounts, and raise the payroll cap to increase revenue.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/05/16/37_ways_to_un_rig_the_u_s_economy_so_it_doesnt_favor_the_rich_partner/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

The Myths of US Exceptionalism

Exceptional in Health, Education & Retirement?

AmericanExceptionalism-300x199

by JACK RASMUS

One of the elements of cultural ideology in the USA is that the United States is somehow exceptional compared to other countries; that is, it is different in a number of positive ways that distinguish it from all other countries.

Exceptional in Health, Education & Retirement?

In a perverted way, there is some truth to this. The United States is exceptional in that it is the only advanced economy in the world that has failed to provide universal health care for its citizens. It has a large, parasitical for-profit health care system, dominated by multi-billion dollar profit making private health insurance companies that suck $1 trillion a year from the wallets of US consumers for pushing paper around, a vast network of ‘for profit’ hospital chains that suck another $900 billion a year, pharmaceutical drug companies that charge $94,000 for drugs to treat someone with hepatitis C (that’s $1,125 per pill) and charge patients $14,000 to $64,000 a month for cancer drugs, and it has the highest paid professional medical personnel in the world. The US spends more than $3 trillion a year, and rising, on health care. That’s about 18% of its $17.4 trillion annual GDP, or almost one dollar out of every five spent on everything is for healthcare. That’s the highest spending on healthcare in the industrial world. In return for that massive spending , it ranks 39th in infant mortality rates, 42nd in adult mortality, and 36th in life expectancy. Yes, the US is exceptional in health care.

It is also exceptional in education. Its college students have become, in effect, indentured servants to the education establishment of overpaid administrators and bankers, owing more than $1.1 trillion in debt just to get a college education—more per capita higher education debt than any other country in the world. The cost of attending a four year college today is, on average, $30,000 to $60,000 a year for a four year undergraduate education. For those who can’t afford college there’s no meaningful job training programs available any longer. Meanwhile, 70% of college professors and instructors in the US are part time/temp workers, many of whom earn poverty wages and have no benefits. That too is ‘exceptional’, I suppose.

US workers work the longest hours among the industrial economies, have the shorted annual paid vacations (on average 7 days paid a year), and face the prospect of poverty when they retire or can no longer work. Social security pensions average only $1,100 a month, private pensions (called 401k plans) average less than $50,000 total savings for those age 60 and approaching retirement, and more than half of US workers live pay check to pay check with no personal savings whatsoever. As 70 million ‘baby boomers’ born after 1945 start to retire, tens of millions of them face the prospect of a penniless, poverty-ridden retirement. No wonder the fastest growing segment of the US workforce is those aged 65-74, as many return to work just to make ends meet.

Income inequality in the US is also the most extreme among the advanced economies, and growing worse every year. CEOs of US corporations make around 400 times the average pay of the average worker in their company—the biggest gap in the industrial world. (In 1980 they made only 35 times).The wealthiest 1% households (investor class nearly all), gained no less than 95% of all the net income growth in the US since 2010, which compares to 65% during the George W. Bush years, 2001-2007, and to 45% during the Clinton years in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the median family income has been declining in the US at 1%-2% every year for the past decade. (Ok, maybe that’s not exceptional, since pay for workers has been steadily declining in Europe and Japan too).

US workers may get only 6 months unemployment benefits, at less than one-third their pay, when they lose their jobs, compared to German workers, for example, who get up to two years in jobless benefits and job retraining to boot. But, what the hell, we got more aircraft carriers than the Germans.

Yes, the US is exceptional. Its workers are the sickest, most indebted, most overworked, insecure, and among the least compensated and the most fearful of the future than any in the advanced industrial world.

The US is also exceptional in that it spends more on its military than all the rest of the advanced economies combined. The US’s true ‘war budget’ is about $1 trillion a year, not the reported $650 billion or so for the Pentagon, which is stuffed away in dozens of corners in its annual economic budget. It has more than 1000 military bases worldwide. It is engaged constantly in more wars worldwide than any other country by far. And it spies every day on more of its, and rest of the world’s, citizens than all the ‘spooks’ in the rest of the world do combined. ‘Exceptional’? You bet.

The Myth of US Economic Exceptionalism

Another favorite focus of late for the ‘US is exceptional’ crowd is the US economy.

Japan may be in its fourth recession since 2009. The Eurozone may be slipping in and out of recession every couple of years. But the US economy is in full recovery. So we’re told. It is growing nicely, while the rest of the world lags behind. Or so the ideological spin goes.

