Archive for the ‘Inequality’ Category

Why isn’t Ukraine an economic powerhouse?

June 15, 2022

I’ve always known that Ukraine was rich in economic resources.  And I’ve always known that’s why American and other foreign corporations have wanted to get their hands on Ukraine’s resources.  but I never realized how rich until I read the statistics in this post.

UKRAINE IS:

🌐 1st in Europe in proven recoverable uranium ore reserves;
2nd place in Europe and 10th place in the world in titanium ore reserves;
2nd place in the world in terms of explored reserves of manganese ores (2.3 billion tons, or 12% of world reserves);
The 2nd largest iron ore reserves in the world (30 billion tons);
2nd place in Europe in mercury ore reserves;
🌐 3rd place in Europe (13th place in the world) in terms of shale gas reserves (22 trillion cubic meters)
🌐 4th place in the world in terms of the total value of natural resources;
7th place in the world in coal reserves (33.9 billion tons)

Ukraine is an important agricultural country:
🌐 1st in Europe in terms of arable land area;
🌐 3rd place in the world by the area of chernozem [a kind of fertile black soil] (25% of the world volume);
🌐 1st place in the world in the export of sunflower and sunflower oil;
2nd place in the world in barley production and 4th place in barley export;
🌐 3rd largest producer and 4th largest exporter of corn in the world;
🌐 The 4th largest potato producer in the world;
The 5th largest rye producer in the world;
5th place in the world for honey production (75,000 tons);
8th place in the world in wheat exports;
9th place in the world in the production of chicken eggs;
🌐 16th place in the world in cheese exports.

Ukraine can meet the food needs of 600 million people.

Ukraine was an important industrially developed country:
🌐 1st in Europe in ammonia production;
The 2nd and 4th largest natural gas pipeline systems in the world;
🌐 3rd largest in Europe and 8th in the world in terms of installed capacity of nuclear power plants;
3rd place in Europe and 11th in the world in terms of the length of the railway network (21,700 km);
🌐 3rd place in the world (after the USA and France) in the production of locators and navigation equipment;
🌐 3rd largest iron exporter in the world;
🌐 The 4th largest exporter of turbines for nuclear power plants in the world;
🌐 The world’s 4th largest manufacturer of rocket launchers;
🌐 4th place in the world in clay exports;
🌐 4th place in the world in titanium exports;
8th place in the world in the export of ores and concentrates;
9th place in the world in the export of defense industry products;
🌐 The 10th largest steel producer in the world (32.4 million tons).

So why are Ukrainians so poor?:

Ukraine is one of the worst off countries after the collapse of the USSR.  It is the poorest country in Europe despite having a huge aerospace industry, natural resources and some of the most fertile land for agriculture.  During the communist era, Ukraine was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union.  Despite all this, Ukrainians have experienced terrible famines such as the Stalinist Holodomor.

Today, the situation is not much better. Apart from enduring a war with Russia, its political system is particularly corrupt. Almost the entire economy is in the hands of big oligarchs: millionaires who amass fortunes thanks to their connections with political power.

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Rich and poor on peace and war

May 6, 2022

LINK

Majority of wealthy Americans want U.S. military involvement in European war by Leonardo Briceno for The Post Millennial.  Rasmssen Reports itself is behind a paywall.

How rich is Jeff Bezos? This rich

May 4, 2022

Compare and contrast.

Click to enlarge.

Hat tip to Jason Kottke.

Nine Ways to Imagine Jeff Bezos Wealth by Nina Chalabi for the New York Times Magazine.

At What Point Does a Billionaire’s Greed Hurt the Rest of Us? by Drummond Pike for the Institute for New Economic Thinking.  Reposted on Naked Capitalism.  [Added 05/06/2022]

The radical socialism of George Orwell

January 21, 2022

George Orwell is remembered as an enemy of fascism and Stalinism and for his totalitarian dystopia, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

But, a friend of mine asked, what was Orwell’s utopia?  What did he advocate?

It’s important to remember that Orwell was not only a hater of tyranny and lies.  He also was a hater of inequality and of social and economic class privilege.

George Orwell

His idea of a good society was a society of equals, which honored the moral values of the working class.

In The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), his book about coal miners and the unemployed in England in the 1930s,  Orwell drew a word portrait of a working class family—dad reading his racing form, mum doing her sewing, children happily amusing themselves and the family dog lying before the fire.  

Provided dad had steady work at good wages, that was probably as good as life got, Orwell wrote.  It was better than typical middle-class life, with its  status seeking, worship of success, fear of poverty and lack of solidarity.

But he said his picture of a working class family sitting around a coal fire after kippers and strong tea was something that could only have existed at this particular moment in time.

He said it would not exist in the imagined utopian future of 200 years hence, with no coal fire, no manual labor, no gambling, no horses or dogs, everything hygienic, sterile and made of steel, glass and rubber.  

But such a home could not have existed in the medieval past.  There would have been no chimney, moldy bread, lice, scurvy, “a yearly childbirth and a yearly death” and “the priest terrifying you with tales of hell.”  (Orwell, by the way, had no use for religion.)

Orwell regarded class distinctions are inescapable, something baked into the nature of British consciousness.  He accepted that he himself was a middle-class person and that he could never make himself think and behave as a working-class person did.  

But he did not agonize over it, as many white liberal Americans nowadays do over their inescapable “whiteness.”  And in other writings, he celebrated middle-class virtues and the widening of the British middle class.

