Why inequality is the most important economic challenge facing the next president

By Steven Pressman, Colorado State University

In a recent issue of The Economist, President Barack Obama set out four major economic issues that his successor must tackle. As he put it:

“… restoring faith in an economy where hardworking Americans can get ahead requires addressing four major structural challenges: boosting productivity growth, combating rising inequality, ensuring that everyone who wants a job can get one and building a resilient economy that’s primed for future growth.”

It’s hard to quibble with the items on the president’s list. Slow productivity growth, rising inequality, inadequate employment and the lack of sustainable economic growth all are important problems that a President Clinton or Trump will have to face.

But just how important are these issues? Does one, above all, deserve to be at the top of the next president’s economic to-do list?

Rather than rank these items, it is probably better to follow the advice of American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer: We should courageously change what we can while accepting what we cannot.

And inequality is the only item on that list that a president can influence in a significant way. It also happens to be, in my mind, the most important one – critical for solving the other three problems as well as preventing the disappearance of the middle class.

[Read more…]


The Uber economy looks a lot like the pre-industrial economy

Quartz reports: Maybe Uber isn’t that innovative after all.

A new study from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), finds that the “gig” economy model popularized by Uber has a lot in common with the economies of poor countries today, as well as the US and Europe before the Industrial Revolution.

Uber and other “gig” companies like Lyft and TaskRabbit hire their workers as independent contractors rather than full employees. These jobs comes with a lot of flexibility — workers can set their own schedules — but they lack the protections afforded full-time employees of larger corporate enterprises, such as health care and a guaranteed minimum wage. Uber and its digital peers are a small if well-known part of the larger independent workforce, which McKinsey estimates at 20% to 30% of the working-age population in the US and the EU-15, or some 160 million people.

While companies like Uber have been hailed as modern conveniences for consumers, they are proving to be just the opposite for workers. App-based services rely on income inequality and may well be perpetuating the divide between capital and labor. They are also reverting economies to pre-industrial ideas about work. [Continue reading…]


The desegregation and resegregation of schools in Charlotte

Clint Smith writes: Recently, protesters and police clashed in the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina, following the killing of Keith Lamont Scott, a forty-three-year-old father of seven, who had recently moved to the city with his wife and family. Scott was shot by officers who were searching for a man with an outstanding warrant. Scott was not that man. Officer accounts claim that Scott had a handgun and refused to comply when he got out of his car. Other witnesses say that Scott was actually holding a book, as he often read while waiting for the bus to return his son from elementary school.

The footage from Charlotte reflected a scene that has become all too familiar over the past several years: police cocooned in riot gear, their bodies encased in bulletproof vests and military-style helmets; protesters rendered opaque by the tear gas that surrounds them, scarves covering their mouths and noses to keep from inhaling the smoke.

These protests happened because of Keith Lamont Scott, but they also happened because Charlotte is a city that has long had deep racial tensions, and frustration has been building for some time. There are many places one might look to find the catalyst of this resentment, nationally and locally. But one of the first places to look is Charlotte’s public-school system.

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and thus unconstitutional. The decision mandated that schools across the country be integrated, though, in reality, little actual school desegregation took place following the ruling. It took years for momentum from the civil-rights movement to create enough political pressure for truly meaningful integration to take place in classrooms across the country.

To understand what happened next, it helps to turn to a book published last year and edited by Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, Stephen Samuel Smith, and Amy Hawn Nelson, “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: School Desegregation and Resegregation in Charlotte.” It uses essays by sociologists, political scientists, economists, and attorneys to illuminate how the city became the focal point of the national school-desegregation debate, with decisions that set a precedent for the rest of the country. [Continue reading…]


