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December 14, 2020
Back in 2004, the Brazilian photographer Tuca Vieira shot what may well be the world’s most famous photo of inequality, a now iconic aerial image of a São Paulo shantytown butted right next to one of the city’s poshest neighborhoods. Late last month, Vieira and the noted South African-based photographer Johnny Miller went back aloft to reshoot the same shot.
We’ve just published Miller’s reflections on that experience online. We think his observations will hit home with all our readers — because stark inequality has gone worldwide, with the latest evidence coming from our Inequality.org update on U.S. billionaire earnings. Our richest have now gained over $1 trillion since the pandemic first hit hard, enough to send a $3,000 stimulus check to every one of America’s 330 million people.
Our U.S. Senate majority leader, meanwhile, remains dead-set against sending out the emergency relief Americans need. Whatever happened to holiday spirit? And speaking of holidays, we’ll be taking our annual year-end break the next two weeks. Please stay safe and join us in January for what we hope will be the year of egalitarian renewal we all so long for!
December 7, 2020
We’re sitting in a “1 percent bubble,” the manager of a luxury retailer in Florida’s awesomely affluent Palm Beach observed last week, “and the bubble is getting bigger.”
How far can our bubble of grand private fortune inflate without bursting? Quite far, apparently. Last week, the combined wealth of America’s ten richest billionaires topped — for the first time ever — $1 trillion. The value of homes in America’s 100 richest zip codes is now increasing at quadruple last year’s rates.
Numbers like these, the latest polls show, have super majorities of Americans supporting higher taxes on our highest incomes. Over two-thirds of Americans overall — and nearly half of all Republicans — currently back raising tax rates on income over $400,000.
The economic policy advisers president-elect Biden announced last week all support these higher rates. But policy advisers, we show in this week’s issue, can’t cut grand fortunes down to democratic size. Only mass movements can.
November 30, 2020
We’ve seldom seen, in the United States, a range of emotions as stark and raw as we’ve seen this past holiday week. Euphoria on Wall Street, anguish in overwhelmed and hurting hospitals the nation over.
Only a small sliver of U.S. households, we point out below in this week’s issue, shared in that euphoria. But many millions of families and health care workers shared in that anguish. Our deeply unequal nation has become deeply dysfunctional.
So what do we do about all this? We work, for starters, to help everyone understand just how ferociously unequal we have become, and we’re making progress on that score. This past week, for instance, the New York Times highlighted our work tracking the enormous gains our billionaires have registered since the pandemic first hit.
We need to remember, above all, that democracies can die in oligarchic death spirals. We still have time to keep ours alive.
November 23, 2020
I vividly remember — and I suspect you might do as well — the reporting last spring on the horrific spread of Covid-19 through the nation’s meatpacking plants. Workers were dying while the White House, instead of ordering corporate giants to keep their workers safe, cut a deal with those same giants that “ordered” them to keep their plants open.
The predictable result: a bonanza for top execs like billionaire John Tyson at Tyson Foods. Tyson’s personal net worth has so far jumped over $600,000 since the pandemic first hit, dollars that could have gone to giving Tyson workers sick time pay to help them isolate and quarantine.
The worst part of all this? The deadly greed we’ve seen in meatpacking has in no way been unique. Our Institute for Policy Studies inequality team documents that reality in a new report we’ve prepared with the advocacy groups Bargaining for the Common Good and United for Respect. We have more on our new research in this week’s issue. Please take a look — at what has gone so lethally wrong and how we can fix it.
November 16, 2020
The near-final stats on 2020 campaign spending are starting to appear, and they make for encouraging — at times — reading. On the encouraging side: Small donations to federal level campaigns made up a greater share of overall contributions in 2020 than in 2016. Just over 20 percent of 2020 campaign cash came via donations less than $200.
But that means that large donations still make up the overwhelming bulk of campaign cash, and now we have to live with the consequences. The deep pockets who made those large donations are already expecting a healthy return on their political investments. They’re pushing the new Biden administration to go slow. Our role? We have to juice the engine.
“Acquiescing to an unpopular and timid agenda that further entrenches the wealthy and the well-connected,” as Senator Elizabeth Warren puts the matter, “will lead us to more division, more anger, more inequality.”
In this week’s issue, more on the games our rich are playing and how we can, to borrow a phrase, push back better.
