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September 27, 2023: A terrible week for corporate power
I come bearing good news:
Yesterday, Joe Biden visited striking auto workers in Detroit, likely the first time in history a sitting president has walked a picket line. Biden’s message? Auto workers deserve a significant raise.
Shawn Fain, the UAW president, put the matter clearly as Biden listened beside union members. “Today, the enemy isn’t some foreign country miles away. It’s right here in our own area — it’s corporate greed.”
Also on Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission and 17 state attorneys general announced a historic lawsuit against Amazon, the mega-corporation that’s “exploiting its monopoly power,” as FTC Chair Lina Khan describes, “to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for its customers.” Read on for more about this major shift in enforcement and the organizers who’ve made it happen.
Oh, I'm not done! These huge blows against America's hugest corporations follow a significant weekend.
On Saturday, our co-editor Sarah Anderson had the honor of introducing Chile's President Gabriel Boric at an event in Washington marking the five decades since the 1973 Chilean coup.
"The dictatorship promoted extreme neoliberalism, relying on weapons, terror, and the silencing of dissidents and the closure of democratic institutions," Boric said. "But all of us here — gathered happy and celebrating life, not death — that’s a way to say that we won.”
Check out coverage in the Washington Post, The Nation, and Democracy Now! in our Must Watch list below.
And later, on Sunday, the Writers Guild of America ended its nearly 150-day strike with a deal writers are calling exceptional and experts are calling a big win. Guess the studio execs finally saw the signs…
September 20, 2023: From Detroit to Chile, the fight for justice continues
Tomorrow marks 47 years since agents of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet brutally assassinated two Institute for Policy Studies colleagues right in the heart of Washington, D.C.: Orlando Letelier, a vocal Pinochet critic and a top analyst of global inequality, and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, a 25-year-old development associate.
We hope you’ll join us this weekend, in person or in spirit, to commemorate the memory of Letelier and Moffitt and the 50th anniversary of the Chilean coup that installed Pinochet, wrought such violence, and invites us to pursue justice — everywhere.
This Friday afternoon, Letelier’s son Francisco will discuss how his father’s legacy informs his murals, currently on display at D.C.’s MLK Library. His activist artistry channels Chilean tradition to build resistance and solidarity.
On Saturday morning, Chilean president Gabriel Boric, along with Rep. Jamie Raskin and our own Sarah Anderson, will speak right at the site of the assassination.
Boric — who emerged as a national leader from Chile’s democratic student movement — won election in 2021, vowing to fight “the privileges of the few.” He’s battled as president to better distribute his nation’s wealth, in part by replacing his country’s notorious private pension system that has had the few profiting royally off the many.
But Boric faces an uphill battle, particularly since Chilean lawmakers have rejected new tax hikes on the rich to fund a progressive agenda. Chilean democracy, Boric notes, "is still under construction.”
So is ours. More in this issue on anti-poverty programs, charity reform laws, and union organizing — trusty tools for democratic renovation.
September 13, 2023: Record profits → record contracts. Record poverty → record public investment.
If the United Auto Workers bargaining team doesn’t make a deal with the Big Three automakers by tomorrow night, we’re going to witness a historic walkout, 150,000 workers strong.
What the union wants: The elimination of low-tier wages for new hires. An end to the abuse of temp workers. Meaningful wage hikes for all, not executive pay windfalls for some. Restored cost-of-living adjustments. Defined benefit pensions for every worker. And plenty more, including the right to strike over plant closures and a guaranteed place in the electric vehicle transition.
All that shouldn’t be too much to ask. Detroit’s Big Three have harbored over $21 billion in profits since this year began.
Yesterday, meanwhile, our Census Bureau reported that the nation’s poverty rate jumped nearly 60 percent last year while the child poverty rate more than doubled. We haven’t seen annual poverty increases this steep in over 50 years.
How the *#@! could we possibly let this happen? In 2022, crucial pandemic-era tax credit and public assistance expansions expired, in spite of public support.
“Poverty is a political choice, not a personal one,” our Institute for Policy Studies colleague and poverty expert Karen Dolan concludes from the new data. “Our elected officials need to build on investments in our families and small businesses instead of privileging corporate wealth.”
Arguments against vital anti-poverty programs echo those that we hear against labor demands: Decency for working families costs too much. Big Three auto execs have invested billions in stock buybacks. Yet they’re casting the UAW’s demands as far too indulgent.
Strikes, as the labor journalist Hamilton Nolan notes, do carry costs. But not striking also carries a cost, “one that lasts longer and, in aggregate, creates an entire economy in which the people who do the work get less than they deserve.”
September 6, 2023: Meet the Low-Wage 100
We're back from Labor Day with some great labor news. The Biden administration's Department of Labor has just proposed to raise the salary overtime threshold, a move that will extend overtime protections to 3.6 million workers. And a new National Labor Relations Board decision restores some key pro-labor policies that will help workers gain union recognition.
Young Americans will particularly welcome these latest steps. Some 88 percent of Americans under 30, a new AFL-CIO poll has revealed, approve of labor unions and 90 percent support strikes. Says the labor federation: Gen Z may well turn out to be the most unionized generation in American history.
