social safety net
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.
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.
See Sue Run (or deficit polling and taxing workers to fund programs for people who could get by without help) [New]
The National Journal polled Americans on questions surrounding the federal budget deficit (linked from Jon Walker). Did Americans blame the safety-net programs for the deficit in the federal budget?
As important, the survey found Americans unconvinced that safety-net programs represent a major source of the deficit problem. When asked to identify the biggest reason the federal government faces large deficits for the coming years, just 3 percent of those surveyed said it was because of “too much government spending on programs for the elderly”; only 14 percent said the principal reason was “too much government spending on programs for poor people.” Those explanations were dwarfed by the 24 percent who attributed the deficits primarily to excessive defense spending, and the 46 percent plurality who said their principal cause was that “wealthy Americans don’t pay enough in taxes.” While minorities were more likely than whites to pin the blame on the wealthy avoiding taxes, even 43 percent of whites agreed.
Given that diagnosis, it is perhaps not surprising that relatively few respondents said they would support major reductions in safety-net programs to reduce the deficit. Fully three-fourths of those polled said Social Security should be cut “not at all” to reduce the deficit, and exactly four-fifths said the same about Medicare. Nearly two-thirds even agreed that Medicaid should be entirely spared from cuts; just 5 percent said it should be cut a lot. There was more receptivity to retrenching food stamps and housing vouchers for the poor (only 51 percent said they should be entirely spared), but even so, just 9 percent said they should be cut “a lot.” Twice as many said defense should face big cuts.
And the accompanying graphic:
The 53% who think “the government taxes workers too much to fund programs for people who could get by without help” left me wondering who exactly are those “people who could get by without help.” Because Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Banks and so on certainly don’t need any government help. Another portion will define “people who could get by without help” as those that receive help from safety net programs. Probably many of those exclude themselves from those who get government help that they don’t need. B. Deutsch at ‘Alas! a Blog’ (linked by Meteor Blades), used data from Suzanne Mettler’s “Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenge of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era” that was published in Perspectives on Politics on September 2010 (pdf) and built a revealing table showing how little many people know about the government programs that they receive a boost from:
Percentage of Program Beneficiaries Who Report They “Have Not Used a Government Social Program” Program “No, Have Not Used a Government Social Program” 529 or Coverdell 64.3 Home Mortgage Interest Deduction 60.0 Hope or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit 59.6 Student Loans 53.3 Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit 51.7 Earned Income Tax Credit 47.1 Social Security—Retirement & Survivors 44.1 Pell Grants 43.1 Unemployment Insurance 43.0 Veterans Benefits (other than G.I. Bill) 41.7 G.I. Bill 40.3 Medicare 39.8 Head Start 37.2 Social Security Disability 28.7 Supplemental Security Income 28.2 Medicaid 27.8 Welfare/Public Assistance 27.4 Government Subsidized Housing 27.4 Food Stamps 25.4
Deutch based a cartoon on the data he gathered:
[The federal income tax] it’s not as progressive as it used to be, back before top marginal rates were lowered and capital gains taxes were slashed in half. But conservatives are a little less excited to talk about other kinds of taxes. Payroll taxes aren’t progressive, for example. In fact, they’re actively regressive, with the poor and middle classes paying higher rates than the rich.
And then there are state taxes. Those include state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and fees of various kinds. How progressive are state taxes?
Answer: They aren’t. The Corporation for Enterprise Development recently released a scorecard for all 50 states, and it has boatloads of useful information. That includes overall tax rates, where data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that in the median state (Mississippi, as it turns out) the poorest 20 percent pay twice the tax rate of the top 1 percent. In the worst states, the poorest 20 percent pay five to six times the rate of the richest 1 percent. Lucky duckies indeed. There’s not one single state with a tax system that’s progressive. Check the table below to see how your state scores.
On the 1st part of the first episode of Moyers and Company, On Winner-Take-All Politics, Bill Moyers explores how America’s vast inequality didn’t just happen, it’s been politically engineered. The 2nd part is an essay on the Occupy movement. Check the station-finder to find the time Moyers and Company airs and repeats on your PBS station (11am and 7pm on Chicago). Or watch all 57 minutes on BillMoyers.com. There is a transcript there too. Bill, also, has a 5 minute video essay on Bill Guthrie (web only) that was based on his ‘Is This Land Made for You and Me?’ essay.
Description of the first episode:
On Winner-Take-All PoliticsJanuary 13, 2012
In its premiere episode, Moyers & Company dives into one of the most important and controversial issues of our time: How Washington and Big Business colluded to make the super-rich richer and turn their backs on the rest of us.
Bill’s guests – Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, argue that America’s vast inequality is no accident, but in fact has been politically engineered.
How, in a nation as wealthy as America, can the economy simply stop working for people at large, while super-serving those at the very top? Through exhaustive research and analysis, the political scientists Hacker and Pierson — whom Bill regards as the “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” of economics — detail important truths behind a 30-year economic assault against the middle class.
Who’s the culprit? “American politics did it– far more than we would have believed when we started this research,” Hacker explains. “What government has done and not done, and the politics that produced it, is really at the heart of the rise of an economy that has showered huge riches on the very, very, very well off.”
Bill considers their book the best he’s seen detailing “how politicians rewrote the rules to create a winner-take-all economy that favors the 1% over everyone else, putting our once and future middle class in peril.”
The show includes an essay on how Occupy Wall Street reflects a widespread belief that politics no longer works for ordinary people, including footage we took at the OWS rally from October – December 2011.
OpenSecrets: A hard financial look at those SuperPACS
Poverty in America is only getting worse, with data showing rising income inequality and the startling fact that half of all Americans are now either in poverty or considered low-income. Were it not for the government programs that comprise the social safety net, those numbers would be even worse. More than a quarter would live in poverty without the safety net, according to one study, and Social Security alone kept 14 million out of poverty last year. Despite that, Congress — and particularly Republicans in Congress — have made cuts to various programs meant to aid the poorest Americans.
Congress reached a deal Thursday to avert a shutdown that would have begun at midnight tonight, and in doing so, Republicans found another low-income program to target, cutting funding for subsidies that help the poor stay warm during the winter by nearly 25 percent. At the same time, however, the Pentagon’s budget is getting a 1 percent boost, as the Associated Press noted:
Highlights of the $1 trillion-plus 2012 spending legislation in Congress:
—$518 billion for the Pentagon’s core budget, a 1 percent boost, excluding military operations overseas. [...]
—$3.5 billion for low-income heating and utility subsidies, a cut of about 25 percent.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has become increasingly vital for American families affected by the recession, and it is utilized more and more by military families. One of every five families using LIHEAP is a military family, a 156 percent increase from 2008. Congress, however, decided to cut that program to give a boost to a budget that already makes up 20 percent of the country’s total budget and has been spared in multiple spending agreements this year (the super committee trigger a notable exception).
Plenty of evidence exists that Congress should be focused on investing into programs that boost economic growth and job creation, rather than chasing fiscal austerity toward another recession. If it insists on cutting spending to deal with the deficit now, however, the least it could do is not take the knife to each and every program that helps the poor.
Congress wasn’t satisfied with only half of the people on poverty or low-income…