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MLK Day Message: the Power of the People can be Stronger than the Power of Money (InZane Times)

Dr Martin Luther King

I was honored once again to be invited to offer the “community update” at Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Breakfast.  Here’s what I said on January 19 at the Alpine Grove in Hollis:

Honor and pleasure to be invited back. Thanks to Irving, Linda, Ray, and Governor Hassan. And congratulations to OBU for the 31st annual breakfast.

I want to begin by saying a few words about inequality, and I’ve learned that a trick to effective public speaking is to tell people stuff that they already know.

We know that for most families, most workers, most ordinary people, take home pay has been stagnant since the 1970s, two generations.

At the same time we know that the rich are getting richer.

The ultra rich are getting ultra richer.

The mega rich are getting mega richer.

And the giga rich are getting giga richer.

This has caused economic inequality to rise to record levels.

And we know that when race is added to the equation the situation is even more unequal. Net worth of white families is five times that of black families.

I think we know what Dr. King would say about that. He would say,

“The misuse of capitalism can lead to tragic exploitation.”

We know what Martin Luther King would do because we know what he did. We know what he was doing at the time he was killed. He was supporting working people in a strike for dignity in the workplace and calling on the federal government to take sides with the locked out, the cast out and the left out.

What else do we know?

We know that fifty years ago at this time Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were engaged in a dramatic campaign in Selma Alabama to win the right to vote for Black people who had been denied their rights.

We know that after marches, arrests, beatings, and several murders of voting rights activists that the Congress approved the Voting Rights Act. At last it became possible for African Americans to use the ballot to elect people who would respond to their interests.

What’s the state of voting rights now? It’s not good.

We know that in state after state – including New Hampshire – legislatures have adopted laws like photo ID requirements and other restrictions that make it harder for people to vote when we ought to be making it easier.

We know that the US Supreme Court struck down an essential element of the Voting Rights Act.

And we know that five years ago this Wednesday, the Supreme Court declared that since corporations are people (really) and money is speech (yup), that restricting the ability of corporations to invest their money in the electoral system violates the first amendment protection of free speech. This widened the gates for floods of corporate cash into our electoral system. Instead of one person one vote we are getting a one dollar one vote democracy.

We know what Dr. King would say, something like, “Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are going to be a truly great nation you must solve this problem.”

I want to suggest a couple ways we can help solve this problem.

First, at the State House this year there will be a mighty fight over the state budget. The question our lawmakers will face is whether they will protect the interests of the well off or take the side of the locked out, the left out, the least of these. They will also consider a range of bills dealing with voting rights, some to make it harder to vote, some to make it easier, and some to reduce the influence of money in our elections.

You may have heard about a group in North Carolina, headed by Rev. Dr. Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, that brings a prayerful presence into their state capitol every week. They call it “Moral Mondays.

We’ve got a group like that here. We call ourselves “New Hampshire Voices of Faith.” Mondays are pretty quiet up in Concord, so we’re more likely to show up for “Witnessing Wednesdays,” bringing a multi-faith, prayerful presence for justice into the State House. We’ll be calling on our lawmakers to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Look for us on Facebook at NH Voices of Faith. And if you are not receiving my weekly “State House Watch” newsletter by email, let me know and I’ll add you to our mailing list.

But we’ve got another big opportunity, one that comes around every four years.

New Hampshire has the eyes of the world on us because of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. The candidates are already among us. You might need to set some extra tables for next year’s breakfast. That means we’ve got the opportunity – and with that the responsibility – to let them know what’s on our minds. As Governor Hassan said, “democracy is not an every other year sport.”

At the American Friends Service Committee, we’ve got a new project we call “Governing Under the Influence.” It’s about the excessive power in the hands of big corporations – corporations that profit from violence, corporations that profit from prisons, corporations that profit from war. It’s about demanding that the democracy believe in is rooted in the one person, one vote principle, not in rule by those with the most money. We’ll be keeping track of the candidates’ whereabouts. Get in touch if you want to get involved.