In Homage to Catalonia (1938), his book about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, he said he experienced for the first time a society truly committed to equality

When he arrived in Barcelona, he said, he was in the midst of a true workers revolution.  Every building had been seized by workers and draped with Communist or anarchist flags.   Every church had been gutted and its images destroyed.  

Every restaurant had a sign saying it had been collectivized.  There were no private automobiles; they had all been collectivized, too.

Nobody called anybody “señor” or “don,” just “comrade.”  Nobody said “buenos Dias,” just “salud.”  Nobody wore suits, just overalls or other work clothes or a militia uniform.  Waiters looked their customers in the eye and took no guff from them..

“I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for,” Orwell wrote.  Later he served in a Spanish militia, in which officers had to argue with troops to get them to agree to follow orders, but the troops fought bravely.  He admired this, too.

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Inequality & politics: Links 11/24/2021

November 24, 2021

Michael Hudson on Truth Jihad Radio Discussing Super Imperialism, Rentierism and the American Political Duopoly.

Michael Hudson explains how the fact that the world economy operates in dollars gives the U.S. government the powers to assume debt that will not be repaid, to finance the world’s most expensive military, and to wage economic war on countries that oppose it, and why this cannot go on forever.

The  1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made America Less Secure by Nick Hanauer and David M. Rolf for Time.

Can Hagerstown Kick Its Habit? by Ron Cassie and Lauren Larocca for Baltimore magazine.

I grew up around Hagerstown, Md., and spent the first 16 years of my working life there.  It was a nice place then, but it has been devastated by deindustrialization and the drug epidemic. (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Big Business Declares War on Lina Khan by Matt Stoller for BIG.

Lina Khan has been confirmed by the Senate as one of the two main anti-trust enforcers for the Federal Trade Commission, and it appears she means business.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has declared political war on her.  She has many opponents, including some in the FTC.  

But it appears she has support from some conservative Republicans as some liberal Democrats.  Not all of the U.S. business community feels its interests are served by the monopoly power of Amazon, Facebook and other giants.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Too Big to Sail: How a Legal Revolution Clogged Our Ports by Matt Stoller for BIG.

Matt Stoller specializes in reporting on business monopoly and its consequences.  In this post, he reports on how economic concentration among ocean carriers and port terminal ownership has led to bottlenecks in the U.S. economic supply chains.

I’m a Twenty-Year Truck Driver, I Will Tell You Why America’s “Shipping Crisis” Will Not End by Ron Johnson.

The Big Money Behind the Big Lie by Jane Mayer for The New Yorker.

“Donald Trump’s attacks on democracy are being promoted by rich and powerful conservative groups that are determined to win at all costs.”

Only the Rich Can Play documents how a Republican program to help the poor didn’t by Albert Hunt for The Hill.

Democrats are pushing for tax breaks for the rich | They’ll cry when voters punish them by David Sirota for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to O)

The Vacancy and Cynicism at the Heart of “Mayor Pete” by Piper French for The Daily Poster.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

Facebook’s Russian (Gangster) Money by Seth Hettena on his blog.  (Hat tip to O)

How Hunter Biden’s Firm Helped Secure Cobalt for the Chinese by Michael Forsythe, Eric Lipton and Dianne Searcy for The New York Times.  (Hat tip to O)

Tales of rich and poor: Links 11/17/2021

November 16, 2021

As America Falls Apart, Profits Soar by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

On the Duty to Obstruct: If conflict is the only route to a moral outcome, embrace it by Thomas Neuberger for God’s Spies.

How Wealth Inequality Fuels the Climate Emergency: George Monbriot & Scientist Keith Anderson on COP26 for Democracy Now!  Hat tip to Bill Harvey,

Make extreme wealth extinct: It’s the only way to avoid climate breakdown by George Monbriot for The Guardian.

The federal poverty line struggles to capture the economic hardship that half of Americans face by Celine-Marie Pascale for The Conversation.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Over Half of Households Are Having Trouble Paying Their Bills by Doug Henwood for Jacobin.

Hope for Labor at the End of History by Steve Fraser and Joshua Freeman for Dissent Magazine.  Hat tip to Gene Zitver.

The global rich and global climate change

July 7, 2021

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The great economic historian Adam Tooze wrote an eye-opening article about how the global rich (the richest 10%) are the chief drivers of climate change.  What he should have noted is that, at least in the immediate future, they will suffer the least from living on a hotter planet.

Tooze noted that their consumption causes nearly half of the world’s carbon emissions, and the global middle class (the next 40%) cause nearly all the rest.  The global poor (the bottom 50%) are responsible for hardly any, yet they will be the hardest hit.

He said we need to think less about which nations are the chief cause of the problem, and more about the different economic classes.  Global warming has been affected even more by the super-rich (the top 1%) in the OPEC nations and in China than the super-rich in North America.

China accounts for half the increase in global emissions from 1990 to 2015.  One-sixth of the total global increase comes from China’s rich and one third from China’s middle class. 

The betterment of material living standards in China during that period is one of the world’s great positive achievements.  But it also, according to Tooze, is a big contributor to what may be the world’s greatest problem.

It is not just that the richest 10 percent consume so much.  They are the ones who make the investment decisions.  This is true not only of private investment decisions, but of government investment, to the extent that it is financed by borrowing.

Add to that the fact that the richest 10 percent are the dominant political class in most countries.

