Sam Pizzigati – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 24 Oct 2020 04:56:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 Trump’s Metaphor of ‘Missing a Putt’ for Police Killings says everything about our spoiled Plutocrats https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/killings-everything-plutocrats.html Sun, 06 Sep 2020 04:02:59 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193008 (Inequality.org) – Trying to keep up with the stunningly inappropriate — and worse — remarks of Donald Trump can sometimes seem a full-time job. Just this past week, for instance, we’ve seen the president seem to encourage voters in North Carolina to vote twice, once by mail and once by person, a felony under state law.

But the week’s most outrageous comments from the president came this past Monday on Fox News. In an interview with right-wing media superstar Laura Ingraham, Trump sloughed off this year’s widely reported instances of police brutality against Black people — like the seven shots a Kenosha police officer last month fired into the back of the 29-year-old Jacob Blake — as “chokes” by officers “under siege.”

And what exactly did the president mean by “chokes”?

“They choke just like in a golf tournament,” Trump explained. “They miss a three-foot putt.”

Trump’s analogy, understandably enough, quickly provoked immediate revulsion — and some telling insights as well. By blaming police violence on simple “choking” under pressure, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott pointed out, the president was inviting Americans to embrace the notion that our behavior “isn’t rational, isn’t learned or practiced, and isn’t governed by norms,” but just “about always trusting your immediate impulses.”

Trump governs by this instinct, Kennicott continues, “and then projects that same style of governance on everyone else.” If we accept his perspective that impulse determines everything, “he wins the game, and we devolve from the imperfectly conceived world of Madison and Jefferson to the darkest ideas of an ungovernable state of nature.”

All points well-taken. But we can go deeper here. The president’s “three-foot putt” analogy doesn’t just reveal the sordid worldview of an impulsive man. Trump’s vile equivalence between a golf putt and police violence has so much more to tell us about the bubble of enormous wealth that has always enveloped him — and so many others of his super-rich class.

The offspring of America’s super rich like Donald Trump grow up and then take their places in a world that bears no resemblance to the world the rest of us inhabit. These super rich never face the pressures and tensions that define the daily lives that people of modest means lead. They never worry about making the monthly rent or what will happen if they lose a job. They don’t have to accept the indignities that awful bosses inflict. They do the bossing.

The rich do, to be sure, face pressures, but pressures of an entirely different sort. So Donald Trump, struggling to explain what he meant when he said that police officers can “choke,” reached for the only quick analogy he could dredge up from his own personal experience. Yes, those three-foot putts can really test a person’s character. Anyone at a plush country club bar can tell you that.

Trump’s analogy thoughtlessly trivializes the deadly violence against Jacob Blake. But his thoughtlessness should come as no surprise. The super rich may speak the same language we speak. But they see the world through a different lens.

And that creates real problems when we let these super rich gain political dominion over us, when we let them amass personal fortunes large enough to distort our elections, when we let their philanthropy narrow our public policy choices.

Donald Trump’s personal psyche fully deserves all the attention psychologists are giving it. He may well be a textbook example of a “malignant narcissist.” But “curing” Donald Trump won’t cure the toxicity in our culture that intense concentrations of income and wealth make all but inevitable. Only steps toward a significantly more equal society will.

Donald Trump won’t take any of those steps. Neither will his class. That task remains ours.

Via Inequality.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Inside Edition: “Trump Compares Police Shootings to Missed Golf Putts”

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Also, Defund the CEOs https://www.juancole.com/2020/06/also-defund-the-ceos.html Sun, 28 Jun 2020 04:15:26 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191781 (Inequality.org) – America’s dirtiest three-letter word may now be “CEO,” and our ongoing economic meltdown is only making that tag even dirtier. Chef executives the nation over have spent this past spring scheming to keep their pockets stuffed while their workers suffer wage cuts, layoffs, and even death by Covid-19.

Not all CEOs, of course. Flacks for Corporate America would be overjoyed if we kept our focus on top execs like the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain’s Kent Taylor, a big-hearted boss with a gushing profile in the latest People magazine. Taylor has outfitted workers at his 600 outlets with a full complement of protective gear, avoided pay cuts and layoffs, and donated his annual pay and $5 million of his personal fortune to helping employees with their rent, mortgages, and more.

But you won’t find many Kent Taylors out across the corporate landscape. Much more typical have been execs like Kenneth Martindale, the CEO at GNC, the vitamin and nutrition store chain. GNC filed for bankruptcy June 23. Five days earlier, the company generously handed Martindale a $2.2-million cash bonus. Nearly $2 million more in cash bonuses went to other top GNC execs.

