Organized labor = Economic justice

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Progressive Values e-letter - Labor Day  - September 7, 2015
Organized Labor = Economic Justice
including the weekend, overtime pay, 8-hour workday, minimum wage,
paid vacation, sick days, safety standards, child labor laws, health
benefits, retirement security, unemployment insurance...

America's Immoral Economy
The social contract has become entirely one-sided.  by Robert Reich - http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-reich-0 ,
RobertReich.org, - http://robertreich.org/  Alternet.org - http://www.alternet.org/media/robert-reich-americas-immoral-economy?akid=13453.125622.XGgWRZ&rd=1&src=newsletter1042001&t=10 , September 6, 2015  An economy depends fundamentally on public
morality; some shared standards about what sorts of activities are
impermissible because they so fundamentally violate trust that they
threaten to undermine the social fabric.

It is ironic that at a time the Republican presidential candidates
and state legislators are furiously focusing on private morality -
what people do in their bedrooms, contraception, abortion, gay
marriage - we are experiencing a far more significant crisis in
public morality.

We've witnessed over the last two decades in the United States a
steady decline in the willingness of people in leading positions in
the private sector - on Wall Street and in large corporations
especially - to maintain minimum standards of public morality. They
seek the highest profits and highest compensation for themselves
regardless of social consequences...read more - http://www.alternet.org/media/robert-reich-americas-immoral-economy?akid=13453.125622.XGgWRZ&rd=1&src=newsletter1042001&t=10

The Work We Value, The Intelligence We Ignore: Is the Work that Made
America Great Valued Any Longer?  - http://www.onbeing.org/blog/work-we-value-intelligence-we-ignore-work-made-america-great-valued-any-longer/2590 By Trent Gilliss, executive editor, On Being

- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-reyes/how-unions-improve-the-li_b_7640440.html How Unions Improve the Lives of Every Worker by Laura Reyes - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-reyes/ ,
Secretary-Treasurer, AFSCME, huffingtonpost.com Labor Day's Violent
Roots: The Hard-Won Fight for Your 3-Day Weekend - http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fww2.kqed.org%2Flowdown%2F2015%2F09%2F04%2Flabor-days-violent-roots-the-hard-won-fight-for-your-three-day-weekend%2F&h=8AQEOfzBt&s=1  By Matthew Green - http://ww2.kqed.org/lowdown/author/matthewgreen/
, ww2.kqed.org - http://ww2.kqed.org/lowdown/2015/09/04/labor-days-violent-roots-the-hard-won-fight-for-your-three-day-weekend/ , September 4, 2015

The Rebellious Spirit of the First Labor Day Is Spreading Anew - http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.truth-out.org%2Fopinion%2Fitem%2F32648-the-rebellious-spirit-of-the-first-labor-day-is-spreading-anew&h=0AQFUp7Yz&s=1  Jim Hightower, truth-out.org - http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32648-the-rebellious-spirit-of-the-first-labor-day-is-spreading-anew  America's grassroots have come alive with organizing campaigns to
reverse the inequities and abuses being perpetuated by the
plutocratic powers. This Labor Day, let's take heart in this rising
rebelliousness, says Jim Hightower.

- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stanley-Aronowitz/107621719267878 Stanley Aronowitz, an expert on organized labor, talks about the
problems facing many unions and how they might become a powerful
force once again. BillMoyers.com, Sept 5, 2015 "Occupy refused to be
programmatic, and it has virtually disappeared. But Occupy revived
the old tactics of civil disobedience and direct action. And by still
relying on elections and on contracts and grievance procedures rather
than engaging in direct action, unions are on the road to doom," he
says.
"I think the things that unions, and it's not just unions, but
progressives need to think about, is who really has the country in a
mess? And I think we've been very nervous about really, with red-hot
anger, naming who the bad guys are and then talking about it in terms
that resonate with people. Not abstractions about trillions of
dollars. But talking about this teeny group of people at the top that
are pillaging the country. And I think when we start to focus that
and then have ways that people can act that's not just about
rhetoric."  Stephen Lerner - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stephen-Lerner/113415462073719 , Labor and Community Organizer, Is Labor A Lost Cause? Moyers &
Company - http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fbillmoyers.com%2Fepisode%2Fis-labor-a-lost-cause%2F&h=0AQE3Tk_D&s=1 , billmoyers.com  For more information about Economic Justice and
labor click here  - http://progressivevalues.org.s150046.gridserver.com/economicgo%20to%20www .

Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human
labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For
Christians, the responsibility is even greater: It is a commandment.
Pope Francis
- http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fmobile.nytimes.com%2F2015%2F07%2F12%2Fworld%2Famericas%2Fin-fiery-speeches-francis-excoriates-global-capitalism.html%3Freferrer%26_r%3D0&h=yAQGdklOU&s=1 In Fiery Speeches, Francis Excoriates Global Capitalism

There are folks out there who say, 'it doesn't impact me, I'm not a
Union guy, I'm not a teacher, I'm not a civil servant.' Let me tell
you how it does matter to you. Wages are going down in this country
for everybody. When you destroy unions there will be no standard at
all, nobody left to negotiate decent jobs for the middle class.
Senator Bernie Sanders

- http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thenation.com%2Farticle%2Ftop-ten-labor-day-songs%2F&h=tAQGcE925&s=1 Top Ten Labor Day Songs
By  - http://www.thenation.com/authors/peter-rothberg/
Peter Rothberg - https://twitter.com/@peterrothberg Twitter,  - http://www.thenation.com/article/top-ten-labor-day-songs/ The Nation, September 3, 2015   In honor of Labor Day, here's a stab
at the impossible task of naming the best songs ever written about
working people.

- http://www.upworthy.com/i-will-not-wish-anybody-a-happy-labor-day-until-these-6-things-are-figured-out-there-i-said-it?c=ufb1 The story of how Labor Day began (in cartoons and pictures)
By  - http://www.upworthy.com/brandon-weber Brandon
Weber, Upworthy.com, August 18, 2015

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How capitalism enriches the few rather than the many

By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, April 2, 2014

Excerpt

Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys,”…explains how the fastest-growing form of trading enriches the few at the expense of the many, the other book, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” provides a more fundamental and disquieting explanation: how capitalism itself enriches the few at the expense of the many.…[Piketty] has shown that the share of Americans’ income going to the wealthiest 1 percent has risen to the level last seen just before the 1929 crashwith heightened accumulations of wealth come heightened accumulations of political power — a shift toward plutocracy to which Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision, permitting the wealthy to contribute to as many electoral campaigns as they wish, adds a helpful push…“No self-corrective mechanism exists” within capitalism to retard this descent into plutocracy, he writes. Rather, he concludes, its prevention requires political action…Lewis gives us a great read on today’s latest scam. Piketty gives us the most important work of economics since John Maynard Keynes’s “General Theory.”

Full text

Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys,” his takedown of high-speed stock trading, may be making headlines this week, but it’s just one of two books on our economic dysfunctions that are flying off the shelves. While “Flash Boys” explains how the fastest-growing form of trading enriches the few at the expense of the many, the other book, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” provides a more fundamental and disquieting explanation: how capitalism itself enriches the few at the expense of the many.

Piketty, a Paris-based economics professor, is one of a small but growing number of economists who are scanning digitized tax records to discover the distribution of income and wealth in various nations, both today and in the past. Piketty’s work with Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, has shown that the share of Americans’ income going to the wealthiest 1 percent has risen to the level last seen just before the 1929 crash. In his new book, in which he looks at tax records that in Britain and France date all the way to the late 18th century, Piketty has unearthed the history of income distribution for at least the past hundred years in every major capitalist nation. It makes for fascinating, grim and alarming reading.

Piketty’s chief conclusion is that, in most nations in most times, the interest on capital — income from investments and ownership — accumulates at a higher rate than that at which the overall economy is growing. In the largely preindustrial economies that Jane Austen and Honore de Balzac chronicled in their novels, he notes, the road to riches came through inheritance rather than even professional labor. The interest rate on property of all kinds was roughly 4 to 5 percent a year, while the overall economies of Britain and France were growing at a rate of just 1 percent (a figure Piketty derives by adding the nations’ population growth to their economic growth). Over time, this meant that the value of those nations’ capital rose to six or seven times their gross domestic product, and capital’s major owners — the richest 1 percent — controlled the lion’s share of their nation’s income and wealth.

Even after the Industrial Revolution, those ratios largely persisted until the outbreak of World War I. The combination of two world wars and the Great Depression destroyed many European fortunes, while the Depression wreaked havoc on American fortunes. The reforms of the New Deal in the United States and of social democracy in Europe then boosted workers’ incomes on both continents and gave rise to a sizable propertied middle class. The rate of return on the property of the wealthy remained high, but the value of their property had been so diminished by the cataclysms of the first half of the century that their wealth was diminished.

Since 1980, however, their fortunes have swelled again — at the expense of everyone else. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher slashed taxes on wealth, workers lost the ability to bargain for wages and, crucially, the population growth of many nations ground nearly to a halt. Capital, again, was accumulating faster than the overall economies were growing. In the United States, Piketty shows, the incomes of the top 1 percent have grown so high — chiefly due to the linkage of top executive pay to share value, a form of capital — that they soon will create the greatest level of income inequality in the recorded history of any nation.

Indeed, Piketty’s book provides a valuable explanatory context for America’s economic woes. Wages constitute the lowest share of U.S. GDP, and profits the highest, since the end of World War II. And with heightened accumulations of wealth come heightened accumulations of political power — a shift toward plutocracy to which Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision, permitting the wealthy to contribute to as many electoral campaigns as they wish, adds a helpful push.

Piketty’s primary contention is that it is inherent to capitalism that the returns on capital generally exceed the growth of nations’ economies, save in times of epochal population growth or almost unimaginable technological breakthroughs, and that this leads to ever-rising concentrations of wealth and power. “No self-corrective mechanism exists” within capitalism to retard this descent into plutocracy, he writes. Rather, he concludes, its prevention requires political action: He suggests a global tax on capital, which, he acknowledges, is a utopian solution, though others — empowering workers again, increasing the social provision of goods and services — are more readily attainable.

