To Truly Address Inequality, Let’s Build a People-Centered Economy
The high-tech hubs and natural gas drilling the president called for in his state of the union speech aren’t the answer to our economic woes. Instead, we need to follow the leadership already coming from communities, workers, and small-business owners.
by Laura Flanders
President Obama got one thing right in his State of the Union address. “It is [we] the citizens who make the state of our union strong.”
Just look at his speech. After years of saying the word “poverty” fewer times than any president in memory (and talking about the middle class more), here was Obama talking about inequality and workers stifled by low wages. That’s thanks to public activism.
“Inequality has deepened”; “No one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” The president’s best applause lines were lifted from protest signs. Now “citizens” (and would-be citizens) will have to come up with solutions too, because his won’t take us very far.
Take that minimum wage hike for federal workers. Ten dollars and ten cents an hour is nice, but $20,000 a year is hardly a ticket out of poverty, even if you can find a full-time job in the public sector. The demand on the street, in case the president missed it, has been for $15 an hour, and the right to bargain collectively so workers have some power. (On Twitter that’s #Fightfor15 or #raisethewage.)
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Yes! Magazine held a live Twitter-fest during the president’s speech. Among the messages that flew in were the following suggestions.
To stop the shrinking of the public sector, the president needs to bring jobs back home, said union members. The feds spend a reported $1.5 billion a year buying camo pants and TSA uniforms from companies overseas. Obviously the government needs to set labor standards for overseas procurement and stick to them. But instead of subcontracting to sweatshops why not buy #Americanmade? In fact, why not shop locally at all levels of government? (For more on the local procurement issue, follow #shoplocal or #localbiz on Twitter.)
The president talked about speeding approvals for infrastructure repair and high-tech “hubs.” Why not do away with the middleman? Hire those workers directly and pay them a living wages with good benefits?
Good Jobs First (@GoodJobsFirst) has documented that tempting profitable businesses into “hubs” with tax breaks and incentive cash is wasteful. If government’s going to invest in private businesses, why not demand an ownership share for the taxpayers? Create anchor institutions that are connected to the local economy. Better yet, invest in the businesses that are already there. (In a recent report, @GoodJobsFirst shows that ending corporate subsidies and loopholes could end state pension crises.)
Antifracking activists responded to President Obama’s support for natural gas as “a bridge fuel.” It’s a bridge to nowhere, several said. Invest now in wind and solar and it’ll pay off handsomely down the road. And why not keep those companies public, so the profits, not just the risks stay with the taxpayers?
The tweet that sticks with me most came from George Goehl at National People’s Action:
President Obama said, “We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.” There’s also a responsibility to listen. Many Americans are saying loudly what they’re for, and they’re making it happen: creating worker owned co-ops, community-owned businesses, and public services that feed the stomach and the soul.
At Yes! Magazine, I’m calling it “Commonomics”—as one follower described it, “people-centered economics.” That’s economics that serves local people and the planet first, not ever-increasing profit. As Goehl suggests, it’s possible to make a fairer economy, but not if policy makers only tinker, and not if “citizens” wait for someone else to do it. As the president said, the strength of the union is built by we the people.
10 Clever Ideas From Around the World to Root Out Inequality (Like Fining Extreme CEO Pay)
From Switzerland to New York, it seems like people are talking more than ever about inequality—and its antidotes. Here are some of the most promising and provocative ideas from last year that could shift our course in 2014.
by Sam Pizzigati
Nurses, philosophers, and trade unions have over the past 12 months all shared some fascinating ideas on how we can make our societies more equal—and much better—places to live.
Economic inequality, we suspect, may have crept into more conversations in 2013 than ever before. But people aren’t just talking about how unequal we’ve become. They’re talking about antidotes to the avarice all around us.
I’ve assembled out of those discussions, a list that samples 2013’s most promising and provocative inequality-busting ideas, proposals, and campaigns.
Some of these notions seek to make an immediate, politically practical impact. Others raise hopes that many might deride as pure “pie in the sky.”
I like practical. I also like pie. I think you might, too. Read ’em and think!
1. Attention, share-the-wealth shoppers
Consumers committed to sustainability can buy forest-friendly paper. But what about consumers who want to strike a blow against corporate pay inequality?
Canada’s top 100 CEOs currently take home 235 times Canadian average worker pay. Big-time U.S. CEOs average354 times worker pay.
2. Nursing hopes for a more equal future
Top officials of the Massachusetts Nurses Association have just submitted petitions—with more than 100,000 signatures—calling for a new state law that levies fines against any state hospital, profit or nonprofit, that compensates its CEO more than 100 times the hospital’s lowest-paid worker wage.
