Exploring economic inequality  -  Advocating for the bottom 50%

By spreading stimulus dollars too far up the totem pole, aid legislation may leave the lowest earners unable to pay for food and rent.

  Just how progressive will Democrats (and Republicans) be on spending?

 Karl Polzer – Center on Capital & Social Equity

Which Americans will get the enhanced cash aid (and which won’t) in the stimulus package president-elect Biden is poised to announce is the first of many distributional challenges awaiting Democrats soon to control both Congress and the White House.  Choices on targeting increasingly scarce public funds will reveal which income groups both parties are committed to represent.

By sending billions of dollars to well-off people that don’t need the money, legislation introduced by Democrats a few weeks ago to increase COVID-19 cash relief to $2,000 ($4,000 for couples) provides clues.  As with previous COVID-19 cash aid legislation, an argument can be made that the distribution scheme shortchanges millions of people who need money to pay for food and rent. 

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News, Events & Opinions

President-Elect Biden’s Relief Plan Meets Urgency of Health and Economic Crisis - Sharon Parrott/CBPP

The plan includes these provisions:

  • It extends expanded unemployment benefits for millions of people through at least September and indicates that provisions should remain in place as long as they are needed. Extending these benefits is particularly important for workers of color.
     
  • It includes substantial resources to help people pay rent and keep a roof overhead, as well as funding to help people experiencing homelessness.
     
  • It includes key investments to address the nation’s alarming rates of hunger. It would extend the recently enacted increase in SNAP benefits through at least September, helping millions of families, including millions of children, have enough to eat.
     
  • It includes much-needed state and local government fiscal relief, including funds specifically to support schools and public colleges, funding to hire more local public health workers, and aid to help states and localities avoid laying off more people.
     
  • It temporarily expands the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, which would help millions of low-income families with children and workers without minor children at home make ends meet.
     
  • It includes increased stimulus checks, which would cushion the financial blow from the crisis for a broad swath of the country and boost the economy.
     
  • It would expand premium tax credits to help people afford comprehensive health coverage in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, reducing or eliminating premiums for millions of people while expanding access to many others who are uninsured.
     
  • It calls for substantial additional childcare funding.
     
  • It extends paid sick days and family/medical leave for workers affected by COVID through September and expand these benefits to cover more than 100 million people who were left out in the March 2020 package.

 

Twitter ban reveals that tech companies held keys to Trump’s power all along - Craig Timberg/WaPost

"Now, a small group of companies — already with commanding power over the American economy and headquartered in liberal West Coast enclaves — has demonstrated rising corporate power over the national political debate."

What are the implications for American democracy and national defense when a few private firms can shut off dominant lines of communication used by the executive branch without notice?  ... Antitrust?

Assault on the Capitol Has Let Loose the Electronic Octopus - Victor Davis Hanson

"So the values of the 19th-century rail and oil monopolies are back. But now they are married to the 20th-century leftist totalitarianism of George Orwell's "1984." And they are further powered by the 21st-century instant reach of the internet.

"This time around there will be no progressive trustbusters or muckrakers. They are in league with, or bought off by, the new electronic octopus.

"And its tentacles are strangling the thoughts and speech of an increasingly unfree America."

Israel isn't a democracy, it's an 'apartheid regime,' rights group says - Sam Kiley/CNN

Biden calls to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour - CNBC

How will Republicans wanting working class votes respond?  Florida did it.

Florida Just Passed A $15 Minimum Wage. Is The Time Right For A Big Nationwide Hike? - NPR

Biden unveils $1.9 trillion COVID-19 response plan - Washington Examiner

Would raise federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, expand child tax credit, provide $1,400 more in cash relief.

Stimulus checks: Americans say financial stability depends on economic impact payments - USA Today

More evidence that the checks helped people with little income to survive, while the better off put the money in savings or investments.  Relief should be targeted to people needing it the most.

Lower-income households produce most of the newborns in the U.S.  But they receive much less support from the child tax credit than families with higher incomes.

Biden eyes child tax credit expansion among stimulus measures: Report - Fox News & WaPost

Excellent news for families!  The proposal reportedly will expand the existing child tax credit -- which benefits mostly middle-class and wealthy people -- and make it available to more lower-income families.  Biden and Congress should subsidize families with children in a much more progressive way (benefits scaled to need/income).  The tax credits, and other subsidies to help raise kids, also should be indexed for the cost of living. Higher inflation will return.


Nearly half of America’s states are increasing their minimum wage in 2021 but only three will provide a “living wage” - The Economist

EXTENDING THE EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT TO STUDENTS: A COMPARISON OF AID POLICIES - Elaine Maag, Nikhita Airi, Sandy Baum and Kim Rueben

"In response to a concern for struggling low-and moderate-income families and the need demonstrated by postsecondary students, the Economic Security Project has proposed to broadly reform the EITC with a proposal called the cost-of-living refund. Key pieces of their proposal that would particularly affect post secondary students by expanding eligibility and the size of awards are:

◼providing a credit of up to $4,000 for single people or $8,000 for married couples;

◼reducing the minimum age for credit eligibility for people without children at home from 25 to 18 and eliminating the upper age limit for this group;

◼allowing beneficiaries to receive a portion of the credit each month rather than after filing tax returns at the start of the next year; and

◼for low-income independent postsecondary students who are in school at least half-time, providing the maximum credit without a minimum earnings requirement."

New Leadership Should Seize Tax Justice Mandate; Cash Payments Offer On-ramp - ITEP

The Wealth Tax Is Going Global - Bloomberg Wealth

"Argentina imposed a one-time levy on millionaires in December, and other serious proposals are being floated from California to Germany."

The Affordable Care Act Reduced Income Inequality In The US - Matthew Buettgens, Fredric Blavin and Clare Pan/Health Affairs

Opinion | Hillary Clinton: Trump should be impeached. But that alone won’t remove white supremacy from America.

Just in time!  Hillary whips the basket of deplorables.  No mention of the economic straits facing half the American population?  Could that factor into the blind rage spewing from all political angles?

Do some soul searching on helping the bott0m 50% pay for food and rent.

Don't take a high IQ, law degree, or powerful spouse to know when your kind's being squeezed into a sub-caste.  ... And yes, read Isabel Wilkerson's "Caste," which she refers to in the op-ed.

Matthew Desmond's Book on Eviction Explores the Growing Problem for Women  and Minorities - The Atlantic

The Timeline for Trump’s Second Impeachment and Senate Trial - Ed Kilgore/Intelligencer

Q to SCOTUS from RudyG: Assuming Senate convicted Trump (odds < Fed bank lending rate), how much notice would he need to be given before eviction from the White House?

Mohamed El-Erian: "This Is Starting to Get to Dangerous Levels" - Christoph Gisiger/the market

"We have stumbled into very unhealthy codependences ... between central banks and investors, between central banks and debt issuers which are governments and companies, and between central banks and politicians."

Dear Capitalists: Proceed with caution.

A Simple Thing Biden Can Do to Reset America: Break up and regulate big tech by appointing Rohit Chopra to run the Federal Trade Commission. - Matt Stoller

Rev. Raphael Warnock once arrested at US Capitol for praying

Warnock said at the time that he was committed to improving conditions for what he called ‘the least of these.”

“As a pastor, I believe the national budget is not just a fiscal document but a moral document. It reflects what we believe and who we are for one another. And if this mean-spirited budget were an EKG, it would indicate that America has a heart condition,” Warnock said in a statement he released at the time. “The government is taking student aid, job training, and medicine from those who need it most in order to give a tax cut to those who need it least. We came to Washington as voices of healing and justice. America is better than this. That’s our message. And when I consider those who will suffer, my getting arrested is a small price to pay.”

Biden's toxic racial remarks show he is still not prepared to be president - Washington Examiner

‘A grim form of political theater’: Harvard Law School Visiting Professor Sanford Levinson puts the storming of the Capitol in historical perspective

"...it should be interpreted as a profoundly political incident that tells us a lot about the current state of American politics. Whether or not the protesters/insurrectionists should be tried, convicted, and have the book thrown at them is, I think, a matter for political debate. As a matter of cold fact, I think one could argue that as an “insurrection,” it was a stunning failure. There is no evidence at all that the “brave warriors” in fact inspired many Americans elsewhere. Instead, they have been almost universally condemned, including by most (though not all) Republicans eager to disclaim any connection between their indefensible enabling of Trump for the past four years and the chickens coming home to roost."  ...

"That Josh Hawley (Stanford, Yale Law School) and Ted Cruz [’95] (Princeton, Harvard Law School) are unscrupulous opportunists who should be censured by the Senate precisely because, unlike the former Auburn football coach who is now the senator from Alabama, one might expect them to know better and to refrain from making truly frivolous argument garbed in their alleged devotion to the Constitution. Contrast Cruz with other Harvard alums, including Mitt Romney J.D./M.B.A. [’75] and Tom Cotton [’02]."


The Execution Of Louis Xvi In The Place De La Revolution On 21 January 1793 : News Photo

Execution of Louis XVI, Place de la Révolution, Paris, 1793

Religion and History

"Even the skeptical historian develops a humble respect for religion, since he sees it functioning, and seemingly indispensable, in every land and age...It has kept the poor (said Napoleon) from murdering the rich. For since the natural inequality of men dooms many of us to poverty or defeat, some supernatural hope may be the sole alternative to despair.  Destroy that hope, and class war is intensified."

-- Will and Ariel Durant - "The Lessons of History," chapter 7

America’s biggest companies are flourishing during the pandemic and putting thousands of people out of work - WaPost

Interesting investigative journalism.  This piece ran in the Jan. 10 print version of the Post business section after being published online in mid-December.  Newsweek offers an un-gated summary.

UN Warns of an Impending Famine With Millions in Danger of Starvation

"Hunger, as many experts have pointed out, is not because the world doesn’t produce enough food, but a problem of distribution that has been exacerbated by concerns over health and lack of national leadership and political will in many countries, including the United States, to ensure that no one goes hungry..."

Make sure area food banks have sufficient support and supplies.


Another question: Was the Capitol Hill chaos more like: 1) a coup d'etat, or 2) an act of futile vandalism (Animal House finale)  ...  Really?

Biden Demands Trillions in New Aid, Renews $2,000-Checks Goal - Bloomberg

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia moderate, said Friday that if there’s another round of direct payments to individuals, it “should be targeted to those who need it.”

Manchin -- along with the few remaining moderate Rs in the Senate -- could be instrumental in negotiating the next relief package.

Hardship Growing as Pandemic Enters 11th Month, New Census Figures Show - Claire Zippel/CBPP

According to Household Pulse Survey data collected December 9-21...:

  • 29 million adults (14 percent) reported their household sometimes or often didn’t get enough to eat in the last seven days...This figure has risen by 7 million adults since late August.

