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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 since October 2011

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All Money Trails Lead to Wall Street

October 25, 2011 ·

Federal Reserve data shows that mortgage and consumer interest charges eat up around 15 percent of the average household income. Photo by  wwarby.How much of our income goes to Wall Street? Anthropologist David Graeber, a specialist in the study of debt, recently set out to find out how much of an average American income ends up “appropriated” by the financial industry “in the form of interest payments, fees, penalties, and service charges.”

Graebner would quickly find that no government agency is actually compiling all that exact information. But mortgage and consumer interest charges alone, he discovered from Federal Reserve data, are eating up 15 to 17 percent of average household income, and that figure doesn’t include either student loans or “penalty fees” on bank and credit card accounts.

Overall, Graebner estimates, at least one dollar of every five Americans earn is “now likely to end up in Wall Street’s coffers in one way or another.” That’s substantially more than average Americans pay in federal income tax. Maybe we need some “tax reform” on all the levies Wall Street imposes on us.

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The Lineup: Week of Oct. 24-30, 2011

October 24, 2011 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, William A. Collins and Khalil Bendib offer their takes on Occupy Wall Street, while Donald Kaul and Phyllis Bennis address the big news out of Libya. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

 

  1. What's Next for U.S.-Libyan Relations? / Phyllis Bennis
  2. Measuring Progress / Daphne Wysham
  3. Defending Bloated Military Spending / Ryan Alexander
  4. Food System Pays Dearly as Wall Street Occupies Washington / Ben Lilliston
  5. Gaddafi's Grim End / Donald Kaul
  6. Manliness in a Can / Jim Hightower
  7. Dispatch from Occupy Wall Street / William A. Collins
  8. Masters of the Universe, Unite! / Khalil Bendib

Masters of the Universe, Unite! An OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

A New Set of Tools for Measuring Economic Progress

October 24, 2011 ·

Maryland's government is embracing an alternative way to monitor the state's wellbeing called the Genuine Progress Indicator, which brings depth to the analysis of the state's economic growth. At the Institute for Policy Studies, we are looking for lessons in Maryland, as well as in similar exercises being undertaken elsewhere. This is the second in a series of posts about this work. This was the first one. A longer version is running as an op-ed via the Institute's OtherWords editorial service.

More than 70 years after its emergence, the desirability of GDP growth is so entrenched in our national and international discourse that it's hard to imagine it any other way. The revered indicator's expansion or contraction can swing national elections. Conversely, talk of GDP declines can drive a country to war.

During tough economic times such as these, it's particularly surprising to have a leader bucking the tide. Yet Martin O'Malley is doing just that. Maryland's governor is the first in the United States to embrace a set of alternative indicators that bring depth to the analysis of his state's economic growth. Under O'Malley's leadership, the state's officials are now gathering and annually updating economic, social, and environmental data that help measure the overall wellbeing of Maryland's citizens.

The 26 underlying indicators, which collectively comprise the "Genuine Progress Indicator," are a more meaningful gauge of the overall economic health and wellbeing of Maryland residents than standard economic measuring sticks. For example, the state tracks things like volunteerism, time spent with family and loved ones, and air quality in its quest to gauge its real progress. These indicators may lack concrete economic value, but studies show they help make a society more healthy and vibrant.

GPI assesses what's left behind when the "gross product" expands. Is the landscape more or less toxic than before? Is the air and water cleaner or dirtier? How well-educated is the populace? Is public transportation decent? Is crime more common? Are too many people spending more time commuting to jobs than at home with their kids?

Maryland leads the nation in measuring overall societal wellbeing through the GPI, but there are similar efforts underway elsewhere in the United States, as well as in Canada, France, and even Bhutan. Yes, Bhutan, a tiny country nestled in the Himalayan mountains. There, "gross domestic happiness" carries more weight than the gross domestic product.

It's time to recall Simon Kuznets' warnings about the limitations of the GDP and to pick up where he left off by embracing a new set of tools that will help shape good social, environmental, and economic policy — not just for Maryland, but for our entire country and the world.

