The latest (February) issue of Harpers’ Magazine has an interesting discussion of Europe and the eurozone, “How Germany Reconquered Europe: the Euro and its Discontents.” Some of the big questions of European unity, democracy, and national sovereignty are debated in broad and direct terms not often seen in other analyses:
“The basic lesson of the past ten, twenty years – even of the past hundred years – is that the upper limit, not only of democracy but of political legitimacy, is the nation-state…” (John N. Gray, London School of Economics.)
Then there is the Franco-German relationship, which is central to the eurozone: Read more…
from Lars Syll
The 85 richest people on the planet have accumulated as much wealth between them as half of the world’s population, political and financial leaders have been warned ahead of their annual gathering in the Swiss resort of Davos.
The tiny elite of multibillionaires, who could fit into a double-decker bus, have piled up fortunes equivalent to the wealth of the world’s poorest 3.5bn people, according to a new analysis by Oxfam. The charity condemned the “pernicious” impact of the steadily growing gap between a small group of the super-rich and hundreds of millions of their fellow citizens, arguing it could trigger social unrest.
It released the research on the eve of the World Economic Forum, starting on Wednesday, which brings together many of the most influential figures in international trade, business, finance and politics including David Cameron and George Osborne. Disparities in income and wealth will be high on its agenda, along with driving up international health standards and mitigating the impact of climate change.
Oxfam said the world’s richest 85 people boast a collective worth of $1.7trn (£1trn). Top of the pile is Read more…
from Edward Fullbrook
In the run-up to the annual Davos get-together of the world’s hyper-rich and their most-favoured agents, OXFAM has issued a report titled “Working For The Few”. Commenting on it, today’s Guardian notes that
. . . if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker.
The OXFAM report emphasizes how democracies round the world are increasingly under threat due their subversion by the ultra-rich. Here is a key passage from the report. Read more…
from Dean Baker
In his speech on inequality earlier this month President Obama proclaimed that the government could not be a bystander in the effort to reduce inequality, which he described as the defining moral issue of our time. This left millions convinced that Obama would do nothing to lessen inequality. The problem is that President Obama wants the public to believe that inequality is something that just happened. It turns out that the forces of technology, globalization, and whatever else simply made some people very rich and left others working for low wages or out of work altogether. The president and other like-minded people feel a moral compulsion to reverse the resulting inequality. This story is 180 degrees at odds with the reality. Inequality did not just happen, it was deliberately engineered through a whole range of policies intended to redistribute income upward. Read more…
from Peter Radford
Dean Baker complains about AIG bonuses being honored because they’re contracts, whereas Detroit and, possibly, Chicago city employees pensions are in line to be slashed despite being contracts.
Such is life in a plutocracy.
This really ought not surprise anyone. The rules for the elite are, and have always been, different. A contract to pay the CEO of a large financial company that had to be saved by taxpayers and whose activities contributes mightily to the enormous economic crisis we are still trying to leave behind is considered sacrosanct. After all it is a contract. And we know what that means. Well it means we have to pay up even though its morally repugnant, smacks of corruption, and is just plain daft. The contract has to stay.
But those workers out in Detroit, they contributed to the problems Detroit had. They pretty much drove it into bankruptcy because of their padded employee benefits and wages. Chicago looks like it’s going down the same road. Those contracts are the cause of the problem. The city has every right to break the contract as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. In this case the contract is repugnant, possibly corrupted by unions influence, and is just plain daft. It has to go.
It used to be comforting to think that the saying “one rule for the rich, another for the poor” was just that: a saying. We could all pretend that America was a land of equal laws, even though we all knew deep down that rich folk can always get away with stuff we can’t. Read more…
from Peter Radford
The end, that is, of Reaganism.
The Republicans have shut down government because no one is taking their demand that health care reform is abandoned seriously.