  • 90 million adults (38 percent) reported it was somewhat or very difficult for their household to pay for usual expenses in the last seven days...this figure has risen by 13 million adults.

  • An estimated 14 million renters reported they weren’t caught up on rent. This figure has exceeded 11 million in every data release since late August.

Costs are rising for food and other goods - Dion Rabouin/Axios

Disappearing Billionaires: Jack Ma And Other Chinese Moguls Who Have Mysteriously Dropped Off The Radar - Forbes

“Concentrations of great wealth, especially in the hands of private business executives as opposed to state-owned-enterprises, enable the exertion of influence and are therefore a potential threat to the Party,” says Friedberg. “Under Xi, and especially in the last few years, the CCP has made a regular practice of arresting such people and stripping them of their assets. Whatever the particular details of each individual case, the larger point is to send a message: no one is above the Party or beyond its reach.”

Nursing Home Patients Are Dying of Loneliness: As the vaccine rolls out in nursing homes, more visits should be allowed. - NYT

“Build Back Better” Needs an Agenda for Upward Mobility - William Lazonick, Philip Moss and Joshua Weitz

Vaccinating the prison population will help protect all of America - Brent Orrell/AEI

Virginia includes prisoners in next stage of vaccine rollout - Virginia Mercury

Capitol police draw guns inside U.S. House to protect lawmakers - AP photo

Episode 1/season 6 of Trump TV?  The islands of Elba or Saint Helena would be fitting locations for a new media empire.  Then again, a tax haven might work better.

A Health Policy Wish List (redux) - Karl Polzer

Dear Santa: I'm sending you the same wish list early this year.  Hope you don't mind repetition and I didn't piss you off last time by writing it while  you were working overtime.

The failure of Haven shows why we need universal coverage - Helaine Olen

"Bezos, Buffett and Dimon could not successfully take on the U.S. medical system, because when it comes to health care, there is no substitute for systemic government action and overall reform. Until that happens — whether via Medicare-for-all or some other universal coverage and payment scheme — we will all continue to pay the price."

Employer Attitudes and Practices Affecting Health Benefits and the Uninsured - Employee Benefit Research Institute

Policies have changed since we did this study -- mostly resulting from passage of the ACA (2010) -- then evisceration of major parts of it by the Supreme Court and Congress. Employer incentives, attitudes and behavior, not so much.  As health are costs continue rising faster than GDP and inflation, the number of uninsured Americans has been growing again.

History Applied to Healthcare Economics: See the Future (Maybe) - Dr. Eric Bricker

Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffett tried to solve health care. 3 years later, their company has shut down

The 3 Billioneers boldly took on the health care industrial complex -- and promptly got their butts kicked.  Now these employers will go back to dealing with health care cost and quality the old fashioned way:

  • Avoid hiring, retaining employees with high expected health care costs.
  • Avoid providing coverage where possible (eg, use contractors, offshore labor, dodge ACA mandate to provide coverage in multiple ways)
  • Use Medicaid and the exchange to cover employees and families where possible.
  • Use federal preemption of state law under employee benefit law (ERISA) to self insure, thereby opting out of more costly fully insured insurance pools.  Use ERISA preemption to quash state regulation of benefits, access, and costs.
  • Company plans will continue to pay more than  government programs for services in part to gain enhanced access and attract skilled workers.
  • Profitable companies in competitive labor markets will continue offering generous benefits (more profit trumps less health care cost) that drive up the overall cost of care.
  • Companies complaining about high benefits costs will continue to own and operate medical enterprises that depend on higher health care costs to sustain profits.
  • Large employers will continue to enjoy a huge price advantage over small employers in buying health care for their employees (c. 30% in one study I did).  This can increase large employer monopoly power and often makes US markets less competitive.

    Health care costs will continue growing faster than our economy.  We need to pay hospitals and doctors less per unit of care and get better care.

    Why didn't Haven work? - Christina Farr

    Illinois begins paying out extra $300 per week in federal unemployment aid - Chicago Tribune

US Congresswoman slams Israel's Covid-19 vaccination drive which excludes Palestinians - Middle East Eye

"Democrat Marie Newman said Israel has 'humanitarian obligation' to ensure Palestinians living in occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are vaccinated...

"Newman is the first person on Capitol Hill to discuss the inequalities faced by Palestinians in accessing the vaccine.

"The progressive Democrat, who was sworn into her first term in Congress on Sunday, defeated Dan Lipinski, a conservative Democrat who is a staunch supporter of Israel.

"Newman has previously criticised Israel's treatment of Palestinians and has also alluded to being open to conditioning military aid to Israel."

Another step toward Nuremberg? Laws, rallies, trials, code: take your pick. Remember?

"Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

Fifty Years Later: The Significance of the Nuremberg Code - NEJM

What Happened at the Nuremberg Trials? - History

The Nuremberg Race Laws - Holocaust Museum of the U.S.

World War Two – the final months - DW Documentary

“ The crimes we committed will return to us as vengeance.”  -- German historian

Wealthy donors received vaccines through Florida nursing home - WaPost

"The invitations alarmed local officials and may have violated state and national guidelines."

Trump's people?

Federally funded food box program critical for charities during the pandemic extended through April - and now with more food choices - Chicago Tribune

$2,000 for everyone is foolish — better to target aid to those who need it - Nicole Gelinas/NY Post

As posted many times here, targeting Covid-19 aid to families most in need makes sense.  In order to control costs, more conservatives have been calling for such targeting while Ds continue to support aid that includes the upper middle class.

Increased R support for a more progressive tax system to pay for assistance could increase the party's appeal to low-income voters. (Hope springs eternal!)

The Plague Year: The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy - Lawrence Wright/New Yorker

Google workers unionize, a watershed in Silicon Valley activism - LA Times

Xi hails China’s progress during pandemic in New Year’s address - Aljazeera

China’s Xi Lauds Covid-19 Recovery in New Year’s Eve Speech - Bloomberg

Xi makes a point. Chinese communist party entrepreneurial socialism outperformed Western social democratic capitalism in 2020 by many economic measures.  Perhaps dictatorships are better equipped to perform in times of crisis.  But could China's centrally controlled economy continue to grow if not for open waters of international trade and a stable financial system policed by the United States and other democracies? How would economies change if China gained hegemony?

How to Get Rich Sabotaging Nuclear Weapons Facilities: Private equity monopolist Orlando Bravo made billions by putting our whole society at risk. - Matt Stoller

"One key change would be to pass the Stop Wall Street Looting Act, which would make it much harder to use debt to finance predatory acquisitions, as well as stopping the purchase of companies purely to lay people off. Stronger antitrust enforcement would also help, because that would make it much harder to use the roll-up strategy to buy up an entire sector, and it would prevent the raw exploitation of market power to generate cash. I would add another idea; cybersecurity analysts and policymakers need to start taking business models into account when doing government procurement; taking too much risk in the boardroom means hacks in the IT department and ultimately losses on the battlefield years later.

"There are many ways to see this massive hack. It’s a geopolitical problem, a question of cybersecurity policy, and a legally ambiguous aggressive act by a foreign power. But in some ways it’s not that complex; the problem isn’t that Russians are good at hacking and U.S. defenses are weak, it’s that financiers in America make more money by sabotaging key infrastructure than by building it."

A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney expected questions about Baltimore’s 300th homicide; she didn’t expect it would be a man she’d loved - Time Prudente/Baltimore Sun


County action gives Jackson RV park residents a temporary reprieve - WY Tribune Eagle

Lindsay Graham slammed Mitch McConnell for delaying $2,000 stimulus payments: 'Going from $600 to $2,000 doesn't make you a socialist - Business Insider

Well, dog my cats! As dialogue between leading Republicans bends toward favoring progressive financing for Covid-19 relief (poor get more), Democrats stick with higher flat amounts extending benefits to the upper-middle class.  Are American politics turning upside down?  Which party now represents low-wage workers?  The elite?

As posted before, it would make more fiscal and moral  sense to target Covid aid progressively to families most in need.  If there is a next round, funds could be allocated something along the lines of: $1,200 checks for people at the bottom, $600 for those in the middle, and nothing for high earners and wealthy people  that don't need help to survive the pandemic.

China’s Pro-Monopoly Antitrust Crusade - Minxin Pei/Project Syndicate

As in many political economic systems, kleptocracy is alive in well in China and the United States.  Each nation offers a unique blend of capitalism and socialism and a variety of channels for money to flow to those in power.  

Biden Cabinet Picks Pocketed Millions From Corporate Consulting and Speeches - Jessica Corbett/Common Dreams

Two Biden aides will recuse on BlackRock issues as past ties pose questions - WaPo

"The world’s largest asset manager has much at stake as the new president’s team takes office"

Here we go again.

Kleptocracy - Wikipedia

Corrupt Legislation. Mural by Elihu Vedder.

How Israel’s road projects are ensuring apartheid is here to stay - 972mag

Many justify Israel's escalating racism with the argument that they have no choice to ensure their security.  Isn't that what all dominant groups in a society argue? .. Don't expect descendants of the Holocaust to complain less the next time they end up holding the short end of the stick.

For an interesting look at how societies segment and subjugate less powerful subgroups, read Isabel Wilkerson's latest book:

"Caste: The Origins of our Discontents."

Why Markets Boomed in a Year of Human Misery - Neil Irwin and /NYT

"It wasn’t just the Fed or the stimulus. The rise in savings among white-collar workers created a tide lifting nearly all financial assets."

Excellent NYT analysis.

Robin Hood Tax Reform:  Modest Changes in Health, Retirement Tax Breaks Could Produce Major Gains in US Health Access, Financial Security–at Little or No Added Government Cost - Karl Polzer

New crew in White House: same counsel...Economists with both liberal and conservative leanings tend to favor capping, or eliminating, current open-ended employee benefit tax breaks in orderto incentivize economic efficiency and promote fairness.  Will the Biden Administration, or anyone in House and Senate, have the political stomach to advance a proposal along these lines?

(Note the reference to the impact of chronically rising health care costs in the article just below.)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://arc-anglerfish-washpost-prod-washpost.s3.amazonaws.com/public/SXOK2EWG7NEQ5EHBUIHLMMP4NE.png&w=916

Politicians say the middle class gets a bad deal from the U.S. tax system. They’re (kind of) wrong. - Andrew Van Dam/WaPost

"America’s well-chronicled, rising health-care costs have caused a quiet sea change in the tax burden of the middle class."

World’s richest added billions to fortunes last year as others struggled - Christopher Ingraham/WaPost

"The evident difficulty of getting billionaire wealth to trickle down to everyone else is a challenge for policymakers in our new gilded era. The runaway accumulation of riches at a time of widespread deprivation and hardship is one of the widely recognized drivers of democratic decline. Most political scientists believe the erosion has already started.

"Our ability to reverse that erosion will depend, in part, on whether the staggering amounts of money flowing to the top of society can be put to work to improve the lives of those at the bottom."