The ‘exceptionalists’ like to refer to last summer 2014’s US economic growth figures of 4% to 5% in GDP growth rates, its 200,000 a month new jobs created in 2014, and its ever-rising stock and bond markets as evidence of such economic exceptionalism. But a closer look, at last year’s much hyped 5% GDP growth in the 3rd quarter 2014, and at the data for most recent months in early 2015, show there is nothing exceptional about the US economy.

Long term, it continues to grow at an annual rate about half of what is normal in past decades.

Over the past six years, occasional quarter GDP growth rates of 4-5% typically are followed by a sharp collapse of GDP growth, or even negative GDP, within months. This in fact has happened four times since 2009 resulting in a ‘stop-go’ economic recovery: in the first quarter of 2011, fourth quarter of 2012, first quarter of 2014 last year—and it appears it may happen again a fifth time in the recent first quarter, January-March 2015.

The US economy’s ‘yo-yo’, or ‘seesaw’, economic trajectory is nothing special or exceptional. Japan and Europe have been experiencing the same. Their ‘bouncing’ along the bottom is just at a level closer to the bottom (or even below it) than has been the US economy’s the past five years. Whereas the US economy’s growth spikes up to 4% or so on occasion, only to collapse back again to zero or less growth, the US economic growth longer term has been averaging about 1.7% annually the past five years. That’s about half its normal growth rate compared to US recoveries from recessions in the past. Japan and Europe might spike to only 2% on occasion, but then slip to negative growth—i.e. into a bona fide recession.

So it’s ‘stop-go’ recovery for all three, occurring just at different levels of ‘go’ and of ‘stop’. Nothing exceptional or different economically over the longer term, in other words.

Comparing the US temporary 5% economic growth of last July-September 2014, to what will almost certainly prove to be a 1% or less growth rate for the January-March 2015 period when the final numbers come in later this May, shows that temporary, ‘one-off’ factors occurred last summer 2014 to produce the brief 4%-5% GDP US growth. Those temporary factors have since reversed or disappeared in the first three months of 2015. Take away those one-off factors of nine months ago, and one gets the less than 1% growth likely to register for the most recent three months, January-March 2015. Here’s a brief explanation:

Shale Gas/Oil Industrial Production Boom

In early 2014 the shale gas/oil boom was in full swing in the US. That boosted what is called Industrial Production and much of last year’s jobs growth. But when the global oil price glut began last June, precipitated by Saudi Arabia and its emirate friends attempt to drive the shale gas/oil producers in the US into bankruptcy, the shale boom in the US came to an abrupt halt. Industrial production slowed rapidly after the summer and has continued ever since, turning negative since December. Jobs began to disappear. It is projected that jobs in Texas, the largest shale producer, will decline by 150,000 in early 2015. 

Manufacturing & Exports

In early 2015 US manufacturing and exports continued to grow, as the US dollar remained low giving US exports an advantage. But the collapse of world oil prices and the simultaneous talk by the US central bank it would raise interest rates resulted in a 20% rise in the dollar. Japan and Eurozone QEs pushed it still higher. The result was the beginning of a collapse in late 2014 of the contribution of US manufacturing and exports to US economic growth. That continues into 2015. Manufacturing orders have declined every month since December 2014.

Obamacare Consumer Health Spending

Another one-time boost to US GDP in mid-2014 was the signing up of 9 million of US consumers into the government’s new privatized health insurance coverage program, who couldn’t get health insurance. They started paying monthly premiums, and using health care services. That provided a boost to consumer spending that didn’t previously exist. But by 2015 the sign ups have leveled off. No more additional boost consequently in 2015.

Auto Buying Boom Goes Bust

Another consumer spending element that was peaking last summer was the boom in auto sales in the US. That too has now come to an end, as the market in the US has become saturated in terms of auto sales after four years. Auto sales since December, usually a strong month for auto sales, declined and have continued declining through February. The auto boomlet in the US is over.

General US Consumer Spending

Consumer spending in general has turned negative, starting in December. The US indicator, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index (PCE) declined in December-January, was flat in February and suggests no change in March. Consumer spending was supposed to surge, according to mainstream economists, as consumers enjoyed lower gasoline prices. Instead, consumers saved the lower gasoline prices or used it to help pay off their massive debt loads (which this writer predicted would be the case last year). US retail sales, which constitute the largest part of consumer spending, grew at a 4%-5% rate over last summer. But once again has turned negative since December 2014, falling by -1.0%, -0.9%, -0.6%, December through February, and likely falling again in March 2015. So both retail sales and consumer spending in general have turned negative.