Not a bad haul for an executive team that had been borrowing big bucks to buy back GNC shares of stock on the open market, a maneuver designed to shore up sagging share prices — and pump up the value of the executives’ own stock-based compensation.

This spring, with the pandemic crashing store sales, GNC suddenly found itself unable to pay off the loans that bankrolled the share buybacks. Bankruptcy became unavoidable. The company’s execs now plan to wipe out jobs at 1,200 of its U.S. stores as they search for a new buyer of the mess they’ve created.

The GNC story is repeating all over. Workers in companies tottering on the brink of bankruptcy see pink slips and pension cuts in their future. CEOs at these same firms see a shot at making lots of high-pay hay while the sun still shines.

“Corporate boards are handing out millions to top executives before their companies seek bankruptcy protection,” sums up a New York Times analysis, “and courts can’t do much about it.”

The pre-bankruptcy bonuses involve some of America’s most familiar corporate brands. J.C. Penny’s chief exec, for instance, pocketed $4.5 million in bonus just before the company entered bankruptcy proceedings that are going to leave at least 154 stores shut down.

Top execs at companies not knocking on bankruptcy’s door are playing self-aggrandizing games of a different sort. Their challenge: grabbing the lavish “performance-based” rewards they’ve negotiated into their executive pay deals at a time when a down economy has the vast majority of corporate enterprises struggling to meet their sales and profit targets.

Most executive pay deals at major corporations reward executives with shares of stock — or options to buy stock at a below-market price — if the execs meet various “performance” benchmarks. In a growing economy, with sales and share prices swelling, execs have little problem meeting these performance benchmarks. Their resulting rewards can often swell into the tens of millions.

But these same benchmarks become unreachable when economies turn sour. Executives suddenly see their promised windfalls seeming certain to evaporate — unless the execs can get their corporate boards to exercise a little “discretion,” the corporate codeword for dumbing down performance goals so execs can reap the windfalls they expected and still feel they fully deserve.

Analysts at Willis Towers Watson, a management consulting firm, have recently released a guidance on the “implications of adjusting plan targets.” Corporate decision makers, the guidance warns, need to understand that “mid-course changes will tend to bring added scrutiny from investors, proxy advisors and the press, not all of it favorable.”

But Willis Towers Watson has found — via a “flash survey” of nearly 700 companies — that a number of firms are considering “using discretion” anyway. Reporters at Reuters have identified at least 81 companies now in that category, a list includes corporate giants like Delta air lines, Hilton, and Uber.

A Delta filing, Reuters notes, claims that its performance measures no longer suit the “current reality.” The value of executive incentive pay, Delta insists, has declined by over half since the pandemic hit.

In Corporate America today, can’t have that. “Discretion” to the rescue!

This “discretion” works — for top execs. At Sonic Automotive, a national chain of auto dealerships, a pay deal with CEO David Smith guaranteed him grants of company stock if the company met a set of specific performance targets. Those targets became unreachable after the pandemic pummeled car sales and cost about a third of the company’s workers either lost their jobs or work hours.

CEO Smith lost nothing. Sonic’s board replaced his performance-based stock awards with options to buy Sonic shares at the company’s depressed share price. Those options now have a value of $5.2 million, over four times the value of the performance-based rewards Smith grabbed last year.

Many CEOs have pay deals that do not permit discretionary moves to make “mid-course” pay incentive changes. For worried CEOs, not a problem. Companies can simply put in place new “incentives” that enable execs to recoup whatever windfalls they may have lost when they failed to reach the original incentives. In other words: Heads CEOs win, tails they don’t lose.

All this avaricious corporate boardroom behavior most certainly merits our disgust and condemnation. But does executive pay excess, amid everything else going on right now, also merit our attention?

We have, after all, seldom entered into a summer in such a tumultuous state. We have Covid-19 cases rising. We have the worst jobless rates since the 1930s. We have police brutality finally outraging the nation into a real reckoning on racial oppression.

Not to mention a presidential election that could end in chaos.

So why should we bother paying much attention to still more corporate executive greed?

We really have no choice. We can’t afford to see CEO compensation as merely a distraction from more pressing concerns. CEO pay excess — the continuing corporate executive chase after grand fortune — is fueling the calamities that confront us.

The decades of corporate outsourcing and downsizing that have hollowed out the American middle class — and created an angry constituency for racist demagogues like Donald Trump to exploit — didn’t just happen. Corporate execs plotted that outsourcing and downsizing. They profited royally from it.

The personal fortunes these execs have pocketed have corrupted our politics and turned our legislatures into dysfunctional chambers that can seldom accomplish anything that doesn’t involve enhancing the financial well-being of already wealthy people.

