Category Archives: Income disparity

Quiet Distress Among the (Ex) Rich

While the wealthy don’t get much sympathy on this website, the restructuring of the economy to save the banks at the expense of pretty much everyone else has hurt some former members of the top 1% and even the 0.1%. And it’s also worth mentioning that some of the former members of the top echelon occupied it when the distance between the rich and everyone else was much narrower than it is now.

The fact that economic distress has moved pretty high up the food chain is a sign that this recovery isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

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Bill Moyers on The Lives of the Very Very Rich

Yves here. While this site talks regularly about the 1% and the 0.1%, we don’t often give a more specific idea of who they are. A recent Bill Moyers show gave a vignette of the super-rich, not just the 0.1%, but the 0.01%, who as we know all too well are playing a vastly disproportionate role in reshaping politics and our society.

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Suit on Animator Wage Suppression Shows Another Face of How Capital Squeezes Labor

Mark Ames reports on the latest revelations in a major anti-trust case against Silicon Valley giants including Disney, Sony, Dreamworks, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. For tech titans, enough is apparently never enough.

The earlier chapters of this sorry saga exposed a long-standing scheme by which major tech companies including Apple, Google, Adobe, Intuit, Intel, Lucasfilm and Pixar colluded to suppress wages of an alleged one million workers. The collusion was agreed at the CEO level of all the participants and memorialized through written agreements.

A related private suit was filed last September by animator against nine movie industry heavyweights including Walt Disney Animation, Dreamworks Animation, Sony Pictures, LucasFilm and Pixar. It alleged similar conduct to the bigger Silicon Valley wage-suppression suit. Among other things, the companies not just compared pay levels but agreed to fix them, and also signed agreements not to recruit from each other.

An amended complaint in the animator suit added two studios to the complaint and far more important, exposed that the wage-fixing scheme was far longer standing that previously thought. K

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Workers vs. Undocumented Immigrants: The Politics of Divide & Conquer

Yves here. Obama’s plan to give 4 million illegal immigrants temporary suspension from deportation has amped up the intensity of the already-heated debate over immigration and competition for US jobs from foreign workers.

This Real News Network interview with Bill Barry, who has organized documented and undocumented workers in the textile industry, makes an argument at a high level that many will find hard to dispute: that the fight over immigration reform and the status of undocumented immigrants diverts energy and attention from the ways in which a super-rich class is taking more and more out of the economy, to the detriment of laborers.

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High Marginal Tax Rates on the Top 1%

Optimal tax rates for the rich are a perennial source of controversy. This column argues that high marginal tax rates on the top 1% of earners can make society as a whole better off. Not knowing whether they would ever make it into the top 1%, but understanding it is very unlikely, households especially at younger ages would happily accept a life that is somewhat better most of the time and significantly worse in the rare event they rise to the top 1%.

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Masaccio: Piketty Shreds Marginal Productivity as Neoclassical Justification for Supersized Pay

Yves here. One of the main agendas of neoclassical economics is to give Panglossian defenses of the current order a veneer of intellectual legitimacy. If our system is the result of individuals and businesses behaving in logical ways, at least in the minds of economists, surely the outcome is inevitable, and therefore virtuous, or else those operators would do things differently. The Big Lie in all of this is that neoclassical economics takes power completely out of the equation. While it does assume selfishness, in that everyone is out or himself to maximize his utility, it also assumes atomized actors who lack the power to influence markets.

One instructive way to see how these arguments break down is by looking at neoclassical economists justify large disparities in pay. Piketty shows that the idea that people are paid what they are worth, or in neoliberal-speak, according to their marginal productivity, to be a sham

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Corporate Profit Margins vs. Wages in One Disturbing Chart

Yves here. This brief post by Doug Short is even more important than it appears to be. We had an outburst of neoliberal orthodoxy in comments yesterday on a post that discussed how wealth of most households had fallen since 1987. Some readers assigned blame for stagnant average worker wages (which was a big contributor to the lack of growth in household wealth) to immigrants, particularly Mexicans and H1-B visa workers.

