Editorial | Income and Wealth Inequality Has Devastated American Workers – The New York Times

“Over the past four decades, American workers have suffered a devastating loss of economic power, manifest in their wages, benefits and working conditions. The annual economic output of the United States has almost tripled, but, with the help of policymakers from both political parties, the wealthy hoarded the fruits.

In the nation’s slaughterhouses, the average worker in 1982 made $24 an hour in inflation-adjusted dollars, or $50,000 a year. Today the average meatpacker processes significantly more meat — and makes less than $14 an hour.

The hundreds of thousands of home health care aides, often female, often minorities, who care for a nation of aging baby boomers rarely receive paid time to care for their own families.

Even in the high-flying technology sector, companies have found ways to leave their workers behind. More than half of the people who work for Google do not actually work for Google. They are classified as contractors, which means they do not need to be treated as employees.

Picture the nation as a pirate crew: In recent decades, the owners of the ship have gradually claimed a larger share of booty at the expense of the crew. The annual sum that has shifted from workers to owners now tops $1 trillion.

Or consider the power shift from the perspective of an individual worker. If income had kept pace with overall economic growth since 1970, Americans in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution would be making an extra $12,000 per year, on average. In effect, every American worker in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution is sending an annual check for $12,000 to a richer person in the top 10 percent.”

Opinion | American Companies Are Sick. Here’s How to Cure Them. – By Tim Wu – The New York Times

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Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

“Many companies in the United States are currently in a particular kind of distress. They have solid business models for normal times, yet as the pandemic lingers they are slowly dying, victims of weak demand or supply problems. These businesses are not broken or fundamentally flawed; their health is jeopardized only by exceptional circumstances. They are not doomed; they’re just sick.

Many of these companies are on the lookout for survival strategies that would avoid a ruinous liquidation of their assets. This means they may be more open than they ordinarily would be to private buyouts and mergers. But a wave of buyouts and mergers, though seemingly better than letting struggling companies die, would only intensify the economic inequality that has become this country’s curse.

That is why we need to rethink what rescuing companies looks like in this moment.

The danger is that the cure will be as bad as the disease. A rescue of struggling businesses fueled by cheap debt will lead to a restructuring of the American economy into fewer and fewer centers of corporate control. That consolidation, in turn, will increase the already excessive power of corporations and widen the already yawning gap between rich and poor.

This is a lesson taught by the previous economic crisis, 12 years ago, which also left many fundamentally sound companies weak or in a state of distress. Part of the government’s implicit and sometimes explicit solution was to encourage buyouts and mergers, by making debt cheap and keeping merger enforcement tepid. Those conditions catalyzed a major concentration of industries during the 2010s, leaving many sectors of the American economy with just three or four “majors,” or with regional monopolies. This was the story for the airlines, cable service, big agriculture, mobile phone carriers, pharmaceuticals, meat processing and many more industries.

That same approach also ushered in what the financial journalist Joe Nocera, a former columnist for The Times, has called the decade of private equity. Taking advantage of cheap debt, the industry spent trillions of dollars (nearly $6 trillion, by one estimate) buying and reorganizing thousands of companies.

The problem was that, by the mid-2010s, many economists (including many at the White House, where I worked at the National Economic Council) started to be concerned that the restructuring of the economy was contributing to inequality of both wealth and income. Ideally, a private buyout makes a company more efficient and poised for growth and hiring. But in practice buying a company in semi-distress with the goal of cutting costs can mean large-scale firings, weakening or destroying unions, and seizing pension funds.”

It’s Friday, and the world is looking better. Frank Bruni just wrote a column titled, Is Donald Trump Toast? “A New York Times/Siena College poll finds that Biden is ahead of the president by 14 points” nationally and by double digits in the six crucial swing states. I want to have a party and cook out in my backyard tomorrow, but it is not part of social distancing. Since I read this piece by Tim Wu last Tuesday, I’ve been thinking about it, and how it dovetails with another I recently posted, called, “The Neoliberal Looting of America,” by Mehrsa Baradaran. These are important thinkers, and income inequality is a many headed hydra, that has survived since cities were created, and elites took power. I don’t care who Biden picks as his VP, as long as he crushes Trump, and then tries to clean up the Augean Stables, mitigate climate change, and elevate the ideas of regulating over-powerful corporations and billionaires, using the ideas of such thinkers as Baradaran, Wu, and Elizabeth Warren.

Opinion | The Neoliberal Looting of America – By Mehrsa Baradaran – The New York Times

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Ms. Baradaran is the author of “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.”

Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

““It’s hard to separate what’s good for the United States and what’s good for Bank of America,” said its former chief executive, Ken Lewis, in 2009. That was hardly true at the time, but the current crisis has revealed that the health of the finance industry and stock market are completely disconnected from the actual financial health of the American people. As inequality, unemployment and evictions climb, the Dow Jones surges right alongside them — one line compounding suffering, the other compounding returns for investors.

One reason is that an ideological coup quietly transformed our society over the last 50 years, raising the fortunes of the financial economy — and its agents like private equity firms — at the expense of the real economy experienced by most Americans.

The roots of this intellectual takeover can be traced to a backlash against socialism in Cold War Europe. Austrian School economist Friedrich A. Hayek was perhaps the most influential leader of that movement, decrying governments who chased “the mirage of social justice.” Only free markets can allocate resources fairly and reward individuals based on what they deserve, reasoned Hayek. The ideology — known as neoliberalism — was especially potent because it disguised itself as a neutral statement of economics rather than just another theory. Only unfettered markets, the theory argued, could ensure justice and freedom because only the profit motive could dispassionately pick winners and losers based on their contribution to the economy.

Neoliberalism leapt from economics departments into American politics in the 1960s, where it fused with conservative anti-communist ideas and then quickly spread throughout universities, law schools, legislatures and courts. By the 1980s, neoliberalism was triumphant in policy, leading to tax cuts, deregulation and privatization of public functions including schools, pensions and infrastructure. The governing logic held that corporations could do just about everything better than the government could. The result, as President Ronald Reagan said, was to unleash “the magic of the marketplace.” “

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Books – Review – By Gregg Easterbrook – The New York Times

Possibly Maybe

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“On the eve of the 2006 hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center forecast a “hyperactive” summer and fall, with eight to 10 Atlantic cyclones; instead there were five, smack on the 20th-century average. At the beginning of 2006, The Wall Street Journal forecast a bad year for stocks; the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 16 percent that year. (Disturbingly, The Journal has forecast a good year for 2007.) The British government recently said climate change could reduce global G.D.P. by 13.8 percent in the first year of the 23rd century. Not by 13.7 percent, not by 13.9 percent — by 13.8 percent. In response to an astronomer’s discovery, The New York Times in 2004 declared that the universe might have a “peaceful end” in “tens of billions of years,” but cautioned that it could not rule out the cosmos’s exploding in a few billion years. Writing of the same discovery, The Washington Post predicted that the demise of the cosmos would require 30 billion years, adding this vital caveat: “It remains impossible to predict the fate of the universe with certainty.” Oh, so we can’t be certain what will happen 30 billion years from now!

The hubris of predictions — and our perpetual surprise when the not-predicted happens — are themes of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s engaging new book, “The Black Swan.” It concerns the occurrence of the improbable, the power of rare events and the author’s lament that “in spite of the empirical record we continue to project into the future as if we were good at it.” We expect all swans to be white and are shocked when a black swan swims by.

Born in Lebanon in 1960, Taleb lived through a “black swan” when his serene homeland was cast into the chaos of civil war in 1975. After emigrating to the United States, he attended Wharton, then worked on Wall Street; today he is a professor at the University of Massachusetts. Black Monday in 1987, when Wall Street suffered its worst single-day decline in modern history — in a drop that started for no clear reason — was his epiphany. Chance, he realized, has far more influence than we care to admit.

Opinion | How to Avoid an Economic Recovery that Worsens Inequality – By Tim Wu – The New York Times

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Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

Credit…Michael George Haddad

“Since January, Amazon’s stock price has gone up from about $1,850 to about $2,600. The S.&P. 500 — comprising large corporate stocks dominated by technology companies — has recovered most of its recently lost value. And most highly paid professionals and managers have kept their jobs and experienced minimal changes in wealth.

Yet more than 20 million Americans are unemployed.

These are signs that the economic legacy of the coronavirus pandemic could be an increase in wealth concentration that will shock a nation that thought itself numb to such things. Arguments over whether the recovery will be “V-shaped” or “U-shaped” ignore the fact that different socioeconomic classes have been affected differently and will recover differently. Despite its populist airs, the Trump administration is orchestrating what will be, unless something is done, a rich man’s recovery.

While it may seem as if the federal government is throwing money at everyone, there’s a key difference between the support given to large businesses and the support given to small businesses and individuals. Large businesses have been given the security of long-term assistance, mainly through the actions and promises of the Federal Reserve: to buy corporate bonds (including junk bonds), to provide “liquidity backstops” by serving as a buyer of last resort and to lend money against an array of collateral. Collectively, these actions amount to a program not just of extraordinary assistance but also of extraordinary assurance.

