Posts Tagged ‘distribution of wealth’

It’s hard to believe, but there are a few good things coming out of the Coronavirus, economic, and systemic racism crises. The personal and societal tragedies far outweigh these bright spots, but they’re worth mentioning nonetheless. It’s always good to remind oneself that things aren’t quite as bad as they seem.

Here are some of the silver linings. Let’s take the darkest, foulest of “silver linings” — a “silver lining” akin to that you’d get by dropping a scratched-up, stamped-metal spoon into a septic tank, hauling it out two years later, holding it up to the sun, and regarding its glowing, rusty edge alight with filigreed fecal matter: that glowing, tangerine-colored fecal matter being Donald Trump. Here are the relatively good things about him:

  • Donald Trump is a moron, too stupid to understand his own best interests. Yes, Trump’s incompetence, his complete failure to lead during a deadly pandemic, has already cost well over 100,000 lives, and will likely lead to at least twice that. But when he came into office, Trump had a chance to completely destroy what passes for American democracy — that chance supplied by both the outright racist, authoritarian Republican Party and the screw-the-poor, authoritarian, corporate-servant Democrats, such as the Clintons, Obama, Holder, Biden, Schumer, and Pelosi, who all pursued Republican economic and social policies that resulted in an ever-expanding wealth gap, grossly inadequate and unequal healthcare and education, mass incarceration, and the police as uniformed, above-the-law terrorists.

If the Republicans had placed in power a capable fascist, who handled the Coronavirus pandemic competently, it’d likely be game over: he’d be immensely popular — and he’d have ushered in outright totalitarianism, which Trump obviously yearns for. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the Republicans installed Donald Trump, an outright idiot, too stupid to understand even the most basic of his own best interests. (We’re talking about a man so stupid he managed to bankrupt several casinos — otherwise known as licenses to print money — who began receiving a $200,000-a-year allowance at age three, who received over $400 million from his dad, and who was so incompetent he’d be much better off today if he’d just put his money into an index fund.) Trump’s self-sabotaging stupidity has given us vitally necessary breathing room.

  • Trump is a bullying sadist who brags about sexually assaulting women and his anti-LGBT Bigotry. Trump’s boasting about his sexual assaults, with over 20 credible accusers, including three who’ve accused him of rape; his utterly creepy comments about how “hot” his daughter is and how he’d like to date her; his condescending and dismissive attitude toward women; and his assaults on women’s reproductive rights have left him massively unpopular with women, and hence headed for defeat. (I’m a guy, and reading about Trump’s assaults on women leaves me wanting to take a shower; I’m sure the reaction is even more visceral for most women.)

Trump has also been pandering to his theo-fascist evangelical base by attacking gay human rights. This is already backfiring, furthering isolating the Republicans from the American mainstream.

  • Trump is an outright racist. Race-baiting has always been Trump’s stock in trade. Starting with the Obama birth certificate bullshit, and followed up by separating families seeking asylum (literally tearing babies out of their mothers’ arms), locking immigrant kids up in cages, and attempting to deport kids who were brought here without documentation and have spent their entire lives here, Trump has made it very plain that one of the most important Republican playing cards, perhaps the most important, is outright racism. Since the supposedly decent Republicans have seen fit to in no wise oppose Trump’s vicious actions, they’ve made it plain that racism is the Republican calling card — as it’s been since passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the consequent Republican Southern Strategy, replete with race baiting and voter suppression. Now, that Republican racism is out in the open (no more need for dog whistles), the Republicans have to own it, and they’re on a demographic suicide course. Trump has accelerated this day of reckoning.
  • Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. For this, we should thank Trump. Clinton was the ultimate, entitled, neo-liberal Washington insider. During the 2016 primary campaign, she rained down fire on Bernie Sanders’ mild, common-sense reforms within capitalism (reforms which he inexplicably labeled a “revolution” — bad branding if there ever was bad branding). Clinton was the ultimate status quo candidate. Had she won, the underlying, festering problems — a grossly unequal distribution of wealth and income, an ever-expanding surveillance state, grossly inadequate healthcare, stagnating wages, staggering student debt, an accelerating climate-change crisis — would have gone unaddressed (especially wealth and income distribution), or barely addressed, the Republicans could have run against her without having any real solutions to anything (as has become obvious), they could well have kept control of both the Senate and the House, and in 2020 they could have run an intelligent fascist who could have completely destroyed our sad farce of a democracy en route to an environmental apocalypse. Clinton, her husband, Biden, Obama, et al., paved the way for a Republican fascist. Thank god the Republicans chose one who’s uniquely loathsome and utterly incompetent.