Lewis gives us a great read on today’s latest scam. Piketty gives us the most important work of economics since John Maynard Keynes’s “General Theory.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-how-capitalism-enriches-only-the-few/2014/04/02/f2295a5e-ba95-11e3-9a05-c739f29ccb08_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Overview – Economic Justice

 Values

What Money Can’t Buy and why eco­nom­ics needs to be seen not as a sci­ence but a moral phi­los­o­phy

Poverty

The Real Numbers: Half of America in Poverty — and It’s Creeping toward 75%

The Republicans’ War on the Poor

The GOP Is in Total Denial About America’s Soaring Poverty Problems By Michelle Goldberg, The Nation, posted on Alternet.org, December 16, 2013

Inequality

one of the most important and controversial issues of our time: How Washington and Big Business colluded to make the super-rich richer and turn their backs on the rest of us.– Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, argue that America’s vast inequality is no accident, but in fact has been politically engineered. – How, in a nation as wealthy as America, can the economy simply stop working for people at large, while super-serving those at the very top?…detail important truths behind a 30-year economic assault against the middle class….What government has done and not done, and the politics that produced it, is really at the heart of the rise of an economy that has showered huge riches on the very, very, very well off.”  politicians rewrote the rules to create a winner-take-all economy that favors the 1% over everyone else, putting our once and future middle class in peril.” Engineered Inequality – Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson on Moyers & Company,  March 1, 2012

Class wars

Billionaires Against Social Security

Billionaires Unchained: The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy”

CEOs average $12.3 million in 2012, 354 times the average worker

CEO-To-Worker Pay Ratio Ballooned 1,000 Percent Since 1950

How the Billionaires Class Is Destroying Democracy

The Empathy Ceiling: The Rich Are Different — And Not In a Good Way

Transfer of wealth

Which is the more redis­tri­b­u­tion­ist of our two par­ties? In recent decades, as Repub­li­cans have devoted them­selves with laser-like inten­sity to redis­trib­ut­ing America’s wealth and income upward, the evi­dence sug­gests the answer is the GOP. The most obvi­ous way that Repub­li­cans have robbed from the mid­dle to give to the rich has been the changes they wrought in the tax code — reduc­ing income taxes for the wealthy in the Rea­gan and George W. Bush tax cuts, and cut­ting the tax rate on cap­i­tal gains to less than half the rate on the top income of upper-middle-class employees…The less widely under­stood way that Repub­li­cans have helped redis­trib­ute wealth to the already wealthy is by chang­ing the rules…Indeed, the United State­s has expe­ri­enced an upward redis­tri­b­u­tion so pro­found that it affects far more than incomes. Whole sec­tors of the econ­omy and regions of the coun­try have been dec­i­mated by these eco­nomic changes. The descent in all man­ner of social indexes is most appar­ent among poorly edu­cated whites… Many Democ­rats have been com­plicit in this calamity by their indif­fer­ence to the con­se­quences of dereg­u­la­tion and trade. But the tro­phy for pro­mot­ing the poli­cies that have redis­trib­uted wealth, fam­ily sta­bil­ity and longevity upward goes to the Repub­li­cans, whose standard-bearers are cham­pi­oning even more rad­i­cal ver­sions of these policies today… Redistributing wealth upward by Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, September 25, 2012 

The Biggest “Takers” and Societal Parasites Are the Rich, Not the Working Class and Poor by Paul Buchheit, Buzzflash at Truthout, May 13, 2013

The Shocking Redistribution of Wealth in the Past Five Years by Paul Buchheit, Common Dreams, December 30, 2013

Economic justice – race

…The racial economic gap — also present in other measures of economic well-being, such as wage and unemployment gaps — has persisted over time in the United States… What Do We Really Know About Racial Inequality? Labor Markets, Politics, and the Historical Basis of Black Economic Fortunes By Cynthia Thaler

Capitalism

… Capitalism — the logic of subordinating every aspect of life to the accumulation of profit (i.e. the “rules of the market”) — has become today’s “common sense.” …What sustains the tragic myth that There Is No Alternative? Those committed to building a more just future must begin re-thinking and revealing the taken-for-granted assumptions that make capitalism “common sense,” and bring these into the realm of mainstream public debate in order to widen horizons of possibility… Reclaiming Our Imaginations from ‘There Is No Alternative’ by Andrea Brower

“The Dumbest Idea in the World”: Corporate America’s False — and Dangerous — Ideology of Shareholder Value by Lynn Stout

Corporate Espionage and the Secret War Against Citizen Activism

Conservative Fantasies About the Miracles of the Market 

Corporate Power

…It’s not the powerless who corrupt democracies… it’s the powerful who corrupt democracies. And money is the source of that power…America’s fiscal problems are a direct result of the Billionaire Class working behind the scenes of our democracy and syphoning off massive amounts of wealth for themselves while paying lower taxes than they’ve paid in a half-century… How the Billionaires Class Is Destroying Democracy By Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks 

“The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders…” William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe SapinskiMeet the Elite Business and Think-Tank Community That’s Doing Its Best to Control the World, By Andrew Gavin Marshall posted on Alternet.org June 19, 2013  

The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America

Corporate social responsibility

….As consumers, employees and entrepreneurs, Millennials are shifting the norms of corporate America’s conduct, ethical imperatives and purpose…are more conscientious consumers than their predecessors, demanding greater honesty and accountability from businesses…A new generation of employees, consumers and entrepreneurs is stepping forward with a better way of doing business — putting its bets on the goodness of people rather than loading the dice in its own favor. Millennials to business: Social responsibility isn’t optional By Michelle Nunn

Economic justice – labor

… Money and budget deficits are the pretext for a larger battle to attack government and break public-sector unions for political reasons… What is really going on here is an effort by corporations and the GOP to dismantle one of the few remaining institutions in America that defy their power… Unions represented what John Kenneth Galbraith called a “countervailing power” on corporations…. Attacking unions: It’s not about the money, it’s about power By David Schultz, MinnPost.com

… the share of America’s work­force that’s union­ized hit a 97-year low…It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline …when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better… unions lift wages for non-union members too by creat­ing a higher prevailing wage…The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity. The Decline of Unions Is Your Problem Too By Eric Liu

Middle class

The Middle Class Faces Extinction—So Does the American Dream by Stewart Lansley, Los Angeles Review of Books, Alternet.org,  June 3, 2013

Big Lie: America Doesn’t Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World…We’re Ranked 27th! by Les Leopold

Biblical Capitalism

… ”Biblical Capitalism” or the belief that unregulated capitalism is biblically mandated. The Religious Right is well known for its regressive social activism, but less publicized is the role it has played in the war against progressive economic policy, labor unions, the regulatory structure and social safety net. The sacralizing of laissez-faire capitalism predates the Tea Party movement and has been a major theme of fundamentalist textbooks for more than three decades…American fundamentalism … was encouraged by some business leaders as a counter to the social gospel….Biblical Capitalism – The Religious Right’s War on Progressive Economic Policy by Rachel Tabachnick, Talk2action.org, Feb 01, 2011

 Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion…is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values.…. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness.… As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors… the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.….a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state… How Christianity Became a Lucrative Brand By Sarah Banet-Weiser, New York Press, posted on Alternet.org, December 17, 2012

Guess What? Fewer Americans Call Themselves Economic Conservatives

By Lynn Stuart ParramoreAlterNetMay 30, 2013  |

2013 has not exactly been an inspiring year on the economic front so far: Between the news of banks too big to prosecute, consumer protection stalled, financial reform thwarted, corporate taxes dodged, privatization pushed, and Social Security attacked, it has been hard to find something to smile about. But then, suddenly, out comes a little ray of sunshine from behind the clouds.

A new Gallup survey [3] shows significant changes in the way we Americans see ourselves. The big news? We don’t like to call ourselves economic conservatives as much as we used to; in fact, that number is at a five-year low. On top of that, more of us say we’re social liberals.

What’s going on? How did something good happen when everything feels so bad?

After the shattering experience of WWI, Freud wrote about the pervasive discontent and unease with society, and he examined how humans tend to react to these feelings. In facing misery, would we throw in the towel? Would we become more aggressive? Or could we embrace the opportunity to improve our reality and transform our thinking? Freud, it must be said, was not overly optimistic about the answers to these questions.

Today, there’s a widespread feeling of skepticism about the form of capitalism we’re saddled with, which works well for a few and causes the rest of us various kinds of misery. Many Americans are beyond sick and tired of bankers, financiers and political hucksters. We see that crony capitalism is destroying our communities, our democracy, our economic well-being, and the natural world.

But will anything ever change it? I have been writing about economic matters since the Great Recession hit, trying to foster different ways of thinking. Honestly, most days it seemed like what I was trying to say was falling on deaf ears – that smart regulation was vital, that jobs must be our primary focus, that austerity was a foolish and deadly policy, and that, at a fundamental level, we need an economy that will serve society rather than the other way around.

Meanwhile, monopolies flourished, financial fraud ran rampant, deficit hawks commanded the scene in Washington, economic quacks were treated as oracles in the mainstream media, the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer.

Republicans won big-time in the 2010 midterm election, seizing control of the House and many state legislatures, including my home state of North Carolina, where they are bent on turning one of the most progressive states in the South into Mid-Atlantic Mississippi. Polls in 2010 showed that the number of Americans labeling themselves conservative, especially on the economy, jumped. Things looked pretty bleak.

Relinquishing old ways of thinking is a painful process, and more often not, a slow journey fraught with setbacks and reversals. It’s not easy to examine old assumptions about how we work, view money and allocate power. Older generations were also challenged to change the way they thought about the economy.  The Great Depression etched itself deeply into America’s collective memory: The idea that the government had to step in with jobs programs, education, housing, transportation, and research investments in order to save the economy from Wall Street-driven ruin impressed itself on our grandparents. That view held sway until Ronald Reagan came along and convinced everyone that government was the problem, not the solution, and recommended that the wild horses of capitalism be set free.

America became more “economically conservative.” The idea that economic conservatism equals prudence is an old association, dating all the way back to 18th-century thinker Edmund Burke, and it’s one that proponents of reckless free-market fundamentalism took full advantage of. They vigorously repeated the lie that markets can regulate themselves, that they are resistant to fraud, and that things would be fine if the government would just let the capitalists alone. They claimed, ad nauseum, that liberals were financially naive and irresponsible spendthrifts. They more or less got away with this package of deceit until the financial crash, which happened on the watch of a free-marketeer, and one who, by the way, had the worst record on job creation in modern history [4]. That was a serious blow to their mythology.

Gradually it become harder to argue that government should be shrunk to the size where it could be drowned in a bathtub because it grew obvious that government intervention and things like unemployment benefits (what economists call “automatic stabilizers”) kept us from plunging into a Great Depression. Slowly, painfully, Americans have begun to see that focusing on austerity and debt reduction is a road to nowhere, and that the economists whose work is frequently cited by proponents of this view doesn’t hold up to scrutiny [5]. We’re gradually getting the message that economic prudence means government making long-term commitments to investing in the kind of robust education, research and infrastructure that our future well-being depends on.

