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Entries tagged "99 percent"

Inequality-Fighting Lawmakers Win Big

November 7, 2012 ·

Members of Congress who earned good marks in an Institute for Policy Studies "report card" on inequality fared well on Election Day.

Inequality Report CardWe awarded "A+" grades to the 12 House members who did the most to narrow America's economic divide over the past two years. Eleven of these lawmakers won:
Robert Brady (D-PA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Steve Cohen (D-TN), John Conyers (D-MI), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Only one of these A+ lawmakers, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) lost his seat to a Democratic challenger — making him a notable casualty to California's top-two primary system.

Three of the five senators who nailed top marks for their legislative actions to reduce inequality in America were up for re-election. They all won: Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Republicans identified as the most "99% friendly" within their party also did well. The IPS report card rated three senators and nine House members at a "C" level for doing the most to reduce extreme inequality over the past two years. All seven of the House members on this list who ran for re-election won. None of the three most "99% friendly" Senators was up for re-election this year.


Our report card gave failing grades to 59 lawmakers who consistently favor the interests of the wealthy instead of looking out for the needs of everyone. Of the 45 who were up for re-election, two lost. One was Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY), who was the lead sponsor of a bill to repeal a provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that requires corporations to disclose the ratio between what they pay their CEO and their workers.

This new metric could encourage a narrowing of the staggering inequality gaps within companies. In the midst of Hayworth's two-year crusade against that provision, the SEC has failed to implement it.

The other House member who received an "F" grade and lost her seat was tea party-backed Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, another New York Republican.

The IPS report card also identified the 17 Democrats who have done the least to fight extreme inequality and rated no better than a "C: Of the eight House Democrats on this list who were up for re-election, two lost (Representatives Ben Chandler of Kentucky, and Larry Kissell of North Carolina). Mike McIntyre, another North Carolina House Dem, appeared to be headed for a recount.

Sarah Anderson is a co-author of this Institute's first annual inequality report card, released in September. It rates lawmakers on the basis of their voting records and co-sponsorships of 40 different legislative actions over the last two years. The bills considered range from legislation to establish a "Buffett Rule" minimum tax rate that all wealthy Americans must pay to a measure that would raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation.

Organizing Across Generations

April 2, 2012 ·

On Sunday night, the legendary TV talk host, Bill Moyers, focused on hope.  His guests were three of the most dynamic young leaders in social movements today: George Goehl of National People's Action, Sarita Gupta of Jobs with Justice, and Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

The three laid out the plans for the 99% Spring, which their groups and IPS are planning with over 40 other groups.  This included hundreds of trainings coming up next week and the actions later this spring to take on corporations

Sarita and Ai-jen also laid out the plans for the Caring Across Generations campaign (which IPS is also a part of). Caring Across Generations is uniting dozens of groups to transform care for elders and the lives of the 2 million women who provide the care.  The three were so great that they inspired Moyers to add a "Take Action" section to his show's website.   

Occupy vs. the Global Race to the Bottom

February 22, 2012 ·

Ever since the first tent was pitched in Zuccotti Park in September 2011, the Occupy protests have been giving life to a “99 percent movement.” Expect to hear a lot more from them: plans for a 99 percent spring—starting as early as April—are now in the making.

The 99 Percent Spring is coming. Photo by Glenn Halog.This still very young movement has focused attention on a well-reasoned explanation of the vast suffering in this country, an explanation that is resonating with the broader U.S. public. It is often posed this way: For thirty years, Wall Street firms have successfully lobbied the US government to give them freer reign, by removing regulations and lowering taxes. In the process, these firms became uprooted and detached from lending to Main Street businesses and instead became more like casinos making money for the one percent through risky instruments such as derivatives based in sub-prime mortgages. This casino Wall Street economy increased inequality, corrupted our politics and politicians, and provoked the economic crash in 2008—a crash that left tens of millions unemployed, homeless, mired in debt, and vulnerable.   

This narrative is not only compelling and tragic, it is also correct. But the Occupy analysis is thus far primarily a US-centric one; it often leaves out the reality that all of us in this country are part of a corporate-driven global economy.   