The bad and the good in the new payroll protection program - Michael Strain/Bloomberg

"Some costly mistakes weren’t fixed in the $284 billion plan. But others were, so let’s give it a shot."

Well-reasoned piece from AEI scholar.

Living and Dying in America in 2021 - Anne Case and Angus Deaton

"American capitalism is not serving most Americans. While educated elites live longer and more prosperous lives, less-educated Americans – two-thirds of the population – are dying younger and struggling physically, economically, and socially."

In 2021, R and D leaders will court a growing American underclass. What can they deliver?

Americans earning low wages -- now almost half the workforce -- could be a major force in politics and are up for grabs.  Republican Party hopes to capture more of these votes could hit a brick wall if Democrats make a serious run at raising the minimum wage. In recent years, Ds' working class support has slipped, including among minorities, as they often prioritize the interests of upper-middle class. Watch where party leaders in the new Congress decide to spend their political capital.

See also:

What a Pro-Worker Republican Party Really Looks Like:  Conservative “populists” peddle a view of America that simply isn’t true - Michael Strain/Bloomberg

"Hawley is right that the Republican Party should become a pro-worker party. But it should recognize that continuing to embrace Donald Trump’s populist policies and bromides will work against that goal. Instead, Republican pro-worker policies should advance traditional conservative commitments to free markets and opportunity."

The 10 best things Trump did in 2020 - Marc Thiessen/WaPost

"Trump earned 26 percent of the non-White vote in 2020 — the second-best showing for a Republican since 1976. After four years of branding Trump a bigot, his critics were shocked to see his support among Blacks and Latinos grow in 2020. The lesson is that the way to win non-White voters is not by trying to beat Democrats at identity politics, but by delivering real improvements in people’s lives."

A New Year’s goal for progressives: Stop advocating bailouts for rich people - Catherine Rampell/WaPost

"At best, wasting money on benefits for the rich for the purpose of getting some aid to the poor represents a failure of imagination. At worst, it’s a ploy to indulge donors and allies at the expense of future generations. Making aid programs less targeted — and thereby more expensive — risks crowding out funding for other long-run “progressive” priorities, such as curbing climate change.

"In the new year, under a new president, Democrats should remember their obligation to aim their fiscal firepower at those who need it most."

  

Surprise! A Health Lobby Cage Match: Insurers and providers duke it out, and politicians take credit. - WSJ

"Emerging Issues in the Use of Binding Arbitration to Resolve Disputes between Individuals and Health Plans" - George Washington University

The paper above is dated and focuses on complex   issues arising from arbitration of disputes between individuals and health plans.  Information on the history of arbitration and some of the abuses that have involved major players in the health care arena may be useful to policymakers working on the newly legislated "surprise billing"  arbitration system to resolve payment disputes between health plans and medical care providers.

New Virginia law capping insulin prices at $50 a month goes into effect Friday- Prince William Times

McConnell Blocks Vote on $2,000 Checks Despite G.O.P. Pressure - NYT

"Senator Mitch McConnell instead provided vague assurances that the Senate would “begin the process” of discussing the checks and two other issues that the president demanded lawmakers address."

Republican ‘populism’ is a fraud - E.J. Dionne/WaPost

Didn't Senate Democratic leaders also show their true colors during this final episode of "Congress: season 116"?  Shumer & Co. could have introduced a progressively structured compromise with bigger checks targeted to people in the most need. They did not.

Mitch & Co. opened the door with an alternative bill offering bigger checks along with easy-to-swallow "poison pills" (see post below) saying the money needed to be better targeted.  This gave leadership on both sides of the Senate political cover to get through the season 116"s last week -- in which Bernie and Donald were the heroes for people needing to pay for food and rent. 

Tune in Jan. 3 for the first episode of "Congress: season 117".  Some of the players will change.  The play will go on.

Mitch McConnell Ties $2,000 Covid-19 Relief Checks To Repeal Of Section 230; Democrats Call It A “Poison Pill”

Kibuki Theater on both sides of Capitol Hill...Mitch's bill includes more a placebo than poison pill. Many D's support repealing Sec. 230 -- if the bill's language goes too far, high tech lobbyists can make sure it gets fixed within months.  Like 99% of all inquiries set up by Congress, a commission to investigate election fraud would likely result in a report full of generalities that few will read.

D's can easily swallow this pill if they are serious about getting more relief dollars to people needing to pay for food and rent.

Troubling measurement of pandemic economy: Food pantry lines - Atlanta JC

The CDC's Rules Let Teachers, Lawyers, Media Jump to the Front of the COVID Vaccine Line - Reason

Health and economic impact of air pollution in the states of India - The Lancet

"1·67 million (95% uncertainty interval 1·42–1·92) deaths were attributable to air pollution in India in 2019, accounting for 17·8% (15·8–19·5) of the total deaths in the country...

"The high burden of death and disease due to air pollution and its associated substantial adverse economic impact from loss of output could impede India's aspiration to be a $5 trillion economy by 2024. Successful reduction of air pollution in India through state-specific strategies would lead to substantial benefits for both the health of the population and the economy."

PPP brought $1.5 billion to Pittsburgh. Did it go where it was most needed? - Oliver Morrison/Public Source

Where rivers of social justice and political influence meet?

Law offices got the most: $81 million.  Engineering services: $50 million.  Full-service restaurants: $46 million. Doctors offices: $31 million. Home health care providers: $29 million. Child and youth services: $20 million.

Class & Inequality: The Gadfly of American Plutocracy - Simon Torracinta/Boston Review

"Far from a marginal outsider, a new biography contends, Thorstein Veblen was the most important economic thinker of the Gilded Age. His critiques of capitalism and economic theory speak to our own era of economic injustice."

On the left Marxists admire his critique of capitalism but are piqued by his rejection of Hegel and dialectical materialism; liberals value his attack on big business but are disturbed by his skepticism about historical progress; conservatives rejoice in his exposure of the foibles of mass society but are shocked by his disrespect for the rich and the powerful; and feminists esteem his understanding of the archaic basis of masculine domination but are puzzled by his own relationships with women. Veblen seems to delight everyone and satisfy no one. (John Patrick Diggins)

"Yet despite these antinomies, Veblen’s ideas inarguably have a new urgency in what many have called our new Gilded Age, as wealth inequality has soared past mid-twentieth century levels to approach that of its namesake." ...

"Above all, Veblen captured the excesses and inefficiencies that “vested interests” impose on capitalist production..."

_________________________

A Sea Change for Wages v. Capital?

Addicted to Identity Politics, Progressives May Miss a Historic Chance To Connect with America’s Working Class

Karl Polzer – Center on Capital & Social Equity

 New research affirms what has been known for centuries.  In the wake of a pandemic, a smaller, more risk-averse work force is often in position to demand higher wages.  After the Black Death ripped through Europe, for example, peasants, shop workers and craftsmen realized they had gained bargaining power.  Wages rose and the return on capital fell.

Though the impact of the current pandemic probably will be much milder, millions in the American working class suddenly deemed to be “essential” may come to a similar realization.  People working with their hands in nursing homes, grocery stores, meat packing plants, or as home health aides, might ask whether they are getting a fair deal.  Why, they might ask, are we expected show up to work and risk contagion for wages that barely cover the rent, while millions in the professional, management, and bureaucratic classes can shelter at home and still pull down a good salary?  Why don’t we get paid sick days, health insurance, and other basic benefits like they do?  Why can’t we spend more time raising our kids to help them get ahead?

In just two months, the Covid virus has upended the American workforce.  Incomes have crashed.   Unemployment has rocketed.   Whatever new normal emerges will be different and probably more unequal.  A larger portion of the workface – and the electorate -- may well be unemployed or working for low wages.  Jobs that can support a middle-class lifestyle may be harder to find. 

This is the perfect time for elected officials to talk to all American workers about how to improve their lives. Unfortunately, many Democrat leaders are deeply rutted in rituals of race and gender politics.  The Democratic party may be blowing its chance to regain working class support -- once its bread and butter -- in two important ways.   First, its policy agenda largely reflects upper-middle class priorities.  Second, the party’s world view and messaging for many years has presumed that low-wage work is exclusive to blacks and Hispanics.  To many Democratic leaders, pale-skinned poor people seem to have no standing.  It’s almost as if they don’t exist...

Making Sure We Get to Universal Coverage: a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders

Feb. 23, 2020 

Dear Sen. Sanders,

Among all candidates for president, we think you are the most committed to making sure that ALL Americans have health insurance and access to comprehensive health care.  We commend you for your leadership on this issue.

Unfortunately, it is hard to see how the Medicare-for-all legislation you propose could gain Congressional approval in the foreseeable political future.  As a longtime member of the U.S. Senate, you must be able to understand the grounds for this concern.

Please answer this question:  If, during your presidency, Congress could agree to pass a universal coverage bill using a different, perhaps more traditional, approach, would you sign it?

Getting ALL Americans affordable coverage as soon as possible is an important part of our policy agenda.  We cannot wait until a political moment in the unforeseeable future in which a Medicare-for-all system can gain approval.  We also recognize that any universal system put in place will need to enjoy long-lasting acceptance spanning the ebbs and flows of partisan politics.

Our question is of deepest sincerity.  Your answer could be key to broadening your base of support and winning the presidency.

Thank you again for your leadership. 

Karl Polzer, Center on Capital & Social Equity

A Widening Gap in Life Expectancy Makes Raising Social Security’s Retirement Age a Particularly Bad Deal for Low-Wage Earners

Essay - Karl Polzer   

"Social Security’s long-term financial problems result in part from an increase in average life expectancy driven by wealthier people living longer, and, thereby, collecting more benefits.  Policymakers should not use funding shortfalls attributable these trends as an excuse to cut monthly benefits alike for those who have gained (high earners) and for those who haven’t (low earners)."

February 2020

Will Growing Inequality Make Social Security & Long Term Care Financing Fixes Harder?

2020 Society of Actuaries Living to 100 Symposium

June 2019

Mixing Capitalism and Socialism

Policies To Moderate Systemic Wealth Concentration in the United States

Karl Polzer/Center on Capital & Social Equity

This essay explores two basic questions.  The first is the extent to which capitalism, which emphasizes the rights of individuals to pursue their interests, and socialism, which focuses on group needs, tend to function in tandem as much as they do in conflict. As many agree that the political pendulum in recent decades has swung in favor of capitalism, the paper also discusses a range of public policies that can be used to reduce its imbalances and risks, with particular emphasis on moderating capitalism's tendency toward systemic inequality. Policy options range from programs to help the poorest, social insurance, higher taxation of income and wealth, and re-channeling to all citizens a portion of profits from private exploitation of public assets and business activities enabled by public laws and infrastructure.

Quick Links

Including all workers in our retirement savings system requires 2 things: a universal tax credit and a secure place to invest it.