Trump, with his bargain-basement Mussolini act, has alerted a great many people to the looming threat of fascism, and has provoked a huge progressive backlash. Where it will lead, no one knows, but the backlash against Trump, racism, economic disparity, and Trump’s callous, deliberately cruel policies provides at least some hope. One of those hopes is that the Republican Party will become a rump party influential in only the most religiously, socially, and culturally vicious and benighted parts of the country.

There’s one more related, relatively bright spot:

  • Joe Biden is an unprincipled opportunist who’s been in thrall to corporate interests his entire career. He’s made a career of catering to corporate interests (e.g., the bankruptcy bill that made it almost impossible to discharge student debt), advocating mass incarceration (his 1994 crime bill), and supporting Obama’s persecution of patriotic whistle blowers such as Ed Snowden. The good news here is that Biden is an unprincipled opportunist — but a smart one, at least smarter than Trump. He knows which way the wind is blowing, and he’ll probably bend accordingly. He might try to institute at least a few of the desperately needed reforms because he’ll think it’s to his political advantage to do so. I certainly hope so.

We’ll shortly deal with the silver linings of the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic collapse. (And, yes, there are some silver linings there, too.)



We put up our 1,000th post a little over a week ago. We’re now looking through everything we’ve posted, and are putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the sixth of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We’ve already posted the Science Fiction, HumorMusicInterviews, and Addictions lists, and will shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Anarchism, Atheism, Politics, Religion, Science, and Skepticism.

Best Economics Posts

by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

American workers work longer hours and get far fewer vacation days than workers in other industrialized countries. The average American work week is 47 hours, with fully half of employed American workers working in excess of 40 hours per week. At the same time, Americans get no paid maternity leave and far fewer paid days off and vacation days than workers in other industrialized nations.  In the U.S., the average number of paid days off/vacation days is only 13. In Austria it’s 38, in Portugal 35, Spain 34, France and Italy 31, and 30 in Belgium, Germany, and New Zealand.

To make all this even more bothersome, productivity in the U.S. has soared decade after decade, averaging over 1.75% annually since 1973, the high point of real wages in the U.S.  Compounded, that equals an 80%+ increase in productivity since 1973, which means that to maintain the same average standard of living we should (figuring a 40-hour work week in 1973) only be working 22 hours per week now, had wages kept pace with productivity increases. They haven’t. Even the rosiest estimates of wage increases in that period peg them at only 10% (New York Times), while Bureau of Labor Statistics figures reported by Pew Research indicate an approximately 9% decrease in wages. Pew also reports that wages for the top 25% of wage earners have increased somce 2000, with the wages of the top 10% rising approximately 10% in the same period (though they haven’t kept up with productivity increases, which averaged 2% per year); at the same time, real wages for the bottom 50% declined.

Where has all of the money gone? Most of it has gone to the top 10% of the population, and especially the top 1%. The higher you go, the greater the increase in wealth.
As of 2010, the top 1% owned 42% of financial (nonhome) wealth, and currently the top .1% own as much as the bottom 90% combined–and almost all of the bottom 90%’s wealth is concentrated toward the top; the bottom 50% of the population own essentially nothing beyond an old car, household goods, and if fortunate a heavily mortgaged home. And this situation has only grown worse in recent decades. In 1983, the top 20% owned 91% of financial wealth and the bottom 80% owned 8.7%. By 2010 that figure was 95.6% for the top 20% and 4.7% for the bottom 80%.  By 2012, Forbes reports that the the top 1%’s financial wealth had increased another percentage point to 43% of the total.

Apologists for the economic status quo often assert that it would make little difference if wealth were equally divided. But that isn’t true. As of 2014, total U.S. wealth was $81.5 trillion and the U.S. population approximately 319 million. That works out to average (not median) per capita wealth of over $250 thousand per person. How many families of four do you know worth more than a million dollars? And would that much wealth make a difference in your standard of living and in how much you’d feel forced to work? I know it would make a big difference in my life.