November 9, 2020
“Investors” — that sober-sounding euphemism for Wall Street speculators — seem quite pleased over the results of last Tuesday’s Election Day. They see a weak, “divided” government ahead, and that prospect sent private equity kingpin fortunes soaring last week.
So how should the rest of us move forward from last week’s roller-coaster of emotions? We might begin by recognizing the encouraging victories last week that point us toward a more equal future. We have details on those bold victories below. We need more of them.
Says who? Says Senator Chuck Schumer, who still might end up the Senate majority leader. Noted Schumer last week: “If we don’t do bold change, we could end up with someone worse than Donald Trump in four years.”
Now that rates as a truly sobering thought. Let’s avoid that future. Let’s get to work organizing. And how bold dare we think? This brief new video from the BBC draws from an interview on billionaires I just did. May these thoughts help spark your best thinking!
November 2, 2020
I’ve spent a good chunk of this fall working on reports that have been tracking the enormous windfalls that our billionaires have been scoring. The numbers have been dramatic: Our billionaire fortunes have soared by nearly $1 trillion since this past March.
But sometimes mere numbers can’t do a story justice. We’ve just learned, for instance, that South Florida is now experiencing a boat- slip shortage because our awesomely affluent are buying so many new boats. The solution our deep pockets have fixed upon? They’ve buying up waterfront homes they don’t particularly need or want so they can have a place to park their flashy new vessels.
Florida, let’s remember, has become Donald Trump’s new home state. Come January 20, maybe he’ll have some time to work on a more elegant boat-slip solution for his fellow wealthy. And maybe we’ll have a new government in Washington much more interested in finding homes for people than slips for yachts.
October 26, 2020
Elections, the modern proverb goes, have consequences. And America’s wealthiest have certainly enjoyed those consequences over the past three years, ever since the late 2017 passage of the Trump administration’s enormous tax cut — for the rich and the corporations they run.
Our Inequality.org team has just published an analysis that traces that tax cut’s impact on the economy as a whole. Billionaires have made out like boisterous bandits. Their net worth has shot up to nearly $4 trillion. America’s workers? Since the Trump tax act, they’ve seen manufacturing jobs in the United States decrease, in no small part because that act, as my colleague Sarah Anderson writes, “gave big companies an even bigger incentive to offshore U.S. jobs to lower-wage countries.”
We’ve also just published, working jointly with Americans for Tax Fairness, our latest update on how billionaires have fared since the pandemic shutdowns kicked in last March. More on that update below and still more coming this week via Zoom as the good folks at Patriotic Millionaires continue their Tax the Rich, Save America virtual roadshow. Click on! You’ll learn and maybe even laugh a little, too.
October 19, 2020
Our Inequality.org reporting on the soaring wealth of America’s billionaires — during our pandemic — is starting to make a real impact on the 2020 election campaign discourse. Just yesterday the New York Daily News gave front-page coverage to our work showing that U.S. billionaires have seen their wealth jump over $930 billion since mid-March alone.
And our reporting also seems to be inspiring journalists to dig into just how billionaires have been collecting all those billions. This past week, for instance, we learned that White House officialdom last February shared with Wall Streeters insider info about the actual severity of the pandemic, info that enabled hedge funds to “short everything” and make some spectacular speculative killings.
Also this past week, I had the honor of helping to launch the Patriotic Millionaires Tax the Rich, Save America Roadshow, a series of zoom calls that features some of our top congressional advocates for a much more equal America. You can see one of the first roadshow stops wirh Rep. Pramila Jayapal on C-Span and register for any of the upcoming calls online. Take a look and let’s all get ready for the struggles to create a strikingly egalitarian 2021!
October 12. 2020
We’ve just published online our latest billionaire update. The figures remain stunning. The sum total of U.S. billionaire private fortune has just hit $3.8 trillion, up over $850 billion since mid-March. Check out my chat with Audie Cornish on NPR's “All Things Considered” discussing billionaire wealth during the pandemic.
The most outsized billionaire fortune of all, most Americans know by now, belongs to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. More and more Americans, fortunately, are also coming to understand that the Bezos billions rest on the exploited and endangered labor of workers like the East African immigrants who make up nearly a third of the workforce at Amazon’s Shakopee warehouse in Minnesota.
