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

By 

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 | How to Do Reparations Right – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Monica Almeida/The New York Times

“This moment is about police brutality, but it’s not only about police brutality. The word I keep hearing is “exhausted.”

People are exhausted by and fed up with the enduring wealth disparities between white and black, with the health disparities that leave black people more vulnerable to Covid-19, with the centuries-long disparities in violence and the threat of violence, with daily indignities of African-Americans and stains that linger on our nation decade after decade.

The killing of George Floyd happened in a context — and that context is racial disparity.

Racial disparity doesn’t make for gripping YouTube videos. It doesn’t spark mass protests because it’s not an event; it’s just the daily condition of our lives.

It’s just a condition that people in affluent Manhattan live in one universe and people a few miles away in the Bronx live in a different universe. It’s just a condition that many black families send their kids to struggling inner-city schools while white families move to the suburbs and put on black T-shirts every few years to protest racial injustice.

The response to this moment will be inadequate if it’s just police reforms. There has to be a greater effort to tackle the wider disparities.

Reparations and integration are the way to do that. Reparations would involve an official apology for centuries of slavery and discrimination, and spending money to reduce their effects.

There’s a wrong way to spend that money: trying to find the descendants of slaves and sending them a check. That would launch a politically ruinous argument over who qualifies for the money, and at the end of the day people might be left with a $1,000 check that would produce no lasting change.

Giving reparations money to neighborhoods is the way to go.

A lot of the segregation in this country is geographic. In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, early-20th-century whites-only housing covenants pushed blacks into smaller and smaller patches of the city. Highways were built through black neighborhoods, ripping their fabric and crippling their economic vitality.

Today, Minneapolis is as progressive as the day is long, but the city gradually gave up on aggressive desegregation. And so you have these long-suffering black neighborhoods. The homeownership rate for blacks in Minneapolis is one-third the white rate. The typical black family earns less than half as much as the typical white family.

To really change things, you have to lift up and integrate whole communities. That’s because it takes a whole community to raise a child, to support an adult, to have a bustling local economy and a vibrant civic life. The neighborhood is the unit of change.

Who has the expertise to lift up whole neighborhoods? It’s the people who live in the neighborhoods themselves. No outsider with a foundation grant or a government contract really knows what’s going on in any neighborhood or would be trusted to make change. The people who live in the neighborhoods know what to do. They just need the resources to do it.

A few weeks before the lockdown I was in and around South Los Angeles. In Watts I interviewed Keisha Daniels from Sisters of Watts, which helps kids and homeless people in a variety of ways. I interviewed Barak and Sara Bomani of Unearth and Empower Communities, which helps educate and nurture young people in nearby Compton.

Daniels and the Bomanis are experts in how to lift up their neighborhoods. If we got them money and support they would figure out what to do.

How can government focus money on formerly redlined neighborhoods and other communities?

National service programs would pay young people to work for these organizations. A National Endowment for Civic Architecture, modeled on, say, the National Endowment for the Arts, could support neighborhood groups around the country. A Social Innovation Fund would be a private/public partnership to fund such organizations. Moving to Opportunity grants and K-12 education savings accounts would help minorities to move to integrated schools. Collective impact structures could coordinate local action and use data to find what works.

In the progressive era, governments built libraries across the country, which remain vital centers of neighborhood life. We’re about to have a lot of empty retail space. Why can’t we build Opportunity Centers where all the groups moving children from cradle to career could work and collaborate?

It’s true this has sort of been tried before. The Great Society had a “Community Action” project that professed to redistribute power to neighborhoods. But it did it in the worst possible ways. A lot of what it did involved sending disruptive agitators to stir up conflict between local activists and local elected officials. The result was rancor and gridlock.

This tumultuous moment offers a chance to launch a new chapter in our history, and reparations are part of that launch. They offer a chance to build vibrant neighborhoods where diverse people want to live together, where the atmosphere is kids playing on the sidewalks and not a knee in the back of the neck.”     -30-

 

David Lindsay: -30- is an old journalist code, meaning, the end of the article.  David Brooks is my kind of conservative Republican, or former Republican. He has been on a journey over the last five years, involving an awakening, a transformation. And he is so smart and well read, he actually know how to get stuff identified that some future government might agree to, and which might actually work.

It is fun and rewarding to read the comments to this piece at the NYT, since most of the readers have long hated David Brooks, and are slowly admitting or recognizing that he has changed. Brooks still disappoints the Bernie Bros, but they never had a list of solutions that would be acceptable today to a majority of Americans, even it they are good ideas.