Freedom for some requires the enslavement of others

Maya Jasanoff writes: One hundred and fifty years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, the nation’s first black president paid tribute to “a century and a half of freedom—not simply for former slaves, but for all of us.” It sounds innocuous enough till you start listening to the very different kinds of political rhetoric around us. All of us are not free, insists the Black Lives Matter movement, when “the afterlife of slavery” endures in police brutality and mass incarceration. All of us are not free, says the Occupy movement, when student loans impose “debt slavery” on the middle and working classes. All of us are not free, protests the Tea Party, when “slavery” lurks within big government. Social Security? “A form of modern, twenty-first-century slavery,” says Florida congressman Allen West. The national debt? “It’s going to be like slavery when that note is due,” says Sarah Palin. Obamacare? “Worse than slavery,” says Ben Carson. Black, white, left, right—all of us, it seems, can be enslaved now.

Americans learn about slavery as an “original sin” that tempted the better angels of our nation’s egalitarian nature. But “the thing about American slavery,” writes Greg Grandin in his 2014 book The Empire of Necessity, about an uprising on a slave ship off the coast of Chile and the successful effort to end it, is that “it never was just about slavery.” It was about an idea of freedom that depended on owning and protecting personal property. As more and more settlers arrived in the English colonies, the property they owned increasingly took the human form of African slaves. Edmund Morgan captured the paradox in the title of his classic American Slavery, American Freedom: “Freedom for some required the enslavement of others.” When the patriots protested British taxation as a form of “slavery,” they weren’t being hypocrites. They were defending what they believed to be the essence of freedom: the right to preserve their property.

The Empire of Necessity explores “the fullness of the paradox of freedom and slavery” in the America of the early 1800s. Yet to understand the chokehold of slavery on American ideas of freedom, it helps to go back to the beginning. At the time of the Revolution, slavery had been a fixture of the thirteen colonies for as long as the US today has been without it. “Slavery was in England’s American colonies, even its New England colonies, from the very beginning,” explains Princeton historian Wendy Warren in her deeply thoughtful, elegantly written New England Bound, an exploration of captivity in seventeenth-century New England. The Puritan ideal of a “city on a hill,” long held up as a model of America at its communitarian best, actually rested on the backs of “numerous enslaved and colonized people.” [Continue reading…]


Bill Moyers: Money and power in America

Hope: it’s in short supply in America this year. I was reminded of that recently when I spoke at a kick-off event for the school year hosted by the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. The Institute’s namesake is, of course, Bob Dole, the war hero turned Republican congressman, senator, minority and then majority leader, and finally presidential nominee in 1996. On a beautiful summer evening, on the front lawn of the Institute, my host, a KU senior named Cody, and I discussed — what else is there to talk about this year? — The Donald, Hillary, and Bernie. Then we plunged into the perilous topic of the media and its curious future and the life of a journalist (me) covering the gravity-defying spectacle commonly known as election 2016. More than 100 students showed up — nothing to do, I’m sure, with the free burgers and soda — and when it came time for the Q-and-A portion of the event, I couldn’t help but be struck by the acuity and thoughtfulness of their questions.

Afterward, I met a smaller group of them at a nearby basement bar. During my five years as an undergraduate, I can’t recall having a conversation as substantive as that evening’s. Kansas’s state government, led by its governor, Sam Brownback, has plunged into a radical experiment in “conservative” governing, and it was on their minds. We talked about a variety of depressing topics, including the devastating effects of the legislature’s repeated budget cuts to higher education and another grim signature legislative issue: the open carry of guns on campus. “No gun” signs were ubiquitous there, but everyone wondered: For how long? The students spoke eloquently and knowledgeably. More than that, they spoke with passion and in detail about how such problems might be dealt with and even fixed, and they did so with the Dole Institute’s bipartisan ethos in mind. Some of it may have been the youthful idealism of the undergraduate but, believe me, it was refreshing.

