Tag Archives | Inequality

Want Less Inequality? Tax It

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British economist Arthur C. Pigou, friend and contemporary of beloved John Maynard Keynes, eventually not only came around to the Keynesian logic, but also expanded on the common-sense philosophy to promote social balance and checks with the gentle, invisible hand of the Public. By incentivizing what benefits the downtrodden (perhaps with subsidies) and disincentivizing poor practices (by taxing rampant, unregulated profits), a more reasonable parity between the classes could be reached, stimulating economic growth and benefiting everyone.

This doesn’t have to be a ‘redistributive’ scheme that pits neoconservatives against progressives. Indeed, such a rational, gradated, and bracketed system makes sense to anyone who believes in the American traditions of pragmatism, equality, openness, innovation and opportunity.

Via the American Prospect by Liam C. Malloy and John Case

But the conventional strategy for fighting inequality—far higher taxes on the rich—usually rests on a foundation of fairness, and the question of what’s fair and what’s unfair turns out to cut different ways, depending on your point of view.

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Are We Headed Toward An Economy Based Around Serving Rich People?

Via Alternet, Sam Pizzigati ponders the jobs of the future, with masses clamoring for the opportunity to cater to the rich:

We’re well on the way to becoming a full-fledged “servant economy.” Most Americans no longer make things. They provide services.

Young people can become engineers and programmers and spend their careers in pitiless competition with people all over the world just as smart and trained but willing to work for much less. Or they can join the servant economy and “service those few at the top who have successfully joined the global elite.”

In this new “servant economy,” we’re not talking just nannies and chauffeurs. We’re talking, as journalist Camilla Long notes, “pilots, publicists, art dealers, and bodyguards” — a “newer, brighter phalanx of personal helpers.”

Want to see the world? In the new servant economy, you can become a “jewelry curator” and voyage to foreign lands to pick up gems for wealthy clients.

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Elite Panic In The Aftermath Of Disasters

Relevant in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a conversation between BOMB Magazine and Rebecca Solnit about this hazardous, even deadly, phenomenon:

The term “elite panic” was coined by [sociologists] Caron Chess and Lee Clarke of Rutgers. Elite panic [is] the way that elites, during disasters and their aftermath, imagine that the public is not only in danger but also a source of danger. In case after case how elites respond in destructive ways, from withholding essential information, to blocking citizen relief efforts, to protecting property instead of people.

[Elites] believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surface—that was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true.

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Remember There’s No Such Thing As A Natural Disaster

Scottish radical geographer, professor, and author Neil Smith died at age 58 this past weekend. It’s worth revisiting his groundbreaking, established-wisdom-challenging work, including his well-known declaration post-Hurricane Katrina that there’s no such thing as a natural disaster:

It is generally accepted among environmental geographers that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. In every phase and aspect of a disaster – causes, vulnerability, preparedness, results and response, and reconstruction – the contours of disaster and the difference between who lives and who dies is to a greater or lesser extent a social calculus. Hurricane Katrina provides the most startling confirmation of that axiom.

The Bush administration…is happy to attribute the dismal record of death and destruction on the Gulf Coast – perhaps 1200 lives by the latest counts – to an act of nature. It has proven itself not just oblivious but ideologically opposed to mounting scientific evidence of global warming and the fact that rising sea-levels make cities such as New Orleans, Venice, or Dacca immediately vulnerable to future calamity.

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There Is No Such Thing As Redistribution

Matt Bruenig on the logical absurdity of debates about “wealth redistribution”:

The blogosphere is ablaze with discussions of redistribution: who redistributes to who, how much redistribution is happening, and so on. The right-wing can claim we are redistributing to poor folks because of government programs. The left-wing can claim we are redistributing to rich folks because of copyrights, patents, and various forms of protectionism for high-income jobs.

The word “redistribution” implies that there is a distribution that is default, and that we redistribute when we modify the distribution away from it. This, of course, is wrong. There is no default distribution. In the United States, we have constructed and enforce institutions of private property ownership and contract enforcement. All distributions are the consequence of any number of institutional design choices, none of which are commanded by the fabric of the universe. Those institutions generate very different end distributions than we would see if they did not exist.

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U.S. Income Inequality Worse Today Than During The Slavery Era

Historical perspective via the Huffington Post:

Believe it or not, income inequality in the United States is worse today than it was back in 1774. That’s what a recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research has found.

In “American Incomes 1774 to 1860,” authors Peter H. Lindert and Jeffrey G. Williamson argue that the American colonies were exceptionally egalitarian, compared to both other nations at the time and the U.S. today. And their data even factors in slavery.

NBER’s is not the first study to contend that income inequality today is worse than before. A 2009 study looking at data stretching back to 1917 found that American income inequality was at an all-time high. Likewise, two historians concluded last year that income inequality today is worse even than it was during the Roman Empire [when] the top 1 percent of Ancient Roman earners controlled 16 percent of the Empire’s riches, compared to the top 1 percent of American earners today who control 40 percent of the country’s wealth.

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How Much Does The Right To Vote Cost In California?

It now costs at least three hundred dollars cash (plus days wasted and lost wages.) Via Notes From Class:

California requires a valid driver’s license to exercise the right to vote, and that new residents acquire new tags and registration immediately upon relocation. Documents needed: birth certificate, vehicle registration, smog test, vehicle inspection, statement of facts, divorce papers.

Smog Test: $38
Douglas County Court Records: $26
Registration/License Plate Fees and Taxes: $200
Driver’s License Fee: $40
Estimated Fuel Cost: $6

Actual Cost of California Driver’s License, Vehicle Registration, and My Voting Rights: $310

This is why people are so angry, or should be, about being required to present a valid state driver’s license at the polls. The total cost would change, of course, if the potential voter had no car: but so would the time and wages lost to long bus rides to the DMV to get a license. There has to be a way to prevent “voter fraud” without disenfranchising those who are living in poverty.

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World’s Richest Woman, A Mining Heiress, Says Poor People Need To Work Harder

Also they need to drink, socialize, and complain less, and accept lower wages. She has praised paying African miners two dollars per day as a model for Australia to follow. Last year, she made $2 million per hour. Via Mother Jones:

Australian Gina Rinehart, reportedly the world’s wealthiest woman, has a message for you poor people: “Don’t just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself—spend less time drinking, or smoking and socializing and more time working.”

Pray, what does Rinehart do for a living? She is a “mining heiress.” Rinehart’s wealth is derived from a family trust and an executive position in a mining company she inherited from her father after his death in 1992. Since then, she’s kept very busy—pouring her wealth into conservative causes and political front groups she helped set up.

She recently tried to import cheap visa workers after unionized Australian miners asked for a competitive wage.

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Intelligence As The Marker Of The Meritocratic Elite

Historian C.F. Goodey on the varying terms the elite have used to justify their elite status, via New Left Project:

Four hundred years ago, religious elites saw themselves as superior because they possessed “grace.” This was an inner ability that God had predetermined in a small, distinct group. It was fixed in your nature, “seminally” (i.e. before birth or even conception). “Election” to grace guaranteed your elite status in this life and salvation in the next.

Secular elites, on the other hand, were superior because they possessed “honour.” This too was a predetermined psychological ability. It was fixed not by God but by the quality of certain natural particles in your blood – with a passing nod to the idea that the odd commoner might gradually cultivate enough “virtue” to earn himself a title, as long as he topped the virtue up with services to the state, or flat cash.

Modern meritocratic elites, meanwhile, are superior because they possess “intelligence.” This again is a predetermined psychological ability.

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