Campaigning in a Crisis: Obama, McCain, Trump and Biden – By Adam Nagourney – The New York Times

“It was a late Sunday afternoon in September 2008, and senior aides to Barack Obama were gathered at his presidential campaign headquarters in Chicago. Their latest polling showed that Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, had lost his lead over his opponent, Senator John McCain, since the Republican convention. They were worried.

Two hours into the meeting, Mr. Obama walked in the door. Henry M. Paulson, the secretary of the Treasury, had just alerted him of bad economic news that would become public in the coming hours, Mr. Obama told his aides. “The world is going to change and whatever you guys are working on is going to be different tomorrow,” he said, according to participants.

Early the next morning, Lehman Brothers, one of the nation’s most prominent securities firms, filed for bankruptcy. The collapse shook the nation’s financial industry and sent the stock market into free fall. Overnight, with the election less than two months away, a historic economic crisis transformed America’s presidential race, testing both candidates on who best could lead the nation to recovery.

With its staggering death toll, surging unemployment and economic devastation, the Covid-19 crisis confronting the nation today is far more cataclysmic than the 2008 meltdown. But Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain faced a series of choices — on leadership, empathy and tone, on executing political strategy and navigating fast-moving events on Wall Street, Main Street and Washington — that are relevant and even illuminating as President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. try to navigate another campaign playing out against the backdrop of a national emergency.

Opinion | The First Invasion of America – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“I was an American history major in college, back in the 1980s.

I’ll be honest with you. I thrilled to the way the American story was told back then. To immigrate to America was to join the luckiest and greatest nation in history. “Nothing in all history had ever succeeded like America, and every American knew it,” Henry Steele Commager wrote in his 1950 book, “The American Mind.”

To be born American was to be born to a glorious destiny. We were the nation of the future, the vanguard of justice, the last best hope of mankind. “Have the elder races halted?” Walt Whitman asked, “Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas? We take up the task eternal.”

To be born American was to be born boldly individual, daring and self-sufficient. “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in an essay called, very Americanly, “Self-Reliance.”

To be born American was to bow down to no one, to say: I’m no better than anyone else, but nobody’s better than me. Tocqueville wrote about the equality of condition he found in America; no one putting on airs over anyone else. In 1981, Samuel Huntington wrote that American creed was built around a suspicion of authority and a fervent rejection of hierarchy: “The essence of egalitarianism is rejection of the idea that one person has the right to exercise power over another.”
I found it all so energizing. Being an American was not just a citizenship. It was a vocation, a call to serve a grand national mission.

Today, of course, we understand what was wrong with that version of American history. It didn’t include everybody. It left out the full horrors of slavery and genocide.

But here’s what has struck me forcefully, especially during the pandemic: That whole version of the American creed was all based on an assumption of existential security. Americans had the luxury of thinking and living the way they did because they had two whopping great oceans on either side. The United States was immune to foreign invasion, the corruptions of the old world. It was often spared the plagues that swept over so many other parts of the globe.”

Brooks ends with, “Something lovely is being lost. America’s old idea of itself unleashed a torrent of energy. But the American identity that grows up in the shadow of the plague can have the humanity of shared vulnerability, the humility that comes with an understanding of the precariousness of life and a fierce solidarity that emerges during a long struggle against an invading force.”

‘Sadness’ and Disbelief From a World Missing American Leadership – By Katrin Bennhold – The New York Times

“BERLIN — As images of America’s overwhelmed hospital wards and snaking jobless lines have flickered across the world, people on the European side of the Atlantic are looking at the richest and most powerful nation in the world with disbelief.

“When people see these pictures of New York City they say, ‘How can this happen? How is this possible?’” said Henrik Enderlein, president of the Berlin-based Hertie School, a university focused on public policy. “We are all stunned. Look at the jobless lines. Twenty-two million,” he added.

“I feel a desperate sadness,” said Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European history at Oxford University and a lifelong and ardent Atlanticist.

The pandemic sweeping the globe has done more than take lives and livelihoods from New Delhi to New York. It is shaking fundamental assumptions about American exceptionalism — the special role the United States played for decades after World War II as the reach of its values and power made it a global leader and example to the world.”

DL: I found this piece on Facebook from Seth Bates.

Editorial | Amid Coronavirus, America Needs a More Just Society – The New York Times

“From some of its darkest hours, the United States has emerged stronger and more resilient.

