Too Much a commentary on excess and inequality
Too Much a commentary on excess and inequality

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January 2015

This Month

Welcome to the new Too Much! Or rather, welcome to another new Too Much. We've changed before. Too Much began 20 years ago as a print quarterly. Just over a decade ago, we morphed into an online weekly.

We have for you a package of plutocracy-busting options that can inform and inspire

Now we're changing again — into a monthly designed to bring you more in-depth coverage of our grand divide. We’ll be telling more thorough statistical stories and, with our new Too Much interview feature, exploring the thought of our world’s top egalitarian thinkers.

At the same time, we’re integrating Too Much much more closely with our Institute for Policy Studies companion initiative Inequality.Org. We’ll be blogging regularly at Inequality.Org, as will a host of other analysts of our top-heavy planet that Too Much has regularly featured.

Add in our daily Twitter updates, and we think we have for you a package of plutocracy-busting options that can both inform and inspire. Have ideas on what we can do to keep improving? Drop us a line. And thanks so much for your continuing interest and support!

 

About Too Much

A publication of the
Institute for Policy Studies

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Images of Inequality

San Jose camp

In San Jose, the “capital” of California’s Silicon Valley, hazmat-suited city contractors last month cleared away the nation’s largest outdoor homeless encampment. About 300 people were living in the tent city. Silicon Valley’s intense concentration of wealth — the area currently hosts 34 billionaires — has sent housing costs soaring. A typical Silicon Valley one-room apartment now rents for $1,800 a month, yet 31 percent of the area’s jobs pay $16 an hour or less. Silicon Valley has the nation’s highest percentage of homeless people living on the streets.

 

Greed at a Glance

Millions will be watching this month as Lord Grantham and the rest of the aristocratic gang at Downton Abbey open the latest season of this hit PBS TV drama. But what would happen, muses UK pundit Polly Toynbee, if Downton Abbey “told the truth”?

Downton, notes Toynbee, portrays “pleasant work by well-manicured maids in fetching uniforms, healthy and wholesome, doing a little feather-dusting of the chandeliers.”

In fact, as Lucy Delap’s history of domestic service in 20th century Britain details, servants labored as “drudges rising in freezing shared attics at 5.30 a.m., slopping out chamber pots, heaving coal, black-leading grates, hauling cans of hot water with hands already made raw by chilblains and caustic soda.”

Inequality by the Numbers

Stock ownership

 

Stats of the Month

The 400 richest people on Earth added $92 billion to their collective fortune in 2015, bringing their total wealth to $4.1 trillion, notes a year-end appraisal by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The just over 1 billion people of Africa have a collective net worth, calculates the Credit Suisse Research Institute, of $2.8 billion.

The 100 biggest campaign donors in the 2014 election cycle, a new Politico study reports, gave $323 million on behalf of their favorite candidates, “almost as much as the $356 million given by the estimated 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less.”

In Pennsylvania, the U.S. state with the most inequitable school finance system, school districts with an average resident income in the state’s top 20 percent are spending $4,000 more annually per student than districts in the poorest 20 percent, about $120,000 more per classroom.

The Too Much Interview

Two Irrepressible Egalitarian Spirits

British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have changed how the world thinks about economic inequality — and they have a wealth of new insights to share.

Imagine if we compared the world’s major developed nations on most all the yardsticks that define social health and decency, everything from average life expectancy and levels of trust to the incidence of teenage pregnancies and drug addiction. Suppose we also ranked these same nations by their level of income inequality. What would we see?

Wilkinson and PickettWe would see, the British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have helped the world realize, that relatively equal nations far outperform — on nearly every measure that matters — nations where income and wealth concentrate at the top.

Wilkinson and Pickett thrust this core insight onto the global public policy center stage with their landmark 2009 book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Us Stronger.

People in more unequal developed nations, The Spirit Level revealed, can be anywhere from two to ten times more likely than people in more equal nations to be obese or get murdered, to mistrust others or have a pregnant teen daughter, to become a drug addict or stick in poverty.

Wilkinson and Pickett are now completing a new book, due out in 2016, and Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati caught up with the pair at their UK home just outside the city of York. The resulting discussion, edited here for publication, explores their Spirit Level experience — and the egalitarian work they see as essential ahead.

Too Much: We’re gone over five years since The Spirit Level first appeared. Can you do some arithmetic for us? Copies sold?

Richard Wilkinson: With 24 foreign editions now, we don’t know for sure. We’re probably close to 300,000, for all the editions together.

Too Much: What did you expect?

Kate Pickett: Not that!

Wilkinson: Our publisher was originally a bit doubtful about the book.  He told us a serious nonfiction work rarely sells more than 10,000 in its lifetime.  

Read the full Too Much interview . . .

 

New Wisdom
on Wealth

Owen Jones, ‘We need permanent revolution’: how Thomas Piketty became 2014’s most influential thinker, Guardian, December 22, 2014. The French economist looks back on his eventful year.

Branko Milanovic, National vices, global virtue: Is the world becoming more equal? globalinequality, December 22, 2014. The latest musings from the world's top analyst of our global income divides.

Les Leopold, Runaway Inequality, Runaway Incarceration, Huntington Post, December 22, 2014. The backdrop to Ferguson.

David Cay Johnston, One Nation Divided by Wealth, Newsweek, December 23, 2014. The rich haven’t suddenly become smarter. Or the rest of us slackers.

David Dayen, Elizabeth Warren’s real beef with Antonio Weiss, Salon, December 23, 2014. How mergers plotted by the Treasury financial undersecretary nominee have fleeced workers and enriched Wall Street.

