What Others Are Saying
Senate Republicans on April 30 blocked a minimum wage increase—repeating, over and over, the old claim that a higher wage would hurt the people it’s supposed to help.
But the truth is a whole different story. Has anyone ever told you that raising the minimum wage kills jobs? Then you’ve got to hear this podcast.
We’ve put together what might just be the clearest, jauntiest, and most enjoyable explanation anywhere of the truth about minimum wage economics. Surprise: what you hear from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their allies is not only wrong, it’s missing the point. The fun part is finding out why. Once you understand how the minimum wage really works, you’ll be myth-proof for life.
This is no mere academic debate: Republicans in the U.S. Senate just today blocked a minimum wage hike. And dozens of states are weighing minimum wage increases even as you read this. But a network of corporate lobbyists, and their allies in right-wing media, want to convince America that a higher minimum wage would hurt the economy. So there’s never been a more important time to arm yourself with the truth.
In this podcast, you’ll hear from two leading progressive economists about the myth-destroying research that blew up like a bomb in the economics profession, igniting a debate so vicious that some researchers stopped making public appearances. You’ll learn why a higher minimum wage can actually create jobs … and the reasons to raise the minimum wage that nobody is talking about. And we can pretty much guarantee you’ll laugh out loud at least once.
You don’t need to know anything about economics to love this podcast. But by the time you’re done listening,you’ll understand more about the minimum wage than 95% of the talking heads you see on TV.
Click here to open iTunes and check out the podcast (and subscribe and review!) … or listen at our website here.
We’ve already won the moral fight over the higher minimum wage. The core idea—that nobody should work hard at a full-time job and still live in poverty—is something that the vast majority of Americans agree on, in all parties. That’s why MoveOn members are fighting and winning campaigns for decent wages in cities and states across the country.
But it’s also why the economic debate on the minimum wage is so crucial: if hearts are settled, minds are the key battleground. And we’re winning that fight, too. This podcast explains how.
Thanks for all you do.
P.S. “The Good Fight” is a MoveOn-backed podcast and radio show about people changing the world. Since launching a few months ago, we’ve hit the No. 1 spot on the podcast charts, been named one of Apple’s best podcasts of 2013, and interviewed guests from Senator Al Franken to Sister Simone Campbell, the nun who helped save Obamacare. Our goal: tell the inside stories of the fights behind the headlines, introduce you to the heroes and villains shaping politics, and inspire more people to get involved.
Want to support our work? We’re entirely funded by our 8 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here
Ben Wikler, via MoveOn.org political action.
On April 17, most of America’s wealthiest citizens will no longer be paying Social Security taxes for 2014.
That’s right—The average member of the 1% of wage earners won’t pay into our Social Security system for the last seven months out of the year. Even while Paul Ryan’s new budget proposes new tax cuts for these millionaires and billionaires, they don’t even pay Social Security taxes for the whole year.
Tell Congress: Now is the time to make millionaires and billionaires pay the same rate as the rest of us into Social Security.
Our Social Security system is primarily funded by payroll contributions (or FICA). But what most Americans never realize is that payroll contributions are only paid on the first $117,000. Once the FICA cap of $117,000 is reached, millionaires and billionaires stop paying into the system, while the vast majority of Americans continue to pay in on all of their salary.
The American people know that Social Security benefits are earned through hard work no matter what their income bracket. These benefits provide crucial financial stability for individuals, families and communities during times of transition starting at retirement, the onset of a disability, or the loss of a spouse.
Social Security Works will be partnering with SEIU to deliver your petition signatures in events around the country. With your help we can lift up the voices like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Mark Begich, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, Brian Schatz, Jeff Merkley, Tom Harkin and dozens of members of the House of Representatives who understand that Social Security is a foundational system and that millionaires and billionaires must pay the same rate as the rest of us to make it stronger.
Social Security Works
Last week, Abby Huntsman, MSNBC news anchor and daughter of millionaire former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, went on MSNBC’s “The Cycle” to spout anti-Social Security rhetoric.
Her talking points ranged from flawed life expectancy data to claiming that there would be “nothing left” in Social Security for her generation. The two solutions Huntsman offered were to either cut Social Security benefits by 20% or to raise the retirement age to 75.