Adam Tooze did not spell out the implications of this, but they are important.

The richest 10 percent, along with the global middle class, will try to meet the challenge of global warming by investing in alternative technologies that will maintain their material standard of living.

The problem is that making windmills, solar panels or electric vehicles is energy-intensive and uses up non-renewable resources.  Probably there is a net benefit at some point; I’m not qualified to say. The point is, you have to burn a lot of fossil fuels to create the alternatives to fossil fuels. 

What the global rich, and the global middle class, are not considering, is austerity for themselves.  Nobody that I know of advocates giving up air travel, for example. 

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Which matters most? Race or class?

March 31, 2021

On almost any level of American society, you’re better off being white than being black.

Even if you’re President of the United States.

Barack Obama could never have gotten away with the sordid personal behavior of Bill Clinton or the manifest ignorance of George W. Bush. (I leave out Donald Trump because he’s in a category all his own.)

Source: Demos.

Clinton, Bush and Obama all were targets of vituperative attacks, but the attacks on Obama were on a different level than the other two.

On a lower level of society, there is a great deal of racial discrimination in the restaurant industry.  Black employees are most commonly found in the kitchen; white employees are the ones who serve the public.

So does that mean Barack Obama and black dishwashers are in one category, and Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and white waiters and waitresses are in another?

Barack Obama is a rich celebrity.  He lives in an $11.75 million house in Martha’s Vineyard.  He has nothing in common with a dishwasher.

The Obamas are good friends with the Bushes, who are good friends of the Clintons, who used to be good friends of the Trumps. 

They all have more in common with each other and with other rich celebrities than any of them does with an hourly worker of any race.

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So which matters most?  The vertical lines that separate Americans of different races or the horizontal lines that separate Americans of different economic classes?

If you look at different jobs, you see that a disproportionate amount of the dirty, low-wage work of American society is done by the descendants of enslaved black people and conquered Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.  It is not a coincidence that the descendants of enslaved and conquered people are at the bottom of the economic ladder.

The lines are diagonal lines.  Race and social class can’t be separated.  You find people of every race on every level of American society—but not equally.

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Racism and prejudice are almost always factors in racial inequality.  Nowadays, they are seldom the only factors.

• The Republican Party in many states has been illegally purging black citizens from voter registration rolls and making it more difficult for them to vote.  But I don’t think that is because they think blacks are an inferior race.  It is because the vast majority of them vote Democratic.

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These same Republicans are perfectly happy with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina or Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

• Police killings of black people are proportionately greater than police killings of white people.  One reason is that some police are racist and many are racially prejudiced.  But it’s also a fact that police in general treat poor people worse than they do rich people and middle-class people.

And there are also big differences in police departments across the country based on training and policies.  And the inconvenient fact is that a disproportionate number of violent crimes are committed by black people.

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But I don’t think these other factors explain away racial prejudice.  Like a lot of things, the issue is complex.

Black people were targeted for the sale of subprime mortgages in the run-up to the 2008 recession.  But I don’t think this was because the financial speculators had an implicit against them because of their race.

Rather it was because they were more financially vulnerable than equivalent white people, for historical reasons that are rooted in racism.

If you look at reasons for inequality in the USA, there is very often a racial angle, but there also is almost always a money angle.

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Education and the mirage of equal opportunity

March 22, 2021

It’s common to hear people say that they don’t believe in economic equality, but they do believe in equality of opportunity.

But one of the points of getting a lot of money and a high social position is to give your children advantages over other people’s children.

One of the ways of doing that is to enroll your children in elite private schools. I read an article by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic about how students who attend the top private schools get a head start in life that’s almost impossible, or at least very, very difficult, for anybody else to overtake—even students in highly selective public schools.

In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education.  We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools.

In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item.  We have become a country with vanishingly few paths out of poverty, or even out of the working class.  We’ve allowed the majority of our public schools to founder, while expensive private schools play an outsize role in determining who gets to claim a coveted spot in the winners’ circle.

Many schools for the richest American kids have gates and security guards; the message is you are precious to us.  Many schools for the poorest kids have metal detectors and police officers; the message is you are a threat to us.

Public-school education—the specific force that has helped generations of Americans transcend the circumstances of their birth—is profoundly, perhaps irreparably, broken. In my own state of California, only half of public-school students are at grade level in reading, and even fewer are in math. When a crisis goes on long enough, it no longer seems like a crisis. It is merely a fact.

Source: The Atlantic

The Chronicle of Higher Education meanwhile reported on how colleges are doubling down on efforts to keep black students from failing and dropping out. 

This could be good.  I think many affirmative action programs push young black people into positions where they’re over their heads, then leave them to flounder and blame them for their failure.

More mentoring, and more attention to the individual and less to improving numbers, would help. 

But what may very well happen is that colleges will increase recruitment, retention and graduation numbers for African American students while doing little to improve their actual education, and while also ignoring disadvantaged students who are white or in other non-black racial categories.

In the long run, expecting less of African-American students won’t help them.  It will devalue their degrees and send them into the world not knowing how poorly-prepared they are.

I’m reminded of Goodhart’s Law – “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure” – because people will figure out how to game the system. Or, as W. Edwards Deming put it, “Give a manager a numerical target, and he’ll meet it, even if he has to destroy the company to do so.”

LINKS

Private Schools Are Indefensible by Caitlin Flanagan for The Atlantic.  “Elite schools breed entitlement, entrench inequality—and then pretend to be engines of social change.”