Wealthy execs, in their haste to become ever wealthier, are even privileging their own financial futures over our health. The factories and plants they run are forcing workers to labor without adequate protections or social distancing. The pharmaceutical firms they manage are refusing to share research clues on possible coronavirus cures for fear of losing out on incredibly lucrative patents for vaccines and treatments.

And none of this should surprise us. The outrageous rewards baked into our current executive pay systems give execs an incentive to behave outrageously. The more they exploit, the more they can pocket. We need to thrust upon Corporate America a new pay incentive structure.

One step in that direction would be quick action on legislation that leading House and Senate progressives introduced this past fall. The Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act — introduced by representatives Barbara Lee and Rashida Tlaib and senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — would raise the corporate tax rate on corporations that pay their top over 50 times what they pay their workers.

In 2018, 50 major U.S. corporations paid their top execs over 1,000 times what they paid their most typical workers.

We could do bolder still. We could deny government contracts and subsidies to corporations with wide gaps between executive and worker pay. Our tax dollars should not subsidize — in any way — the exploitation of working people.

Or as an excellent New York Times analysis has just put it: “For the voices of workers to be heard, the influence of the wealthy must be curbed.”

Via Inequality.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Robert Reich: “Robert Reich: The 5-Step CEO Pay Scam”

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Coronavirus and the ‘Shock Doctrine’: Does Even this Disaster have to Make Rich Richer and Poor Poorer? https://www.juancole.com/2020/03/coronavirus-doctrine-disaster.html Mon, 23 Mar 2020 04:02:10 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189847 By Sam Pizzigati and Sarah Anderson | –

( Otherwords.org) – Powerful interests used the Great Recession to hardwire more inequality into our system. This time, let’s do the opposite. By , | March 17, 2020

We all have to come together. We need to help each other. We don’t have time for politics as usual.

In times of crisis like the current coronavirus pandemic, these sorts of calls for cooperation become the drumbeat of our daily lives.

Unfortunately, no drumbeat ever gets everybody marching in sync. In deeply unequal societies like our own, a wealthy few can exploit such catastrophes to make themselves even wealthier.

Back in 2007, Naomi Klein explored this phenomenon brilliantly in her landmark book The Shock Doctrine. Klein showed how corporate elites worldwide have repeatedly and brutally used “the public’s disorientation following a collective shock — wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes, or natural disasters — to push through radical pro-corporate measures.”

The 2008 financial collapse would vividly illustrate the dynamics Klein described. The Wall Street giants whose reckless and criminal behavior ushered in that crisis ended up even bigger and more powerful than before the crisis began.

Klein sees those same dynamics now resurfacing in the coronavirus crisis. “We are seeing,” she told Democracy Now recently, “this very predictable process that we see in the midst of every economic crisis, which is extreme corporate opportunism.”

In response to the pandemic, she said, Trump is “dusting off” the Wall Street wishlist on everything from cutting and privatizing Social Security — by undermining its payroll tax revenue stream — to enriching the fossil fuel industry with huge bailouts.

So how can we prevent a “shock doctrine” repeat?

For starters, we need to provide immediate support for those the coronavirus is hitting the hardest: the sick and those who care for them, as well as the workers who lose jobs and income.

But we can’t afford to stop there. We need, in effect, a “shock doctrine” in reverse. We need to seize the openings for change the coronavirus presents — and challenge the capacity of our rich and powerful to become ever richer and more powerful at the expense of everyone else.

One example: Within our increasingly coronavirus-ravaged economy, more and more families will be facing evictions. Progressive activists and officials are now quite rightfully calling for a coronavirus moratorium on evictions.

But we have a chance to go much further. Why not use this crisis to rewrite the eviction-enabling statutes that let corporate landlords enrich themselves at the expense of vulnerable families in the first place?

The coronavirus crisis also gives us an opportunity to use the public purse to shift our economy towards greater equity and sustainability. The core of a reverse shock doctrine ought to be a massive public investment program designed to create good jobs, with a premium on projects that better position our economy to address climate change.

But we could also use these funds to reverse some of the inequality that makes economic crises so dangerous to begin with.

Various industries are already clamoring for federal loan guarantees and other bailouts to get them past the coronavirus crisis. For immediate bailout funds, policymakers should consider attaching pro-worker strings.

We could deny, for instance, tax-dollar support to private companies that pay their CEOs over 50 or 100 times what they pay their most typical workers. Moves in that direction would give top execs an incentive to pay workers more — and exploit them less.

Back in mid-20th century America, a time of much greater equality than we have now, corporate top execs only averaged 30 times more pay than their workers. That more equal America proved resilient enough to overcome a fearsome polio epidemic and prosper.