So here is a fuller picture:

In addition to Wall Street speculators, the other dominant forces of the U.S. economy over the past three decades have been global firms like General Electric, Exxon Mobil, and Apple. These firms spread their global assembly lines and resource extraction to countries like Mexico, China, and the Philippines where, in a quest for cheaper costs, they can more easily evade worker rights and environmental regulations. This global corporate economy pits U.S. workers and communities against poorly enforced Third World worker rights and environmental rules in a “race to the bottom” in terms of rights and standards. These global firms simply say to governments and workers: lower your wages and standards or we will move our operations elsewhere. They either get what they want or they move. 

And, just as Wall Street speculators rewarded elected officials in the United States who passed local and national laws to remove regulations, so too did the global manufacturing firms reward members of Congress who passed trade and investment rules that gave corporations protections. Case in point: the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement which granted corporations powerful rights and protections while offering only weak social and environmental “clauses.”

The 1990s era of globalization accelerated the proliferation of global assembly lines with sweatshop conditions. United Students Against Sweatshops and others have exposed the horrors of garment assembly lines for decades. Today the exposès continue, most recently of Apple’s global assembly lines. As a January 2012 New York Times investigation revealed, hundreds of thousands of workers assembling Apple iPhones in China are denied basic rights, exposed to dangerous toxic chemicals, and live in squalor. 

With this lens, one can better assess President Obama’s recent tour of industrial states where he proclaimed that manufacturing jobs are returning to the United States in part because wages and working conditions here are now “competitive.” “Competitive” masks the grim reality that real U.S. manufacturing wages have been stagnating or falling over this period and workers have accepted lower wages to prevent the real threat of corporations moving their jobs to China. This is hardly something we should applaud; we want good jobs – good for workers, good for the environment, good for community. 

Adding this global component also reveals more about what needs to be part of our agenda for change. Until now, most of the 99 percent agenda has focused on reducing inequality by reining in Wall Street and cutting its influence on our corrupted politics. Many groups have advocated for fairer taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street, and various measures to prevent the one percent from purchasing elections and elected officials. These are critical starting points.

But to these important proposals, let us also add new mechanisms to enforce internationally recognized worker rights and environmental standards everywhere, including workers’ rights to organize independent unions, an end to child labor, and the right for communities to know of potential environmental dangers. Another way to support this “race to the top” is by ending trade agreements that provide corporations with investor rights to sue governments but do not provide workers or communities or the environment with stronger protections.

Likewise, let us also push proposals to shift the incentives away from global trade and investment and back toward revitalizing “Main Street” by encouraging more production and investment locally. Much of what is traded across borders, from food to clothing to electronic gadgets, can be produced—with less stress on the environment—much closer to home. Worker-owned co-ops in Cleveland, for example, are now producing food and linen for local hospitals and universities that used to come from far away.        

This expansion of the Occupy story to address to challenges of corporate globalization is one logical next step in the Occupy trajectory. Indeed, many in the Occupy movements have already embraced Occupy protests and movements in other countries, from England to Nigeria to dozens of other countries around the world. Let us embrace the 99 percent everywhere with a global analysis and a global agenda.

The Global Super-Rich Stash: Now $25 Trillion

November 17, 2011 ·

In today’s astoundingly unequal global economy, banks can go either of two routes — or both — to bag ever bigger returns. They can squeeze the 99 percent with nuisance fees and penalties. Or they can cater to the richest of the rich.

Oakland's Chase branch was recently occupied. Photo by Steve Rhodes.But both routes have bumps. The 99 percent can squeeze back, as they did earlier this month when Americans by the tens of thousands shut down their Bank of America accounts to protest the bank’s $5 debit card greed grab. And the richest of the rich? To cater to these fortunates, you first have to find them. 

That can be difficult. Fortunately, financial industry consulting firms have stepped up to help. These firms have started publishing annual global wealth surveys that pinpoint where banks — and luxury retailers and anyone else who wants in on top 1 percent action — can find “high” and “ultra high” net-worth individuals.

Last week, a new global firm — the Singapore-based Wealth-X — entered the global wealth survey fray, joining a crowded field that already includes Capgemini and Merrill Lynch, the Boston Consulting Group, Credit Suisse, and Deloitte LLP.