The Antiracist College by Tom Bartlett for the Chronicle of Higher Education.  “This may be a watershed moment in the history of higher education and race.”

How the GOP could become a workers’ party

February 26, 2021

A Modest Proposal for Republicans: Use the Word “Class” by Scott A. Siskind for Astral Codex Ten. “Pivot from mindless populist rage to a thoughtful campaign to fight classism.”

There are some interesting ideas here that are consistent with what Republican leaders say they stand for.  I’m not sure I agree with Siskind about prediction markets being better than credentialed experts, though.

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Winners and losers in the COVID economy

January 25, 2021

A blogger who calls himself Nikolai Vladivostok posted this chart. It shows what people in different segments of the U.S. population say about whether they’re worse off or better off.

People whose income was $100,000 a year were, on average, very happy with their situations. So were those with post-graduate educations.

The unhappiest were people whose income was $50,000 a year or less. Women on average were unhappier than men.

I was a little surprised that city residents were happier than suburbanites. I always thought of U.S. suburbanites as affluent and pleased with themselves. I guess that thinking is out of date.

You might wonder how much of this is due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and how much would be true in any year. Nikolai Vladivostok found some other charts illustrating how hard the pandemic has been on different income groups.  Having a low-income job is a risk factor.

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

December 14, 2020

A writer named Edward Curtin had a good article in OffGuardian about the basic similarity of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Both are willing to bail out monopoly businesses. Both are unwilling to do anything meaningful to help the poor, working people or the middle class.

Both are committed to perpetual war. Leaders of neither party are willing to pardon Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden for the crime of pointing out how Americans have been deceived by their government.

The truth is that both the Trump voters and the Biden voters have been taken for a ride.  It is a game, a show, a movie, a spectacle.  It hasn’t changed much since 1969; the rich have gotten richer and the poor, working, and middle classes have gotten poorer and more desperate.  Those who have profited have embraced the fraud.

The Institute for Policy Studies has just released a new analysis showing that since the start of the Covid-19 “pandemic” in mid-March and the subsequent transfer upwards of $5 trillion to the wealthy and largest corporations through the Cares Act, approved 96-0 in the US Senate, 650 US billionaires have gained over a trillion dollars in eight months as the American people have suffered an economic catastrophe.

This shift upward of massive wealth under Trump is similar to Obama’s massive 2009 bailout of the banks on the backs of American workers.  Both were justified through feats of legerdemain by both political parties, accomplices in the fleecing of regular people, many of whom continue to support the politicians that screw them while telling them they care.

If the Democrats and the Republicans are at war as is often claimed, it is only over who gets the larger part of the spoils.  [snip]

I am well aware that most people disagree with my analysis. It does seem as if I am wrong and that because the Democrats and their accomplices have spent years attempting to oust Trump through Russia-gate, impeachment, etc. that what seems true is true and Trump is simply a crazy aberration who somehow slipped through the net of establishment control to rule for four years.

To those 146+ million people who voted for Biden and Trump this seems self-evident. But if that is so, why, despite their superficial differences – and Obama’s, Hillary Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s for that matter – have the super-rich gotten richer and richer over the decades and the war on terror continued as the military budget has increased each year and the armament industries and the Wall Street crooks continued to rake in the money at the expense of everyone else?

Source: OffGuardian

It’s a good article, well worth reading in full.  As Curtin points out, the same thing is going on in Britain.  My only quarrel with him is his focus on the “white working class.”  The American wage-earning class is multi-racial, and with a higher percentage of African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and women than the general population.

This is important to point out, because so many self-described liberals ignore this reality and set up a false opposition between racial justice and economic justice.

It is not as if black wage-earners are forging ahead and white wage-earners are the only ones falling behind.  Neither Barack Obama nor Bill Clinton did anything special to raise up black working people, either as a special group or part of the overall body politick.  Neither did Donald Trump nor George W. Bush did anything meaningful for working people—white, black or otherwise.

LINK

The Past Lives On: The Elite Strategy to Divide and Conquer by Edward Curtin for OffGuardian.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

A good time to be a billionaire

December 3, 2020

Hat tip to Daniel B.

The case against race reductionism

November 12, 2020

Why is there still such a big gap in income, wealth and status between white and black Americans?T

There are two prevailing schools of thought.  One holds that this is because whites are the way they are.  Another holds that this is because blacks are the way they are.

The first says that nothing will change until whites get rid of their prejudices.  The other holds that nothing will change until blacks get rid of their self-destructive behavior.

Historian Touré F. Reed, in his new book, TOWARD FREEDOM: The Case Against Race Reductionism, said this kind of thinking is guaranteed to keep things the way they are.

He said we Americans as a nation need to look at other reasons black Americans are lagging behind.  They include:

  • De-industrialization, financialization and offshoring of manufacturing jobs.
  • Factory automation.
  • The decline of labor unions.
  • Cutbacks in public service employment.

These things hurt a majority of Americans, but, for historical reasons, they hurt black Americans the most, Reed wrote.

None of this is changed by scolding liberal white people for their alleged racism or unemployed young black men for their alleged laziness, Reed said.

But why would anybody think differently?  That  is the topic of his book.  It is structured around the thinking of notable activists and thinkers, much like my friend Michael Brown’s new book on intellectuals.  It would make a good companion volume to Brown’s Hope & Scorn.  Whatever you think about the status of intellectuals, ideas do have consequences.