That more equal America, let’s remember, also emerged out of the back-to-back crises of the Great Depression and world war against fascism. Progressives seized the opportunity those crises created and changed the face of American society. Why can’t we?

,

Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati co-edit Inequality.org at the Institute for Policy Studies. This op-ed was adapted from Inequality.org and distributed by OtherWords.org.

Via Otherwords.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! ““Coronavirus Capitalism”: Naomi Klein’s Case for Transformative Change Amid Coronavirus Pandemic”

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Forget Abuse of Power, Trump’s biggest Crime is Unloosing Deadly Corporate Chemicals on our Neighborhoods https://www.juancole.com/2020/01/unloosing-corporate-neighborhoods.html Mon, 27 Jan 2020 05:02:18 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=188782 ( Inequality.org) – Earlier this month, still another one-day-wonder of a Twitter storm surfaced and quickly sank in Donald Trump’s America. On January 9, President Trump claimed credit for new figures from the American Cancer Society that show — between 2016 and 2017 — “the sharpest one-year drop in cancer death rate ever recorded.” Almost immediately, the American Cancer Society politely pointed out that the Trump administration had nothing to do with this encouraging decline.

The new death-rate numbers, American Cancer Society chief Gary Reedy explained, “reflect prevention, early detection, and treatment advances that occurred in prior years.”

Media outlets the nation over rushed to relate the back and forth of this latest Trump Twitter flap, often with a subtle sense of bemusement: just Donald being Donald, making still another wildly exaggerated claim that ought to test the credulity of even his staunchest supporters. End of story.

But this story doesn’t deserve to end there. Something is shaking on the cancer front that needs our full attention. The Trump administration, investigative journalist Sharon Lerner detailed just a few days after the President’s cancer tweet, “is executing an old tobacco industry scheme to dismantle the federal government’s ability to protect the public from cancer.” The Trump White House has packed the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s top echelons with free-market fundamentalists who’ve set about “freeing” chemical companies from regulations designed to limit the presence of cancer-causing chemicals in our nation’s air, water, and soil.

These political appointees, Lerner’s reporting documents, are working hand in glove with America’s chemical manufacturers, outfits that have spent $1.4 billion on lobbying over the past dozen years. All those lobbying dollars have paid off. Chemical companies now have their pals running the regulatory show — and more Americans, as a result, figure to find themselves in families fighting cancer.

Americans like Angela Ramirez, a mother in Illinois who traces her personal cancer to a carcinogen known as ethylene oxide. Two years ago, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency tagged ethylene oxide a clear and present danger and, writes Lerner, proposed a new safety threshold “30 times more sensitive than previous estimates.”

Companies like Dow Chemical — a huge ethylene oxide producer — pushed back against this regulatory threat to their future profits, and Trump political appointees at the EPA joined the pushback. The EPA is now abandoning the standards its own scientists are seeking, “only one of the changes made under the Trump administration,” notes Lerner, “that promise to weaken protections for Americans’ health, many of which were intended specifically to stave off cancers.”

California CEO Pay Tax Bill

foreshadows federal fight to limit executive pay excess

Any hands-off approach to fighting carcinogens, freshman member of Congress Rashida Tlaib notes, will particularly devastate the poor communities that already face “disproportionately high rates of air and water pollution.”

“If you really want to see what doing nothing truly looks like, come to my district,” adds Tlaib. “Rows and rows and rows of homes have these little white crosses in front of them, representing cancer, survivors of cancer.”

And what are top execs in America’s chemical industry doing amid this cancerous carnage? They’re making lots of money.

In 2017, the chemical industry’s two biggest companies, Dow Chemical and Dupont, merged in a deal that nearly tripled the compensation of Dow’s Andrew Liveris to $65.7 million.

In 2018, the CEO of the nation’s fourth-largest chemical company, Stephen Angel, pulled down $66.1 million running Linde PLC. Other chemical industry CEOs had to content themselves that year with somewhat more pedestrian pay packages: a mere $15.7 million for Eastman Chemical’s CEO Mark Costa, for instance, and just $14.4 million for Ecolab’s Douglas Baker.

The enrichment of these chemical industry execs — at the same time their companies are battling attempts to regulate their toxic products — represents a far greater scandal than any vain and empty boasting out of the White House. Yet the deregulatory collusion between the chemical industry and the Trump administration continues to go largely unnoticed.

Also largely unnoticed: a counter trend, the emerging efforts to limit the mammoth CEO pay rewards that give top corporate execs — in the chemical industry and beyond — an ongoing incentive to cut corners on product safety and play fast and loose with America’s health.

A week after the Trump-American Cancer Society stats flap, one of those efforts took a significant stride forward in California. After a hearing in Sacramento, state senators have just moved a step closer to passing legislation that would hike the tax rate on corporations with top execs who make over 50 times the pay that goes to their most typical workers.