Two years ago, protests by these Shakopee employees gained the first concessions to U.S. workers in Amazon’s history. Later this week, our Institute for Policy Studies will be honoring the Awood Center — the moving force behind East African worker organizing in Minnesota — at the 44th annual (but first virtual) Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards Gala.
Also on hand October 15 for the virtual gala will be Naomi Klein, the environmental activist and writer who’s become such an inspiration to so many of us. We have more online about the evening. Please join us!
October 5, 2020
Quite a week we’ve had. First came the uproar over Donald Trump’s taxes, then the tumult of the Trump-Biden debate, followed by the biggest bombshell of all: the president’s positive Covid test. His infection, pundits quickly opined, shows the pandemic plays no favorites. The coronavirus has become, this conventional wisdom holds, “the great equalizer.”
Nonsense. The pandemic hasn’t “equalized” anything. The pandemic has left us more unequal, as we detail in a set of 13 charts now getting wide play nationally. U.S. billionaire wealth soared $821 billion in the six months after Covid-19 burst out big-time. And at the other end of the spectrum? New Washington Post data paint a grisly picture: Since March, “the less workers earned at their job, the more likely they were to lose it.”
Amid all this past week’s blockbusters, hardly anyone paid much attention to the release of a report that, in normal times, makes major news: the latest edition of the Federal Reserve’s triennial Survey of Consumer Finances. One analyst’s take on the new Fed numbers: Millionaires and billionaires last year held 79 percent of U.S. wealth, up from 60 percent in 1989. By 2050, at this pace, our richest will hold nearly 99 percent of our nation’s wealth. If we let that happen, we won’t have much of a nation.
September 28, 2020
The failure to bring Breonna Taylor’s killers to justice has sparked another round of nationwide protests against racist police violence and brutality. This continuing inability to bring justice remains a national disgrace — and reveals how starkly unequal the United States continues to be.
Deeply unequal societies, we’ve learned over recent years, do worse than more equal societies by every social metric that really matters. Now we can add one more metric to that list: performance during pandemics.
At the start of the Covid-19 crisis, some pundits speculated that the pandemic might become the “great equalizer.” The coronavirus has instead, as our Sarah Anderson and Brian Wakamo note, “exacerbated longstanding class, racial, and gender divides.” To illustrate just that, we’ve added to our Inequality.org website a new collection of 13 data visualizations that explore how Covid-19 and inequality interrelate.
President Trump, meanwhile, is pronouncing that Covid-19 affects “virtually nobody.” Comments like that — and yesterday’s blockbuster New York Times report on Trump’s tax returns — figure to make Tuesday’s first 2020 presidential debate as much “must-cringe” as “must-see.” We’ll have more on those Trump taxes next week. In this week’s issue, more on tomorrow’s debate and our town hall October 5 on charity reform.
September 21, 2020
Here at Inequality.org we’ve been rather critical of billionaires over the years, and lately we’ve been documenting the horrors of an economy generating ever greater billionaire fortunes during a deadly pandemic.
This week, a change of pace. We take great pleasure in celebrating the life’s work of Chuck Feeney, a reluctant billionaire who’s become the model for responsible wealth and “giving while living.” Last week Feeney shut down his Atlantic Philanthropies after four decades of philanthropy. He has now given all his grand fortune away. As Forbes put it: “The Billionaire Who Wanted to Die Broke…Is Now Officially Broke.”
Feeney gave away $8 billion to address inequality and human suffering. His support for Vietnam’s public health system helps explain that nation’s exceptional coronavirus success. He has been an inspiration to our movement for the passage of an “emergency charity stimulus.” Today over 2,500 people are attending our first town hall on this topic. You can still join us for the second.
This week, we also remember Bill Gates Sr., just passed at 94. I had the honor of working with Bill to preserve the estate tax. We did lectures, talk shows, and a book together. Bill believed we should tax great wealth to protect democracy and discourage wealth’s concentration. I’ll never forget one talk he gave that convinced a business audience to believe the same.
September 14, 2020
Over the past half-century, the economics departments of America’s colleges and universities have been overflowing with apologists for the corporate greed grabs that have left the United States so catastrophically unequal. This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary of an event that helps explain this cheerleading for corporate excess.