A. Phllip Randolph

Reed begins with A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and his protege, Bayard Rustin, a pacifist and civil rights activist affiliated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

These two black men are a bridge between the 1930s and the 1960s.  They advocated civil rights for African-Americans and economic justice for the multi-racial working class for many decades.

They were supporters of the New Deal, even though many members of the Roosevelt administration were racists, and black Americans did not receive the full benefits to which they were entitled, especially in housing.                                             .

So did a substantial majority of African-American voters, because large numbers did benefit from the Wagner Act, the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Social Security Act, the GI Bill and so on.

And the New Deal cleared the way for the civil rights revolution that was yet to come.

Bayard Rustin

The Committee for Industrial Organization – later the Congress of Industrial Organizations – organized low-wage workers, both black and white.  Many of its tactics, such as the sit-down strike and mass demonstrations, were later adopted by the civil rights movement.

Randolph, by the threat of a mass march on Washington, pressured President Roosevelt into adopting a Fair Employment Practices Code for war industry.  Although the federal FEPC was not enforced, many state governments adopted their own versions after the war and carried out its intent.

If there had not been a National Labor Relations Act, which set a precedent for regulating employer-employee relations, an FEPC might have been dismissed as unconstitutional, Reed noted.

Randolph and Rustin lived long enough to become mentors and supporters of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  Like them, Rev. King regarded civil rights and labor rights as inseparable.  He spoke in union halls almost as often as he did in churches.   When Dr. King was imprisoned in the Birmingham jail, the United Auto Workers bailed him out.

The 1963 March on Washington was a march for both “jobs and justice.”  When King was murdered, he was in Memphis, Tenn., to support a strike of sanitation workers.  He was working on another protest demonstration, a Poor People’s Campaign—a “poor people’s,” not “black people’s,” campaign.

Reed thinks Randolph and Rustin got things right, and so do I.

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The passing scene: Links and charts 8/9/2020

September 9, 2020

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Some graphs and comments by Tony Wikrent on Ian Welsh’s blog.

UNITED STATES OF INEQUALITY: 2020 and the Great Divide on Capital and Main (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Adolph Reed Jr. on identity politics

July 1, 2020

This Bill Moyers interview with Adolph Reed Jr. was aired in 2014.

Adolph Reed Jr. is a retired professor of political science and a Marxist.  He thinks that what is called identity politics is a way of maintaining structure of inequality.  The purpose of this post is to call attention to his critique of identity politics and provide links to some of this work.

Identity politics is based on an analysis of how dominant groups oppress marginal groups.  Some examples:

  • Whites > Blacks  [racism]
  • Men > Women  [male chauvinism, mysogyny]
  • Native-Born > Immigrants [xenophobia]
  • Anglos > Hispanics [xenophobia]
  • Straights > Gays [homophobia]
  • Cisgendered > Transgendered [transphobia]

These are not made-up problems.  It is a fact that white job applicants or loan applicants get preference over equally-qualified or better-qualified black applicants.  It is a fact that shocking numbers of women are sexually harassed on the job.  No-one should be denied basic rights by reason of race, gender, national origin or LGBTQ identity.

The problem is when disparities between groups are used to distract from the structure of wealth and power in society as a whole.  According to economist Gabriel Zucman, one percent of Americans own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 28 percent in the 1990s.

Reed says that, within the multicultural framework, this would be okay if the upper one percent were 50 percent women, 15 percent black and the appropriate percentages Hispanic, GLBTQ and so on.

Ideas of equity can be used to promote inequality.  Ideas about oppression of minorities can be used to divert attention from exploitation of the majority by the minority.  The ideology of multiculturalism can be used as a technique to divide and rule.

Honoring diversity doesn’t bring about full employment, living wages, debt relief or an end to America’s forever wars

Honoring multiculturalism can leave members of all the different groups divided among themselves and equally exploited, along with straight white cisgender males, by employers, bankers, landlords and corrupt politicians..

LINKS

Public Thinker: Adolph Reed Jr. on Organizing, Race and Bernie Sanders, an interview for Public Books.

An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. on the New York Times’ 1619 Project on the World Socialist Web Site.

Nothing Left: the long, slow surrender of American liberals by Adolph Reed Jr. for Harper’s Magazine (2014)

Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Exposing Class Division in Democrats, from an interview on the Benjamin Dixon Show (2016)

The Trouble With Uplift by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Baffler (2018)

What Materialist Black Political History Actually Looks Like by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org.

The old radicalism and the cultural revolution

June 24, 2020

The old-time left-wing radicalism, which sought economic change, is being replaced by a new radicalism, which seeks cultural change.

The old radicals thought the basic problem is that a tiny elite monopolizes wealth and power.  The new radicals think the basic problem is that dominant groups, such as whites and males, oppress marginalized groups, such as blacks and women.

The George Floyd protests show how the new radicalism has taken hold.  They are bigger and involve more people than anything in my adult lifetime, including the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A real and great evil, the abuse of black people by police, is opposed not only by black people, but by middle-class white people and, nominally at least, by corporate America as well.

Ross Douthat wrote a great column in the New York Times about Bernie Sanders as the last representative of the old-time radicalism and his eclipse by the new radicalism.

Here are some highlights:

[It was argued that a] left that recovered the language of class struggle, that disentangled liberal politics from faculty-lounge elitism and neoliberal economics, could rally a silent majority against plutocracy and win.  The 2016 Sanders primary campaign, which won white, working-class voters who had been drifting from the Democrats, seemed to vindicate this argument.