Last May, the United Steelworkers union noted that the newly merged DowDupont was paying its CEO 249 times more than the company’s median worker.

Average Americans are paying a deadly price for the excessive corporate executive pay packages that incentivize profit-making by any means necessary. If the California legislation becomes law, America’s corporations may finally begin paying a price for continuing that excess.

Via Inequality.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Yahoo: “Erin Brockovich blasts Trump over ‘reckless, careless’ environmental regulation rollbacks”

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How Much in ‘Inequality Tax’ Are You Paying? https://www.juancole.com/2019/10/much-inequality-paying.html Sat, 26 Oct 2019 04:12:51 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=187051 (Inequality.org) – The hidden burden America’s top-heavy distribution of income and wealth places on people of modest means

What nation ranks as the world’s richest? A simple question to answer, right. Well, not so much, suggests the just-released tenth annual Global Wealth Report from the banking giant Credit Suisse. Everything turns out to depend on how we define “richest.”

If we mean by “richest” the nation with the most total wealth, we have a clear worldwide number one: the United States. The 245 million adults who call the United States home held, as of this past June, a combined net worth of $106 trillion. No other nation comes close to that total. China ranks a distant second, with a mere $64 trillion, Japan even farther back at $25 trillion.

But if we mean by richest the nation with the most wealth per person, top billing goes to Switzerland, not the United States. The average Swiss adult is sitting on a $565,000 personal nest-egg. Americans average $432,000, a figure only good enough for second place.

So does Switzerland merit the title of the world’s wealthiest nation? Not necessarily. The Swiss may sport the world’s highest average wealth, but that doesn’t automatically mean that their nation has the world’s richest average people.

We’re not playing word games here. We’re talking about the important distinction that statisticians draw between mean and median. To calculate a national wealth mean — a simple average — researchers just divide total wealth by number of people. The problem with this simple average? If some people have fantastically more wealth than other people, the resulting average will give a misleading picture about economic life as average people live it.

Medians can paint a more realistic picture. Statisticians calculate the median wealth of a nation by identifying the amount of wealth that represents the midpoint in the nation’s wealth distribution, that point at which half the nation’s population has more wealth and half less. Medians, in other words, can give us a nation’s most typical net worth, the wealth that a nation’s most ordinary people hold.

For minimum decency

we need a maximum wage

By this median measure, Switzerland holds up as a strikingly wealthy nation. The United States does not. Typical Swiss adults turn out to hold $228,000 in net worth, the most in the world. Typical Americans hold personal fortunes worth just $66,000.

Typical Canadians, with $107,000 per adult, have more wealth than that American total. So do typical Taiwanese ($70,000), typical Brits ($97,000), and typical Australians ($181,000)

Overall, typical adults in 16 other developed nationals have more wealth than typical adults in the United States. Typical Japanese adults, for instance, hold $110,000 in personal wealth, a net worth considerably higher than the $66,000 Americans can claim.

What explains how ordinary Americans can have so little wealth when they live in a nation that has so much? In a word: inequality. Other nations have much more equal distributions of income and wealth than the United States.

Japan in particular stands out here. The new Credit Suisse 2019 Global Wealth Report notes that Japan “has a more equal wealth distribution than any other major country.” Japan’s richest 10 percent hold less than half their nation’s wealth, just 48 percent. In the United States, the top 10 percent hold nearly 76 percent, over three-quarters of national wealth.

And what about the top 1 percent? America’s 1 percenters hold a national wealth share nearly double the wealth share of top 1 percenters in Japan.

How would typical Americans fare if we Americans engineered an about-face on our growing inequality and achieved a distribution of wealth as equal as Japan’s? If we succeeded at that egalitarian endeavor, the net worth of America’s most typical adults would triple, from $66,000 to $199,000.

In effect, the difference between those two totals amounts to an “inequality tax.” By letting our rich grab an oversized share of the wealth all of us help create, we are taxing ourselves into economic insecurity. Other nations don’t tolerate greed grabs. Why should we?

Via Inequality.org

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: “U.S. income inequality hits 50-year high”

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In the Billionaires’ America, Inequality Is Literally Killing Us https://www.juancole.com/2019/10/billionaires-inequality-literally.html Mon, 14 Oct 2019 04:01:51 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=186845 ( Otherwords.org) – Again and again, studies show that the richer wealthy Americans become, the shorter the rest of us live.

What do the folks at the U.S. Census Bureau do between the census they run every 10 years? All sorts of annual surveys, on everything from housing costs to retail sales.

The most depressing of these — at least this century — may be the sampling that looks at the incomes average Americans are earning.