Congress should be working on both.

Almost half of Americans have no net assets and little or no retirement savings.  Many have no money to save, and if they did, and no retirement account to put it in.  Meanwhile, Americans at the top of the economic heap get generous tax breaks for retirement savings – and capital gains from these assets widen the wealth gap.

Establishing a national retirement savings system and reshaping tax policy to provide every American worker a modest tax credit to put in a retirement account could improve economic security, help people prepare for old age, and facilitate saving for emergency expenses.  This type of inclusive capitalism would make every American worker an owner of assets generating income.  Such a system could be funded via a relatively small sacrifice to high earners without increased federal spending.  

Include Everyone in the Retirement Savings  System

Related initiatives and proposals:

If you know of other proposals along these lines or would like to comment, please go the "Contact Us" page on this site and send us an email. 

CCSE Proposes Universal Starter IRAs

Australia as a Model?

Australia’s “superannuation” system  requires employers to contribute a percentage of employees’ income into diversified retirement funds managed by trustees.  By 1999, 97 percent of Australia’s full-time employees and 76 percent of part-time employees were covered by the superannuation system.  Over the years, Australia has increased required contributions and continued to refine the system, which has been credited with raising levels of capital accumulation and improving retirement security.

According to a July 2016 report, the Australian superannuation system continues to broaden coverage, but may be contributing to growing wealth inequality in its current form.

CBO report shows growing divergence of wealth between those at the top and bottom

The distribution of wealth among the nation’s families was more unequal in 2013 than it had been in 1989, according a Congressional Budget Office report released August 2016. "For instance, the difference in wealth held by families at the 90th percentile and the wealth of those in the middle widened from $532,000 to $861,000 over the period (in 2013 dollars). The share of wealth held by families in the top 10 percent of the wealth distribution increased from 67 percent to 76 percent, whereas the share of wealth held by families in the bottom half of the distribution declined from 3 percent to 1 percent."

In 2013, CBO reported that families in the top 10 percent of the wealth distribution held 76 percent of all family wealth, families in the 51st to the 90th percentiles held 23 percent, and those in the bottom half of the distribution held 1 percent. Average wealth was about $4 million for families in the top 10 percent of the wealth distribution, $316,000 for families in the 51st to 90th percentiles, and $36,000 for families in the 26th to 50th percentiles. On average, families at or below the 25th percentile were $13,000 in debt.

Over the period from 1989 through 2013, family wealth grew at significantly different rates for different segments of the U.S. population. In 2013, for example: The wealth of families at the 90th percentile of the distribution was 54 percent greater than the wealth at the 90th percentile in 1989, after adjusting for changes in prices. The wealth of those at the median was 4 percent greater than the wealth of their counterparts in 1989. The wealth of families at the 25th percentile was 6 percent less than that of their counterparts in 1989.

While average wealth of the bottom quarter of the distribution dropped steeply over this time period, its amount of indebtedness grew significantly.

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Research shows dramatic growth of upper middle class, major shift in economic resources

An Urban Institute report published in June 2016 found that since 1979 the percentage of wealthy and upper-middle-class Americans have grown dramatically while the middle- and lower-middle class has become smaller.  The study found that "the proportion of the population in the upper middle class went from under 13 percent in 1979 to over 29 percent in 2014."

The report documents a major shift in the distribution of economic resources. "In 1979, the bottom three income groups controlled 70 percent of all incomes, and the upper middle class and rich controlled 30 percent. By 2014, this distribution shifted to 37 percent for the bottom three groups and 63 percent for the upper middle class and rich groups. The middle class alone saw its share of income decline from 46 percent in 1979 to 26 percent in 2014."   

The study divides the population into five classes. The poor and the near-poor had annual incomes from $0 to $29,999; the lower middle class, from $30,000 to $49,999; the middle class, from $50,000 to $99,999; the upper middle class, from $100,000 to $349,999; and the rich, $350,000 and up. 

Pew study shows long-term decline in size of middle class, rise in number of poor

After more than four decades of serving as the nation’s economic majority, the American middle class is now matched in number by those in the economic tiers above and below it, according to a study released in December. In early 2015, 120.8 million adults were in middle-income households, compared with 121.3 million in lower- and upper-income households combined, according to the Pew Research Center analysis of government data.  Highlights include the following:

"While the share of U.S. adults living in both upper- and lower-income households rose alongside the declining share in the middle from 1971 to 2015, the share in the upper-income tier grew more.

"Over the same period, however, the nation’s aggregate household income has substantially shifted from middle-income to upper-income households, driven by the growing size of the upper-income tier and more rapid gains in income at the top. Fully 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29% in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43% in 2014, down substantially from 62% in 1970.

"And middle-income Americans have fallen further behind financially in the new century. In 2014, the median income of these households was 4% less than in 2000. Moreover, because of the housing market crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-09, their median wealth (assets minus debts) fell by 28% from 2001 to 2013.

"Meanwhile, the far edges of the income spectrum have shown the most growth. In 2015, 20% of American adults were in the lowest-income tier, up from 16% in 1971. On the opposite side, 9% are in the highest-income tier, more than double the 4% share in 1971. At the same time, the shares of adults in the lower-middle or upper-middle income tiers were nearly unchanged.

"These findings emerge from a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. In this study, which examines the changing size, demographic composition and economic fortunes of the American middle class, ‘middle-income’ Americans are defined as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, about $42,000 to $126,000 annually in 2014 dollars for a household of three. Under this definition, the middle class made up 50% of the U.S. adult population in 2015, down from 61% in 1971."


Impact of Raising the Minimum Wage

Increasing the minimum wage would have two principal effects on low-wage workers, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.  Most of them would receive higher pay that would increase their family’s income, and some of those families would see their income rise above the federal poverty threshold. But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly.

  • Five Facts about the Minimum Wage.
  • Living Wage Calculator:  The cost of meeting basic needs varies widely depending on where you live. MIT offers an on-line tool to help determine such costs and the living wage in each county and metropolitan area in the U.S.  The site also has articles on related issues.
  • State Minimum Wage Levels:  Federal minimum wage law supersedes a state's minimum wage law if the state level is lower. In those states where the state minimum wage is greater than the federal level, the state minimum wage prevails. Two states have a minimum wage set lower than the federal minimum wage. In 29 states and DC, the state minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum. Fourteen states have a minimum wage that is the same as the federal requirement. The remaining five states have not established a minimum wage.

The Economics of Inequality

Deaton Wins Nobel Prize

"The award comes at a time when there is rising academic and popular interest in the study of inequality. Several economists, including Anthony Atkinson of the London School of Economics (who was among the leading contenders for a Nobel prize this year) and Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics (who is still a bit too young for one), have published widely-read volumes on the subject over the last two years. Mr Deaton published his, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, in 2013. In it, he argued that while most people in the world have gained in terms of health and well-being from GDP growth over the last few decades, there are many groups that have missed out, particularly if on measures beyond those most commonly examined."

-- The Economist

Milanovic Explores Dynamics of Income Inequality in Age of Globalization

In “Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization,” Branko Milanovic identifies five forces pushing up inequality in the United States:

1. The increasing share of national income that accrues to owners of capital.

2. Very high and rising concentration of incomes from capital.

3. People holding high-paying jobs also often have high capital income.

4. The tendency of high-income individuals to marry each other.

5. The rising political power of the rich.

Revisiting the work of American economist Simon Kuznets, Milanovic describes how global income economy waxes and wanes in "waves" driven by economic and political forces. 

 

CBO report analyzes impact of government transfers, taxes on rising U.S. income inequality

According to the June 2016 report

"Between 1979 and 2013, all three measures of income examined in this report—market income, before-tax income, and after-tax income—became less equally distributed, based on a standard measure of inequality known as the Gini index. The increase in inequality in both before-tax and after-tax income over the 35-year period stemmed largely from a significant increase in inequality in market income, mostly because of substantial income growth at the top of the market income distribution.

"Because government transfers go predominantly to lower-income households, before-tax income (which is equal to market income plus government transfers) was more evenly distributed in each year than market income. And because higher-income households pay a larger share of federal taxes than lower-income households do, after-tax income was more evenly distributed than before-tax income.

"In each year between 1979 and 2013, government transfers reduced income inequality significantly more than the federal tax system did."


 View from the Paris School of Economics


 

Lecture Highlights:

  • The return of a patrimonial (or wealth-based) society in the Old World (Europe, Japan).
  • Inequality in America: Is the New World developing a new inequality model that is based upon extreme labor income inequality more than upon wealth inequality? Is it more merit-based, or can it become the worst of all worlds?
  • In all nations with capitalist economies examined, the poorest half of the population owns virtually no assets or is in debt.
  • In general, when the rate of growth of capital exceeds the rate of growth of the overall economy, wealth tends to concentrate.  There is no natural market mechanism to counter this tendency; a nation's degree of wealth concentration in large part is a function of public policy.

"The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger"

In this book, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett present data making the case that countries with greater income inequality tend to have more health and social problems.  Furthermore, there is evidence that the negative effects of inequality impact not just the poor, but people at all social levels.  The Equality Trust provides slides of some of the supporting data.


This short Wall Street Journal video describes competing views of the wealth inequality issue and how to address it.

Thomas Piketty reviews Anthony Atkinson's book, Inequality: What Can Be Done? , and evaluates its prescription for Great Britain's economy.

Economists Discuss Atkinson's Ideas on Reducing Inequality

Robert Solow, the Russell Sage Foundation’s Robert K. Merton Scholar and Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT, joined New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and moderator Janet Gornick (Director of the Luxembourg Income Study Center and a former RSF Visiting Scholar) at the Foundation for a conversation on Inequality: What Can Be Done?, a new book by British inequality scholar Anthony B. Atkinson. In the book, Atkinson argues that economic inequality has reached unacceptable levels in many countries and lays out an agenda for reducing inequality. His policy proposals span five areas: technology, employment, the sharing of capital, taxation, and social security.

Columbia's Joseph Stiglitz takes on "The Great Divide"

Click on highlighted words to hear interview.

Hayek Revisited: Is Compromise Possible?

Is Friedrich Hayek's classic defense of individual liberty and economic freedom, rooted in moral tradition, just as relevant today as during World War II?  Click here to read a summary of Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom," published by Reader's Digest as that war came to an end and a new international economic order was developed. 

Today, how can monopoly power, whether wielded by corporations or government agencies, be checked while expanding economic opportunity and inclusion for all including the young, old, and those with few assets?  If Hayek could have foreseen the ability of  modern corporations to concentrate wealth and power, what policies would he recommend?       

"...Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance -- where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks -- the case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong. ...

"(T)here is no incompatibility in principle between the state's providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom."

