"a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty

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Transcript "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty

Thoughts on Income Inequality
Jeoffry Gordon, MD,
[email protected]
La Jolla Democratic Club
February, 2014
Pope Francis called for renewal of the Roman Catholic Church and attacked
unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty
and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.
The 84-page document, 'Evangelii Gaudium' known as an apostolic exhortation,
amounted to an official platform for his papacy. Francis went further than
previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the "idolatry
of money" and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work,
education and healthcare".
He also called on rich people to share their wealth. "Just as the commandment
'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life,
today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and
inequality. Such an economy kills," Francis wrote in the document issued on
Tuesday. "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless
person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?"
Richest 85 boast same wealth as
half the world
Eighty-five people control the same amount of wealth
as half the world's population. That is 85 people
compared with 3.5 billion. A new report from Oxfam
has been published in time for the World Economic
Forum in Davos this week. It shows the world's ultrawealthy have not only recovered from the global
financial crisis, they have positively blossomed. The
report shows the wealth of the 1 per cent richest
people in the world is worth about $110 trillion, 65
times the total wealth of the bottom half of the
world's population. It also shows the world's richest 85
people control about $1.7 trillion in wealth, equivalent
to the bottom half of the world's population. And far
from hindering the wealthy, the political response to
the global financial crisis - including the actions of
central banks and the austerity measures introduced
by national governments - has made the rich
fabulously richer.
In the US, the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population
grabbed 95 per cent of post-financial crisis growth
between 2009 and 2012, while the bottom
90 per cent became poorer. But an Oxfam survey of six
countries - the United States, UK, Spain, Brazil, India
and South Africa - has found that the majority of
people believe laws and regulations are skewed in
favour of the rich, so people are noticing.
National investment in infrastructure, technology, and security which has supported industry and
commerce has made America a rich country. The financial industry has used our publicly-developed
communications technology to generate trillions of dollars in new earnings, while national security
protects their interests. The major beneficiaries have convinced themselves they did it on their own.
They believe they're entitled to it all.
Their entitlements can be summarized into four categories which reveals the very rich take for granted.
1. Income: Mocking Our “Progressive” Tax System
Americans who earn millions of dollars a year feel entitled to the same maximum tax rate as those
making about $400,000 a year. Progressive taxation stops at that point. In fact, it reverses itself, with the
highest earners paying lower tax rates. The richest 10 percent pay about 20 percent in federal taxes and
it goes down from there, with the richest 400 paying less than 20 percent. When all taxes are included
(payroll, sales, state and local), the super-rich pay about the same percentage as America's middle and
upper-middle classes.
2. Wealth: Trillions in Financial Gains, Zero Tax
America has gained $16 trillion in financial wealth over the past five years, with 80-90 percent of that
gain going to the richest 10 percent, for many of whom productive labor may have been limited to
checking their online portfolios. America is gaining in wealth because of technological infrastructure and
a deregulated financial industry that uses the technology to capture most of those gains. There is no tax
on all that wealth. Capital gains can be deferred indefinitely, and then another entitlement comes into
play: the lower capital gains rate, purportedly meant to stimulate new business investment, but in large
part failing to do that.
3. Financial Transactions: Trillions in Speculative Purchases, Zero Tax
As Forbes notes, the hundreds of trillions of dollars of speculative financial transactions constitute "a
massive financial accident waiting to happen, yet again."
We pay a sales tax of up to 10 percent on boots and mittens for the kids, But not a penny of sales tax is
paid on U.S. financial transactions,
4. Subsidies: Alms for the Rich
About two-thirds of nearly $1 trillion in individual "tax expenditures" (deductions, exemptions,
exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes) goes to the top quintile of taxpayers.
Nearly one in four San Diego County families is functionally poor, even though the
federal government’s official source on the topic — the U.S. Census Bureau — says
only 14.9 percent of households live below the poverty line. A recent study by Public
Policy Institute of California reconsidered the definition of poverty by accounting for
two factors not included in the official measure: regional cost-of-living variations and
the benefits of government-subsidy programs.
Americans have a distorted sense of the level of inequality in their society—but not in the
direction one might expect. Associate professor of business Michael I. Norton has found that
respondents to his surveys universally think that wealth is more evenly distributed in the United
States than it actually is—and what’s more, respondents say they would prefer for the wealth to
be still more evenly spread around. Norton and his coauthor, Dan Ariely (author of the popular
title Predictably Irrational and a professor of behavioral economics at Duke), believe that one
reason perceptions are so skewed is because the easy availability of credit masks people’s real
financial situation.