The latest Census Bureau income stats, released in mid-September, show that most Americans are running on a treadmill, getting nowhere fast. The nation’s median households pocketed 2.3 percent fewer real dollars in 2018 than they earned in 2000.

America’s most affluent households have no such problem. Real incomes for the nation’s top 5 percent of earners have increased 13 percent since 2000, to an average $416,520.

The new Census numbers don’t tell us how much our top 1 percent is pulling down. But IRS tax return data shows that top 1 percenters are now pulling down over 20 percent of all household income — essentially triple their share from a half-century ago.

Should we care about any of this? Is increasing income at the top having an impact on ordinary Americans? You could say so, suggests a just-released Government Accountability Office study.

Rising inequality, this federal study makes clear, is killing us. Literally.

The disturbing new GAO research tracks how life has played out for Americans who happened to be between the ages of 51 and 61 in 1992. That cohort’s wealthiest 20 percent turned out to do fairly well. Over three-quarters of them — 75.5 percent — went on to find themselves still alive and kicking in 2014, the most recent year with full stats available.

At the other end of the economic spectrum, it’s a different story.

Among Americans in the poorest 20 percent of this age group, under half — 47.6 percent — were still waking up every morning in 2014. In other words, the poorest of the Americans the GAO studied had just a 50-50 chance of living into 2014. The most affluent had a three-in-four chance.

“The inequality of life expectancy,” as economist Gabriel Zucman puts it, “is exploding in the U.S.”

The new GAO numbers ought to surprise no one. Over recent decades, a steady stream of studies have shown consistent links between rising inequality and shorter lifespans.

The trends we see in the United States reflect similar dynamics worldwide, wherever income and wealth are concentrating. The more unequal a society becomes, the less healthy the society.

On the other hand, the nations with the narrowest gaps between rich and poor turn out to have the longest lifespans.

And the people living shorter lives don’t just include poorer people. Middle-income people in deeply unequal societies live shorter lives than middle-income people in more equal societies.

What can explain how inequality makes this deadly impact? We don’t know for sure. But many epidemiologists — scientists who study the health of populations — point to the greater levels of stress in deeply unequal societies. That stress wears down our immune systems and leaves us more vulnerable to a wide variety of medical maladies.

We have, of course, no pill we can take to eliminate inequality. But we can fight for public policies that more equally distribute America’s income and wealth. Other nations have figured out how to better share the wealth. Why can’t we?

Via Otherwords.org

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

PBS NewsHour: “How economic inequality might affect a society’s well-being”

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Democracy and the Green New Deal Demand higher Taxes on Rich https://www.juancole.com/2019/02/democracy-demand-higher.html Sat, 16 Feb 2019 05:09:50 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=182266 ( Inequality.org ) – Innovative proposals like tying income tax rates for America’s riches to the minimum wage for America’s poorest could help high tax rates survive over the long haul.

Jan Schakowsky doesn’t need to apologize for anything. This veteran member of Congress from Illinois has a record second to none on issues that matter to working people. Over the course of her 20 years on Capitol Hill, Schakowsky has introduced much more than her share of innovative legislation, bills like her Patriot Corporations of America Act, a measure designed to give companies that pay their top execs only modestly more than their workers a better shot at winning government contracts.

But today, in a special Congressional Progressive Caucus Capitol Hill briefing on taxes, Schakowsky did some apologizing of sorts. Her previous attempts at making the U.S. tax code more progressive, she acknowledged, had called for a tax rate on America’s highest income bracket at no more than 49 percent.

Schakowsky called that 49 percent — a figure close to the top rate during most of the Reagan years and a dozen points over the current top rate — the highest rate she “had the guts” to propose. But then, she added, along came Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her call last month for a 70 percent top rate “for the richest among us.”

“And lo and behold,” smiled Schakowsky, referencing the favorable polling on that 70 percent proposal, “the American people think that’s a good idea.”

Schakowsky went on to pledge that she’ll be working with Ocasio-Cortez, her Congressional Progressive Caucus co-host for today’s tax briefing, to draft legislation that enshrines a new, considerably higher top rate in America’s tax code.

In a sense, the bold Ocasio-Cortez move to propose a 70 percent top rate — a rate totally unimaginable in polite political circles just weeks ago — has liberated Schakowsky to go as bold on taxing the rich as she has always wanted to go, and that couldn’t be better news. Today, at a time of intense income and wealth concentration, we need to be bold — on multiple tax fronts.

We need, as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has proposed, to restore the top marginal tax rates that did so much in the middle of the 20th century to check grand fortune. But we can’t be content to just recreate that mid-century progressive tax structure. We need to do what egalitarians back then could not do. We need to make steep top rates politically sustainable over the long haul.