Daphne Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, where she's conducting research around ways in which alternative metrics to the GDP, such as Maryland's "Genuine Progress Indicator," can be used to build a more sustainable society. www.ips-dc.org

A Lesson Kids Understand, but Congress Does Not

October 23, 2011 ·

A few days ago, I took my son and one of his friends to a birthday party. As we made our way there, I listened in on their conversation - something I like to do if they are truly unaware that I am doing it. They were comparing soccer skills, and why my son's friend wasn't quite as fast as he was on the field.

His friend lowered his voice and in a near whisper said, "I don't like to admit it, but I have asthma. And that's one reason I can't run fast." Later, as they were talking about things they were really afraid of, he added, "Really bad allergies; that's what scares me the most." 

It's a sad commentary on the state of our country that our children are terrified by what our elected officials are failing to do: uphold laws that protect their health. Lisa P. Jackson' writes in the Los Angeles Times about the all-out Republicans assault on environmental laws and regulations in the House of Representatives: 

Since the beginning of this year, Republicans in the House have averaged roughly a vote every day the chamber has been in session to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and our nation's environmental laws. They have picked up the pace recently — just last week they voted to stop the EPA's efforts to limit mercury and other hazardous pollutants from cement plants, boilers and incinerators — and it appears their campaign will continue for the foreseeable future.

Using the economy as cover, and repeating unfounded claims that "regulations kill jobs," they have pushed through an unprecedented rollback of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and our nation's waste-disposal laws, all of which have successfully protected our families for decades. We all remember "too big to fail"; this pseudo jobs plan to protect polluters might well be called "too dirty to fail."

The House has voted on provisions that, if they became law, would give big polluters a pass in complying with the standards that more than half of the power plants across the country already meet. The measures would indefinitely delay sensible upgrades to reduce air pollution from industrial boilers located in highly populated areas. And they would remove vital federal water protections, exposing treasured resources such as the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Erie, the Chesapeake Bay and the Los Angeles River to pollution.

Lisa Jackson's hard-hitting op-ed is an important antidote, but we all need to do our part. 

Obama: Selectively Honoring MLK

October 21, 2011 ·

At the end of August, I headed over to the opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial right before the hurricane. I returned this past weekend for the official dedication, which brought more than 10,000 people to what now is sacred ground.

Obama connected with MLK's domestic agenda against poverty and disenfranchisement, but ignored MLK's stance against increased militarim. CC photo by absentmindedprof.During the ceremony, President Obama drew several parallels between the obstacles that King and the nation faced 50 years ago and our current economic challenges. Sounding again like a proponent of real change, Obama said, "If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company's union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain."

But while Obama was quick to pay lip service to King's work for civil rights and economic justice and play to the popular sentiments of those "Occupying Everywhere," Obama didn't mention King's equally important efforts to stop the Vietnam War and end U.S. militarism.

This omission probably wasn't a mistake. Obama sent 100 U.S. troops to Uganda on Friday and over the weekend he encouraged the incursion of Kenyan military troops into Somalia, a continuing target for U.S. aerial drone strikes.

Noting the U.S. interest in securing oil in Uganda, and viewing Somalia as part of the "global war on terrorism," IPS Africa expert Emira Woods says that Obama, dubbed the "Son of Africa" by many in the region, is betraying many of the core values his fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for.

Also, as the weekend set upon us, two women who are longtime peace advocates on the African content joined King and Obama as Nobel Peace Prize winners: Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, along with Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman.

Appearing on PBS News Hour, Democracy Now and other outlets, Woods was quick to acknowledge the similarities between these awardees and Obama. Gbowee was a tireless community organizer. Johnson-Sirleaf was the first woman in Africa to serve as a democratically elected president. Unfortunately, Johnson-Sirleaf also shares Obama's agenda of establishing a permanent U.S. military command, AFRICOM, showing that the Peace Prize isn't always about peace.

It was wonderful to see so many of you at our Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards reception and ceremony last week. That night, the Wisconsin Progressive Movement and Bethlehem, The Migrant's Shelter (Mexico) showed what can be possible with faith, love, and determination.  

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