But by all means use every opportunity to tell the presidential wannabes what is on your mind.

We who lift up the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. know that the struggle can be hard. We know the struggle can be long, but that ultimately we have faith that the power of the people can be stronger than the power of money, that justice can prevail over injustice, that love can prevail over hate.

Will we let anybody turn us around?

One Person, One Vote – The 1965 Struggle Goes On

This article was first published in the Concord Monitor, January 15, 2015

By Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office (WHPO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office (WHPO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When President Lyndon Johnson reached Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by phone on January 15, 1965, it wasn’t to offer birthday greetings. The president wanted to strategize about voting rights.

The two leaders were at the peak of their popularity. King had recently returned from Oslo with the Nobel Peace Prize and was gearing up a voting rights campaign centered in Selma, Alabama. Johnson, elected by a landslide two months earlier, had boldly called for “enforcement of the civil rights law and elimination of barriers to the right to vote” for African Americans in his January 7 “State of the Union” speech.

“We take the position that every person born in this country and when they reach a certain age, that he have a right to vote, just like he has a right to fight. And that we just extend it whether it’s a Negro or whether it’s a Mexican or who it is,” the president told Dr. King. “That’s right,” King responded.

But between the two leaders and realization of voting rights stood the power of southern politicians and the often violent enforcement of white supremacy that blocked blacks from the voting rolls in southern states. In Dallas County, Alabama, where Selma was the major city, only 335 blacks were registered to vote by fall, 1964, despite repeated efforts. Outside Selma, black majority rural counties had no black voters at all. Attempts to register could provoke beatings, firings, or worse.

Before the Selma-based campaign led to passage of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds of people would be arrested for peaceful protests, dozens would be beaten, and at least three – Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo– would be murdered by white supremacists. In Jackson’s case, the killer was a state trooper. (Jonathan Daniels, a seminary student from Keene, would be murdered three weeks after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.)

One Person, One Vote Principle is Under Attack

Fifty years later the principle of one person, one vote is again under attack, though the forces arrayed against democracy are less bloody.

For starters, federal election law been tilting toward the power of dollars and away from votes – just look at the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. In a 2013 case, Shelby vs. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School calls “a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting.” Congress has power to rewrite the provision and restore this power to the Justice Department but has taken no action to date.

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the Court famously affirmed the principles that corporations are people and money is speech, thus opening the gates for floods of corporate cash to pour into the election system. In 2014’s McCutcheon decision, the Court enabled donors to invest as much as $2.4 million in congressional candidates every two years. Then Congress piled on at year’s end with a last-minute amendment to the budget bill that raised the limits on contributions to political parties from $97,200 a year to $776,000.

Meanwhile the states have again become major battlegrounds for voting rights. According to the Brennan Center, 21 states, including New Hampshire, have approved measures to restrict voting since 2010. These include Voter ID requirements, laws making it harder to register, reduced voting hours, and measures making it harder for people with criminal records to regain their voting rights.

Race Still Drives Attacks on Voting Rights

“Race was also a significant factor,” the Brennan Center reports. “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote. And nearly two-thirds of states — or 9 out of 15 — previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of a history of race discrimination in voting have new restrictions since the 2010 election.”

New Hampshire is likely to see further efforts to erode voting rights in 2015. Bills to restrict same-day registration and suppress student voting are on the legislature’s agenda.

It’s not like the country has a problem of too many people voting. Nationwide, only 35.9% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014. In New Hampshire, 47.6% of eligible voters went to the polls – hardly a figure to be proud of if we really believe in government of the people by the people and for the people.

Fortunately, lawmakers and voting rights advocates are taking action. In New Hampshire, bills are being proposed to make it easier to cast absentee ballots and to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the General Election.