These are the same talking points dreamed up by right-wing think tanks and used time and time again by politicians and Wall Street billionaires who are trying to create a phony generational war, pitting young against old.
When Huntsman says that our options are to either cut benefits or raise the retirement age (which is simply another form of a benefit cut), she ignores that today Social Security can pay out 100% of benefits through 2033 and 75% of benefits through 2087.
The simplest solution to the problem that Huntsman overstates is to ask millionaires and billionaires to start paying into Social Security at the same rate as the rest of us.This would not only allow Social Security to pay out 100% of benefits owed for the next 75 years, but could also result in a benefit increase by as much as $800 per year for the average recipient.
We won’t stand by and allow right-wing talking points to serve as legitimate evidence for the need to cut our earned benefits. Stand with Social Security Works today, as we fight to expand, not cut Social Security!
Thank you for all that you do.
Social Security Works
Editor’s Note: The stated mission of Social Security Works, as found on its website, is to…
- Protect and improve the economic security of disadvantaged and at-risk populations
- Safeguard the economic security of those dependent, now or in the future, on Social Security
- Maintain Social Security as a vehicle of social justice
Funding for Social Security Works comes from donations from the public and through a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies. Social Security Works is guided by our Co-founders Eric Kingson and Nancy Altman (bios).
Alex Lawson– Executive Director
Michael Phelan– Deputy Director
Ben Veghte– Research Director (bio)
Molly Checksfield– Legislative Director
Lacy Crawford– Communications Director
Linda Benesch– Legislative and Policy Associate
Stephanie Connolly– Legislative and Policy Associate
More information about its work may be had by visiting the coalition website at www.strengthensocialsecurity.org.
The scientific journal Neurology has published a groundbreaking study that has rocked our community.
The study found that 500,000 people died in 2010 from causes attributable to Alzheimer’s, six times more deaths from Alzheimer’s than previously thought.
These findings place Alzheimer’s almost on par with cancer deaths, yet Alzheimer’s receives a mere fraction of the research funding dedicated to cancer ($550 million compared to $5.7 billion annually).
Alzheimer’s is a cancer-size problem. Alzheimer’s requires a cancer-size response.
Researchers from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found that Alzheimer’s was responsible for more than 500,000 deaths in 2010 – six times more deaths than previously reported by the CDC.
This news comes just weeks after the Director of the National Institute on Aging reported the United States would not be able to fulfill its commitment to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s by 2025 at its current level of funding.
If Congress does not dramatically increase funding for Alzheimer’s research, we will soon see Alzheimer’s deaths rise to one million a year.
The President’s recently released budget request for FY15 flat-lines funding for Alzheimer’s. Now it is up to Congress to lead and to act.
Urge your members of Congress to double the current level of funding for Alzheimer’s research and care in the FY15 budget and to implement a plan to increase Alzheimer’s funding to $2 billion a year over the next five years.
Thank you for your help in using this shocking news on Alzheimer’s deaths to give Congress the push it needs to dramatically increase funds for Alzheimer’s research.
Chairman and Co-Founder
More than 400 leading Alzheimer’s researchers agree that we can prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s by 2025 – and it could even be sooner if critical investments and reforms are made. We must SUBSTANTIALLY INCREASE funding for Alzheimer’s research in the next 5 years and we must DRAMATICALLY SHRINK the time it takes to get new, safe therapies to market.
USAgainstAlzheimer’s is a community of enraged and engaged individuals who have been touched by Alzheimer’s disease and are committed to achieving the bold and attainable goal of ending Alzheimer’s.
I am running for Congress because I believe America has gone off the democratic rails. A toxic brew of shrinking civil liberties, expanded corporate influence and domestic surveillance is poisoning our democracy.
We are currently in the process of dismantling the most basic social contract between the American people and our government, as “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has transitioned before our eyes into ” a government of a few of the people, by a few of the people, and for a few of the people.” A purpose of American progress is to expand the democratic franchise, not constrict it. Yet today, that franchise is being narrowed for everyone.
That’s the bad news, but there is good news as well: we can change this!
But we must do so quickly, for the trajectory of corporatism is already wreaking havoc on our environment, our economy and even our food supply. When banks, oil companies, chemical companies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, food companies, military manufacturers and prison builders are able to influence our lawmakers so disproportionately to the influence wielded by average citizens, we have a problem. Let us not be the first generation to wimp out on the work necessary to protect and foster our democracy.