Back in 1970, the prestigious New York Times Magazine published an essay by the equally prestigious University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman under an enormously provocative — for the time — headline: “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.” No single piece of prose has done more, over the years since, to enshrine share prices as the only economic marker that matters.
In our own times, Friedman’s worldview has begun unraveling. Even top business execs are now at least paying lip service to the notion that we need an economy that works for all stakeholders — workers, consumers, communities — and not just shareholders. Here at Inequality.org, we’re working for that economy and doing our best to help you do the same!
September 7, 2020
My colleague Marc Bayard, the director of the Black Worker Initiative here at the Institute for Policy Studies, has some insights just published in The Nation worth a read this Labor Day.
“Bias,” he writes, “limits our collective growth.”
And this year’s Labor Day, Bayard adds, sees that bias under assault as seldom before. “Acts of radical defiance” — by activist essential workers and professional basketball players alike — are showing that “systemic racism cannot be separated from the growing and perverse economic inequalities” that have devastated Black America and concentrated the nation’s wealth and power. We can take hope from their struggles.
Lots more good reading for Labor Day in this week’s issue!
August 31, 2020
A nation in mass upheaval: Another name, Jacob Blake, we need to say. The vigilante murder of two protestors against police violence. Sports teams on wildcat strikes for racial justice, winning concessions from owners, as isolated “bubble” environments become hotbeds for activism. All this as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on toward 200,000 U.S. dead.
This same pandemic has exposed, among so much else, the flaws in our elder care system, with for-profit nursing homes particularly ill-equipped to handle the crisis. This week we feature a nursing home activist who’s mobilizing fellow caregivers to demand greater accountability and public investment for a care system that will help all of us age in dignity.
This week we’re also launching a Care Economy Facts online hub, a place where you can find all the latest data on the intersection between the care crisis and economic, race, and gender disparities. Read on for more from our Inequality.org team.
August 24, 2020
Who would have thought, at the start of this summer, that Americans the nation over would be spending an August weekend protesting about . . . the U.S. Postal Service? But this past weekend we saw just that: demonstrations in support of the Post Office, the nation’s oldest public service, in communities big and small.
Americans don’t want postal services cut. They don’t want the mail manipulated for political purposes. And they certainly don’t want the Postal Service privatized to create still more billionaire fortunes. On Saturday, lawmakers in the House of Representatives passed legislation to put the brakes on the White House assault on our mail, but the Post Office battle, as my colleague Sarah Anderson stresses, is only beginning.
We have more in this week’s issue on the broader inequality battlefront, with coverage on everything from the latest Big Pharma corona greed grab to growing CEO pay gaps and new strategies for reining in the scourge of hidden wealth and tax avoidance. Read on!
August 17, 2020
“A rising tide,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow crowed last Wednesday, “does lift all boats!”
All boats at least that matter to the White House, the cozy yachts of the top 1 percenters who so enjoy hanging out at the President’s country clubs. The tide is rolling in nicely for these deep pockets. For the first time in history, our new Institute for Policy Studies research shows, the top twelve U.S. billionaires have combined wealth in excess of $1 trillion.
Our rising tide seems to be drowning most of everybody else. Jobless Americans have lost their $600 unemployment supplement. Protections against eviction expired on July 31, and Congress has abandoned efforts to reach a deal with the White House on economic relief. The President seems more engaged in whether college football kicks off this September.
We have more this week on the struggles to put real relief back on the political table. And we also take a look at the inequality backstory to this fall’s football wars. Read on! No shoulder pads required.
August 10, 2020
We’ve just released our latest Inequality.org update on how well America’s billionaires have been doing since the pandemic first blasted our daily lives. The total wealth of our billionaires has now soared $685 billion since the middle of March, to a combined $3.65 trillion.
American lawmakers — from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. — have noticed. They’re starting to propose tax rates on the super rich that would have seemed politically unimaginable before the coronavirus began changing our world.
We have the details on those new proposals — and a good bit more — in this week’s issue.
August 3, 2020
Last month, just before our summer break, we noted we were looking forward to seeing how much our political imaginations could stretch in our two-week pause. And then we saw the unimaginable: Donald Trump citing our work in one of his tweets! The billionaire president shared a new Business Insider video that showcases our Billionaire Bonanza research.
