Flawed NYT Article on Inequality

I definitely don’t agree with all of the analysis in this NYT article, but there are some interesting takeaways from it. The article only mentions political democracy and completely avoids any mention of economic democracy. This is an important point, as a strong political democracy requires a strong economic democracy. I know how counter that truth runs to the standard doctrine of the corporate propaganda system, but it needs to be said.

It’s also particularly jarring that the article assumes the U.S. is a democracy — in reality the country has dysfunctional democratic structures (see gerrymandering, the typical top-down structure of corporations, and voter suppression) and is better described as a plutocracy.

Most recently, Thomas Piketty, a French economist who is the author of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” has come up with a straightforward answer: Traditional parties of the left no longer represent the working and lower middle classes.

[…]

There are those who would like to accept inequality and focus exclusively on issues like gender equality and anti-racism. I would never minimize the importance of combating gender inequality or racism/nativism, but if that means ignoring the policies that have led to the enormous inequality we now see, that is not a serious progressive agenda.

Inequality Shown as the Fight For 15 Movement Continues

The story of U.S. wage disparity: “In 2007, average annual incomes of the top 1 percent of households were 42 times greater than in­comes of the bottom 90 percent (up from 14 times greater in 1979), and incomes of the top 0.1 percent were 220 times greater (up from 47 times greater in 1979).”

The income share of the top 1 percent in the U.S. has doubled from its share during most of the 1950s to 1980. This is an amount high enough to increase the income of people in the lowest 90 percent of the country’s income distribution by over 20 percent, and it’s nearly enough to double the income share of the bottom 40 percent. That basically represents massive amounts of money being wrongly transferred upwards.

WageDisparity

 

realgraph - Copy

Today’s article that’s linked to here reports on the movement of employees fighting for a $15 an hour wage. This is hardly radical when it’s considered that the minimum wage would be about $20 an hour today if wage gains had kept pace with productivity rates since the late 1960s. That’s yet another absurdity about inequality in the United States though.

According to the compensation research company PayScale, fast food workers make an average of $8.28 per hour. Those wages, depending on hours, leaves those workers making about $15,000 to $21,000 per year.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour leaves workers unable to afford a two-bedroom rental apartment in any U.S. state.

The Poor People’s Campaign and Fight for $15 are also planning six weeks of “direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience” starting on Mother’s Day.

World’s Top 1% Obtained 82% of Wealth Generated in 2017

What a horrifying report this is on the status of global inequality. It’s easily one of the most disturbing reports on economic inequality ever released, as it shows that the world economic system has overall been structured to benefit the top 1 percent to an extreme degree.

In 2017, a new billionaire was created every two days and while 82 percent of all wealth created went to the top 1 percent of the world’s richest while zero percent—absolutely nothing—went to the poorest half of the global population.

That troubling information is included in Oxfam’s latest report on global inequality—titled Reward Work, Not Wealth (pdf)—released Monday. In addition to the above, the report details how skyrocketing wealth growth among the already rich coupled with stagnant wages and persistent poverty among the lowest economic rungs of society means that just 42 individuals now hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion poorest people on the planet.

“The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s executive director of Oxfam International. “The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods, and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors.”

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Billionaire wealth has risen by an annual average of 13 percent since 2010 – six times faster than the wages of ordinary workers, which have risen by a yearly average of just 2 percent. The number of billionaires rose at an unprecedented rate of one every two days between March 2016 and March 2017.
  • It takes just four days for a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands to earn what a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her lifetime. In the US, it takes slightly over one working day for a CEO to earn what an ordinary worker makes in a year.
  • It would cost $2.2 billion a year to increase the wages of all 2.5 million Vietnamese garment workers to a living wage. This is about a third of the amount paid out to wealthy shareholders by the top 5 companies in the garment sector in 2016.
  • Dangerous, poorly paid work for the many is supporting extreme wealth for the few. Women are in the worst work, and almost all the super-rich, nine out of ten, are men.

The report comes just as the world’s economic and political elite are set to open the World Economic Forum, held annually in Davos, Switzerland. And why the global elite argue the summit’s focus is addressing the world’s most pressing problems, Oxfam found that the amount of new wealth which went to the world’s top one percent in 2017 was roughly $762 billion—a figure large enough, the group points out, to end extreme global poverty seven times over.

What the report ultimately exposes, Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, told the Guardian, is a “system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.”