We need this generation today more than ever, as our just-released 29th annual Executive Excess report makes clear. This new edition, authored by our Inequality.org co-editor Sarah Anderson, has already received prime coverage in outlets ranging from the New York Times to MarketWatch.
Over the last three decades, Anderson has been crushing the myth that the “man in the corner office” is worth hundreds of times more than a corporation's rank and file employees. This year, she spotlights how major companies paying low wages are using stock buybacks to artificially inflate CEO pay.
The new Executive Excess data, Anderson told the Guardian, “reinforces the major story” now unfolding in Corporate America. “Instead of investing in their workforce or investment to be competitive in the long term, they’ve been putting out huge sums to enrich their CEOs and their shareholders.”
Much more data — and signs of hope — from Anderson's landmark report below.
August 23, 2023: We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt
August 28 will mark the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On that summer’s day in 1963, over a quarter of a million people from across the country convened at our National Mall to demand a reckoning with racist injustice.
Those workers and activists were marching, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it plainly, to cash a check. America had defaulted on the promissory note from our founders that guaranteed all Americans life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“Instead of honoring this sacred obligation,” Dr. King declared, "America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”
That Black economic inequality, our new Still a Dream report lays out, stubbornly persists. And we have a good idea of how Dr. King would feel about that.
“We refuse to believe,” he said 60 years ago, “that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”
We couldn't agree more. In this week’s issue, more on the contemporary resonance of the March on Washington and the solutions we need to realize Dr. King’s dream for all Americans.
August 16, 2023: The constitutional right to a healthy planet
After a week of heart-wrenching climate catastrophe, 16 young Montanans bring some good news: Montana court judge Kathy Seeley has ruled that their state, by investing in fossil fuel extraction, has violated their rights under the state constitution to a “clean and healthful environment.”
The Sunrise Movement, a national youth-led climate action group, is calling that ruling "proof that our generation is unstoppable,” equipped with the power to “bring down the fossil fuel industry and win a Green New Deal."
Today, meanwhile, just happens to mark the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, a painstakingly negotiated piece of federal legislation that ended up fast-tracking the largest investment in green technology our nation has ever seen. That same legislation, unfortunately, has left our Big Oil movers and shakers free to continue building their personal fortunes at our planet's expense.
“For better and for worse, the product of that tortured Beltway compromise is now the ground on which something more expansive and democratic might be built,” climate journalist Kate Aronoff notes. “It’s time to get ready to win and run the big green state in the new normal the Green New Deal created.”
In today's issue, a closer look at how the maneuvers of the rich and powerful caused and threaten to perpetuate environmental ruin in Hawai‘i — and how, on the ground, people are mobilizing to take care of one another, building a better, greener future.
August 9, 2023: Winning gold in the cruelty Olympics
Texas, like the rest of the United States, is experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. Undeterred, the state’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott has seized the moment to eliminate the mandatory rest and water breaks the cities of Austin and Dallas have set for construction workers. Texas currently rates as the nation’s deadliest state for the construction profession.
Those water breaks fell victim to a “death star” bill Texas lawmakers have passed to limit local authority, shifting power from the state’s bluer cities to the legislature.
“The governor is trying to win the cruelty Olympics,” says Rep. Greg Casar, a member of Congress from Austin who’s now advocating for federal workplace heat protections that have yet to be implemented.
The Biden administration’s Department of Labor, meanwhile, has recently released a heat hazard alert to inform workers of their rights and is also ramping up job-site inspections.
Whether workers are fighting for baseline guarantees like drinks of water or AC in their delivery vehicles or vital "green overhauls" of their industries, they need maximum support.
Extreme heat — exacerbated by inequality — remains a matter of life and death. A recent One Earth study has found that heat stress far overburdens the poor in almost every American city, with heat stress inequities strongly tied to residential racial segregation.
More unseasonably chilling news: CEO pay continues to skyrocket while workers' real wages drop, as the AFL-CIO details in a new blockbuster Executive Paywatch report. S&P 500 CEOs are now averaging $16.7 million a year, their second-highest annual total ever. We’ll have lots more for you on CEO pay later this month with the release of our annual Executive Excess report. Stay tuned.
August 2, 2023: The CEO character is coming across as unlikeable
Who else saw Barbenheimer? When the theater lights rose after my double feature — Oppenheimer first, obviously — I was bleary-eyed, but I’d had so much fun. For many, Barbenheimer was a welcome break from the blitz of tired Marvel IP, proof that audiences crave riskier creative ideas and richly built worlds onscreen.
Sure, we all have our gripes with the films. The commercialized winkingness of Barbie director Greta Gerwig’s strategy to make Mattel, as a Nation review notes, “more appealing to a new generation suspicious of corporate influence.” The thinly written women and Santa Claus-like Einstein of Oppenheimer. But it felt so great to go to the movies and participate.
Making that feeling even better: Oppenheimer’s stars dipped early from their own premiere to join 160,000 of their fellow actors and over 11,000 writers on strike against the untenable greed of streaming services, studios, and CEOs. While refusing to reduce precarity and boost wages, just eight top Hollywood execs pocketed $773 million in 2021. The bosses are now planning to hold their ground until workers lose their homes.
