Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Newt Gingrich and the destruction of Congressional expertise"

Bruce Bartlett takes on some Gingrichian nonsense - rooted,  as are most of Newt's manifest sins, in his egomaniacal grandiosity - HERE.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The failure of mainstream economics

University of Massachusetts economics professor Nancy Folbre at Economix discusses the limitations of her profession:

The Occupy Wall Street movement, displaced from some key geographic locations, now enjoys a small but significant encampment among economists.

Concerns about the impact of growing economic inequality fit neatly into a larger critique of mainstream economic theory and its deep faith in the efficiency of markets.

Many unbelievers (including me) insist that we inhabit a global capitalist system rather than an efficient market. Willingness to use the C-word (capitalism) often signals concerns about a concentration of economic power that unfairly limits individual choices, undermines political democracy, generates financial and ecological crises and limits access to alternative economic ideas.

We can’t address these concerns effectively without a wider discussion of them.

Seventy Harvard students dramatized dissatisfaction with the economics profession when they walked out of Prof. Gregory Mankiw’s introductory economics class on Nov. 2, protesting, in an open letter to their instructor, that the course “espouses a specific — and limited — view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today.” (Professor Mankiw, a periodic contributor to the Economic View column in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times, discussed the protest in an interview with National Public Radio.)

The event prompted online discussion of conservative bias in introductory economics textbooks, including an anti-Mankiw blog set up by Daniel MacDonald, a graduate student in my own department. Prof. John Davis of the University of Amsterdam and Marquette University posted a video arguing that economic researchers, like fish, engage in herd behavior in order to minimize individual risk...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Obama as "big spender" is right-wing fantasy

Paul Krugman debunks "the claim that Obama has presided over a vast expansion of government — a claim backed not by describing any specific programs, but by pointing to the share of federal spending in GDP."  As Krugman shows, an alleged huge growth of government spending under Obama is nothing more than the inevitable result of a serious, lingering depressed economy in which increasing numbers of citizens are forced into safety-net programs and GDP growth has plummeted:
Indeed, federal spending rose from 19.6% of GDP in 2007 to 23.8% in 2010 (it was briefly 25 in 2009, but that was a number distorted by the financial bailouts). So there has been a roughly 4 points of GDP rise in the spending share. What’s that about?
Well, part of the answer is that the ratio is up because the denominator is down. According to CBO estimates, in fiscal 2010 the economy operated about 7 percent below potential. This means that even if what the government was doing hadn’t changed, the federal spending share of GDP would have risen by 1.4 percentage points.
Then, look inside the budget data (pdf), specifically at Table E-10. You’ll see a surge in spending on “income security”; that’s basically unemployment insurance, food stamps, and similar items. In other words, spending on safety-net programs is up because the economy is depressed, and more people are falling into the safety net.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


"What Could Ben Bernanke Do?"

"I can't blame Occupy Wall St..."
UC Berkeley economist Brad DeLong puts himself in Ben Bernanke's shoes and comes up with a Fed strategy to...uh, pull the country out of a deep ditch. Given that the Federal Reserve has autonomous power,  monetary policy is still feasible in the near term while every other path is "gridlocked" by dysfunctional and/or corrupted politics. Wonky but worthwhile suggestive commentary on a crucial piece of the economic puzzle:
(T)he Federal Reserve might be able to spark a real economic recovery by…
1. Announcing that it is going to keep short-term Treasury interest rates low not just as long as the economy is depressed but even afterwards when the economy has recovered and when it would normally be raising interest rates: that it is going to keep short-term Treasury interest rates low until it generates an inflationary boom, and that you had better start building capacity now to serve your customers during that inflationary boom or your competitors will do so and take your profits.
2. Not just announcing but actually bailing-in the taxpayers of the United States of America as the risk-bearing partners of American financial institutions: with the taxpayers as their risk-bearings partners, financial institutions that were previously tapped-out on their risk-bearing capacity will now have the ability and the incentive to make more loans at more attractive terms to more potentially-expanding businesses.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The perils of "too big to fail"

 Simon Johnson - former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund -  at NYTs "Economix" on the implications and perils of "too big to fail."  (One question as food for thought - if, as Johnson notes, banks are financed mostly by debt rather than equity, why are these institutions so beholden to stockholders, who aren't putting up much stake in the project relative to their ability to profit and the unprecedented "security" of their limited investment because of "too big to fail" ?):
In an interview with The New York Times in July, Sheila Bair, the departing chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, said of her experience over the last few years: “They would say, ‘You have to do this, or the system will go down.’ If I heard that once, I heard it a thousand times.”