Politics isn’t something that only a few people should relate to. There should be no “political class” or “political elite” in America. In the words of President Eisenhower, “politics should be the part time profession of every American.” The fact that it has in some ways become a spectator sport is unhealthy for our democracy, and I hope you will join with me in changing that. Let’s all of us — not just those of us “interested in politics” — now awaken to both the perils and opportunities of this time, and the responsibility of each of us to be good stewards of our democracy.
A stale, inside-the-box conversation is inadequate to the challenges that we face now. Other candidates in the race will offer their ideas in this election as well, of course. But while the political status quo addresses the symptoms of our deeper problems, it’s time to address the disease itself. Treating the effects of a problem is not the same as treating its cause.
The undue influence of money on our politics is the issue underlying all other issues, and we need a national movement supporting a Constitutional Amendment outlawing the undue influence of money on our politics. If elected, I will work with those in and outside Congress who are working on this already– for I feel, as many people do, that getting money out of politics is the greatest moral challenge of our generation.
I hope you will get involved in the campaign. Please visit our website at www.marianneforcongress.com, sign up for email updates, attend our upcoming events, become a volunteer, spread the word to your friends, and donate what you can to support a campaign that is doing all we can do to provide a genuine alternative to the political status quo. This is not simply a good idea. I believe that it is critical.
Please join us.
All my best,
The Corporation For Enterprise Development (CFED) released an article on January 30 by Lebaron Sims and Sean Luechtefeld in which it placed a new light on the economy in the U.S.
In the article, the writers argued that “almost half of Americans are on the brink of financial calamity.”
Reading the news, the writers said, “it would be easy to conclude that the economy is chugging along toward full recovery.” They pointed to new government data released on Jan. 30 which revealed that the economy grew at a “healthy” 3.2% in the last quarter of 2013. “Yet,” the writers said, “ask the average middle-class American and their economic outlook is anything but healthy.
The 2014 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, released by CFED last month, which finds that despite an improving national economy, “liquid asset poverty rates have barely budged,” the article by Sims and Luechtefeld said.
“The percentage of households in the US who lack the savings needed to weather a financial storm like a job loss or medical emergency is holding tight at 44%,” they said.
The Scorecard also found that problems like growing student loan debt and high rates of consumers with subprime credit—especially among households of color—”are to blame for Americans’ lingering inability to get ahead and build a more secure financial future for themselves and their families,” the writers said.
The article went on to report that CFED President Andrea Levere has called attention to the fact that despite 50 years of progress in the War on Poverty, Americans’ economic mobility has stagnated, while household net worth continues to decline. Part of why these measures trend the wrong direction, Mr. Levere noted, “is the intergenerational transfer of wealth and the lack of policies in place to give a hand up to those who need it the most,” the article said.
The story on its website said that the Corporation For Enterprise Development’s annual “Scorecard” has, for over a decade, been the go-to source for data on household financial security in America.
“This year, however, the Scorecard includes assessments of all 50 states and the District of Columbia on 67 different policy measures. These measures illustrate how far states have gone—and how far they still need to go—to help their residents achieve financial stability,” the story went on.
Ranging from mandatory all-day kindergarten to the establishment of a state housing trust fund, these policies offer legislators manageable and moveable ways to expand economic opportunity in their states, the CFED story asserted.
Also new to the 2014 Scorecard are Estimated Impacts, CFED said in the article by Sims and Luechtefeld, are detailed projections of what effect improvements in 16 specific outcomes would have on the citizens of each state. “For example, Massachusetts has the nation’s lowest uninsured rate, at 4.4%. If Pennsylvania’s 11.5% uninsured rate improved to match Massachusetts’, 742,971 additional Pennsylvanians would have health insurance—no small matter. With this exciting new data tool, advocates can better illustrate the power that good policy can have on the lives of individuals and households,” the article said.
The CFED’s Scorecard offers tools for anyone wishing to look more closely at the U.S. economy as they “make the case to policymakers, community leaders and funders for asset-building strategies that create pathways to economic opportunity,” the internet story declared.