To quote striking writer Cheech Manohar’s picket sign: “The CEO character is coming across as unlikeable.”
July 12, 2023: Forget time — inequality is the thief of youth
If I were you, I might be thinking, who’s this stranger in my inbox? Fear not — I come in peace! I’m Bella, the new acting managing editor of Inequality.org. I’m stepping in for the remarkable Rebekah Entralgo, with whom I was lucky to work since my first day at the Institute for Policy Studies in 2021.
I stumbled upon Inequality.org the way a good chunk of our readers do: while researching a college paper. Enrolling in "History of the First American Gilded Age” was an eerily prescient choice in early 2020 — as billionaire wealth began skyrocketing in the coronavirus economy.
For that course, I reviewed the 1915 Commission on Industrial Relations, which critiqued philanthropy’s role in industrial capitalism. Commissioners admonished steel baron Carnegie and oil baron Rockefeller for using their charitable foundation charters to cover up labor abuses, launder their reputations, and even “perpetuate predatory wealth.” (Sound familiar?)
Though the Commission surfaced rigorous plans to unlock more generosity and redistribute ill-begotten gains, WWI mobilization drowned out its potential political impact.
Was anyone bothered with trying to make charity more plentiful, I wondered, during our surging pandemic of inequality? Google led me to Inequality.org’s Emergency Charity Stimulus page, which called on private foundations to double their payout rates during the crisis. After a cursory read, I just knew: I need to work with the people behind this.
Three years later, here we are.
I’m incredibly proud of today’s edition, which highlights the effects of inequality on young people. Check out Next Leader Danielle Browne’s commentary on supporting young farmers, researcher Jasmine Corazon’s chart of the week on soaring college costs, and my take on young Americans’ huge stake in the retirement debate.
July 5, 2023: Democracy v. The Wealth Hoarders (and a personal note)
“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous quote is even more spot on today in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s rulings against affirmative action and student debt relief.
One key force behind the court’s sharp tilt to the right is a radically conservative billionaire named Leonard Leo. While Leo may not be a household name, for decades he’s been wielding his wealth and power to strengthen the dark money groups bent on reshaping our judicial system to favor the privileged.
The fightback has only begun and you can count on Inequality.org to be a platform for those on the forefront of the struggles for real democracy and an equitable economy. This week, we’re proud to feature a piece by Ronnette Cox of the Center for Popular Democracy on countering the attacks on affirmative action.
After today’s issue, I’ll be following the Inequality.org newsletter as a subscriber rather than as managing editor. Next week I’ll be starting as a campaign communications coordinator for the mighty Communications Workers of America. I owe so much of my interest in the labor movement, and how it intersects with wealth inequality, to my experience over the last two and a half years with the inequality team here at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Our fantastic program associate and co-editor Bella DeVaan will step in as interim managing editor, bringing along her extensive knowledge of both philanthropy reform and social movements. You’re all in very good hands. Stay tuned.
June 28, 2023: America has a generous spirit. Let’s fight to protect it.
Upon visiting the United States in 1831, the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at how Americans were coming together to help one another, financially and socially, in voluntary associations. Those Americans were paying, he believed, what amounted to a “self-tax for the common good.”
That observation still holds a good bit of truth, notes our co-editor Bella DeVaan. Americans remain among the most generous people on our planet, as measured by charitable donations. Our various giving platforms, from GoFundMe to mutual aid groups, demonstrate a civic culture that values philanthropic behavior.
Our tax system reflects that same spirit. We’ve made charitable donations largely tax-exempt. In effect, we’ve turned philanthropy into a kind of “self-tax,” a literal substitute for taxes in general. In the process, unfortunately, we’ve let the ultra wealthy come to dangerously dominate our charitable sector.
As a nation, we’ve never had more money earmarked for philanthropic purposes. But the bulk of this money sits beholden to the special interests of a powerful few.
With the Fourth of July approaching, let’s fight to protect America’s generous spirit and end the use of charitable vehicles for tax dodging or wealth warehousing. Let’s increase the flow of money that actually goes to working charities.
Most importantly, let’s ensure that charitable giving never becomes a substitute for robust public funding.
June 14, 2023: How we broke the internet
Nearly two million people have visited our site so far this month, our highest total ever. This upsurge almost, in fact, broke our site. Why the huge spike?
A fascinating new piece by our Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow Bob Lord seems to have caught some really significant online world attention. Please don’t take the headline on the piece — The First Trillionaire: No Cause for Celebration — literally. No, our nation hasn’t yet welcomed the globe’s first trillionaire. But we’re coming much closer as our corporations become ever more gigantic and our tax policies ever more rich people-friendly.
Bob Lord has an interesting take on the massive interest his piece has engendered. To give a little perspective, he notes that if a million of the people who viewed his post “gave me $1 million, I’d be a trillionaire.”
A trillionaire, in other words, has the wealth of a million millionaires. Says Bob: “No one person should ever have that much wealth.”
