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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 2013

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Billionaires: Decline of the West, Rise of the Rest

October 28, 2013 ·

This post originally appeared on Triple Crisis. Read the original.

International trading currency (epSos.de/Flickr)With the help of Forbes magazine, we and colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies have been tracking the world’s billionaires and rising inequality the world over for several decades. Just as a drop of water gives us a clue into the chemical composition of the sea, these billionaires offer fascinating clues into the changing face of global power and inequality.

After our initial gawking at the extravagance of this year’s list of 1,426, we looked closer. This list reveals the major power shift in the world today: the decline of the West and the rise of the rest. Gone are the days when U.S. billionaires accounted for over 40 percent of the list, with Western Europe and Japan making up most of the rest. Today, the Asia-Pacific region hosts 386 billionaires, 20 more than all of Europe and Russia combined.

In 2013, of the nine countries that are home to over 30 billionaires each, only three are traditional “developed” countries: the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Next in line after the United States, with its 442 billionaires today? China, with 122 billionaires (up from zero billionaires in 1995), and third place goes to Russia with 110. China’s billionaires have made money from every possible source. Consider the country’s richest man, Zong Qinghou, who made his $11.6 billion through his ownership of the country’s largest beverage maker. Russia’s lengthy billionaire list is led by men who reaped billions from the country’s vast oil, gas and mineral wealth with devastating consequences to the environment.

Germany is fourth on the list with 58 billionaires, followed by India (55), Brazil (46), Turkey (43), Hong Kong (39), and the United Kingdom (38). Yes, Turkey has more billionaires than any other country in Europe save Germany.

Moving beyond these top nine countries, Taiwan has more billionaires than France. Indonesia has more billionaires than Italy or Spain. South Korea now has more billionaires than Japan or Australia.

This surging list of billionaires is tribute to the growing inequality in almost all nations on earth. The richest man in the world, for example, is Carlos Slim of Mexico—with a net worth of $73 billion, comparable to a whopping 6.2% of Mexico’s GDP. The world’s third richest person is Spain’s retail king, Amancio Ortega, who has accumulated a net worth of $57 billion in a country where over a quarter of the people are now unemployed.

U.S. billionaires still dominate. The United States’ 442 billionaires represent 31% of the total number. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett remain numbers two and four, and are household names given the combination of their wealth, their philanthropy, and their use of their power and influence to convince other billionaires to increase their own charitable giving.

But, also among the 12 U.S. billionaires in the top 20 richest people in the world are members of two families who have used their vast wealth and concomitant power to corrupt our politics. Charles and David Koch stand at numbers six and seven in the world; they have drawn on a chunk of their combined $68 billion to fund not only candidates of the far right but also political campaigns against environmental and other regulation. So too do four Waltons stand among the top 20; their combined wealth of $107.3 billion has skyrocketed thanks to Walmart’s growing profits as the company pressures cities and states to oppose raising wages to livable levels.

How have the numbers changed over the years? Let’s travel back to 1995, a time of surging wealth amidst the deregulation under the Clinton administration in the United States, and the widespread pressure around the world to deregulate, liberalize, and privatize markets.

In 1995, Forbes tallied 376 billionaires in the world. Of these, 129 (or 34%) were from the United States. The fact that the number of U.S. billionaires rose to 442 over the next 18 years while the percentage of U.S. billionaires fell only from 34% to 31% of the global total is testimony to how the deregulatory and tax-cutting atmosphere in the United States under Clinton and Bush proved so favorable to the super-rich.

Notable over these past 18 years is that the so-called developed world has been eclipsed by the so-called developing world. In 1995, the billionaire powerhouses were the United States (129), Germany (47), and Japan (35). These three countries were home to 56% of the world’s billionaires. No other country came close, with France, Hong Kong, and Thailand tied in fourth place, with 12 billionaires each. Russia and China didn’t have a single billionaire in 1995, although for Russia, Forbes admitted that financial disclosure in that country in the years after the Berlin Wall fell was sketchy. And, in 1995, Brazil had only eight billionaires and India only two.