In terms of income, there’s also a large disparity between the top income brackets and everyone else–not as wide as the wealth chasm, but still large. Fortune reports that from the late ’70s through 2012 the percentage of income received by the top 1% more than doubled, from under 10% to over 20%; and in 2012 the top 10% received more than 50% of all income in the U.S., with most of  the bottom 90%’s income concentrated toward the top. To aggravate matters, between 2000 and 2011, median income in the U.S.  dropped a staggering 12.4%.

In 2014, the U.S.  GDP was $17.7 trillion. That equals production of over $46,000 in goods and services per person. That works out to $185,000 for a family of four. How many families of four do you know with anywhere near that much income?

Clearly, most of what we produce is not going into our pockets. We’re being worked to death for the benefit of the top 1%.

* * *

(It gets worse. We haven’t even touched on the massive waste in the U.S. economy, nor the grossly unfair taxation system here. We’ll cover those matters tomorrow, and will also estimate how many hours we should be working to maintain our average standard of living.)






You Call This Freedom? coverby Chaz Bufe


Positive Freedom

Leaving this dismal situation behind for a moment, let’s consider a very important aspect of freedom that is virtually never mentioned in the United States: what Emma Goldman called “the freedom to,” that is, the access to the resources necessary to making the “negative” freedoms (freedom of speech, freedom of travel, etc.) meaningful—to put this another way, access to the means necessary to the freedom to act.

Without this “positive” freedom, freedom from restraint becomes nearly meaningless. As an extreme example, freedom of the press is a mockery to someone who is starving to death. But let’s consider a less extreme example: the situation of the majority in the present-day United States. The top 1% of the population owns considerably more of the national wealth (40%) than the bottom 90% of the population combined (30%, with most of that concentrated toward the top); the top 10% own more than twice as much as the bottom 90% (70% versus 30%); and the bottom 50% own almost nothing—under 10% of the wealth, with almost all of it concentrated in static assets such as cars and heavily mortgaged houses.

As should be blindingly obvious, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are much more real for the rich than for the rest of us. If the rich have something to say and want to make use of freedom of the press, they can simply go out and buy newspapers, publishing companies, radio stations, TV stations, even TV networks and cable and satellite providers. The rest of us, if we have something to say, are reduced to publishing xeroxed ‘zines and pamphlets, putting low-wattage “pirate” radio stations on the air (while running the risk of being fined, having our equipment confiscated, and just possibly going to jail), putting up blogs and web sites, producing cable-access TV shows seen by a minuscule number of viewers, and, if we’re willing to make major economic sacrifices, publishing small amounts of paperback books which we’ll have trouble distributing. (Small publishers are at a huge competitive disadvantage vis a vis the few huge corporations that dominate the publishing field.)

Then, if the corporate elite feel the slightest bit threatened, they’ll have no compunction about suppressing the independent press—and, indeed, anyone who dares to publicly disagree with the elite’s political agenda—via their bought-and-paid-for government. And, to add insult to injury, the corporate mass media will be howling for the blood of the accursed dissenters, blathering tired non sequiturs about “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” and the like to stampede the herd.

To put this another way, lack of positive freedom, lack of equal access to resources, makes a mockery of all of the freedoms from restraint—freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of travel, etc.—because unequal access to resources is itself a tremendous restraint. If freedom is to be real, equal freedom—in both its positive (access to resources) and negative (freedom from restraint) aspects—is mandatory. Absolute freedom is impossible (though the rich enjoy something close to it, at everyone else’s expense); the best that we can hope for is equal freedom.

The Freedom of The Rich

The foregoing applies to the “pursuit of happiness” as well. The rich are much freer than the rest of us in that area, too; in fact they’re freer in virtually all areas of life. They’re far freer not only to exercise their civil liberties, but to travel, to send their kids to the best schools, to live where and how they choose, buy any consumer goods they want, eat the best, most expensive foods, etc., etc. And they have much more time to do all these things than the rest of us, because they do not have to work. Some do, but it’s a matter of choice for them.

The rich are also very nearly free to flout the law. William F. Buckley provided a flamboyant example of this a number of years ago when he sailed his yacht outside U.S. territorial waters so that he could smoke pot without fear of the authorities, and then bragged about it on his TV show.