For the record, our research includes our president — and his entire administration — among the biggest contributors to our atrociously unequal status quo. They’ve given us still another example of an ultra-elite using policy and politics to enrich themselves. But we do want to thank Business Insider for putting together such a compelling summary of our work — regardless of who shares it.
July 13, 2020
Time seems to have accelerated in 2020. With each week, we’ve watched death tolls climb as billionaire wealth skyrockets. In these times of crisis, we can see more clearly just how our society works: Our government and economy, as currently constituted, place wealth above life.
But we’re also watching movements deliver far more ennobling messages. Their bold demands are showing we can address our unequal social relations. Campaigns for rent cancellation and eviction moratoriums are questioning landlord-tenant basics. Striking workers are demanding wages that reflect how essential their work has always been. The call to defund the police is challenging us to rethink what makes communities safe.
July 6, 2020
People across the United States had a broad range of options for marking the Fourth of July. Some celebrated, some protested. Many also worked throughout this past weekend, putting their lives in pandemic danger while their elected officials shrug their shoulders at the rising corona caseload.
Still others among us spent the Fourth of July worrying about how to pay rent and medical bills in a country that doesn’t treat either housing or healthcare as basic human rights.
The United States has a long way to go to recognize the interdependence needed to create equitable political and economic systems. More this week on the Indigenous activists who’ve won back-to-back victories for equity and a bold new proposal that puts a squeeze on Wall Street to create jobs that pay at least $15 an hour in our nation’s hardest-hit communities.
June 29, 2020
Earlier this year, we brought you the story of Philadelphia’s Hahnemann University Hospital. Private equity exec Joel Freedman bought the hospital in 2018, then shut it down with a plan to turn the site into luxury condos. When Covid-19 hit, Freedman offered to rent the hospital to the city at a price so exorbitant the mayor accused him of “trying to make a buck” off a pandemic.
This past weekend, Black Lives Matter care workers briefly took over Hahnemann, offering free healthcare services to the neighborhood. Cops in riot gear ended the occupation, still another example of a police force more eager to protect private property than human life.
The protesters had occupied the hospital under the banner of “care not cops,” a slogan that gets at the heart of what an equitable world should look like. More this week on some concrete demands that could bring us closer to that world, as well as one tool to stimulate the economy and avoid humanitarian catastrophe in the time of Covid-19.
June 22, 2020
Over the last several weeks, Black Lives Matter protesters have gathered in the streets to demand an end to police violence. The backdrop to those protests: the stark racial disparities of Covid-19. And behind that backdrop lies the racial wealth divide, the centuries of racial oppression so visible in the bank accounts and general welfare of Black and white Americans.
Our latest report, White Supremacy is the Pre-existing Condition, shows how dramatic this racial wealth divide has become — and how the pandemic has only supercharged it. In the 12 weeks since sheltering in place began, U.S. billionaire wealth has increased by over $637 billion, the equivalent of 13 percent of all the wealth held by the nation’s 41 million Black people.
June 15, 2020
Almost every week so far this year seems to reveal new depths to the staggeringly unequal foundation the United States rests upon. But with almost every week we’re also seeing the immense power we have when we organize our outrage against injustice.
One heartening example from just this morning: After decades of tireless work from activists around the country, the Supreme Court has finally ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
June 8, 2020
People across the United States are rising up. The Black Lives Matter mobilizations have become the broadest wave of protests the country has ever seen. And these actions have unfolded against a dramatic backdrop: The pandemic has fueled skyrocketing inequality as billionaires see their billions multiply while average Americans by the millions lose their jobs and by the tens of thousands — over 100,000 in all — lose their lives.
Out of all these protests has emerged a clear call to defund the police, and organizers in Minneapolis have scored the first big victory on this funding front.
June 1, 2020
Over the last several days, protesters across the United States have demanded justice for the horrific police killings of George Floyd and countless other African Americans. These uprisings for racial justice have seen more police violence against protesters and sparked a new national dialogue on a question that needs raising: What counts as looting?
May 25, 2020
This Memorial Day weekend has offered up some dramatic contrasts. U.S. news outlets have alternated photos of packed beaches with bleak updates on the pandemic’s progression to nearly 100,000 Covid-19 deaths.
Another grim contrast: The number of Americans applying for unemployment over recent months now tops 38.5 million. Over the same span, American billionaires have added a collective $434 billion to their personal portfolios. Their net worths, as we note in our latest Billionaire Bonanza update, have increased an average 15 percent.