The 2020 Sanders campaign, however, made it look more dubious, by illustrating the core challenge facing a socialist revolution: Its most passionate supporters — highly educated, economically disappointed urbanites — aren’t natural coalition partners for a Rust Belt populism, and the more they tugged Sanders toward the cultural left, the easier it was for Joe Biden to win blue-collar votes, leaving Sanders leading an ideological faction rather than a broader working-class insurgency.

Now, under these strange coronavirus conditions, we’re watching a different sort of insurgency challenge or change liberalism, one founded on an intersectional vision of left-wing politics that never came naturally to Sanders.  Rather than Medicare for All and taxing plutocrats, the rallying cry is racial justice and defunding the police.  Instead of finding its nemeses in corporate suites, the intersectional revolution finds them on antique pedestals and atop the cultural establishment.

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Thomas Piketty on inequality in education

June 5, 2020

In the present-day USA, young people are told they have no economic future unless they have college educations.  Unless their parents are relatively affluent, the only way they can afford tuition is to go into debt—debt that literally can follow them all their lives.

Many of the top jobs in management, academia and government are only open to graduates of prestigious colleges.  So the educational system reinforces inequality.

Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty, in his new book Capital and Ideology, shows that this pattern exists across the Western world, including his native France.

It wasn’t always this way, he noted.  During the decades following the Second World War, the progressive and socialist political parties opened up higher education to working people in a way that hadn’t been done before.

Many of the beneficiaries of these programs became leaders of the moderately progressive and socialist parties.  They became what Piketty called the Brahmin Left, an educational elite, which, according to him, lost touch with the wage earners without college degrees.  He said in an interview:

If you look at education policies, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, there was a relatively egalitarian platform of investing in primary and secondary education for all and bringing everyone to the end of secondary school. Gradually, in the 1980s and 1990s there was the rise of higher education, but this egalitarian platform has been abandoned in some cases.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in terms of access to universities. I show in the book that if you look at a country like the United States, there is data now available on the relationship between parental income and access to education that shows if your parents are poor, you still have a 25% chance to enter higher education, but when your parents are rich, you have a 95% chance.

Actually, this is understating the impact on equality of opportunity because of course the universities that those with rich parents have access to are not the same as the universities that those with poor parents have access to.

If you look at the amount of education investment, you find that even in a supposedly more egalitarian public system like France, the picture is unequal.

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Thomas Piketty on equality through taxation

June 4, 2020

Thomas Piketty’s Capital and Ideology is the most comprehensive study I know about the causes of economic inequality.  He gathered a vast amount of data and made sense of it.  To read my comments on his research, click on this, this, this and this.

In the last chapter, he outlined proposals for a “participatory socialism” to make society less unequal.  He saw three main ways to do this: (1) taxation, (2) reform of corporate governance and (3) educational reform.  This post will be about taxation.  I will take up the other two later.

His plan is based on steeply graduated income taxes, inheritance taxes and new taxes on wealth.  These were to be used to finance a wealth endowment of 60 percent of average wealth to every citizen at age 25 and a guaranteed income of 60 percent of average income.

He does not make absolute equality his goal, but he would allow a much narrower band of inequality than exists today.

I’ve long been indignant at the growing extremes of inequality in my country and the abuses of power of the very rich.  Reading Piketty forces me to think about just how much equality I want and how much I would give up to attain it.

Piketty wrote in earlier chapters of Capital and Ideology about how higher taxes have often been the key to greater national power and wealth.

One of history’s mysteries is how it was that European nations could defeat great Asian empires, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Mughal Empire in India or the Manchu (Qing) Dynasty in China, when, prior to the Industrial Revolution, they were equal in wealth and technology to the European nations.  It was the Chinese, for example, who invented gunpowder.

Piketty’s answer is that the Europeans gained an advantage through a higher level of taxation.  Tax revenue across Europe and Asia prior to the modern era was roughly 1 to 2 percent of national income.  This gave a king or emperor enough revenue to reign, but not to exercise tight control over his realm.

This changed in Europe, during the wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, when military competition forced kings to increase their revenues to 8 to 10 percent of national income.

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The greater revenue enabled kings to become absolute monarchs, exercising almost as much control over their citizens as a 20th century president or prime minister.  It also enabled them to put armies in the field that the Turks, Persians, Indians, Chinese and Japanese could not match.

Western governments’ revenue was bumped up again in the early 20th century, to 30 to 50 percent of national income.  This made possible the total wars of the early 20th century.  But it also gave governments enough money to pay for universal public education, old age pensions, public health and the other services of the welfare state.

This was only tolerable because the Western nations had grown rich enough that their people could give up a big fraction of their incomes to government and still enjoy a high material standard of living.

It would not have been possible in, say, France in the time of Louis XIV.  The taxes he levied to finance his wars reduced the peasantry to misery and, in some cases, starvation (because the nobles enjoyed most of the national income, but paid no taxes).

The same conditions may exist in poor African countries today.  But in rich Western countries, it is technologically and economically feasible to raise taxes revenues to 50 percent of national income, which is necessary for PIketty’s program.

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Piketty’s stats and the problem with class conflict

May 28, 2020

The late Saul Alinsky used to say that politics is a struggle among the haves, the have-nots and the have-a-littles.  He said the outcome usually depends on which side the have-a-littles choose.

