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The Real Spending Problem – NYTimes.com

19 Mar

Tax breaks favor the rich, and are functionally the equivalent of spending.

Each year, the government doles out tax breaks worth $1.1 trillion. That is more than the cost of Medicare and Medicaid combined. It is more than Social Security. It tops the defense budget, and it tops the budget for nondefense discretionary programs, which include most everything else.Tax breaks work like spending. Giving a deduction for certain activities, like homeownership or retirement savings, is the same as writing a government check to subsidize those activities. Functionally, they mimic entitlements. Like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, they are available, year in and year out, in full, to all who qualify. Yet in budget talks, Republicans ignore tax entitlements, which flow mostly to high-income taxpayers, while pushing to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

via The Real Spending Problem – NYTimes.com.

Right to a Lawyer Often Eludes the Poor – NYTimes.com

16 Mar

According to the World Justice Project, a nonprofit group promoting the rule of law that got its start through the American Bar Association, the United States ranks 66th out of 98 countries in access to and affordability of civil legal services.

“In most countries, equality before the law means equality between those of high and low income,” remarked Earl Johnson Jr., a retired justice of the California Court of Appeal. “In this country for some reason we are concerned more with individuals versus government.”

via Right to a Lawyer Often Eludes the Poor – NYTimes.com.

For 20-Somethings, Ambition at a Cost – NYTimes.com

4 Mar

Smells like indentured servitude:

The recession has been no friend to entry-level positions, where hundreds of applicants vie for unpaid internships at which they are expected to be on call with iPhone in hand, tweeting for and representing their company at all hours.

“We need to hire a 22-22-22,” one new-media manager was overheard saying recently, meaning a 22-year-old willing to work 22-hour days for $22,000 a year.

via For 20-Somethings, Ambition at a Cost – NYTimes.com.

With Biggest Strike Against Biggest Employer, Walmart Workers Make History Again | The Nation

26 Nov

Hanover and Severn, MD—For about twenty-four hours, Walmart workers, union members and a slew of other activists pulled off the largest-ever US strike against the largest employer in the world. According to organizers, strikes hit a hundred US cities, with hundreds of retail workers walking off the job (last month‘s strikes drew 160). Organizers say they also hit their goal of a thousand total protests, with all but four states holding at least one. In the process, they notched a further escalation against the corporation that’s done more than any other to frustrate the ambitions and undermine the achievements of organized labor in the United States.

“I’m so happy that this is history, that my grandkids can learn from this to stand up for themselves,” Miami striker Elaine Rozier told The Nation Thursday night. Before, “I always used to sit back and not say anything…. I’m proud of myself tonight.”

Rozier and her co-workers kicked off the Black Friday strike around 7:30 EST Thursday night; it rolled from Miami through big cities like Chicago and smaller ones like Tulsa, where overnight stocker Christopher Bentley Owen, agitated by an intimidating “captive audience” meeting, decided at the last minute to join the organization and became his store’s sole striker. After holding back because he didn’t plan to stay in his job for long, said Owen, he recognized that millions of other low-wage workers offer the same reason not to get involved. “Meanwhile,” he said, “there are millions of people in those jobs…at some point, people have to get together.”

via With Biggest Strike Against Biggest Employer, Walmart Workers Make History Again | The Nation.

Occupy Offshoot Aims to Erase People’s Debts – NYTimes.com

14 Nov

The group, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement called Strike Debt, is trying to buy some of the debts that people have accrued — which lenders often sell for pennies on the dollar to third parties who either try to collect on it or bundle it up for resale. Strike Debt, however, is not looking to collect on them; instead it plans to give some debtors the surprise of a lifetime.

“Basically what we’re going to do is exactly the same as what a regular debt buyer would do, with one big difference,” said Thomas Gokey, an artist and teacher. “Rather than collect the debt, we’re just going to abolish it.”

via Occupy Offshoot Aims to Erase People’s Debts – NYTimes.com.

Deciding Where Future Disasters Will Strike – NYTimes.com

4 Nov

By now it is commonplace to point out that climate change is unfair, that it tends to leave the big “emitter countries” in good shape — think Russia or Canada or, until recently, America — while preying on the low-emitting, the poor, the weak, the African, the tropical. But more grossly unfair is the notion that, in lieu of serious carbon cuts, we will all simply adapt to climate change. Manhattan can and increasingly will. Rotterdam can and has. Dhaka or Chittagong or Breezy Point patently cannot. If a system of sea walls is built around New York, its estimated $10 billion price tag would be five times what rich countries have given in aid to help poorer countries prepare for a warmer world.

