|Email not displaying correctly? Click here for Too Much online | Subscribe | Share|
||December 2, 2013|
Do you consider inequality the central issue of our time? You read Too Much. You probably do. But most people don’t, not yet at least. What could change that? People speaking out, all over the world, would certainly help.
The voices of some people, of course, carry much farther than others. Last week, a voice that carries as far as any on the planet placed inequality front and center on the world’s moral agenda. In this week’s Too Much, we have more on what this voice has to say — and why we all need to listen.
Also this week, we mark an anniversary of sorts. Exactly a year ago, we noted the publication of a new book by Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati, The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. Might we suggest that if you're looking for an eye-opening holiday gift idea, The Rich Don’t Always Win just might fill your bill.
|GREED AT A GLANCE|
The most expensive street to live on in the United States? A new Knight Frank survey gives that nod to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, where residential properties now average $2,601 per square foot. One yardstick for comparison: Average new American homes built last year, says the Census Bureau, averaged $86 per square foot. Fifth Avenue actually only ranks as the world’s ninth most expensive street. Atop the list of global luxury lanes: Hong Kong’s Pollock’s Path. Average cost per square foot: $11,148. That’s just chump change for global billionaires. They currently hold an average of $78 million each in real estate holdings . . .
The world’s luckiest cable guy? That would have to be Time Warner’s Robert Marcus, the cable company’s current chief operating officer. Time Warner hasn’t been operating too well of late. The company lost 131,000 residential customers in 2013's third quarter, on top of 93,000 lost customers the quarter before. But that hasn’t stopped Time Warner from naming Marcus the company’s next CEO. He’ll start January 1. On January 2, he might well be out of a job — if Comcast and Charter Communications complete on that date a widely rumored, any-day-now takeover of Time Warner. If that happens, Reuters calculates, Marcus will likely collect a $56.5 million golden parachute, thanks to the standard corporate “change-in-control” clause in his new CEO contract . . .
Germany and Japan hardly have any skyscrapers at all. China and the United States sport plenty. China and the United States also have far more top-heavy distributions of wealth than Germany and Japan. Could inequality and skyscrapers be linked? Count Alex Marshall, a senior fellow at New York’s Regional Plan Association, a believer in that connection. Marshall sees skylines as “a physical portrait of the distribution of wealth and thus political power.” He explains in the December Governing that more equal societies, where middle classes have appreciable power, “tend to regulate skyscrapers out of existence.” Not a bad idea. Super-tall buildings, Marshall notes, “blot out light and air to surrounding properties, and with them usually comes soaring real estate values.”
Quote of the Week
“There’s no way a Catholic who is a serious intellectual can ever again not address the issue of income inequality, of the structural sins of our economic system.”
|PETULANT PLUTOCRAT OF THE WEEK|
Things haven’t been particularly easy lately for the top brass at Walmart. The retail giant's workers have now run spirited Thanksgiving job actions two years in a row. The National Labor Relations Board is pressing the company on labor law violations, and news reports are headlining the poverty of Walmart’s underpaid employees on almost a daily basis. Last week, amid this onslaught, Walmart board chair Rob Walton announced that a new CEO will be taking over the Walmart reins early next year. But Walton, one of the four billionaire heirs to Walmart founder Sam Walton who rank among America’s ten richest individuals, insists the CEO switch reflects no desperation on Walmart's part. Says Walton: “The leadership change comes at a time of strength and growth.”
|IMAGES OF INEQUALITY|
In South Africa, the hoteliers at Emoya Luxury have taken the lust for exotic experience to a bizarre new level. On a private game preserve, they’ve set up a faux slum to give the affluent a taste of life down-and-out. The shantytown’s shacks of corrugated iron go for $82 a night, about half South Africa’s average monthly wage. To keep the real-life inconveniences of poverty to a manageable minimum, the shacks come equipped with showers, electricity, and even wi-fi!
Buycott.Com/Worried that your consumer dollars might unknowingly be bankrolling the plutocratic schemes of the notorious Koch brothers? This site hosts campaigns where consumers can flex their consumption dollars.
|PROGRESS AND PROMISE|
Can blockbuster movies turn into organizing opportunities for social justice? Activists with the Harry Potter Alliance think so. The group is keying its latest campaign to the smash hit movie Catching Fire, the second in the The Hunger Games series. The movie takes place in a future where a small elite holds almost all the wealth and average people work for starvation wages. The new Odds in Our Favor campaign is asking moviegoers moved by Catching Fire to post photos of themselves holding the film’s three-finger resistance salute wherever product ads tied to the movie appear. Activists aren’t going to let slick ads silence Catching Fire’s egalitarian message, says campaign organizer Andrew Slack. They’ll be working instead to “draw attention to the reality of economic inequality in America.”
|inequality by the numbers|
Stat of the Week
Only 5.2 percent of the world’s 2,170 billionaires have so far signed the “giving pledge,” the commitment to give away at least half their wealth that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett three years ago started asking their fellow ultra rich to make. The pledge carries no legal or contractual obligation.
From Rome, Five Essential Inequality Truths
In plain yet powerful language, Pope Francis is challenging the givens of our deeply unequal world — and helping inspire resistance to it.
Sometimes you don’t have to say anything “new” to make news. Consider, for instance, the “apostolic exhortation” the Vatican released last Tuesday.
This statement from Pope Francis, observers note, didn’t really break any bold new theological ground. But the Pope’s exhortation, the first all his own since he stepped onto the world stage last March, still made front pages the world over — and fully merited all that attention.