Luckily, public opinion agrees with him. A new survey from the Center for Working-Class Politics finds that U.S. voters without four-year college degrees — 60 percent of the electorate — overwhelmingly favor an economic vision for our country that works for everyone, not just CEOs and the top 1 percent.
So where do we start building that country? We’ll never truly take on the super rich, Bob’s piece suggests, so long as millions of Americans identify with them.
June 7, 2023: What's wrong with American philanthropy?
Don’t quite understand how donor-advised funds work? Join the club! Like so much of what we cover in the realm of philanthropy and high finance — non-qualified deferred compensation, stepped-up basis, you name it — donor-advised funds operate outside public consciousness to preserve their benefits for the few.
But if you give us a couple minutes of your time to watch our new video, we think you’ll be able to get a better sense of just how donor-advised funds skew charity in favor of the ultra-wealthy and why we’ve become so preoccupied with them.
Why a video and not just another serious research drop? The more people learn about the machinations of our philanthropic sector, the more they understand how desperately we need real systemic change.
Last summer, our researchers collaborated with Ipsos to poll Americans on their attitudes toward philanthropy. We found that most Americans have no idea how much money is getting diverted into charitable intermediaries like donor-advised funds. Once apprised, 72 percent of Americans feel that these “DAFs” should be dispensing funds to real charities within two to five years of receiving donations.
And 81 percent of Americans do not believe taxpayers should be subsidizing the wealthy as they keep money in private foundations that will exist into perpetuity.
May 31, 2023: You shouldn’t foot the bill for billionaire tax cheats.
If all goes according to plan, by this time next week Congress will have passed a debt-ceiling increase. We won’t have to worry again about defaulting on the nation’s debt until 2025.
Getting to this point has come at quite a cost. The showdown on Capitol Hill seems almost certain to cut everything from funding for vaccine distribution and research to the resources the IRS needs to crack down on wealthy tax cheats.
Amid the flurry of “budget deal” headlines, the human impact of all these policy choices tend to fade out of sight. Count Joyce Kendrick, a co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign in southwest Ohio, as one of those impacted. She’ll soon lose out on expanded food assistance benefits. In her own words:
“We need stronger safety net protections that won’t be torn away by lawmakers or complicated eligibility requirements. But now whenever I turn on the news, I hear politicians demanding we slash human needs programs even further so they can extend tax giveaways to the very wealthy. How is that fair?”
But the news doesn’t all rate as bad. In this week’s issue, we have from Minnesota the story of how lawmakers with a simple one-seat majority are passing an impressive, progressive agenda. Also this week: how we can bring people-centered banking to every zip code.
May 22, 2023: Our top retirement savings tip? Be a CEO.
It's crunch time on the debt ceiling. If political leaders fail to reach a deal by early June and the government defaults, the many ominous outcomes could include a halt on Social Security checks, a terrifying prospect for millions of seniors.
Most seniors rely on Social Security to pay their most basic bills. But retirees at the top end of our income scale have no such existential stake in the debt-ceiling battle. For decades now, corporate execs have been slashing employee retirement benefits while feathering their own personal retirement nests.
A new report on this repulsive retirement divide — from our Inequality.org team at the Institute for Policy Studies and Jobs With Justice — is garnering tremendous media coverage.
“People’s minds are blown when they see the wage gap between CEOs and workers,” our Inequality.org co-editor and report co-author Sarah Anderson told the Wall Street Journal. “But the gap between CEO and worker retirement benefits is so much wider.”
We have more on retirement benefit disparities — and what we can do to narrow the gaps — here below in this week’s issue.
May 15, 2023: BREAKING: U.S. billionaires set a new record — and it’s not good
U.S. billionaires set a new record last year. They collectively spent a jaw-dropping $1 billion on the 2022 midterm elections, according to new research from our friends at Americans for Tax Fairness.
That total represents a 72 percent increase over the 2018 midterms and a 3,000 percent increase since the midterms in 2010, just before the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for big money in politics. How big is the money? Just 15 billionaires generated almost two-thirds of all billionaire contributions to 2022 midterm campaigns.
All those dollars our nation’s wealthy are funneling into our elections are just a drop in the bucket compared to the return on investment they expect from the elected officials they financially support. And they’re getting that return. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, for example, has pocketed “extraordinary” billionaire backing. He has, in return, rubber-stamped a juicy pro-corporate agenda.
We’re now seeing first-hand what happens when lawmakers let billionaires get away with paying taxes at a lower effective rate than average working people. Billionaires are, in effect, parlaying their untaxed wealth gains into legislation that attacks our nation’s most vulnerable. More on the corrupting influence of grand fortunes — and what we can do about them — in this week’s issue.
May 8, 2023: The ultra-wealthy have a private jet problem. And you're paying for it.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely to know someone impacted by the nearly 10,000 flights canceled or delayed earlier this year due to “system failure.”
Headline after headline about the aviation industry laments the current state of U.S. air travel, with its overcrowded aircrafts, unreliable schedules, and frequently canceled flights. Aviation safety advocates and industry experts alike are decrying the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to modernize outdated technology.
