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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "Inequality"

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From Arab Spring to Wisconsin to Wall Street to October 12

October 6, 2011 ·

Today, the occupation of Wall Street spreads to Washington, where it's gaining momentum. These occupations are focusing the nation's attention on confronting the giant corporations that have grabbed too much economic and political power after decades of deregulation, subsidies, tax avoidance, and bailouts. In cities across the country, other occupations are beginning with the message that we must shift from a speculative Wall Street economy to a green Main Street economy and address extreme wealth inequality.

The roots of this new social movement reach deep into the soil of Egypt and Wisconsin, where hundreds of thousands of people made the statement with their bodies that they would be present until governments that were oppressing their basic rights were changed. Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC are aiming their sights on both a rapacious Wall Street and a corrupt Washington. They are demanding that jobs come before cuts, and that Wall Street, corporations, and the wealthy pay for those jobs.

This week, IPSers Chuck Collins and Sarah Anderson joined courageous lawmakers Bernie Sanders and Barbara Lee to release a new study on tax dodging corporations at the "Take Back the American Dream" conference hosted by our board member, Robert Borosage. Our "America Loses" study exposes 58 "built-to-loot" firms that reaped billions from a 2004 "tax holiday" and then proceeded to slash nearly 600,000 jobs. Many of these corporate giants are now lobbying for another "tax holiday." We urge you to add your voice to those saying no.

And as we say no to Wall Street, we say yes to honoring today's heroes. We invite you to join us Wednesday, October 12 at the National Press Club for the 35th annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights awards reception and ceremony as we pay tribute to the leaders of the progressive Wisconsin struggle and a valiant Mexican group that protects the rights of migrants. Don't miss out on one of DC's must-attend events for progressives. Buy your tickets today.

Please join the youth-led movements on the streets and donate to help the Institute's efforts to do the work that provides the facts, figures, and analysis that will help these movements win.

Sign up to receive the Institute's Unconventional Wisdom newsletter every Thursday.

Maceo Protests at Deficit Talks in Washington

July 29, 2011 ·

Rallies and demonstrations on the debt ceiling crisis are expected to roll through Washington throughout the weekend, as long as Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, and President Barack Obama fail to resolve the deficit crisis that threatens to take the U.S. and global economy down a notch. Tea partiers, flag-waving labor unions, peace activists, gun-loving libertarians, and everyday Americans have all been showing up at the Capitol steps to have their say in the budget debacle.

If Obama, Boehner, and Congress listened to the wisdom of 10-year-olds, and made the wealthy pay their fair share for this budget, kids like Maceo wouldn’t inherit such a large debt burden for them to pay back through their taxes. Photo by Karen Dolan.

Yesterday, 10-year-old Maceo Dolan-Sandrino was among the demonstrators. Maceo is from Maryland, just on the outskirts of Washington, the son of IPS Fellow Karen Dolan. He attended yesterday’s rally at the Capitol to oppose the cuts to our social safety net, services like healthcare and income assistance that many Americans rely upon through hard times. I thought it might be interesting to get a 10-year-old’s perspective on the day’s events. I asked Maceo what he thought about the protest.

At first, Maceo reported that he hadn’t really listened to anything, and that his feet had hurt. But when I asked him again, I got a different answer.

“The protest was about how John Boehner was going to take away social security and how he was going to – um, it was something about the taxes,” said Maceo. “Planned Parenthood was there and they had signs that said, ‘Don’t take away our birth control.’”

I asked Maceo if he realized that the United States was in debt, and that Obama, Boehner, and Congress were trying to decide whether to borrow more money. In return, Maceo offered a surprisingly searing analysis.

“It’s because the rich and wealthy people aren’t paying their fair share of taxes, and all of the big corporations are finding loopholes not to pay taxes, and then we don’t have enough money to pay our debts,” he said.

I found this comment to be incredibly astute. As IPS Fellow Chuck Collins wrote in an article for OtherWords, “Overseas tax havens enable companies to pretend their profits are earned in other countries like the Cayman Islands. Simply making that ruse illegal would bring home an estimated $100 billion a year.”

Making sure our government doesn’t tax the highest income brackets is another way the wealthy avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Since 1970, “the top marginal tax rate on our richest has been halved, from 70 to 35 percent, and our rich have become phenomenally richer,” wrote Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez in an article this month on toomuchonline.org. And you can bet that this tax rate plunge had a lot to do with campaign contributions to friendly elected officials. Money talks, Congress listens.

Unlike Obama, Boehner, or most members of Congress, Maceo intends to stick around for quite a while in order to help pay back the debt now being discussed in Washington. I asked Maceo about how he felt about our politicians leaving future generations to pick up the tab after the government has had its spending frenzy.

