The staff of the Marketplace Morning Report usually tries to make the economy interesting. It’s not easy. The subject of the show, which airs weekdays on NHPR, is famously nicknamed “the dismal science.” On December 8th, though, we wonder if they soft-pedaled the story, for fear of insurrection.
It often seems that that day’s topic—income inequality—has been beaten to death by now. In abstract terms, it has. Percentages, changes over time, blah blah blah. A little dismal science can go a long way towards combatting insomnia. This time, though, an interesting character decided to ask the right question the right way.
Early in his career, through shrewd investments in high tech, Nick Hanauer made ungodly sums of money. Readers will presumably have heard of a company called Amazon. His net worth is currently estimated at about a cool billion.
Somehow, though, Hanauer seems to have avoided being infected by the unchecked greed virus.
In 2012, he videotaped a talk in which he disputed what has been the basis of economic thinking for the past 40-some-odd years: jobs are created by cutting taxes on the wealthy. Now, one would think that, with so many people struggling to find work even before President Bloato brought on the 2020 Plague, this hardly needed to be spelled out. Politics is a matter of perception, though, not facts.
Instead, Hanauer put forward this proposition: if an economy is to thrive, its workers must be able to afford to buy the products that they make. In other words, people making low wages should get raises. Not only that, people with high incomes should—drum roll, please—pay higher taxes.
Astonishingly, people with high incomes seemed to take this personally, and furiously attacked Hanauer. To his great credit, Hanauer has been undeterred. Indeed, he seems to be channeling the Roosevelts.
Teddy gave a famous speech in 1907, when he laid the cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument in Plymouth. He said, in part, “Many men of large wealth have been guilty of conduct which from the moral standpoint is criminal, and their misdeeds are to a peculiar degree reprehensible, because those committing them have no excuse of want, of poverty, of weakness and ignorance to offer as partial atonement. …
“[I]t may well be that the determination of the Government…to punish certain malefactors of great wealth, has…caused these men to combine to bring about as much financial stress as possible, in order to discredit the policy of the Government and thereby secure a reversal of that policy, so that they may enjoy unmolested the fruits of their own evil-doing.”
In 1936, at Madison Square Garden, FDR picked up where Teddy left off:
“For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.
“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
“They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”
Huh…looks like some things never change. To Hanauer’s credit, though, he’s trying anyway. He came up with a clever way to extract from dismal statistics the flesh-and-blood consequences of economic policies. We’ve summed up the results in the headline to this piece.
Before we dig into this further, one brief caveat: because that figure $2.5 trillion is so difficult to imagine, we’ve broken the annual theft down into daily doses. Any errors herein resulting from that calculations would be ours; the math is pretty simple, though. The bottom line, though, is this: every day, working people in this country are being ripped off to the tune of $6.8 billion.
Every. Damn. Day.
For the first thirty years after World War Two ended, wages grew at about the same rate as the economy, across all levels of income. That changed about 1975. Productivity kept going up. Stock prices kept going up. The cost of homes and college educations kept going up. Health care, &c., &c., ad nauseam. But wages for the bottom 90 percent stayed essentially flat, a phenomenon called “the great widening.”
Hanauer went to the Rand Corporation—that rara avis, a think tank that’s not in the tank for the bank—and commissioned a study. He asked them to answer a question which had apparently never occurred to anyone before: what if that rising tide had continued to raise all boats—instead of just the yachts?
Many pages of abstruse calculations later, with charts breaking down the results by decile, and so forth, they concluded that Americans whose income falls among the lower 90 percent would be making a total of $2.5 trillion more per year.
Do we repeat ourselves? Very well, we repeat ourselves. Because that’s a number worth repeating. Or, dividing by 365, which is how we got that figure of $6.8 billion per day. That’s the amount the ghostly hand of Ronald Reagan is sneaking out of the till—every damn day.
In a separate interview, Marketplace’s Peter Brancaccio asked what this means for a typical worker. “The median full-time worker in America today earns about $50,000 a year,” he said. “If they had been held harmless by the last 45 years of neoliberal economic policy…instead of earning $50,000 a year, they would earn between $92,000 and $100,000 a year.”
There’s a lot of talk these days about the crippling burden of student debt. Of course, much of that money is owed to skeezy operations which were set up just to fleece the unwary. But if it were paid off—even to those crooks—a generation of Americans would be freed from their fetters—and they’d have money to spend on other things. The last we heard, the total amount of outstanding student debt is $1.5 trillion.
What if some plucky successor to the Roosevelts—say, Joe Biden, for example—were to tell our billionaire class to go pound sand, and began paying, on his famous “Day One,” $6.8 billion per day on that student debt? The balance would be down to zero around August 27th.
Friday the 13th fell on a Sunday this month. Our Wandering Photographer took a highly uncharacteristic morning stroll to the river. He wanted to catch images of the Memorial Bridge in the fog. Incubation periods being what they are, it will be some time before we will know whether he also caught the covid in the process. Maskless members of the Death by Fitness Brigade were rather prevalent at that hour.
GOP Senator to Americans: “Drop Dead”
by Jake Johnson, staff writer, Common Dreams
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who voted for President Donald Trump’s deficit-exploding tax cuts for the rich in 2017, blocked fellow Republican Sen. Josh Hawley [Mo.] attempt Friday to pass legislation that would provide $1,200 direct payments to U.S. adults and $500 to children amid a devastating pandemic and ongoing economic collapse.