I say all this because, as a journalist in this crazy year of our lord 2016, on a good day the temptation is to tilt toward cynicism. It’s our job to rake the muck and expose the trolls, to cast light on the wrongdoing and the failings in our society, but it’s up to others to set them right. Today, at this site, Bill Moyers writes about the greatest failing, the true disaster, of our time: the scourge of growing inequality, economic and political. He describes it as “a despicable blot on American politics,” as the very wealthy convert their financial might into political power to guard that wealth while exacerbating inequality further. The statistics Moyers deploys are chilling. Consume enough of them and you’re liable to feel a bit gloomy. But like those undergraduates, Moyers (very distinctly a post-graduate of our difficult political world) holds onto the hope, as today’s piece suggests, that Americans can still fix our world, make it a better place. 

Those students I met gave me hope and Moyers does the same — hope for a more equitable future brought on by the hard work of Americans, whether as journalists, legislators, or activists, as lawyers, doctors, engineers, or teachers. These are strange, often grim, times, and such bursts of hope are what keep us going. Andy Kroll

We, the Plutocrats vs. We, the People
Saving the soul of democracy
By Bill Moyers

Sixty-six years ago this summer, on my 16th birthday, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town of Marshall where I grew up. It was a good place to be a cub reporter — small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something every day.  I soon had a stroke of luck.  Some of the paper’s old hands were on vacation or out sick and I was assigned to help cover what came to be known across the country as “the housewives’ rebellion.”

Fifteen women in my hometown decided not to pay the social security withholding tax for their domestic workers.  Those housewives were white, their housekeepers black. Almost half of all employed black women in the country then were in domestic service.  Because they tended to earn lower wages, accumulate less savings, and be stuck in those jobs all their lives, social security was their only insurance against poverty in old age. Yet their plight did not move their employers.

The housewives argued that social security was unconstitutional and imposing it was taxation without representation. They even equated it with slavery.  They also claimed that “requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.”  So they hired a high-powered lawyer — a notorious former congressman from Texas who had once chaired the House Un-American Activities Committee — and took their case to court. They lost, and eventually wound up holding their noses and paying the tax, but not before their rebellion had become national news.

The stories I helped report for the local paper were picked up and carried across the country by the Associated Press. One day, the managing editor called me over and pointed to the AP Teletype machine beside his desk. Moving across the wire was a notice citing our paper and its reporters for our coverage of the housewives’ rebellion.

I was hooked, and in one way or another I’ve continued to engage the issues of money and power, equality and democracy over a lifetime spent at the intersection between politics and journalism. It took me awhile to put the housewives’ rebellion into perspective.  Race played a role, of course.  Marshall was a segregated, antebellum town of 20,000, half of whom were white, the other half black.  White ruled, but more than race was at work. Those 15 housewives were respectable townsfolk, good neighbors, regulars at church (some of them at my church).  Their children were my friends; many of them were active in community affairs; and their husbands were pillars of the town’s business and professional class. 

[Read more…]


Some see anti-women backlash in ouster of Brazil’s president

The New York Times reports: At one heated moment in the impeachment trial of Dilma Rousseff, a powerful senator pushing for her ouster decided that some of his outspoken female colleagues in the chamber needed scolding.

“Calm down, girls,” the senator, Cássio Cunha Lima, part of a political dynasty from northeastern Brazil, told Senators Vanessa Grazziotin and Gleisi Hoffmann, both supporters of Ms. Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president. His remark drew sharp rebukes from the two women.

“Men believe they are the owners of this space, as if we’re just here by chance,” said Ms. Grazziotin, 55, a prominent leftist senator from Amazonas State.

For senators like Ms. Grazziotin, the episode reflected the emboldening of conservative voices after the impeachment of Ms. Rousseff, who argued that she had been the target of misogynistic attacks by opponents. Female politicians across Brazil are debating what her downfall means in a political realm dominated by men.