Between May and July 1862, even as Confederate victories in Virginia raised doubts about the future of the Union, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln kept their eyes on the horizon, enacting three landmark laws that shaped the nation’s next chapter: The Homestead Act allowed Western settlers to claim 160 acres of public land apiece; the Morrill Act provided land grants for states to fund universities; and the Pacific Railway Act underwrote the transcontinental railroad.

Nearly 75 years later, in the depths of the Great Depression, with jobs in short supply and many Americans reduced to waiting in bread lines, President Franklin Roosevelt proved similarly farsighted. He concluded the best way to revive and sustain prosperity was not merely to pump money into the economy but to rewrite the rules of the marketplace. “Liberty,” Roosevelt said at the Democratic Party’s convention in 1936, “requires opportunity to make a living — a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.” His administration, working with Congress, enshrined the right of workers to bargain collectively, imposed strict rules and regulators on the financial industry, and created Social Security to provide pensions for the elderly and disabled.”

“. . .  A major investment in public health would be a fitting place to start.

The larger project, however, is to increase the resilience of American society. Generations of federal policymakers have prioritized the pursuit of economic growth with scant regard for stability or distribution. This moment demands a restoration of the national commitment to a richer conception of freedom: economic security and equality of opportunity. That’s why Times Opinion is publishing this project across the next two months, to envision how to turn the America we have into the America we need.

The purpose of the federal government, Lincoln wrote to Congress on July 4, 1861, was “to elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial burdens from all shoulders, and to give everyone an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.” The Homestead Act in particular was a concrete step in that direction: 10 percent of all the land in the United States was ultimately distributed in 160-acre chunks. But Lincoln’s conception of “everyone” did not include everyone: The Homestead Act rested on the expropriation of Native American lands.

Roosevelt shared Lincoln’s vision of government, but industry had replaced agriculture as the wellspring of prosperity, so he focused on ensuring a more equitable distribution of the nation’s manufacturing output — although African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens in many New Deal programs.

The United States today is in need of new measures to stake all Americans in the modern economy.

To give Americans a fair chance in the race of life, the government must begin from birth. The United States must reclaim the core truth of the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Brown v. Board of Education: So long as Americans are segregated, their opportunities can never be equal. One of the most important steps the United States can take to ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive is to bulldoze enduring patterns of racial and economic segregation. Zoning laws that limit residential development in the very areas where good jobs are most abundant are one of the most important structural obstacles to a more integrated nation.

Over the course of this project, we will examine other ways to equalize opportunity early in life, and also to restore a healthier balance of power between employers and workers.

One of the clearest lessons of the pandemic is that many employers feel shockingly little obligation to protect the health and welfare of their workers, and workers have been left with little means to organize or resist. Amazon, one of the nation’s largest employers, fired a worker protesting safety conditions at the company’s warehouses on the Orwellian grounds that his protest was itself a safety hazard. A manager at a Uline call center instructed employees not to tell colleagues if they weren’t feeling well because it might cause “unnecessary panic.” “

Opinion | Are We Really Facing the Coronavirus Together? – By Michael J. Sandel – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard. His forthcoming book is “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?”

Credit…Erica Lee for The New York Times

“Mobilizing to confront the pandemic and, eventually, to reconstruct the shattered economy, requires not only medical and economic expertise but moral and political renewal. We need to ask a basic question that we have evaded over these last decades: What do we owe one another as citizens?

In a pandemic, this question arises most urgently as a question about health care: Should medical care be accessible to all, regardless of their ability to pay? The Trump administration decided that the federal government would pay for coronavirus treatment for the uninsured. Whether it will be possible to reconcile the moral logic of this policy with the notion that health coverage in ordinary times should be left to the market remains to be seen.

But beyond the issue of health care, we need to think more broadly about the way we contend with inequality. We need to better reward the social and economic contributions of work done by the majority of Americans, who don’t have college degrees. And we need to reckon with the morally corrosive downsides of meritocracy.

In response to rising inequality, mainstream politicians of both parties have, in recent decades, called for greater equality of opportunity — improving access to higher education so that everyone, whatever their starting point in life, can rise as far as their effort and talent will take them. This is, in itself, a worthy principle.

But as an answer to inequality, the rhetoric of rising — the promise that the talented will be able to climb the ladder of success — has a dark side. Part of the problem is that we fail to live up to the meritocratic principles we proclaim. For example, most students at highly selective colleges and universities come from affluent families. At many elite colleges, including Yale and Princeton, there are more students from the top 1 percent than from the entire bottom 60 percent of the country.