This pandemic didn’t have to widen our already cavernous economic gaps. Political choices have put us in this situation, and different political choices can get us out. We have more this week on pandemic profiteers and the community leaders pushing the wealthy to put people and the planet over profits, both in this crisis and the next.
May 18, 2020
The latest news on billionaire Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man: A study is predicting that the Amazon chief may well become by 2026 the world’s first trillionaire, should current trends continue.
Few pandemic profiteers have been making bank off the misery of their own employees more relentlessly than Bezos, as we’re now tracking in our regular Inequality.org pandemic profiteering updates. Bezos has actually been cutting hazard pay for Amazon warehouse workers, choosing instead to hand out “thank you” t-shirts.
But let’s remember we have plenty of tools — a wealth tax, for one — to prevent profiteers like Jeff Bezos from ever reaching trillionaire status. Check our Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report for details. Meanwhile, more this week on our tantrum-throwing wealthy and the workers pushing back on the austerity that grows grand private fortune.
May 11, 2020
Every pandemic week that passes seems to only highlight more and more how insulated — and wealthier — our wealthy elites have become. A sizable number of pandemic profiteers, as our recent Billionaire Bonanza report detailed, are making vast sums off the misery of the rest of us.
Meanwhile, with millions of people struggling to cope amid ballooning unemployment, the community-based nonprofits that could be providing real relief are struggling, too. We’ve identified one solution: Congress could require cash-flush foundations to step up their annual payouts. Wealthy donors have already taken tax deductions on these dollars.
We have more this week on why we should always be skeptical when corporate elites say they care — and some suggestions as well for holding these elites much more accountable.
May 4, 2020
The chaos of the last several weeks have put a few things into stark relief. Two of the most obvious: who actually does the work essential for our world to function and how little value the wealthy put on this work.
In industries like meatpacking, the corporations our wealthy run are forcing a mostly immigrant and minority workforce to choose between their livelihoods and their lives. But workers are showing the world where the power lies. More than 160 wildcat strikes across the United States, the labor outlet Payday Report details, have flared since the beginning of March.
On the May 1 International Workers’ Day, meanwhile, employees of companies like Amazon, Target, and Instacart went on strike to demand better protections from companies that have watched their revenues soar while workers sicken. We have more this week on the coronavirus squeeze on workers and more as well on another kind of strike — a rent strike — that’s gaining steam.
April 27, 2020
Most of our world is continuing to suffer from both a horrific pandemic and a devastating economic crash. But the richest among us? In the United States, they’re watching their wealth surge. We are all most definitely not sitting in the same boat.
Over the course of just a few March and April weeks, 22 million U.S. workers lost their jobs. Over the same weeks, U.S. billionaires increased their cumulative wealth by $282 billion, nearly a 10 percent increase. These numbers come from our just-released latest edition of Billionaire Bonanza. The report’s focus: the pandemic parasites turning the pain of coronavirus into profit.
Decades of compounding inequality have left our rich perfectly primed to take advantage of this troubled moment. Now we need to prime ourselves for the struggle to forge a more equal future. In ths week’s issue, more on steps we can take to get that future going.
April 20, 2020
It took just two weeks for the government to run out of funds for its $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program, meant to help small businesses struggling with the coronavirus shutdown. Where did that money go? Over the last several days, stories have trickled out about the supposedly small businesses – chains like Ruth’s Chris steakhouse and burger giant Shake Shack – sweeping up the funding, leaving those who actually need it out to dry.
But the public outcry was swift and fierce. There may not be nearly enough strings attached to Congressional bailouts, but never underestimate the power of the public. After a thorough roasting, Shake Shack announced it would return its $10 million in funds.
Sometimes shame works. Much more this week on the shameful pandemic profiteers of all varieties, as well as the people who should be getting federal help instead.
April 13, 2020
Forbes released its annual billionaire list last week. We’ll have more on the new Forbes numbers in coming weeks, but here’s a quick stat that illustrates our continuing concentration of wealth, even amid pandemic: Since last year at this time, the ranks of U.S. billionaires have increased from 607 to 614, their collective wealth from $3.111 to $3.229 trillion.
We have here in the United States today, in short, a tremendous amount of unevenly distributed wealth. This uneven distribution has left us with precious few resources for the public investments, in everything from hospitals to medial research, we need to keep us safe.
