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.
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. In this week’s issue, more on better uses for billionaire dollars, from saving the Postal Service to guaranteeing worker pay.

Chuck Collins, for the Institute for Policy Studies Inequality.org team
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Postal worker wearing a mask and gloves while delivering mail
Postal Workers Battling the President  for Survival
Postal workers are playing a vital role in our public health as they strain to deliver medicine, food, and other essentials to homebound families. On top of this herculean task, they’re also fighting President Trump for the very survival of the U.S. Postal Service. The same pandemic that’s spiking demand for package deliveries is killing mail revenue. Without a cash infusion, the Postal Service could be bankrupt in a matter of months. A bipartisan plan for such relief was included in the recent stimulus bill —  until President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin axed it. They see the crisis as an opportunity to ram through the draconian postal cuts and privatization they’ve been seeking for years. Sarah Anderson has more.
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Screenshot of Jeff Blau on CNBC
Mogul: Do Your Duty, Pay Your Rent, Make Me Rich
Almost a third of U.S. renters didn’t pay any rent during the first week of April, a real estate trade group reported last week. That may be because record millions of Americans have lost work hours and jobs to the corona crisis. Or, suggests the CEO of one of the nation’s largest real estate development companies, the problem may be renters trying to take unfair advantage of the horrible hand corona has dealt us. The crisis, Related Companies CEO Jeff Blau told CNBC last Monday, “is not an excuse for people to not pay rent.” Added the real estate mogul: “Many of our tenants still have jobs and have not been directly impacted financially.” But many of Blau’s tenants, the latest polling shows, have been directly impacted. Just under half the American people are now telling CNN pollsters that the corona crash “has caused their household financial hardship.” Blau’s company, meanwhile, owns America’s “largest private portfolio” of affordable housing, with total holdings worth $97 billion
Pramila Jayapal
Guarantee Paychecks to Preserve Jobs
The Federal Reserve has just announced a massive corporate bond-buying program with no guarantee that funds be used to retain workers instead of lining executive pockets. Meanwhile, the U.S. unemployment rate has climbed higher than at any time since the Great Depression. To lower that rate, Rep. Pramila Jayapal has introduced a bill that would pay crisis-hit companies to preserve jobs. The Paycheck Guarantee Act resembles effective programs already operating in several European countries. Workers at participating U.S. companies would continue to receive their full wages and employer-sponsored health benefits. Once the economic recovery kicks in, employers would avoid the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees. Sarah Anderson has the details.
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President Trump speaking at a press conference with Dr. Fauci and Vice President Mike Pence
If the Rich Trust Hydroxychloroquine, Should We?
In deeply unequal societies, figuring out who to believe will always be a challenge. So posit political scientists who’ve been carefully tracking the data that show a plummeting level of trust in American life. Back in 1968, notes the University of Maryland’s Eric Uslaner, 56 percent of Americans believed that “most people can be trusted.” By 2006, only 34 percent of Americans felt that way. Rising income at a society’s summit, Uslaner’s research concludes, “leads to less trust.” In our pandemic present, that conclusion could hardly be more timely. Inequality.org co-editor Sam Pizzigati has more.
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This week on Inequality.org 

Bob Lord and Chuck Collins, Taxes Paid By Billionaires Decreased 79 Percent Since 1980, as Percentage of Their Wealth. Central to our tax future should be new measures that limit the hoarding of wealth.

Lisa Gilbert and Bartlett Naylor, Only Oversight of Oversight Will Keep Profiteers From Siphoning Stimulus Money Into Their Own Wallets. Just how much money is the CARES Act distributing? At $1 per second, it would take 60,000 years to hand it all out.

John Cavanagh, A Thank You to Martin Khor, Champion of Global Equity. The Malaysian economist was one of the world's leading advocates for policies to reduce economic disparities within and between nations.

Chuck Collins, A Film Recommendation: 'Sorry We Missed You.' If you're looking for good pandemic viewing, check out the story of one UK family's struggle in the gig economy. 

Elsewhere on the Web

Kyle Chayka, There’s no equality in the Zoom home office, Curbed. A $500 Herman Miller Aeron chair will always be as visible behind your shoulders as a diamond tiara would be on your head.

Owen Jones, Coronavirus is not some great leveller: it is exacerbating inequality right now, Guardian. Abandon this sickly myth that we are all in this together.

Editorial Board, The America We Need, New York Times. The United States was ailing long before the coronavirus. This first in a series on how to narrow the divide separating affluent Americans from the growing portion of the population lacking any real security or shot at improvement.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Ideas That Won’t Survive the Coronavirus, New York Times. Our real enemy: not the virus but our response to the virus, a response that has been degraded and deformed by the structural inequalities of our society.

Morris Pearl, Billionaires are failing us when we need them most, CNN Business. The spreading coronavirus is laying bare the fundamental flaws with our country's reliance on philanthropic giving.

Jenice Robinson, Returning to the Economic Status Quo After COVID-19 Crisis Should Not Be an Option, JustTaxes. A full recovery will require lasting reforms that can help our economy work for everyone.

Walter Scheidel, Why the Wealthy Fear Pandemics, New York Times. The coronavirus, like other plagues before it, could shift the balance between rich and poor.

Astra Taylor, Cancelling student debt was always the right thing to do. Now it's imperative, Guardian. Why we need to think big and completely transform our economy from the ground up.

James Galbraith, Bad Economic Theory and Practice, Demolished, American Prospect. The current corona crash is exposing the foolishness of the economic doctrines that have justified enriching America's rich.

Eric Levitz, Coronavirus Is Forcing the GOP to (Tacitly) Admit Its Ideology Is Delusional, New York. A theory of government assembled out of the self-affirming delusions of the reactionary rich will always be be a poor compass for guiding the ship of state.

Leigh Osofsky, Striking Amazon, Instacart employees reveal how a basic economic principle could derail our ability to combat the coronavirus, The Conversation. We need to get serious about hazard pay for front-line workers. The market won't.

Leonard Goodman, Plutocratic Rule In A Pandemic Is Terrible For Our Health, National Memo. Hospitals worried about their bottom lines don’t stockpile masks and ventilators.

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