No responsible official wants the entire financial system to crash; this would be incredibly disruptive to all Americans and potentially lead to a worldwide depression. Knowing this, many people who want bailouts on generous terms use “contagion fear” as part of their sales pitch.

How are we to know if a particular event, like deciding not to bail out a big bank, will lead to contagion that spreads to other financial markets? Contagion is the key issue.

"We are the 99.9%"

Paul Krugman suggests that the 99% "Big Tent" is actually a bit too small. It's the .1% - yes,  the one-tenth of one-percent, - who are the truly serious  malefactors in our contemporary economy and greatest beneficiaries in the income-inequality story. So, apparently,  we have extreme income inequality even at the upper end of extreme income inequality. Krugman's not exactly pulling out the violin to play a lament for the lower 90% of the top 1%, but his point amplifies the general case regarding what's happened in our economy:   
"(T)he 99 percent slogan aims too low. A large fraction of the top 1 percent’s gains have actually gone to an even smaller group, the top 0.1 percent — the richest one-thousandth of the population...

(W)ho are the 0.1 percent? Very few of them are Steve Jobs-type innovators; most of them are corporate bigwigs and financial wheeler-dealers. One recent analysis found that 43 percent of the super-elite are executives at nonfinancial companies, 18 percent are in finance and another 12 percent are lawyers or in real estate. And these are not, to put it mildly, professions in which there is a clear relationship between someone’s income and his economic contribution.

Executive pay, which has skyrocketed over the past generation, is famously set by boards of directors appointed by the very people whose pay they determine; poorly performing C.E.O.’s still get lavish paychecks, and even failed and fired executives often receive millions as they go out the door.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis showed that much of the apparent value created by modern finance was a mirage. As the Bank of England’s director for financial stability recently put it, seemingly high returns before the crisis simply reflected increased risk-taking — risk that was mostly borne not by the wheeler-dealers themselves but either by naïve investors or by taxpayers, who ended up holding the bag when it all went wrong. And as he waspishly noted, “If risk-making were a value-adding activity, Russian roulette players would contribute disproportionately to global welfare.”
Read the whole piece HERE at NYT.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The curse of long-term unemployment

Michael Hirsh on "the left-behinds":
In recent months, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and President Obama have sounded increasingly urgent alarms about the staggering number of long-term unemployed. And they are right to do so: 42.4 percent of the nation’s 13.9 million unemployed workers have been out of a job for more than six months.
That’s by far the highest share of long-term unemployed since the government started keeping records a half-century ago. Expert after expert now warns that the longer a person goes jobless, the greater the atrophy in skills and ambition, and the more likely that person is to drop out of the workforce entirely.

What Bernanke and others rarely mention, though, is that this trend has been building for at least three decades. The share of left-behinds has generally ratcheted up with every economic downturn since the early 1980s. And today, even two years after the Great Recession technically ended in June 2009, the number of long-term jobless has continued to climb to record levels. It shot up from 29.3 percent of total unemployed workers in June 2009 and peaked at 44.6 percent as recently as September.

Washington, dominated by a free-market consensus ever since President Reagan’s era, has ignored that 30-year pattern. Partly as a result, reams of data show that America’s middle class has been shrinking.

Among the few who has long second-guessed the Washington mind-set is Frank Levy, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who coauthored a much-cited 2007 paper concluding that labor began losing the fight to capital in the late 1970s.

“I’m not sure how much better we could have done in preserving the middle class,” he says. “But I know that, with a few exceptions like the earned income tax credit, we didn’t really try.”
Read Hirsch's complete piece at The National Journal on the roots and growth of long-term unemployment, a curse which has hollowed out the country's middle-class.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The State of The Union: Insanely Intransigent Republicans, Too-Eager-to-Compromise Democrats and Repetitively Moronic Journalists

Dean Baker at Center for Economic and Policy Research - "Super Committee Democrats Insist on Not Giving Republicans Everything":
In much of the media it is the rule that both parties are equally to blame regardless of what the facts of the situation are. Hence the lead sentence in the (Washington) Post's article on the supercommittee's deadlock tells readers:
"Congressional negotiators made a yet another push Friday to carve $1.2 trillion in savings from the federal debt, but remained stuck in their entrenched positions on tax policy even as the clock was running down on their efforts to reach a deal."
It would be interesting to know how the Post decided that the Democrats have an entrenched position. They have offered dozens of plans, many of which would not involve having the rates return to their pre-Bush level, as is specified in current law. By contrast, the Republicans have consistently put forward proposals that would keep the taxes on the wealthy at their current level or lower them further.
Even though the Democrats have shown every willingness to cave, the Post refuses to give them credit for it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"An Economic Bill of Rights"

Excerpt from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Failure is good"

Krugman debunks the Super-Committee:

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a complete turkey! It’s the supercommittee!