In day-to-day life, the rich are much less likely than the rest of us ever to be bothered by the police, as cops are always much more reluctant to kick in the doors of the wealthy than they are the doors of those who do useful work. And, in those rare instances in which the rich are charged with crimes, they can hire “expert witnesses” and private investigators, and they can hire the best defense lawyers to get them off, sometimes on what seem like open-and-shut murder charges. (In contrast, the poor often have to rely on overworked public defenders who normally plea bargain cases9; as a result, a large number of poor people are convicted of, or plead guilty to, crimes of which they’re innocent.)

The rich enjoy an extraordinary degree of freedom at everyone else’s expense. There is no way around this, given that freedom depends on access to resources, that the world has finite resources, and that, though these resources are great, they’re almost entirely in the hands of the rich.

The “Freedom” of Those Who Work

For the rest of us, things are very different than for the rich. Most of us have very little control over our daily lives. We’re forced to work long, numbing hours, often at jobs we hate, just to pay the bills. With the real unemployment rate around 15% (counting “discouraged workers”—those who, often after months or years, have given up trying to find work—and the “underemployed”), those of us who work for a living have a powerful incentive to continue working, even at jobs we despise. The fear of homelessness and destitution is ever lurking in the background, with millions upon millions of us one paycheck away from being out on the street.

At work, we have virtually no control over our lives—freedom is almost totally absent from a good third of our waking hours on work days. On the job, we’re often subject to a myriad of idiotic rules (even as to when and how often we can go to the restroom); we usually have no say in the decisions about what we produce; we usually have no say, either, on how we produce things; we have very little control over our pay, and because of the fear of unemployment and the pathetic state of the U.S. unions we often have to take insultingly low wages; we’re often forced to work overtime (and sometimes cheated of overtime pay); and we’re often subjected to humiliating intrusions into our private lives (especially drug tests and, sometimes, forced participation in 12-step religious-indoctrination programs under the guise of “treatment”).

The near-total lack of control of most Americans over their work lives can be seen in the fact that productivity has been steadily rising since World War II (1% to 3% per year, according to Juliet Schor’s excellent book, The Overworked American), while the average number of hours worked per year in the U.S. is among the highest in the industrialized world, and median wages (in constant dollars) have actually fallen approximately 12% since 2001.

To make matters worse, taxes fall most heavily on those who work for a living. Average taxpayers now pay over one-third of their wages as taxes, while many of the rich pay far lower taxes or, in some cases, no taxes at all thanks to their ability to take advantage of loopholes and dodges (overseas accounts, the very low taxes on capital gains income, etc.). The end result is that there is a steadily widening gap between the rich and the rest of us,10 and that the day to day lives of a good majority of Americans are becoming less and less free: our time is being eaten up by one of the industrialized world’s longest work weeks (when we’re fortunate enough to have jobs); we have fewer and fewer resources with which to exercise our scant “negative” freedoms; and, indeed, we have fewer and fewer resources with which to make choices in any aspect of our lives.

To reiterate: lack of resources is making us less and less free. If we had even the most minimal control of our work lives and the products of our labor, there’s no way that we would put up with such appalling realities.11

Corporate Justifications

There’s no lack of bought-and-paid-for intellectuals and pundits to justify this state of affairs, and to a great extent they’ve succeeded in doing so. They’ve even (with plentiful help from the miseducation system, corporate media, and patriarchal religions) managed to convince a good majority of Americans that the status quo is “freedom.”

One of their main, and particularly grotesque, arguments is that private property in general and capitalism in particular (and the extreme inequality in access to resources that comes with it) are necessary to freedom. We’ve already seen that unequal access to resources (that is, lack of positive freedom) makes a mockery of civil liberties and that it destroys freedom in day to day life. But let’s take a closer look at private property and capitalism.

In the first place, private property consists largely of land and natural resources. Who created these? No one. So why should only a few benefit from them? The other part of what makes up private property is primarily the product of the collective labor of hundreds of generations: houses, factories, workshops, mines, mills, machines, railways, airports, dams, power plants—in sum, everything produced by the members of dead-and-gone generations. Again, why should only a few—especially a few who by and large do no useful work—be the primary beneficiaries of this massive amount of collective labor?

To say that they inherited their wealth and that it’s therefore rightfully theirs is to say no more than that the sons and daughters of those who have unfairly benefitted should also unfairly benefit. And that original unfair benefit was based on land grabs, violence, the enslavement of others, the swindling of others, the suppression of competition, and other forms of low cunning and thuggery. Should such behaviors be rewarded in perpetuity?