A statement on its website says: “The Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a national nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, empowers low- and moderate-income households to build and preserve assets by advancing policies and programs that help them achieve the American Dream, including buying a home, pursuing higher education, starting a business and saving for the future. As a leading source for data about household financial security and policy solutions, CFED understands what families need to succeed. We promote programs on the ground and invest in social enterprises that create pathways to financial security and opportunity for millions of people.
When I was in junior high, my daddy had a heart attack. The medical bills piled up, and we lost our family station wagon.
So my mother did what she had to do: She went to work answering the phones at Sears. The job paid only minimum wage, but it was enough to make sure we could keep our home.
If minimum wage had kept up with productivity gains since that time, it would be $22 an hour today. But it didn’t – and today millions of hard-working moms and dads work full-time and still live in poverty.
No one should work full-time and live below the poverty line. That’s why the Democratic women of the Senate have joined together to say it plain: It’s time to raise the minimum wage. Please stand with us now, and urge Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
To me (and probably you), raising the minimum wage is a no-brainer. We know that if hard-working families have money in their pockets they will be able to help grow the economy.
Why should people work two or three jobs and still struggle to make ends meet? Why should people who work full-time have to count on food stamps to feed their families?
This is the answer: Raising the minimum wage would cut into the profits of those who have already made it, and they have an army of lawyers and an army of lobbyists to make certain that the system stays rigged in their favor.
Powerful interests might need to be dragged kicking and screaming to raise the minimum wage, but I’m going to keep fighting – and so are the rest of the Democratic women in the United States Senate.
When I was growing up, full-time work would keep your family out of poverty. Now, the game is rigged against working families.
Raising the minimum wage is one way we can start to level the playing field. Change like this is hard, and I can’t guarantee the success of our efforts. But I know this: If you don’t fight, you can’t win. So let’s fight.
Thank you for being a part of this.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
An explosion in extreme wealth and income is exacerbating inequality and hindering the world’s ability to tackle poverty, Oxfam — a British humanitarian organization — has warned in a briefing published ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos next week.
News of the report has been posted on the Internet at Oxfam.org, and may be found here.
The $240 billion net income in 2012 of the richest 100 billionaires would be enough to make extreme poverty history four times over, according Oxfam’s report, titled: ‘The cost of inequality: how wealth and income extremes hurt us all.’ It is calling on world leaders to curb today’s income extremes and commit to reducing inequality to at least 1990 levels.
“The richest one per cent has increased its income by 60 per cent in the last 20 years with the financial crisis accelerating rather than slowing the process,” the posting on the Oxfam website said.
Oxfam warned that extreme wealth and income is not only unethical, it is also economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive.
In the Oxfam website article Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International, said: “We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for a few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true.
“Concentration of resources in the hands of the top one per cent depresses economic activity and makes life harder for everyone else – particularly those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
“In a world where even basic resources such as land and water are increasingly scarce, we cannot afford to concentrate assets in the hands of a few and leave the many to struggle over what’s left.”
Members of the richest one per cent are estimated to use as much as 10,000 times more carbon than the average US citizen.
Oxfam International is a confederation of 17 organizations working together to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. Its Internet posting said that world leaders should learn from the present-day success of countries such as Brazil, which has grown rapidly while reducing inequality – as well as the historical success such as the United States in the 1930s, when President Roosevelt’s New Deal helped bring down inequality and tackle vested interests.
“Roosevelt famously warned that the ‘political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality’,” the Oxfam website report said.
New global deal needed
Mr. Hobbs added: “We need a global new deal to reverse decades of increasing inequality. As a first step world leaders should formally commit themselves to reducing inequality to the levels seen in 1990.
“From tax havens to weak employment laws, the richest benefit from a global economic system which is rigged in their favour. It is time our leaders reformed the system so that it works in the interests of the whole of humanity rather than a global elite.”
What can be done? The Oxfam website article said that “closing tax havens – which hold as much as $32 trillion or a third of all global wealth – could yield an additional $189bn in additional tax revenues.” In addition to a tax haven crackdown, the article said, elements of a global new deal could include:
- a reversal of the trend towards more regressive forms of taxation;
- a global minimum corporation tax rate;
- measures to boost wages compared with returns available to capital;
- increased investment in free public services and safety nets.