By next Wednesday, the so-called supercommittee, a bipartisan group of legislators, is supposed to reach an agreement on how to reduce future deficits. Barring an evil miracle — I’ll explain the evil part later — the committee will fail to meet that deadline.

If this news surprises you, you haven’t been paying attention. If it depresses you, cheer up: In this case, failure is good.

Budget Challenge

This is a new "budget challenge" from Pew Charitable Trust that allows you to adjust the various potential spending and revenue factors and come up with your own one-person "SuperCommittee" solution.  I have not played with this version yet, but found a similiar calculator from the New York Times revealed that these issues are not as insoluble as various "serious people" and politicians would have you think.  A lot of the discourse is thinly veiled ideology. Check it out HERE.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Newt gives "shameless" a bad name

Timothy Egan at New York Times documents the stench:
"I am now a famous person. I represent real power.”
As a young graduate student pursuing an advanced degree in modern European history, Newt Gingrich wrote a dissertation titled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945-1960.” Thereafter, in the course of writing 23 books, the scholar-politician pontificated on many subjects, from the pope to a “pouting sex kitten,” who appears for a quick romp in a novel about the Civil War.

None of his work had anything to do with the home lending practices that would help to destroy the American economy. So why would Freddie Mac pay $300,000 to Professor Gingrich in 2006 – just as the troubled mortgage lender was facing calls on Capitol Hill for increased regulation?

Turns out, that was just small change in the overall sweetheart deal that no historian but Gingrich could ever get. Bloomberg News reported this week that Gingrich made between $1.6 million and $1.8 million for giving additional “advice” to Freddie Mac. When I asked about the amount, a Freddie Mac spokesman refused to comment, but officials at the agency who are familiar with the contracts confirmed the numbers reported by Bloomberg.

This is not just another Gingrich laugher, up there with his revolving Tiffany’s account or his multiple personal hypocrisies. This story encapsulates why Washington is broken and how the powerful protect and enrich themselves, unanchored to basic principles.


Via ThinkProgress

The safety net amidst the Great Recession

Wonkblog on the Eurocrisis

This doesn't explain the Eurocrisis, but it helps explain areas of potential impact on the US economy - the worst of which, in the apparently still dense jungle of finance, seem still unknown.  Brad Plumer at Wonkblog:

With the crisis in Europe still raging, analysts are frantically trying to game out what a euro zone implosion would mean for the United States. Yesterday, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco put out a research note pegging the odds of a U.S. economic contraction in early 2012 at “greater than 50%,” noting that a European sovereign debt default (Greece, say) would very likely plunge us into recession.

Part of the reason for that is that Europe is one of our major trading partners — accounting for about one-fifth of U.S. exports. Over at Real Time Economics, Josh Mitchell put together a handy chart, using Wells Fargo data, showing which states export the most goods to Europe, and hence would get hit hardest by a Europe slump:

Utah’s gold exports, South Carolina’s auto exports, and West Virginia’s coal exports are potentially at greatest risk. The one sliver of good news is that, as Wells Fargo notes, most states have major trade flows primarily with countries like the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Germany, rather than the most fragile countries like Greece and Italy and Spain. So it’s tough to say, exactly, how a slowdown overseas would play out here.

Meanwhile, the bigger, scarier unknown is whether financial mayhem in Europe could wreak havoc on U.S. banks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oldie but goodie

The New Yorker's James Suroweicki argues Republicans should go back to merely being corporate lapdogs and - at the least - abandon "The Crazy" because their extreme ideology is bad for business...HERE.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Rove Slime Machine Targets Warren

Simon Johnson:

Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS group has launched the first attack ad against Elizabeth Warren, presumably because she is now running hard for the Senate in Massachusetts.  This ad is not a big surprise, but the line that Mr. Rove takes could well backfire.

The ad states, “we need jobs, not radical theories and protests,” so we can break the argument down into three separate parts.