How did we end up with a society so top heavy? A new paper from my Institute for Policy Studies colleague Bob Lord offers one key to what has happened. Between 1980 and 2018, his research shows, the tax obligations of America’s billionaires, measured as a percentage of their wealth, have fallen 79 percent.
April 6, 2020
Fifty-two years ago this week, the day before he was assassinated, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out in support of sanitation workers striking in Memphis. Said Dr. King, in one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history: “The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest.”
Just last month, sanitation workers in Pittsburgh showed how little has changed. Public officials at every level of government continue to be less than fair and honest in their dealings with the workers Americans now more than ever see as truly “essential,” the people whose undervalued labor keeps our society runnng at our most vulnerable moments.
In Pittsburgh, undervalued sanitation workers walked off the job, demanding better coronavirus protective gear and hazard pay. They offer just one example of the growing wave of organizing now sweeping across the nation.
March 30, 2020
Progressive groups are already gearing up for the next legislative battle, demanding a people’s bailout that prioritizes health for all and economic relief for communities over corporations. More this week on what the new corona relief package gets wrong and the groups fighting for a coronavirus response rooted in solidarity.
March 23, 2020
As the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues, please remember that the United States remains the richest country on Earth. We have an abundance of resources. We can provide paid sick leave and universal healthcare and take care of everyone in times of crisis.
But just where we direct our abundance of resources will always be a political choice. We can’t afford to forget that, especially not when we have some elected leaders, the very people responsible for leading the way forward, choosing instead to personally profit.
Fortunately, we have plenty of historical examples and bold new ideas to help guide us and ensure we bail out people, not the rich and corporations they run. More on those ideas in this week’s issue. We hope you're taking care and staying safe!
March 16, 2020
People worldwide understand the importance of protecting the common good during a pandemic. In the United States, an additional concern is on our minds as the struggle against coronavirus intensifies: How do we fix the broken systems this public health emergency is exposing?
Our U.S. officialdom couldn't, of course, care less. Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency last week surrounded by a power-suited parade of CEOs. The president is pushing a new “disaster capitalism,” defaulting to xenophobia while pretending he has the crisis under control.
What should we be doing instead? Everything from direct relief like eviction moratoriums and cash assistance to paid leave for everyone and massive investments in our safety net and public health systems. We feature some of these ideas in this week’s issue, and we’ll have more in the weeks to come. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy!
March 9, 2020
In these uncertain times, who can be blamed for turning toward numbers for answers? But sometimes numbers just raise more questions.
What should we make, for instance, of a recent poll that found likely Democratic voters in Texas prefering socialism over capitalism by large margins? One thing we know for sure: People in the United States, and around the world, know our global economy isn’t working for them.
As my colleague Sam Pizzigati writes this week, by framing issues like climate change, racism, and immigration outside the realm of wealth and income inequality, some polls may even be obscuring just how much Americans don’t approve of our economic status quo. We have more this week on the fight against inequality — on multiple fronts!
March 2, 2020
With Super Tuesday fast approaching, the coronavirus has us thinking yet again of how high the stakes for the 2020 U.S. election have soared — for people the world over, not just in the United States. We have Americans today worried about spreading the virus who are facing hospital charges in the thousands of dollars just for trying to do their civic duty and get tested. Americans desperately need a more equitable health care system, and the rest of the world needs to have us get one.
The United States certainly has the resources to provide health care equity. We’ve watched the fortunes of the ultra rich explode, I noted for CNN last week, all while an entire “wealth defense industry” protects them from taxes — and corrodes our democracy.
But we’re still hopeful, thanks to movements pushing big ideas for challenging oligarchy to the political forefront. To help spread that hope, this week’s issue is launching a new section dedicated to spotlighting bold new solutions to our grand divides. Your comments welcome!
February 24, 2020
Does the world belong to us or the billionaires? Author Anand Giridharadas has just posed that question in the New York Times. The 2020 presidential election, Giridharadas opines, has essentially become a referendum on billionaires!
Giridharadas goes on to list the questions that few voters this year will be able to avoid. Among them: Should we have billionaires at all? Does wealth make you more immune or more prone to corruption? Can we enhance the well-being of the millions “locked in the basement of opportunity” without confronting our billionaire problem?