The new Gallup poll reveals that only 41 percent of Americans now characterize their economic views as “conservative,” or “very conservative,” the lowest since President Barack Obama was elected, and substantially lower than the 50 percent who labeled themselves that way in 2010. Thirty-seven percent of Americans now call themselves “economically moderate,” up from 32 percent last year. The percentage identifying themselves as economic liberals has stayed put since 2001, when Gallup started its annual Values and Beliefs poll. But part of this may be semantics – the association of the word “conservative” with “prudence” or “care” in economic matters is hard to shake. Yet the polls suggest that a shift may finally be happening. “Moderate,” at least, is a start. We may see a new notion of fiscal responsibility emerge that doesn’t involve casting people into unemployment and allowing our schools and roads to crumble.

Even conservatives are beginning to rethink what it means to be an economic conservative. They have begun to focus on breaking up the big banks, and a few, as Ryan Cooper reports in the Washington Monthly [6], are going even further and bringing out their closeted inner Keynesians. It remains to be seen whether or not they can get anywhere with their recalcitrant party, but there is dissent in the ranks.

The link between self-identification and voting is tricky. If you think about it, the fact that the number of Americans calling themselves economically conservative in 2010 increased in the polls might not have been so much a sincere expression of ideology as an expression of discontent with the political and economic status quo, whatever it happened to be. After the election, political scientist Thomas Ferguson noted [7] in an interview that in periods of turmoil, the prevailing sentiment is usually “throw the bums out.”

“What the election really shows,” Ferguson said, “is not that the parties can’t agree — Democrats and most of the GOP leadership finally agreed on the bank bailouts, for example — but that the American people will not accept the policies that leaders in both parties prefer.”

The Gallup poll also shows that the percentage of Americans describing their social views as “liberal” or “very liberal” has reached an all-time high: 30 percent. That’s considerably higher than the 22 percent who identified that way in 2010. (Thirty-five percent of Americans say they are conservative or very conservative on social issues, while 32 percent call themselves socially moderate.)

Maybe, just maybe, more people will realize that being socially liberal and economically liberal are really the same thing. That wanting gay people to have the right to marry and women to have the right to decide what to do with their bodies are intimately connected with economic equality and the influence of money in politics.

Until then, the idea that Americans are at least trying out new political identifications is a promising trend. It’s up to us on the left to make sure that “economically liberal” has a clear, positive meaning that a wider swath of people can get behind.

See more stories tagged with:

america [8],

barack obama [9],

Conservatism in the United States [10],

democratic party [11],

Edmund Burke [12],

mississippi [13],

north carolina [14],

north [15],

Person Career [16],

president [17],

Quotation [18],

republican party [19],

ronald reagan [20],

Ryan Cooper [21],

thomas ferguson [22],

washington [23],

bank bailouts [24],

mainstream media [25],

Political scientist [26],

the Washington Monthly [27],

transportation [28]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/guess-what-fewer-americans-call-themselves-economic-conservatives

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/lynn-stuart-parramore
[3] http://www.gallup.com/poll/162746/fewer-americans-identify-economic-conservatives-2013.aspx
[4] http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2009/01/09/bush-on-jobs-the-worst-track-record-on-record/
[5] http://www.alternet.org/economy/meet-28-year-old-student-who-exposed-two-harvard-professors-whose-shoddy-research-drove
[6] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/may_june_2013/features/reformish_conservatives044510.php
[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lynn-parramore/money-and-the-midterms-ar_b_782660.html
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/america
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/barack-obama
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conservatism-united-states
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democratic-party
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/edmund-burke
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mississippi-0
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/north-carolina
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/north
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/person-career
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/president-0
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/quotation
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ronald-reagan
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ryan-cooper
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/thomas-ferguson
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/washington-0
[24] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bank-bailouts
[25] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mainstream-media
[26] http://www.alternet.org/tags/political-scientist
[27] http://www.alternet.org/tags/washington-monthly
[28] http://www.alternet.org/tags/transportation
[29] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Plutocracy in America – Runaway Exploitation

By Michael Brenner, CounterPunch , April 01, 2013

Excerpt

Plutocracy literally means rule by the rich…Government of the rich and for the rich need not berun directly by the rich…The United States today qualifies as a plutocracy… Gross income redistribution upwards in the hierarchy has been a feature of American society for the past decades. The familiar statistics tell us that nearly 80% of the national wealth generated since 1973 has gone to the upper 2%, 65% to the upper 1 per cent… the overwhelming fraction of all the wealth created over two generations has gone to those at the very top of the income pyramid.  That pattern has been markedly accelerated since the financial crisis hit in 2008. Between 2000 and 2012, the real net worth of 90% of Americans has declined by 25%.  …the readiness of the country’s political class to ignore what has been happening, and the absence of remedial action that could have been taken, in themselves are clear indicators of who shapes thinking and determines public policy. In addition, several significant governmental actions have been taken that directly favor the moneyed interests.

The latter include the dismantling of the apparatus to regulate financial activities specifically and big business generally…There are myriad other examples of complicity between legislators or regulators, on the one hand, and special business interests on the other.

Systemic biases are the most crucial factor is creating and maintaining plutocratic orientations of government. They are confirmed, and reinforced, by the identities and identifications of the persons who actually hold high elected office. Our leaders are nearly all rich by any reasonable standard. Most are very rich. Those who weren’t have aspired to become so and have succeeded….Whether they are “bought off” in some sense or other, they surely are often coopted. The most insidious aspect of cooptation is to see the world from the vantage point of the advantaged and special economic interests.

The devolution of the Democratic Party from being the representative of ordinary people to being just “another bunch of guys” is a telling commentary on how American politics has degenerated into a plutocracy….

There is another, absolutely crucial dimension to the consolidation of America’s plutocracy. It is controlling the means to shape how the populace understands public matters and, thereby, to channel thought and behavior in the desired direction… One object of their efforts has been to render the media into either conscious allies or to denature them as critics or skeptics. Their success is readily visible.

Who has challenged the plutocracy serving falsehood that Social Security and Medicare are the main cause of our deficits whose imminent bankruptcy puts in jeopardy the American economy? …Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and a handful of others…

A second objective in a similar vein has been to dominate the think tank/foundation world. Today, nearly every major Washington think tank depends on corporate money…

The third objective has been to weaken public education…The ultimate achievement of a plutocracy is to legitimize itself by fixing in the minds of society the idea that money is the measure of all things. It represents achievement, it is the sine qua non for giving people the material things they want. It is the gauge of an individual’s worth…

Perhaps the most extraordinary achievement of the plutocracy’s financial wing has been to win acceptance from the country’s entire political class that its largely speculative activities are normal…

Furthermore, the moving forces of the plutocracy are not very organized. There is no conspiracy as such. It is the convergence of outlook among disparate persons in different parts of the system that has accomplished the revolution in American public life, public discourse, and public philosophy…Their most notable piece of luck has been the ineptitude and shortsightedness of their potential opposition – liberal Democrats, intellectuals, and their like…

The plutocrats’ compulsive denigration of the poor, the ill and the dispossessed is perhaps the most telling evidence of status obsession linked to insecurity that is at the core of their social personality.  They find it necessary to stigmatize the latter as at best failures, at worst as moral degenerates…

Second, Americans have a craving to believe in their own virtue – as well as to have others recognize it…

Plutocracy in the current American style is having pernicious effects that go beyond the dominant influence of the rich on the nation’s economy and government. It is setting precedents and modeling the unaccountability and irresponsibility that is pervading executive power throughout the society. Two successive presidential administrations and two decades of rogue behavior by corporate elites have set norms now evident in institutions as diverse as universities and think tanks, the military and professional associations. The cumulative result is a widespread degrading of standards in the uses and abuses of power.

Plutocracy also raises social tensions in society. Logically, the main line of tension should be between the plutocrats and the rest – or, at least, between them and all those with modest means. But that is not the case in the United States….The deep-seated sense of anxiety and grievance that pervades the populace manifests in outbreaks of hostile competition among groups who are in fact themselves all victims of the plutocrats’ success in grabbing for themselves most of the country’s wealth – thereby leaving the rest of us to fight for the leftovers…

It’s everyone frustrated by the ever sharpening contrast between hopes and aspirations and darkening realities of what they might expect for themselves and their children….

Does this sort of perverse pride go before the fall? No sign of that happening yet. Plutocracy in America is more likely to be our destiny. The growing dynastic factor operating within the financial plutocracy militates in that direction. Wealth itself has always been transferred from one generation to another…A sense of limits is not part of the financial plutocracy’s persona.

All that has been recounted here is on the public record. Facts are facts; the inferred attitudes of the plutocracy are confirmed by an abundance of data – including the players’ own statements. The consequences analyzed are also a matter of public record. The tepid reaction should be no surprise; that is exactly what is to be expected in a plutocracy.

So what is to be done? Rectify the sins of commission by rescinding them and those of omission by restoring responsible, enlightened policies. A model? How about 1974? Inglorious year, but….Richard Nixon was well to the ‘Left’ of Barack Obama – civil liberties included; corporate power, especially that of big finance, was kept in check by effective regulation; and the integrity of American institutions was a paramount concern of most elected officials and the political elite in general…

Full text

 

Plutocracy literally means rule by the rich. “Rule” can have various shades of meaning: those who exercise the authority of public office are wealthy; their wealth explains why they hold that office; they exercise that authority in the interests of the rich; they have the primary influence over who holds those offices and the actions they take. These aspects of “plutocracy” are not exclusive. Government of the rich and for the rich need not berun directly by the rich. Also, in some exceptional circumstances rich individuals who hold powerful positions may govern in the interests of the many, e.g. Franklin Roosevelt.

The United States today qualifies as a plutocracy – on a number of grounds.  Let’s look at some striking bits of evidence. Gross income redistribution upwards in the hierarchy has been a feature of American society for the past decades. The familiar statistics tell us that nearly 80% of the national wealth generated since 1973 has gone to the upper 2%, 65% to the upper 1 per cent. Estimates as to the rise in real income for salaried workers over the past 40 years range from 20% to 28 %. In that period, real GDP has risen by 110% – it has more than doubled.