But what of “self-made men”? In the first place, a majority of wealth is inherited rather than “made.” In the second place, “self-made men” benefitted tremendously from the labor of past generations. And third, if you look closely you’ll find that most “self-made men” had a head start on the rest of us—they came from the upper income strata. And fourth, most of these individuals’ success comes not from innovative genius and hard work (though some of the rich are innovative and do work hard), but from taking advantage of the work of others. Bill Gates, the richest man on Earth, is a good example of this. Gates succeeded largely by recognizing and buying the intellectual products of others on the cheap (e.g., DOS), and through monopolistic practices, exploitation of labor (e.g., the “permatemps” who often work for years at Microsoft, but with no job security and no benefits), and the ruthless suppression of competition (e.g., Netscape).12 Linus Torvald, the inventor of Linux, has arguably made a greater contribution to computing than Gates, but we all know which of the two is incredibly wealthy. Gates aim was always to make money; Torvalds made Linux a public domain operating system. (Today it’s a backbone of the Internet; most servers run Linux.)

In the end, “self-made men” not only normally have an economic head start on the rest of us, but they also normally make their money by taking advantage of the work and talents of others; and so they’re no more deserving of great wealth than the parasites (such as the Koch brothers) who inherit it.

Advocates of Freedom

Many groups and political tendencies are concerned with civil liberties, with freedom from restraint. The most prominent are left liberals (social democrats) and the so-called libertarians. Both have the same defect: their vision of liberty is incomplete. Liberals are often at least dimly aware of the necessity of resources to the achievement of freedom, but they do not draw the logical conclusions from this. Instead of attempting to rid the world of undeserved privilege, they simply seek to mitigate the worst abuses of capitalism via governmental means. Even at best, as in the Scandinavian countries, such an approach leaves a large majority of the people with limited access to resources (in comparison with the rich) and saddles them with an intrusive government bureaucracy.

The other group concerned with civil liberties, the so-called libertarians, are entirely blind to the relationship of resources to freedom. In fact, they glorify the mechanism that denies equal positive freedom to all: capitalism. (The stilted, bloated novels by the literarily challenged cult figure Ayn Rand provide good examples of this.) In recent years, this group’s political party has even retreated from its earlier calls for the abolition of the state (so as to bring on the “paradise” of unfettered, cutthroat capitalism), and now wants to retain the police and military functions of the state, while eliminating its social welfare functions (further widening the already huge gap between the freedoms of the rich and the poor). This is in apparent recognition of the fact that capitalism requires institutionalized violence to maintain itself,13 that the state is a convenient form of such violence, and that the state has historically been a faithful servant of the rich. In sum, the “libertarians” are not concerned about (and in fact are antagonistic to) the freedom of the vast majority; the only freedom they’re interested in is that of capitalists. They confuse freedom of capital with human freedom, and if push ever comes to shove, one knows in advance which side they’ll come down on—they’ll fight to the death to preserve capitalism and to prevent real, full freedom from ever taking root.

But what about equal freedom? What about positive freedom (equal access to resources)? Doesn’t anyone advocate these things?

Only two political tendencies are concerned with achievement of equal positive freedom. The first is marxism. However, for the most part marxists conceive of freedom only as positive freedom, that is, only as access to resources, and, routinely violated paper guarantees aside, they’re by and large indifferent or actively hostile (invariably so once in power) to the negative freedoms, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press. To make matters worse, once in power marxists don’t even deliver on the promise of positive freedom (just as their capitalist counterparts don’t deliver on the promise of the negative freedoms). Instead, they become, to use Milovan Djilas’s term, “the new class,” that is, the new privileged class. So, under marxism freedom in both its negative and positive senses is illusory.

Anarchists14 alone insist on both equal positive and equal negative freedom, that is equal access to resources and equal freedom from restraint, limited only by the similar freedom of others. It’s beyond the scope of this essay to consider this matter in any detail, but it’s well worth noting that anarchists have considered these things at length and have written a number of very useful books on how to achieve real freedom.17


For the vast majority of us, American “freedom” consists of unremitting regimentation at school and work; unremitting indoctrination from the miseducation system, corporate media, and authoritarian religions; working at jobs we often loathe; having no control over our work lives (our pay, work hours, working conditions, what we produce, how we produce it); stress from being overworked, underpaid, and in constant fear of job loss and homelessness; humiliating intrusions into our private lives by employers and the government (goaded on by religious zealots); lack of the time necessary to taking real advantage of the “negative” freedoms (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc.); and lack of the resources necessary to making real choices in virtually all other areas of life (schools, housing, transportation, travel . . . ).