Reading Thomas Piketty’s big new book, Capital and Ideology,  reminded me I’d forgotten this important truth.

The USA and much of the rest of the world is governed in the interests of a political and economic elite and not a majority of the public.  I want a politics that represents the interests of the majority of the population.

But there are objective reasons why this is harder than it seems.  If you look at economic class in terms of a top 10 percent in income or wealth, a middle 40 percent and a bottom 50 percent, you see that there is a difference between the middle class (the have-a-littles) and the lower class (the have-nots)

I had come to think that the big problem of American politics is that so much of it is a conflict of the top 0.1 percent of income earners with the next 9.9 percent, leaving the rest of us behind.

The top 0.1 percent, in this interpretation, are the millionaires and billionaires that Bernie Sanders denounces.  The next 9.9 percent, very roughly speaking, are highly paid professionals, the “professional managerial class,” who tend to be more socially liberal, but whose economic interests are different from the majority.

Matthew Stewart wrote a good article about this in The Atlantic a couple of years ago.  The conclusion is that we the American majority have to stop thinking we have to choose between the plutocrats and the PMC and unite in our own interests.

That would make sense if economic inequality were the same as it was in Britain, France or Sweden around the turn of the previous century, as reflected in the chart above (taken from Piketty’s book)

But it’s not.  There is now a big middle class, in between the top 10 percent and the bottom 50 percent, as shown in the chart below (taken from an article co-authored by Piketty).

Click to enlarge.

In western Europe and the USA, the middle 40 percent aren’t doing too badly.  They’re open to the politics of a Margaret Thatcher or a Ronald Reagan.

Instead of claiming a larger share from the haves, they’re told they need to worry about the claims of the have-nots.  Even in parts of the world where economic inequality is greater than in Europe or the USA, there is a middle class with something to lose.

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Thomas Piketty and the politics of inequality

May 27, 2020

Reasonable people differ on the amount of economic inequality that is tolerable.  But I think almost anyone would set some upper limit.

In today’s USA, a single individual, Bill Gates, is wealthy enough to buy the city of Boston for the assessed value of its property.  The size of Jeff Bezos’ wealth is almost unimaginable.

Meanwhile four in 10 Americans lack enough cash on hand to meet an unexpected $400 expense without going into debt.

Why is this acceptable?  I’ll describe the ideas of the great French economist Thomas Piketty in his new book, Capital and Ideology.  Then I’ll discuss some of the things Piketty left out.

Piketty said the fall of Communism in the Soviet bloc and China discredited egalitarianism and validated the market economy.  Leaders of Western capitalist countries felt they were in a position to tell the working class that there is no alternative.

Even before that, the economic stagnation of the late 1970s discredited the welfare state.  The USA had both high unemployment and high inflation, which was considered theoretically impossible.  One diagnosis was that the welfare state had reached its limit, that it was in a state of deadlock because of the inability to satisfy all claimants.  This had been predicted by Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.  He said that only a fascist dictator would be able to break the deadlock.

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Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher presented a different answer.  Dial back to welfare state, cut upper-bracket tax rates and allow rich people and corporations to accumulate wealth.  They will invest that wealth and the workings of the free market will assure that this works for the benefit of all.

As Piketty pointed out, none of this worked out as promised.  Cuts in marginal tax rates did not result in job creation, economic growth or anything else that was promised.

So why do Reaganism and Thatcherism still prevail?

One reason is that the historic left-wing parties abandoned the working class.  The Democrats in the USA, the Labour Party in Britain and the French socialists came to represent an educated elite rather than laborers and wage-earners.

Politics in these countries has come to be a conflict of elites, between what Piketty called the Merchant Right and the Brahmin Left.  It is like the conflict between the nobility and the clergy in the European Middle Ages and the conflict between landowners and business owners in 19th century Britain.

In the USA, many progressives see today’s politics as a conflict between the plutocracy, whose power is based on wealth, and the professional-managerial class, whose power is based on their academic credentials and their positions in organizations.  Wage-earners are not represented.  Piketty showed that the same conflict exists in other countries.

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Piketty on the sacredness of property rights

May 27, 2020

When English settlers first dealt with American Indians, there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of property rights.

The Indians had no idea of buying the exclusive right to use a tract of land, keep everybody else off it and sell the land to someone else.

Thomas Piketty pointed out in his new book, Capital and Ideology, that, in fact, this was a fairly new idea even for the English and other Europeans.

The idea of absolute property rights did not exist in the European middle ages. Someone might have a hereditary right to grow crops on a certain tract of land, a second person the right to 10 percent of all crops grown on the land, a third person the right to grind grain produced on the land for a fixed fee, and so on.

Furthermore the right to land use was not so much bought and sold as inherited.

Medieval France was what Piketty called a “ternary” society—a society in which political power and property ownership were divided between a hereditary noble class who “fought for all” and a priestly class who “prayed for all,” leaving very little for a lower class who “worked for all.”

The “ternary” system existed in the Islamic world, India and many other parts of the world, and it casts its shadow over the present world.  Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (mostly Sunni) are ruled by hereditary monarchs while Iran (mostly Shiite) is ruled by clerics.  In India, the descendants of Brahmins (priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors) are richer and more influential than the Vaishyas (farmers, craftsmen and traders) and Shudras (laborers).