To put it somewhat differently, according to the Congressional Budget Office,  the top earning 1 percent of households gained about 8X more than those in the 60 percentile after federal taxes and income transfers over a period between 1979 and 2007; 10X those in lower percentiles.  In short, the overwhelming fraction of all the wealth created over two generations has gone to those at the very top of the income pyramid.  That pattern has been markedly accelerated since the financial crisis hit in 2008. Between 2000 and 2012, the real net worth of 90% of Americans has declined by 25%.  Theoretically, there is the possibility that this change is due to structural economic features operating nationally and internationally. That argument won’t wash, though, for three reasons. First, there is no reason to think that such a process has accelerated over the past five years during which disparities have widened at a faster rate. Second, other countries (many even more enmeshed in the world economy) have seen nothing like the drastic phenomenon occurring in the United States. Third, the readiness of the country’s political class to ignore what has been happening, and the absence of remedial action that could have been taken, in themselves are clear indicators of who shapes thinking and determines public policy. In addition, several significant governmental actions have been taken that directly favor the moneyed interests.

The latter include the dismantling of the apparatus to regulate financial activities specifically and big business generally. Runaway exploitation of the system by predatory banks was made possible by the Clinton “reforms” of the 1990s and the lax application of those rules that still prevailed. Attorney General Eric Holder just a few weeks ago went so far as to admit that the Department of Justice’s decisions on when to bring criminal charges against the biggest financial institutions will depend not on the question of legal violations alone but would include the hypothetical effects on economic stability of their prosecution. Earlier, Holder had extended blanket immunity to Bank of America and other mortgage lenders for their apparent criminality in forging, robo-signing, foreclosure documents on millions of home owners. In brief, equal protection and application of the law has been suspended. That is plutocracy.

Moreover, the extreme of a regulatory culture that, in effect, turns public officials into tame accessories to financial abuse emerged in stark relief at the Levin Committee hearings on J P Morgan Chase’s ‘London Whale” scandal. Morgan officials stated baldly that they chose not to inform the Controller of the Currency about discrepancies in trading accounts, without the slightest regard that they might be breaking the law, in the conviction that it was Morgan’s privilege not to do so. Senior regulators explained that they did not see it as their job to monitor compliance or to check whether claims made by their Morgan counterparts were correct. They also accepted abusive treatment, e.g. being called “stupid” to their face by senior Morgan executives. That’s plutocracy at work.  The Senate Finance Committee hearing drew only 3 senators – yet another sign of plutocracy at work. When mega-banks make illicit profits by money laundering for drug cartels and get off with a slap on the wrist, as has HSBC and others, that too is plutocracy.

When the system of law that is meant to order the workings of society without reference to ascriptive persons is made malleable in the hands of officials to serve the preferred interests of some, it ceases to be a neutral instrument for the common good. In today’s society, it is becoming the instrument of a plutocracy.

There are myriad other examples of complicity between legislators or regulators, on the one hand, and special business interests on the other. EPA judgments that are reversed under the combined pressure of the commercial interests affected and beholden politicians is one. The government’s decision not to seek the power to bargain with pharmaceutical companies over the price of drugs paid for with public funds is another. Tolerance for the concealment of offshore profits in the tens of billions is a third. Relaxed interpretations of the tax laws by the IRS to the advantage of high income persons can be added to the list. So, too, can the give-away to sole source contractors of the tens of billions squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of such direct assists to big business and the wealthy is endless. The point is that government, at all levels, serves particular selfish interests no matter who holds high positions. While there is some difference between Republicans and Democrats on this score, it has narrowed on most major items to the point that the fundamental properties of the biased system are so entrenched as to be impervious to electoral outcomes. The most revealing experience that we have of that harsh reality is the Obama administration’s strategic decision to allow Wall Street to determine how and by whom the financial crisis would be handled.

Systemic biases are the most crucial factor is creating and maintaining plutocratic orientations of government. They are confirmed, and reinforced, by the identities and identifications of the persons who actually hold high elected office. Our leaders are nearly all rich by any reasonable standard. Most are very rich. Those who weren’t have aspired to become so and have succeeded. The Clintons are the striking case in point. That aspiration is evinced in how they conduct themselves in office. Congress, for its part, is composed of two rich men/women’s clubs. In many cases, personal wealth helped win them their offices. In many others, they knit ties with lobbies that provided the necessary funds.  Whether they are “bought off” in some sense or other, they surely are often coopted. The most insidious aspect of cooptation is to see the world from the vantage point of the advantaged and special economic interests.

The devolution of the Democratic Party from being the representative of ordinary people to being just “another bunch of guys” is a telling commentary on how American politics has degenerated into a plutocracy. The party’s rolling over to accommodate the interests of the wealthy has been a theme of the past four years. From the Obama White House to the halls of Congress, party leaders (and most followers) have conceded the dominance of conservative ideas about macro-economic strategy (the austerity dogma), about retaining largely untouched the for-profit health care “non-system,” about bailing out the big financial players as the expense of everyone else and the economy’s stability, about degrading Social Security and Medicare. The last item is the most egregious – and revealing – of our plutocratic ways and means. For it entails a combination of intellectual deceit, blatant massaging of the numbers, and disregard for the human consequences in a time of growing distress for tens of millions. In other words, there is no way to conceal or spin the trade-offs made, who was being hurt and who would continue to enjoy the advantages of skewed fiscal policies.

There is another, absolutely crucial dimension to the consolidation of America’s plutocracy. It is controlling the means to shape how the populace understands public matters and, thereby, to channel thought and behavior in the desired direction. Our plutocratic guides, prophets and trainers have been enormously successful in accomplishing this. One object of their efforts has been to render the media into either conscious allies or to denature them as critics or skeptics. Their success is readily visible.

Who has challenged the plutocracy serving falsehood that Social Security and Medicare are the main cause of our deficits whose imminent bankruptcy puts in jeopardy the American economy? …Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and a handful of others…

A second objective in a similar vein has been to dominate the think tank/foundation world. Today, nearly every major Washington think tank depends on corporate money. Businessmen sit on the boards and shape research programs. Peter G. Peterson, the hedge fund billionaire, took the more direct route of acquiring the International Institute of Economics, renaming it after himself. He then set about using it as in instrument to carry on the campaign against Social Security which has become his life’s work. Then there is Robert Rubin. Rubin is the distilled essence of financial malpractice, and the embodiment of the government-Wall Street nexus that brought the country to wrack and ruin.  Author of Clinton’s deregulation program while Secretary of the Treasury: later super lobbyist and Chairman of CITI bank in the years before it was pulled from the brink of bankruptcy by Ben Bernanke, Paulson and Tim Geithner; and adviser to Barack Obama who stocked the new administration with Rubin protégés.  He since has ensconced himself as Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and Director of the highly prestigious, lavishly funded Hamilton Project at Brookings. By happenstance, both organizations late last year featured presentations by Jaime Dimon. The one billed as a forum for a leading global CEO to share priorities and insights before a high-level audience of CFR  members.

That is plutocracy in action.

The third objective has been to weaken public education. We have witnessed the assault on our public elementary school system in the name of effectiveness, efficiency and innovation. Charter schools are the watchword. Teachers are the heart of the problem. So privatization, highly profitable privitization, is sold as the solution to save America’s youth in the face of ample evidence to the contrary. Cast aside is the historical truth that our public school system is the one institution, above all others, that made American democracy. It also is a bastion of enlightened social thinking. It thereby qualifies as a target. The same for the country’s proud network of public universities. From state to state, they are starved for funding and made sacrificial lambs on the altar of the austerity cult.  They, too, are stigmatized as “behind the times,” as no longer doing the job of supplying the business world with the obedient, practical skilled workers it wants. Business schools, long a dependency of the corporate world, as held up as the model for private-public partnership in higher education.  Distance learning, often managed by for-profit ‘expert” consultants or “entrepreneurs”, is advertised as the wave a bright future – a future with fewer liberal-leaning professors with fuzzy ideas about the good society. Distance learning is the higher education companion to the charter school fad. Lots of promises, little delivery but well conceived to advance a plutocracy friendly agenda.

Here, too, boards of regents are led by business men or women.  The abortive coup at the University of Virginia was instigated by the Rector who is a real estate developer in Virginia Beach. The Chairman of the Board of Regents at the University of Texas system where tensions are at a combustible level is a real estate developer. The Chairman at the University of California is CEO of two private equity firms – and the husband of Senator Diane Feinstein. His pet project was to have the moneys of the California teacher’s pension fund placed in the custody of private financial houses. Two former directors of the fund currently are under criminal investigation for taking very large kick-backs from other private equity firms to whom they directed monies – and which later employed them as ‘placers.’ That’s plutocracy at work.

The ultimate achievement of a plutocracy is to legitimize itself by fixing in the minds of society the idea that money is the measure of all things. It represents achievement, it is the sine qua non for giving people the material things they want. It is the gauge of an individual’s worth. It is the mark of status in a status anxious culture. That way of seeing the world describes the outlook of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  It is Obama who, at the height of the financial meltdown, lauded Jaime Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein  as “savvy and successful businessmen.” It is Obama who eagerly became Dimon’s golfing buddy – an Obama who twice in his career took jobs with corporate law firms. It was Bill Clinton who has been flying the world in corporate jets for the past twelve years. It is the two of them who promoted Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to press for the crippling of Social Security. That’s plutocracy pervading the leadership ranks in both parties of what used to be the American republic.

Perhaps the most extraordinary achievement of the plutocracy’s financial wing has been to win acceptance from the country’s entire political class that its largely speculative activities are normal. Indeed, they are credited with being the economy’s principal engine of growth. It follows that their well-being is crucial to the well-being of the national economy and, therefore, they should be given privileged treatment.

*******

The American version of plutocracy is noteworthy for its crassness. Subtlety, discretion and restraint are foreign to it. It has a buccaneering quality. That style has roots in the country’s history and culture. Much of the behavior is impulsive, grasping.  Individuals are greedy for vivid displays that they are top dog, of what they can get away with, as well as the riches themselves. There is little interest in building anything that might endure – no ‘new order,’ no new party, no new institutions. Not even physical monuments to themselves. Why bother when the existing set-up works so well to your advantage, to that of your like-minded and like-interested associates – when you can turn ideas, policies and money in your direction with ease. And while the public is blind to how they are being deluded and abused. After all, the more things appear to stay the same, the more they can change in a country whose civic ideology imbues everyone with the firm belief that its principles and institutions embody a unique virtue. To challenge any of that would be to run the risk of raising consciousness – which is the last thing that the plutocrats want.