If state lawmakers don’t act on the petition, the nurses plan to collect the 11,000 additional signatures necessary to place their proposal on next November’s 2014 statewide ballot.
3. An Alpine assault on privilege
In Switzerland this fall, young activists fell short in their attempt to limit CEO compensation to no more than 12 times worker wages.
In a national referendum, voters rejected the proposal—but only after a massive corporate ad blitz. Just weeks before the late November voting, the “1:12 Initiative for Fair Pay” was actually even in the polls. Expect more on the 1:12 front in the year ahead.
4. Irish eyes smiling—on a wealth tax
In the Great Recession’s wake, austerity budgets are squeezing working families the world over. But instead of slashing public spending on programs the public needs, two Irish think tanks are pointing out, governments could be taxing the enormous wealth that has concentrated at society’s economic summit.
A mere 0.6 percent annual levy on household wealth over 1 million euros, note the TASC and Nevin Economic Research Institute think tanks, could recast Ireland’s entire fiscal landscape.
5. Ignore inequality? Fuhgetaboutit!
New York City voters amazed the nation this November by giving a landslide victory to a mayoral candidate who made fighting gaps in income and wealth his campaign battle cry.
Among the proposals the newly elected Bill de Blasio will be pushing when he assumes office: an 11 percent hike in the city tax on income over $500,000 to finance universal access to pre-kindergarten and after-school programs. That proposal,with a few tweaks, could begin remaking America’s most unequal city.
6. Caucusing against concentrated wealth
If Congress ever gathered up the nerve to take a swipe at plutocracy at budget time, what might the resulting budget include? Probably everything in the “Back to Work” budget the lawmaker Progressive Caucus brought to the House floor earlier this year.
In the plan, tax rates on high incomes top off at 49 percent and are applied to all income, even capital gains. Also in the budget proposal: a financial transactions tax on Wall Street speculation, and a much higher estate tax rate.
7. Giving our wealthy options
How can we keep the wealth of the wealthy from distorting our politics?
Dean Machin, a political philosopher at University College London, suggests we give the wealthy a choice. Under hissimple proposal,”the super rich could either pay a 100 percent tax on the wealth that makes them super rich, or lose their political right to lobby, bankroll think tanks and political parties, or control media outlets.”
Those ultra-wealthy who choose money over political clout, proposes Machin, would still get to vote.
8. More transparency
Only 17 members of Congress last year voluntarily releasedtheir tax returns. Emory law school’s Dorothy Brown wants the IRS to start releasing an annual summary of lawmaker tax returns. A report on this order, says Brown, might build public pressure for moves against tax loopholes.
Back in 1934, Congress actually enacted a law that required all high-income earners to reveal their incomes and taxes paid. But America’s wealthy quickly mobilized and, in less than a year, had the law repealed.
9. Pension power
Britain’s major unions announced this past March that they will be voting the shares their pension funds hold in UK corporations—currently worth more than $1.5 billion—against any corporate pay plans that compensate CEOs at more than 20 times what workers receive.
British unions will apply the 20-to-1 ratio, at first, to the gap between executive and average or median worker pay. They hope eventually to apply the ratio to the gap that divides top executives and their company’s lowest-paid workers.
10. Rescuing the minimum wage
Few of America’s ultra-affluent have publicly called for a significantly higher minimum wage. What might get more of these privileged behind a fair shake for the working poor?
How about a new tax bracket for income above 25 or 50 times the annual take-home of a minimum-wage worker, suggesttwo Institute for Policy Studies analysts. With that linkage in place, CEOs might actually have an incentive to hike pay for their lowest-wage workers, not just simply exploit them.
What could the linked new top rate be? Why not the 91 percent top-bracket tax level in effect throughout the 1950s?
Thank you for posting this. Looks like when the shoe is on the other foot it turns out to be rather uncomfortable for the people who usually have no problem with people’s personal information being held and controlled by mysterious shadowy folks they don’t agree with…
I guess the powerful didn’t listen very well to these words: “We are Anonymous, we do not forgive, we do not forget…Expect Us!”
Thank you for sharing this. I really appreciate your blog. I hope everyone will read and share this. It is long but very worth reading. As much as I, being bedridden, appreciate the online community for staying active and connected to like minded others, the authors of this piece make excellent points that are ignored at our own risk. If you are an activist or in any way working to change the world even if you are not indigenous, this is an important article you will be grateful for having read.
Josh Neufeld and Adam Bessie, Truthout: Metaphors matter and it is bad policy and worse poetry to describe education as a pipeline, argue the authors of this comic, which illustrates the education reform debate from an alternative perspective, both ideologically and visually.