When Hawley requested unanimous consent to pass the direct payments bill—which he introduced last week with Sen. Bernie Sanders [I-Vt.]—Johnson objected, delivering a rambling speech complaining about the rising deficit.
Michael Linden, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, noted on Twitter following Johnson’s objection that “another round of stimulus checks at $1,200 would be roughly 1/7 of the size of the Trump tax cuts which Senator Johnson happily supported.”
“Needless to say,” Linden added, “$1,200 to everyday people right now is way more economically useful than hundreds of billions to corporations.”
Ben Wikler, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, also slammed Johnson for blocking direct relief. “Millions are falling into poverty,” said Wikler, “and Ron Johnson—who loves tax cuts for the rich—is blocking help.”
Hawley’s attempt to pass stimulus checks in a standalone bill came as Congress continued working to finalize a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief package that, as it stands, would provide one-time $600 direct payments to U.S. adults earning less than $75,000 a year and $600 to the children of eligible recipients.
The relief negotiations hit a snag after Sen. Pat Toomey [R-Pa.] demanded inclusion of language that would terminate emergency lending programs authorized by the CARES Act, a move critics warned would hamstring the incoming Biden administration’s ability to address the economic crisis.
Lawmakers are expected to work through the weekend, if necessary, in an effort to reach an agreement. Negotiators are also racing to avert a government shutdown, which will occur Friday night without passage of a sprawling funding bill or a stop-gap measure. Hawley and Sanders have both threatened to hold up an extension of government funding in order to push through direct payments.
In a speech on the Senate floor Friday, Hawley said the $1,200 payments to adults and $500 to children—modeled after the checks provided under the CARES Act—are “the least that we can do.”
“It should be the first thing that we can do,” said Hawley. “And as these negotiations drag on and on, fixated and focused and hung up on who knows what issues, let’s start with this. Let’s send a message to working families that they’re first, not last. That they are the most important consideration, not some afterthought.”
After Johnson blocked his request for unanimous consent, Hawley said Sanders will be on the floor later Friday to demand passage of the direct payments.
“This is not the end of this fight,” said Hawley. “I’m here right now on this floor. Senator Sanders will be back in a matter of hours to ask again for the same measure… I’ve been proud to partner with him on this effort.”
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Returning from his foolhardy trip to the river [see other photo], our Furtively Scuttling Photographer swung by Jay McCance Smith Park. It’s still there. So is the grandiose pile of bricks next door. According to the Hedge-Fund Owned Local Daily, it just sold for $3,750,000.
How Race Plays Out in This Pandemic
Bree Newsome Bass, on Twitter [@BreeNewsome] lightly edited for punctuation: “Authorities and the media, hand in hand, make sure Black and Brown people are seen to be getting the vaccine. We already know there are going to be vaccine shortages, at the same time the outbreak is set to surge in the poorest communities [because] the government isn’t preventing evictions or providing relief. If leaders were truly trying to prevent deaths, they wouldn’t be allowing Covid-19 to surge before vaccine is available to us. They’d be preventing evictions and providing other relief.”
Be On the Right Side of History
“What side of history do you want to be on,” Charles DeGrandpre asked, “on the side of slavery, or on the right side?”
Many corporate executive were asked that question, as Charles DeGrandpre, Esq., solicited sponsorships. DeGrandpre was a legendary patron of New Hampshire nonprofits, but most especially the champion of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire [BHTNH].
Valerie Cunningham, an incorporator of the BHTNH, credits DeGrandpre with forging the ties which resulted in the creation of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, Inc. and its expansion into a statewide organization.
Recently, JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, Inc., announced receipt of a generous legacy gift from the estate of Charles DeGrandpre, who died earlier this year.
“We would not be where we are today without him; his legacy lives on in our daily work,” said JerriAnne. Presented by his daughter, Libby Giordano, to JerriAnne and Valerie, the gift will be used for Charlie’s favorite Trail program—expansion of the nonprofit’s Statewide Historical Marker Program. The program, which began with the iconic bronze site markers at 24 locations in Portsmouth, is one of the most visible and recognizable Trail programs and is seen as a foundational approach to expanding the nonprofit’s educational work across the state.
As principals of the Trail gathered in memory of Charlie, they spoke fondly of how integral he was to the organization—both when the Trail was in its early formative stages as a Portsmouth-centered organization, and later, becoming a nationally-recognized state institution, his firm provided the legal work such as establishing IRS nonprofit status for the Trail in Portsmouth, then later for the Black Heritage Trail of N.H.
Valerie said “Charlie was one of those concerned citizens who was so passionate about history. He—and his law firm—tactfully guided us through the process to become a real organization. He was always encouraging us to do our best. It was never about him. He’d see something in the newspapers and send a handwritten note or a little gift because he knew we needed that encouragement. We had no money, just homegrown talent, but he made us feel that our efforts were worthwhile. He had other people invest in our endowment—it was small, but it made us feel significant and stable and helped others see us that way too. And, he became a personal friend, the big brother I never had.”
JerriAnne explained how the program to place markers across the state works. “An organization needs to submit an application to the Trail; upon approval, we’ll cover half the cost of the marker with the applying organization covering the balance.”
For more information about the Statewide Black Heritage Trail Historical Marker Program and how you can be a part of it, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The man who is unwilling to wear a flu mask usually is of the kind who expects everyone to listen to him when he speaks.”
– Indianapolis Star, Nov. 22, 1918