“For work to be a genuine route out of poverty we need to ensure that ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions, and that women are not discriminated against,” he added. “If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we—and they—should be willing to pay.”

Not just cataloging and lamenting the metrics of inequality, the new report also puts forth a number of policy solutions that should be embraced by people and governments worldwide to reduce levels of inequality and lift billions of people out of extreme poverty. They include:

  • Limit returns to shareholders and top executives, and ensure all workers receive a minimum ‘living’ wage that would enable them to have a decent quality of life. For example, in Nigeria, the legal minimum wage would need to be tripled to ensure decent living standards.
  • Eliminate the gender pay gap and protect the rights of women workers. At current rates of change, it will take 217 years to close the gap in pay and employment opportunities between women and men.
  • Ensure the wealthy pay their fair share of tax through higher taxes and a crackdown on tax avoidance, and increase spending on public services such as healthcare and education. Oxfam estimates a global tax of 1.5 percent on billionaires’ wealth could pay for every child to go to school.

Though Oxfam has been calculating global inequality on an annueal basis for more than a decade, the anti-poverty group notes that this year’s report used new data from Credit Suisse and a separate kind of model. Specifically, Oxfam noted, the fact that the world’s 42 richest billionaires have as much wealth as the poorest bottom half “cannot be compared to figures from previous years – including the 2016/17 statistic that eight men owned the same wealth as half the world – because it is based on an updated and expanded data set published by Credit Suisse in November 2017.  When Oxfam recalculated last year’s figures using the latest data we found that 61 people owned the same wealth as half the world in 2016 – and not eight.”

CEO-Worker Income Discrepancy is the Worst in the U.S.

When the massive upwards redistribution of income to the top 1% over the last four decades is mentioned, CEO pay should be noted as one of the prime causes of it. Essentially, CEOs have been taking an exorbitant amount of the income share of many workers and shifting it into their own pockets.

As corporations and wealthy individuals across the United States are slated to benefit from massive tax breaks thanks to the GOP’s latest tax legislation, a Bloomberg analysis published Thursday found that chief executives of American companies already make 265 times the amount of money an average worker is paid—the largest CEO-worker income gap in the world.

“CEOs of the biggest publicly traded U.S. companies averaged $14.3 million in annual pay, more than double that of their Canadian counterparts and 10 times greater than those in India,” according to Bloomberg. While India ranked second on Bloomberg‘s CEO pay-to-average income ratio, Indian chief executives made about a tenth of their American counterparts’ incomes, averaging $1.46 million annually.

[…]

Last year’s CEO-to-worker compensation ratio, calculated by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), was 271-to-1, with the chief executives of American companies seeing an average of $15.6 million in annual compensation. The EPI report, which was published in July, notes that “regardless of how it’s measured, CEO pay continues to be very, very high and has grown far faster in recent decades than typical worker pay,” and “exorbitant CEO pay means that the fruits of economic growth are not going to ordinary workers.”

EPI president Lawrence Mischel and research assistant Jessica Schieder found that CEO compensation rose “by 807 or 937 percent (depending on how it is measured—using stock options granted or stock options realized, respectively) from 1978 to 2016.” They argue that “exorbitant CEO compensation…has fueled the growth of the top 1 percent incomes” at the expense of “the vast majority of workers.”

“Simply put, money that goes to the executive class is money that does not go to other people. Rising executive pay is not connected to overall growth in the economic pie,” Mishel explained, as Common Dreams previously reported. “We could curtail the explosive growth in CEO pay without doing any harm to the economy.”

In response to their findings in July, Mishel and Schieder proposed the following policy solutions:

  • Reinstate higher marginal income tax rates at the very top.
  • Remove the tax break for executive performance pay.
  • Set corporate tax rates higher for firms that have higher ratios of CEO-to-worker compensation.
  • Allow greater use of “say on pay,” which allows a firm’s shareholders to vote on top executives’ compensation.

The U.S. — The World’s Preeminent New Tax Haven

Tax havens are a major factor (and consequence) of global inequality. There are enormous sums of money in offshore tax havens, and there are enormous needs for the many that could make good use of that money, but those two realities are rarely being brought together.

Seven years ago, the U.S. led an effort to address a problem facing governments everywhere. Each year, people manage to avoid paying an estimated $2.5 trillion in income tax — a giant sum that could be used to combat poverty, update infrastructure or lower tax rates for law-abiding citizens.