The Doug Short chart below looks at corporate profit share versus labor share. This pinpoints the degree to which wage stagnation is the result of corporate managers and executives succeeding in cutting the pie to favor themselves (executive pay has become increasingly linked to stock prices, and relentless focus on short-term earnings, as well as stock buybacks, do wonders for earnings per share).

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Wealth of Most US Households Has Fallen Over the Last 25 Years

Yves here. This Real News Network interview on the results of the latest Survey of Consumer Finances paint a picture familiar to most readers: the rich are becoming richer while those with less wealth are falling further and further behind.

David Rosnick of CEPR makes an important observation in passing. The decline in the position of typical households is even worse the the Consumer Finances survey indicates. In 1989, many workers had pensions. Far fewer do now. The value of pensions isn’t included in these surveys due to the difficulty of determining what they are worth on a current basis. But they clearly are significant assets that relatively few working age people have now.

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Matt Stoller: Why the Democratic Party Acts The Way It Does

There is no end to the whining from Democratic activists after a rotten election, and no end to finger pointing after legislative defeats on contentious questions. This story in the Washington Post is the tell-all of the 2014 wipe-out, featuring the standard recriminations between the President and Congress. In it, the chief of staff of the Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, David Krone, attacks the White House. “We were never going to get on the same page… We were beating our heads against the wall.” The litany of excuses is long. Democratic candidates were arrogant. The White House failed to transfer money, or stump effectively. The GOP caught up in the technology race, or the GOP recruited excellent disciplined candidates.

Everything is put on the table, except the main course — policy. Did the Democrats run the government well? Are the lives of voters better? Are you as a political party credible when you say you’ll do something?

This question is never asked, because Democratic elites — ensconced in the law firms, foundations, banks, and media executive suites where the real decisions are made — basically agree with each other about organizing governance around the needs of high technology and high finance. The only time the question even comes up now is in an inverted corroded form, when a liberal activist gnashes his or her teeth and wonders — why can’t Democrats run elections around populist themes and policies?

This is still the wrong question, because it assumes the wrong causality.

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Exploding Wealth Inequality in the United States

Yves here. This is a particularly important post on the state of inequality since Emanuel Saez, working with Thomas Piketty, was for over a decade tracking the rise in inequality in the US, particularly the way that the top 1% and 0.1% were pulling away from the rest of the population. Gabriel Zucman has made a recent important contribution to the analysis of wealth disparity by sizing the impact on global figures of the funds stashed in tax havens. A full 6% goes unrecorded, which by his estimates is enough to make the US less of a net debtor, Europe a net creditor, and of course, the rich in those regions even richer.

Saez and Zucman are particularly concerned that this level of wealth inequality is on its way to becoming entrenched.

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The Unattainable Illusion of Meritocracy

I’m a big fan of Richard Bookstaber, the author of the important book A Demon of Our Own Design. And while I’m glad to see a rare new post from him, on how to deal with the matter of inequality (as in whether to deal with the problem ex ante, by creating more equal opportunities, or ex post, by trying to reduce disparities of outcomes), I found one of the core parts of his discussion, on merit and meritocracy, to be maddening. In fairness, this isn’t Bookstaber’s fault; he’s working within an established framework of thinking on this topic.

Repeat after me: in complex societies and organizations, merit is a complete illusion.

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Adair Turner: The Consequences of Money-Manager Capitalism

Yves here. This is a terrific interview with Lord Adair Turner, former head of the FSA. Most of it focuses on the things missed in contemporary economics, particularly macroeconomics, and how some disciplinary “back to the future” would be desirable. A major topic of discussion is how wealth is becoming as concentrated as it was in the 18th century, and the driver then and now was the disproportionately large role real estate has come to play. Then, it was income-producing agricultural land. Now it is urban property, bid up by domestic and international elites who want to live in particularly prized cities. Turner points out the irony that access to cheap finance for housing, meant to help middle and lower income buyers, has instead contributed to rising wealth inequality. He also describes how the ability of banks and financial markets to supply virtually unlimited amounts of credit, against a limited stock of particularly sought-after locations, has the potential to create tulip-mania type results.

Perhaps due to time constraints, Turner didn’t venture into the views of classical economists, that profiting from land, which they derided as rentier capitalism, was economically unproductive. As Michael Hudson has stressed, they urged heavy taxation of land as the remedy.

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