Despite the inroads made by Ms. Rousseff and others, Brazil ranks remarkably low in the representation of women in politics. Of the 513 members of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, 51 are women, placing the country 155th in the world in the percentage of women elected to the lower house of a national legislature, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It trails places like Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan. [Continue reading…]


Honor crimes in Pakistan: The price of forgiveness



Clinton finds her voice – but the sexism that greets women’s speech endures

By Kae Reynolds, University of Huddersfield

After a campaign lasting more than a year and taking in all 50 states, Hillary Rodham Clinton has delivered a speech that will go down in history. As the first woman to secure a major party’s nomination for president of the United States, her address to the Democratic National Convention was a milestone for women’s leadership in the US and beyond. As she put it: “When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”

Clinton came to the stage under monumental pressure, charged with delivering a historic piece of rhetoric. This was a moment in world history – and it was always destined to be mercilessly dissected.

But as ever, Clinton’s popularity (or lack thereof) and the reception of her speech have been coloured by criticism of her speaking style. As the conservative website the Daily Wire headlined its reaction piece: “Hillary Accepts Nomination, Immediately Bores Americans Into A Coma Before Startling Them Awake With Her Cackle.”

Ever since she entered the national arena in 1992, media commentators have ripped Clinton’s vocal delivery apart. It has been described as loud, shrill, grating and harassing. No aspect of her oratory is beyond derision – her laugh is branded “the Clinton cackle”, and her speech derided as shouting, screaming and shrieking – inartfully substituting volume for expression.

Many may claim that Clinton isn’t one of history’s greatest orators, but there’s something more insidious going on here.

The criticism that greets her is a classic example of what is called “gender congruence bias”. This theory explains that people expect women to act in certain ways – and that if a woman’s behaviour isn’t congruent with expectations of femininity, people won’t like or accept her. The double bind that female politicians face is augmented by the deep sense that leadership is a male domain and politics in general is a domain of power – power that we are not culturally comfortable to have women wield.

[Read more…]


Qandeel Baloch demanded to be seen and heard


Qandeel Baloch, the Pakistani social media celebrity, was murdered by her own brother on Saturday. Imaan Sheikh writes: I noticed Qandeel Baloch for the first time in 2013 on an episode of Pakistan Idol, where she came to audition, and threw a baby fit when she didn’t qualify. The whole thing was over-the-top, and seemed staged to build hype. Some were annoyed, others entertained. Either way, it was one of the most memorable auditions in the programme’s history.

Then, last year, I saw a lot of people sharing parody videos featuring a girl with heavily kohled eyes and a spoilt, slow, bad gal accent. I looked into who was being mocked and found a familiar face. Qandeel Baloch was taking Facebook by storm with phone-shot dramatic videos talking about her daily life. Singing, being brazen and conceited, occasionally proposing to Pakistani cricketers.

Most people cringe-shared Qandeel’s videos. But rest assured, everyone watched them.

Earlier in her career, she had slut-shamed another artist on live TV, which was why I side-eyed her for a long time. But the fact of the matter was: I’d never seen another woman be so bold on the Pakistani internet, without a man running her page or managing her. She was being sexy and sassy of her own volition, cell phone recording the whole thing, and uploading it for millions to see.

In a part of the world where girls are taught to be neither heard nor seen, here she was, demanding she be both.

Many described her videos as “shameless”. She was called an “attention whore”. And even the people who loved her didn’t love her all the time.

But in a country where womanhood has long been defined by varying versions and degrees of enforced shame, her lack of it looked like a revolution.

In a world where family matters are supposed to be whispered about behind closed doors, Qandeel talked openly about how she was forcibly married at 17, and was tortured by her husband who even threatened to burn her face with acid. She escaped with her baby son, whose custody she lost, and took refuge at a welfare centre.

Even her horrifying domestic violence case was called “drama” and laughed at by hundreds of Pakistanis, some of whom I expected to know better.