Business Spending 

In the third quarter, July-September, of the year for the past five years, businesses in the US have boosted their spending, building up their inventories, in anticipation of a rise in year end holiday consumer spending. But the holiday spending then typically falls short of expectations, and businesses ‘work off’ the inventories in the first quarter, January-March, of the following year. This has happened yet again in 2015. Another element of business spending, on new equipment, is barely inching along, growing only 0.6% in the fourth quarter of 2014 and likely no more or even less in the first quarter.

Government Defense Spending 

It is a well-known and documented fact that in the US, every other year in which there is a national election, the federal government holds off spending early in the year so it can release it in the summer before the election. That occurred in 2012 before the national presidential elections and in 2014 before the midterm Congressional elections. That government spending gives an added boost in the July-September quarter, as politicians try to create the impression the economy is doing better than it is longer term. That too happened last summer. But that spending will contract early in 2015 relative to last summer.

US Jobs Creation 

Job creation always lags the real economy. And after growing jobs at a rate of 200,000 a month last year (mostly low paid, part time/temp, service jobs), jobs growth in March rose by only 126,000. Preceding months of January-February were also reduced. The employment data thus are now confirming the general economic slowdown in the first quarter 2015 as well. Apologists for the politicians will no doubt use the excuse of ‘bad weather’ for the feeble March jobs numbers. But what’s really happening is job creation is, and will continue, to slow due to real reasons. The ‘canary in the jobs mine’ is jobs in the goods producing sector, which have been slowing rapidly for several months and now turned negative in March. That reflects the collapse in manufacturing, mining, and good production that began late last year and now continues. The

Ideology of US Exceptionalism

In short, there is nothing exceptional about the US economy when one looks behind the ideological spin. It continues on its stop-go trajectory of the past five years. The economy weakens significantly every 4th quarter/1st quarter and the weak growth is ‘made up’ the following summer. Smoothing and averaging it all out over the year produces the longer term sub-historical average growth rate of around 1.8%–i.e. half of normal. And nothing exceptional. Japan and Europe are doing the same, just at a lower level of ‘stop-go’, sub-normal.

Long term US GDP growth is averaging 1.8% vs. 0.5% (Europe) vs. 0% (Japan). Does that make the US economy exceptional? Not really. 20 million are still jobless in the US; roughly the same as in the Eurozone. That’s not exceptional. Prices are now flat in the US (i.e. no change) and heading toward deflation; price stagnation also exists today in Europe and Japan . Real investment is declining in the US as in Europe and Japan—again nothing exceptional. And real wage incomes continue to decline for median income workers in the US—as they do for workers in Europe and Japan.

One of the favorite ideological strategies of ruling elites and classes is to convince their working classes that they are exceptional—i.e. meaning their situation may not be great, and may even be declining, but at least they are not as bad off as others. ‘It could be worse, just look at those poor workers in country X and Y. It may not be great here, but what the hell, we’re not so bad off, are we?’ The appeal to exceptionalism is just another ideological ploy to get working classes to accept their deteriorating conditions. It’s just another ideological tool to immobilize people. To accept their reality as their fate. To make them believe that, as their living conditions are getting worse, it’s not really that bad. But it is….

Jack Rasmus is author of the forthcoming book, ‘Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy’, published by Clarity Press, 2015; and the previous works, ‘Epic Recession: Prelude to Global Depression’, Pluto Press 2010, and ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’, Pluto Press, 2012. He blogs at jackrasmus.com.

This piece first appeared at TeleSur.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/08/the-myths-of-us-exceptionalism/

Robert Reich: America is headed full speed back to the 19th century

Former labor secretary Robert Reich on the dangers of on-demand jobs and our growing intolerance for labor unions

Robert Reich: America is headed full speed back to the 19th century
Robert Reich

My recent column about the growth of on-demand jobs like Uber making life less predictable and secure for workers unleashed a small barrage of criticism that workers get what they’re worth in the market.

Forbes Magazine contributor, for example, writes that jobs exist only  “when both employer and employee are happy with the deal being made.” So if the new jobs are low-paying and irregular, too bad.

Much the same argument was voiced in the late nineteenth century over alleged “freedom of contract.” Any deal between employees and workers was assumed to be fine if both sides voluntarily agreed to it.