In a nutshell the fight is over the part of reform that increases taxes on the top 1% of income earners, reduces subsidies to insurers within the Medicare system, and thus can afford to provide health care to tens of millions of previously uninsured people. That’s it. The Republicans failed to defeat these things during the law’s passage; the law stood up to challenge in the Supreme Court; and subsequently a presidential election was fought, with the winner being the advocate of the law. That’s pretty conclusive. The reform has been constitutionally and electorally approved.
But the extremists now running the Republican party think they can ignore all that. They abhor reform and so have taken to insurgency. Their defense of the wealthy to the detriment of the poor and the sick is open class warfare. It can be construed in no other way. Unless the extremists go through some radical change, their intransigence and defense of the privileged will lap over into a fight over the debt ceiling.
Which is odd, isn’t it? Because the privileged stand to lose the most when our credit worthiness is undermined. They are, after all, the holders of most of our collective wealth.
I see this in historical terms. Read more…
from Fred Zaman
“In his General Theory, John Maynard Keynes stated that classical economists ‘resemble Euclidean Geometers in a non Euclidean world who, discovering that in experience straight lines apparently parallel often meet, rebuke the lines for not keeping straight—as the only remedy for the unfortunate collisions which are occurring. Yet in truth there is no remedy except to throw over the axiom of parallels and to work out a non Euclidean geometry. Something similar is required today in economics.’” (Paul Davidson, The Keynes Solution, Ch. 4)
In this Euclidean analogy with the classical analysis of free
markets, which is based on “efficient market theory,” Davidson explains that
full employment is the Euclidean equivalent of parallel lines which never meet.
He nonetheless notes, however, that in the real world these lines, although
parallel in an Euclidean analogy with economics, nevertheless unfortunately do
often meet, thereby significantly and persistently producing economic
“collisions” understood as unemployment; the blame for which collisions always
is placed on workers for not passively accepting lower wages, and consequently
also a lower standard of living. Keynes’s solution, Read more…
from David Ruccio
from Dean Baker
At this point everyone knows about Fix the Debt. It is a collection of corporate CEOs put together by Peter Peterson, the Wall Street private equity mogul. Ostensibly they want to reduce budget deficits and the national debt, but for some reason their attention always seems focused on cutting Social Security and Medicare. While some in this group will allow for minor tax increases, budget cuts are explicitly a priority, with these two programs firmly in their crosshairs.
Given that the stated goal of this group is to reduce budget deficits, it is worth asking why taxes don’t figure more prominently on their agenda. After all, the United States ranks near the bottom of wealthy countries in its tax take as a share of GDP. It is also worth asking why one tax in particular, a financial transactions tax, never seems to get mentioned in anything the group or its members do. Read more…
From Edward Fullbrook
David Ruccio‘s post yesterday on the 34-year (and still continuing) period of radical income redistribution in the United States featured a graph from a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. Below, from the same EPI report, is a table no less shocking than yesterday’s graph. Read more…
from David Ruccio
Just as we expected: the incomes of those at the very top have rebounded in dramatic fashion.
from Dean Baker
Many people have been asking about the Justice Department’s priorities in the wake of the suicide of computer whiz and political activist Aaron Swartz. As has been widely reported, the Justice Department was pressing charges that carried several decades of prison time against Swartz. He was caught hacking M.I.T.’s computer system in an apparent effort to make large amounts of academic research freely available to the public.
The Justice Department’s determination to commit substantial time and resources to prosecuting Swartz presents a striking contrast to its see-no-evil attitude when it comes to financial fraud by the Wall Street banks. People should recognize that this is not just a rhetorical point. It is clear that the Justice Department opted to not pursue the sort of investigations that could have landed many high-level people at places like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup behind bars. Read more…
from David Ruccio
Paul Krugman is correct (which is not something I often have the occasion to write): “that while the election is over, the class war isn’t.”
The same people who bet big on Mr. Romney, and lost, are now trying to win by stealth — in the name of fiscal responsibility — the ground they failed to gain in an open election.