A bi-partisan bill to put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act is likely to return to Congress. At the grassroots level, a growing nationwide movement is calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would establish clearly that the rights enumerated in the Constitution are intended for actual persons, not corporations, and that government regulation of campaign finance can be accomplished without infringing on political speech. In New Hampshire, more than 50 communities already have adopted resolutions backing such a measure.

The January 19 holiday marking Dr. King’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision on January 21 can be occasions for us to re-assert our commitment to democracy. Shall we overcome?

IBEW And CWA FairPoint Strikers Rally In Concord (InZane Times)

“One Day Longer, One Day Stronger”

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With an inflatable corporate pig hovering behind them, hundreds of IBEW and CWA members with their allies rallied at the State House yesterday calling for a fair contract with FairPoint Communications.

The two unions went on strike ten weeks ago following months of frustrated bargaining before and after their contract expired on August 2.

“In April, FairPoint came out with their one contract proposal,” IBEW leader Glenn PC190063Brackett said, waving his index finger while speaking from a stage attached to a Teamsters truck parked next to the State House.

The unions made three comprehensive proposals and even offered $200 million in concessions, Brackett said. But the company has refused to deal and lied to the public along the way. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of consumers have complained to the Public Utilities Commission that the company, which took over Verizon’s New Hampshire landlines in 2008, is not providing the services for which it is getting paid.  Vermont’s E-911 system has been among the casualties, as has the City of Nashua’s internet service. 

“This company has no credibility,” Brackett charged.

“The corporation is in North Carolina and this morning they have internet.  They’ve got 911 and their telephones work,” Brackett said.  “Why?  Because FairPoint does not provide services to the communities in which their executives live.” [see video

“How long will the State of New Hampshire allow its public safety to be threatened by a company frPC190054om North Carolina?,” Brackett asked. 

Strikers and supporters took a few circuits around the State House lawn, chanting and chatting, while  Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and retired IBEW member Linda Horan greeted them as they went by.  Other political figures in the crowd included State Representative Renny Cushing and State Senators Jeff Woodburn, Donna Soucy, and Lou D’Allesandro. 

The crowd left the State House at about 12:30 pm and walked a few blocks to the FairPoint office on South Street, where they chanted some more and tauntedPC190065 strikebreakers who were looking down from company windows. 

The conflict is not just about wages and benefits.  Central to FairPoint’s strategy is its intent to outsource jobs now held by union members.  The unions points out that the service problems consumers are experiencing now will become the norm if FairPoint can hire unqualified contractors to perform functions now carried out by experienced union workers. 

The conflict over contracting out is emblematic of developments in the larger PC190064economy, where outsourcing via staffing agencies is becoming the norm in ever larger sectors of the labor market.  Strong unions are about all that stops the slide toward a disposable workforce.

That may be why clergy from the United Church of Christ have decided to speak up about the FairPoint strike.  In a column published in the Valley News, they wrote:

So here we are today: hedge fund corporate owners versus dedicated New Hampshire (and Maine and Vermont) workers who have the courage to take a stand to protect the kinds of jobs that sustain families and strong communities. Shades of Moses standing up against Pharaoh’s hard heart, perhaps? Or David versus Goliath? Or Jesus challenging the greedy money changers?

According to the Concord Monitor, a spokesperson for Governor Maggie Hassan said she is “concerned about the disruption in FairPoint services and its impact on the state’s communications infrastructure, our public safety systems and economy, as well as the company’s overall commitment to the people and businesses of New Hampshire.”

“One day longer, one day stronger,” the strikers chanted.  That’s great spirit, but some emergency funds for workers on strike more than two months will help.  You can contribute to the IBEW/CWA Solidarity Fund by clicking here.

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Black Lives Matter: Manchester Marches For Michael Brown and Ferguson

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Image by Arnie Alpert

Manchester Marches for Mike Brown

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Sixty people rallied, chanted, and marched through downtown Manchester, New Hampshire this afternoon in memory of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed in August by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

Organized over Facebook and word of mouth, the mixed race, mixed generation group held a speak-out by the entrance to Veterans Park on Elm Street.  Speakers denounced an epidemic of police killings of young black people and the racist system which enables such killings to recur.

