In Southern Spain, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, mayor of the small town of Marinaleda, is helping organize a growing protest movement against the austerity measures imposed by the Spanish government. Sánchez Gordillo and the landless peasants that follow him are at the forefront of demonstrations seeking a radical change in the country’s economic policies in response to the country’s worsening crisis.
Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo has become the face of the growing protest movement in Spain. The mayor of a small town in Southern Spain called Marinaleda, he has become well-known for leading combative protests and sit-ins, including a protest in a supermarket in which food was taken and redistributed to the poor. But Sánchez Gordillo has backed up his critiques of capitalism with a viable alternative. In his town of Marinaleda, there is full employment, people rent homes for 15 Euros a month, and everybody who works in the agricultural cooperative that was formed, including the mayor, earns the same salary.
Between 1989 and 2010, the top 1 percent of the population went from holding 30.1 percent of the wealth to 34.5 percent, while the bottom 50 percent went from having 3 percent of the wealth to having just 1.1 percent. That’s right: In 2010, 50 percent of Americans had 1.1 percent of the total net worth (PDF), according to the Congressional Research Service. The share of wealth held by the next 40 percent of people, up to the 90th percentile, had also dropped, from 29.9 percent to 24.3 percent. Put another way (and it’s stunning however you look at it), 10 percent of people have 74.5 percent of the wealth.
The median and mean household net worth dropped considerably between 2007 and 2010, but even as both dropped, inequality increased, with the median—the amount of wealth that half of people have more than and half of people have less than—dropping by 38.8 percent, while the mean—the amount you get when you add up all the wealth and divide it by the number of people—lost just 14.4 percent. That means that the amount everyone would have if wealth were distributed equally went from being 4.6 times the amount the person actually in the middle has to being 6.5 times that number.So: Prior to the financial crisis and the recession, there was massive inequality in America. Following the financial crisis and the recession, there is a Grand Canyon of inequality in America. For good reason, we talk a lot about how much of the wealth the top 1 percent have. We talk less about how little the bottom 50 percent have, but think about what it means that 50 percent of people have just over 1 percent of the money. Forget all the definitions you’ve heard of who is in the underclass. We’re on track to have “underclass” and “majority” be synonyms. And the Republicans have got a guy running for president who wants to speed the process.
No question that the Republican candidate wants to speed the process. The same thing applies to the Democratic candidate though.
from the transcript:
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.
Most central banks around the world preach fiscal discipline. Inflation is their biggest concern. And even when they do enter into some stimulus policies, the final objective is still the issue of lowering debt. Well, one central bank in the world apparently has a growth agenda, and that’s in Argentina.
Now joining us to talk about this is John Weeks. John just was in Argentina not very long ago. He’s a professor emeritus at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. He’s the author of the book Capital, Exploitation and Economic Crisis. He runs JWeeks.org. And he now joins us again from London. Thanks, John.
JOHN WEEKS, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UNIV. OF LONDON: Thank you.
JAY: So what did you make of what the central bank’s doing in Argentina?
WEEKS: It’s tremendously important, because in the 1990s Argentina was the epitome of a neoliberal monetary policy. It had something called a currency board, and that currency board involves taking the foreign exchange you hold, which is, in the case of Argentina, dollars, and that your domestic money supply is rigidly tied to the amount of dollars you hold. Of course, the amount of dollars you hold is a result of your imports and exports, the balance between the two, and so in effect you have no independent monetary policy. And it tended to be quite deflationary, that is, it tended to cause not only very low inflation, but actually negative rates, and also very slow growth.
At the end of the 1990s, the disaster that that policy had inherent in it was realized, and in 2001 and 2002 Argentina could no longer maintain that policy, because what it meant, basically, is that if you began to lose dollars because you were—Argentina was running a trade deficit, it meant you had to contract the economy, because you had to take your domestic currency out of circulation, more and more of your domestic currency out of circulation. And that led initially to a severe recession in the economy. When that could no longer be maintained and they temporarily went off the currency board, you had hyperinflation for a year.
Okay. The current government of Cristina Fernández has repudiated that policy. They have introduced a new central bank law (they had actually been practicing it, but they formalized it in this last March, just two months ago) which completely ends the currency board regime and replaces it with a central bank that facilitates a growth-oriented policy of the government. And it also is concerned about inflation, but inflation no longer becomes a constraint, the tail that wags the whole dog.