There are exceptions. The most stunning is Wall Street’s biggest players’ audacity in coopting a part of the NYC Police Department in setting up a semi-autonomous unit to monitor the financial district. Funded by Goldman Sachs et al, managed by private ban employees in key administrative positions, and with an explicit mandate to prevent, as well as to deal with any activity that threatens them, it operates with the latest high tech equipment out of a dedicated facility provided by its sponsors. The facility for years was kept “under the counter” so as not to tempt inquisitive parties to expose it. This is the unit that coordinated the squelching of theOccupy movement’s Manhattan demonstrations. It represents the appropriation of a public agency to serve and to serve under private interests. The post-9/11 hyper-anxiety provided political and ideological cover for a deal devised by Mayor Mike Bloomberg (himself a Wall Street billionaire who has gone down the line to defend it against all charges of financial abuse) in collusion with his former associates.  Is this simply Bloomberg registering NYC’s fiscal dependency on financial sector jobs? Well, this is the same Bloomberg who killed a widely supported initiative to set a minimum decent wage of $10 an hour with health insurance ($11.50 without) on development projects that receive more than $1 million in taxpayer subsidies. He stigmatized the measure as “a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked…. The last time we really had a big managed economy was the USSR and that didn’t work out so well.”  That’s as plutocratic as it gets – and in liberal New York.

Furthermore, the moving forces of the plutocracy are not very organized. There is no conspiracy as such. It is the convergence of outlook among disparate persons in different parts of the system that has accomplished the revolution in American public life, public discourse, and public philosophy. Nobody had to indoctrinate Barack Obama in 2008-2009 or intimidate him or bribe him. He came to the plutocrats on his own volition with his mind-set and values already in conformity with the plutocracy’s view of itself and of America. This is the man who, for the first two years of his presidency, repeatedly misstated the coverage of the Social Security Act of 1935 – ignorant and not bothering to find out or willfully ignorant so as to create a convenient comparison with his fatally flawed health care pseudo-plan. This was the man, after all, who cited Ronald Reagan as model for what sort of presidency American needed. He has been living proof of how effectively Americans had been brought into line with the plutocratic vision.

This is not to say that the plutocrats’ success was inevitable – or that they were diabolically clever in manipulating everything and everyone to their advantage. There has been a strong element of good fortune in their victory. Their most notable piece of luck has been the ineptitude and shortsightedness of their potential opposition – liberal Democrats, intellectuals, and their like.  The plutocrats pursued their goals is a disorganized, diffuse way. However, the absence of an opponent on the contested terrain assured success.

As to cleverness, the American plutocracy is actually a stupid plutocracy. First, it is overreaching. Far better to leave a few goodies on the table for the 99% and even a few crumbs for the 47% than to risk generating resentment and retaliation. Since the financial meltdown, financial and business interests have been unable to resist picking the pockets of the weak. Fishing out the small change in the wake of grand larceny is rubbing salt into wounds.  Why fight a small rise in the minimum wage? Why ruthlessly exploit all those temps and part-timers who have so little in the way of economic power anyway? Why squeeze every last buck from the small depositors and credit card holders whom you already systematically fleece? In the broad perspective, that sort of behavior is stupid.

To explain it, we must look to the status compulsions of America’s audacious corporate freebooters. These peculiar traits grow more intense the higher one goes in the hierarchy of riches. One is the impulse to show to everybody your superiority by displaying what you can get away with. “Sharp dealing” always has been prized by segments of American society. It’s the striving, insecure man who has to prove to the world – and to himself – that he can act with impunity. He is little different from the hoodlum showing off to his pals and to his moll. These people at heart are hustlers – they crave the thrill of pulling off a scam, not constructing something.

Hence, Lloyd Blankfein not showing up for White House meetings yet having Obama thank him for letting the president know, albeit after the meeting already had begun, that Blankfein can’t make it. Hence, Jaime Dimon indignantly protesting his verbal mistreatment by the press, by the White House, by whomever. Then there is Jack Welch, the titan of American industry who struts sitting down, who holds the Guinness record for the most manufacturing jobs outsourced by one company – and yet impudently calls Barack Obama “anti-business” after the president appoints his hand-picked successor, Jeffrey Immelt, to head the White House’s Job Council. Or Bank of America’s faking compliance with the sweetheart deal it got from Obama on the felonious foreclosure scam.

The ultimate episode of egregious lawlessness is the MF Holdings affair – whereby under its chief, former Senator and Governor Jon Corzine, this hedge fund took the illegal action of looting a few billion from custodial accounts to cover losses incurred in its proprietary trading. JP Morgan, which held MF Global funds in several accounts and also processed the firm’s securities trades, resisted transferring the funds to MF’s customers until forced to by legal action. Punitive action: none. Why? The Justice Department and regulatory bodies came up with the lame excuse that the MF group’s decision-making was so opaque that they could not determine whose finger clicked the mouse. To pull capers like these and get off scot free, without chastisement, is the ultimate ego trip.

Willie Sutton, the notorious bank robber of the 1940s, explained his targeting banks this way: “that’s where the money is.” Today’s financial swindlers go after the high risk gambles because that’s where the biggest kicks are. That is more important than the biggest bucks – although they add to the thrill. For the ever status striving, identity insecure financial baron is a compulsive gambler. He needs his fixes. Of winning, of celebrity, of respect. Of deference. All are transitory, though. For American culture provides few insignia of rank. No ‘Sirs,’ no seats in the House of Lords, no rites of passage that separate the heralded elite from all the rest. Oblivion shadows the most famous and acclaimed.

Thus, the grasping for whatever badges of regard are within reach – however ludicrous they might be.   When IR Magazine awarded JPMorgan the prize for “best crisis management” of 2012 for its handling of the London Whale trading debacle, at a black-tie awards ceremony in Manhattan, Morgan executives were there to express their appreciation, rather than bow out gracefully. The only Wall Street personage who has played the celebrity game without being marginalized in the public mind is Robert Rubin. Through nimbleness and political connection he has semi-institutionalized his celebrity status. Yes, there is Paul Volcker – but that is another world all together. His stature is built on an unmatched record of service to the commonweal and unchallenged integrity. The Blankfeins and Dimons and Welchs not only lack the critical attributes – they also lack the sense of what it means to serve the public from which they habitually distance themselves.

The plutocrats’ compulsive denigration of the poor, the ill and the dispossessed is perhaps the most telling evidence of status obsession linked to insecurity that is at the core of their social personality.  They find it necessary to stigmatize the latter as at best failures, at worst as moral degenerates – drug addicts, lazy, parasites, in part to highlight their superiority and in part to blur the human consequences of their rapacity.  Behavior of this kind is the antithesis of what could be the cultivated image of the statesman of commerce – even though they pay a price in public esteem. They also pay in price in terms of the other aspect of their own self-image.

Second, Americans have a craving to believe in their own virtue – as well as to have others recognize it.  The perverse pride in beating the system cannot in and of itself compensate for the feeling that you’re a bad guy. Blankfein again: “I have been doing the Lord’s work.” No one laughs in public – so I’m right about that. Dimon swaggering through the Council On Foreign Relations or Brookings with the huddled masses in his audience  – and on the dais –   beaming their adulation as they bask in his fame and thirst for his wisdom on the great affairs of the world. Perhaps, his views on whether the BRICS can rig the LIBOR rate with the connivance of the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve – or ignore regulatory reporting rules when they threaten to reveal a madcap scheme that loses $6 billion?

********

Plutocracy in the current American style is having pernicious effects that go beyond the dominant influence of the rich on the nation’s economy and government. It is setting precedents and modeling the unaccountability and irresponsibility that is pervading executive power throughout the society. Two successive presidential administrations and two decades of rogue behavior by corporate elites have set norms now evident in institutions as diverse as universities and think tanks, the military and professional associations. The cumulative result is a widespread degrading of standards in the uses and abuses of power.

Plutocracy also raises social tensions in society. Logically, the main line of tension should be between the plutocrats and the rest – or, at least, between them and all those with modest means. But that is not the case in the United States. While it is true that there were bitter words about the Wall Street moguls and their bailouts during the first year or so after the financial collapse, it never became the main line of political division. Today, outrage has abated and politics is all about austerity and debts rather than the distribution of wealth and the power that goes along with it.The deep-seated sense of anxiety and grievance that pervades the populace manifests in outbreaks of hostile competition among groups who are in fact themselves all victims of the plutocrats’ success in grabbing for themselves most of the country’s wealth – thereby leaving the rest of us to fight for the leftovers. So, it is private sector employees pitted against government employees because the latter have (some) health insurance, some pension and some security relative to the former who have been shorn of all three. It’s parents worried about their kids’ education against teachers. Both against cash strapped local authorities. Municipalities vs states. It’s the small businessman against unions and health insurance requirements. It’s doctors against patients against administrators. It’s university administrators against faculty and against students, faculty against students in competing for a much reduced appropriations. It’s all of those against boards of regents and state governors.

It’s everyone frustrated by the ever sharpening contrast between hopes and aspirations and darkening realities of what they might expect for themselves and their children. Meanwhile, the folks at the top wait confidently and expectantly above the fray they have engineered – ever ready to swoop down to strip the remains of combat by way of privatized public assets, no-bid contracts, tax and regulatory havens, commercially owned toll roads, student loan monopolies, rapacious buying up of foreclosed properties with federal incentives, and myriad tax breaks.

President Obama used his State of the Union Address to send the message loud and clear. “Let me put colleges and universities on notice” he warned, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.” He thereby set forth a line of reasoning that put him on the same wavelength as Rick Perry. For the reality is the exact opposite. It is because funding has gone down by 2/3 over the past few decades that colleges and universities are obliged to raise tuition – despite flat-lining faculty and staff salaries.   This is the essence of intellectual conditioning to the plutocracy’s self-serving dogma and the suborning of public authorities by the plutocracy. Beyond capture, it is assimilation.

Does this sort of perverse pride go before the fall? No sign of that happening yet. Plutocracy in America is more likely to be our destiny. The growing dynastic factor operating within the financial plutocracy militates in that direction. Wealth itself has always been transferred from one generation to another, of course; reduced inheritance taxes along with lower rates at upper income brackets generally accentuate that tendency. With socio-economic mobility in American society slipping, it gains further momentum. Something approaching a caste identity is forming among the financial elites – as personified by Jaime Dimon who is the third generation of Wall Street stockbrokers/financial managers in his family – his father an Executive Director at American Express where the young Dimon joined forces with Sandy Weill.  As a revealing coda to this generational tale, Dimon, last year, hired his 81 year old father to work for JP Morgan Chase. His father’s first-year salary was $447,000;  slated to rise to $1.6 million – now that he has some work experience under his belt, presumably.  A sense of limits is not part of the financial plutocracy’s persona.