First, who destroyed more than 8 million jobs in the United States – and plunged us into the deepest and longest lasting recession since the 1930s?  Surely this was not Ms. Warren, who was just a law school professor, in the run-up to 2008.

Mr. Rove is opening the blame game and this is going to go badly for his presumed supporters – the largest banks on Wall Street that took excessive risks, paid their top people well, and then blew themselves up at great cost to the American taxpayer.  By all means, let us have a conversation about jobs and the history of job losses in the United States; “too big to fail” banks do not look good in this context.

Second, what exactly is the radical theory here?  Ms. Warren’s point has been that we regulate the safety of toasters but not financial products.  Basic consumer protection is, of course, still resisted strongly by the less reputable parts of the financial sector.  But honestly, what well-run and honest firm fears sensible product standards, which is exactly what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working on establishing?

Oldie but goodie

The woes of the banks' CEOs, HERE.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

OWS has changed the national conversation


Occupy Wall Street is winning

Whatever the objectives of protesters involved in Occupy Wall Street, they have succeeded in engaging the country in a conversation about income inequality.

A quick search of the news--including print articles, web stories and broadcast transcripts--via Nexis reveals a significant rise in the use of the term “income inequality,” from less than 91 instances in the week before the occupation started to almost 500 instances last week

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What do teachers make?

A Corporate Plege of Allegiance?

From Robert Reich:
(I)f the Supreme Court and regressive Republicans insist big corporations are people and want to treat them as American citizens, then why not demand big corporations take a pledge of allegiance to the United States?

And if they don’t take the pledge, we should boycott them. (Occupiers — are you listening?)
Here’s what a Corporate Pledge of Allegiance might look like:
The Corporate Pledge of Allegiance to the United States
The [fill in blank] company pledges allegiance to the United States of America. To that end:
We pledge to create more jobs in the United States than we create outside the United States, either directly or in our foreign subsidiaries and subcontractors.
If we have to lay off American workers, we will give them severance payments equal to their weekly wage times the number of months they’ve worked for us.
We further pledge that no more than 20 percent of our total labor costs will be outsourced abroad.
We pledge to keep a lid on executive pay so no executive is paid more than 50 times the median pay of American workers. We define “pay” to include salary, bonuses, health benefits, pension benefits, deferred salary, stock options, and every other form of compensation.  
We pledge to pay at least 30 percent of money earned in the United States in taxes to the United States. We won’t shift our money to offshore tax havens and won’t use accounting gimmicks to fake how much we earn.
We pledge not to use our money to influence elections.
Companies that make the pledge are free to use it in their ads over the Christmas shopping season.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The impact of "Occupy Wall Street" on the labor movement

Steven Greenhouse at NYT:

Organized labor’s early flirtation with Occupy Wall Street is starting to get serious.

Union leaders, who were initially cautious in embracing the Occupy movement, have in recent weeks showered the protesters with help — tents, air mattresses, propane heaters and tons of food. The protesters, for their part, have joined in union marches and picket lines across the nation. About 100 protesters from Occupy Wall Street are expected to join a Teamsters picket line at the Sotheby’s auction house in Manhattan on Wednesday night to back the union in a bitter contract fight.

Labor unions, marveling at how the protesters have fired up the public on traditional labor issues like income inequality, are also starting to embrace some of the bold tactics and social media skills of the Occupy movement.

PBS Newshour on Income Inequality

Another Oldie but Goodie - HERE.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Oldies but goodies

I'll be doing ten days of of oldies but goodies while on vacation...

For starters there's Joe Stiglitz' "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" that helped get the OWS ball rolling.

The Age of Growth

Paul Krugman on the years before and after deregulation and "trickle down" became the mantras of conservative (and "neo-liberal") economics:

There’s only one way in which the post-deregulation boom was exceptional, and that’s in terms of the growth in incomes at the top of the scale. 
The true age of spectacular growth in the United States and other advanced economies was the generation after World War II, with post-Reagan growth nowhere near comparable. So why do these people imagine otherwise?

If you’re looking at the average, the last generation is a poor shadow of the postwar boom. But if you’re talking about the 1 percent, wonderful things have happened.

No wonder then, that Very Serious People — who, after all, get to be considered Very Serious because the elite likes them — have retained faith in deregulation despite repeated disasters.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"The Financial System Is Rigged in Favor of the Rich"

Economist Mark Thoma at Fiscal Times:
If the Federal Reserve had thought more about Main Street when it was bailing out the financial system, there might not be an Occupy Wall Street movement throughout the country today.