Paul Jay says until police and their political masters are held responsible under the criminal code, it can all happen again:
from the transcript:
It’s been two years since the Toronto G-20, two years since more than 1,000 people were arrested, hundreds of them brutally clubbed and violently assaulted by police. There’s been a series of reports looking into the police activities. First the Ontario Ombudsman issued a report. Then there was a civilian report looking into the activities of the RCMP, then the Ontario Independent Police Review Director, and now the Independent Civilian Review into matters relating to the G-20 summit—that’s the report issued by the civilian oversight board responsible for the Toronto Police.
Now that all the reviews and reports are in, the question remains: have people responsible been held accountable? And can it all happen again?
But before we dig into all of that, let’s remind ourselves what the G-20 was all about. Let’s take one more look at the big picture.
The 2010 G-20 in Toronto was a declaration by the global governing elite that the economic crisis, largely triggered by banks and financial institutions, would be paid for by ordinary people everywhere. It was also a declaration that force and the violation of basic civil rights would be used against those who protest and resist bearing the consequences of a crisis they didn’t cause. The more than 1,000 arrests at the Toronto G-20 was a statement by the governments of Canada, Ontario, and Toronto that mass protest would be met by mass arrests.
As I pointed out in a previous report, the missing words in the G-20 declaration were higher taxes on the wealthy and higher wages for workers—both obvious solutions to the stated goal of fighting deficits and dealing with a serious lack of demand in the economy.
What the G-20 leaders did agree to was this: “[The] advanced economies have committed to fiscal plans that will at least halve deficits by 2013 and stabilize or reduce government debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016″—we know that means cuts to pensions/social services and other austerity measures. We see this plan being played out across Europe and North America and other countries. The arrests at the G-20 were made in defense of this global strategy.
And now reports from the Ontario Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Ombudsman have made it clear: the police services responsible during the G-20 violated citizens’ right to free assembly and used excessive force in doing so.
Do you see ‘Tax Cuts’ there? No? Me neither. How about ‘Tax Code Loopholes’? No? No. Apparently spending less on ‘Tax Cuts’ or closing tax code loopholes is not an option. Conservative hegemony at work as Paul would say.
Rebecca Ray, a Research Associate for the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), explains in her Real News interview:
Transcript at the link:
REBECCA RAY: So the remarkable thing about Ecuador’s experience with the recession is that they came out of the recession after only three quarters of declining GDP, and it only took them four additional quarters to reach their previous GDP levels. Meanwhile, their poverty, unemployment levels, these are all lower than they were before the crisis already, well below. [Unemployment's] at a record low.
What an excellent film! I wonder how did I miss it all this time. Missing describes the story of the disappearance of U.S. citizen Charles Horman in the violent aftermath of the the 1973 military coup in Chile. Horman was in Chile at the time along with his wife, Beth Horman, and his friend, Terry Simon. His father, Ed Horman, flew to Chile to join Beth in trying to find Charles. Ed was under the impression the U.S. embassy in Chile would help him.
Here’s the description on the Wikipedia article:
Missing is a 1982 American drama film directed by Costa Gavras, and starring Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Melanie Mayron, John Shea, Charles Cioffi and Janice Rule. It is based on the true story of American journalist Charles Horman, who disappeared in the bloody aftermath of the US-backed Chilean coup of 1973 that deposed leftist President Salvador Allende.
The film was banned in Chile during Pinochet‘s dictatorship, even though neither Chile nor Pinochet are specifically mentioned by name in the film (although the Chilean cities of Viña del Mar and Santiago are).
Both the film and Thomas Hauser‘s book The Execution of Charles Horman were removed from the United States market following a lawsuit filed against Costa-Gavras and Universal Pictures‘s parent company MCA by former Ambassador Nathaniel Davis and two others for defamation of character. A lawsuit against Hauser himself was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. Davis and his compatriots lost their lawsuit, after which the film was re-released by Universal in 2006.
There is a fascinating interview with Peter Kornbluth, director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project at George Washington University, in the 2nd disc. As you can imagine the State Department took issue with the film at the time. When Bill Clinton declassified some relevant documents things changed. Can you imagine Barack Obama doing such a thing? Me neither.