It was an era when many workers were “happy” to toil twelve-hour days in sweat shops for lack of any better alternative.

It was also a time of great wealth for a few and squalor for many. And of corruption, as the lackeys of robber barons deposited sacks of cash on the desks of pliant legislators.

Finally, after decades of labor strife and political tumult, the twentieth century brought an understanding that capitalism requires minimum standards of decency and fairness – workplace safety, a minimum wage, maximum hours (and time-and-a-half for overtime), and a ban on child labor.

We also learned that capitalism needs a fair balance of power between big corporations and workers.

We achieved that through antitrust laws that reduced the capacity of giant corporations to impose their will, and labor laws that allowed workers to organize and bargain collectively.

By the 1950s, when 35 percent of private-sector workers belonged to a labor union, they were able to negotiate higher wages and better working conditions than employers would otherwise have been “happy” to provide.

But now we seem to be heading back to nineteenth century.



Corporations are shifting full-time work onto temps, free-lancers, and contract workers who fall outside the labor protections established decades ago.

The nation’s biggest corporations and Wall Street banks are larger and more potent than ever.

And labor union membership has shrunk to less than 6 percent of the private-sector workforce.

So it’s not surprising we’re once again hearing that workers are worth no more than what they can get in the market.

But as we should have learned a century ago, markets don’t exist in nature. They’re created by human beings. The real question is how they’re organized and for whose benefit.

In the late nineteenth century they were organized for the benefit of a few at the top.

But by the middle of the twentieth century they were organized for the vast majority.

During the thirty years after the end of World War II, as the economy doubled in size, so did the wages of most Americans — along with improved hours and working conditions.

Yet since around 1980, even though the economy has doubled once again (the Great Recession notwithstanding), the wages most Americans have stagnated. And their benefits and working conditions have deteriorated.

This isn’t because most Americans are worth less. In fact, worker productivity is higher than ever.

It’s because big corporations, Wall Street, and some enormously rich individuals have gained political power to organize the market in ways that have enhanced their wealth while leaving most Americans behind.

That includes trade agreements protecting the intellectual property of large corporations and Wall Street’s financial assets, but not American jobs and wages.

Bailouts of big Wall Street banks and their executives and shareholders when they can’t pay what they owe, but not of homeowners who can’t meet their mortgage payments.

Bankruptcy protection for big corporations, allowing them  to shed their debts, including labor contracts. But no bankruptcy protection for college graduates over-burdened with student debts.

Antitrust leniency toward a vast swathe of American industry – including Big Cable (Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner), Big Tech (Amazon, Google), Big Pharma, the largest Wall Street banks, and giant retailers (Walmart).

But less tolerance toward labor unions — as workers trying to form unions are fired with impunity, and more states adopt so-called “right-to-work” laws that undermine unions.

We seem to be heading full speed back to the late nineteenth century.

So what will be the galvanizing force for change this time?

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie “Inequality for All” is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/02/10/robert_reich_america_is_heading_full_speed_back_to_the_19th_century_partner/?source=newsletter

Income inequality soars in every US state

By Andre Damon
30 January 2015

Income inequality has grown in every state in the US in recent decades, according to a new study published this week by the Economic Policy Institute. The report, entitled The Increasingly Unequal States of America, found that, even though states home to major metropolitan financial centers such as New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area had the highest levels of income inequality, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased in every region of the country.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re looking at Hawaii or West Virginia or New York or California, there has been a dramatic shift in income towards the top,” said Mark Price, an economist at the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and one of the study’s co-authors, in a telephone interview.

Source: Economic Policy Institute
The report noted that between 2009 and 2012, the top one percent of income earners captured 105 percent of all income gains in the United States. This was possible because during this period the average income of the bottom 99 percent shrank, while the average income of the top one percent increased by 36.8 percent.

To varying degrees, this phenomenon was expressed throughout the country. In only two states did the income of the top one percent grow by less than fifteen percent.

The enormous concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent was even further concentrated in the top .01 percent. In New York, for instance, someone had to make $506,051 per year to be counted in the top one percent, but $16 million to be in the top .10 percent. The average income within the top .01 percent in New York was a staggering $69 million.

“Most of what’s driving income growth are executives in the financial sector, as well as top managers throughout major corporations,” said Dr. Price. “Those two together are the commanding heights of income in this economy.”