David D'Amato, The Warning of Animal Farm: Inequality Matters, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, January 1, 2015. On Orwell and privilege.

Petulant Plutocrat of the Month

Peter Lürssen

 

Peter Lürssen, the CEO of the shipbuilding company that last year put the finishing touches on the world’s longest luxury yacht, feels people should be “grateful” for the mega rich. They’re creating, he’s insisting, “lots of employment” with their new yacht construction. Adds Lürssen, the heir to a century-old family business: “Yacht owners shouldn't be criticized, but they actually should be complimented.” The record-breaking Azzam that Lürssen’s firm built stretches the length of two football fields and cost over $600 million. From Lürssen’s demand for gratitude, observes luxury analyst Misha Pinkhasov, we have “just a short hop back to Dickensian Britain, the plantation South, and medieval feudalism, where the people serve, are provided for, and protected at the pleasure of their Lord and Master.”

Plutocrats at Play

Billionaire Sears CEO Ed Lambert lives in one of America’s most exclusive communities, an artificial private island in South Florida’s Intercoastal Waterway. How exclusive? The island has its own round-the-clock water patrol guarding the 85 souls who call it home. Lambert paid $38.4 million last year for a manse on the isle. He currently ranks, notes a 24/7 Wall St. analysis of employee feedback, as the nation’s lowest-rated CEO.

Antidotes to Inequality

The Dodd-Frank Act enacted in 2010 requires American corporations to annually disclose the ratio between their CEO and typical worker pay. But that mandate has never gone into effect. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission still hasn’t issued the regulations needed to enforce it. Last month, just before the holidays, 15 U.S. senators urged SEC chair Mary Jo White to finalize the needed new pay ratio disclosure regs before the end of 2015’s first quarter. Annual pay ratio disclosure, activists believe, could encourage moves to deny government contracts and subsidies to companies that pay their top execs outrageously more than their workers. Disclosure in and of itself, adds commentator Lynn Stuart Parramore, could serve as a useful “shaming” device against corporate CEO greed grabs.

 

Take Action
on Inequality

Thinking about what you can do to help fight inequality in 2015. Why not think local and consider starting a resiliency circle? Get the details

 

Reports

James Montier, The World’s Dumbest Idea, a Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo White Paper, December 2014.

This unexpectedly readable analysis out of a financial industry firm details how the corporate boardroom ideology of maximizing shareholder value — above all else — has been “an unmitigated failure” that has played a “major role” in increasing inequality.

Global Wage Report 2014/15: Wages and income inequality, International Labor Organization, December 2014.

Between 1999 and 2013, this UN agency paper shows, labor productivity growth in developed economies outstripped real wage growth, a dynamic that shrank labor’s share of national income.

 

Quotable

“I had this discussion with Bill Gates a couple of weeks ago. He told me, ‘I love everything that’s in your book, but I don’t want to pay more tax.’”
Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Bloomberg News, January 3, 2015. 

Retorts

Handy rejoinders to the apologists for our top-heavy status quo

The claim: Education can eradicate the racial wealth gap.

The reality: America’s huge wealth gap between white and black families — white households held on average over seven times more net worth in 2013 than black — reflects everything from the heavy hand of past discrimination to the tax loopholes that allow the wealthy to pass on grand fortunes, for generation after generation.

Against these forces, education alone makes for a weak remedy. How weak? College-educated African Americans have less household wealth in the United States today than white high school drop-outs.

In 2013, notes an analysis of Federal Reserve survey data by Matt Bruenig of Demos, the median white family with an education level below high school had a net worth of $51,300. The median black family with a college degree had a net worth of $25,900.

The claim: The big bucks corporate CEOs are raking in represent “pay for performance.”

The reality: A new study by Organizational Capital Partners, a global strategy consulting firm, finds that just 12 percent of the pay going to the CEOs at America’s 1,500 largest publicly traded companies can in any way be traced to economic performance.

 

What to Watch

The new year figures to be a good one for inequality-related documentaries. Coming soon: Boom Bust Boom, a film by Terry Jones — of Monty Python fame — on the 2008 global financial crisis. Check out the all-star analytical cast and lots more online.

Books

This Changes Everything coverThis Changes Everything:
Capitalism vs. the Climate

Naomi Klein (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

Most bookstores will place this latest book from bestselling progressive author Naomi Klein in their “environment” sections, and Klein does indeed bring home here the grave dangers that climate change presents. But Klein has also brought us a book about inequality, about the concentration of wealth and power that fuels climate change — and stunts efforts to stop or even slow it.

But wait, aren’t some billionaires bankrolling all sorts of “green” efforts? Klein’s most probing chapter, “No Messiahs: The green billionaires won’t save us,” takes a up-close look at these billionaires, a “parade” of deep pockets, she notes, “who were going to invent a new form of enlightened capitalism but decided that, on second thought, the old one was just too profitable to surrender.”

“Post-market crash and amidst ever more sinister levels of inequality,” Klein writes, “most of us have come to realize that the oligarchs who were minted by the era of deregulation and mass privatization are not, in fact, going to use their vast wealth to save the world on our behalf.”

We have to save the planet ourselves — and we’ll only succeed, we learn in these pages, if we work at creating a much more equal world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rich Don't Always Win

Read the intro to Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati’s gripping history of the triumph over America’s original plutocracy, then check the publisher discount.


About Too Much

ISP logoToo Much, an Institute for Policy Studies monthly publication | Institute for Policy Studies, 1112 16th Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036 | 202-234-9382

Editor: Sam Pizzigati | editor@toomuchonline.org | Archive | Unsubscribe

 

 

 

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