By contrast, the money being spent on small businesses and individual workers is short-term and hard to bank on. Not only are many of the sums relatively small — a $1,200 check that might (or might not) come again some day — but the uncertainty also diminishes the value of the aid, since it’s hard to make plans if you don’t know what you can count on.

the aid, since it’s hard to make plans if you don’t know what you can count on.”

Opinion | How Elon Musk Won the Fight to Reopen His Tesla Factory – By Kara Swisher – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“How do you solve a problem like a tweet-storming Elon Musk?

Memo to the officials of Alameda County in Northern California: You don’t.

Of course, hindsight is 20-20, as the county officials have found in a high-profile tussle this week with Mr. Musk, the famous, and occasionally infamous, entrepreneur known for electric cars, space rockets, tunnel digging and creative baby-naming.

And, most of all, for tweet-baiting, which Mr. Musk used to great effect while clashing with local officials over the timing and terms of reopening of his Tesla factory in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Fremont. Mr. Musk closed the plant after shelter-in-place rules were put in place in March (after initially defying orders).

But now Mr. Musk has apparently had enough. He filed a lawsuit and threatened to move operations and 10,000 jobs out of state, even as several reports indicated that he had restarted production at the plant over the weekend, flouting the rules and attracting the ire of the local government.”

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More weekend NYT highlights, chosen by David Lindsay

More weekend NYT highlights,  chosen by David Lindsay

Eliza Blue took my breath away with her piece, Our Unstable Industrialized Food Chain. She wrote:

“Smithfield is near the end of the food supply chain; we are where it begins. On our drought-prone side of the state, where ruminants outnumber humans, there are no processing plants, just grass — vast, luminous expanses of grass — with intricate root structures that grow thick and deep.

There are still custom butcher shops scattered across the hundreds of miles of open pasture, small mom-and-pop operations, remnants of a system that used to connect rural economies to the food they were producing. Now nearly all animals raised here are shipped elsewhere — to feedlots to be grain-fattened, and then to gargantuan facilities like Smithfield to be slaughtered.

I know some ranchers who are working to change this system, but many more lack the financial or political clout to innovate beyond the scope of their own operations. We are part of an industrialized system that treats animals and their caretakers as columns on spreadsheets geared toward achieving maximum profit. These columns ignore the physical realities of labor in animal husbandry, as well the dignity of the animals we husband, while saddling us with debt and draining resources from our rural communities.” Eliza Blue  prayed for a more humane animal husbandry. https://nyti.ms/3d4PRvV

 

Gina Kolata writes in One Way Back to Normal Life,  “The researchers, Dr. Mette Kalager and Dr. Michael Bretthauer, a husband-and-wife team at the University of Oslo, do not suggest randomizing individuals, as is done in studies of experimental drugs, but rather randomizing regions like similar school districts in adjacent towns.

To test whether it was safe to open schools, they envision what is called rapid-cycle randomization, in which measures are quickly evaluated and adjusted as data emerge.

In the first cycle, schools in one district would remain closed while those in another would reopen carefully with, for example, half the usual number of students and with six-foot social distancing in place. Students and teachers in both districts would be tested for the coronavirus at the start and end of the cycle. Each cycle could last between 10 days and two weeks, accounting for a viral incubation period of four to five days.

If the careful reopening did not result in increased transmission of the virus, the study would advance to the second stage: Schools in one district would open with half the normal number of students and six-foot social distancing while those in the other would have three-quarters of the normal number of students and maintain just three feet of social distancing.

If there were no increased transmission, the third phase would compare that less restrictive setting with a full, unrestricted reopening.

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In the best-case scenario — no increased transmission — all schools could open after three to six weeks.” https://nyti.ms/3fg6dDJ

 

Brett McGurk’s haunting piece, The Father I Never Forgave,  made me pause, and I wrote the following note to myself: “I should write the story of my life and the stormy relationship with my father.”  My father was a great man in the law and politics, but also an alcoholic and a dead beat dad. I was blessed to have a marvelous reconciliation with him shortly before he died prematurely of cancer.  https://nyti.ms/2SxioCC

 

Last but not least, Nicholas Kristof writes, A Young Doctor, Fighting For His Life:

“Dr. Andres Maldonado normally bounded into the Emergency Department, fit and vigorous, but this time he had to be escorted in, pale and fighting for breath, with a patient bracelet on his right wrist. A nurse, seeing her colleague struggle, burst into tears.