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Image by Arnie Alpert

Many participants carried home made signs, with slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for Mike Brown,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” and “No Justice, No Peace.”  The slogans served as chants, too.

My own sign said, “More Justice, More Peace.”

Following the speakout, the crowd marched along the sidewalk up the east side of Elm Street through the busy downtown area to the corner of Bridge Street, then crossed over and marched back on the other side.

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“Democracy in Action” Conference Focuses on Reducing Political Influence of Corporations and Big Money

MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE—Eleven days after the most expensive mid-term election in US history, New Hampshire activists will gather on Saturday, November 15 at Manchester Community College to learn how to make their own voices heard in the run-up to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Open Democracy, and NH Peace Action, the 2014 “Democracy in Action” conference will focus on reducing the influence of corporations and big money on American politics.

“Fifty years after President Eisenhower warned the nation about the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial-complex, the problem has only gotten worse,” said Will Hopkins, Director of NH Peace Action.  “Now, it’s ultra-wealthy individuals and a wide range of corporate interests that are drowning out the voices and votes of ordinary citizens,” said Hopkins, an Iraq war veteran.

“In New Hampshire we have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the candidates,” said Olivia Zink, AFSC’s Grassroots Engagement Coordinator, “and with a bit of training and planning, we can make sure they hear our concerns about corporate influence and big money.”

“It’s no surprise that nine in ten Americans believe special interest money holds excessive influence in politics or that eight in ten Americans support limits on campaign spending,” observed Dan Weeks of Open Democracy, who noted that nearly $50 million was spent just on the recent campaign for the US Senate. “That’s about $100 for everyone who voted, and most of it was spent on negative ads,” Weeks said.

The Democracy in Action conference will take place from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm on Saturday, November 15.  It will include workshops on campaign skills, especially how to communicate effectively with electoral candidates through a process activists call “bird-dogging.”   Other workshops will examine news-media relations, bringing resolutions to Town Meetings, free speech rights, and public speaking.  Topical workshops will focus on corporate influence over foreign policy, health care, and environmental matters, plus others dealing with the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporate influence on state policy, and the impact of the money-driven political system on efforts to reduce poverty.

Participants will also learn about AFSC’s “Governing Under the Influence” project, Open Democracy’s proposals for campaign reform, and the NH Rebellion’s plans for “Granny D” walks in January.

Following the conference, attendees will have an opportunity to see a new documentary film, “Pay 2 Play,” which exposes the influence of money on our political system and explores steps to put voters back in control.

Manchester Community College is located at 1066 Front Street in Manchester. Admission is free.  Participants are strongly encouraged to pre-register. Additional information is available at:  http://afsc.org/event/democracy-action-conference.

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization supported by people of many faiths who care about social justice and peace.  It’s NH Primary season project focuses on excessive corporate influence in American politics.

Open Democracy is a New Hampshire organization founded by Doris “Granny D” Haddock to strengthen democracy and stop the corrupting influence of special interest money in politics.

New Hampshire Peace Action is a statewide group working to end wars, eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide, and shift resources from war-making to programs that meet human needs.

In addition to AFSC, NH Peace Action, and Open Democracy, the conference is also supported by People for the American Way, Public Citizen, the Stamp Stampede, NH Sierra Club, Free Speech for People, and Granite State Progress.

What NAFTA Foretells For New Proposed Trade Deal (InZane Times)

My colleague Gabriel Camacho and I wrote this a year ago, timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  With President Obama in China touting a new “free trade” agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this seemed like a good time to re-post it here.  The original article was published in the NH Business Review.