A new report from our Inequality team at the Institute for Policy Studies outlines one key reason for this FAA failure: The private jets of our nation’s ultra-wealthy are starving the FAA of needed resources. Private jet trips make up about one out of every six flights the FAA handles but contribute just 2 percent of the taxes that make up the trust fund that primarily funds the agency.
Private jets are also emitting 10 times more pollutants than commercial planes per passenger.
“When the ultra wealthy get to opt out of a system, they have much less of a stake in improving it,” Inequality.org co-editor Chuck Collins, a co-author of our new Institute for Policy Studies private jet report, recently told the New York Times. “If over 100 billionaires couldn’t get home to their families because the air traffic system was having a meltdown, maybe we’d have a better system.”
May 1, 2023: There's power in a union. Happy May Day!
In an unfortunate twist of fate, this week’s May Day edition of our newsletter is appearing just days after we all lost one of our world’s most fearless pro-labor advocates, the globally lauded musician, actor, and activist Harry Belafonte.
Over nearly seven decades, Belafonte fiercely and tirelessly supported struggles for civil and worker rights at every level. He had an especially close relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — who was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee during a visit to support striking sanitation workers, still fighting for safer working conditions today — and A. Phillip Randolph, who founded the first Black-led union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Belafonte served for many years as a board member of the Institute for Policy Studies, our Inequality.org home base. We feel his loss deeply. We treasured this warrior for peace and justice as a dear friend.
Ever militant in his support for unions and working people, Belafonte would no doubt want us to see our current moment in labor history — we now have the lowest level of union workplace density since the 1920s — as motivation for redoubling our struggles for ever-greater equality.
We have lots more on those carrying on Belafonte’s legacy in this week’s issue.
April 24, 2023: How much of your tax bill went to building a sustainable world?
With Earth Day and Tax Day sharing a week, what better time to focus on the connection between climate change and economic inequality? Our colleagues with the Institute for Policy Studies' National Priorities Project have released a new tool that helps us do just that.
This handy receipt breakdown lets U.S. taxpayers see just where their federal tax dollars are going. One example: Average taxpayers are shelling out $106 to Lockheed Martin, our top military contractor, but only $6 for renewable energy!
The main message here? Our government is continuing to invest too much in militarization, with its millionaire CEOs and high-polluting machinery, and not nearly enough on safeguarding the health and future of our communities.
Meanwhile, here at Inequality.org, we celebrated Tax Day at the Patriotic Millionaires Spring Forum in Washington, D.C., hearing from distinguished analysts and organizers working to create a more equitable world — by seriously taxing the richest among us. You can find a link to a video of the forum below, along with some musings from our team.
And speaking of our team and climate change, our own Chuck Collins will shortly be releasing his first novel, Altar to an Erupting Sun, a riveting take on our climate crisis. But don't just take our word for it. The award-winning sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson is calling Chuck’s latest project a “provocative book” that “makes us think hard about what we might need to do to save Earth’s biosphere.”
April 17, 2023: Read our lips — tax the rich
Households nationwide today are scrambling to file — or extend — their taxes by tomorrow’s Tax Day deadline. That scramble can, of course, go beyond frustrating, the main reason why millions of us have come to rely on for-profit outfits like TurboTax. These outfits, in turn, lobby to keep taxes complicated.
In fact, TurboTax’s parent company, Intuit, spent over $3.5 million on federal lobbying in 2022. By spending big to block an easier tax-filing system, the titans at firms like TurboTax make it harder for working families to access the income supports and tax credits that’d keep more money in their pockets. The payoff for our tax profiteers? Intuit’s CEO took home over $27 million last year.
Millionaires and billionaires, meanwhile, aren’t using services like TurboTax to file their own taxes. They employ instead teams of professionals to exploit every possible loophole, as ProPublica dramatically illustrated earlier this month. We end up with a tax system that has billionaires paying taxes at a lower rate than teachers, nurses, and firefighters.
Tomorrow’s tax-filing deadline makes this week — more than any other week of the year — the perfect time to pressure our elected officials with this simple message: Make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair tax share!
U.S. billionaire wealth, let’s remember, surged by over 50 percent after Covid hit. We have the resources out there to build a more equitable nation. We just need the political will to make that equity happen.
April 11, 2023: Winter is over. Labor Spring is here.
The magnolia trees are blooming on the East Coast. And now a Labor Spring is blooming too! Just yesterday, 9,000 workers at Rutgers University — from tenured faculty to grad student teaching assistants — went on strike for the first time in the university’s 257-year history.
“We intend for this new contract to be transformative,” Rebecca Given, president of the Rutgers American Association of University Professors-AFT union, told the New York Times, “especially for our lowest-paid and most vulnerable members.”
In Indiana and Kentucky, workers at two Sysco locations have just won higher wages and better retirements after a two-week strike, proof positive, noted Teamsters president Sean O’Brien, that workers standing together "can take on anyone and win the fight, even America’s biggest corporations."
