The health of the real economy couldn’t be more divorced from Wall Street's historic bull run.
If you only read the headlines, you’d be forgiven for thinking the U.S. economy has reached some kind of encouraging peak. Pundits are celebrating a bull-market run that last week set a record for Wall Street’s longest upward trend ever. Should the rest of us be celebrating, too?

Not hardly. The health of the real economy couldn’t be more divorced from this historic bull run. Wage growth, for example, hasn’t come close to keeping up with market growth. So who is holding on to all of the new wealth our economy is creating? How can we ensure a fairer future distribution? More on these key questions in this week’s issue.

Chuck Collins, for the Institute for Policy Studies team
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Incarcerated Workers Protest Prison Conditions
As wildfires rage across California, some of the people risking their lives to fight them are making only a few dollars a day. We have today in the United States, incredibly enough, an entire class of workers who earn less than sweatshop wages for their labors. Some 2.3 million incarcerated Americans now face this reality. And now they’re pushing back with the largest nationwide prison strike in history. Fizz Perkal has more on the conditions inside U.S. prisons and the companies exploiting incarcerated workers to turn a princely profit.
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Papa John’s Story: Big Blunders, Even Bigger Ego
America’s third-largest pizza chain may now have the cheese-pie industry’s biggest headache. That pain in the mozzarella: Papa John’s founding CEO John Schnatter. Last fall, Schnatter blamed his company’s shrinking sales on National Football League player protests that, he claimed, had undercut Papa John’s NFL game TV commercials. Schnatter stepped down as CEO in the ensuing furor, but stayed on as company board chair until reports surfaced last month that he had used the “n-word” during a training exercise. Now Schnatter is demanding he be rehired as CEO. His new personal website declares “I am Papa John’s” and boasts that “I built Papa John's from the ground up.” The official response from Papa John’s: “We are not, nor should we be, dependent on one person. Papa John’s is 120,000 corporate and franchisee team members around the world.” Schnatter still owns company stock worth over $425 million.
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Would You Know a Plutocracy If You Saw One?
How can we tell when a democracy evolves into a plutocracy, the reign of the rich? Easy. We have a democracy when a political system can and does make a good-faith effort to address the problems average people face. In a plutocracy, on the other hand, the political system works diligently instead at protecting — and growing — the wealth of the already wealthy. By this simple standard, we Americans today unquestionable live in a plutocracy. Our latest slam-dunk evidence: the record of the decade since the Wall Street financial crash. co-editor Sam Pizzigati, author of the just-published The Case for a Maximum Wage, has more.
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This Week On 

Basav Sen, The Inequality Crisis Hiding Behind High Utility Bills. Low-income people and communities of color are disproportionately energy insecure. Energy efficiency policy can address the divide.

Kayla Kitson, Scoring Trump’s Tax Cuts So Far: $280,000 for Rich Lawmakers, Pennies for Workers. Few businesses have raised wages with their corporate tax cut savings. Top execs and lawmakers are buying new yachts instead.

Elsewhere on the web 

Elizabeth Kolbert, Gospels of Giving for the New Gilded Age, New Yorker. A look at the most compelling critiques of our contemporary Big Philanthropy.

Jonathan Rauch, Why Prosperity Has Increased but Happiness Has Not, The New York Times. Why rising inequality leaves us feeling sour.

David Roberts, The radical moral implications of luck in human life, Vox. Socially dominant groups have every incentive to ignore luck.

Phil Glynn, Violence is the symptom, and inequality is the disease, Kansas City Star. Faced with an affordable housing shortage, the Kansas City Council granted a 25-year tax abatement to a luxury high-rise.

Stefan Stern, The Lehman Brothers party is a red herring – it’s the system that stinks, The Guardian. Our elites know well how fragile our financial system remains, and they’re stuffing their pockets while they still can.
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