NAFTA

In the twenty years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, millions of Mexicans have been pushed by NAFTA to make the dangerous journey across the border into the United States, many without legal authorization. The U.S. government has responded by turning the border into a militarized zone, jailing hundreds of thousands of people, and deporting record numbers back across the border.

Militarization of the border began in 1994 with Operation Gatekeeper, which erected fencing, walls, and other barriers between San Diego, CA and Tijuana, Mexico, forcing migrants into dangerous desert terrain.stop corporate rule

This was not supposed to happen.

According to NAFTA’s backers, the agreement was supposed to promote prosperity in both countries and actually reduce the pressure to migrate.

President Bill Clinton asserted NAFTA would give Mexicans “more disposable income to buy more American products and there will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home.”

Mexico’s former President, Carlos Salinas, offered a similar opinion: NAFTA would enable Mexico to “export jobs, not people,” he said in a 1991 White House news conference alongside President George H. W. Bush.

William A. Ormes wrote in Foreign Affairs that NAFTA would “narrow the gap between U.S. and Mexican wage rates, reducing the incentive to immigrate.”

So what happened? As a precondition for NAFTA, the U.S. demanded drops in Mexican price supports for small farmers. The agreement itself reduced Mexican tariffs on American products. These changes meant that millions of Mexico’s small farmers – many of them from indigenous communities – could not compete with the highly subsidized corn grown by U.S. agribusiness that flooded the local Mexican market.

Dislodged from the places where their families had lived for generations, many people did in fact seek employment in export-oriented factories and farms. But there were too few jobs to go around, and those jobs that were created did not generate the “disposable income” President Clinton had promised.

A 2008 report on “NAFTA’s Promise and Reality” from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded that while half a million manufacturing jobs were created in Mexico from 1994 to 2002, nearly three times as many farm jobs were destroyed.

As for Mexican wages, they went down, not up, during the same period. “Despite predictions to the contrary, Mexican wages have not converged with U.S. wages,” Carnegie observed.

Unable to earn a living at home or elsewhere in their own country, Mexicans did what people have done for ages; they packed their bags and headed for places where they thought they could find employment.

The experts shaping NAFTA knew that the deal would disrupt the Mexican agricultural sector. That’s why Operation Gatekeeper was implemented the same year as NAFTA. It’s impossible to integrate national economies without disrupting local ones – something that should give pause to those proposing new trade agreements today. The realities of NAFTA should not be replicated.

As the American Friends Service Committee outlines in “A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy,” the U.S. should advance economic policies that reduce forced migration and emphasize sustainable development. Instead of policies like NAFTA that elevate rights of transnational corporations above those of people, we need alternative forms of economic integration that are consistent with international human rights laws, cultural and labor rights, and environmental protections.

Modern-day free trade agreements are basically arrangements that take rights away from citizens and bestow expansive benefits to multi-national corporations.

Workers on both sides of the border have one thing in common: they need the ability to organize for higher wages and decent working conditions. Without the opportunity for workers to benefit from the rewards agreements like NAFTA generate for corporations, “free trade” becomes just another driver of the widening gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else.

With the Obama administration pushing hard to create a new arrangement linking the economies of eleven Pacific rim countries, and another that ties the U.S. economy to that of the European Union, it’s time for a new path.

We’re Number One! (in millionaires)

Most of the discussion I’ve seen of wealth and income inequality has focused on trends in the USA.  Now comes the annual report from Credit Suisse, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, on wealth and inequality worldwide.  The picture looks familiar:  a small number of individuals control most of the globe’s wealth.

Among their findings released October 14:

  • The number of millionaires worldwide is likely to increase from 35 million to 53 million in the next five years;
  • The USA is “the undisputed leader in terms of aggregate wealth;”
  • The USA, Switzerland, and Hong Kong are the most unequal “developed countries;”
  • Countries labeled as “emerging markets,” especially China, can be expected to grow their shares of global wealth in the next five years.  But there, too, inequality is rising.