These two struggles — one against a university sitting on a nearly $2 billion dollar endowment, the other over a CEO cashing in enormous checks — remind us that we remain a nation of unequally distributed abundance. We can fight this inequality on the picket line. We can also fight it, the upcoming Tax Day reminds us, by working to untangle the webs our richest weave to hide their wealth.
Our Charity Reform Initiative team is doing just that, targeting how our wealthiest are exploiting “donor-advised funds” to sidestep taxes. DAFs are currently sitting on over $234 billion that’s supposed to be helping build stronger communities.
April 3, 2023: Don't worry, Wall Street execs are doing just fine.
“Wall Street Bonuses Fall by Most Since 2008,” proclaimed a Wall Street Journal headline last week. “The Average Wall Street Bonus Fell by 26% Last Year,” lamented CNN.
Those headlines don’t tell the full story. Yes, Wall Street bonuses did fall some 26 percent in 2022 after reaching a historic high in 2021. But focusing on that one-year decline ignores the continuing reality of our burgeoning economic divide.
Since 1985, the average Wall Street bonus has soared 1,165 percent. If the minimum wage had increased at that same rate, our Inequality.org co-editor Sarah Anderson points out, our nation’s lowest-paid workers would now be making $42.37 an hour. Instead, the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25.
To imagine what all that Wall Street bonus money could accomplish if reinvested elsewhere, our Inequality.org team crunched the numbers. We found that the total bonus pool for 190,800 New York City-based Wall Street employees — $33.7 billion — could pay for 771,520 jobs that pay $15 per hour with benefits for a year.
So what can be done to rein in Wall Street’s bonus culture? Sarah Anderson has the scoop on bold solutions below. Also in this issue: a first-hand report on the long-awaited Senate hearing on union-busting at Starbucks that includes a barista response to the testimony of long-time Starbucks chief Howard Schultz.
March 27, 2023: Billionaires loathe this newsletter
Succession’s premiere last night had its billionaire characters in peak form. Kendall, Shiv, and Roman — the disgraced children of a media empire — used every buzzword in the book to practice pitching their new venture, a “disruptor” news app, to oil baron investors. Eldest son Connor contemplated pouring $100 million into his vanity campaign for president.
For these fictional heirs, wealth brings fun and breathless bartering competitions to “say the biggest number.” But, for the rest of us, billionaire greed has real-life consequences, from train derailments and union-busting to ever-growing housing costs, as you’ll see later in this week’s issue.
The Roys of Succession would certainly loathe our newsletter. But we’re not aiming to please them. We’re working for an economy that works for us all!
A bit of housekeeping: Next Monday, our Inequality.org weekly will sport a fresh, new look. What won’t change: We’ll continue to provide the same cutting-edge commentary and research on our widening divides, as well as profiles of the champions leading the fight for a more equitable world and the latest on innovative approaches to solving the crises inequality creates.
March 20, 2023: Budgets are moral documents
Budgets, our friends at the Poor People’s Campaign like to say, amount to moral documents. So what can we glean, on this moral front, from President Joe Biden’s just-released new budget proposal?
On the domestic policy side, the White House budget proposes much-needed investments in jobs and families, protecting Social Security, and strengthening Medicare — all while reducing the federal deficit by $3 trillion over the next decade. How? By closing loopholes to make sure corporations and our wealthiest pay their fair share in taxes. That step alone could raise $4 trillion in revenue over the next 10 years.
One specific piece of the new Biden budget has us particularly excited: a proposal to quadruple the current 1 percent tax on stock buybacks, a move that would encourage companies to invest in their growth instead of enriching their top execs and shareholders.
But these imaginative steps won’t take us nearly as far as we need to go as long as we continue allocating two-thirds of federal discretionary spending to our nation’s militarization. Just imagine, for example, the seven transformative programs we could fund if we shaved $100 billion off of the Pentagon’s massive $858 billion budget.
Nearly 140 million people in the United States are currently struggling to make ends meet. We’ll never adequately address the poverty at the base of our deeply unequal economy until we confront the ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations at the top.
March 13, 2023: Really? We're bailing out the rich again?
The Silicon Valley Bank collapsed this past week.
Like Senator Elizabeth Warren, we see a clear connection between the bank’s demise and a bill Donald Trump signed in 2018 that undid essential banking reforms enacted in 2010, paving the way for financial institutions to chase after profits and disregard the downsides. SVB’s top dog Greg Becker, Senator Warren points out, took home almost $10 million last year for boosting his bank’s profitability — “and its riskiness.”
Federal officials are now strategically positioning their rapid-fire involvement in SVB’s financial recovery as definitely not a taxpayer-funded “bailout.” We find more convincing the analyses that see the rush to protect SVB’s clients as a sign of the outsized political power of rich bad actors that gives lower-income people the short end of the stick.
SVB, a bank with $200 billion in assets, collapses and gets rescued on a 48-hour timeline. Meanwhile, average Americans are now approaching $2 trillion in crushing student debt. Ask activists at the Debt Collective, a debtors union working to cancel student debt: “What have we gotten?”
They’re asking the right kind of question: How can the federal government spring to action to bail out mercurial venture capitalists while letting the debt of hard-working Americans pile up as banks levy heavy overdraft fees and the cost of living skyrockets?