My colleague Sam Pizzigati has shared a few data points relevant to these questions on social media. And we’ve got much more on billionaires in this week’s issue for those of you still contemplating your answers.
February 17, 2020
A budget, we’re often reminded, says a lot about priorities. Three years deep into the Trump administration, we’ve become well aware what the president’s priorities are — cut whatever’s left of a social safety net, citing “costs,” all while expanding tax cuts for the wealthy and pouring more funding into cruel and costly deportation and military programs.
Trump’s latest budget, released last week, tells us what we already know. But growing social movements are pushing back on austerity plans that funnel wealth upwards. We’ve got more this week on one of them.
Also this week: a look at the wealthy snapping back, in fear, at movements for change and a profile of Silicon Valley, a place where concentrated wealth is crushing the dreams of all but the already affluent.
February 10, 2020
Could we have had a busier week than last week? For one, we saw the U.S. Democratic Party kick off the battle for the 2020 presidential nomination with the Iowa caucuses, a distinctly inequitable exercise, as my colleague Sarah Anderson wrote before the contest.
We were still watching the results from Iowa unfold when President Trump last Wednesday delivered a State of the Union that papered over the rising inequality on his watch. Trump’s address boasted that his presidency had built a “prosperous and inclusive society” — one of many unfounded claims that peppered a speech filled with racist rhetoric.
February 3, 2020
We’ve published thousands of words, charts, and graphics about wealth inequality over the years, so we can spot a vivid depiction of our staggering economic divide when we see one. We’ve just seen one: this new CBS News video that features a reporter asking mall-goers to divvy up — literally — America’s economic pie.
Participants in this exercise quickly became surprised and disturbed at just how unequal the U.S. distribution of wealth actually turns out to be. And, as CBS notes, those feelings are playing into voting choices around the presidential elections
January 27, 2020
In Davos this past week, at the annual Alpine gathering of the world’s rich and powerful, our global elites demonstrated that even they understand how deeply inequality is tearing our societies apart.
The influential execs at Davos 2020 made “stakeholder capitalism” their central theme, a sign they recognize that catering to shareholders alone will only accelerate the breakdown in the world order they dominate. But will “stakeholder capitalism” be enough to fix a rigged economic system? Hardly. The Davos elites, as I write in the Guardian, need to ask themselves whether they’d rather see a fair tax system or pitchforks?
January 20, 2020
In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. described poverty as a “lonely island” in a “vast ocean of material prosperity.” We have more such islands today. In Oakland, California, for instance, over 4,000 people are living homeless lives while nearly 16,000 housing units sit vacant.
Last week, we saw the three evils Dr. King fought — systemic racism, poverty, and militarism — in brutal action. Police used AR-15s and armored vehicles to evict homeless mothers from a vacant Oakland home owned by the property-flipping Wedgewood Homes. But the eviction isn’t stopping the Moms 4 Housing movement. As activist Dominique Walker told the media last week: “We want speculators out of our community.”
January 13, 2020
What makes for a “healthy economy”? Wall Streeters and our current White House measure economic health by the Dow Jones stock average. Last week, for the first time ever, that average hit 29,000. But outside the offices and watering holes of America’s privileged, few were cheering. Dow Jones numbers, most of us understand, tell us precious little about how our economy is impacting the lives most Americans lead.
What sort of indicators do offer real insight into how our economy works? Try this finding from a new study just published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health: Higher minimum wages, investigators have found, appear to lower the suicide rate.
The minimum wage in the United States nationally hasn’t budged up a nickel since 2009. But the fight for a $15 minimum has raised the minimum wage in a number of states and localities. The new suicide rate stats show that providing all workers with a real living wage couldn’t be a more urgent task. A more equitable economy saves lives.
January 6, 2020
If only a new decade really meant a fresh start...
With the 2020s just a few days old, the Trump administration has already reminded us what we stand to lose if we don’t make massive, rapid changes to our political and economic systems. The drone-strike assassinations of Iranian and Iraqi officials have put people across the Middle East — and the world — in greater danger.
These same assassinations, my colleague Sarah Anderson details in a new Inequality.org analysis, are triggering windfalls for top U.S. military contractors and their CEOs. The longer we allow these execs to make big money off our war economy, the more likely wars will be. In the new decade ahead, we need to do better.