Yes, but. . .
The class wars are not just about fiscal deficits, taxes, and entitlements—although they certainly are about those, to the extent they impinge on how much of the surplus corporations and members of the 1 percent get to keep.
They’re also about what happens long before government taxes and expenditures come into play. As it turns out, and as the graph below shows, U.S. corporate profits reached a record high in the third quarter of this year, even adjusted for inflation, according to a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Read more…
Social movements unsupported by strong intellectual storylines rarely prove successful. For example, despite the everyday obviousness of their subjection, a century of brave women struggling for liberation never got beyond step one, the vote, until Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and its subsequent popularizations made both the injustice and the possibility of victory intellectually comprehensible.
The 99% Movement has emerged out of the street-level fallout from the stark reversal of the primary societal trends that for generations characterised the US, Canada and other countries: the now rapid and accelerating movement of wealth, income, opportunity and power away from the middle classes and into the hands of the wealthiest 1%, especially the 0.1%. It is as if when no one was looking the socio-economics hourglass has been turned upside down. And why was no one looking? Because there was no theory or social narrative through which to view it. It is not just science that needs theories to be able to see empirical reality. They are just as crucial, if not more so to societies. That is why, for example, Thomas Paine was so important to the success of the American Revolution. If there is no story that explains what is and how it came to be and moreover one that offers a possible victorious ending (“I have a dream.”), movements die a slow death under the weight of their grievances and the cost of their tactics.
Without the Beauvoirs major social movements become marooned at the tactical level. Festering soon follows. The 99% Movement has not yet begun to fester, but it will if it does not begin now to integrate its gritty street-level narrative with a strategic intellectual one. Until a few weeks ago no such possibility existed. But now it does thanks to L. Frederick Zaman’s paper in the current issue of the Real-World Economic Review.
Zaman’s primary inspiration, contrary to what his paper’s title suggests and also to what almost anyone might guess, is Adam Smith. Read more…
from Deniz Kellecioglu
The top richest individuals of the world have economically recovered from the global financial crises and its aftermath. They are now actually wealthier than five years ago.
A look at the Forbes annual lists of the world’s billionaires reveal that this group had their wealth almost halved between 2008 and 2009. However, this proved to be just a temporary slump as all their losses were recovered in just two years (see table below). If people in poverty could also recover like that, it would be easy to eradicate poverty. Read more…
from Ian Fletcher
“every idea in this article is stolen straight from Thorstein Veblen.”
I had one of those “Aha!” moments recently.
I was engaged in an e-mail dialogue with a moderately prominent individual active in America’s international trade relations. He’s a former high-ranking public official, important enough to matter but not a household name. You might recognize him if you follow trade politics closely. Democrat, left-of-center, but nothing radical.
Anyhow, what I realized, in the course of this discussion, was that we were, in fact, arguing at cross purposes.
I viewed the American economy as a thing whose purpose is to provide income and a living standard to Americans.
He viewed it as a thing whose purpose was to provide a platform for projecting power in the world.
I mean, he didn’t say it quite so explicitly, but that was the bottom line of every train of argument we pursued. It was the only interpretation of his words under which they made any sense.
I can’t give you any more details because of my need to respect confidentiality. But I think his attitude explains a lot about how we are governed, because I think this is how America’s ruling elite really thinks.
I believe our ruling elite isn’t merely greedy for money. I believe they’re also greedy for something far worse. I believe they’re also greedy for world power beyond any extent to which this either serves American national security—or, for that matter, makes them richer.
I believe they privately view this country as their horse, upon which they ride in a global jousting tournament with rival elites. And they only really care about America, and the strength of its economy, insofar as it gives them a better horse to ride on. Read more…
from David Ruccio
David Leonhardt, in an otherwise interesting post on slow economic growth and increasing inequality in the United States, “which has concentrated the economy’s modest gains among a small share of the population,” actually underestimates the increase in inequality over the course of the past three decades. Read more…