The belief that the economic system is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful is an important factor driving OWS. This belief is based, in part, on the way in which the financial bailoutwas handled by monetary authorities. Policymakers insulated banks from losses using the argument that protecting Wall Street would also prevent large losses on Main Street. But the bailout alone wasn’t enough to prevent big problems on Main Street, and it came to be viewed as largely a giveaway to the wealthy interests controlling financial institutions.

It didn’t have to be that way. Instead of bailing out banks directly, we could have given money to homeowners to help them pay their mortgages. The money could have been earmarked for mortgage payments so that it still ended up in the hands of banks, but by allowing the help to pass through households first, the distribution of the benefits from the bailout would be much different: Both households and banks would have realized gains, and this would have been much more politically acceptable.
Read the rest HERE.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Amherst economics professor Nancy Folbre at "NYT's Economix":
(T)he percentage of manufacturing industries in which the largest four companies account for at least 50 percent of shipping value has increased to almost 40 percent, up from about 25 percent in 1987.

Even more striking is the increase in retail consolidation, largely reflecting a “Wal-Mart effect.” In 1992, the top four companies accounted for about 47 percent of all general merchandise sales. By 2007, their share had reached 73.2 percent.

Banking, however, takes the 1995, the six largest bank-holding companies (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) had assets equal to 17 percent of gross domestic product in the United States. By the third quarter of 2010, this had risen to 64 percent...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Root canal" governance

Thomas Edsall at the NYTs on the politics of austerity:
The economic collapse of 2008 transformed American politics. In place of shared abundance, battles at every level of government now focus on picking the losers who will bear the costs of deficit reduction and austerity.

Fights in Washington are over inflicting pain on antagonists either through spending cuts or tax increases, a struggle over who will get a smaller piece of a shrinking pie. This hostile climate stands in sharp contrast to the post-World-War II history of economic growth. Worse, current income and employment trends suggest that this is not a temporary shift.

The year 2008 marked the emergence of a Democratic Party driven by surging constituencies of minorities, single women and voters under 30. The flowering of this coalition, manifested in the election of President Obama and in continued Democratic control of Congress, was quickly followed by developments affirming the activist, redistributive state: the enactment of a $787 billion economic stimulus bill, passage of the $900 billion health care reform act and rising demand for food stamps, unemployment compensation and Medicaid...

As the national debt grew from $10.6 trillion when Obama took office to $13.7 trillion on Election Day 2010, the stage was set for a conservative revival. Conservatives successfully shifted the focus of American politics to the twin themes of debt and austerity — with a specific attack on means-tested entitlement programs.

The Republican Party, after winning back control of the House in 2010, has reverted to the penny-pinching of an earlier era, the green eyeshade Grand Old Party of Herbert Hoover and Robert Taft, advocating a “root canal” approach to governance…

"Studies show flat taxes are harmful to your health"

Economist Robert Frank explains at NYT's how the flat tax "would greatly exacerbate longstanding growth in income inequality" and diminish quality of life, health and well-being:
Republican candidate, Herman Cain, enjoyed widespread attention when he unveiled his “9-9-9” plan last month...

Mr. Cain touted his plan’s simplicity, and many voters were apparently impressed... Rick Perry, the Texas governor, responded with a flat-tax proposal of his own. At this point, Mr. Romney is the only top-tier Republican candidate without some variant of a flat-tax proposal. But give him time.

The contention that a flat tax would be simpler because it involves only a single rate is flatly wrong. The complexity of the current system has nothing to do with its multiple income brackets.

The hard step in figuring your tax bill is to compute your adjusted gross income — roughly, the amount you earn, less the myriad exemptions, deductions and various other offsets described in the 3.4-million-word code of the Internal Revenue Service...

The much more serious concern is that a flat tax would reinforce the trends toward greater income inequality that have been seen over the last several decades.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

“Government should be embarked on a multiyear, substantial investment program in infrastructure.”

I can't say I'm a fan of Larry Summers, but at a talk at his alma mater he appears to be speaking common sense:
The United States needs additional government spending to create significant economic growth, and in so doing would face little risk of serious inflation, said Lawrence H. Summers ’75, the economist and former Obama administration adviser, in public remarks at MIT on Wednesday.