And how might we do that? At today’s Congressional Progressive Caucus briefing, Economic Policy Institute president Thea Lee highlighted one promising approach: We could start linking income tax rates for America’s richest to the minimum wage for America’s poorest.

If the tax code set the threshold for a new, much higher top tax rate as a multiple of the minimum wage, Lee explained, those at our economic summit would be more personally “invested in raising the minimum wage.” The higher the minimum wage, the less of their income subject to the top marginal tax rate. People at our economic bottom, for their part, would have a direct personal stake in keeping that linkage — and steeply progressive tax rates — in place.

Lee also noted another linkage proposal that analysts at the Institute for Policy Studies have been advocating: tying the U.S. corporate tax rate to the ratio between CEO and worker pay.

If the tax code fixed a higher corporate tax rate on companies with wide gaps between executive and worker compensation, the Economic Policy Institute’s Lee pointed out, corporate enterprises would have a powerful “incentive to raise their worker pay”and, in the process, help reduce our income gap before taxes.

Our tax rates, Olivia-Cortez observed in her remarks at today’s Congressional Progressive Caucus briefing, can be a mighty tool to help us “mitigate inequality.” Yes, tax rates can certainly play that essential role — but only, her briefing strongly suggested, if we stay bold.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

The Young Turks: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez UNVEILS Green New Deal”

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The Main Drag on Saving Planet from Boiling? The Super-Rich https://www.juancole.com/2019/01/saving-planet-boiling.html Mon, 28 Jan 2019 06:43:39 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=181856 (Otherwords.org) – Millions of years ago, life on Earth survived an existential climate crisis. But that Earth had a distinct advantage: no rich people.

We either keep fossil fuels in the ground, or we fry.

That’s the conclusion of another new blockbuster study on climate change, this one from the National Academy of Sciences. Our fossil-fuel industrial economy, the study details, has made for the fastest climate changes our Earth has ever seen.

“If we think about the future in terms of the past, where we are going is uncharted territory for human society,” notes the study’s lead author, Kevin Burke from the University of Wisconsin.

“In the roughly 20 to 25 years I have been working in the field,” adds his colleague John Williams, “we have gone from expecting climate change to happen, to detecting the effects, and now we are seeing that it’s causing harm” — as measured in property damage and deaths, in intensified flooding and fires.

The last time climate on Earth saw nearly as drastic and rapid a climate shift, relates another new study, came some 252 million years ago, and that shift unfolded over the span of a few thousand years. That span of time saw the extinction of 96 percent of the Earth’s ocean species and almost as devastating a loss to terrestrial creatures.

Other scientific studies over this past year have made similarly alarming observations, and together all these analyses provided an apt backdrop for this past December’s United Nations climate change talks in Poland.

Climate change activists hoped these talks would stiffen the global resolve to seriously address climate change. But several nations had other ideas. The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all refused to officially “welcome” the recent dire findings of a blue-ribbon Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, essentially throwing a huge monkey-wrench into efforts to protect our Earth and ourselves.

What unites these four recalcitrant nations? One key characteristic stands out: The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all just happen to rate among the world’s most unequal nations.

Just a coincidence? Absolutely not, suggests a new analysis from the Civil Society Equity Review coalition, a worldwide initiative that counts in its ranks scores of groups committed to averting a climatic cataclysm.

Limiting future global temperature rises, this coalition notes, will require “disruptive shifts” and heighten public anxieties. People will tolerate these disruptions, but only if they believe that everyone is sharing in the sacrifice — the wealthy and powerful included.

Environmental policy makers typically define the wealthy at the level of the nation state. They focus on the relationships between wealthy nations and developing nations still struggling to amass wealth. Wealthier nations, the conventional climate change consensus holds, have a responsibility to help poorer nations meet the environmental challenges ahead.

But the wealthy have the power to shirk those responsibilities — unless we expand our focus from inequality between nations to inequality within nations as well.

The more unequal a wealthy society, the coalition explains, the greater the power of the rich — and the corporations they run — to ignore their debt to Mother Earth.

And the economic inequality their wealth engenders, researchers add, has “much to do with the dark character of the current political moment,” referring to the growing xenophobia and racism that make serious environmental aid from developed to developing nations ever less likely.

The world’s wealthiest people and their corporations, left to their own devices, would for the most part rather not bear any sort of significant sacrifice. That’s all the more reason to address the inequality that bestows so much power upon them.

“Addressing climate change effectively and justly,” sums up Basav Sen, the climate policy director at the Institute for Policy Studies, “requires us to transform the unjust social and economic systems that gave us climate change in the first place.”