An updated study by the prominent economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty shows that the top 1 percent
of earners took more than one-fifth of the country’s total income in 2012, one of the highest levels recorded in the
century that the government has collected the relevant data.The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of
all income. That is the highest recorded level ever. The income share of the top 1 percent of earners in 2012
returned to the same level as before both the Great Recession and the Great Depression: just above 20 percent,
jumping to about 22.5 percent in 2012 from 19.7 percent in 2011. The new data shows that incomes for the top 1
percent of earners declined about 36 percent during the recession, and rebounded about 31 percent in the
recovery. The incomes of the other 99 percent plunged about 12 percent in the recession and have barely grown
since then, on aggregate. Thus, the 1 percent have captured about 95 percent of the income gains since the
recession ended. The figures underscore that even after the recession the country remains in a kind of new Gilded
Age, with income as concentrated as it was in the years that preceded the Great Depression,
Here is a chart that could stoke class rage among the super-rich. It comes from the World Top Incomes
Database, using tax data compiled by economists Facundo Alvaredo, Tony Atkinson, Thomas Piketty
and Emmanuel Saez. As you can see from the chart, the average annual income of the top 0.01 percent
of earners -- just 16,000 households -- is now more than $30 million. That's about 30 times as much as
the top 1 percent.
The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World.
In Manhattan, the upscale clothing retailer Barneys will replace the bankrupt discounter Loehmann’s, whose
Chelsea store closes in a few weeks. Loehmann’s, where generations of middle-class shoppers hunted for markeddown designer labels in the famed Back Room, is now being liquidated after three trips to bankruptcy court since
Across the country, Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants are struggling, while fine-dining chains like Capital
Grille are thriving. And at General Electric, the increase in demand for high-end dishwashers and refrigerators
dwarfs sales growth of mass-market models. Avon sales were down 10% last year.
As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening,
in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for
businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away. If there is any doubt,
the speed at which companies are adapting to the new consumer landscape serves as very convincing evidence.
New research by the economists Steven Fazzari, of Washington University in St. Louis, and Barry Cynamon, of the
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, backs up what is already apparent in the marketplace. the In 2012, the top 5
percent of earners were responsible for 38 percent of domestic consumption, up from 28 percent in 1995.
Even more striking, the current recovery has been driven almost entirely by the upper crust. Since 2009, the year
the recession ended, inflation-adjusted spending by this top echelon has risen 17 percent, compared with just 1
percent among the bottom 95 percent.
More broadly, about 90 percent of the overall increase in inflation-adjusted consumption between 2009 and
2012 was generated by the top 20 percent of households in terms of income.
At street level, the divide is even more stark.
Sears and J. C. Penney, retailers whose wares are aimed squarely at middle-class Americans, are both in dire straits.
Last month, Sears said it would shutter its flagship store on State Street in downtown Chicago, and J. C. Penney
announced the closings of 33 stores and 2,000 layoffs. Shares of Sears and J. C. Penney have fallen more than 50
percent since the end of 2009, even as upper-end stores like Nordstrom and bargain-basement chains like Dollar
Tree and Family Dollar Stores have more than doubled in value over the same period.
Civilian Discretionary Spending as Percent of GDP, 1962-2024
Note: 2014-2024 Based on CBO Projections
The new Congressional Budget Office outlook for 2014-2024 makes for grim reading. While the budget deficit is
temporarily down to around 3 percent of GDP, this has been achieved by budget cuts that are gutting the capacity
of the federal government to address our nation's economic, social, and environmental needs. And the situation
gets worse in future years. The discretionary government programs fall to their lowest share of GDP in a halfcentury. The fact of the matter is that American politics is built on economic myths of both parties. The myth of
the right is that tax cuts solve all problems, since we don't need government anyway, and even if we do, the tax
cuts pay for themselves. The myth of the Keynesian left is that tax cuts and temporary spending increases (aka
"stimulus") solve all problems since they stimulate aggregate demand. The ensuing debt doesn't matter and
should be ignored. This bipartisan fantasy of tax cutting and debt build-up has led us to a blind alley.