“No thoughtful person can look at the U.S. economy today and believe that the principal constraint on expansion of output and employment is anything other than the lack of demand experienced by firms,” Summers said. That is, not enough consumers in the country have sufficient spending power; government programs employing more people would change that, he asserted at the event, hosted by MIT’s Undergraduate Economics Association.

“If the private sector is either unable or unwilling to borrow and spend on a sufficient scale, then there is a substantial role for government in doing that,” added Summers, who also served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. “That’s the right macroeconomics. It’s also common sense.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg tries to re-write the origins of the financial crisis

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this morning that if there is anyone to blame for the mortgage crisis that led the collapse of the financial industry, it's not the "big banks," but congress.
Speaking at a business breakfast in midtown featuring Bloomberg and two former New York City mayors, Bloomberg was asked what he thought of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
"I hear your complaints," Bloomberg said. "Some of them are totally unfounded. It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp. Now, I'm not saying I'm sure that was terrible policy, because a lot of those people who got homes still have them and they wouldn't have gotten them without that."
To me, this is Michael Bloomberg’s Marie Antoinette moment, his own personal "Let Them Eat Cake" line...Bloomberg, with this preposterous schlock about congress forcing banks to lend to poor people, may yet make himself the face of the 1%’s rank intellectual corruption.

"Inequality trends in one picture"

More Paul Krugman:
Here, from the CBO report, are the changes, in percentage points, of the shares of income going to three groups. The top quintile excluding the top 1 percent – which is basically the abode of the well-educated who aren’t among the very lucky few – has only kept pace with the overall growth in incomes. Just about all of the redistribution has taken place from the bottom 80 to the top 1 (and we know that most of that has actually gone to the top 0.1).

Income Inequality Denialism

From "The Bad Reporter," SFGate
Jonathan Chait has a terrific piece at New York magazine on "income inequality denialism":

Rising income inequality, like climate change, is an ideologically inconvenient issue for conservatives. They would prefer not to discuss it altogether. If forced to discuss it, they will generally either deny its existence or simply carry on as if it doesn’t exist.

The underlying facts, like the facts of climate change, are stark. Over the last few decades, income growth for most Americans has slowed to a crawl, while income for the very rich has exploded. That’s a reversal of the three decades following World War II, when all income groups got richer, with the poor and middle class rising at a faster rate than the rich. Crucially, the Congressional Budget Office’s new analysis shows that changes in government policy over this period have made inequality worse. (In CBO-speak: “The equalizing effect of transfers and taxes on household income was smaller in 2007 than it had been in 1979.”)

We’re not having a debate about how to reverse or even stop the growth of inequality. Nobody has a real plan to do that. The Democratic plan is to slightly arrest the growth of inequality by hiking taxes on the rich a few percentage points, so as to minimize the need to cut the social safety net. The Republican plan is to slash taxes for the rich and programs for the poor, thereby massively increasing inequality.

That is a hard position to defend in the context of exploding inequality, and conservatives would rather not defend it. Instead the right’s response has been to persistently deny or ignore the facts.

The stark truth of growing income inequality

Paul Krugman on the implications of income inequality and "inequality denialism" among the right-wing punditry and policy class:
Whenever growing income disparities threaten to come into focus, a reliable set of defenders tries to bring back the blur. Think tanks put out reports claiming that inequality isn’t really rising, or that it doesn’t matter. Pundits try to put a more benign face on the phenomenon, claiming that it’s not really the wealthy few versus the rest, it’s the educated versus the less educated.

So what you need to know is that all of these claims are basically attempts to obscure the stark reality: We have a society in which money is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people, and in which that concentration of income and wealth threatens to make us a democracy in name only.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why we need to sustain the "Occupy" movements - things only start to change when the pressure is on and protest is visible & persistent

Dave Weigel at Slate:
In four days, Bank of America was all set to face protests against its proposed $5 per month debit card fees -- a so-called "Bank Transfer Day." Today, the bank told the protesters they could find something else to do.
We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee. Our customers' voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.
Is this the first popular victory for Occupy Wall Street?
This narrative - that OWS is starting to gain traction in protecting average citizens against monstrosities like the Bank of America - even if only in small ways - is critical.  People can make jokes about drum circles or other bits of fun or trivia that had been associated with OWS, but if Bank of America's customers see their interests served by the movements inspired by OWS, the last laugh is on the bank and the movement's approval among the general public - which is already high - will grow. 

And, of course, despite this significant victory, protestors will find plenty more to do that keeps the financial elite in their sights.