Now, however, the U.S. is becoming one of the world’s best places to hide money from the tax collector. It’s a distinction that the country would do well to shed.

In 2009, amid growing budget deficits and a tax-fraud scandal at Swiss bank UBS AG, the Group of 20 developed and developing nations came to an agreement: They would no longer tolerate the network of havens, shell companies and secret accounts that had long abetted tax evasion. A year later, the U.S. passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which required foreign financial institutions to report the identities and assets of potential U.S. taxpayers to the Internal Revenue Service.

Under threat of losing access to the U.S. financial system, more than 100 countries — including such traditional havens as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands — are complying or have agreed to comply.

The U.S. was expected to reciprocate, by sharing data on the accounts of foreign taxpayers with their respective governments. Yet Congress rejected the Obama administration’s repeated requests to make the necessary changes to the tax code. As a result, the Treasury cannot compel U.S. banks to reveal information such as account balances and names of beneficial owners. The U.S. has also failed to adopt the so-called Common Reporting Standard, a global agreement under which more than 100 countries will automatically provide each other with even more data than FATCA requires.

While the rest of the world provides the transparency that the U.S. demanded, the U.S. is rapidly becoming the new Switzerland. Financial institutions catering to the global elite, such as Rothschild & Co. and Trident Trust Co., have moved accounts from offshore havens to Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota. New York lawyers are actively marketing the country as a place to park assets. A Russian billionaire, for example, can put real-estate assets in a U.S. trust and rest assured that neither the U.S. tax authorities nor his home-country government will know anything about it. That’s a level of secrecy that not even Vanuatu can offer.

From a certain perspective, all this might look pretty smart: Shut down foreign tax havens and then steal their business. That would be the kind of thinking that’s undermining America’s standing in so many areas, from trade to climate change. Instead of using its power to establish an equitable system of global governance, it’s demanding a standard from the rest of the world that it refuses to apply to itself. That isn’t leadership.

World’s Richest Become $1 Trillion Richer in 2017

The richest 500 people would still have enormous amounts of money if they together hadn’t gained $1 trillion, of course. There’s plenty that could be done to improve the lives of many millions of people with that $1 trillion too, and it’s disappointing how much of it continues to sit idle when it could be invested productively instead.

The richest people on earth became $1 trillion richer in 2017, more than four times last year’s gain, as stock markets shrugged off economic, social and political divisions to reach record highs.

The 23 percent increase on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 500 richest people, compares with an almost 20 percent increase for both the MSCI World Index and Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
1200xtreme
It should also be noted that the stock market measures the expected value of future corporate profits, not economic well-being for most people. The stock market is an accurate indication of how well the top 1 percent are doing, however, as they’re the people who stock ownership tends to be concentrated in.

UN Investigated Extreme Poverty in World History’s Richest Country

The poverty rates in the U.S. are absolutely shameful. Significant poverty in a wealthy country means that the wealth is being distributed improperly.

His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.

Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance.

Alston’s epic journey has taken him from coast to coast, deprivation to deprivation. Starting in LA and San Francisco, sweeping through the Deep South, traveling on to the colonial stain of Puerto Rico then back to the stricken coal country of West Virginia, he has explored the collateral damage of America’s reliance on private enterprise to the exclusion of public help.

The Guardian had unprecedented access to the UN envoy, following him as he crossed the country, attending all his main stops and witnessing the extreme poverty he is investigating firsthand.

Think of it as payback time. As the UN special rapporteur himself put it: “Washington is very keen for me to point out the poverty and human rights failings in other countries. This time I’m in the US.”

[…]

The tour comes at a critical moment for America and the world. It began on the day that Republicans in the US Senate voted for sweeping tax cuts that will deliver a bonanza for the super wealthy while in time raising taxes on many lower-income families. The changes will exacerbate wealth inequality that is already the most extreme in any industrialized nation, with three men – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet – owning as much as half of the entire American people.

A few days into the UN visit, Republican leaders took a giant leap further. They announced plans to slash key social programs in what amounts to an assault on the already threadbare welfare state.

[…]

Trump’s undermining of human rights, combined with the Republican threat to pare back welfare programs next year in order to pay for some of the tax cuts for the rich they are rushing through Congress, will hurt African Americans disproportionately.

Black people are 13% of the US population, but 23% of those officially in poverty and 39% of the homeless.