“I don’t feel good at all. No, I don’t think I’m going to have that money, because I know I’m going to have a family to take care of. So, I don’t feel good about that at all.”

Maceo is a sharp kid. If Obama, Boehner, and Congress listened to the wisdom of 10-year-olds, and made the wealthy pay their fair share for this budget, kids like Maceo wouldn’t inherit such a large debt burden for them to pay back through their taxes.

Tax the rich. For kids like Maceo.

Republicans Find the Culprit

June 18, 2011 ·

Oh, so that's who the Republicans are complaining about, Mitt Romney! You know — the unemployed guy just goofin off, schleppin' around the mansion, flying around on his private jet, stubbornly pursuing only one job, when he's better suited to so many less-desirable jobs. That guy.

That's the lazy, too-good-for-your-minimum-wage-job unemployed guy the Republicans refer when trying to cut off unemployment benefits. I wondered who that guy was.

Turns out he showed up at an event for unemployed workers down at Buddy Brew Coffee in Tampa Florida, according to New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny. A bunch of folks were telling their hard-knock stories about trying to survive without a job. Tom Yarrenton, for one, told Romney his story of being unemployed. At age 55, after 31 years as an auditor in the manufacturing industry, Yarrenton lost his job a few months ago. "I should tell my story," Romney told Mr Yarrenton and the other unemployed folks in solidarity. "I am also unemployed." Must've made them feel better.

Mitt Romney 
Mitt Romney thinks his last five years of permanent campaigning are the same as being unemployed. Creative Commons photo by Dave Delay 

I wonder if he should reassure the folks whose stories the National Employment Law Project is collecting. It might help R.P., a father of three, from Pembroke, New Hampshire, who recently lost his job as an IT technician, to know he's in the same boat as multimillionaire Mitt Romney. "I have sent my resume to over 250 companies since June 2010 and have had 6 interviews all of which told me I was either overqualified or underqualified," R.P. reports. "At this point I have started applying at fast food chains and janitorial companies but still cannot get hired. I broke down crying during an interview yesterday because I cannot stop thinking about what will happen if I can't find a job that at least pays me $250 weekly."

It couldn't be R.P. and Tom Yarrenton that Republicans are trying to throw under the bus by yanking unemployment benefits, could it? And the other almost 14 million unemployed Americans struggling to find jobs that aren't there? A congressional panel recently approved a GOP bill along party-lines that would allow states to take $31 billion of federal money that benefits the long-term unemployed and use it instead to pay down state debt. I couldn't figure out why they would want to do this. I heard the complaints about the lazy, good-for-nuthins sucking off the guvmint's teat instead of looking for work. But I didn't actually know of someone like that until the other day when the former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential candidate spoke out in Tampa. The only problem is that Mitt Romney doesn't collect unemployment insurance. His government subsidy comes in the form of the Bush tax cuts for multi-millionaires.

Now that that the Republicans have found their culprit, I am sure they will switch tacks and extend unemployment benefits for the millions of suffering out-of-work Americans and let the tax cuts for the lazy goofin' off unemployed rich guys expire.

Reflections on Inequality

May 19, 2011 ·

I first came to the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in 2000 to help expose the abuse of maids and nannies by IMF and World Bank employees. This week’s news about powerful men and the women who clean up after them sounds painfully familiar. As soon as we opened our doors at the Institute’s Break The Chain Campaign project, stories began pouring in from migrant women who came to the U.S. legally as household help seeking the American dream, but found themselves living a nightmare. Many were paid little or no wages, and some reported sexual, physical, or psychological abuse.

I was drawn to this work when I realized I was next-door neighbor to a young girl living in virtual slavery in suburban Maryland. Within a month of research about the scale of such abuse, I was struck by a wrenching irony: Many women come to the United States as economic migrants precisely because the programs imposed by the IMF and World Bank limit the job opportunities and safety nets in their home countries. Then, once they’re here, they may be subjected to abuse. In essence, they are assaulted twice, as IPSer Lacy MacAuley illustrates in her blog post.