 --  F. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Chapter 9/Security  and Freedom

The Center on Capital & Social Equity explores and promotes ways to include all workers and families in the output of capitalist economies. (See chart above.)  All should have the opportunity to own shares of working capital.  One way to mitigate the negative effects of monopolies, which antitrust regulation cannot entirely control, is through widespread profit sharing.  This can be done by setting up a universal retirement savings system.

Economy of India - Wikipedia

Missionary being eaten by a jaguar  (Noé León, 1907)

Thanks to the Washington Post for publishing this as leaders in Congress negotiated changes to Covid-19 relief legislation:

Low-income Americans are left out of covid stimulus - Center on Capital & Social Equity

Dec. 11, 2020 at 4:31 p.m. EST

Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in their Dec. 8 op-ed, “We can’t afford inaction on the covid-19 compromise package,” that their compromise “would help Americans at least get through the next four months.” With due respect to their bipartisan efforts, that was dead wrong. 

Very little in the coronavirus relief package would help low-income Americans make it through even one month. What’s needed most is rent relief and money to cover food and utility bills. Yet no direct payments to low-income individuals similar to the checks issued under the Cares Act in the spring are to be found. The bipartisan proposal mainly would benefit interests with access to Congress: businesses (via cheap or free money, plus a liability shield), nonprofits/associations/churches, state governments, and professional classes including doctors, lawyers and accountants.  

The D.C. government’s decision to send $1,200 checks to people among the hardest hit sets a good example for states and the federal government. Congressional leaders, many perched in the nation’s wealthiest strata, need to understand that about half of the U.S. workforce earns low wages or is out of a job. Viewed from the bottom up, the United States is becoming a much more impoverished nation.   

Karl Polzer, Falls Church

The writer is founder of the Center on Capital & Social Equity.

Split the Difference?

Interesting evidence on how CARE Act stimulus helped low-income people get through the summer, despite large job losses, and why we need more stimulus now.

Center on Capital & Social Equity

2020 Policy Goals: Increase economic inclusion at reasonable public cost 

  • Raise minimum wage with annual COLA (option: give states some leeway to adjust ↓ to reflect cost of living/labor).
  • Five PAID sick days annually for ALL workers.
  • 100% of Americans with health coverage by 2025 - with strong cost controls (any number of payers will work).
  • Universal retirement savings system with minimum $500 annual government contribution (so, all Americans own working capital, have stake in market economy).
  • No surprise medical bill >$500.
  • Cut cost of college/expand apprenticeship programs.
  • Improve Social Security benefits for bottom 50%. Achieve long-term solvency through higher taxes mostly on top 20%.
  • Increase refundable child tax credit.

Life expectancy has not increased for the lowest-paid workers - National Academy of Sciences

Race-neutral, progressive economic policies deliver $$ to minority communities

"Although much of it may turn out to be pre-election packaging, legislation unveiled last week by Democrats to help racial minorities is a poorly conceived policy approach that fails to treat the nation’s low-wage workers fairly or equally.  Senate leadership is billing the Economic Justice Act as a “major new legislative proposal to make $350 billion in immediate and long-term investments in Black communities and other communities of color.”  However, policies that reward or punish citizens based on skin color not only rest of shaky legal and ethical ground.  If enacted, they may ignite a political backlash that will set minority communities back rather than helping them move forward."   

Click here to read article.

July 1, 2020

Letter to U.S. Political Leaders and Media

It’s past time the White House, Congress required - and funded - Covid testing in nursing homes

What wasn’t said at last week’s Congressional hearings on Covid-19 should raise alarm.   Federal officials testified the CDC plans to issue “more targeted” testing "guidelines" for states and nursing homes.  More advice is not enough.  After five months and more  than 120,000 virus deaths, lack of federal and state action -- and adequate funding -- for testing in nursing homes is homicide by negligent policy...

July 14, 2020

CMS to deliver ‘point-of-care’ COVID-19 test kits to all nursing homes

Yes!  Credit to CMS Administrator Verma and the Administration. We've been calling on the feds to deploy rapid, comprehensive testing for nursing home residents and staff for 4 months.  This is a major step toward reducing deaths from the pandemic.  Now, make sure to include long term care providers not directly regulated by CMS, such as assisted living facilities, in the testing program. About 1.5 million live in nursing homes and one million in assisted living.

June 15, 2020

Op-ed:Upgrade Medicaid, don't gut it

Thanks to the Washington Examiner for running this article.

"The current Medicaid regime is a mixture of bad and good. It often renders low quality nursing home care. But Medicaid does provide universal long-term care coverage, a rarity in American social policy. That’s a good thing. Medicaid needs to be upgraded – not gutted. Long-term care insurance and personal savings simply can’t fill the gap cutting Medicaid would leave." ...

"Witness the Trump administration’s delegation of most of the responsibility for the COVID-19 nursing home policy to the states. It recommended, for example, that states make sure COVID-19 testing gets done in nursing homes rather than having CMS require it nationally. Washington’s failure to take the lead on testing can’t bode well for nursing home quality and mortality rates."

Detroit Industry - Diego Rivera

The World Inequality Lab Newsletter - July 2020

Thomas Piketty - Why Capitalism Must Be Reformed | The Daily Social Distancing Show

Capital Gains and U.K. Inequality - Arun Advani and Andy Summers

Three policy recommendations include: "Capital gains tax rates need to be aligned more closely with marginal income tax rates, since large gaps lead to repackaging of income, reducing the redistributive effects of tax, creating horizontal inequity, and biasing measures of vertical inequality."

The Missing Profits of Nations: How much each country loses or attracts because of tax competition - Thomas Torslov, Ludvig Wier and Gabriel Zucman

June 2020

Opposing Racism and Human Bondage in the United States

 Center on Capital & Social Equity

Awakening Slaves - Michelangelo

"Capital and Ideology": Notes and Figures - Thomas Piketty, 2020

"In this talk, I present some of the figures & tables gathered in my book Capital and Ideology (2020) - an economic, social & political history of inequality regimes, from trifunctional and colonial societies to post-communist, post-colonial hyper-capitalist societies. As compared to Capital in the 21st Century  (2014): Capital and Ideology is less western-centered, more political and focuses on the fragilities and the transformation of inequality ideologies. A much better book (I believe!)"

The Saving Glut of the Rich and the Rise in Household Debt - NBER

Comment: Excellent new paper. Remember Macro 101: national savings = national investment?  This takes Keynes one step further. Instead of being invested, savings glut at top generates rents, increases systemic inequality, through increased lending to bottom 90%.  Who pays high credit card interest and transaction fees, and who profits, e.g.?

Great Flower Moon - Richard Coleman

Posted April 16, 2020 and updated as noted

Pinpointing Disease Pathways, Treatments: Which (If Any) of The Dots Connect?

Changes in blood chemistry - hypoxia - bloods clots - organ damage

Blood

COVID-19: Attacks the 1-Beta Chain of Hemoglobin and Captures the Porphyrin to Inhibit Human Heme Metabolism -ChemRxIV (April 13)

Heme in pathophysiology: a matter of scavenging, metabolism and trafficking across cell membranes

Hypoxia, such as encountered at high altitude, promotes deep vein thrombosis in mice

A Possible Explanation for the COVID-19 Racial Disparity — And a possible solution (posted April 19)

Doctors try to untangle why they're seeing 'unprecedented' blood clotting among Covid-19 patients (posted April 23)

New link between hypoxia and blood clot risk (posted April 23)

15 Children Are Hospitalized With Mysterious Illness Possibly Tied to Covid-19 (posted May 7)

Blood thinners may improve survival among hospitalized COVID-19 patients (posted May 8)r

COVID Hypoxemia: Finally, an Explanation — Mt. Sinai team uncovers a compelling mechanism (posted Sept. 9)

General Info

What Does It Mean to be Oxygen Deprived

U.S. races to stock up on dialysis supplies as kidney failure ravages virus patients – Politico  Approximately 20 percent of coronavirus patients in intensive care around the city need the kidney treatment, often for weeks.

Coronavirus destroys lungs. But doctors are finding its damage in kidneys, hearts and elsewhere

Doctors keep discovering new ways the coronavirus attacks the body (posted May 11)

Obese COVID Patients More Likely to Have Pulmonary Embolism, Even Outside the ICU (posted June 3)

Cheap drug has been helping to save lives of COVID-19 patients (posted June 18)

More Data Suggest Proning Helps COVID-19 Patients (posted June 18)

More covid-19 patients are surviving ventilators in the ICU (posted July 4)

RECOVERY: Steroid Benefit in Severe COVID-19 Holds Up -- Sickest patients helped the most, drug already added to NIH guidelines (posted July 18)

Common steroids reduce deaths among critically ill Covid-19 patients, new analysis confirms - CNN (posted Sept. 3)

Lungs

Autopsies Turn Up Strange Feature of COVID-19 Lungs — Study finds more thrombi and a new puzzle in the vessels (posted May 27)

Kidneys

Hypoxia: The Force that Drives Chronic Kidney Disease

Sense of Smell

The Effects of Hypoxic Hypoxia on Olfactory Sensitivity in Humans

Letter to the Washington Post, Other Media - April 3, 2020

U.S. news media should make coronavirus coverage available to everyone


The Washington Post and other newspapers have done yeoman work in covering the coronavirus outbreak. Getting reliable and thoughtful information to the public quickly plays a critical role in helping to coordinate responses and saves lives. Unfortunately, the normal practice of restricting access to paid subscribers slows down dissemination of critical information, particularly to lower-income people.

Until this national emergency is over, the Post and other media should "ungate" all coverage related to the pandemic. That way people and organizations that subscribe can quickly get the word out about latest developments. This would be a great service to the public.

Karl Polzer/Center on Capital & Social Equity

Anchored Boats (1919) by Jonas Lie

March 3, 2020   -   Letter to the Washington Post 

A wealth tax could be both fair and enforceable

 The Post’s March 3 article “Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want a wealth tax. Wealthy Swiss say their model could work for America” raises key issues of tax fairness and enforcement.

 Why would it be unfair to tax the super wealthy on total net assets when middle-class homeowners already are taxed on the value of homes largely financed through debt on which they pay interest to banks (whose profits flow disproportionately to the wealthiest)?   Existing American wealth taxes -- state and local property taxes -- now finance most K-12 education.  A national wealth tax could be used to make school funding more equitable and lessen the tax burden on the middle class.  We already tax the middle class on property it partially owns.  So why not tax the wealthiest on the value assets they own lock, stock and barrel?

 Incentives are key to enforcement.  A progressive wealth tax -- rising in increments from point A to point B -- could be enforced by applying the maximum rate to all households with wealth over a given threshold, and leaving it up to filers to document to the IRS that the lowest allowable rate is appropriate.  Finally, a reasonable tax rate could provide an incentive for investment that spurs economic growth.  A high rate could stifle it.