----Jeffrey Sachs
George Soros harshly criticizes true believers in the wonders of unregulated free markets, an ideology he
calls "market fundamentalism.“ Soros attacks market ideology on several grounds, ranging from amorality to its
role in fostering financial instability.
On ethics, he said: "Market values express what one participant is willing
to pay another in a free exchange. They do not reflect social values, nor
do they express many of the intrinsic values that people hold dear..."
Soros disputes the fundamental claim of American textbook economics,
that the "invisible hand" of selfish individual behavior will be good for
"Market fundamentalists... [claim] that the common interest is best
served by everybody looking out for his own interests. This claim is false...
There are many political and social objectives which are not properly
served by the market mechanism... These include the preservation of
competition and of stability in financial markets, not to mention issues
like the environment and social justice."
Soros further argues that free-market ideology threatens political
"By promoting market values into a governing principle, market fundamentalism has
undermined our society. Representative democracy presupposes moral values, such as
honesty and integrity, particularly in our representatives. When success takes
precedence over integrity, and politics is dominated by money, the political process
In January, 2014 the Center for American Progress
and Half in Ten commissioned a poll to ask 2000
Americans what they really think about poverty in
the United States. One-quarter to one-third of
Americans—and even higher percentages of
Millennials and people of color—continue to
experience direct economic hardship. Sixty-one
percent of Americans say their family’s income is
falling behind the cost of living, compared to just 8
percent who feel they are getting ahead and 29
percent who feel they are staying even.
The Wrecking Crew
by Thomas Frank
Holt Paperbacks, August 2009
Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson Politics & Society June
2010 38: 152-204
Winner-Take-All Politics: Public Policy, Political
Organization, and the Precipitous Rise of Top Incomes
in the United States
[email protected] JUNE 28, 2010
Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels’ most significant finding is that there is a partisan pattern to the size of the gap
between the rich and the poor. Over the past half-century, he concludes, Republican presidents have allowed
income inequality to expand, while Democratic presidents generally have not. Bartels goes to great pains in his
introduction to preempt the counterattack he expects from critics on the right. "I began the project as an unusually
apolitical political scientist," he writes, noting that the last time he voted was in 1984, "and that was for Ronald
Reagan." He adds that in doing this work, "I was quite surprised to discover how often and how profoundly
partisan differences in ideologies and values have shaped key policy decisions and economic outcomes. I have done
my best to follow my evidence where it led me." UNEQUAL DEMOCRACY :The Political Economy of the New Gilded
Age, By Larry M. Bartels, Princeton Univ. 325 pp. 2013
This chart* shows the federal effective tax rate, which is Washington's actual cut of your incom
rates matter more than marginal rates. In 1979, for instance, the top marginal tax rate was 70 p
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surprising victories over the past year, and this is bad news for wheeler-dealers whose wealth comes
largely from exploiting weak regulation. So you can make the case that the 1 percent have lost some
important policy battles.
Last summer Obama presented the National Humanities Award to
Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist who became famous for a
book he wrote on social atomization, “Bowling Alone.”
More and more, Putnam found the crucial issue is class.
“You have an economy,” Obama said, (The New Yorker, Jan. 27, 2014)
“that is ruthlessly squeezing workers and imposing efficiencies that
makes (goods) really cheap, but also puts enormous downward
pressure on wages and salaries. That’s making it more difficult…for
everybody – large majorities of people – to get a foothold in the
middle class or to feel secure there. You’ve got folks like Bob
Putnam…indicating the degree to which some of those ‘pathologies’
that used to be attributed to the African-American community in
particular – single parent households, and drug use, and men dropping
out of the labor force, and an underground economy – you’re now
starting to see in larger numbers in white working-class communities
as well.”
How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America
by Don Peck THE ATLANTIC, March 2010
The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high
joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends,
it will likely change the life course and character of a
generation of young adults. It will leave an indelible
imprint on many blue-collar men. It could cripple marriage
as an institution in many communities. It may already be
plunging many inner cities into a despair not seen for
decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our
culture, and the character of our society for years to come…
One recent survey showed that 44 percent of families had
experienced a job loss, a reduction in hours, or a pay cut in
the past year. We are in a very deep hole, and we’ve been in it for a relatively long time
already….We are living through a slow-motion social catastrophe, one that could stain
our culture and weaken our nation for many, many years to come. We have a civic—
and indeed a moral—responsibility to do everything in our power to stop it now,
before it gets even worse.