Source: Economic Policy Institute

Dr. Price and his co-author, Estelle Sommeiller, based their study on the methods of Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, whose widely-cited research analyzed the growth of income inequality for the United States as a whole. Using state-by-state data from the Internal Revenue Service, much of which had to be compiled from paper archives dating back almost a century, Price and Sommeiller were able to make a state-by-state analysis of income inequality since 1917.

Nationwide, the average income of the top one percent of income earners is 29 times higher than the average income of the bottom 99 percent. But in New York and Connecticut, the average income in the top 1 percent is 51.0 and 48.4 percent higher than the average for the rest of earners, respectively.

New York City is the home of Wall Street and boasts more billionaires than any other city in the world. Connecticut is home to many of the largest hedge funds in the world. Ray Dalio, the founder of Westport, Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates earned $3 billion in 2011 alone.

While the average income of the bottom 99 percent of income earners in New York state was $44,049, the income of the top one percent was $2,130,743. For the United States as a whole, the top one percent earned on average $1,303,198, compared to the average income of $43,713 for the bottom 99 percent.

In California, the most populous US state, the top one percent received an average income of $1,598,161, which was 34.9 times higher than the average pay of the bottom 99 percent. In 2013, four of the highest-paid CEOs in the United States were employed by technology companies, which are disproportionately located in California. At the top of the list was Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, with a current net worth of $53.4 billion, who made $78 million in pay that year.

The study shows that the average income for the bottom 99 percent of income earners is relatively consistent across states, with no state showing an average income of more than 33 percent above or below the average for the whole country.

The average incomes of the top one percent varied widely, however: from $537,989 for West Virginia to $2.1 million in New York. According to Forbes, the wealthiest resident of West Virginia is coal magnate Jim Justice II, who, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, is the state’s only billionaire. New York City, by contrast, has four residents worth more than $20 billion, including chemical tycoon David Koch, with a net worth of $36 billion; former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with a net worth of $31 billion; and financiers Carl Icahn and George Soros, worth $20 billion apiece.

Yet despite the broad disparity in the relative concentration of the ultra-rich, every single state showed a pronounced and growing chasm between the wealthy few and the great majority of society. In Alaska, which has relatively high wages and few billionaires, the incomes of the top one percent were on average more than fifteen times higher than the bottom 99 percent.

The report noted that exploding CEO pay has set “new norms for top incomes often emulated today by college presidents (as well as college football and basketball coaches), surgeons, lawyers, entertainers, and professional athletes.”

Price added, “As the incomes of CEOs and financiers are rising, you’re starting to see that pull, almost like a gravity starting to pull up other top incomes in the rest of the economy.

“A University president might claim, ‘I run a big institution, you expect me to raise money from some of the wealthiest people in the country, you’ve got to pay me a salary that helps me socialize with them.’”

Price said that, while inequality figures are not available nationwide on the local level, his work on income inequality in the state of Pennsylvania shows that income inequality is growing in counties throughout the state, in both rural and urban centers.

Nationwide, the income share of the top one percent fell by 13.4 percent between 1928-1979, a product of the New Deal and Great Society reforms, as well as higher taxes on top earners. These measures were the outcome of bitter and explosive class struggles. But in subsequent years, that trend has been reversed.

As a result, income inequality in New York State was even higher in 2007 than it was in 1928, during the “roaring 20s” that gave rise to the Great Depression. In the period between 1979 and 2007, every state had the income share of the top 1 percent grow by at least 25 percent.

Citing a previous study by the Economic Policy Institute, the report noted that “between 1979 and 2007, had the income of the middle fifth of households grown at the same rate as overall average household income, it would have been $18,897 higher in 2007—27.0 percent higher than it actually was.”

The enormous growth of social inequality is the result of an unrelenting, decades-long campaign against the jobs and living standards of workers. Under the Obama administration, the redistribution of wealth has escalated sharply, through a combination of bank bailouts and “quantitative easing,” which has inflated the assets of the financial elite.

These policies have been pursued by both parties and the entire political establishment which is squarely under the thumb of the corporate and financial oligarchy that dominates American society.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/30/ineq-j30.html

Decline and fall: how American society unravelled

  • The Guardian, Wednesday 19 June 2013 12.47 EDT
Ruined home in Youngstown, Ohio

Youngstown, Ohio, was once a thriving steel centre. Now, the industry has all gone and the city is full of abandoned homes and businesses. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

In or around 1978, America’s character changed. For almost half a century, the United States had been a relatively egalitarian, secure, middle-class democracy, with structures in place that supported the aspirations of ordinary people. You might call it the period of the Roosevelt Republic. Wars, strikes, racial tensions and youth rebellion all roiled national life, but a basic deal among Americans still held, in belief if not always in fact: work hard, follow the rules, educate your children, and you will be rewarded, not just with a decent life and the prospect of a better one for your kids, but with recognition from society, a place at the table.