Karl Polzer/Center on Capital & Social Equity

A full time worker paid the federal minimum wage earns 13% of the average national income per worker in the US -- the lowest level since the creation of the minimum wage in 1938.

   Source: Gabriel Zucman.

"Fastest way to cut carbon emissions is a 'fee' and dividend, top leaders say," Washington Post, 2/14/20

The article above is an example of how the virtue of economic analysis can't be measured by the pound or aggregate number of titles. The insight of a single analyst can contain more wisdom than collective opinion of 100.

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How to make carbon taxes more equitable - letter to the Washington Post

Jan. 28, 2020 at 5:40 p.m. EST

The Jan. 25 news article “At Davos, enthusiasm for trees but not a carbon tax” did not mention an important reason political leaders might balk at levying higher carbon taxes. Carbon taxes, including those on gasoline, are highly regressive, affecting lower-income people much more than higher-income. For example, if gas taxes were doubled in the Washington area, most well-paid professionals would have enough capital (or access to credit) to easily switch to a hybrid vehicle. Over the life of the vehicle, their savings in fuel and taxes would probably cancel out any initial expense. In contrast, for lack of capital, a person driving a used gas guzzler to two low-paying jobs would be stuck driving the gas guzzler along with higher fuel costs.

Hiking fuel taxes would make it even harder for the growing share of the U.S. population working low-paying jobs to make ends meet and raise families. Carbon taxes would be more equitable and politically feasible if governments also made sure that workers struggling to pay their bills could afford the switch to clean-energy technology. 

Karl Polzer, Falls Church

The writer is founder of the Center on Capital & Social Equity.

Response to WaPo  dialogue stemming from our letter on carbon taxes

Dear Washington Post Editors:

Sabrina S. Fu made excellent points in her Feb. 4 letter “Quit saying ‘carbon tax.’ It’s a fee and dividend” addressing concerns I raised in a letter last week.  Her proposal, however, would work best an ideal political world where one can control opponents' and skeptics' language used to frame an issue.   My concern over tax fairness would remain because in the legislative bargaining process -- including a last-minute deal in conference committee -- the redistribution part of the proposal could easily be watered down, or eliminated, while the regressive "tax" or "fee" would become law.

Why don’t we start by applying her proposal to the current gasoline tax?  If it survives the legislative process and works for current energy taxes, then move on to carbon writ large.  Bottom line: advocates for low- and middle-income people trying to survive today need to keep a sharp eye on idealistic proposals coming from the better-situated trying to save the planet in the next century.

 Karl Polzer

Center on Capital & Social Equity

 

Aug. 7, 2019

By letting banks charge excessive credit card fees, US raises prices for all, shifts billions of $$$ to the wealthier

Karl Polzer

There are many mechanisms through which the financial establishment systematically drains money from workers struggling to pay their bills.  Some hum along in plain sight while regulators and members of Congress barely take notice.  Such is the case with the $80 billion in fees that banks will extract from credit and debit card transactions this year.  

While other countries have lowered credit card transaction costs, either through non-bank market innovation (in China) or regulation (in the European Union, Australia, and other nations), U.S. policymakers empower banks and credit card networks to levy what amounts to a doubly regressive national sales tax...

(Also see the note on excessive credit card interest rates beginning on p. 6.)

A winner for the poor? Soda machine offers lower price for cash in Poulsbo, WA

Photo by Tom Hahler

Letter to Washington Post - Nov. 17, 2019

The Post’s call for vigorous debate on capitalism raises issue of its role as honest broker

Today’s lead editorial (“Capitalism itself is on the 2020 ballot: Every billionaire is not a policy failure, but each can afford to pay more”) begins by defending core values of capitalism. It then endorses higher taxes on the super wealthy to temper growing inequality.  On the critical issue of how much more wealthy people should pay toward government operation and programs, the editorial is silent.  It ends with a call for vigorous and informed debate over these critical issues during the 2020 election.

Along the way, by carefully acknowledging that its current owner, Jeff Bezos, bought the Post from the “civic minded” Graham family six years ago, the editors raise another important issue.  That is whether one of the world’s most influential sources of news and public opinion can maintain both neutrality and vigor in the debate over capitalism if owned by one of the world’s richest people.  As the debate deepens, this potential conflict of interest may become more awkward and harder to explain. 

Karl Polzer, Founder, Center on Capital & Social Equity

Saez/Zucman's "The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How To Make Them Pay"

Branko Milanovic's "Capitalism, Alone"

Map of golf clubs in and around San Francisco

Ways To Replace the "Cadillac" High-Cost Health Plan Tax

click below

Warning: Read the article above at your own risk. Author declaims any responsibility for variation in sense of humor. Note that some links in this article are intended to provide useful information, others irony.


NRA HQ in the Northern Virginia suburbs.

States strike back in federal court on AHPs

CCSE asked to co-sign amicus brief opposing U.S. Labor Dept.'s AHP rule, which increases risk of stripped-down benefits (e.g. no mental health coverage), healthplan insolvency, and consumers being defrauded.

Effects of Raising the Federal Minimum Wage

Congressional Budget Office - July 2019

Findings: "In an average week in 2025, the $15 option would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well. But 1.3 million other workers would become jobless, according to CBO’s median estimate. There is a two-thirds chance that the change in employment would be between about zero and a decrease of 3.7 million workers. The number of people with annual income below the poverty threshold in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million." … Similar, but smaller effects for minimum wage of $12 … Ditto for $10 minimum wage.

MIT Living Wage Calculator Provides Powerful Tool for State and Local Policymakers

Many U.S. households earning less than a living wage: MIT analysis

"Across all family sizes, the living wage exceeds the poverty threshold, often used to identify need. State minimum wages provide for only a portion of the living wage. For two adult, two children families, the minimum wage covers 73.0% of the living wage at best in the District of Columbia and 41.8% at worst in Virginia. This means that families earning between the poverty threshold ($25,298 for two working adults, two children on average in 2018) and the living wage $67,146) on average for two working adults, two children per year before taxes), may fall short of the income and assistance they require to meet their basic needs."

Example: Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the U.S., but income varies widely by region. This has made it difficult for the legislature to set a uniform minimum wage.

Possible option: Set a statewide minimum wage at $15/hour (or other level) and let local governments reduce it up to a fixed percentage (say 30%) to account for regional differences. It's important to index any minimum to inflation.

Joseph Stiglitz discusses his new book and "progressive capitalism" plan to rebuild America’s middle class on SalonTV.

If crimes against children can’t be stopped from within, the Vatican & its subsidiaries need purging from the outside: Letter to Washington Post

Every Catholic and every U.S. citizen should carefully read The Post’s Feb. 20 front-page article “ ‘The tragedy that keeps playing out.’ ” It is the latest in an endless stream of detailed evidence that the church power structure is incapable of changing from within to protect children in its care from sexual abuse. Senior church officials should be charged with criminal negligence for failing to remove predators they employ from positions from which they could injure children. Billions of dollars should be removed from the Vatican and its subsidiaries through the courts and distributed to victims. Still, would they change their ways?

Until this systemic problem is forcibly corrected, every church, school and other Catholic facility whose employees come into contact with children should undergo thorough inspection every year on the presumption that abuse may be occurring. If this cannot be corrected from within, then the Catholic Church should be broken up and reorganized. The same should happen with any church operating this way. Jesus commands that those in power do not harm those in their care, particularly children.

America: Build This Wall! :)

 The stand off over building a border wall sadly embodies the narrow-mindedness of America’s leaders and disrespects the creative potential of American capitalism.  It’s an undeniable fact that Donald, Chuck and Nancy are thinking way too small to discern the proper dimensions of a win-win agreement that could profit the United States for centuries...

Distribution of Household Income before/after Transfers and Taxes: CBO

Summary of slides released November 2018

In 2015, household income was unevenly distributed: Households at the top of the income distribution received significantly more income than households at the bottom of the distribution.

Before accounting for the effects of means-tested transfers and federal taxes:

  • Average income among households in the lowest quintile (or fifth) of the income distribution was about $20,000.
  • Average income among households in the highest quintile was about $292,000.
  • Within the highest quintile, income was highly skewed toward the very top of the distribution: Among households in the bottom half of the highest quintile (the 81st to 90th percentiles), average income was $157,000; among the 1.2 million households in the top 1 percent of the distribution, it was $1.9 million.

The combined effect of means-tested transfers and federal taxes in 2015 was, on average, to increase income at the bottom of the income distribution and decrease income at the top of the distribution.

After accounting for the effects of means-tested transfers and federal taxes:

  • Average income among households in the lowest quintile of the income distribution was about $33,000.
  • Average income among households in the highest quintile was about $215,000.
  • Among households in the bottom half of the highest quintile, average income was $125,000; among households in the top 1 percent, it was $1.2 million.

Below: Taxes, transfers resulted in significantly more income growth from 1979-2015 for the bottom income group than the middle three, while the top income group was held harmless.

Would Adam Smith favor policies creating a more inclusive economy?

Karl Polzer Center on Capital & Social Equity

In a recent op-ed, I suggested that Congress establish a universal retirement savings system, possibly funded by a tiny tax on financial market transactions. In another, that growing income and wealth inequality has shrunk Social Security’s revenue and that taxing capital gains and high earnings could help the program stay solvent without cutting benefits.  What would Adam Smith, the father of modern economic analysis, think of taxing financial transactions and capital gains?  The notion of including all workers in saving and ownership of working capital?  Helping correct the tendency of modern capitalism to concentrate wealth?  Although conservative economists often cite Smith as a siren of an unfettered market, he might give these proposals serious consideration.  Times have changed.  Yet his manner of reasoning remains vital in addressing issues we face today.

Milanovic previews 'Capitalism, alone'

Policy ideas:

  • "Improved quality of education and much easier access to education for all—that is, investing for stronger public education rather than the opposite trend of ever stronger private education.
  • "Deconcentraton of ownership and income from capital through the use of tax incentives, a long and arduous process.
  • "Employee stock ownership plans.
  • "Higher taxation of inheritance (not current income).
  • "Change in the rules re. financing of political campaigns (especially in the United States)."
Growing inequality has shrunk Social Security’s tax base. Revitalizing it could restore solvency without cutting benefits.

As the graying and outsized baby boom generation claims Social Security benefits, Americans increasingly doubt whether the program can pay all that it has promised – or even continue to cut checks at all.  In their annual report released June 5, Social Security’s Trustees warn that, unless Congress acts to restore the program’s long-term solvency, by 2034 it will only have sufficient funds to pay 77 cents of each dollar currently promised. By then, the Social Security trust fund will be empty and the program will lack legal authority to pay out more than it can bring in through earmarked taxes. An adjustment this size in 2018 would drop the average annual  Social Security payment of $16,848 to $12,973. Most older Americans depend on Social Security for all or most of their income. 

