Writing in the New Yorker, George Packer dissects America’s political conundrum:
[T]here’s a reason to look up as well as down the economic ladder, and it has nothing to do with envy or with punishing the rich. Economic stratification, and the rise of a super-wealthy class, threatens our democracy. Americans are growing increasingly separated from one another along lines of class, in every aspect of life: where they’re born and grow up, where they go to school, what they eat, how they travel, whom they marry, what their children do, how long they live, how they die. What kind of “national community” built on “mutual obligation” is possible when Americans have so little shared experience? The Princeton economist Alan Krueger has demonstrated that societies with higher levels of income inequality are societies with lower levels of social mobility. As America has grown less economically equal, a citizen’s ability to move upward has fallen behind that of citizens in other Western democracies. We are no longer the country where anyone can become anything.
Read his piece here.
Econ4’s Doug Smith writes for Naked Capitalism on the hypocrisy of celebrating Labor Day while screwing workers:
You, my friends, are truly champion asset creators! Your long-suffering self-denial of working for crap wages contributes to massive corporate profits that executives tap to buy-back company stock in order to keep those asset values high. Your low-to-no wages give you as consumers the God-given freedom to borrow and, thereby, fund securitized assets. And, when those asset values get threatened, your taxes come to the rescue through bailouts and mumbo jumbo (“quantitative easing”).
Read his piece here.
The “It’s Our Economy” project works for economic democracy:
It’s Our Economy is dedicated to changing the dynamic of the current economy designed for the wealthiest to an economy built on principles of equity, cooperation, and sustainability. An economy that puts people and the planet before profits would reduce the wealth divide while giving people more control over their economic lives. We believe that a more just, modern, and restorative economy would involve the people in economic decision-making in both their communities and the nation more broadly.
This basic idea is economic democracy.
Check out their website here.
These days trade agreements are not just about imports and exports. They’re also about undermining the power of governments to protect public health and the environment by regulating corporate behavior – via provisions slipped into trade agreements in the guise of “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (I.S.D.S.), as James Surowiecki explains in the New Yorker:
In the old days, aggrieved American investors would call on the Navy to protect their interests—thus the phrase “gunboat diplomacy.” How much better that now they just call their lawyers.
But these days signing such agreements is risky for countries. I.S.D.S. lawsuits used to be rare, but they’re becoming a growth industry. Nearly a hundred have been filed in the past two years, as against some five hundred in the quarter century before that. Investor protection, previously a sideshow in corporate law, is now a regular part of law-school curricula. “We’ve also seen an expansion in the types of claims that have been brought,” Lise Johnson, the head of investment law and policy at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, told me. I.S.D.S. was originally meant to protect investors against seizure of their assets by foreign governments. Now I.S.D.S. lawsuits go after things like cancelled licenses, unapproved permits, and unwelcome regulations.
A new project from Econ4’s Gar Alperovitz and many more:
Learn more about the Next System Project here.
The powerful film (with English subtitles) on pollution – initially hailed, then banned, by Chinese officialdom:
From New York Times story on the ban:
On Friday evening [the day the film was banned], Xinhua, the state news agency, posted on Twitter, which is also blocked here, that “President Xi Jinping vows to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions.” That night, the United States Embassy air monitor in Beijing rated the air “hazardous.”
Read more here.
POSTSCRIPT: Chinese officials are not the alone in trying to suppress bad news on the environment. Check out the latest from Florida, here.
Peter Barnes writes in Yes! magazine:
THERE’S LONG been a notion that, because money is a prerequisite for survival and security, everyone should be assured some income just for being alive. The notion has been advanced by liberals such as James Tobin, John Kenneth Galbraith, and George McGovern, and by conservatives like Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Richard Nixon. It’s embedded in the board game Monopoly, in which all players get equal payments when they pass Go. And yet, with one exception, Americans have been unable to agree on any plan that guarantees some income to everyone. The reasons lie mostly in the stories that surround such income. Is it welfare? Is it redistribution? Does it require higher taxes and bigger government? Americans think dimly of all these things.
But then, there’s the exception.
Read all about it here.
From Peter Barnes on PBS Newshour, discussing his new book With Liberty and Dividends for All:
Dividends from common wealth, by contrast, unite society by putting all its members in the same boat. The income everyone receives is a right, not a handout. This changes the story, the psychology and the politics.
Read more here.
Econ4’s James Boyce writes on newly introduced climate legislation:
A major obstacle to climate policy in the United States has been the perception that the government is telling us how to live today in the name of those who will live tomorrow. Present-day pain for future gain is never an easy sell. And many Americans have a deep aversion to anything that smells like bigger government.
What if we could find a way to put more money in the pockets of families and less carbon in the atmosphere without expanding government? If the combination sounds too good to be true, read on.
Quiz for the day: Who said this?
The 85 richest people in the world, who could fit into a single London double-decker, control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population– that is 3.5 billion people….
A greater concentration of wealth could—if unchecked—even undermine the principles of meritocracy and democracy. It could undermine the principle of equal rights proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Pope Francis recently put this in stark terms when he called increasing inequality “the root of social evil”.
Some of the greatest problems, still outstanding today, lay with the so-called too-big-to-fail firms. In the decade prior to the crisis, the balance sheets of the world’s largest banks increased by two to four-fold. With rising size came rising risk—in the form of lower capital, less stable funding, greater complexity, and more trading.
This kind of capitalism was more extractive than inclusive. The size and complexity of the megabanks meant that, in some ways, they could hold policymakers to ransom. The implicit subsidy they derived from being too-big-too-fail came from their ability to borrow more cheaply than smaller banks—magnifying risk and undercutting competition.
Answer: IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, in a speech to a conference on “inclusive capitalism” on May 27. See the transcript of her speech here. For more on changing spirits of the times, see here.