Break The Chain Campaign advocacy director Tiffany Williams examines why the mainstream media seems mainly concerned with the fate of "rock star" Dominique Strauss-Kahn, while tending to ignore the suffering of his alleged victim. "Poor women’s bodies are collateral damage of war, prizes for global accomplishment, or simply a means to an end," Williams writes. They "are even more vulnerable to dehumanizing sexual assault than others because their relationships are inherently unequal." Newspapers report that Strauss-Kahn made a "modest" $420,000 annual salary, plus pension contributions. The Fund's extremely generous benefits, the fact that IMF pay is exempt from U.S. income tax, and his wife’s reported wealth combined to facilitate a lavish lifestyle for a supposedly socialist public servant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the national median hourly wage for hotel housekeepers is $8.75. If that's what the Sofitel maid DSK allegedly attacked earned 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, it would come to $18,200 a year, about 4 percent of her alleged attacker's pay.

Such extreme inequity is emblematic. As our nation wallows in an unemployment crisis, the gap between the wealthy few and the rest of us continues to widen. Find more data, analysis, and commentary on wealth and income disparity, at inequality.org, the ground-breaking new website from our Inequality and the Common Good project. While unpacking the twisted sound bites of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and making sense of the staggering statistics featured in the "We’re Not Broke" video, IPS makes the case for the innovative, just, and simple tax reforms that could put an additional $4 trillion back in the Treasury over the next decade. You’ll also find creative approaches to shrinking the budget deficit that don’t gut Medicare.

With your heartening help, we will continue to do our utmost to make extreme inequality and its many insidious consequences a national embarrassment.

Who's Buyin' Ryan? Only the Rich Can Afford To...

April 5, 2011 ·

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is waging radical class warfare and ideological privatization schemes and selling it as a debt reduction plan.

As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker reminds us, the U.S. economic policies of the last three decades, by favoring corporations and the wealthy over average Americans, have achieved the world's most breathtaking upward redistribution of wealth. America's richest 1 percent are getting about $1.5 trillion richer each year. Studies also show that the top 5 percent in this country hold almost 64 percent of our wealth while and the bottom 80 percent of scrape by on just 12.8 percent of the pie.

Yet under the guise of debt reduction, the chairman of the House Budget Committee's budget proposal would take from the already poor, give to the already rich and attempt to achieve debt reduction not by cutting real costs, but by privatizing entitlement programs and shifting costs from the wealthy and corporations to struggling states, seniors, disabled, sick and low-income Americans. And the revenue-raising necessary for serious debt reduction is glaringly absent, with proposals instead to actually decrease tax-revenue from those most able to pay.

Although the details won't be released until later today, there's a fair amount that we already know: Its foundation is his 2010 "Roadmap for America's Future" and the similar healthcare recommendations of the Rivlin-Domenici Bipartisan Policy Center Task force. This reverse-Robin Hood scheme essentially privatizes Social Security and Medicare, converting Medicaid from a guaranteed benefits program to a limited block grant program. At the same time, it would repeal estate and corporate taxes, slashing the income taxes the wealthiest Americans pay and instituting a regressive national sales tax that would most likely increase tax obligations for poor, working-class, and middle-class Americans.

Even if his blueprint doesn't attack Social Security too, it won't be safe for long. Privatizing Social Security is another essential piece of this dangerous and unfair GOP agenda.

Instead of further shrinking the middle class and endangering the health and economic well-being of those of us not fortunate enough to be among the nation's wealthiest 2 percent, a responsible budget would look to ease long-term debt in some of the following ways:

First, fix our broken health care system. Under Ryan's health care schemes, beneficiaries would increasingly bear the burden of soaring costs with no guarantee of receiving the remedies prescribed by their doctors. A better and fairer approach would expand the single-payer Medicare system nation-wide, achieving cost-savings, implementing real cost control and retaining guaranteed healthcare for all Americans. Baker also suggests that if Ryan is such a fan of vouchers, how about a voucher system that achieves some of effective cost-saving and health-promoting results: give Medicare beneficiaries the option of to buy into the more efficient health care systems in Canada and Europe.

Second, my Institute for Policy Studies colleague Chuck Collins articulates our argument for four revenue-raisers that would bring in a whopping $400 billion each year: 1) impose a small tax on speculative financial transactions that do little to strengthen the real economy 2) reduce corporate tax dodging by closing overseas tax havens and requiring companies to pay U.S. taxes on the profits they actually earn in this country 3) establish higher tax brackets for households with annual incomes of $1 million or more, and 4) Institute a progressive estate tax on fortunes over $5 million, with higher rates on billionaire estates.

Finally, cut the bloated military budget. Obama's bipartisan Debt Commission called for cutting the Pentagon's spending by at least $100 billion over the next decade. We need to cut more than that but we shouldn't accept less.

The GOP is right about one thing: We have to be serious about debt reduction. Ryan's dangerous and seriously flawed scheme, however, is nothing more than an ideological ploy to shrink government programs that help poor and middle-class Americans while rewarding the already wealthy.

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