Maldonado was 27, a third-year resident physician with no underlying medical conditions. When he came down with a fever on March 23, he called in sick. Soon he developed a tightness in his chest and tested positive for the coronavirus.

At first he resisted the idea of seeking treatment. He was by nature stoical; in youth soccer games, other boys had crumpled when injured, but Maldonado always got up and limped through his pain. Now as a doctor — a badass emergency doctor, he jokingly called himself — he was humiliated by the thought of becoming a patient.

But on March 31, so out of breath he could barely get to the bathroom, he called his older brother, Nestor, also an emergency physician, who remembers panic in Andres’s voice.

“It hurts to breathe,” Andres told his brother. “My body aches all over. I’ve been having really bad fevers, and I’m getting, like, dizzy.”

“Yo,” his brother ordered him, “get your butt to the E.R.”

Maldonado called his parents to say that he was going to the hospital. His dad, Jose Maldonado, was a refugee from the civil war in El Salvador who started life over as a dishwasher in New York. His mom, Cecilia Aguilar-Maldonado, came from Ecuador, and both were undocumented for a time — yet they sent both sons through medical school. The parents were the first of many to be devastated by their son’s sickness. https://nyti.ms/3f9cr8F

Opinion | The Money Machine That Can Save Cities – By Claudia Sahm – The New York Times

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Ms. Sahm was an economist at the Federal Reserve from 2008 to 2019.

Credit…Eva Hambach/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“State and local budgets across the United States are beginning to buckle under the economic strain caused by Covid-19. Because the economy is essentially in a medically induced coma, sales tax revenue and revenue from other business taxes have dried up. That means the funds to take care of communities — to pay teachers, to support Medicaid, to hire emergency medical workers, to maintain roads, to build low-income housing — are also drying up.

Because 40 out of 50 states have laws mandating that both the state’s overall budget and the budgets of nearly all cities be balanced, state governments are already laying off employees and cutting services. More than 14,000 workers in state governments lost their jobs in March. Terrifyingly, those losses, counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only stretch through mid-March, before the shutdowns were nationwide.

Local officials were blindsided by this crisis and the costs it required to rapidly ramp up medical care and the social safety net. But so far Congress has allocated only $150 billion for state and local governments from the trillions of dollars its approved for pandemic relief. It’s too little and often it’s arriving too late.

The Federal Reserve knows this. And so, the central bank, with consent from Congress and in partnership with the Treasury, has joined the effort to shore up local and state finances by taking the unprecedented move of “backstopping the municipal bond market.” “

 

Amazon Alternatives

Ethical Alternatives to Amazon

Welcome to the most lovingly curated selection of Amazon and Prime alternatives anywhere. We aim to make giving up Amazon easy and to encourage more people to spend their money with businesses that have higher ethical standards.

While Amazon’s monopolistic stranglehold on our economy has made it increasingly difficult to completely avoid supporting them, we’ve discovered that—contrary to conventional wisdom—it’s often possible to find lower prices, sometimes substantially, by shopping elsewhere. You just have to know where to look…

Our Ideal Bundle

This is a subjective selection of our ideal Prime-replacing bundle from the extensive options we’ve researched and tested. We think the average user of these alternatives to Amazon will be able to access a broader selection of goods, save money and support more ethical business practices.

Source: Amazon Alternatives

Op-Ed: Coronavirus shows animal and human health are inseparable – By VIVECA MORRIS – Los Angeles Times

“About two-thirds of emerging infectious diseases in humans — including COVID-19, SARS, MERS, Ebola, HIV, Zika, H1N1, cholera and almost all recent epidemics — came from animals. And 70% of those originated in wildlife.

Pathogens have leaped from animals to humans for eons, but the pace of this spillover has increased rapidly over the last century. As 7.8 billion people on this planet radically alter ecosystems and raise, capture and trade animals at an unprecedented scale, “the road from animal microbe to human pathogen” has turned into a “highway,” as the journalist Sonia Shah has written.

The growing body of scientific research is clear: Diseases like COVID-19 are an expected consequence of how we’re choosing to treat animals and their habitats.

By changing the nature and frequency of human-animal interactions, our actions — through the wildlife trade, deforestation, land conversion, industrial animal farming, the burning of fossil fuels, and more — propel the emergence and transmission of novel and known human infectious diseases.”

Source: Op-Ed: Coronavirus shows animal and human health are inseparable – Los Angeles Times