This unwritten contract came with a series of riders and clauses that left large numbers of Americans – black people and other minorities, women, gay people – out, or only halfway in. But the country had the tools to correct its own flaws, and it used them: healthy democratic institutions such as Congress, courts, churches, schools, news organisations, business-labour partnerships. The civil rights movement of the 1960s was a nonviolent mass uprising led by black southerners, but it drew essential support from all of these institutions, which recognised the moral and legal justice of its claims, or, at the very least, the need for social peace. The Roosevelt Republic had plenty of injustice, but it also had the power of self-correction.

Americans were no less greedy, ignorant, selfish and violent then than they are today, and no more generous, fair-minded and idealistic. But the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends. Human nature does not change, but social structures can, and they did.

At the time, the late 1970s felt like shapeless, dreary, forgettable years. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, preaching austerity and public-spiritedness, and hardly anyone was listening. The hideous term “stagflation”, which combined the normally opposed economic phenomena of stagnation and inflation, perfectly captured the doldrums of that moment. It is only with the hindsight of a full generation that we can see how many things were beginning to shift across the American landscape, sending the country spinning into a new era.

In Youngstown, Ohio, the steel mills that had been the city’s foundation for a century closed, one after another, with breathtaking speed, taking 50,000 jobs from a small industrial river valley, leaving nothing to replace them. In Cupertino, California, the Apple Computer Company released the first popular personal computer, the Apple II. Across California, voters passed Proposition 13, launching a tax revolt that began the erosion of public funding for what had been the country’s best school system. In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract. Newt Gingrich came to Congress as a conservative Republican with the singular ambition to tear it down and build his own and his party’s power on the rubble. On Wall Street, Salomon Brothers pioneered a new financial product called mortgage-backed securities, and then became the first investment bank to go public.

A steelworker in Youngstown, Ohio

A steelworker in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1947. Under the old deal, his hard work was to be rewarded. Photograph: Willard R. Culver/National Geographic/Corbis The large currents of the past generation – deindustrialisation, the flattening of average wages, the financialisation of the economy, income inequality, the growth of information technology, the flood of money into Washington, the rise of the political right – all had their origins in the late 70s. The US became more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic, more individualistic and less communitarian, more free and less equal, more tolerant and less fair. Banking and technology, concentrated on the coasts, turned into engines of wealth, replacing the world of stuff with the world of bits, but without creating broad prosperity, while the heartland hollowed out. The institutions that had been the foundation of middle-class democracy, from public schools and secure jobs to flourishing newspapers and functioning legislatures, were set on the course of a long decline. It as a period that I call the Unwinding.

In one view, the Unwinding is just a return to the normal state of American life. By this deterministic analysis, the US has always been a wide-open, free-wheeling country, with a high tolerance for big winners and big losers as the price of equal opportunity in a dynamic society. If the US brand of capitalism has rougher edges than that of other democracies, it is worth the trade-off for growth and mobility. There is nothing unusual about the six surviving heirs to the Walmart fortune possessing between them the same wealth as the bottom 42% of Americans – that’s the country’s default setting. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are the reincarnation of Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie, Steven Cohen is another JP Morgan, Jay-Z is Jay Gatsby.

The rules and regulations of the Roosevelt Republic were aberrations brought on by accidents of history – depression, world war, the cold war – that induced Americans to surrender a degree of freedom in exchange for security. There would have been no Glass-Steagall Act, separating commercial from investment banking, without the bank failures of 1933; no great middle-class boom if the US economy had not been the only one left standing after the second world war; no bargain between business, labour and government without a shared sense of national interest in the face of foreign enemies; no social solidarity without the door to immigrants remaining closed through the middle of the century.

Once American pre-eminence was challenged by international competitors, and the economy hit rough seas in the 70s, and the sense of existential threat from abroad subsided, the deal was off. Globalisation, technology and immigration hurried the Unwinding along, as inexorable as winds and tides. It is sentimental at best, if not ahistorical, to imagine that the social contract could ever have survived – like wanting to hang on to a world of nuclear families and manual typewriters.