Credit Suisse, which no doubt wants to handle those millionaires’ accounts, also finds that the USA leads the world with 14.2 million millionaires, 41% of the members of the worldwide millionaire club.  Credit Suisse  refers to them as ‘high net worth” or “HNW” individuals.

Ultra High Net Worth Individuals

Above the HNWs on the ladder are the UHNWs, the “ultra high net worth individuals,” those with with more than $50 million in net assets. The Global Wealth Report says this group has 128,200 members, 49% of whom live in the USA.

Dollar Millionaires

“The number of HNW and UHNW individuals has grown rapidly in recent years, reinforcing the perception that the very wealthy have benefitted most in the favorable economic climate,” the report says.  Indeed.

“HNW and UHNW individuals are heavily concentrated in particular regions and countries, and tend to share more similar lifestyles, participating in the same global markets for luxury goods, even when they reside in different continents,” the authors observed.

Here’s more numbers:

  • The poorest 50% of the global population owns less than 1% of the world’s wealth.
  • The wealthiest 10% (those with more than $77,000 of net worth) owns 87% of the world’s wealth.
  • The top 1% (more than $798,000 of wealth) owns 48.2% of the world’s wealth.
  • The world now has 35 million millionaires, less than 1% of the population.  Together they own 44% of the wealth.

Figures such as these demonstrate that the world’s wealth is in the hands of a very small group of individuals. The figures don’t, by themselves, tell us anything about trends in wealth distribution.  But this topic has finally gotten the attention of policy makers and bankers, even those whose clientele is ultra-rich.

“The changing distribution of wealth is now one of the most widely discussed and controversial of topics, not least owing to Thomas Piketty’s recent account of long-term trends around inequality. We are confident that the depth of our data will make a valuable contribution to the inequality debate,”  the report’s introduction says.

Credit-Suisse also says, “During much of the last century, wealth differences contracted in high income countries, but this trend may have gone into reverse.”

It may be significant that the Global Wealth researchers find that while the top 10% has seen its share of the global pie rise from 67% in 1989 to 72% in 2007 and topped 75% in 2013, the share in the pockets of the top 1% has “shown little upward movement for the past two decades.”

For the USA, however, they find that shares held by the top 10% and the top 1% have held steady, at about 75% and 38% respectively.  This finding contrasts with that of Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who recently wrote

“Wealth inequality [in the USA] has considerably increased at the top over the last three decades.  By our estimates almost all of the increase is due to the rise of the share of wealth owned by the 0.1% richest families, from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012.

The conflict may result from differences in methodology or from Saez and Zucman’s attention to the top 0.1%, a smaller sliver than Credit Suisse studied. Nevertheless, both reports add to a body of evidence that the economy is doing just fine for a tiny class of people while just about everyone else is getting left behind.

It wasn’t long ago that economists generally avoided discussion of the distribution of wealth.  Even if they now differ on some fine points, it probably represents progress when economists working for an institution like Credit Suisse are adding their weight to a call for a change of direction.

“In mature economies,” they conclude, “policies to address wealth inequality are receiving increased attention and can hopefully be designed to avoid unwanted effects on growth or economic security. Among emerging markets, policy makers would be advised to study countries, such as Singapore, which have tried to ensure that wealth gains are broadly shared, and which have succeeded in keeping wealth inequality in check.”

[Note: There’s a link to the Global Wealth Report on the Credit Suisse publications page, but the link did not work for me.  Instead, I contacted the bank’s New York press office, where I found someone to send me a copy.]

Originally posted on InZane Times.

We Are the 99.9% – New Data on Wealth Inequality (InZane Times)

We Are the 99 Percent photo by Gawain Jones via Flikr Creative Commons license

Photo by Gawain Jones via Flikr Creative Commons License

Janet Yellin is not the only one with a new analysis of the growing chasm between the ultra-rich and everyone else  If you can handle some dense economics (or like me willing to skip past the fancy equations), take a look at anew paper by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman on “Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913.”