Where and to whom one is born is, it seems, arbitrary, chance, fate or karma being the divine decision maker. Wake from innocence to middle class parents in one of the developed wealthy nations of the world and be blessed with comfort, opportunity, good health care and education and a life of profitable possibilities. Find yourself in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya or the daughter of tea pickers in Assam, India, and see before you poverty, uncertainty, suffering and the threat of extreme exploitation.
Inequality: The Plague of the times
We live in a world rife with inequality (wealth and income, power and influence); it is the underlying cause of deep-seated social tensions, community divisions and a range of poisons causing terrible suffering to millions of people.
The disparity between the wealthy minority and the billions living in suffocating poverty is greater than it has ever been. Worldwide it is estimated that the wealthiest 10 percent owns 85 percent of global household wealth. The UC Atlas of Global Inequality states that the “three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 47 countries with the least GDP,” and reports that “The richest 2% of the world population own more than 51 percent of the global assets.” At the other more densely populated, less perfumed end of the scale, Global Issues report that almost half the world’s people (over 3.5 billion) live on less than $2.50 a day and 80 percent live on less than $10 a day. The largest proportion of those living in poverty are in India, rural China and Sub-Saharan Africa where, despite the fact that some countries within the last decade or two have seen economic growth, poverty rates have remained unchanged and “some countries—Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon—have actually seen an increase in the percentage of their population living in extreme poverty” [World Bank study Africa Pulse].
This prompts the omnipresent question: who is this economic growth for; who, under the current development model, is benefiting?
Discussing the possibilities of change to a more equitable world, UNICEF paints a rather bleak picture; assuming the perpetuation of the current economic model, they estimate “that it would take more than 800 years for the bottom billion to achieve ten percent of global income under the current rate of change.”
The world of income and wealth inequality is awash with shocking statistics. Figures disclosed by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic and reported by Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stieglitz, are shocking and revealing: “Eight percent of humanity takes home 50 percent of global income, the top 1 percent alone takes home 15 percent.” America, he states, “provides a particularly grim example for the world.” It is where income and wealth inequality reach their zenith and where one in four children live in poverty. The countrys wealthiest 1 percent (incomes above $394,000) take “home 22 percent of the nation’s income and the top 0.1 percent make do with a colossal 11 percent.
Stieglitz goes on to make the staggering point that an average American worker earns less today than he did 45 years ago (inflation adjusted) and that men without a college degree earn “almost 40 percent less than they did four decades ago.”
Why are millions of Americans not marching in the streets demanding justice and equitable living one wonders? Physically exhausted, emotionally strained and mentally put to sleep, most do not have the time or the energy to revolt.
The figures depicting poverty and hardship are many and varied and shocking to all. Over 20 percent of the world’s population (that’s 1.4 billion people) live on less than $1.25 a day, which is 75 cents below the official World Bank poverty threshold. UNICEF states that 22,000 children (under the age of five—if it was 6, or 7, the numbers would be even higher) die every day due to poverty related issues. They “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
Of the two billion children in the world, half are currently living their lives in extreme poverty, with limited or no access to clean water or sanitation, health care and education. The greatest concentrations of people living below the $2 a day poverty line are to be found in rural areas where three in every four of those below the poverty borderline are to be found. Life is little better in the cities where over half the world’s 7.2 billion population now live, one in three of whom are living in a slum.
The unequal are always with us
It may well be true that income and wealth inequality has always existed—the industrial revolution in Britain and America certainly created sharp inequities. However, the worldwide gap between the “rich and the rest,” as Stieglitz puts it, “widened even more, right up through about World War II.” But it took the combined doctrinal political idealism of Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of Britain 1979–1990) and President Ronald Reagan (President of USA 1981–1989) to hyper-accelerate levels of inequality and set the divisive competitive tone for the years that followed.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that income inequality “first started to rise in the late 1970s and early 1980s in America and Britain (and also in Israel).” The ratio between the average incomes of the top 5 percent to the bottom 5 percent in the world increased from 78 to 1 in 1988 to 114 to 1 in 1993. That’s some achievement.
During the Thatcher/Reagan reign, income tax was lowered for higher earners, trade unions were broken and the financial sector was deregulated with, we now know, devastating consequences. The inequality “trend became more widespread starting in the late 1980s” and continues to poison the social fabric of countries throughout the world, including more egalitarian nations, like Sweden, Finland, Germany and Denmark.