What makes this new papal statement so significant? No global religious figure has likely ever before denounced economic inequality with as wide-ranging — and as accessible — an assault.
Commentators are already tracing the roots of the new exhortation, formally titled Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel, in the Catholic religious tradition. But the statement also seems to draw inspiration from the world’s most insightful research into inequality’s economic, social, and political impact.
And just what insights can we take from what Pope Francis has to say about inequality? These five jump out most dramatically.
Inequality has no redeeming social value.
Our most clever apologists for maldistributions of income and wealth no longer argue that the richest among us have more brains — or get-up-and-go — than the rest of us. They argue instead that we need grand fortunes.
Grand private concentrations of wealth, the argument goes, serve as an incentive for the rest of us — and supply the investments that keep economies thriving.
Pope Francis, in clear language that demonstrates his command of the vernacular, blows away these claims.
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Francis writes.
This rich-people friendly take on the world, he points out, “has never been confirmed by the facts.”
Markets demand our critical attention.
The market “fundamentalists” now driving public policy decisions all around the world are constantly warning us not to interfere in the marketplace. Any serious attempt to undo the inequality that markets engender, they insist, risks upsetting the natural order that markets in their inherent wisdom create.
But all markets in real life run by rules, and these rules reflect the economic power of those who set them, not any deeper wisdom or divine providence.
Pope Francis sees no reason to automatically accept the verdicts that markets deliver. He sees every reason to examine how markets actually operate — and to challenge those operations that leave us staggeringly unequal.
We need, he writes, to reject “the absolute autonomy of markets” and confront “the structural causes of inequality.” Until we take these essential steps, “no solution will be found for the world's problems.”
Wealth works best when we share it.
A previous world-famous Francis — the English philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon — advised us centuries ago that wealth, like manure, only does good when we spread it around.
Pope Francis agrees. His exhortation encourages those who sit at our economic summits “to ponder” the teachings of the ancient sage who told us that “not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them.” We must, Francis advises, “say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality.”
Adds the Pope: “Such an economy kills.”
Inequality endangers us all, not just the poor.
Pope Francis, ever since arriving in Rome, has consistently reminded the world that “the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day.” His new exhortation eloquently decries the suffering of those “without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
But in an era where “the thirst for power and possessions knows no limits,” his new statement also contends, anything that “stands in the way of increased profits” — “like the environment” — stands “defenseless before the interests of a deified market.”
The security we all seek in our daily lives, Pope Francis notes, will remain unattainable so long as we remain perilously unequal. No “law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility,” he writes, until we reverse “exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples.”
The reason, the Pope notes, goes beyond the reality that “inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system.”
“Just as goodness tends to spread,” he explains, “the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear.”
In unequal societies, social fabrics will always tear.
In relatively equal societies, where most people can afford to buy the same things, things in general tend not to matter all that much. But in unequal societies everything reverses. Things — and the money to buy them — become primary.
“The worship of the ancient golden calf,” observes Pope Francis, “has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
Like this article? Sign up
In this economy, he continues, “we end up being incapable of feeling compassion.” Together, “unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric.”
Sums up Francis: “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
And Pope Francis clearly wants us moving. Against inequality.
Bob Lord, Estate Taxes: Down to 1 Percent and Sinking, Inequality.Org, November 26, 2013. Why the estate tax is no longer braking the transfer of princely fortunes from one generation to the next.
John Cavanagh and Robin Broad, Six of the Top Ten U.S. Billionaires Are Kochs and Waltons, AlterNet, November 26, 2013. These two families stand in the way of America's two most urgent tasks: transforming our economy and cleaning up our politics.
John Harkinson, Why Are Big Retailers Trying to Kill Thanksgiving? Mother Jones, November 27, 2013. The only mega retailer to resist turkey day sales turns out to be Costco, the mega retailer with the smallest pay gap between execs and workers.
Suzanne Moore, Boris Johnson's philosophy isn't just elitist — it's sinister, Guardian, November 28, 2013. London's mayor seems well on the way to becoming the world's most unabashed apologist for inequality.
Anthony Hall, CEO pay just reflection of America’s economic apartheid, Florida Courier, November 28, 2013. We've gone from the 1950s, a time when CEOs had vested interests in their communities, to today an era with CEOs interested only in their share value.
Henry Blodget, Sorry, Folks, Rich People Actually Don't 'Create The Jobs,' Business Insider, November 29, 2013. What does: an economy where most folks enjoy financial security.
|NEW AND notable|
A Single Income Tax for the Entire World?
Henry Ordower, Utopian Visions Toward a Grand Unified Global Income Tax, Florida Tax Review, volume 14, number 361, 2013.
The world’s wealthy — and the corporations they run — are continually threatening to pull up stakes if the governments that host them get uppity enough to dare raise the tax rates on their wealth. But what if we only had one set of tax rates in the world — and a progressive set at that?
A silly impractical dream? Not to Saint Louis University law professor Henry Ordower. He argues in this new paper that a number of “significant and often surprising changes” in the financial and tax worlds have made a single global tax system now imaginable for the first time ever.
Ordower explains these changes and the many issues a “grand unified global income tax” raises in this sober and detailed study. If physicists can embark on a search for a “grand unified theory” to explain our natural world, he wonders, why can’t tax experts imagine something equally grand in their sphere?
|About Too Much|
Too Much, an online weekly publication of the Institute for Policy Studies | 1112 16th Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036 | (202) 234-9382 | Editor: Sam Pizzigati. | E-mail: email@example.com | Unsubscribe.