This deterministic view is undeniable but incomplete. What it leaves out of the picture is human choice. A fuller explanation of the Unwinding takes into account these large historical influences, but also the way they were exploited by US elites – the leaders of the institutions that have fallen into disrepair. America’s postwar responsibilities demanded co-operation between the two parties in Congress, and when the cold war waned, the co-operation was bound to diminish with it. But there was nothing historically determined about the poisonous atmosphere and demonising language that Gingrich and other conservative ideologues spread through US politics. These tactics served their narrow, short-term interests, and when the Gingrich revolution brought Republicans to power in Congress, the tactics were affirmed. Gingrich is now a has-been, but Washington today is as much his city as anyone’s.

It was impossible for Youngstown’s steel companies to withstand global competition and local disinvestment, but there was nothing inevitable about the aftermath – an unmanaged free-for-all in which unemployed workers were left to fend for themselves, while corporate raiders bought the idle hulks of the mills with debt in the form of junk bonds and stripped out the remaining value. It may have been inevitable that the constraints imposed on US banks by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 would start to slip off in the era of global finance. But it was a political choice on the part of Congress and President Bill Clinton to deregulate Wall Street so thoroughly that nothing stood between the big banks and the destruction of the economy.

Occupy Wall Street protester

One of the 99%: an Occupy Wall Street protester in Union Square, New York, in 2011. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images Much has been written about the effects of globalisation during the past generation. Much less has been said about the change in social norms that accompanied it. American elites took the vast transformation of the economy as a signal to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behaviour: a senator only resorting to the filibuster on rare occasions; a CEO limiting his salary to only 40 times what his average employees made instead of 800 times; a giant corporation paying its share of taxes instead of inventing creative ways to pay next to zero. There will always be isolated lawbreakers in high places; what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing.

Earlier this year, Al Gore made $100m (£64m) in a single month by selling Current TV to al-Jazeera for $70m and cashing in his shares of Apple stock for $30m. Never mind that al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar, whose oil exports and views of women and minorities make a mockery of the ideas that Gore propounds in a book or film every other year. Never mind that his Apple stock came with his position on the company’s board, a gift to a former presidential contender. Gore used to be a patrician politician whose career seemed inspired by the ideal of public service. Today – not unlike Tony Blair – he has traded on a life in politics to join the rarefied class of the global super-rich.

It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged. It is no wonder that they buy houses they cannot afford and then walk away from the mortgage when they can no longer pay. Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.

George Packer’s The Unwinding is published by Faber & Faber at £20

 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/19/decline-fall-american-society-unravelled

Atheist libertarians pose as skeptics — except when it comes to free markets and the nature of corporate power

The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the “free market”

The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the "free market"
Rand Paul, Ayn Rand, Richard Dawkins (Credit: AP/Timothy D. Easley/Reuters/Chris Keane)

Why atheists are disproportionately drawn to libertarianism is a question that many liberal atheists have trouble grasping.  To believe that markets operate and exist in a state of nature is, in itself, to believe in the supernatural. The very thing atheists have spent their lives fleeing from.

According to the American Values Survey, a mere 7 percent of Americans identify as “consistently libertarian.” Compared to the general population, libertarians are significantly more likely to be white (94 percent), young (62 percent under 50) and male (68 percent). You know, almost identical to the demographic makeup of atheists – white (95 percent), young (65 percent under 50) and male (67 percent). So there’s your first clue.

Your second clue is that atheist libertarians are skeptical of government authority in the same way they’re skeptical of religion. In their mind, the state and the pope are interchangeable, which partly explains the libertarian atheist’s guttural gag reflex to what they perceive as government interference with the natural order of things, especially “free markets.”

Robert Reich says that one of the most deceptive ideas embraced by the Ayn Rand-inspired libertarian movement is that the free market is natural, and exists outside and beyond government. In other words, the “free market” is a constructed supernatural myth.

There is much to cover here, but a jumping-off point is the fact that corporations are a government construct, and that fact alone refutes any case for economic libertarianism. Corporations, which are designed to protect shareholders insofar as mitigating risk beyond the amount of their investment, are created and maintained only via government action.  “Statutes, passed by the government, allow for the creation of corporations, and anyone wishing to form one must fill out the necessary government paperwork and utilize the apparatus of the state in numerous ways. Thus, the corporate entity is by definition a government-created obstruction to the free marketplace, so the entire concept should be appalling to libertarians,” says David Niose, an atheist and legal director of the American Humanist Association.