Stieglitz relays that, “from 1988 to 2008, Mr. Milanovic found, people in the world’s top 1 percent saw their incomes increase by 60 percent, while those in the bottom 5 percent had no change in their income. In America, home to the 2008 recession, from 2009 to 2012, incomes of the top 1 percent in America, many of which no doubt had a greedy hand in the causes of the melt down, “increased more than 31 percent, while the incomes of the 99 percent grew 0.4 percent—less than half a percentage point” [Los Angeles Times].
Flowing from wealth and income inequality (combining to create the powerful elite), is the inequitable use and distribution of natural resources, such as water, food and minerals, which we could add knowledge, like information, technology and skills. The United States, for example, with a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, uses 30 percent of natural resources and the 25 percent of people living in developed countries use 80 percent of the world’s non-fuel minerals. Many of these are found in poor developing countries, which have little or no control over their resources and on the whole benefit little from their extraction and sale. Not only do the wealthy countries usurp and waste 80 percent of the world’s resources, but according to a United Nations (UN) report, their “voracious consumption of resources cannot be sustained.”
Inequality, vulnerability exploitation
The extreme dualities of poverty and wealth inevitably create the vulnerable and the powerful, the abuser and the abused. There are wide ranging consequences of such social division, such as the erosion, or denial of democracy, for with money comes power and with power political influence, making it inevitable that “inequality reinforces itself by corroding our political system and our democratic governance,” [Joseph Stieglitz]. Man-made climate change though affecting everyone, it is the poorest people living in the poorest who are suffering most acutely, as a recent report by The World Bank Group makes clear by stating “that global warming will lead to a major food-crisis in the future. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia are expected to be the worst-hit” [Nature World News]. That is the regions with the largest concentrations of people living in utter poverty.
One of the gravest consequences of this social-economic imbalance is the worldwide movement of people from impoverished communities with few employment opportunities where education, to a rich or richer region or nation. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates there to be over “105 million persons [excluding children] working in a country other than their country of birth.” Women make up the lions share of this army of workers, many of whom are vulnerable to trafficking.
The U.S. State Department states that up to 800,000 persons are trafficked every year (although the figure is probably considerably higher); 80 percent of victims are women of which 80 percent are sold into the commercial sex industry. Trafficking (which is the second most widespread and profitable worldwide criminal activity) often arises from debt bondage and results in forced labour. Trafficking is nothing less than modern day slavery, there are thoughts that more people are living as slaves (that’s people held against their will, forced to work and paid nothing) now than at any time in history. And for those with the means, they are cheap; on average, $90 will buy you a human being [Free the slaves].
Working within an economic system that disempowers the disadvantaged, migrant workers form an economic lifeline for millions of families. In 2012, they sent “$406 billion in savings to their families in developing countries” [The World Bank]. Money earned through domestic servitude, with its inherent dangers of mistreatment, or construction work in appalling, often dangerous conditions; remittances, which may enable their children to eat three meals a day, to go to school and learn to read, or perhaps allow for an elderly parent to receive health care. Essentials, indeed fundamental human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that should be met by the nation state and if not, more broadly by the international community.
It is poverty in its many manifestations—poor education and health care, poor sanitation and water supplies, poor living conditions, poor or low self-esteem and an absence of hope—which drives migration and creates the environment in which trafficking and extreme exploitation can flourish. The vulnerable are vulnerable in a variety of ways including exploitation, slavery, sexual abuse, the effects of natural disasters and political and economic manipulation.
In a world of plenty, why are hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of people vulnerable at all? The vulnerable and exploited exist because of an inherently unjust social-economic system, which has caused extreme global inequality and built a divided fractured world society.
Inequality, sharing justice
The complacent party line of the wealthy and elite is that “there is no alternative (TINA)” to the present unhealthy, divisive economic model. The advocates of market fundamentalism have sought to close down totally the intellectual space for enquiry and discourse. If indeed “there is no alternative,” inequality and poverty will continue to increase, building intensely “divided societies [where] the rich will hunker in gated communities, almost completely separated from the poor whose lives will be almost unfathomable to them and vice versa. I’ve visited societies that seem to have chosen this path. They are not places in which most of us would want to live, whether in their cloistered enclaves or their desperate shantytowns” [Joseph Stieglitz]. The resulting social injustice of such a horrific future would strengthen existing divisions, creating resentment, anger and potentially violent conflict.
