Jun 6, 2021

How inequality spreads Covid

Here’s a glaring example from Thailand:

Thailand went for months without a single confirmed case of local transmission, but the epidemic has now radiated from luxury nightclubs that cater to powerful and wealthy men to the warrens of slums that hug Bangkok’s highways and railroad tracks. In these cramped quarters, social distancing is impossible. Infections have also spread to prisons, construction camps and factories.

“The rich people party and the poor people suffer the consequences,” said Sittichat Angkhasittisiri, a neighborhood chairman in Bangkok’s largest slum, Khlong Toey, where the coronavirus has infected hundreds of people….

The people of Khlong Toey are vital to making Bangkok run. They deliver the packages and the takeout meals, their motorbikes weaving past Mercedes tightly sealed from the heat and the haze. They build the glass-sheathed condominiums and the malls that seem to materialize like mushrooms after the monsoons. Their vast market feeds Bangkok its vegetables, fruits and wriggling seafood.

Unemployment, already high because of Thailand’s pandemic-closed borders, has soared in Khlong Toey. To survive, some families have sold the vaccine registration cards they received as residents of a high-risk neighborhood.

Thailand has yet to fully start nationwide mass vaccinations, and less than 2 percent of the population is fully inoculated. A few wealthy Bangkok residents have boasted on social media about buying vaccination cards from the city’s most desperate residents.

“The rich who are already privileged are stepping on the poor,” Ms. Mariam said. “They believe their money can buy anything.”

Read more here.

May 29, 2021

Mixed news for the climate

First the good news:

A nun, an environmental lawyer, pension fund executives, and the world’s largest asset manager. These were among the unusual collection of rebels who claimed a series of startling victories this week against some of the world’s biggest and most influential fossil fuel companies.

Now the bad:

Despite President Biden’s pledge to aggressively cut the pollution from fossil fuels that is driving climate change, his administration has quietly taken actions this month that will guarantee the drilling and burning of oil and gas for decades to come….

In a paradox worthy of Kafka, ConocoPhillips plans to install “chillers” into the permafrost — which is thawing fast because of climate change — to keep it solid enough to drill for oil, the burning of which will continue to worsen ice melt.

Read more here and here. And for more on Kafka in the Arctic, here.

May 14, 2021

Feeding America

In the Rio Grande valley, feeding America has a bitter taste:

Many undocumented farm workers have been toiling in the fields for years, pay taxes and have American children, yet enjoy few labor rights, have extremely limited access to occupational health services and live under the constant threat of deportation.

In truth, farm workers here are never harassed while working in the fields, which advocates say suggests a tacit agreement with growers to ensure America’s food supply chain isn’t disrupted by immigration crackdowns. It’s everywhere else that these essential workers, who kept toiling throughout the pandemic, are not safe.

Read more here.

May 12, 2021

America’s living wage shortage

As the economic recovery gathers steam, some employers are complaining about a shortage of workers. What they really mean, Heidi Sheirholz writes, is a shortage of workers at the low wages they want to pay:

There are lots of anecdotal reports swirling around about employers who can’t find workers. Just search “worker shortages” online and a seemingly endless list of stories pops up, so it’s easy to assume there’s an alarming lack of people to fill jobs. But a closer look reveals there may be a lot less to this than meets the eye…. Employers post their too-low wages, can’t find workers to fill jobs at that pay level, and claim they’re facing a labor shortage.

Read more here.

May 11, 2021

CEOs versus workers

During the pandemic, the CEOs of many top corporations saw their take-home pay soar. Topping the list:

Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta pocketed the largest rigged-pay package. “Adjustments” to his stock awards inflated the hotelier’s total compensation to $55.9 million, 1,953 times as much as the company’s median worker pay of $28,608.

Read more here.

May 5, 2021

Who gets protected from Covid – and climate change?

“If this is the way rich countries conducted themselves in a global crisis — where they took care of their own needs first, took care of companies, did not recognize that this is an opportunity to reach out and demonstrate solidarity — then there’s no good track record for how they will conduct themselves in the face of other global crises, such as the climate crisis, where poorer countries will bear the highest burdens.” — Tasneem Essop, executive director, Climate Action Network

Read more about the pandemic’s climate lessons here.

Apr 29, 2021

America’s health care travesty

A 6-minute video breaks down a crazy system:

Watch it here.

Apr 27, 2021

Corona inequality

The vaccination rollout is like an X-ray of how wealth and power are distributed in the world:

On Sunday, the world’s seven-day average of new cases hit 774,404, higher than the peak average during the last global surge, in January. Despite the number of shots given around the world, far too few of the global population of nearly eight billion have been vaccinated to slow the virus’s steady spread.

Vaccinations have been highly concentrated in wealthy nations: Eighty-two percent of shots worldwide have been given in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to data compiled by the Our World in Data project. Only 0.2 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.

Meanwhile corporate lobbyists fight to protect the private “intellectual property” and profits that were lubricated by more than $100 billion in public investments:

Newly filed disclosure forms from the first quarter of 2021 show that over 100 lobbyists have been mobilized to contact lawmakers and members of the Biden administration, urging them to oppose a proposed temporary waiver on intellectual property rights by the World Trade Organization that would allow generic vaccines to be produced globally.

Joe Stiglitz and Lori Wallach nail the dysfunctionality of putting greed before need:

Waiving intellectual property rights so developing countries could produce more vaccines would make a big difference in reaching global herd immunity. Otherwise, the pandemic will rage largely unmitigated among a significant share of the world’s population, resulting in increased deaths and a greater risk that a vaccine-resistant variant puts the world back on lockdown.

Read more here and here and here.

Apr 13, 2021

Understanding the racial wealth gap

On the uneven playing field of the U.S. economy, one of the steepest gradients is race:

Wealth — one’s total assets — is the most meaningful measure of financial strength. Yet for every dollar a typical white household has, a Black one has 12 cents, a divide that has grown over the last half-century. Latinos have 21 cents for every dollar in white wealth.

Such disparities drag down the American economy as a whole. A study by McKinsey & Company found that consumption and investment lost because of that gap cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years…

The most surprising finding that researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis established after a decade-long study of inequality and financial vulnerability was that no matter what financial decisions you make or schools you attend, roughly 80 percent of those yawning disparities are determined by your skin color, the year you were born and your gender.

Read more about the sources of America’s wealth gap here. Hint: it ain’t just about hard work and personal responsibility.

Apr 7, 2021

Inequality versus democracy

Bernie breaks it down:

The United States cannot prosper and remain a vigorous democracy when so few have so much and so many have so little. While many of my congressional colleagues choose to ignore it, the issue of income and wealth inequality is one of the great moral, economic and political crises that we face – and it must be dealt with.

The unfortunate reality is that we are moving rapidly toward an oligarchic form of society, where a handful of billionaires have enormous wealth and power while working families have been struggling in a way we have not seen since the Great Depression….

Growing income and wealth inequality is not just an economic issue. It touches the very foundation of American democracy. If the very rich become much richer while millions of working people see their standard of living continue to decline, faith in government and our democratic institutions will wither and support for authoritarianism will increase. We cannot let that happen.

Read the remedies he proposes here.