The longer Congress plays chicken on this issue, the greater the risk that changes such as tax increases or benefit cuts, or a combination, will have major economic impacts on retirees and workers. The trustees’ report emphasizes the growing ratio of retirees receiving benefits to workers contributing payroll taxes as a major force impinging on the program’s solvency. Underlying factors include the size of the baby boom generation and a lower birth rate.  But other forces are at work.  Growing wealth and income inequality have significantly eroded Social Security’s tax base.    

First, wealth inequality: As Americans at the top of the economic spectrum continue to amass equities, bonds, and other assets, the portion of national income from capital investment has increased significantly, pushing down the portion earned through labor.  In the United States, labor’s share of earnings fell about eight percentage points between 1995 and 2013 (compared to a bit over three percentage points in other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries).  Since Social Security relies primarily on a tax on labor for its sustenance, the relative growth of capital income gradually is choking off a source of revenue.  

Second, income inequality: As part of its structure to promote fairness between economic classes, Social Security replaces relatively more lifetime income for lower-wage workers than those with higher wages – but also caps wages subject to its payroll tax, in part to increase the net value of Social Security in the eyes of higher earners.  The wage cap for 2018 is $128,400.  Over the past several decades, wages of lower-income Americans have stagnated, while those at the top have grown significantly.  As a result, the trustees note that portion of wage income taxed by Social Security has dropped by about six percentage points (see p. 144). In agency jargon, the “taxable ratio” of payroll fell from 88.6 percent in 1984 to 82.6 percent in 2000, and has fluctuated near the latter level since then. Social Security Administration (SSA) actuaries assume the ratio will remain about 82.5 percent over the next decade.  In summary, unless the tax cap on earnings keeps up with the growing prosperity of those at the top, Social Security’s tax base shrinks as a portion of national income.

America's Inequality and What To Do about It

The Poor Will Always Be with Us. Will the Middle Class?

Why the Wealth Gap Hits Families the Hardest - NYT

"The top 1 percent saw their wealth increase by 156 percent (from 1989 to 2013), while parents in the bottom half saw their wealth shrink by 260 percent. About a third of all families with children in 2013 had no wealth, only debt."

"Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict" - Piketty lecture at the Kennedy School

Extreme Income Inequality: Brazil, India, the Middle-East and South Africa

This paper presents findings about inequality dynamics in Brazil, India, the Middle-East and South Africa by combining tax data, household surveys and national accounts.

In all of these four regions, top 10% earners receive more than 50% of national income. These societies are characterized by a dual social structure, with an extremely rich group at the top whose income levels are broadly comparable to their counterparts in high-income countries, and a much poorer mass of the population. The authors highlight the importance of the historical legacy of social segregation and of modern institutions in shaping income disparities.

Which Way Is Your Country Headed?

Analysis including Housing Assets Finds Piketty May Have Underestimated Wealth Gap

The Rate of Return on Everything - CEPR

"One of the most intensely debated economic questions in recent years is the relationship between real returns on wealth, and the real rate of growth. In his influential book, Piketty (2014) argued that if the return to capital exceeded the rate of economic growth, rentiers would accumulate wealth at a faster rate than incomes grow. Comparing returns to growth, or “r minus g'' in Piketty's vernacular, we uncover that in fact “r >> g” for more countries, more years, and more dramatically than Piketty himself reported."

These two figures show that the only exceptions to “r>>g” happen in very special periods: the years in or right around wartime. In the pre-WW2 period, r minus g was on average 5% per annum (excluding WW1). As of today, this gap is still quite large – in the range of 3%–4% – and it narrowed to 2% during the 1970s oil crises, before widening in the years leading up to the Global Crisis.

 

"We show that income inequality has increased in nearly all world regions in recent decades, but at different speeds. The fact that inequality levels are so different among countries, even when countries share similar levels of development, highlights the important roles that national policies and institutions play in shaping inequality."

How Humans Extract Rent from Nature's Gifts

"As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce. The wood of the forest, the grass of the field, and all the natural fruits of the earth, which, when land was in common, cost the labourer only the trouble of gathering them, come, even to him, to have an additional price fixed upon them. He must then pay for the licence to gather them, and must give up to the landlord a portion of what his labour either collects or produces. This portion, or, what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of land, and in the price of the greater part of commodities, makes a third.” 


― Adam SmithWealth of Nations

This chart shows that collective income accruing to India's “middle 40” rose to just over 45 percent by the early 1980s, while that of the top 10 percent declined from about 37 percent in 1951 to 30 percent. After 1990 the two trends reverse. The top 10 percent garnered more than 55 percent of all income in 2014, almost double its share in the early 1980s, while the middle 40 percent’s share fell to just over 30 percent.

U.S. Tax Policy Should Boost Retirement Savings for All Workers, Not Just the Wealthiest

Center on Capital & Social Equity - October 2017

Current tax breaks for retirement savings mainly subsidize the top half of the income distribution, leaving almost half the workforce out of the system. Part of the federal tax subsidy for 401(k)s should be rechanneled into a retirement savers tax credit that all workers get ($500 to $1,000 a year).

In 2017 employees can put up to $18,000 in tax-deferred defined contribution plans (e.g., 401(k)s) and those 50 or older can put aside an additional $6,000. Total employee and employer contributions are limited to $54,000. The Tax Policy Center estimates that in 2016 the tax savings from all tax-qualified pension and defined contribution accounts averaged about $1,040 per taxpayer. (No kidding: 1040.) These tax savings, however, were extremely tilted toward the well-off. Only 4.4 percent of workers in the lowest fifth of the income distribution received any tax benefit and their average tax savings in 2016 was $20. In contrast, 82 percent of the highest-paid quintile received a tax benefits with an average benefit of $4,750. About 48 percent of the middle fifth received a tax benefit with an average savings of $580.

The result of this tax policy? About half the American population has put aside virtually nothing for retirement, while many wealthy people are being paid to save money they would have saved anyway. It’s clear that retirement savings tax breaks could be better targeted.  For more information see:

Atlas freed?

"Worry not at all about inequality if it is achieved by smart betterment....But do worry about inequality if it is achieved by using the government to get protection for favored groups.  It is what a large government, worth capturing to get the protection, is mainly used for, to the detriment of most of the people off-stage."

Are Workers Receiving the EITC Being Shortchanged on Social Security?

updated October 2017

..."Under the current system, a person whose highest earnings averaged $15,000 a year over 35 years would end up with about $10,542 in annual Social Security benefits – the same as a worker averaging $15,000 wages plus various amounts of EITC.  A worker averaging $20,000 in wages would end up with $1,600 (15%) more in annual Social Security benefits compared with another with the same total income but instead averaging $15,000 wages and taking home $5,000 in EITC.  Similarly, someone averaging $25,000 in wages would end up with $3,200 (30%) more in Social Security benefits than a counterpart averaging $15,000 and receiving $10,000 in EITC."

Green lines: current law    Purple: proposed increases 

D's Push for Major EITC Expansion

September 2017

Two members of Congress are teaming up to bring much-needed relief to low-wage workers and their families through an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced the  Grow American Incomes Now (GAIN) Act in both the House and Senate. Currently, a family of three can receive a maximum EITC of $6,318, while workers without dependent children can receive at most a $510 credit.  The legislation would roughly double the EITC for eligible workers raising children and increase the credit for workers without dependent children nearly six fold. The bill also lowers the qualifying age for the EITC from 25 to 21.

CCSE comment:

Expanding the EITC is a good idea. However, as the share of workers' income provided by government subsidies rises, the case becomes stronger for the federal government to begin making corresponding payments to Social Security.  Also, a way to simplify tax policy might be to coordinate the EITC and Child Tax Credit (CTC) in the following way: the EITC could be based solely on income, not family structure. The refundable component of the Child Tax Credit could be expanded to provide additional income for low- and middle-income families.

September 2017 - Karl Polzer

Expanding Use, Scope of the EITC & Child Tax Credit: a Win-Win for Workers and Employers

This paper makes the case that helping employees access the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit – along with supporting bipartisan legislation to expand these programs – can help industries with large numbers of low-to-middle wage workers. In the long-term care field, such a strategy can improve worker income through government wage supplements, thus encouraging more to enter the workforce. Increased labor supply would dampen employer wage costs – all while expanding the range of affordable services providers can offer. This could result in hundreds of millions of dollars of added value in worker earnings as well as provider and customer savings.

From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016

"...(T)op  income  shares  are  now  similar to (or  higher than) the levels observed in the U.S.  ... inequality  has  increased substantially more in Russia than in China and other ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe. ...the wealth held offshore by rich Russians is about three times larger than official net foreign reserves, and is comparable in magnitude to total household financial assets held in Russia."


High earnings of labour are an advantage to the society - Adam Smith

“Is this improvement in the circumstances of the lower ranks of the people to be regarded as an advantage or as an inconveniency to the society? The answer seems at first sight abundantly plain.  Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds make up the far greater part of every great political society.  But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole.  No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.  It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.”

-- The Wealth of Nations (originally published in 1776)

A Life Lived in Truth

For the last eight years of Liu Xiaobo’s life, the Chinese authorities robbed him of his liberty and his dignity. But in the state-enforced silence surrounding Liu’s stage-managed death, the words of his Nobel Prize lecture ring out even louder: “Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth.”

Warren Buffett: Government Should Do More on Income Inequality - short video

"Natural forces of a market economy and capitalism will drive that disparity unless government does things to help." Buffett says EITC should be expanded so workers can have decent lives. (See CCSE article on this site about relationship of EITC and Social Security.)

Capital Accumulation, Private Property and Rising Inequality in China, 1978- 2015

Thomas Piketty, Li Yang, Gabriel Zucman

Researchers find that the share of public property in China'snational wealth has declined from about 70% in 1978 to 30% in 2015...

"The top 10% income share rose from 27% to 41% of national income between 1978 and 2015, while the bottom 50% share dropped from 27% to 15%. China’s inequality levels used to be close to Nordic countries' and are now approaching U.S. levels."

Robin Hood Tax Reform - May 2017

How Modest Changes in Health, Retirement Tax Breaks Could Produce Major Gains in US Health Access, Financial Security – at Little or No Added Government Cost

..."The positive impacts of two such changes discussed below could include 1) lowering the rate of health care cost inflation; 2) providing revenue to help subsidize health insurance for the unemployed; 3) creating seed money and a low-cost infrastructure for a universal retirement savings system; and 4) increasing retirement security for low- and middle-income people; and 5) helping people save for long-term care costs. Looking at benefit tax exclusion is already on the table as Congress faces the unsavory chore of developing a fix for the Affordable Care Act’s clumsily designed “Cadillac” health plan excise tax. Most importantly, these changes could result in greater economic fairness and inclusion."