The cherished economic model of choice—market fundamentalism—used as a paradigm for worldwide development has, as UNICEF makes clear, failed and continues to fail, both the people and the planet. It concentrates wealth in the hands of the wealthy, and leads us to question as UNICEF does “the current development model (development for whom?), which has accrued [growth] mostly to the wealthiest billion” people. “Not only does inequality slow economic growth, but it results in health and social problems and generates political instability. Inequality is dysfunctional and there is a grave need to place equity at the center of the development agenda,” they correctly assert. A more just and humane model of development, based on equitable distribution of the world’s resources, is a viable alternative whose time has come.
The idea of equitable distribution, of sharing the food and water, the resources knowledge, skills, ideas and technology of the world, as the guiding principle for development and economic life, is supported by Frances Stewart, Professor Emeritus at Oxford Department of International Development. She believes that “poverty can be eliminated.” “Essentially, what is needed is a significant reduction in the quite obscene levels of inequality that prevail today” [The Guardian]. The distribution of resources “from the privileged to the deprived would be enough to eliminate poverty in high and middle income countries,” she asserts. Not simply the redistribution of wealth, but resources more broadly, to, as she puts it, “improve the health, the education, the assets and the productivity of the poor so that the improving of their lives can become self sustaining.”
Expanded and imaginatively applied to address the needs of the poorest people in the poorest nations, such a simple common sense model, based on social justice and equality would meet basic rights and needs, reduce vulnerability and exploitation, ease social tensions and slowly establish trust and unity.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was first published at www.NationofChange.org and is reprinted here with permission from Mr. Peebles.
Anyone reviewing the data is likely to conclude that there must be some mistake. It doesn’t seem possible that one out of twenty American families could each have made a million dollars since Obama became President, while the average American family’s net worth has barely recovered. But the evidence comes from numerous reputable sources.
Some conservatives continue to claim that President Obama is unfriendly to business, but the facts show that the richest Americans and the biggest businesses have been the main – perhaps only – beneficiaries of the massive wealth gain over the past five years.
1. $5 Million to Each of the 1%, and $1 Million to Each of the Next 4%
From the end of 2008 to the middle of 2013 total U.S. wealth increased from $47 trillion to $72 trillion. About $16 trillion of that is financial gain (stocks and other financial instruments).
The richest 1% own about 38 percent of stocks, and half of non-stock financial assets. So they’ve gained at least $6.1 trillion (38 percent of $16 trillion). That’s over $5 million for each of 1.2 million households.
The next richest 4%, based on similar calculations, gained about $5.1 trillion. That’s over a million dollars for each of their 4.8 million households.
The least wealthy 90% in our country own only 11 percent of all stocks excluding pensions (which are fast disappearing). The frantic recent surge in the stock market has largely bypassed these families.
2. Evidence of Our Growing Wealth Inequality
This first fact is nearly ungraspable: In 2009 the average wealth for almost half of American families was ZERO (their debt exceeded their assets).
In 1983 the families in America’s poorer half owned an average of about $15,000. But from 1983 to 1989 median wealth fell from over $70,000 to about $60,000. From 1998 to 2009, fully 80% of American families LOST wealth. They had to borrow to stay afloat.
It seems the disparity couldn’t get much worse, but after the recession it did. According to a Pew Research Center study, in the first two years of recovery the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%. And then, from 2011 to 2013, the stock market grew by almost 50 percent, with again the great majority of that gain going to the richest 5%.
Today our wealth gap is worse than that of the third world. Out of all developed and undeveloped countries with at least a quarter-million adults, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.
3. Congress’ Solution: Take from the Poor
Congress has responded by cutting unemployment benefits and food stamps, along with other ‘sequester’ targets like Meals on Wheels for seniors and Head Start for preschoolers. The more the super-rich make, the more they seem to believe in the cruel fantasy that the poor are to blame for their own struggles.
President Obama recently proclaimed that inequality “drives everything I do in this office.” Indeed it may, but in the wrong direction.
The above article was first published at the website Common Dreams. Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.