An Empire at Risk
We won the cold war and
weathered 9/11. But now economic
weakness is endangering
our global power.
By Niall Ferguson | NEWSWEEK
Published Nov 28, 2009
From magazine issue dated Dec 7, 2009
…if the United States succumbs to a
fiscal crisis, as an increasing number of
economic experts fear it may, then the entire
balance of global economic power could shift.
Military experts talk as if the president's decision about whether to send an
additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan is a make-or-break moment. In reality, his
indecision about the deficit could matter much more for the country's long-term
national security. Call the United States what you like—superpower, hegemon, or
empire—but its ability to manage its finances is closely tied to its ability to remain
the predominant global military power.
In the 2012 election, 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of
313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of
public office in the United States.
More than a quarter of the nearly $6 billion in contributions from identifiable sources in the last campaign cycle came
from just 31,385 individuals, a number equal to one ten-thousandth of the U.S. population.
In the first presidential election cycle since the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, candidates got more
money from a smaller percentage of the population than any year for which we have data, a new analysis of 2012
campaign finance giving by the Sunlight Foundation shows.
Koch Brothers Fund Tea Party
harles and David Koch are owners of a
primary funders for the tea party and other extreme
conservative groups. They are worth $34.5 billion
each making them the 8th and 9th richest people
in the world and controlling stockholders for Koch
Industries Inc. They are a private global conglomerate located in over 60 countries,
including interests in oil, refining, pipelines, paper products, chemicals, fertilizer and
commodities trading with annual revenues around $100 billion.
A review of documents and tax records for frequently connected interconnected web
of corporate front groups, supported by the Koch brothers, shows how dangerous
these groups espousing free markets and liberty have become to society.
The Koch brothers’ decision to create a nonprofit network dates back to 1977 when
Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute, an organization the Koch foundations
continue to fund. According to Cato’s web site, David Koch continues to sit on its
board along with Kevin Gentry, Vice President for Strategic Development at the
Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and chief honcho of the secret, annual strategy
meetings of the Kochtopi.
The mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
is…to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual
liberty, through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private
sector, the federal government, and general public.
… to promote these principles by developing policies that ensure the powers of government are derived from,
and assigned to, first the People, then the States, and finally, the Federal Government.
… to enlist state legislators from all parties and members of the private sector who share ALEC’s mission.
National Media Blackout Of Saturday's Huge Moral March In Raleigh
February 8, 2014
A crowd estimated exceed 80,000 showed up to march to
protest Republican policies in Raleigh, N.C. Saturday. But
you wouldn't know it if you live outside the area. There
were few reports in any national news outlets. (USA Today
did carry a report, saying there was "a crowd of between
80,000 and 100,000 people.") Demonstrations called
“Moral Mondays” began last spring in Raleigh in response
to legislation passed by the Republican-led General Assembly.
The protests are designed to keep a spotlight on what organizers
view as regressive policies, particularly on Medicaid,
unemployment benefits, abortion, voting and education. March organizers issued five demands or state
government that reflect the broad concerns of its coalition—and the targets of right-wing leaders:
1. Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability.
2. Provide well-funded, quality public education for all.
3. Promote health care for all, including affordable access, the expansion of Medicaid, women’s health,
and environmental justice in every community.
4. Address the continuing disparities in the criminal justice system on the basis of race and class.
5. Defend and expand voting rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, LGBT rights, and the
fundamental principle of equality under the law for all people.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the N.C. NAACP said at the march,
"We are black, white, Latino, Native American. We are Democrat, Republican, independent. We are people
of all faiths, and people not of faith but who believe in a moral universe. We are natives and immigrants,
business leaders and workers and unemployed, doctors and the uninsured, gay and straight, students and
parents and retirees. We stand here – a quilt of many colors, faiths, and creeds."
Ill Fares the Land,
Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have
made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit
now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know
what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a
judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it
help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political
questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose
The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the
human condition. Much of what appears "natural" today dates from the 1980s: the
obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the
growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric that accompanies
these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector,
the delusion of endless growth.
We cannot go on living like this….But if we do no more than pick up the pieces and
carry on as before, we can look forward to greater upheavals in years to come.
And yet we seem unable to conceive of alternatives. This too is something new.