Today, these four countries (Russia, China, Brazil, and India) host 333 of the world’s 1,426 billionaires—23% of the total. And, Japan’s total number of billionaires has actually fallen in the last 18 years, from 35 to 22.

The figures offer a dramatic snapshot of the relative decline of the United States, Europe, and Japan in less than two decades and the stunning rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as well as the rest of Asia. And, they remind us that countries where income was relatively equal twenty years ago, like China and Russia, have rushed into the ranks of the unequal.

Across the globe, the rapid rise of billionaires in dozens of countries (again, with Japan as the notable exception) is testimony to how the deregulatory climate of these past two decades sped the rise of the super-rich, while corporations kept workers’ wages essentially flat.

Suffice it to say: More equal and more healthy societies require a vastly different approach to public policy. As IPS Associate Fellow Sam Pizzigati has chronicled, fair taxes created a vast middle class in the United States between the 1940s and 1960s. Such fair tax policies are needed today the world over if the gap between the super-haves and the have-nots is to be narrowed rather than widened.

IPS 50th Anniversary Weekend Highlights

October 22, 2013 ·

IPS 50th CelebrationThanks so much to all of you who made our IPS 50th Anniversary extravaganza a whopping success. From October 11 to 13, nearly 1,000 people were involved in some way in celebrating our past five decades of turning ideas into action and envisioning a bold, progressive future. In all, we hosted 21 events, including an alumni reception, inter-generational dialogues on the future of progressive movements, workshops on politics and the arts, the world's first "Idea Slam," a tribute to IPS Fellow Saul Landau, a celebratory dinner, and finally a gala at Union Station with Joy Zarembka, John Cavanagh, Harry Belafonte, Amy Goodman, Ai-jen Poo, and Sarita Gupta.

In the weeks to come, we will add to this page the videos of the Idea Slam and many of the other IPS 50th events.

Here is a sampling of photos from the weekend.

Here is a 4 minute film on IPS at 50 by former IPS Newman Fellow Farrah Hassen:
Public Scholarship at IPS 

Here is an 8 minute film on by Farrah Hassen:
Remembering Orlando and Ronni 

Here is a 9 minute tribute to Saul Landau by the cinematographer Haskell Wexler:
A tribute to Saul Landau by Haskell Wexler

And, here is the 2-hour celebration of Saul Landau, featuring Harry Belafonte, Ariel Dorfman, 3 of Saul's children, and many more:
IPS Celebration of Saul Landau

What Comes Next: Rights, Not 'Arrangements,' for Palestinians

October 18, 2013 ·

This blog is part of a series on the end of the two-state paradigm for Israel and Palestine, which can be read in full on Mondoweiss' website.

Graffiti on a wall separating Palestine and Israel (Zachary Baumgartner/flickr)On the ground, in the real world, of course there is no longer any possibility of a real “two-state” solution. Two “real” states would mean that alongside Israel, constituting 78% of historic Palestine, there would be a really independent, actually viable, fully sovereign state of Palestine on the 22% remaining, made up of the Gaza Strip, Arab East Jerusalem, and the entire West Bank.  

The claimed permanence and continued expansion of city-sized, Jews-only settlements across East Jerusalem and the West Bank populated by over 600,000 people, the Separation Wall seizing 10% or so of West Bank land and most of its key water sources for Israel and not Palestine, and the unchallenged Israeli determination that any future Palestinian “state” would have no control over its borders, airspace, coastal waters and would be kept forcibly disarmed by outside actors… all make a mockery of “two states.” While the creation of a Palestinian “state,” made up of a bunch of scattered non-contiguous cantons amounting to less than half of the 22% of historic Palestine, is certainly possible, the notion that it would amount to an independent, sovereign, real state is specious; the idea exists today only as a diplomatic fiction.