Eyes on the Prize: Universal Health Insurance Is the Goal

Letter to the Washington Post:

Charles Krauthammer’s March 31 op-ed, “The road to single-payer health care,” was largely on point. However, it is important to separate the concepts of “single-payer,” which is a means toward a goal, and “universal coverage,” which should be the primary goal. Universal coverage can be achieved without having the government cover every citizen. Even if government programs cover most citizens, there will always be multiple payers, including individuals and taxpayers; a universal system also could allow employer plans to operate. Ironically, creating a larger government role in sponsoring and subsidizing health insurance could result in a more competitive market for providing services.   Karl Polzer - April 2, 2017

Reformed Tax Incentives Among Tools Needed To Boost Retirement Saving

David Kamin of NYU law school presents proposed changes at the Aspen Institute.

updated Dec. 14, 2016

Obama Signs Bipartisan Bill To Speed Miracle Cures to Market.  Who Will Have Access to the New Technology?  Who Won’t?

In a city that’s witnessed trench warfare between Congress and the White House during the last six years of the Obama Administration, this was a rare moment: a bipartisan love fest.  On Dec. 13, 2016, President Obama signed the "21st Century Cures Act," which includes expanded funding to push medical technology through the development pipeline. “We are bringing to reality the possibility of new breakthroughs to some of the greatest health-care challenges of our time,” Obama said. “It is wonderful to see how well Democrats and Republicans in the closing day of this Congress came together around a common cause.”

The legislation was backed by a coalition of interests, including the powerful pharmaceutical industry, academia, and consumer groups supporting speedier medical research.  Its few critics have mainly argued that the popular funding provisions “mask a worrisome loosening of regulations at the Food and Drug Administration that could put patients at risk.”

Hardly anyone, however, is asking the million-dollar question:  Which Americans will end up having access to new miracle cures, many of which promise to be extremely expensive?  And, who will not?  The country’s patchwork of health insurance already is rationing expensive new technology to some populations, particularly low-income people.  Congress, meanwhile, has begun a fractious debate over repealing, and possibly replacing, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  So, while lawmakers have just put their collective foot on the technology gas pedal, they may soon slam the brakes on funding for expanded coverage, potentially throwing millions of Americans into the ranks of the uninsured...              

Traditions of Democracy

    "The tradition of Jefferson and Jackson might recede, but it could never disappear.  It was bound to endure in America so long as liberal capitalistic society endured, for it was the creation of the internal necessities of such a society.  American democracy has come to accept the struggle among competing groups for the control of the state as a positive virtue -- indeed, as the only foundation for liberty.  The business community has been ordinarily the most powerful of these groups, and liberalism in America has been ordinarily the movement on the part of other sections of society to restrain the power of the business community.  This was the tradition of Jefferson and Jackson, and it has been the basic meaning of American liberalism."  

Excerpt from Chapter 37, "The Age of Jackson," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Federal Reserve researchers probe economic inequality, policies that could spread U.S. income gains

The increase in U.S. income inequality since 1970 has generated large welfare gains for households in the top 20% of the income distribution and significant welfare losses for those in the bottom 80%, according an analysis published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.  The modeling found that some of the impact of this upward income shift was mitigated by "the dramatic rise in government redistributive transfers, which have doubled as a share of U.S. output over the same period."

The analysis concludes:  "Alternative simulations imply that a relatively modest boost in the historical growth rate of government redistributive transfers, accompanied by modestly higher average tax rates, could have achieved small but equal welfare gains for all households. Overall, our results suggest that there is room for policy actions that could offset the negative consequences of rising income inequality."

June 30, 2016

Reflections on American Wealth Concentration – and What To Do About It

Just over one year ago, the Center on Capital & Social Equity (CCSE) began exploring the phenomenon of growing wealth concentration and inequality, while advocating for a more inclusive form of capitalism. Following are some general observations.

Over the past year, the issue of economic inequality in the United States has moved from the backburner to center stage. Much credit for this goes to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ attack on the “top one percent” in his run for the Democratic nomination. While there is ample reason to question many details of his proposals, Sanders’ call for an increased role for government in providing opportunity and essential services resonated with many Americans who feel they have been left out of the economic mainstream. Yet the problems posed by rising economic inequality are deeply rooted and go well beyond the disproportional gains of the top one percent. They will be harder to address than portrayed in election rhetoric and require judicious use of public resources.

Three observations can be made about economic inequality in the United States. First, income and wealth inequality have grown steadily since the 1980s, suggesting that some of the causes are structural in nature. Second, high levels of inequality increase the risk of political and economic instability. Finally, moving toward an economy that is less unequal and offers opportunity to more Americans will require major changes in public policy and shifts in spending.

Life Expectancy Gap is Large - and Expanding

The gap in life expectancy between the richest 1% and poorest 1% was 14.6 years for men and 10.1 years for women.  A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also found that inequality in Americans' life expectancy is growing over time.

How the U.S. Retirement Savings System Magnifies Wealth Inequality

Karl Polzer, Center on Capital & Social Equity 

Economic inequality and wealth concentration have have emerged as central issues in the U.S. presidential race. While these concerns appear to have risen to the forefront quite suddenly, forces driving wealth concentration have been building for decades. As analysts probe the dynamics beneath these trends, they may find that America's shift to a defined contribution retirement system is playing an increasing role in the concentration of wealth... 

So, What Does Jesus Say about Wealth Concentration and Inequality?

Karl Polzer 

In recent years, the tendency for wealth to concentrate in the hands of a powerful few has come under scrutiny, prompting concern about growing inequality from political and religious leaders, most notably Pope Francis. While excessive wealth concentration is likely lead to greater social ills and unrest, how to rein in growing inequality is a more difficult question.  Should we move away from capitalism and the market system?  Develop a more socialist model?  Reform capitalism from inside to benefit people more equitably? ... 


Virginia's push to end veteran homelessness faces steep challenges

On Nov. 11, 2015, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that the state was the first to "functionally" end homelessness among veterans of the U.S. armed forces.  To assist two veterans living on the street not aware of the program, the Center on Capital & Social Equity contacted the governor's office, asking how veterans can gain access to housing and other services under the collaboration involving state, federal, and local government agencies.

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services provided information (click on the button below), including contact points at the local and state levels where veterans and their advocates can begin the process of finding temporary or permanent housing.

To follow up, we contacted three Northern Virginia jurisdictions and found an array of barriers to functionally ending veteran homelessness.  These problems include lack of  knowledge on the part of local officials of the state's initiative; lack of affordable and subsidized housing resources; high housing prices; lack of shelter space (for example, Fairfax County has 1 million residents but only three homeless shelters that can't meet wintertime demand); unwillingness by many street people to seek help (for a variety of reasons); coordination issues between state and local, local and local, and federal and state and local agencies; bottlenecks like having to go through shelters to gain access to housing, when shelter space is limited; and many other factors.

While helping one of the veterans gain access to temporary shelter and services, we reported these issues back to the state officials who said they will take steps to increase awareness of the governor's initiative, including posting information about the program on a state website.  For more detail, see our correspondence with state and local officials, which can be accessed by clicking the second button below.

Let’s sell health insurance “across states lines” – through Medicare

Republicans, stop with being the party of “no.” It’s time to step up to the plate and seize the initiative on health policy...

Playing Immigration Piñata

Deception and hypocrisy are no strangers to politics. This seems particularly true in recent incantations about illegal immigration. Republican presidential candidates – other than Jeb Bush – mostly want to round up illegals and dump them into Mexico. Donald Trump wants to spend billions to build a massive wall in the wrong place...

How Can U.S. Policy Reduce Financial Risk for the Very Old?

CCSE explores ways to reduce retirement risk and pay for long term care in Society of Actuaries monograph.

Finding:  401(k)rule changes including new "sub-accounts" could help seniors better save for needs in very old age.

Retirement Strategy:  When Should I Start Receiving Social Security Checks?

Americans can begin taking Social Security between ages 62 and 70. Waiting to take Social Security can increase the amount on your check significantly.  Collecting Social Security benefits early has the opposite effect. 

When to start depends on many factors including your life situation,  needs and plans.  Most Americans begin taking Social Security early.

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers this planning tool and other information to help people work through this decision.   

Baltimore 2015

A Dream Deferred

by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou

Easter Essay: Is the Golden Rule Enough? Mathematics of the Two Great Commandments

Whether people see themselves as Christians, followers of other faiths, or atheists, all are pulled by the power of many gods: the god of money, the god of technology, the nymph of new electronic gadgets, satyrs of TV and the worldwide net, and so on. In adoration of possessions, money, and power, atheists and believers are equal -- even deeply religious in the way that Paul sarcastically described the polytheistic statuary of Athens as evidence of its faith. Some of today’s humanists and atheists are more Christian in spirit and behavior than nominal Christians. And, unlike some Christians, many have thought through their views on religion and feel they need to have moral justification they can explain. The conventional morality of good people often is a humanism expressed by the Golden Rule.

Jesus taught the Golden Rule two thousand years ago, as one of two great principles. But to Jesus the Golden Rule, while essential, is incomplete without a first principle. Jesus preached the Golden Rule in the Sermon on the Mount. "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Mat 7:12 NKJV).) Here he is speaking to a large crowd that can't hear him that well and needs a simple guideline.

Later, speaking to religious leaders, he aligns the Golden Rule with the first commandment. In Matthew 22:34-40, "hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ " To this audience, Jesus provides more context: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

The interaction of the two great commandments shows why the second commandment is not sufficient and why God -- an overarching Spirit that connects individual people -- is necessary, even for a functional morality. For example, if we only love our neighbor as ourselves -- and we happen to be filled with hate and rage for ourselves -- then we won't treat our neighbors very well. The Golden Rule can remedy part of this problem by changing the focus from "loving" to "treating" neighbors as we would have them treat us -- thereby imposing our view of ideal behavior and not raw emotion as the standard. But that won't work for some people either, especially those who lack a model of ideal behavior. So, these folks still might act destructively to people around them.

The idea of a single God, or life force, connecting all people creates a vertical pull toward a connecting spirit (the first commandment) to accompany the horizontal equity of the second commandment. Mathematically, the second commandment is nothing more than a simple equation: Love for me = Love for you. The first commandment is a command to maximize Love to the limit of capacity. Without the first commandment, the potential of a person's love would be limited by inherited and culturally absorbed defects and injuries. The two commandments can be seen as consistent with scientific theories of evolution. The first commandment reflects the biological imperative that no individual can carry on life on his or her own. Individuals must interact and communicate with others to continue the stream of life. The Golden Rule suggests that individuals have the freedom to choose the way they interact and communicate with others. Perhaps those with greater faith and sense of fairness are more likely to pass along their genes. --

Karl Polzer, Easter 2017 

"In God We Trust" was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956 as an alternative or replacement to the unofficial motto of E pluribus unum, which was adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was created and adopted in 1782. Secularists have expressed objections to its use and have sought to have the religious reference removed from the currency.  Wikipedia, 2015

 

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