Krugman wipes the floor with the two pro-austerity guests:
And the segment where Krugman detailed his view of the current situation to the BBC host:
UPDATE: There was another segment with Paul Krugman and an ex finance minister of Greece. It’s at the 6 minute mark:
And here’s the entire BBC program:
Writing at New Economic Perspectives, Bill Black goes into inevitable territory during an election cycle, in which we are being asked to choose between two brands of “austerity”: The Democratic Version or The Republican one. He’s lays out the problem on very realistic ground and let’s us know who the greater enemy to our economy really is: The Democrats.
After this election is finally over, the Democrats are going to go full bore on Social Security and every other social program they can get their grubby hands on. Nancy Pelosi, openly (and ironically) supported by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have already signaled their intent over the last few weeks. It’s just a shame we can’t have a debate on this before the election, when it might do more good.
So this piece is well-timed and very worthy of your attention. In my not-so-humble opinion:
To many people, it seems paradoxical that conservatives target not the worst social programs, but the best. There is no paradox. Bad government programs are desirable from the right’s perspective – they discredit government intervention. Good government programs pose an existential challenge to conservative memes, so they are the prime target for attack.
The attacks from the right, however, do not provide any guarantee of success. The right’s immense success has come from convincing large numbers of moderates and liberals to join the assault on successful government programs. The major financial deregulation bills that have shaped the criminogenic environments that produced the epidemics of accounting control fraud that have driven our recurrent, intensifying financial crises have enjoyed strong, even overwhelming, governmental support. The Garn-St Germain Act of 1982, the state S&L deregulation laws in Texas and California that “won” the regulatory “race to the bottom”, the “reinventing government” assault on financial regulation, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, and the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000, all enjoyed broad bi-partisan support. Laws making it extremely difficult for victims of securities fraud to obtain civil remedies passed with such strong bipartisan support that supporters were able to override President Clinton’s veto.
Just as only a conservative Republican like Nixon could begin to normalize diplomatic relationships with China without bearing a crippling political price, only “liberal” Democrats can safely begin the process of attacking Social Security. The rationale for the liberal assault on Social Security is “there is no alternative” (TINA). TINA is a particularly nonsensical argument in this context, however, because we are trying to recover from a Great Recession. There are vastly superior alternatives to cutting Social Security benefits, which could force the economy back into recession. There is also no need to cut Social Security benefits. The funding required to meet fulfill our promises is modest (relative to the U.S. economy) and poses no threat to our economy.
The progressive austerians are all the more remarkable because the economists and economic theories they rely on were wholly discredited even before Europe’s suicidal experiment with austerity. The neoclassical and Austrian economists that push austerity were the same economists who (1) propounded the anti-regulatory policies that caused the global crisis, (2) the opponents of counter-cyclical fiscal policies who predicted that pro-cyclical U.S. fiscal policies would speed the U.S. recovery while counter-cyclical policies would fail to spur growth and would cause inflation, and (3) the deficit hawks who claimed that counter-cyclical U.S. monetary and fiscal policies would cause hyper-inflation. The predictions of the proponents of austerity have proven consistently wrong and the proponents of counter-cyclical fiscal policies have proven consistently correct. The predictions of the proponents of counter-cyclical fiscal policies proved correct as to both the direction and the magnitude of the economic recovery. We argued from the beginning that the stimulus package was far too small and that there would be a financial disaster among many states and localities absent a program of federal revenue sharing.
Please do read the whole thing. It’s worth every minute of your time.
Transcript at the link:
BILL BLACK: Well, there were a series of articles in The New York Times covering the recent elections in Europe, particularly in France and Greece, but also mentioning Germany and England. And the common denominator in each of these elections was that the people rose up against the parties imposing Berlin’s austerity program, which has forced Europe back into recession and forced the periphery of Europe back into depression. And they rejected this soundly in these votes.
But the amazing thing was that The New York Times reporters were treating this like, well, these people must be financially illiterate, because everybody knows austerity is the only thing that can be done, and austerity must be done, and it’s good and such. So the more they destroy the economy, the more the New York Times reporters seem to think that destroying the economy is the objective.