Each of these firms has tried to carve out a unique market niche. The Wealth-X specialty? The world of the ultra rich, those individuals who can claim at least $30 million in net worth. And the researchers at Wealth-X haven’t just counted these ultras in their first annual global wealth census. They’ve tiered them.

For the entire world — and major nations — Wealth-X teases out subsets of the super rich, from the $30-to-$50 million set to the $1 billion and up. For the first time, thanks to Wealth-X, we can compare the barely ultra with the comfortably ultra and those super ultras who can make the comfortables seem pinched.

“Our report maps exactly where the biggest money is located,” Wealth-X CEO Mykolas Rambus boasted at a Geneva news conference last week, “and just how much there is.”

The Wealth-X research answers “how many” as well. The firm counts 185,795 individuals worldwide with at least $30 million net worth. These ultra high net-worth individuals — UHNWs — hold $25 trillion in combined wealth.

The global economy may be tottering, the new Wealth-X World Ultra Wealth Report 2011 goes on to inform us, but the “lifestyle habits of UHNW individuals have not been severely impacted.“

“Simply put,” the Wealth-X analyst team gushes, “the world’s wealthy elite are in a class of their own.”

In that class, Americans pack a bunch of the rows. Of the near 186,000 global ultra rich, 57,860 — 30 percent — carry U.S. passports. These American ultras hold a combined net worth of $7.6 trillion, an average of $131.4 million each.

That average masks a huge concentration of wealth at America’s summit. The 455 deep-pocketed Americans worth at least $1 billion hold half a trillion more in wealth than the 29,415 Americans in the Wealth-X $30-to-$50 million tier.

These numbers need a bit more context to have any real meaning, and we can take a stab at providing that context by glancing over at the “super committee” deficit-reduction deliberations now underway in Washington, D.C.

The 12 lawmakers on this congressional super committee — six Republicans and six Democrats — are trying to trim $1.2 trillion off federal red ink over the next ten years. On their chopping block: Medicare, Social Security, and assorted other programs essential to the well-being of America’s 99 percent.

The super committee reporting-out deadline comes next week. No one knows how much budget-cutting pain the panel will be recommending. But panel members could actually avoid all that pain — and raise over $1 trillion in new money for investing in America — simply by subjecting all U.S. individual net worth over $30 million to a modest wealth tax.

Our U.S. ultra wealthy, Wealth-X calculates, together hold almost $5.9 trillion over this $30 million threshold. An annual 5 percent wealth tax on this overage would raise over $293 billion a year, or $2.9 trillion over the next decade — more than double the $1.2 trillion the super committee is so desperately looking to find.

The most amazing part of this? America’s ultra rich could easily pay this 5 percent annual wealth tax for the next ten years and remain as rich as ever.

That’s because wealth begets wealth. All those trillions of dollars America’s ultras are currently holding don’t sit under some mattress. The ultra wealthy have those trillions invested in assets that generate short- and long-term returns.

If America’s ultras averaged returns on those investments not that far above 5 percent over the next ten years, they could pay the wealth tax and still end the decade with higher personal net worths than when the decade began.

Back in the 1990s, a public-spirited financial industry superstar — multimillionaire San Francisco money manager Claude Rosenberg — spent a sizeable chunk of his personal fortune campaigning to get a similar message across about the enormous wealth of the wealthy.

Rosenberg’s particular point: America’s fabulously rich could hike their annual contributions to charity by tenfold and still end up with higher personal fortunes. Rosenberg started a research group dedicated to sharing this message and the analysis behind it. He wrote a book and peppered the periodicals that rich people read with op-eds that detailed his group's number crunching.

In the year 2000, Rosenberg’s researchers would document, households with $1 million or more in income could have given $128 billion more to charity than they actually did in fact give, without losing any net worth over the course of the year.

Claude Rosenberg died three years ago at age 80, his message to the super rich essentially totally ignored. The vast increase in charitable giving by the rich he had hoped to inspire never materialized.

The message to the rest of us from Rosenberg’s noble effort?

The excess wealth our ultra wealthy hold, if put to the public good, could change the trajectory of America’s future. The ultra wealthy don’t seem to be willing to do that putting on their own.

With a few tweaks of our tax code, we could do that putting for them.