Candice Bernd, Truthout: Civil liberties advocates are pushing back against Oakland’s planned Domain Awareness Center with a new strategy – emphasizing that if officials sign a contract with Schneider Electric to build the center, it will be in violation of the California city’s Nuclear Free Zone ordinance.
Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research: The establishment survey showed the economy created just 113,000 jobs in January. Coupled with the 75,000 increase reported for December, this is the weakest two-month stretch since December, 2010 to January 2011.
Reza Aslan, Random House: The portrait of Jesus that emerges from Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth – a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of the era were, in the religious and political turmoil of first-century Palestine – bears little resemblance to the image of the gentle shepherd cultivated by the early Christian community.
Greg Guma, Maverick Media: Sochi is not the first Olympic community to be shortchanged, disrupted, and abused. Take the 1980 Winter Games, which happened shortly after the US and USSR began their face off in Afghanistan. The Lake Placid Games could easily have become a $150 million disaster movie.
Tracy Rosenberg, Truthout: Will the historic low-power radio filing of October 2013 result in an infusion of media diversity, or will its results fall short of the ambitious goals of the low-power radio movement?
James Anderson, Truthout: Activists are supporting the prisoners at Illinois’ Menard Correctional Facility who have been on hunger strike since January 15 to protest their administrative detention without due process and conditions of confinement.
Kathy Kelly, Dissident Voice: “Two weeks ago in a room in Kabul, Afghanistan, I joined several dozen people, working seamstresses, some college students, socially engaged teenagers and a few visiting internationals like myself, to discuss world hunger.”
Ernest A. Canning, The Brad Blog: After a recent three-to-three decision by a partisan-deadlocked Federal Elections Commission, Karl Rove may have thought he was off the hook for federal campaign finance violations by his Crossroads GPS organization. Two nonprofit, good government groups, however, feel differently.
Lydia Bowers, Next New Deal: There is a new, fast-growing class of low-wage workers who would not see the benefit of a raise in the minimum wage. These new “insourced” workers are individuals who contract with large Internet-based companies like Uber and Taskrabbit to perform services here in the United States.
Jaisal Noor, The Real News Network: The 2014 Olympic Games are underway in Sochi, Russia. But a hot topic for these games has nothing to do with sports. Human Rights Watch released a video showing brutal harassment of gay Russian men ranging from public humiliation to physical violence.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I feel like I now have a much better understanding of this period of time and the challenges and possibilities it presents.
Several people have asked me for a gloss on Ann’s and others’ articles about this potent Mercury Retrograde period, which began on February 6, 2014 at 4:44 p.m. East Coast time and officially runs through February 27th, not counting the Shadow Periods on either end. I encourage people to read or reread my earlier general tips for surviving and even thriving in Mercury Retrograde, but due to the requests for more clarity and guidance about this particular one, I will share some additional observations here.
First of all, I have a lot of Mercury in my chart. Tons. Mercury rules my Gemini Sun and my Virgo Ascendant, and I’ve got lots of key planets in Gemini, which means that I needed to learn how to turn Mercury Retrograde periods to my own advantage, or else face extreme inconvenience and even disaster for 9-12 weeks per year. Been there, done that…
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First Quarter Moon Phase: step out, break away, grow
Ruling Mahavidya: Matangi
Today’s energy pushes the wounding and healing themes of Chiron, especially tendencies toward self-sabotage and self-defeat. We are inclined toward giving up on various things. Since we are in the time of year that is like a long Third Quarter Moon phase, the energy naturally leans toward seeing things for what they are and closing some of them out. It’s like a month-long closeout sale. Some things just need to be given away. Feelings of failure, victimization, shame, and guilt should be the first to go. Accept responsibility for your part in things, if any, and then cease the mental self-assault. It is a drain of energy.
The month-long closeout is really a year-end closeout of inventory accumulated since April 2013 (the astrological new year, the New Moon in Aries). So this is a deep sale. It’s an opportunity to make things right, but it is also a time of reflection and re-evaluation, which can be tiring. It is very important to take care of ourselves and give time and space for stillness. Staying on mission of being firmly grounded in place, building power and resilience requires time to mentally and emotionally process things.
It’s a good idea over the next few days to ask what would quench your soul.
In the meantime, be on the lookout for signs of life! Snap a photograph when you come upon something beautiful and send it to laura or share it on the Oracle Report Facebook community (2,900 strong now and growing!). We all need an infusion of beauty.
The Moon will be in direct opposition (making a line) with the Galactic Center this Sunday, February 9, 2014, at 6:13 pm EST/ 3:13 pm PST/ 11:13 pm UTC. Let’s tap into the line with a group meditation. Information to follow tomorrow.
Thank you for posting this!