*******

All that has been recounted here is on the public record. Facts are facts; the inferred attitudes of the plutocracy are confirmed by an abundance of data – including the players’ own statements. The consequences analyzed are also a matter of public record. The tepid reaction should be no surprise; that is exactly what is to be expected in a plutocracy.

So what is to be done? Rectify the sins of commission by rescinding them and those of omission by restoring responsible, enlightened policies. A model? How about 1974? Inglorious year, but….Richard Nixon was well to the ‘Left’ of Barack Obama – civil liberties included; corporate power, especially that of big finance, was kept in check by effective regulation; and the integrity of American institutions was a paramount concern of most elected officials and the political elite in general.

The Word awaits…but

The script is small

The preacher is blind

The audience is deaf

And the echoes ricochet off bare walls soundlessly

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/04/01/plutocracy-in-america/

Twenty Myths About Unions

By Paul Jay, The Real News, March 23, 2013

Bill Fletcher: I hear from workers that have lower-paid jobs, that they resent union-sector high wages thinking it’s better for the economy if all wages were lower -

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

As most people following The Real News know, unionization rates in the United States are heading towards, well, almost nothing. Private-sector unions are something under 7 percent. With public sector, I think it gets up into the 9 or 10 percent, maybe 11. But the issue of where unions are headed doesn’t look very good. One union leader I heard recently said, oh, well, it’s just cyclical. You know, we’ve lost half our membership. And it occurred to me, yeah, in the next cycle you might lose the other half of your membership, because the unions don’t seem to be doing a very good job at messaging why unorganized workers should be in unions.

And whenever I’ve covered strike struggles and I talk to nonunionized workers watching the picket line, often you hear at least two things said. One, these union workers get paid too much, they’re bankrupting the country, it’s not fair that they get paid that much, and it’s making us uncompetitive. And, of course, the other thing you hear is, oh, the unions are all just corrupt, they don’t really do anything for you. Well, now someone’s come along to try to dispel what he calls myths about unionization.

And now joining us from our studio in D.C. is Bill Fletcher Jr. He’s an immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He’s a union organizer, an activist. And he has has a new book out titled “They’re Bankrupting Us!” And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Thanks very much for joining us, Bill.

BILL FLETCHER JR., AUTHOR AND ACTIVIST: Thank you.

JAY: So talk about, first of all, what drove you to write the book.

FLETCHER: Well, actually, two things, Paul. One was simply I was asked. Beacon Press in the beginning of 2011 was taken by the upturn in interest in unions, particularly after what was going on in Wisconsin in response to Governor Scott Walker. So they asked me to write it.

But what made it possible for me to write it was an experience I had when I was on a plane about a year before, flying from San Jose and San Diego. And I was sitting next to this woman, a very nice woman in her 30s, and I was reading a book about global union solidarity. And she asked what the book was about, and I explained to her. And she looked at me and said, “What is a union?”

FLETCHER: Now, at first I thought that she was joking with me. And then I realized she was absolutely serious. She had no idea what a labor union was. So I proceeded to explain it to her. As I was explaining it to her, she was nodding her head, and I realized she was nodding her head in that way that someone does when they have no idea what you’re talking about. So when I wrote this book, I was actually writing the book for her. And each chapter dealing with myths or broadbrush criticisms is really written as a conversation with her or people like her who are not necessarily opposed to unions but often have no clue as to what a union is.

JAY: Well, let’s start with the one that’s the title of the book, they’re bankrupting us, because I hear that a lot from workers that have lower-paid jobs, that they resent union-sector high wages. They particularly resent public-sector wages. And instead of them getting organized and trying to get higher wages, they think what would be better for the economy is if the higher-paid workers got paid less.

FLETCHER: That’s true. That is a very common myth. And there’s a few different things I would say about that. One is that at a certain point in the history of the U.S., when unions were much stronger and they were driving the economy in many ways—not controlling, but driving things—what you’d have is with higher-wage jobs, nonunion competitor companies would also feel compelled to raise their wages because they basically wanted to keep unions out. So they wanted to be competitive. As our percentage of the workforce shrank, the nonunion companies felt less compelled to do that, and this gap widened between what unionized workers were facing and nonunion workers were facing.

Second thing is that it’s very common for people to blame others who are weak or actually scapegoated, rather than to identify the real source of the problem. For those nonunion workers you’re talking about, the problem is not unionized workers. The problem is the wealthy, the problem is those that are controlling the economy, who are basically robbing from people like those nonunion workers who maybe 20 or 30 years ago would have actually been at a union.

A third thing is that in the public sector, this notion that the unions are a problem is completely misplaced, because the problem is revenue. The problem isn’t the unions. The problem is revenue. And there have been decisions made by various governments, largely by Republican, but also by Democrats, that instead of raising taxes on the wealthy, they’d instead go after gouging the workers, and therefore to focus on the paid salary of the workers rather than figure out: how do we get more revenue into the economy?

JAY: Well, part of the argument goes, when you talk to some workers who believe this, is they think there’d be more jobs. If only higher-paid workers were paid less, then there’d be more jobs to go around. I mean, what’s the truth of that?

FLETCHER: Well, the truth of that is [incompr.] what happened over the last 30 years in the southern part of the United States with the textile industry. So you [incompr.] textile industry that went from unionized—the pre-unionized of the United States into the South, into largely nonunion facilities, and then kept going south into the Dominican Republic, into Mexico or China or Vietnam. So the issue wasn’t about the existence of the union. These companies were going, trying to find cheaper and cheaper labor. That’s what’s really going on here there. And to the extent to which you have parts of the United States, large parts of the United States now that have no unions, it becomes easier for these companies to play us off against one another.

So these nonunion workers that you’re talking about, they need to understand that the companies are not running into problems because of the unions. Very often they’re running into problems because of their own market strategies, because they refuse to keep up with the technology. A case in point of that would be the U.S. auto industry up through the 1980s, which was not keeping up with technological developments and ended up being outclassed by the Japanese, by the Germans, by the Swedes. Yet it is easier to blame all of this on the unions.

JAY: Now, one of the other myths you talk about in the book—you say is a myth—which is this issue that unions are corrupt and—. But certainly there has been a lot of problem with corruption in unions. So why do you consider that a myth?

FLETCHER: Because in the United States there’s corruption. See, you know, what’s interesting, and particularly if you watch some of these right-wing television programs, they will focus on an example of corruption in the union as a way of saying that unions are the problems. Yet I don’t remember any of these right-wingers talking about when Bernie Madoff carried out his scandal, that maybe we should get rid of capitalism. I mean, maybe that’s a solution to the Bernie Madoff scandal and other such scandals. You see, it’s very hypocritical, the nature of the attack. It is a corruption in unions. There is corruption in any place where there is money.

The question is not whether there’s corruption. The question is whether the institution is doing anything to limit the corruption and to address it directly. So that’s one thing, that in unions as democratic organizations, the most democratic organizations or most democratic unions are the ones that generally are the least corrupt. But the second thing is that there are certain unions that historically were penetrated by the mob, in part because of the nature of the industry itself.

And that was one of the things that I found very interesting when I was doing some research for this, Paul, that there was a—in the 1985-86, there was a president’s commission on organized crime that had a section on unions. And one of the things that they concluded—they concluded two things. One is: the more democratic the union is, the less likely it is to be corrupt and mobbed up. The second is that there’s certain industries that the mob has penetrated particularly because of the nature of the workforce. Where the workforce is transitory, part-time, temporary employees, they’ve been unable to get in.

Now, the way you deal with this is that you have to have a culture within the organization that really is abhorrent to corruption, is constantly struggling for greater democracy and worker control. So of course there’s corruption and there’s been corruption. But what you can see in the union movement is the constant struggle, usually by rank-and-file members, for real democracy and against corruption. That’s more than you can say about Wall Street.

JAY: Now, one of the things which I find hard to understand is I see little to none campaigns by the unions, in a broader way, explaining why unionization is good for unorganized workers. You know, we know the unions have poured tons of money into funding for Democratic Party election campaigns on television, and I guess when they do specific organizing efforts at a specific plant or hospital or whatever, they put money into that. But in terms of general education of the public and the broad section of unorganized workers, I never see anything that explains why a union’s good and, as you’re doing in your book, trying to dispel myths.

FLETCHER: Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, it’s interesting, Paul. So, first of all, there actually have been over the years, periodically, certain public relations campaigns by unions to talk with the public about why a union’s a good thing. They have happened.

But you see, what I would argue is that that’s not enough, that if you want to convince the public that unions are good, you need a combination of PR, books like mine. But most importantly, you have to position the unions so that they are perceived as organizations that are fighting for the public, for example the Chicago Teachers Union, right, which has an immense amount of parent support. Why? Because parents see in the union that the union is fighting not just for the teachers but for them. Or back in 1997, when the Teamsters went on strike against the United Parcel Service, they had tremendous support from the public because they had built up a lot of goodwill, because they convinced the public and they framed the issue that they were fighting for is that they were fighting on behalf of the need of workers for full-time jobs. And the public loved this. So I think that winning the public is not by any stretch of the imagination impossible, but you need a combination of good PR, good educational books—.

JAY: Yeah, but, Bill, I’m not talking about winning the public. I’m talking about talking to unorganized workers, who as we know is by far the majority of workers, and talking to them about why they should be in a union. And I don’t see that. I mean, when you’re talking about public campaigns, that’s also an issue, of course. I can’t remember the last time I saw an ad for buy union. When I was a kid, I used to see those ads all the time. I talk to union leaders now: why aren’t you guys pushing buy union? And, you know, occasionally you see buy American. But it could be buy nonunion American, buy—if you follow that campaign, not buy union. They kind of—they’ve become so defensive and almost defeatist about their own image, they don’t even try <=”" i=”"> campaigns. But I’m talking about talking to unorganized workers in a broader way.

FLETCHER: In order to talk to workers, unorganized workers, nonunion workers, and to win them, in addition to organizing campaigns you have to position a union movement so it’s perceived on a regular basis as fighting for more than just union workers, whether that is helping unemployed workers get organized and fight for jobs, whether that’s what the Chicago Teachers Union is doing right now. It’s taking up campaigns and positioning themselves to speak on behalf of the 89 percent or 90 percent of the workers—88 percent of the workers that are not unionized.