All of historic Palestine – Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem – are currently under the control of one government and one army – Israel’s.  (The “Palestinian Authority’s” authority is limited to essentially municipal power.)  But the peoples of that land live under very different legal regimes, with different levels of rights, privileges and discrimination facing Jewish citizens of Israel, Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Palestinian refugees denied their international right to return to their homes. Today, those separate legal systems, designed to privilege one group – Jews – at the expense of another group – non-Jews, which means Palestinians – stands in violation of the International Covenant for the Prevention and Suppression of the Crime of Apartheid.

Ultimately, the nature of the political solution – one state or two states, secular or bi-national, regionally federated or isolated – is up to the people who live there. A civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle for equality could in theory emerge in either a one or two-state context. (With two states, there would need to be complete equality between  the  two states as well as within both states.) But for those of us in the U.S. who are not either Palestinians or Israelis, that’s not our call.

For us, the issue should focus on rights, not on political arrangements which are ultimately not our business. Our goal should be to change the policies of our government, whose military aid and unlimited political and diplomatic protection enable Israel’s policies and sustain its power. We should focus on ending the U.S. policy of support for occupation and apartheid, in favor of a policy based on international law, human rights, and equality for all.

Read the original blog on Mondoweiss.

This Week in OtherWords: October 9, 2013

October 9, 2013 ·

This week in OtherWords, Ryan Alexander points out that Congress could have averted the government shutdown had it done "its constitutionally mandated job" while Marc Morial warns that unless lawmakers raise the debt ceiling, an economic disaster could ensue. Donald Kaul blames the shutdown and the debt-ceiling perils on "zombie lawmakers," and John Cavanagh and I highlight the Institute for Policy Studies' remarkable history. IPS, which runs OtherWords, is celebrating our 50th anniversary this weekend. If you can make it to Washington, D.C., I hope you can join us.

Do you want to make sure you don't miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running. We can't do it without your support.

  1. Forging Ahead at 50 / Emily Schwartz Greco and John Cavanagh
    Not every think tank could weather FBI infiltration, scapegoating by right-wing extremists, and even a car-bomb assassination.
  2. Shut Up and Work / Ryan Alexander
    We wouldn't be at this point if Congress had done its job over the last several months.
  3. This Political Game Jeopardizes the Economy / Marc Morial
    This Political Game Jeopardizes the Economy.
  4. Cleaning Up Campaign Finance to Save the Environment / Michael Brune
    The assault on our democracy is a bigger problem than the temporary closure of national parks.
  5. Attack of the Zombie Lawmakers / Donald Kaul
    The tea-partying faction's influence wouldn't be so out of proportion to its numbers without the cowardice of more moderate Republicans.
  6. Subsidizing Economic Inequality / Sam Pizzigati
    The push to privatize the public sector through contracting out is expanding our economic divide.
  7. More Food Doesn’t Guarantee Less Hunger / Jill Richardson
    Increasing the world's food supply won't end hunger unless we address inequality and injustice.
  8. McDonald’s Takes Its Time Cooking Up a New Menu / Jim Hightower
    The fast-food chain swears it will offer plenty of healthy choices at all its restaurants but not until seven years from now.
  9. The New Operating System / William A. Collins
    If you can't make a bundle in the digital world, you can join the gold rush of speculation in the financial industry.
  10. The Slow Road to Better Fast Food / Khalil Bendib Cartoon

    Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org 

     The Slow Road to Better Fast Food, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib
The IRS at 100: How Income Taxation Built the Middle Class

October 2, 2013 ·

Cross-posted from Reuters.com

Exactly a century ago, on October 3, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed the first modern federal income tax into law. The sky did not fall.

That may have surprised the eminences of the American plutocracy. For years they had predicted the most dire of consequences should the federal government begin taxing the incomes of America’s most comfortable.

Those warnings took a shriller turn in 1909. A flurry of cynical congressional maneuvers sent the states a constitutional amendment, ostensibly designed to allow a federal income tax. Conservatives in Congress felt confident that the amendment had no chance of gaining enough state support to be ratified. To clinch the amendment’s defeat, they unleashed a fierce rhetorical fusillade.

401(K) 2013/Flickr

Read the rest of this commentary at Reuters.com.

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