We can reduce inequality again - and maybe this time around learn enough from our past to keep wealth equality growing for more than a single generation.
Most all of us, I suspect, couldn’t wait for 2020 to end. But celebrating this particular new year now upon us hasn’t been easy. Covid-19 deaths are still setting daily records. Billionaire wealth, as I related to the Financial Times a few days ago, is still surging. And as I stated in my interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, our richest are continuing to profit exorbitantly off the services the pandemic has made essential, everything from drug research to videoconferencing.

But we do certainly have some cause for cheer. The White House’s first billionaire president is finally exiting, and the top lawmaker in Congress is channeling Franklin Roosevelt. House speaker Nancy Pelosi has just announced a new Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. She’s modeling this new panel, Pelosi told reporters last week, on the Temporary National Economic Committee FDR created in 1938 “to study and combat the concentration of wealth in America.”

In the quarter-century after 1938, we did combat wealth inequality. We created a substantially more equal America. We can do that again — and maybe this time around learn enough from our past to keep wealth equality growing for more than a single generation.

Chuck Collins, for the Institute for Policy Studies Inequality.org team
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Recreating Our Most Famous Inequality Photo
In 2004, Brazilian photographer Tuca Vieira shot what became known as the world’s most famous photograph of inequality — an aerial view of a luxury apartment complex looming over a São Paulo shantytown. Vieira recently flew back to this iconic scene with the South Africa-based photographer Johnny Miller, whose drone-assisted images of spatial inequality have appeared in exhibitions around the world. In a new Inequality.org exclusive, Miller shares what they found and explains how jarring photos of our stark divides can contribute directly to the fight against inequality. Writes Miller: “If the images provoke uncomfortable feelings of fear, despair, or an unsettling realization of complicity — good. They are intended to.”
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Evictions? Nah. Just Invites to Exit the Premises
Has the Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm, been evicting tenants during the pandemic? How dare anyone make that charge! The only evictions that have involved Blackstone, a company flack insisted to a Daily Poster reporter last month, involved “matters of public nuisance and/or risk to public health or public safety.” But that doesn’t quite square with the spirited defense of landlord greed that Blackstone’s billionaire CEO Stephen Schwartzman delivered December 9 at a Goldman Sachs financial conference. Schwartzman reminded the Wall Streeters on hand that Blackstone hit the jackpot during the 2008 crisis by buying up foreclosures and converting then into lucrative rentals. He went on to predict that “something similar is going to happen” with the current crisis. To keep that “something” as profitable as possible, Schwartzman — Wall Street’s top individual political donor — has his Blackstone execs investing heavily in pols who tend to see eviction moratoriums as an attack on landlord freedom. The Private Equity Stakeholder Project, meanwhile, has been tracking Blackstone evictions in states from Florida to Arizona. Schwartzman’s current net worth: $21.3 billion.
Congressional Progressive Caucus 2021 Agenda
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, under the leadership of Seattle dynamo Rep. Pramila Jayapal, has unveiled a set of legislative priorities that can strike a major blow against inequality. The new CPC “People’s Agenda” begins with Covid relief that goes far beyond the just-passed aid package, especially for people of color and low-income Americans. The Agenda calls, for example, for hazard pay and strong workplace health and safety protections for frontline workers and debt cancellation for holders of student and medical debt. The People’s Agenda also aims to jumpstart an equitable economic recovery that creates good jobs, empowers workers, and accelerates the transformation to a renewable energy economy. Progressives in Congress will be fighting as well to ensure that the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street pay their fair tax share and to redirect military spending to meet social needs. The Institute for Policy Studies has joined with the Poor People’s Campaign to analyze the potential benefits of the Progressive Caucus plan.
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In 2021, Let’s Ring a Global Alarm — on Inequality
Covid-19 will indeed eventually ebb, but inequality is slowing that ebbing. One reflection of inequality’s sobering impact: We’re now privileging the already privileged in the emerging chaotic rush to administer precious life-saving vials of vaccine. Our billionaire vaccine makers, meanwhile, are fighting off efforts to move vaccine patents into some sort of emergency public domain status, a step that would enable wider and faster vaccine manufacture and distribution, especially within poorer societies worldwide. And still another key reason inequality is slowing progress against the pandemic: The less equal societies become, new research shows, the less they seem to trust science. Inequality.org co-editor Sam Pizzigati has more.
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This week on Inequality.org 

Sarah Anderson, Why Can’t CEOs Pay For Their Own 3-Martini Lunch? Buried in the Covid relief deal: a provision that will require taxpayers to subsidize lavish business meals for corporate executives.