And, in compensation for all this, we have the “freedom” to enter the voting booth every two years to vote for the millionaires who will become our new masters.


9. A common, sleazy prosecutorial practice is to pile baseless or nearly baseless charges on a defendant (who doesn’t have the resources to fight all the charges) to coerce the defendant into pleading guilty to one or two of the charges. As a result many innocent people plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.

10. At the time Ronald Reagan took office, the top 1% of the population owned approximately 30% of the national wealth. Since then there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom and middle to the top economic strata, with the wealth of the top 1% increasing over the past quarter century by more than the combined worth of the bottom 50%. To put this another way, the extremely wealthy are becoming far wealthier, the middle class is being squeezed out of existence, and the already wretched condition of the poor is becoming ever worse.

11. Self-employment is a largely illusory alternative. Most self-employment attempts fail, due in large part to inadequate capitalization (that is, lack of economic resources); the self-employed often work more hours than those employed by others; they often work seven days a week; and cash flow (that is, lack of steady income) is a constant nightmare for many, probably most, self-employed people.

12. Microsoft attempted to destroy Netscape by integrating Microsoft’s web browser, Internet Explorer, into the Windows operating system. (At the time, Netscape’s flagship product was its web browser.) There was no logical reason to do this, unless one counts attempting to destroy a rival as “logical.”

13. Earlier “Libertarian” theorists, such as Murray Rothbard, were well aware of capitalism’s need for institutionalized violence. Rothbard’s solution, in the absence of the state, was the creation of private police forces and private prisons. 14. “Anarchists” refers to those who understand the theory and work to make it real, and not to those foolish souls who are attracted to the type of “anarchism” portrayed in the corporate media, an “anarchism” that equals chaos and amoral egotism.

14. “Anarchists” refers to those who understand the theory and work to make it real, and not to those foolish souls who are attracted to the type of “anarchism” portrayed in the corporate media, an “anarchism” that equals chaos and amoral egotism.

15. To list only a few: Looking Forward, by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel; Moving Forward, by Michael Albert; What Is Anarchism?, by Alexander Berkman; Remaking Society, by Murray Bookchin; Redefining Revolution, by Cornelius Castoriadis; The Anarchist Collectives, by Sam Dolgoff; Fields, Factories, and Workshops Tomorrow, by Peter Kropotkin; Workers’ Councils, by Anton Pannekoek; Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, by José Peirats; Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, by Rudolf Rocker; Anarchy in Action, by Colin Ward.

WAGE LABOR, n. 1) Death on the installment plan; 2) The process by which those who work enrich those who don’t.

* * *

–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations coverby Chaz Bufe, editor See Sharp Press

(Note: I wrote this in 1914, and the figures for unemployment rate, etc., have changed since then. But there have been no major changes, and the arguments here still hold.)

In what passes for political debate in this country, one of the current hot topics is whether or not to raise the minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour). Those arguing against raising the minimum wage express concern for low wage workers and speculate that paying them higher wages would somehow hurt them. Their argument is that higher wages would reduce the number of ultra-low-paying jobs.

Well, guess what. Wages have fallen drastically since G.W. Bush stepped foot in the White House, and that hasn’t produced a bonanza of jobs, nor income growth for those fortunate enough to have a job. In the period since Bush took office through 2011, median income fell a staggering 12.4%. And, since 1973, wages for the bottom 60% of working men have actually fallen. Especially since the start of the recession, almost all wage growth has benefited the top 1% of wage earners. According to the New York Times, in 1979 the top 1% received 7.3% of all wages; in 2010, they received 12.9%. As for the minimum wage itself, half a century ago it was $1.25 an hour, equivalent to $9.50 an hour today; a few years later, in 1968, it went up to its peak, $1.60 per hour, which is equivalent to $10.84 today. Today’s minimum wage of $7.25 is almost exactly a third lower than that peak minimum wage.