We need—that’s what we need. We need union leaders that are in fact labor leaders. And that’s the challenge, Paul, and I think that’s what you’ve run up against, where you have union leaders that treat their responsibility as that of the head of a trade association rather than a trade union.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Bill.

FLETCHER: Thank you.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a columnist, activist, author and labor organizer. He is an editorial board member of BlackComentator.com, as well as the chairman of the Retail Justice Alliance. He is also the co-author of “Solidarity Divided”; and the author of the newly released book,”‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.” He is the a cofounder of the Center for Labor Renewal, has served as President of TransAfrica Forum and was formerly the Education Director and later Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO.

http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=8834#.USOIX6mmDww

The Decline of Unions Is Your Problem Too

By Eric Liu, Time.com, Jan. 29, 2013

Mini-excerpt

the share of America’s work­force that’s union­ized hit a 97-year low…It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer peo­ple see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accel­er­ates the decline… Inequal­ity and wealth con­cen­tra­tion are at lev­els not seen since just before the Great Depres­sion…a basic assump­tion now shapes most Amer­i­cans’ mind­set about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my prob­lem because I’m not in a union. That assump­tion is wrong in two crit­i­cal ways. First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the econ­omy as a whole does bet­ter…On the flip side, when labor is weak and cap­i­tal uncon­strained, cor­po­ra­tions hoard, hir­ing slows, and inequal­ity deep­ens. Thus we have today both record highs in cor­po­rate prof­its and record lows in wages. Sec­ond, unions lift wages for non-union mem­bers too by cre­at­ing a higher pre­vail­ing wage…The weak­ness of labor is everyone’s prob­lem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity

Excerpt

Last week came news that the share of America’s workforce that’s unionized hit a 97-year low…It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline… Inequality and wealth concentration are at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression. This would seem as ripe a time in modern memory for a revival of organized labor. Instead, a basic assumption now shapes most Americans’ mindset about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my problem because I’m not in a union. That assumption is wrong in two critical ways.

First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better…On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages.

Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage…The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity.

Full text

Last week came news that the share of America’s workforce that’s unionized hit a 97-year low. A mere 11.3% of workers now belong to a union, and a great chunk of those are in the shrinking public sector. In the private sector, unionization fell to an abysmal 6.6%, down from a peak of 35% during the 1950s.

Most Americans yawned at this news. On one level that’s understandable. After all, most Americans aren’t in a union. It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline.

But on another level, America’s non-reaction is striking. We remain in the wake of the Great Recession. Inequality and wealth concentration are at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression. This would seem as ripe a time in modern memory for a revival of organized labor. Instead, a basic assumption now shapes most Americans’ mindset about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my problem because I’m not in a union. That assumption is wrong in two critical ways.

First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better. Unions restore demand to an economy by raising wages for their members and putting more purchasing power to work, enabling more hiring. On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages.

Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage. Even if you aren’t a member your pay is influenced by the strength or weakness of organized labor. The presence of unions sets off a wage race to the top. Their absence sets off a race to the bottom.

Unfortunately, the relegation of organized labor to tiny minority status and the fact that the public sector is the last remaining stronghold for unions have led many Americans to see them as special interests seeking special privileges, often on the taxpayer’s dime. This thinking is as upside-down as our economy.

This country has gotten to today’s level of inequality because, ironically, those who work for a living think like atomized individuals while those who hire for a living organize collectively to rig policy in their favor. Today’s 97-year low is the result of decades of efforts to squeeze unions and disperse their power.

To be sure, unions bear part of the blame for their own decline. Some of the work rules they’ve achieved through bargaining made their companies and their own unions less adaptive to change. That’s why a few national labor leaders, from Service Employees International Union and elsewhere, have launched a “Labor 3.0″ project to reimagine unions. And it’s significant that innovative forms of worker organizing are now emerging, like Coworker.org or the National Domestic Workers Alliance, that bypass traditional union structures altogether.

Whatever form it takes, though, organized labor keeps an economy healthy. Some conservatives now argue for a higher federal minimum wage on the notion that when companies pay their employees enough to live, the employees will rely less on government assistance and participate more in economic life. Precisely the same case can be made for unions. Consider that workers at non-unionized Walmart constitute in many states the largest bloc of food stamp and Medicaid recipients.

If we want a better economy, then, we need a better story about how the economy works, in which a union worker is not a cost but a customer. The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity.

Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2013/01/29/viewpoint-why-the-decline-of-unions-is-your-problem-too/#ixzz2KbpvFEAn

What Do We Really Know About Racial Inequality? Labor Markets, Politics, and the Historical Basis of Black Economic Fortunes

By Cynthia Thaler, Alternet.org, January 18, 2013

Excerpt

In 2011, the ratio of employed population to full population among racial groups was 51.7% for African Americans and 59.4% for whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That same year, the ratio between the median wealth (assets minus debts) of white households versus that of black households was the largest since the government started collecting such data in 1984, and approximately twice what it had been before the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The racial economic gap — also present in other measures of economic well-being, such as wage and unemployment gaps — has persisted over time in the United States

…racial wage and employment disparities between blacks and whites since the 1940′s have been shaped by both market and non-market factors, including: racial discrimination; political and institutional factors such as social-movement mobilizations; shifting government policies; unionization efforts; and evolving public employment opportunities…

 

…“racial economic gains have relied most directly upon momentary shifts in political mobilization, state strategy, and union power rather than on secular trends in human capital or economic restructuring; yet these shifts (perhaps because they have been so momentary) often failed to sustain or build upon whatever gains have been achieved.”…

…Black voter turnout in 2012 was exceptionally high — and may for the first time have equaled that of whites among eligible voters– suggesting growing political clout, according to the Pew Research Center. A wide variety of contemporary academic literature has also focused on how traditional high-poverty U.S. urban areas are changing in complexion.

Full text

In 2011, the ratio of employed population to full population among racial groups was 51.7% for African Americans and 59.4% for whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That same year, the ratio between the median wealth (assets minus debts) of white households versus that of black households was the largest since the government started collecting such data in 1984, and approximately twice what it had been before the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The racial economic gap — also present in other measures of economic well-being, such as wage and unemployment gaps — has persisted over time in the United States. Further, in 2010 the number of African-American households in poverty rose to 27.4%, followed by Hispanic households (26.6%) Asian households (12.1%), and white households (9.9%), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Traditional explanations of these gaps have focused on the decline in manufacturing, in addition to skills and education disparities in the new service economy.

A 2011 paper in The Journal of Politics & Society, “What Do We Really Know About Racial Inequality? Labor Markets, Politics, and the Historical Basis of Black Economic Fortunes,” reviews and synthesizes a large volume of scholarly work to better understand the reasons for these continuing economic disparities. The researchers, based at the University of Chicago, note that racial wage and employment disparities between blacks and whites since the 1940′s have been shaped by both market and non-market factors, including: racial discrimination; political and institutional factors such as social-movement mobilizations; shifting government policies; unionization efforts; and evolving public employment opportunities.

The paper’s findings include:

“Recent studies in economic history make it clear that the post–World War II era for African Americans was neither an age of steady relative progress nor one of persistent immobility. Instead, these decades might be best characterized as an extended period of racial-inequality stasis bracketed by two quantum-leap advances.”

The first period of rapid gain was in the 1940s, when wartime mobilization and a rejuvenated Great Migration from the South stimulated increases in African American earnings, both in absolute terms and in relation to whites. Traditional explanations for racial gains in wage equality in the 1940’s include the migration of millions of African Americans to northern cities, moving them away from agricultural labor toward industrial work. A second explanation is the rising level of education among this group that partly resulted from this northern migration.

More current research has linked a number of government actions to these decreases in racial disparities in the 1940’s. These include practices of the National War Labor Board, which allowed wage increases for low-paying jobs despite wartime wage controls. In addition, wage inequality among government jobs narrowed, facilitated by initiatives such as the Roosevelt administration’s Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC). Furthermore, increased levels of union activity helped raise wages at the lower end of the wage scale, as unions also pressured employers to include anti-discrimination policies; and anti-discrimination laws passed at the state-level  impacted the labor market generally for black men and women.

“A second moment of relative black economic progress took place between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, when federal civil rights policies played an especially prominent role in generating wage gains among blacks that significantly outstripped those of whites.” Researchers have identified a number of factors that may have influenced the earnings compression in the period between 1965 and 1975. These included federal civil rights policies, including anti-discrimination mandates in the south, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Unionization in the public sector also likely had a positive effect on the wages earned by African Americans.

“…Black–white male earnings ratio stood at .62 in 1964, rose to .72 by 1975, then fell to .69 by 1987. Black women experienced a similar increase during this period (relative to the wages of white women and white men), though without the same drop-off thereafter.”

After the mid-1970’s, wage gains for African Americans came to a halt. The authors note that conventional sociological wisdom suggests that the shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy required new levels of education and new skills. African American workers had difficulty meeting the skills demand for these jobs, especially as public schools declined. But there has been a “revised explanation” among more recent historians. This more recent scholarship argues that the reasons for this change go beyond demand and supply-side economics: These include a drop in the real value of minimum wage; and declines in unionization also likely played a role in overall wage inequality.

An unemployment gap between white and black workers has persisted, even in the 1940’s and 1970’s when African Americans experienced wage gains, and this gap continued through the end of the 20th century. Research has shown that much of this gap since 1960’s cannot be explained by deindustrialization or the mismatch of skills, and the emergence of this gap preceded de-industrialization, first emerging in the 1940’s. Researchers have suggested a number of alternative explanations, including: discriminatory hiring practices; reduced anti-discrimination enforcement; and the effects of the criminal justice system. However, “much remains unknown about the causes of a persistent gap in racial unemployment over the past half-century.”

The authors conclude that “racial economic gains have relied most directly upon momentary shifts in political mobilization, state strategy, and union power rather than on secular trends in human capital or economic restructuring; yet these shifts (perhaps because they have been so momentary) often failed to sustain or build upon whatever gains have been achieved.”