In the 18th century, Adam Smith, the granddaddy of American free-market capitalism, wrote his economic tome “The Wealth of Nations.” But his book has as much relevance to modern mega-corporation hyper-capitalism today as the Old Testament has to morality in the 21st century.



Reich says rules that define the playing field of today’s capitalism don’t exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don’t “intrude” on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them. “In reality, the ‘free market’ is a bunch of rules about 1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); 2) on what terms (equal access to the Internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); 3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?); 4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); 5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.”

Atheists are skeptics, but atheist libertarians evidently check their skepticism at the door when it comes to corporate power and the self-regulatory willingness of corporations to act in the interests of the common good. In the mind of an atheist libertarian, both religion and government is bad, but corporations are saintly. On what planet, where? Corporations exist for one purpose only: to derive maximum profit for their shareholders. “The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause others,” writes Joel Bakan, author of “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.”

Corporations pollute, lie, steal, oppress, manipulate and deceive, all in the name of maximizing profit. Corporations have no interest for the common good. You really believe Big Tobacco wouldn’t sell cigarettes to 10-year-olds if government didn’t prohibit it? Do you really think Big Oil wouldn’t discharge more poisons and environmentally harmful waste into the atmosphere if government regulations didn’t restrict it? Do you really believe Wal-Mart wouldn’t pay its workers less than the current minimum wage if the federal government didn’t prohibit it? If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be an atheist libertarian in desperate need of Jesus.

That awkward pause that inevitably follows asking a libertarian how it is that unrestricted corporate power, particularly for Big Oil, helps solve our existential crisis, climate change, is always enjoyable. “Corporations will harm you, or even kill you, if it is profitable to do so and they can get away with it … recall the infamous case of the Ford Pinto, where in the 1970s the automaker did a cost-benefit analysis and decided not to remedy a defective gas tank design because doing so would be more expensive than simply allowing the inevitable deaths and injuries to occur and then paying the anticipated settlements,” warns Niose.

In the 1970s, consumer protection advocate Ralph Nader became famous for helping protect car owners from the unsafe practices of the auto industry. Corporate America, in turn, went out of its way in a coordinated effort, led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, to destroy Nader. The documentary “Unreasonable Man” demonstrates how corporate CEOs of America’s biggest corporations had Nader followed in an attempt to discredit and blackmail him. General Motors went so far as to send an attractive lady to his local supermarket in an effort to meet him, and seduce him. That’s how much corporate America was fearful of having to implement pesky and costly measures designed to protect the well-being of their customers.

Today America is facing its greatest moral crisis since the civil rights movement, and its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression: income inequality. Now, income inequality doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by the political choices a country makes. Today America is the most income unequal among all developed nations, and we find ourselves here today not because of government regulation or interference, but a lack thereof. The past three decades have seen our political class become totally beholden to the armies of corporate lobbyists who fund the political campaigns of our elected officials. Today the bottom 99 percent of income earners has no influence on domestic policy whatsoever.

The unilateral control that Wall Street and mega-corporations have over economic policy is now extreme, and our corporate overlords have seen to the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in U.S. history, while corporations contribute their lowest share of total federal tax revenue ever. The destruction of labor; serf-level minimum wage; and the deregulation, monopolization and privatization of public assets have pushed us deeper into becoming a winner-takes-all society.

In effect, America virtually exists as a libertarian state, certainly when compared to liberal democracies found in Western Europe, Canada and Australia. In these countries, there’s a sense of “we are all in this together,” but here the romantic idealism of the rugged individual allows corporate influence of the political class to gut public safety nets, eradicate collective bargaining, strip regulatory control of our banks, water, skies and our food.

By every measure, Australians, Scandinavians, Canadians, Germans and the Dutch are happier and more economically secure. The U.N. World Development Fund, the U.N. World Happiness Index and the Social Progress Index contain the empirical evidence atheist libertarians  should seek, and the results are conclusive: People are happier, healthier and more socially mobile where the size of the state is bigger, and taxes and regulations on corporations are greater. You know, the opposite of the libertarian dream that would turn America into a deeper nightmare.

CJ Werleman is the author of “Crucifying America” and “God Hates You. Hate Him Back.” You can follow him on Twitter:  @cjwerleman

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/14/the_atheist_libertarian_lie_ayn_rand_income_inequality_and_the_fantasy_of_the_free_market/?source=newsletter