It seems that reliable data on wealth is not easy to come by.  So Saez and Zucman had to do some fancy calculation to figure out who owns how much and how the proportions have changed over time.   They find

wealth inequality has considerably increased at the top over the last three decades.  By our estimates almost all of the increase is due to the rise of the share of wealth owned by the 0.1% richest families, from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012.

That’s a level of inequality comparable to the early 1900s, before the Progressive Era.

Occupy movement, if you’re still out there, take notice. 

“Wealth concentration has followed a U-shaped evolution over the last 100 years,” they write  “It was high in the beginning of the twentieth century, fell from 1929 to 1978, and has continuously increased since then.”

(You can see the U-shaped curve and other charts at:  http://gabriel-zucman.eu/files/SaezZucman2014Slides.pdf.)

The top 0.1% is just 160,000 families whose wealth rose at 5.3% per year from 1986 to 2012. In the same period the bottom 90% saw its wealth stagnate. 

The key factors driving the wealth gap, Saez and Zucman conclude, is a surge in labor income among those at the tippy top and a decline in savings for those in the middle class.  That leads the authors to a set of recommendations.

First and perhaps most obvious, they recommend progressive income taxes and estate taxes.  

“Yet tax policy is not the only channel,” they say.

Other policies can directly support middle class incomes—such as access to quality and affordable education, health benefits, cost controls, minimum wage policies, or more generally policies shifting bargaining power away from shareholders and management toward workers.  [emphasis added]

It’s good to see a solution that deals with the cause of the problem.  Janet Yellin take notice.

 

Originally posted at InZane Times: http://wp.me/pXzWL-vn

Head Of The Federal Reserve, Janet Yellin, Takes On Income Inequality

Diagnosis unmatched by prescription

Janet Yellin, who chairs the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, delivered an unusual and important speech two days ago about the growing gap between the richest Americans and everyone else.

Speaking at a conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Yellin  offered “Perspectives on Inequality and Opportunity from the Survey of Consumer Finances.”  She said,

It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority. I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.

It’s fair to assume that was a rhetorical question and the answer is, no, the widening gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of the population is a threat to democracy and the economic futures of most people.

While the trend of wage stagnation for working Americans goes back to the 1970s, Yellin focused on the most recent period of economic history, 1989 to 2013.  This is useful because it includes the recent economic meltdown as well as the so-called “recovery.”

Yellin illustrated her talk with an obligatory set of graphs (she’s an economist after all), including this one depicting changes in net worth (i.e. wealth) for the wealthiest 5% of Americans, the next 45%, and the bottom half of the population.

yellen20141017a3As the chart makes obvious, the wealthiest 5% of Americans saw their share of the nation’s wealth climb from about 55% to about 65%, while the next 45% saw its share go from from 45% to 35% and the share held by bottom 50% approaching zero percent.

It’s good to know the nation’s top economist is alarmed.

The second half of Yellin’s speech concerned what she called “four building blocks of opportunity,” access to early education, access to higher education, ownership of private businesses, and inheritance.  The first three could be useful ways for individuals and families to do better in a time of widening inequality, but do not affect tax policy, deindustrialization, political and business attacks on organized labor, and the growth of the finance sector’s share of the economy, i.e. the factors driving the equality gap to historic highs.

For a more incisive analysis of what went wrong, I recommend the latest issue of Dollars and Sense, especially an article by Gerald Friedman on “What Happened to Wages?”  He writes,

From the dawn of American industrialization in the 19th century until the 1970s, wages rose with labor productivity, allowing working people to share in the gains produced by capitalist society.  Since then, the United States has entered a new era, in which stagnant wages have allowed capitalists to capture a growing share of the fruits of rising productivity.

I recommend examining Friedman’s charts alongside Yellin’s.  And try to follow Yellin’s fourth piece of advice:  inherit a fortune.