In Europe, uniquely, priests were celibate.  They could not found dynasties.  This mean that the Roman Catholic institutions had to be corporations.  They had to have a continuing existence that was independent of who was in charge.  It’s not accidental that business corporations originated in Europe.

The French Revolution overthrew hereditary property rights and established what Piketty called “proprietarianism” or “the ownership society”—the idea that property rights were sacred, provided that the property was acquired through legitimate purchase.

The accepted story in France is that the revolutionaries divided up the aristocrats’ estates among the peasants and turned France into a nation of small landowners.  In fact, according to Piketty, the revolutionaries made arbitrary distinctions between land that was owned through hereditary privilege and land acquired through voluntary contract, and, in many areas,  property ownership remained almost as concentrated as before.

Piketty wrote that the revolution was one of history’s “switch points.”  He thinks it could have been more radically egalitarian than it was.

In fact, concentration of wealth in France at the beginning of the 20th century was even greater than at the time of the French Revolution.

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Piketty’s new book on economic inequality

May 26, 2020

The French economist Thomas Piketty made a big splash with Capital in the 21st Century (published 2013, translated into English 2014).  He showed why, all other things being equal, the rich will get richer and the rest of us will get less.

In different countries in different historical periods, the rate of return on income-producing property exceeded the rate of economic growth.  This was true whether the income-producing property was real estate, government bonds, corporate stocks or something else.

What this meant was that, in the absence of revolution, war or something else that wiped out the value of their assets, the rich would get richer and everybody else would be left behind.

Piketty’s new book, CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY  (published 2019, translated 2020), is more ambitious and complicated.  He thinks it is an even better book that its predecessor and I agree.  It is a great work.

He looked at all the forms that economic inequality has taken in the past few centuries and all the different ways that inequality has been rationalized.  While his earlier book was based mainly on data from France, Great Britain and the United States, the new book tries to be global in scope.

He said it is important to understand not only the forms of economic inequality, but the reasons why people accept them.

His book covers several kinds of “inequality regimes”:

  • “Ternary” societies in which most wealth is controlled by hereditary kings and aristocrats and an established church or religious institution.
  • “Ownership” societies in which property ownership is regarded as a sacred right, superseding everything else.
  • Slave and colonial societies.
  • “Social democratic” societies, which limit the rights of property owners.
  • The hyper-capitalism of today, which is a backlash against social democracy and Communism.

The degree of inequality in any nation or society is not the result of impersonal economic law, he wrote; it is the result of choices that could have been different.  History does not consist of class struggles; it consists of a struggle of ideas and a struggle for justice.

To understand inequality, he wrote, it is necessary to understand the reasons for choices at various “switch points” of history—the French Revolution, the British constitutional crisis of 1911, privatization in Russia after the fall of Communism.

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The new lockdown-induced poverty

April 5, 2020

If you deny people the right to provide for themselves, you have a responsibility to provide for them.

Lockdowns are preventing millions from going out and earning a living.  The fact that their jobs may be deemed nonessential doesn’t lessen their need to pay for food, rent and utilities.  There are more serious problems in the world than boredom.

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The U.S. government will provide some minimal relief—one-time-only checks to be mailed to households, extension of unemployment compensation benefits, etc.

But it doesn’t appear as if it will be enough to offset the coming lockdown-triggered recession.  I think a recession would have happened even without a pandemic, but the lockdown will bring it sooner and make it worse.

Deaths and infections from the coronavirus are doubling every few days.  The lockdown is necessary.  A lot of people are going to die in U.S. states who would have lived if their governors had ordered lockdowns sooner.

At the same time, I can understand why those governors hesitated.  The governors who’ve waited longest are, in general, the governors of the poorest states.

Usually, when huge numbers of people suddenly lose their jobs and are plunged into poverty, they take to the streets to protest and strike.

But under lockdown, it’s illegal to take to the streets.  Repressive governments suppress uprisings by, among other things, ordering curfews.  Because of the pandemic, these curfews are already in place.

If a government orders a lockdown, it has a duty to make it possible for everyone, no matter who, to observe the lockdown without fear of hunger or homelessness.

Leaders of some countries realize this.  Others don’t.  The ones that don’t can expect an explosion of mass defiance sooner or later.

LINKS

Somebody’s Screwing You and It Ain’t China by Caitlin Johnstone.

Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury by Jennifer Valention-DeVries, Denise Lu and Gabriel T.X. Dane for the New York Times.

Jobs Aren’t Being Destroyed This Fast Elsewhere – Why Is That? by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman for the New York Times.

New Inequalities and People-to-People Social Protection by Nora Lustig and Nancy Birdsall for Vox & CEPR Policy Portal.

Services Sector Falls Off Cliff: First Data Points from the Eurozone Where Lockdowns Started Earlier by Wolf Richter for Wolf Street.

‘I just want to go home’: the desperate millions hit by Modi’s brutal lockdown by Hannah Ellis-Peterson and Shaikh Azizur Rahman for The Guardian.

The fading American dream

February 21, 2020

A team of researchers at Stanford University, led by an economist named Raj Chetty, took advantage of newly accessible data from the Internal Revenue Service and studied the ebb and flow of American wealth and income across the generations.

They concluded that 90 percent of children born in 1940 went on to earn more than their parents, but only 50 percent of children born in the 1980s did so.

That’s not because the U.S. economy stopped growing, although growth did slow, they wrote.   It is because more and more gains were captured by the ultra-rich.

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