At the same time,  productivity per hour worked has been rising at a fairly steady rate of roughly 1.5% – 1.75% per year for over half a century. Increases in wages and productivity almost exactly matched from the end of World War II through 1973, when wages began to stagnate as productivity continued to rise. Since then, productivity has gone up roughly 80%, while wages have been nearly flat. As for wealth, the percentage owned by the top 1% has steadily risen since Reagan took office, and now exceeds 40% of total national wealth.

In other words, the “job creators” are doing just fine. So, where are the jobs? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the official unemployment rate in February was 6.7%. The actual unemployment rate, counting “discouraged workers” and those involuntarily working part-time, is roughly twice that, and even that’s probably understating the matter. The percentage of working-age adults participating in the labor force is only about 63%, very near a historic low.

Given all this, let’s take a closer look at the argument that keeping wages at just above starvation level is somehow good for those looking for work.

Many on the right actually argue that there should be no minimum wage law, and that workers would be better off without it. They’re seriously arguing that wages already so low that many workers can’t even afford to rent a studio apartment (and instead must sleep in their cars or in homeless encampments) are beneficial to workers. And that workers would benefit from even lower wages.

They argue that earning $3 or $4 an hour is better than having no job at all. At the same time, they never argue against laws restricting labor organizing and tactics — Taft-Hartley, “right to work” laws, laws against boycotts and secondary boycotts, etc. In other words, they’re in favor of laws restricting the rights of workers, and against laws guaranteeing worker rights.

Let’s take the right-wingers’ argument a step further. If labor for any compensation at all, no matter how minimal, is preferable to unemployment, there’s an obvious solution to the jobs crisis. There’s a tried and true way to guarantee every able-bodied worker a job, food, and a place to live: slavery.

Some Republicans are already arguing for it.


by Chaz Bufe, compiler/editor of The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations

Certain economic assertions keep popping up year after year, much in the manner of venereal warts. Here are a few of the most common assertions (in italics at the beginning of sections), along with some of the reasons they’re bogus:

* Stock ownership is so widespread that we all have a stake in the economy, that we all benefit from it. This is belied by the facts: the top 1% own 35% of stocks and mutual funds; the next 9% own 45.8%; and the bottom 90% own 19.2%. Other measures of financial wealth are even worse. The top 10% own 91.1% of business equity and 93.9% of financial securities. The top 1% own 42% of financial wealth; the next 9% own 43%; and the bottom 90% own 15% of total financial wealth.

Distribution of wealth is so lopsided in this country that according to Politifact the Walton (Wal-Mart) family owns more wealth than the bottom 41.5% of American families combined.

* It doesn’t matter if corporations are taxed, because they pass those taxes on to their customers. If this is true, one wonders why corporations so strenuously attempt to shift taxes to individuals. One might also wonder why, if corporations are people, according to a grotesque, still-in-force Supreme Court ruling (Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania – 125 U.S. 181 [1888]), these “people” should be exempt from paying taxes.

And while it is hard to believe, competition still exists in some sectors of the economy, and if corporations are taxed, they can’t automatically pass along the taxes to their customers. They can, to preserve or expand market share, shave their profit margins and executive compensation. Beyond that, not all individuals use all products. For instance, a tax on companies that produce corporate jets will affect corporations that produce and corporations that buy private jets, not the vast bulk of consumers. Further, consumers can choose to avoid passed-on taxes by buying goods from manufacturers who have trimmed their profit margins, by buying used goods, by reducing consumption, or simply by refusing to buy nonessential goods.

* Unemployment is a result of laziness. If this were so, why do unemployment levels vary so drastically over the years, and often change nearly overnight (as in 1929 and 2008)? Is it really the fault of employees’ laziness that employers shut down their businesses and lock their doors? Do employees really prefer losing their health benefits, pensions, and most of their income in favor of limited-time unemployment insurance checks? As anyone who’s ever suffered it knows, unemployment is a miserable, stressful condition, often accompanied by irrational shame. That shame–and endless repetition–is why well-paid corporate lackeys get away with uttering this cruel lie.

* Military spending is good for the economy. The U.S. government’s 2013 military budge is $682 billion, by far the largest military budget in the world. It’s more than the military expenditures of the next ten countries combined. and that $682 billion doesn’t even include veterans’ pensions, veterans’ healthcare costs, or the cost of the interest on military spending-incurred debt.