Originally posted on InZane Times 

Democracy Movement Takes a Message to Senator Ayotte (InZane Times)

 

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NASHUA, NH — The “Democracy for All Amendment” failed on a procedural vote today in the US Senate, but not before a dozen New Hampshire activists made one more attempt to get Senator Kelly Ayotte to support overturning the US SupremeP9110119Court’s “Citizens United” decision.

“Corporations are not people.  They should not control our political process,” Representative Sylvia Gale of Nashua said to the group assembled at City Hall Plaza at 9 am this morning.

The group was small, but they are part of a large movement of people concerned that “corporate people” and the wealthiest Americans have the legal ability to drown out competing voices in the political process.

“I don’t have a lot of money and I want my voice to be heard,” explained Fred Robinson, who drove to Nashua from Goffstown to participate.   

“Democracy should work for people,” offered Dr. Thabile Mnisi-Misibi, an ANC member visiting from South Africa.

The contingent of 13 people walked with signs and chants througP9110155h the downtown district to the Senator’s office.  There, they delivered a petition with 12,000 New Hampshire names calling on Senator Ayotte to support the constitutional change.   

“This is an issue for all of New Hampshire, and Senator Ayotte needs to get involved,” said Dan Weeks of the Coalition for Open Democracy, the group which led the organizing of today’s action.

Weeks handed the petitions and supporting material to Simon Thomson, an aide to Senator Ayotte, who met the group on the sidewalk outside her office.

Dan Weeks presenting petitions to Simon Thomson.

A similar action took place last week at Senator Ayotte’s Portsmouth office.

Ayotte voted Monday for a motion that allowed consideration of the amendment to go forward, but today joined her GOP colleagues voting against ending debate, thereby blocking the measure from an up or down vote on its merits.   New Hampshire’s other Senator, Jeanne Shaheen, was a co-sponsor of the amendment proposal.

The notion that the Supreme Court believes corporations are people, that money is speech, and that therefore corporations can spend without limits to affect election campaigns has provoked a reaction expressed through petitions, resolutions, and proposals for constitutional change.  SJ Resolution 19, the proposal defeated today in the P9110141US Senate, is just one of a couple dozen advanced by members of Congress in response to Citizens United.  Some groups, such as Move To Amend, have made it clear they think it doesn’t go far enough to reverse corporate constitutional rights.  But it was the only proposal likely to get considered in the foreseeable future, so many groups calling for constitutional change were on board. 

Writing in his blog at The Nation earlier this week, John Nichols said:

The amendment that is being considered is a consequential, if relatively constrained, proposal, which focuses on core money in political concerns but which does not go as far as many Americans would like when it comes to establishing that money is not speech, corporations are not people and elections should not be up for sale to the highest bidder.

Yet it is difficult to underestimate the importance of the debate that will unfold this week. The debate signals that a grassroots movement has established the rational response to a political crisis created by US Supreme Court rulings (including, but certainly not exclusively, the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions) that have opened the floodgates for domination of political debates by billionaire campaign donors and corporate cash.

No one expected the amendment to get the two-thirds vote it would need to pass or get a vote at all in John Boehner’s House of Representatives.   But the fact that any vote took place is evidence of a significant expression oP9110133f public sentiment that the“Citizens United” decision did serious damage to fundamental issues.  The questions now are whether the movement will grow or fizzle, and whether the pro-amendment groups will intensify their demands for more aggressive language or head down the familiar road of further compromise.  A decision to water down the language in hopes of gaining votes at this point would be a huge mistake.

“Constitutional amendments become viable when support for them grows so overwhelming that traditional partisan and ideological boundaries are broken,” wrote Nichols, who will speak at an AFSC dinner in Concord on September 27.  “When this happens, the divide becomes less a matter of Republican versus Democrat or left versus right and more a matter of a broken present versus a functional future.”