To get a better sense of what the White House now ought to be doing, tune in to the upcoming March 16 Congressional Progressive Caucus Center Big Ideas Briefing, The Power of the Pen: Building Justice Through Executive Action. Our co-editor Sarah Anderson will be on hand to explain how new executive actions could reduce inequality all across our country.
March 6, 2023: Let's bid adieu to corporate tax havens
Let’s start this week with an eye-popping factoid: Corporations shifted nearly $1 trillion in profits earned outside of their home countries to tax havens in 2019, a staggering hike from the $616 billion shifted in 2015.
These numbers come to us from a new study by world-renowned researchers Ludvig Wier and Gabriel Zucman on global corporate “profit shifting” from 2015 to 2019, years that saw major international efforts to prevent corporations from shifting profits to tax havens.
The world’s biggest multinationals, Wier and Zucman found, moved 37 percent of their profits to tax havens in 2019. In the 1970s, the two note, major corporations shifted under 2 percent of their earnings. These new findings clearly demonstrate that the revelations of massive corporate tax dodging that began with the release of the Panama Papers in 2016 haven’t been enough to change corporate behavior.
The new Wier-Zucman data also come at an opportune moment. The White House is releasing its latest budget plan this week. That budget will likely include a call for a 15 percent global corporate minimum tax.
Global corporate tax avoidance is making global corporate execs ever richer and playing a key role in deepening inequality. We need to end this abuse, once and for all, and make sure governments tax corporations where their workers operate and create value.
February 27, 2023: An especially great day to be a millionaire
If you’re reading this, you’re likely among the 94 percent of working Americans who pay into Social Security all year long. But if you make at least $1 million a year, tomorrow is going to be a great day. On February 28, those earning over that $1 million stop contributing to Social Security.
Someone making $10 million in a year, in other words, is contributing the exact same amount into Social Security as someone making $160,200. And some people — like Elon Musk, the highest-paid CEO in the world — don’t pay a single penny into Social Security.
Lawmakers who set the income cap on Social Security contributions back in 1983 didn’t anticipate the incredible 40 years of rising incomes — at the top — we’ve had since then. Now today, with Republicans in Congress considering cuts to Social Security in the name of “budget neutrality,” we have an opportunity to safeguard these vital programs for the future and reduce inequality. More on that and much more in the issue below.
An editorial housekeeping note: Sam Pizzigati, our Inequality.org co-editor, has been contributing our Petulant Plutocrat and Too Much features ever since we went weekly over a decade ago. Sam will be taking a hiatus from these features, starting this week, to complete his latest book, The Last Billionaire, a provocative look into our global future co-authored with Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow Bob Lord.
Need some more inequality-related reading in the meantime? Check out Sam’s two most recent books, The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press) and The Case for a Maximum Wage (Polity).
February 20, 2023: Like train derailments, greed is toxic.
A haunting — and prescient — Vice News headline two years ago read: “How Freight Rail Is Courting Catastrophe.” With three derailments in just two weeks, we’re watching this warning become reality in real time. But we should expect nothing less, as Vice cautioned, from a system that prioritizes profits over people.
Railroad workers have been raising concerns for years about the deregulation and corporate cost-cutting that have created the perfect storm for industrial disaster. Railroad Workers United put the matter simply after the fiery derailment in East Palestine, Ohio: “The root causes of this wreck” rest “with hedge fund-initiated operating models.”
The “savings” from these models aren’t raising worker wages or improving rail infrastructure and safety. In fact, over the last three years, CEOs at five top railroad conglomerates have raked in a staggering $200 million in compensation. Seven major U.S. freight railroads spent $191 billion on stock buybacks and shareholder dividends between 2011 and 2021, enriching their already-wealthy execs and investors even more.
This revolving door of money, from profits to stock buybacks to lobbyists and back around again, will only continue to stoke dangerous results unless we start reining in greed. Our nation's railroads — and the Biden administration — must decide whether they want an economy that works for everyone or one beholden to shareholders and rail barons.
February 13, 2023: Regardless of the Super Bowl outcome, billionaires win, we lose
The Philadelphia Eagles may have lost the Super Bowl last night, but billionaires always win. Especially billionaire owners of sports teams.
As our inequality team at the Institute for Policy Studies documented in 2021, the collective wealth of sports barons jumped by $98.5 billion over the course of Covid’s first year. The owners of our new football champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, descend from billionaire oil tycoon H.L. Hunt.
In his third State of the Union last week, President Biden put taxing billionaires right at center stage. He reaffirmed his commitment to a novel billionaire minimum income tax. He called for quadrupling the tax on stock buybacks, the sleight-of-hand that inflates CEO take-homes. Urged the president: “Let’s finish the job. Reward work, not just wealth.”
In the spirit of rewarding work, let's remember that today’s date, 2/13, just happens to equal the current $2.13 sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. This sub-minimum, a shameful relic of slavery, has now been stuck at that level for 32 years!
On Valentine’s Day tomorrow, many of us will likely be dining out in states where restaurants still pay workers that abysmal $2.13. Do we need any more incentive to fight for a world where all workers earn a fair wage and all wealthy pay their fair share?