Via Otherwords.org

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Newsy: “100 companies produce most carbon emissions”

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How Corporate Monopolies and High Prices are Making you Poor and Rich Richer https://www.juancole.com/2019/01/corporate-monopolies-prices.html Sun, 06 Jan 2019 07:26:03 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=181321 (Inequality.org) – Andrew Leigh, a member of the Australian parliament, has a side gig. He just happens to be a working economist. Other lawmakers may spend their spare hours making cold calls for campaign cash. Leigh spends his doing research — on why our modern economies are leaving their populations ever more unequal.

Leigh’s latest research is making some global waves. Working with a team of Australian, Canadian, and American analysts, he’s been studying how much the prices corporate monopolies charge impact inequality.

The conventional wisdom has a simple answer: not much. Yes, the reasoning goes, prices do go up when a few large corporations start to dominate an economic sector. But those same higher prices translate into higher returns for corporate shareholders.

Thanks to 401(k)s and the like, the argument continues, the ranks of these corporate shareholders include millions of average families. So we end up with a wash. As consumers, families pay more in prices. As shareholders, they pocket higher dividends.

But this nonchalance about the impact of monopolies, Andrew Leigh and his colleagues counter, obscures “the relative distribution of consumption and corporate equity ownership.” Average families do hold some shares of stock, but not many. In the United States, for instance, the most affluent 20 percent of households own 13 times more stock than the bottom 60 percent.

These bottom 60 percent households, as a result, get precious little return from the few shares of stock they do hold, not nearly enough to offset the higher prices they pay on corporate monopoly products.

“On net, that means it’s nearly impossible for the typical U.S. family to make up for higher prices via the performance of their stock portfolio,” notes a Washington Post analysis of the Leigh team research. “When prices rise, low- and middle-class families pay. Wealthy families profit.”

Contracts and subsidies
How Taxpayers Subsidize Corporate Pay Gaps

By how much do these affluents profit? Leigh and his colleagues have done the math. The higher prices — and profits — that corporate concentration has generated have shifted 3 percent of national income out of the pockets of poor and middle-class families into the wallets of the affluent.

The larger our corporations become, in other words, the more unequal our societies become.

Now corporations don’t grow larger in the same way as people grow larger. Corporations have no adolescent growth spurts. They don’t mature. They have no real personhood. Corporations only become larger when the executives who run them make them larger, most typically by wheeling and dealing their way through ever grander mergers and acquisitions.

This wheeling and dealing takes up a huge chunk of modern corporate executive time and energy. Why do execs devote so much of their time and energy to getting bigger? Getting bigger pays — for execs.

Indeed, firm size determines how much executives make more than any other factor, as research has shown repeatedly over the years. Executives don’t have to “perform” — make their enterprises more efficient and effective — to make bigger bucks. They just to need to make their enterprises bigger.

Executives, in short, have a powerful incentive to grow their companies, and that powerful incentive, as the latest research from Andrew Leigh and his colleagues shows, isn’t just making these executives richer. It’s leaving our societies much more unequal.

For minimum decency
we need a maximum wage

So what can we do to ease the damage? Tougher antitrust enforcement could certainly slow our rates of corporate concentration. But the legislative activities of Andrew Leigh in Australia suggest another promising approach as well.

Leigh serves as a “shadow” minister for the Australian parliament’s Labor Party opposition. This past fall, he announced that his party, if elected to power, will require all major corporations to publicly disclose the ratio between their CEO and worker pay.

A similar disclosure mandate went into effect in the United States last year. As of January 1, 2019, the UK now has a pay-ratio disclosure mandate in effect as well.

Forcing Australian corporations to reveal their CEO-worker pay ratios, Leigh notes, would encourage these corporations “to think about how they are serving all their workers, and society as a whole.” But a growing number of progressives in the United States and the UK believe that pay ratios can do more than just “encourage” corporations to better serve their societies.

These progressives are pushing for consequences on CEO-pay ratios, proposing legislation that would deny government contracts and subsidies to corporations with wide gaps between their CEO and worker pay. They’re also calling for higher tax rates on companies with wider CEO-worker pay ratios, and one American city, Oregon’s Portland, already has such an “inequality tax” in effect.

More moves in this direction could significantly reduce the incentive for the executive wheeling and dealing that’s concentrating corporate power in fewer and fewer corporate hands. That wheeling and dealing — in nations with consequences on pay ratios in effect — would no longer guarantee grand windfalls to our corporate executive class.

Less wheeling and dealing, in turn, would mean less corporate concentration — and a weaker corporate capacity to raise prices. And that would mean, as the new Leigh gang’s research so clearly shows, less inequality.

Inequality.org

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Robert Reich: The Monopolization of America

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