Somehow this is supposed to be good for the economy. Why isn’t it? Isn’t money flowing into communities with “defense” industries and military bases? Yes, it is. But that money produces nothing to meet human needs (food, housing, medical care, utilities, transportation, etc.). To put this another way, this massive expenditure of taxpayer money pays people and companies that contribute nothing useful to the economy.

In fact, the harm extends beyond this utter waste. Those who perform useful work are not only taxed heavily to pay for military spending, their tax dollars that go to the giant military make-work project devalue the money that’s left in their pockets. Rather than their spending the money taken from them on useful goods and services (which would stimulate demand and employment), the government spends their money nonproductively. That spending results in no additional useful goods or services. The amount of money in circulation remains the same, but there are fewer goods and services than there would be if taxpayers kept their money and spent it on their own needs. Military spending devalues the wages of everyone not on the military-industrial dole.

Military spending is not a boon to the economy. One could just as easily spend the $682 billion military budget on the mass production of ping pong balls and produce the same economic “good.”

Military spending is to the economy as a shot of methedrine is to the body. It produces a temporary feeling of euphoria, but at a high ultimate price.

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LABOR, n. The process through which those who work enrich those who don’t.

by Chaz Bufe

Most people believe that economics is far too complicated for them to understand, and that they shouldn’t even try; they should leave economic decision-making to “the experts”–simply not concern themselves with it.

And, yes, some economic matters–tariffs, trade deals, taxation, the stock market, futures trading, derivatives, etc.–are complex. Very complex. But other economic matters are pretty damn simple.

Let’s start with material wealth. What creates it? Labor applied to natural resources (coal, oil, ore, timber, etc.), using the collective knowledge of human civilization, acquired over hundreds of generations.

Who created natural resources? If the answer is God or nature, why should a handful of people receive the lion’s share of benefits from the world’s resources? What possible justification is there for this? If the answer is “inheritance,” that’s merely an assertion that the descendants of those who have unfairly benefited should also unfairly benefit.

As for labor, why should those with inherited wealth, who have often done no useful work for generations, benefit from the labor of others? Why should there even be inherited wealth? Why should heirs, many of whom have never done an honest day’s work in their lives, inherit the wealth created by the collective labor of hundreds of generations? And again, why should they be the primary beneficiaries of the world’s natural resources?

Another question regarding labor: If wealth is produced by labor applied to resources, what possible reason is there for unemployment? What benefit derives from producing less wealth than is possible? Who does this serve? No one but the 1%, the relative handful who control the world’s resources. “The reserve army of the unemployed” allows them to hold down wages through the threat of replacing any worker who isn’t sufficiently subservient with someone so desperate for a job he or she will put up with anything.

And what about immigration? An overwhelming majority of immigrants come here to work, that is, create wealth. What’s so wrong with that? The all-too-common answer is “They’re stealing our jobs.” This answer points to two things. The first is that the current economic system, corporate capitalism, does not produce jobs for all who want them. This holds true across the globe.

The second is that unemployment not only suppresses wages, but it turns workers of different races and nationalities against each other. Again, this serves only the interests of the 1%. It helps to ensure labor “peace”–that is, subservience to corporations, and rivalry and hatred among workers, who compete with each other for crumbs from the corporate table. Anxiety over immigration also encourages the rise of xenophobic, racist political movements whose members are so deluded they consider themselves patriots. Who does this benefit?

One final question regarding labor–beyond whether those who inherit wealth should benefit from the labor of those who actually work–is whether the present system of payment for labor is rational, that is, whether it provides fair compensation to those doing useful work. Of course, this is a difficult question, given the near impossibility of accurately assessing the value of work. This difficulty is not, however,  an argument in favor of the current extreme differential in wages, with CEOs, for instance, receiving hundreds of times the wages of average workers. Rather, it supports the argument that wages should be equal across the board.

At present, those who do the dirtiest, hardest, most necessary work–farm workers, garbage collectors, childcare workers–are among the lowest paid, while those who perform useless or worse-than-useless “work”–stock brokers, hedge fund managers, commodities speculators, corporate attorneys, lobbyists, advertising executives–are among the highest paid. Is this fair? Is this rational? Again, the answer is pretty damn simple: it’s so far from fair and rational it’s a sick, cruel joke.