And Paul Krugman has been very good. He is, after all, Nobel laureate in economics. He writes a regular column for The New York Times, and for months he’s been explaining how insane the austerity program is. But apparently the New York Times reporters don’t read their own Nobel prize winning economists.
PS. There is an update to the previous post as well.
The Greek people went to the polls yesterday and the pro-austerity parties didn’t fare well. Democracy isn’t conductive to austerity. Wikipedia has the election results:
Summary of the 6 May 2012 Hellenic Parliament election result Party Leader(s) Votes % +/– Seats +/– New Democracy Antonis Samaras 1,191,989 18.85% –14.62 108 17 Coalition of the Radical Left Alexis Tsipras 1,061,158 16.78% +11.15 52 39 Panhellenic Socialist Movement Evangelos Venizelos 833.456 13.18% –30.74 41 119 Independent Greeks Panos Kammenos 670,550 10.6% New 33 33 Communist Party Aleka Papariga 536,045 8.48% +0.94 26 5 Golden Dawn Nikolaos Michaloliakos 438,910 6.97% +6.68 21 21 Democratic Left Fotis Kouvelis 386,090 6.11% New 19 19
So, the Coalition of the Radical Left gets 17% of the vote while the conservative New Democracy gets 19%, but that translates to 52 seats for the Coalition and 108 seats for the conservatives. If you keep reading the Wikipedia article, you learn that the party that gets the most votes, gets a 50 seat bonus. That’s one screwed-up electoral system. I should note that the Panhellenic Socialist Movement is socialist only in its name. It and New Democracy are the two pro-austerity parties. In the 2009 Elections they combined for 77% of the vote (44% for the Movement and 33% for the conservatives).
There is a transcript at the link
In 2010, as the nation slowly ground its way from Great Recession to recovery, 93 percent of national income gains went to the richest 1 percent of Americans. As Reuters’s David Cay Johnston pointed out today, this makes the 2010 recovery quite different from the recovery that followed the Great Depression, as then, income gains were widely shared by the population, not concentrated at the very top:
The 1934 economic rebound was widely shared, with strong income gains for the vast majority, the bottom 90 percent.
In 2010, we saw the opposite as the vast majority lost ground.
National income gained overall in 2010, but all of the gains were among the top 10 percent. Even within those 15.6 million households, the gains were extraordinarily concentrated among the super-rich, the top one percent of the top one percent.
Just 15,600 super-rich households pocketed an astonishing 37 percent of the entire national gain.
During the recovery, corporate profits have also roared back, already hitting their pre-recession heights. Wages, however, have not done the same.
Not only was the recovery of the bottom 90% nowhere near the recovery of the top 0.1%, but the bottom 90% went backward.
There was a brief debate focused on the following question: would the gains of the economy continue to accrue to the top 1% once the recovery started, or would the top 1% have a weak post-recession showing in terms of raw income growth as well as income share of the economy? The top 1% had a rough Great Recession. They absorbed 50% of the income losses, and their share of income dropped from 23.5% to 18.1% percent. Is this a new state of affairs, or would the 1% bounce back in 2010?
Well we finally have the estimated data for 2010 by income percentile, and it turns out that the top 1% had a fantastic year. The data is in the World Top Income Database, as well as Emmanuel Saez’s updated Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (as well as the excel spreadsheet on his webpage). Timothy Noah has a first set of responses here. The takeaway quote from Saez should be: “The top 1% captured 93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery.”
… As you can image, this has increased the percentage of the economic pie that the top 1% takes home. As Saez notes, “excluding realized capital gains, the top decile share in 2010 is equal to 46.3%, higher than in 2007.”
… It’s also worth mentioning that, pre-Recession, inequality hadn’t been that high since the Great Depression, and we are looking to rapidly return to that state. It’s important to remember that a series of choices were made during the New Deal to react to runaway inequality, including changes to progressive taxation, financial regulation, monetary policy, labor unionization, and the provisioning of public goods and guaranteed social insurance. A battle will be fought over the next decade – it’s been fought for the past three years – on all these fronts. The subsequent resolution will determine how broadly-shared prosperity is going forward and whether or economy will continue to be as unstable as it has been.
The low taxing of capital gains plays a huge part in this. The special treatment it is given should’ve stopped. But, as Meteor Blades says, the 1% thinks taking the 93% of the recovery is the way things should be.