Lessons from the railroad workers.

We see two ways to understandwhat happened to railway workers last week. The first: The White House successfully averted a nationwide strike. The second: The just demands of railroad workers largely went ignored in the name of keeping the economy, so to speak, “on track.” We’re on board with the latter.

But we also realize that a large-scale strike of U.S. railroad workers would have had a consequential impact. Railroad workers do essential work. That’s exactly the point these workers have been trying to make. Like other essential workers, they pay a heavy price for the labor they do.

In California, for example, railway workers have turned out to be twice as likely to die from Covid as workers in all other other industries. But that’s where greed comes in. As The Lever’s David Sirota notes, providing all railway workers seven paid sick days a year would cost the rail industry $321 million. For comparison, railroad baron Warren Buffett just nonchalantly funneled $750 million into his own foundation.

The plight of our railroad workers should serve as a reminder to us all that as we rebuild from a global pandemic, the goal shouldn’t just be a return to “normal,” but rather something new and even revolutionary.

Chuck Collins and Rebekah Entralgo,
for the Institute for Policy Studies Inequality.org team
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The Stories This Disney Tells Can Help Tax the Rich
Abigail Disney knows a thing or two about telling stories. As she admits in the trailer for her latest film, The American Dream and other Fairy Tales: “Having the last name Disney is like having a weird superpower you didn’t ask for.”

In this new film, Disney — the granddaughter of Roy Disney, the co-founder of The Walt Disney company — weaves the story of the destructive inequality inside the company that bears her last name. A custodian at Disney, she notes, “would have to work for 2,000 years” to make what Disney CEO Bob Iger routinely has made in one.

Last week, the documentarian-activist released a new storytelling project: a radio documentary on the “reluctant” Patriotic Millionaires, a group of hyper-wealthy tax-the-rich advocates and their allies. Disney’s work chronicles the political awakenings that brought these millionaires to the conclusion that too few have far too much — and that these too few need to become advocates for rigorous reform.

Keep an ear out as you listen for our Inequality.org’s Chuck Collins discussing how the tax code turns philanthropy into a “naked exercise in power” for our wealthiest. Above a certain level, he notes, wealth becomes “the power to influence your environment.” That power, we believe, should extend far beyond the ultra-rich. Check out Abigail Disney’s new BBC audio documentary at the link below.

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Crypto’s Future Clouds for a ‘Visionary’ Billionaire
Another week, another spectacular crypto flame-out, this time the bankruptcy filing of cryptocurrency’s BlockFi, the latest “black eye,” the Wall Street Journal reports, for one of crypto’s biggest boosters, the billionaire investor Peter Thiel. Back in 2018, this self-styled Silicon Valley “disrupter” declared that “getting too late and too little in bitcoin” amounted to his “biggest mistake.” This past April, Thiel lashed out at crypto skeptics and told a Miami conference that bitcoin amounted to a “revolutionary youth movement.” One of those “revolutionaries,” Thiel protégé Blake Masters, won the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Arizona this past summer declaring that “psychopaths are running the country.” Masters lost his November race handily. A year ago, Thiel dubbed crypto “the most honest market we have.” The crypto universe is telling us, he added, that our “decrepit” ruling political world stands “just about to blow up.” What’s actually blowing up has turned out to be the speculative get-rich-quick crypto. Thiel has so far refused all comment on that blow-up.
How Community Can Build an Inclusive Economy
The holiday season often brings a time for reflection. Across the world, families and communities gather to discuss lessons learned and visions for the future. In Greater Birmingham, Alabama, over 1,000 residents — from the majority-Black core city to the majority-white suburbs and outlying rural areas — are doing just that, participating in surveys and focus groups to discuss how the city should distribute the benefits of its recent resurgence in economic growth. Despite their class and racial differences, Birmingham residents share a clear-eyed vision of what they want for the city: investments in public transportation, affordable child care, and decreased housing costs. Learn more from this comprehensive report by Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow Marc Bayard.
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Tax America’s Richest? We Actually Did That Once
Once upon a time, the United States seriously taxed the nation’s rich. You remember that time? Probably not. To have a personal memory of that tax-the-rich era, you now have to be well into your seventies. Back at the tail-end of that era, in the early 1960s, America’s richest faced a 91 percent tax rate on income in the top tax bracket. That top rate had been hovering around 90 percent for the previous two decades. In the 1950s, a Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, made no move to knock it down. So what happened to the tax-the-rich era? Inequality.org's Sam Pizzigati has more.
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What's on Inequality.org 

Chuck Collins, Helen Flannery, and Bella DeVaan, ‘Tis Always the Season for Billionaire Philanthropy. Americans are their most charitable at year’s end. But even on Giving Tuesday, billionaire donors crowd out the impact of small-dollar gifts.

Phil Mattera, Railway Vote Benefits One of the Least Deserving Industries. Railways owned by the mega-rich racked up huge penalties for mistreatment of workers in the years leading up to the current labor dispute.

Elsewhere on the Web

James Steele, How four decades of tax cuts fueled inequality, Center for Public Integrity. Average people struggle as only the wealthy and their businesses benefit.

Xochitl Gonzalez, Billionaires, Why Can’t We Quit You? The Atlantic. Americans love skewering the ultrarich. Why do we lack the political will to actually challenge them?

Julia Davies and Winsome Hill, One of us is a millionaire, the other a care worker. The cruel divide between rich and poor disgusts us both, The Guardian. The case for a wealth tax.

Hadas Thier, After Sam Bankman-Fried’s Downfall, the Entire Crypto Fantasy Is Rapidly Unraveling, Jacobin. The next time a speculative bubble is massively inflating around a fancy new asset like cryptocurrency and financial carnival barkers are screaming it will change everything, remember NFTs.

Dean Baker, OMG, a Right-Wing Jerk Can Buy Twitter! Media Concentration Matters, Center for Economic and Policy Research. Media outlets, owned and controlled by rich people or their large corporations, will always deliver an extremely wealthy person’s perception of the public good.

Bill Platt, Shining a Spotlight on the Super-Rich, Dartmouth. Sociology has been making claims to know something about inequality, but those claims will remain bogus so long as most sociologists just study poor people and ignore the wealthiest among us.

Rhymer Rigby, The best people to convince the rich to pay more tax are . . . the rich, Financial Times. Enlightened self-interest, perhaps, but the very rich are speaking out.

Andreas Kluth, Elon Musk and the Confessions of an Ayn Rand Reader, Bloomberg. What initially looked like romantic intensity suddenly just looks sadomasochistic.
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