There is also a deeper problem: Even a perfect meritocracy, in which opportunities for advancement were truly equal, would corrode solidarity. Focusing on helping the talented clamber up the ladder of success can keep us from noticing that the rungs on the ladder are growing further and further apart.

Meritocracies also produce morally unattractive attitudes among those who make it to the top. The more we believe that our success is our own doing, the less likely we are to feel indebted to, and therefore obligated to, our fellow citizens. The relentless emphasis on rising and striving encourages the winners to inhale too deeply of their success, and to look down on those who lack meritocratic credentials.”

Editorial | Amid Coronavirus, America Needs a More Just Society – The New York Times

“From some of its darkest hours, the United States has emerged stronger and more resilient.

Between May and July 1862, even as Confederate victories in Virginia raised doubts about the future of the Union, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln kept their eyes on the horizon, enacting three landmark laws that shaped the nation’s next chapter: The Homestead Act allowed western settlers to claim 160 acres of public land apiece; the Morrill Act provided land grants for states to fund universities; and the Pacific Railway Act underwrote the transcontinental railroad.

Nearly 75 years later, in the depths of the Great Depression, with jobs in short supply and many Americans reduced to waiting in bread lines, President Franklin Roosevelt proved similarly farsighted. He concluded the best way to revive and sustain prosperity was not merely to pump money into the economy but to rewrite the rules of the marketplace. “Liberty,” Roosevelt said at the Democratic Party’s convention in 1936, “requires opportunity to make a living — a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.” His administration, working with Congress, enshrined the right of workers to bargain collectively, imposed strict rules and regulators on the financial industry, and created Social Security to provide pensions for the elderly and disabled.

 

This article is part of a Times Opinion series exploring how the nation can emerge from this crisis stronger, fairer and more free. Read the editor’s introductory letter.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare once again the incomplete nature of the American project — the great distance between the realities of life and death in the United States and the values enunciated in its founding documents.”

Opinion | My Father- Out to Sea – By Jaed Coffin – The New York Times

By Jaed Coffin

Mr. Coffin is a writer.

CreditIleana Soon

“For as long as I can remember, my father’s favorite expression has always been “out to sea.” As in, “Well, I used to see that guy around, but then he got divorced, quit his job, and he just went out to sea.” Like many of my father’s expressions, “out to sea” is based on a vague and maybe misunderstood historical allusion; in this case, to the original men of Nantucket, who, my father claims, are my direct male ancestors. These brave souls would regularly leave their families for years on end, to slaughter sperm whales in distant oceans thousands of miles from home. “That’s just how it was back then,” my father often told me, in a whimsical tone laced with longing and nostalgia. “The men in our family, they just went out to sea.”

I’ve never been to Nantucket, and, raised by my single Thai mother, have never had much interest in my father’s heritage. But as a boy, something about my father’s use of the expression “out to sea” always intrigued me. For my father, going “out to sea” carried a mystical connotation, charged with rebellion and renunciation. Men (always men) seemed to reach a point in their lives when the burdens of domestic life — spouse, kids, job, community, whatever — grew too heavy, and the only path to spiritual freedom required that we drift into the mists of existence, never to be seen again.

We make strange heroes out of those who go “out to sea”: Don Draper is one of the newest members of the club. Jack Nicholson’s character in “Five Easy Pieces” (one of my father’s favorite movies), who abandons his girlfriend at a gas station by hitching a ride to Alaska in a logging truck, definitely belongs, too. Even Siddhartha Gautama, auspicious figure of my faith, who left behind his newborn son “Rahula” (Pali for “shackle”) for a life of meditation in the forest, might be the most famous man to ever go “out to sea.” How can I argue with the Buddha?

But my affection for men who go “out to sea” gets complicated when I locate it within the context of my relationship with my father, who met my mother on a military base during the Vietnam War. After the war, my parents came back to the United States, to New England, to start a family. Shortly after I was born, my father got involved with another woman, an American woman, wandered around for a few years, then moved in with her and her five children in Vermont. This left my mother, who worked the night shift as a psychiatric nurse at the local hospital, to raise my older sister and me on her own back in Maine. Throughout my boyhood, it never occurred to me how carefully my mother — who’d been raised in a stilt house, in a dusty village in Central Thailand — had to both scrutinize and adopt the strange customs of New England culture, how learning to navigate these foreign waters became, by necessity, the great project of her adult life.”