Religious and Free-Market Fundamentalism Have
More in Common Than Their Fans in the Tea Party
Because fundamentalists are ideologically driven, they tend to reject basic facts
that do not comport with their ideology. Religious fundamentalists have
unyielding faith in the literal veracity of the Bible and consequently dispute all
conflicting science, such as the theory of evolution. By the same token, freemarket fundamentalists dispute basic facts that call into question the efficiency
and fairness of strict laissez-faire economics.
Since the fundamentalists' extreme views usually do not square with the facts, they commonly proceed to make
up their own facts, resorting to disinformation and conspiracy theories. As such, religious fundamentalists have
claimed that the theory of evolution is a "fraud," that there is no consensus in the scientific community about its
validity, and that creationism is accepted by many scientists. Free-market fundamentalists have likewise resorted to
glaring misrepresentations in order to defend their ideology. Partisans of deregulation have notably challenged
the Obama administration's health care reform by claiming that America provides better and cheaper access to
medical treatment than nations with universal health care, whose systems are less market-driven and more
regulated. While fundamentalists are adamant that an unregulated market efficiently provides for everyone's
health care, the opposite is true. America is the only developed country allowing insurance companies to profit
from basic health coverage. Until the Democratic reform, it was also the only one that let insurance companies
deny coverage to people with "pre-existing medical conditions," such as cardiac problems or lupus. These
arguments have heavily shaped opposition to "Obamacare," plausibly even more than claims about its
unconstitutionality, which the Supreme Court has now largely rejected, albeit by a narrow majority.
Indifference toward the plight of the uninsured illustrates a salient feature of fundamentalism: obliviousness
towards the social costs of ideological purity. Religious fundamentalists have displayed an equivalent indifference
to the social costs of their purist ideology.
By Mugambi Jouet, Truthout Saturday, 21 July 2012
“The moral of Katrina is mostly being missed….The
cause was political through and through �- a matter of
values and principles. The progressive-liberal values are
America's values, and we need to go back to them. The
heart of progressive-liberal values is simple: empathy
(caring about and for people) and responsibility (acting
responsibly on that empathy). These values translate
into a simple principle: Use the common wealth for the
common good to better all our lives. In short,
promoting the common good is the central role of
Thomas Piketty’s new book, “Capital in the Twenty-First
Century,” described by one French newspaper as a “a political
and theoretical bulldozer,” defies left and right orthodoxy by
arguing that worsening inequality is an inevitable outcome of
free market capitalism.
Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, does not
stop there. He contends that capitalism’s inherent dynamic
propels powerful forces that threaten democratic societies.
Capitalism, according to Piketty, confronts both modern and
modernizing countries with a dilemma: entrepreneurs become
increasingly dominant over those who own only their own
labor. In Piketty’s view, while emerging economies can defeat
this logic in the near term, in the long run, “when pay setters
set their own pay, there’s no limit,” unless “confiscatory tax
rates” are imposed.
Piketty’s book — published four months ago in France and due
out in English this March — suggests that traditional liberal
government policies on spending, taxation and regulation will
fail to diminish inequality.
"Most Americans are on a downward escalator. Median household
pay is dropping, adjusted for inflation. A smaller share of workingage Americans are in jobs than at any time in the last three decades.
Only 113,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in January, on
top of a paltry 75,000 in December.
We need a new WPA to rebuild the nation’s crumbling
infrastructure, a higher minimum wage, strong unions, investments
in education, and extended unemployment benefits for those who
still can’t find a job. When 95% of the economic gains go to the top
1%, the middle class and poor don’t have the purchasing power to
keep it going.
Yet too many still believe in trickle-down economics — that the
wealthy are the job creators, and tax cuts for big corporations and
the rich will boost the economy. The real job creators are the vast
middle class and the poor — when they have enough money in their
pockets. That’s the only way out of the vicious cycle we’re now in.“
Robert Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of
California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing
Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.
Franklin D. Roosevelt “The Economic Bill of Rights”
Excerpt from 11 January 1944 message to Congress on the State of the Union
“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom
cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men
are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of
which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak,
a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—
regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a
decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair
competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security….America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon
how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.”
It was the best of times, it was the worst
of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was
the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of
belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it
was the season of Light, it was the season
of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it
was the winter of despair, we had
everything before us, we had nothing
before us, we were all going direct to
heaven, we were all going direct the other
way - in short, the period was so far like
the present period.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 - 1870)