Jen Moore, No Holiday for Honduran Anti-Mining Activists Fighting for Freedom. A judge has refused to release eight water protectors detained for over a year for protesting against a mining project that threatens local rivers.

Toby Freeman, Fran Baum, Hailay Gesesew, and Connie Musolino, In the Fight Against Poor Health, the USA Is Punching Well Below Its Weight. By focusing more on battling inequality, new research shows, the United States could significantly improve American life expectancy.

Chuck Collins, MacKenzie Scott’s Bold and Direct Giving Puts Shame to the Billionaire Class and their Perpetual Private Foundations. This philanthropist continues to defy the charitable norms of the 1 percent.

Elsewhere on the Web

Ben Phillips, 2020 was the year of inequality: can we turn it around in 2021? Reuters. Crises make malleable formerly rigid social and political structures. Which direction they bend depends entirely on the direction in which they are pressed.

Matt Bruenig, How Should We Understand Capital Income Inequality? People's Policy Project. Public ownership of capital remains one of the most overlooked topics in contemporary discussions of inequality.

Samantha Waxman and Elizabeth McNichol, Improved State Taxes on Wealth, High Incomes Can Help Fuel an Equitable Recovery, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A compelling and comprehensive case for raising state taxes on wealth and high incomes at a time when Covid has largely spared the awesomely affluent.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook, Hospital CEOs Have Gotten Rich Cutting Staff and Supplies. Now They’re Not Ready for the Next Wave, Intercept. Many ostensibly “nonprofit” hospitals have come to operate as profit-maximizing monopolies, with the excess going to executive compensation instead of dividends.

Christopher Ingraham, ‘Trickle-down’ tax cuts make the rich richer but are of no value to overall economy, study finds, Washington Post. The best mainstream media write-up yet on the recently released landmark study on what happens when nations cut the taxes rich people pay.

Dean Baker, End of the Year Thoughts on Inequality and Its Remedies, Beat the Press. Why we need to — and how we can — reduce the amount of before-tax income that goes to those at the income top.

Brian Chappatta, The Fed Is Powerful, Except in Fighting Wealth Inequality, Bloomberg. Lawmakers have ceded too much responsibility to the Fed, an institution ill-equipped to address wealth inequality.

Robin Wilson, Capital and Ideology: an interview with Thomas Piketty, Social Europe. On taxing wealth and democratizing corporations.

Lynn Fries, Polarization, Then a Crash: Michael Hudson on the Rentier Economy, GPE News. How the finance sector works to generate inequality.

Eleanor Penny, Billionaires Want to Be the Gatekeepers of the Solar System, In These Times. Space is the final (profitable) frontier, and it’s become Elon Musk’s for the taking.

Nick Martin, Wall Street Vultures Are Ready to Get Rich From Water Scarcity, New Republic. In California “water futures” signal a transformation of water from basic right into luxury good.

Ryan Cooper, Plutocrat charity is no substitute for a welfare state, The Week. In a democracy, all people should share in the wealth produced by society, not just those who catch the eye of plutocrats.

Matt Stoller, Crime Shouldn't Pay: Why Big Tech Executives Should Face Jail, BIG. Our billionaire monopolist lawbreakers today should have to worry about handcuffs.

Edgar Villanueva, MacKenzie Scott’s philanthropy is admirable. But why is it possible? Washington Post. Now more than ever, we should be examining the system that props up some and suppresses others.

Richard Florida, What Happens When the 1% Go Remote, Bloomberg. We vote with our feet, goes the old saying. What the rich are doing to cities amounts to more like a kick in the teeth.

Venessa Wong, 2020 Made Income Inequality in the US Even Worse, Buzzfeed. If you still need proof we have a world built for helping the wealthy succeed, take a look at how fortunes diverged this past year.
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