Despite these ongoing economic challenges for the African-American community, other areas merit attention. For example, the national jobs picture for African-Americans also improved slightly in 2012, relative to prior years. Black voter turnout in 2012 was exceptionally high — and may for the first time have equaled that of whites among eligible voters– suggesting growing political clout, according to the Pew Research Center. A wide variety of contemporary academic literature has also focused on how traditional high-poverty U.S. urban areas are changing in complexio

http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/gender-race/inequality-labor-markets-politics-historical-basis-black-economic-fortunes

 

 

Ayn Rand’s Gospel of Selfishness and Billionaire Empowerment Is Plaguing America

Thomhartmann.com / By Thom Hartmann [1], Sam Sacks [2]  February 7, 2013

Thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and billionaire empowerment rules the world. It’s a remarkable achievement for an ideology that was pushed to the fringes for most of her life, and ridiculed on national television in a notorious interview with Mike Wallace.

But, it’s happened. And today, the United States and other independent governments around the world are crumbling while Ayn Rand’s billionaires are taking over.

With each new so-called Free Trade agreement – especially the very secretive Trans Pacific Partnership, which has less to do with trade and more to do with a new law of global governance for transnational corporations – Ayn Rand’s reviled “state” (or what we would call our democracy, the United States of America) is losing its power to billionaires and transnational corporations.

Ayn Rand hated governments and democracy. She considered them systems of mob rule. She grew up in Russia, and as a child watched the Bolsheviks confiscate her father’s pharmacy during the Russian Revolution. Likely suffering from PTSD from that incident, Ayn Rand devoted her future writings to evil government, including the “evil” of its functions like taxation, regulation, and providing social services to the poor and sick.

She divided the world into makers and takers (or what she called “looters”).

On one side are the billionaires and the industrialists. People like Dagny Taggert, a railroad tycoon, and Hank Rearden, a steel magnate. Both were fictional characters in her book Atlas Shrugged, but both have real-world counterparts in the form of the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, and Sheldon Adelson. According to Rand, they are the “Atlases” holding up the world.

So, in Atlas Shrugged, when the billionaires, tired of paying taxes and complying with government regulation, go on strike, Ayn Rand writes that the American economy promptly collapsed.

On the other side are the “looters,” or everyone else who isn’t as rich or privileged, or who believed in a democratic government to provide basic services, empower labor unions, and regulate the economy. They are the leeches on society according to Rand (and according to Mitt Romney with his 47% comments). And, as she told Mike Wallace in in 1959, they do not even “deserve love.”

To our Founding Fathers, looking out for the general welfare of the population was an explicit role of the government, one of its most important and the reason this nation was created when we separated from Britain.

But to Ayn Rand, a government that taxed billionaires to help pay for healthcare and education for impoverished children was not just unwise economically, it was also immoral.

Nature abhors a vacuum – both in the wild and in politics.  So, when people, organized in the form of a government, are removed from power, then money organized in the form of corporations and billionaires moves into the vacuum to take power – which is exactly what’s happening today, worldwide.

In the thirty years after her death, the United States crept closer and closer to Ayn Rand’s utopia. Reagan dramatically slashed taxes on the rich and went after labor unions. Clinton deregulated financial markets for the rich, ended welfare as we know it, and committed our nation to one globalist corporate free trade agreement after another.

And, under Bush and Obama, we’ve seen the rapid privatization of our commons, the further erosion of social safety nets, and more losses of national sovereignty with more so-called free trade agreements.

In Europe, we’re seeing sovereign governments neutered by Conservative technocrats. According to Ayn Rand, the rich can never be asked to sacrifice. So instead, it’s working people across the Eurozone who have to pay for the bad investments that the banksters made in the run-up to the global financial collapse.

As we saw in Greece in 2011 with the deposing of Prime Minister George Papandreou, and all across the state of Michigan over the last few years with financial managers laws, when democratic governments are unwilling to do the bidding of the rich, they’re immediately replaced by corporate lackeys who will.

The Taggerts and the Reardens are holding the reins of government today.

Which explains why Corporate America paid an average tax rate of just 12% in 2011 – the lowest rate in 40 years. It explains why 400 billionaires in America now own more wealth than 150 million other Americans combined. And it explains why fewer impoverished Americans are getting less federal assistance than at any time in the last half-century.

Ayn Rand envisioned a world without governments – a world where the super-rich are free to do as they wish.

We tried that during the so-called Gilded Age of the late 19th Century – before Ayn Rand was alive. If she’d watched the ruthlessness of the Robber Barons like she did the Bolsheviks, she may have reached different conclusions.

She may have realized that American Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower were right when they made sure that wealth was more evenly distributed and the Billionaire Class was held in check.

Or she may have come to understand that corporations and billionaires owe their wealth to the state and not the other way around. Without favorable patent and copyright laws, a court system, an educated workforce, and an infrastructure to move goods about the country, then no one would be able to get rich in America.  We’d be like the Libertarian paradise of Somalia.

As Harry Moser, the founder of the Reshoring Initiative,argued [3] in The Economist, “Corporations are not created by the shareholders or the management. Rather they are created by the state. They are granted important privileges by the state (limited liability, eternal life, etc). They are granted these privileges because the state expects them to do something beneficial for the society that makes the grant. They may well provide benefits to other societies, but their main purpose is to provide benefits to the societies (not to the shareholders, not to management, but to the societies) that create them.”

Sadly, this understanding of how democratic republics work – and why – has been lost this generation.

And Ayn Rand’s disciples are making sure the next generation never finds it again.

Idaho State Senator John Goedde, who chairs that state Senate’s Education Committee, introduced a bill this week that would require all students to read Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” before they can graduate. Goedde explained that the book made his son a Republican and that it “certainly gives one a sense of personal responsibility.”

Between stupidity like this, and the re-birth of Ayn Rand through corporate-funded think tanks and Hollywood movies, the Billionaire Class wants to make sure the next generation buys into a toxic ideology that’s quite literally destroying the world as we know it.

They don’t want the 21st Century to be “America’s Century.” They want it to be the “Billionaire’s Century.” And if they succeed, then the middle class in America – and through most of the developed world – will go extinct.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/ayn-rands-gospel-selfishness-and-billionaire-empowerment-plaguing-america

The Empathy Ceiling: The Rich Are Different — And Not In a Good Way, Studies Suggest

by Brian Alexander,  August 10, 2011 by MSNBC

Excerpt

Studies suggest the ‘Haves’ show less empathy than ‘Have-nots’… Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish…the philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults…is partly rooted in an upper class “ideology of self-interest.”… rich people are more likely to think about themselves. “They think that economic success and political outcomes, and personal outcomes, have to do with individual behavior, a good work ethic”…
Because the rich gloss over the ways family connections, money and education helped, they come to denigrate the role of government and vigorously oppose taxes to fund it…There is one interesting piece of evidence showing that many rich people may not be selfish as much as willfully clueless, and therefore unable to make the cognitive link between need and resources…

Full text

The ‘Haves’ show less empathy than ‘Have-nots’

Psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner says the rich really are different, and not in a good way: Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish.

In fact, he says, the philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults that are now roiling the stock market is partly rooted in an upper class “ideology of self-interest.”

“We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way, and some work on compassion and it’s the same story,” he said. “Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.”

In an academic version of a Depression-era Frank Capra movie, Keltner and co-authors of an article called “Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm,” published this week in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, argue that “upper-class rank perceptions trigger a focus away from the context toward the self….”

In other words, rich people are more likely to think about themselves. “They think that economic success and political outcomes, and personal outcomes, have to do with individual behavior, a good work ethic,” said Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Because the rich gloss over the ways family connections, money and education helped, they come to denigrate the role of government and vigorously oppose taxes to fund it.

“I will quote from the Tea Party hero Ayn Rand: “‘It is the morality of altruism that men have to reject,’” he said.

Whether or not Keltner is right, there certainly is a “let them cake” vibe in the air. Last week The New York Times reported on booming sales of luxury goods, with stores keeping waiting lists for $9,000 coats and the former chairman of Saks saying, “If a designer shoe goes up from $800 to $860, who notices?”

According to Gallup, Americans earning more than $90,000 per year continued to increase their consumer spending in July while middle- and lower-income Americans remained stalled, even as the upper classes argue that they can’t pay any more taxes. Meanwhile, the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us continues to grow wider, with over 80 percent of the nation’s financial wealth controlled by about 20 percent of the people.

Unlike the rich, lower class people have to depend on others for survival, Keltner argued. So they learn “prosocial behaviors.” They read people better, empathize more with others, and they give more to those in need.

That’s the moral of Capra movies like “You Can’t Take It With You,” in which a plutocrat comes to learn the value of community and family. But Keltner, author of the book “Born To Be Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life,” doesn’t rely on sentiment to make his case.

He points to his own research and that of others. For example, lower class subjects are better at deciphering the emotions of people in photographs than are rich people.

In video recordings of conversations, rich people are more likely to appear distracted, checking cell phones, doodling, avoiding eye contact, while low-income people make eye contact and nod their heads more frequently signaling engagement.

In one test, for example, Keltner and other colleagues had 115 people play the “dictator game,” a standard trial of economic behavior. “Dictators” were paired with an unseen partner, given ten “points” that represented money, and told they could share as many or as few of the points with the partner as they desired. Lower-class participants gave more even after controlling for gender, age or ethnicity.

Keltner has also studied vagus nerve activation. The vagus nerve helps the brain record and respond to emotional inputs. When subjects are exposed to pictures of starving children, for example, their vagus nerve typically becomes more active as measured by electrodes on their chests and a sensor band around their waists. In recent tests, yet to be published, Keltner has found that those from lower-class backgrounds have more intense activation.

Other studies from other researchers have not produced the clear-cut results Keltner uses to advance his argument. In surveys of charitable giving, some show that low-income people give more, but other studies show the opposite.

“The research regarding income and helping behaviors has always been little bit mixed,” explained Meredith McGinley, a professor of psychology at Pittsburgh’s Chatham University.

Then there is the problem of Tea Partiers’ own class position. While they are funded by the wealthy, many do not identify themselves as wealthy (though there is dispute on the real demographics). Still, a strong allegiance to the American Dream can lead even regular folks to overestimate their own self-reliance in the same way as rich people.

As behavioral economist Mark Wilhelm of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis pointed out, most people could quickly tell you how much they paid in taxes last year but few could put a dollar amount on how they benefited from government by, say, driving on interstate highways, taking drugs gleaned from federally funded medical research, or using inventions created by people educated in public schools.

There is one interesting piece of evidence showing that many rich people may not be selfish as much as willfully clueless, and therefore unable to make the cognitive link between need and resources. Last year, research at Duke and Harvard universities showed that regardless of political affiliation or income, Americans tended to think wealth distribution ought to be more equal.

The problem? Rich people wrongly believed it already was.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/08/10-7