A weekly update on our grand divides
A weekly update on our grand divides

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A weekly update on our grand divides

December 19, 2016

This Week

I have no doubt 2016 will go down in the history books as a sad, sad year. The good news: It's almost over. And it wasn't all terrible.

This week we lift up some of the shiniest lights in these dark times. In our Faces on the Frontlines column, we highlight the activists who scored important victories in 2016, on everything from taxing the wealthy to capping CEO pay. In our Must Read section, we look back on 2016's best inequality books, any of which, by the way, would make a great gift for your fairness-loving friends and family.

Online, meanwhile, we've just updated our list of outstanding inequality films, and we're proud to announce the release of A Tale of Two Retirements, a new Institute for Policy Studies report that analyzes the retirement assets of 100 top U.S. CEOs. These execs have a staggering $4.7 billion in their retirement accounts — a sum equal to the entire retirement savings of 41 percent of U.S. families!

One final note: We'll be taking a holiday break the next two weeks. We hope you've enjoyed reading our weekly this past year as much as we've enjoyed producing it for you. We think we've made progress. Please help us make more with a year-end donation. Thank you!

Chuck Collins, Director, Program on Inequality
and the Common Good, Institute for Policy Studies

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Inequality by the Numbers

The average monthly pension check

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New This Week
on Inequality.org

Scott Klinger and Sarah Anderson on their new report, A Tale of Two Retirements.

Sheila Kennedy on the shredded social safety net and its impact on society.

Words of Wisdom

Concentration of wealth naturally leads to concentration of power.

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The Inequality Nerd
wants you to know...

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos single-handedly could buy up all of Beverly Hills and Westwood, two of the ritziest enclaves in Los Angeles. But buying up all of Manhattan would take the fortunes of the world's 12 richest people, calculates the real estate site PropertyShark.

The Inequality Nerd Bob Lord practices tax law in Phoenix.

Faces on the Frontlines

Inequality 'Faces on the Frontlines' 2016

Photo credit: Joe Brusky, Shutterstock

In April 2016, we started running this weekly Faces on the Frontlines feature. Since then, we've had the honor of spotlighting more than two dozen workers, organizers, artists, students, business leaders, and elected officials fighting to reverse extreme inequality.

All these individuals have kept up our spirits, in difficult times, and reminded us that we can take on formidable obstacles — and win. As 2016 winds down, we wanted to highlight some of the Faces on the Frontlines who we found especially inspiring.

We started our series with Jobs with Justice Organizing Director Erica Smiley, who wrote about the need for labor organizing strategies that can succeed even in the face of anti-union laws and institutions. In our new political landscape, her words have become even more prescient.

In 2016, we lifted up dozens of leaders in the fight to reverse extreme inequality.

In May, John Mudie, a telecom lineman and union official from Buffalo, New York, reported from the frontlines of a strike involving nearly 40,000 Verizon workers. They faced a CEO — who was earning $25,000 per day — out to slash jobs and benefits. A few weeks later, the company backed down off that attack and agreed to add call center jobs and reverse key outsourcing initiatives.

In June, we published a piece by restaurant server Christopher Alvear about the need to raise the subminimum wage for tipped workers. In November, we had the pleasure of reporting ballot initiatives that successfully did just that.

In July, Ben Chin of Maine People's Alliance described his life as the target of a right-wing governor's racist smears. A few months later, that governor declared that Chin and other organizers of ballot initiatives to increase taxes on the wealthy and raise the minimum wage "should be sent to jail." After the election, we were thrilled to interview Ben again — about his November 2016 ballot victories.

Read about more of our 2016 Faces on the Frontlines.

Take Action
on Inequality

Who is your favorite inequality Face on the Frontlines? We welcome tips on individuals we ought to be highlighting in 2017, activists who are doing innovative work to break up income and wealth concentration, curb the excessive power of big corporations, and build the power of social movements to reduce inequality.

If you have a suggestion of someone who inspires you, shoot us a note at: inequality@ips-dc.org

Must Reads

Inequality Must Reads of 2016

In today's age of Twitter rants and up-to-the-second news updates, setting aside time to read an old-fashioned book can seem a chore. But making that time can be incredibly rewarding. In 2016, all these titles stood out as particularly worth our time.

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
Practically everyone knows that inequality is rising and wants to see that rising reversed. So why is inequality still widening? The New Yorker's Jane Mayer takes this question head on with this meticulously researched account of the rise of the big money influences that now dominate our politics.

The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement by Reverend William Barber II
The United States has a heart problem. We need justice-loving people to come forward and act as moral defibrillators for the nation. That's the central argument of this new book from North Carolina's Rev. William Barber, who spent the past year barnstorming cities across the nation with his message of moral revolution.

Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good by Chuck Collins
The stories we hear about inequality can be every bit as powerful as the statistics we compile about it — and much more compelling. Chuck Collins presents his own fascinating story in Born on Third Base. Raised in the 1 percent, he decided to give this wealth away and lead a life working to bridge the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us.

Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
What brought about the conservative backlash of 2009 that laid the groundwork for the Donald Trump triumph? Arlie Hochschild embedded herself in the Tea Party South for years, interviewing activists and ordinary people who were suffering the worst of economic stagnation. If you want to understand the sentiments of folks living in Trumplandia, start with Strangers In Their Own Land.

Read our full list.

Reports and Retorts

In 2015, a new Equilar study computes, America's top eight chiefs of publicly traded private equity companies averaged $211.6 million in compensation, ten times the average pay of chiefs at the nation's top six banks.

A widening income gap, a just-released Brookings Institution report concludes, may be widening a significant gap in stress levels between rich and poor — and decreasing life expectancy.

New research has found that the United States suffers from a neighborhood inequality of "concentrated extremes." Some 90 percent of individuals who grow up in affluent neighborhoods stay at or near the top. Fewer than 10 percent move from poor to affluent.

Too Much

Waging Class War in Comfort

Do the corporate chiefs now parading into the new Trump administration see the United States as just another enterprise — to fleece?

In a typical corporate board of directors meeting, what do CEOs see when they look out across their richly lacquered boardroom tables? They see . . . lots of other CEOs.

That's no accident. CEOs today purposively pack their corporate boards with their pals, who often turn out to be current or former chiefs at other corporations. Everybody who's anybody just feels more comfortable that way.

President-elect Donald Trump, a big-time business chief himself, certainly seems to want to feel comfortable, too. No other President-elect has ever packed his cabinet with more business bigwigs.

Donald Trump, to be sure, won't go down in history as the first President to ever plop business chiefs in the federal government's loftiest positions. Previous presidential business picks have even generated some intense controversy.

In 1953, for instance, President Dwight Eisenhower put forward as his secretary of defense the president of America's most powerful company, Charlie Wilson of General Motors.

For CEOs, America has changed a good bit since Charlie Wilson's time.

That January, Wilson went before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearings. Some senators wondered whether the GM top dog would be able to put the interests of the United States before the interests of General Motors.

Wilson told his Senate inquisitors he didn't think he would face a conflict of interest because, he explained, "for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa."

"Our contribution to the nation" at GM, Wilson added, "is quite considerable."

And Wilson did have a point. In postwar America, big companies like GM did make a contribution to the nation. They didn't just extract wealth. They did some serious sharing. Years of labor militance had convinced business leaders like Wilson that corporations had to bargain reasonably with their workers.

And Charlie Wilson shared personally, too, via the steeply progressive tax rates then in effect. In 1950, Wilson earned $586,100 from his GM compensation and personal investments. He paid 73 percent of that — $430,350 — in income taxes.

Read the full Too Much column.

Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow Sam Pizzigati co-edits Inequality.org. His most recent book: The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900–1970. Follow him on Twitter @Too_Much_Online.

Around the Web

Jared Bernstein, It will take more than faster growth to reverse inequality, Washington Post, December 12, 2016. Why we need to focus on how the economy distributes rewards.

Linda Poon, Mapping the Stark Rich-Poor Divide in Major U.S. Cities, Atlantic, December 13, 2016. A new project lays bare the geographic split between wealthy and lower-income neighborhoods.

Frank Clemente, Corporate Welfare Won't Create Jobs, New York Times, December 13, 2016. The corporate clamor for tax cuts all about lining pockets of corporate execs and wealthy shareholders.

Martha White, Are Millionaires Smarter Than the Rest of Us? Money, December 14, 2016. The research says no.

Emmett Rensin, Valley of the Dolts, Outline, December 14, 2016. Silicon Valley power brokers just average robber barons, not geniuses.

Robert Kuttner, Are we stuck with inequality? Boston Globe, December 15, 2016. Explaining why not.

This Week’s Last Glance at Greed

Gift guides for the super rich

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Annals of Avarice

The ultra rich, like everyone else, want the best for their kids. That's why they're spending big bucks, the Financial Times finds, on luxury digs for their college student progeny.

In cities like New York, Los Angeles, and London, deep pockets are shelling out $5 million and more for apartments with choice near-campus locations.

How much more? Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev advanced a reported $88 million for a New York penthouse for his daughter Ekaterina.

Inequality.org | www.inequality.org | inequality@ips-dc.org

Co-Editors: Sarah Anderson, Chuck Collins, Josh Hoxie, and Sam Pizzigati. Contributors: Marc Bayard, Bob Lord, and Christopher Pitt. Production: Domenica Ghanem and Mimi Plato

Learn more about the IPS's Program on Inequality and the Common Good

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