February 6, 2023: Forget the balloon, workers around the world are uniting.
A rogue balloon in the sky raised a major ruckus last week. But did you hear about the major ruckus workers raised on the ground in Europe?
In the UK, half a million workers across industries participated in “Walkout Wednesday” to demand solutions to the country’s cost-of-living crisis. The mobilization was a clear rejection of the efforts to pit British workers against each other that conservatives escalated during a historic rail strike last summer.
“We will not be divided on the basis of who we work for,” Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime, and Transportation union, told a massive crowd in central London. “We will not be divided on the basis of our belief, or the color of our skin, or the part of the country we are from.”
Meanwhile, worker rallies also brought Paris to a standstill last week as unions protested government plans to raise the retirement age – a move Republicans are currently debating in the halls of our Congress.
Stateside, Black History Month is a time to reflect on the systemic racism that drives our country’s persistent racial disparities – and how we can work for change. Below we feature efforts to expand affordable housing and defend good jobs for Black postal workers. Finally, don’t forget to check out the trove of racial economic inequality charts on Inequality.org.
January 30, 2023: How corporate interests enable wealthy tax cheats
Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act remains a massive deal. By providing new opportunities for federal contractors to snag lucrative contracts, explained our co-editor Sarah Anderson in today’s “Public Money for the Public Good” webinar, the legislation also invites the Biden administration to incentivize fairer wages.
The 2022 bill also took a giant step to finally hold wealthy tax cheats accountable — it set aside $80 billion over 10 years to help the IRS beef up the staff the agency needs to decode the intentionally opaque and voluminous returns of our nation’s super-rich.
But now Republicans in Congress are working to claw back much of that support for tougher audits of high-income returns, falsely claiming that the IRS would use the new dollars to hire 87,000 new agents who’d go after everyday taxpayers. The reality: Our current inadequate tax enforcement is letting our richest 1 percent avoid paying $160 billion a year in taxes due.
GOP lawmakers are also openly plotting to slash Medicare and Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age, all in the name of lowering the national debt. Meanwhile, the 2017 Trump-era tax cuts that have enabled our 400 wealthiest taxpayers to pay taxes at historically low levels remain in place.
In this week’s issue, much more on the tax challenges we all face — and how we can meet them.
January 23, 2023: Hypocrisy at Davos? Groundbreaking.
Our world's wealthiest (and their private jets) have likely all by now returned home from the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Loftily perched in the Swiss Alps, this year’s gathering claimed to focus on “Cooperation in a Fragmented World.” Top issues up for discussion ranged from climate tech innovation to chat bots. But, as to be expected, the Davos sessions devoted little — if any — time to the urgent issues that impact the daily lives of working people.
No surprise there. Our super rich truly live in a different world, as the most recent stats on billionaire wealth show so clearly. Over the last decade, the global billionaire class has more than doubled in size, and the wealth of that class has skyrocketed at a similar rate: 99.6 percent.
That stat comes from a new analysis from the Fight Inequality Alliance, the Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam, and Patriotic Millionaires. Wealth taxes on the global ultra-rich in 2022 alone could have raised $1.7 trillion to tackle inequality. Putting those taxes into effect would be just the sort of cooperation our fragmented world most desperately needs.
January 16, 2023: Dr. King warned us of "superfluous, inordinate wealth."
“If our economic system is to survive, there has to be a better distribution of wealth,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked in 1966. “We can't have a system where some people live in superfluous, inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
Sadly, all these decades later, that obscenely unequal system still prevails. According to our most recent report on the racial wealth divide, the median Black family has assets of around $3,500, compared to the nearly $147,000 the median white family owns. Put differently, the median white family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family.
One driver of this divide: the ability of our overwhelmingly white ultra-rich class to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The New Yorker is out today with an exposé on the dynastically wealthy Getty family, showing how they used Nevada-based trusts to dodge $300 million in tax obligations to California over the last decade.
We documented this type of scam in our 2022 report, Billionaire Enabler States: How U.S. States Captured by the Trust Industry Help the World’s Wealthy Hide Their Money. A dozen states have surrendered their sovereignty to the trust industry, shielding the fortunes of the world’s richest people. Our Chuck Collins has two great resources breaking down today's news on the complicated trust industry: an Inequality.org blog post on the key takeaways from the New Yorker piece and a just-published op-ed in The Hill calling on lawmakers to fix trust law and take on billionaire-enabling states.
January 9, 2023: McCarthy & Lula & Elon Musk, oh my!
What just happened?
We didn’t expect our holiday break to be so eventful. From the drama over the battle for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to Brazil’s own January 6, we can now add former U.S. treasury secretary Larry Summers explaining to us — from the comfort of his tropical island home — that our nation needs “increases in unemployment to contain inflation.”
Our fight against inequality, these first few days of the new year have reminded us, has clearly never been more important. As the new Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, noted in his inauguration speech on January 1: “The real greatness of a country lies in the happiness of its people, and nobody is really happy in the midst of so much inequality.” Much more on Lula and Brazil in this week’s issue below.