Whether climate change caused Sandy’s destruction is a question for scientists — and in many ways it’s a stupid question, akin to asking whether gravity is the reason an old house collapsed when it did. The global temperature can rise another 10 degrees, and the answer will always be: sorta. By deciding to adapt to climate change — a decision that has already been partly made, because significant warming is already baked into the system — we have decided to embrace a world of walls.

via Deciding Where Future Disasters Will Strike – NYTimes.com.

Here’s Inequality For You, 10 powers of 10 from richest to poorest

16 Oct

In the last of his current series of articles on math, Visualizing Vastness, Steven Strogatz starts with the solar system, generalizes to powers of 10, and then offers these two paragraphs:

This style of thinking, this powers-of-10 mentality, is our best hope for making sense of the immensity of the natural world. What makes subjects like biology and climate science so hard is not just that they involve so many variables; it’s that the crucial phenomena in them occur over such a wide range of scales. Biologists need to contend with everything from nano-size DNA molecules on up to cells, organs, organisms and ecosystems. For climate scientists the relevant scales go from the molecular (the photochemistry of ozone) to the global (the fluid mechanics of the jet stream). Many of the great scientific puzzles of our time have this multiscale character.

A contentious example, especially in this election season, is inequality. The distribution of wealth in the United States spans at least 10 powers of 10, ranging from people whose net worth is measured in tens of billions of dollars, to those with barely a dollar to their names. This disparity dwarfs even the six powers of 10 in the solar system. As such, the distribution is extremely difficult to depict on a single graph, at least on the standard kinds of plots with linear axes, which is why you never see it displayed on one page.

The juxtaposition is striking.

Check out the website for the classic movie and book, Powers of Ten.

The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent – NYTimes.com

14 Oct

The 1% is destroying America, and their grandchildrens’ future.

The story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.

The history of the United States can be read as one such virtuous circle. But as the story of Venice shows, virtuous circles can be broken. Elites that have prospered from inclusive systems can be tempted to pull up the ladder they climbed to the top. Eventually, their societies become extractive and their economies languish.

That was the future predicted by Karl Marx, who wrote that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. And it is the danger America faces today, as the 1 percent pulls away from everyone else and pursues an economic, political and social agenda that will increase that gap even further — ultimately destroying the open system that made America rich and allowed its 1 percent to thrive in the first place.

via The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent – NYTimes.com.

Devaluing care work — and women – Salon.com

2 Oct

“Once upon a time, we lived in a world where men engaged in paid work and women stayed home and took care of the children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled,” says Nancy Folbre, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the editor of the recent book “For Love and Money: Care Provision in the United States.”

We no longer live in that world, for reasons that go well beyond women’s individual fulfillment (though that matters too!), including stagnating real wages and loss of worker protections in traditionally male jobs that once provided a “family wage.” But you wouldn’t know that looking at the American workplace, still structured as it is around the assumption that someone is at home to care for those who can’t care for themselves. And even in this election year of tailoring messages to women, the failure of the economy to catch up to household realities is scarcely on the table — not for Republicans, of course, but not for too many Democrats either. Given how women still pick up most of the slack on care work, even when they’re in the paid workforce, this is as much an issue of feminism as it is one of reproductive rights.

via Devaluing care work — and women – Salon.com.

Henry Ford, When Capitalists Cared – NYTimes.com

3 Sep

In Germany, still a manufacturing and export powerhouse, average hourly pay has risen five times faster since 1985 than in the United States. The secret of Germany’s success, says Klaus Kleinfeld, who ran the German electrical giant Siemens before taking over the American aluminum company Alcoa in 2008, is “the social contract: the willingness of business, labor and political leaders to put aside some of their differences and make agreements in the national interests.”

In short, German leaders have practiced stakeholder capitalism and followed the century-old wisdom of Henry Ford, while American business and political leaders have dismantled the dynamics of the “virtuous circle” in pursuit of downsizing, offshoring and short-term profit and big dividends for their investors.

via Henry Ford, When Capitalists Cared – NYTimes.com.