She was already called a blemish on Pakistan’s sparkling image, a national shame, a shame for the Muslim ummat, but after the recent release of a music video she starred in, the entitled and the self-righteous made it a mission to bring her down. [Continue reading…]


Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II: ‘America, now is the time to weep’



While economists have begun to realise the failure of market orthodoxy, politicians remain in its thrall

Tony Karon writes: The policymaking elites of the industrialised West are panicking – and with good reason. The seismic shock of Britons voting to leave the European Union has sharpened awareness of the possibility that in November Donald Trump could ride a wave of xenophobia all the way to the White House. Voters in the advanced capitalist democracies appear more willing than ever to register a potentially catastrophic protest against a post-Cold War global economic order that has deified markets just as the fallen communist ideology deified the state.

A quarter century of market-driven globalisation and neo­liberal orthodoxy has systematically deregulated finance, and led to tax cuts and trade deals that favour wealthy elites and leave most of the others to fend for themselves. Its response to economic crises is to adjust interest rates, bailing out capital markets (and the fortunes of the elites) while forcing endless austerity on the most economically vulnerable. The prevailing economic consensus among western governments has steadily increased inequality and diminished hopes, but such are the rules of capitalist democracies that the economically marginalised still get to vote.

“The real story of this election is that after several decades, American democracy is finally responding to the rise of inequality and the economic stagnation experienced by most of the population,” observed Francis Fukuyama recently. Fukuyama is the political scientist best known for declaring in 1989 that the collapse of the Soviet bloc heralded “the end of history”, with free-market capitalism now the undisputed ideological wisdom for the rest of time.

But the neoliberal order he proclaimed as eternal looks increasingly vulnerable, thanks to the very logic of the market economics he championed. “The gap between the fortunes of elites and those of the rest of the public has been growing for two generations, but only now is it coming to dominate national politics,” Fukuyama wrote in Foreign Affairs last month. “Now that the elites have been shocked out of their smug complacency, the time has come for them to devise more workable solutions to the problems they can no longer deny or ignore.” [Continue reading…]


Thatcherism devastated communities throughout industrial England that have never recovered

Mike Carter writes: On 2 May this year, I set off to walk from Liverpool to London, a journey of 340 miles that would take me a month. I was walking in the footsteps of the People’s March for Jobs, a column of 300-odd unemployed men and women who, on the same day in 1981, exactly 35 years previously, had set off from the steps of St George’s Hall to walk to Trafalgar Square.

In the two years after Margaret Thatcher had been elected, unemployment had gone from 1 to 3 million, as her policies laid waste to Britain’s manufacturing base. In 1981, we saw Rupert Murdoch buy the Times and Sunday Times. We witnessed inner-city riots, unprecedented in their scale and violence, in Liverpool and London. The formation of the SDP split the left. The Tories lost their first assault on the coal miners, capitulating over the closure of 23 pits.

My father, Pete Carter, was one of those who organised the original walk. My journey was an attempt to work out what had happened to Britain in the intervening years. What I saw and heard gave me an alarming sense of how the immense social changes wrought by Thatcherism are still having a profound effect on communities all over England. It also meant that when I awoke last Friday to the result of the EU referendum, I wasn’t remotely surprised.

Some of those charity shops had closed down. What does it say about a town when even the charity shops are struggling?
I left Liverpool the week of the Hillsborough inquest verdict, flowers and scarves still adorning lampposts. The inquest had finally vindicated the families of the 96 killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, exposing the lies and cover-ups of the police, the media and the political class, who had spent over a quarter of a century traducing not only those fans, mostly working class, but also the city and its people. In fact, that demonising had found expression in 1981, too, when Geoffrey Howe suggested to Thatcher privately that, after the Toxteth riots, Liverpool should be subject to a “managed decline”.

I walked through Widnes and Warrington, past huge out-of-town shopping centres and through the wastelands of industrial decay. In Salford, down streets where all the pubs were boarded up and local shops, if you could find them, had brick walls for windows and prison-like metal doors, I found an Airbnb. My host was selling her terraced house. I sat in her living room as the estate agent brought around potential buyers. They were all buy-to-let investors from the south of England, building property portfolios in the poverty, as if this was one giant fire sale. [Continue reading…]