Will We Ever Bring the Wealthy to Justice in America?

The Daily Escape:

Evening mist, Southampton, MA – July 4, 2021 photo by Kendall Lavoie

From Patrick Radden Keefe in the NYT:

“In 2016, a small-time drug dealer in Leesburg, Va., named Darnell Washington sold a customer a batch of what he thought was heroin. It turned out to be fentanyl. The customer shared it with a friend, and the friend died from an overdose….prosecutors have begun treating overdose deaths not as accidents but as crimes, using tough statutes to charge the dealers who sold the drugs. Mr. Washington had never met the person who overdosed. But, facing a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 20 years for distribution resulting in death, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of distribution and is now serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison.”

Shouldn’t that same level of criminal liability also be directed at Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin? After all, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services:

“More than 760,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. Two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid.”

And OxyContin is an opioid. It should be clear that the members of the billionaire Sackler family who own a controlling stake in Purdue, must also face the music. But, that isn’t happening. The Sacklers are likely to receive a sweeping grant of immunity from all litigation relating to their role in helping precipitate and prolong America’s opioid crisis. From NPR: (brackets by Wrongo)

“As part of the bankruptcy talks, they’ve [the Sacklers] offered to give up control of the company and pay roughly $4.2 billion. In exchange, under the current deal on the table, the Sacklers would keep much of their wealth, admit no wrongdoing and be sheltered from future opioid lawsuits.”

It’s interesting that state DAs and DOJ attorneys can charge dealers with drug induced homicide in overdose cases and yet can’t (or won’t) charge the executives or owners in the Purdue/Sackler case.

In October 2020, during the dying days of the Trump administration, the Sacklers reached a settlement agreement with the US DOJ. Forty states have now agreed to this plan, although significant holdouts remain. Connecticut has filed an objection to the bankruptcy exit plan and has been joined by eight other states: California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

According to the formal objection:

“…the attorneys general oppose a provision in the bankruptcy plan that would grant the Sacklers lifetime immunity from all liability, which would prevent the states from bringing consumer protection lawsuits against the family. And they highlighted a recent New York Times editorial that showed the Sacklers will continue to earn interest on their $4.3 billion as the settlement is paid out over nine years, thus ensuring they will be wealthier than they were when they started.”

In response, the Sacklers threatened a motion for sanctions against five of the dissenting states for allegedly false statements in the states’ proofs of claim, only to withdraw their 201 page motion the next day. That big memo probably cost a fortune for the lawyers to produce, but hey, it’s the Sacklers! More than anything, it shows that the Sacklers have no sense of contrition for their role in the OxyContin debacle.

There is still some reason to hope that the Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain won’t agree to the blanket immunity for the Sacklers. This week, the DOJ made two separate court filings that raised Constitutional and other concerns about the settlement. From NPR:

“US Trustee William Harrington….accused the Sacklers and their associates of using the bankruptcy system to avoid liability for ‘alleged wrongdoing in concocting and perpetuating for profit one of the most severe public health crises ever experienced in the United States’”

Their argument is technical, and the saga is far from over. In the light of Harrington’s objections, and the arguments made by the state AG holdouts, it may be difficult for Judge Drain to sign off on the immunities as they now stand, especially since the Sacklers are retaining the bulk of their fortune, and that no individual executives were charged, even with misdemeanors.

Where’s the justice? What people really want, more than compensation for harm done to them, is justice. They want proof that the rich and their corporations can’t just commit crimes that harm or kill people on a massive scale, and then use their wealth and political connections to evade the consequences.

Worse, the victims won’t blame Purdue or the Sacklers if/when they’re betrayed. People expect companies or the wealthy to defend themselves to the best of their ability.

They will blame the government, for feigning helplessness in this case, just like they did with the banks in 2009.

And for allowing a separate standard of justice for the wealthy to prevail. Again.


Senate Authorizes New Industrial Policy

The Daily Escape:

Oro Valley, AZ – 2021 photo by PoohBear512

On June 8, the Senate passed a major industrial policy bill that would direct government investment toward critical technological sectors. The bill is intended to reinvigorate the manufacturing segment of the US technology sector, providing alternatives to supply chains dependent on Chinese microchips. Some argue that it also lays the foundation for long-term economic and technological competition with China. The bill passed with a filibuster-proof 68 votes.

The debate over industrial policy is politically charged because it goes to the heart of a deeper, long-standing controversy over the role of free markets and the role of the government in the economy.

Proponents of a state-directed and funded industrial policy argue that the government has the duty to structure the economy in the national interest, since the free market may fail to do so. We know that manufacturing provides stable, well-paid employment, but that isn’t factored into an individual firm’s decision-making. We can look at American firm’s offshoring of production even though it has cost jobs domestically while also offshoring manufacturing know-how.

As we discovered with Covid, it is very important to produce critical goods domestically. Industrial policy can help a country determine what critical goods it needs to produce domestically, such as medical supplies, or military equipment, for national security reasons. We learned about the automotive chip shortage, which is part of the greater issue of foreign control of global computer chip production.

There is also an argument that the government should fund R&D because the societal benefits go far beyond what companies will ever invest in.

Industrial policy fell out of favor in the US during the 1980s and 1990s with the development of the Washington Consensus, that defined economic development as the result of free-market policies such as the privatization of state enterprises and promotion of free trade.

But because of our competition with China, there’s a renewed interest among DC politicians across the aisle with again doing what Republicans have castigated Democrats for doing: “Betting on winners and losers”.

The bill authorizes the lion’s share of the money, totaling $190 billion, for a major rethinking of federal science, technology and research spending. It creates a new technology division within the National Science Foundation to focus on emerging areas including artificial intelligence. It also gives $10 billion for the Commerce Department to invest in new technology hubs so that other regions and cities across the country can attract the same sort of economic opportunities as Silicon Valley.

If some version of the bill eventually passes both Houses and is signed into law by Biden, it represents a major shift in how the US government manages its relations with the tech sector.

Both Republican and Democrats now suddenly seem interested in government intervention in domestic markets. It turns out that bipartisanship is on the menu whenever the issue is socialism for corporations. We can easily pass legislation that sends $ billions to corporations, but money for voting rights, people’s domestic lives, and infrastructure? Not now, maybe not ever.

China has invested in R&D while the lion’s share of American firms have squandered their money on share buybacks. Shame on us for supporting tax cuts for corporations! If only we had the foresight to know how stupid those things were. Here’s a chart:

Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Oh wait. Many of us had that foresight.

We did this with Japan back in the late 1970s. Earlier, we outspent the Russians in the space race.

This time we will probably give $ billions to the some of the same companies that decided to move their factories to China in the first place. Oversight will be crucially important.

Nothing we do will prevent China from educating its people, building new infrastructure, and focusing on STEM. But we can keep our edge over the Chinese by focusing on education, basic research, infrastructure upgrades, and STEM.

And the Chinese won’t be an easy target.

While we debate whether intelligent design and Critical Race Theory should be taught in our schools, the Chinese will be colonizing the Moon. While we fight about the 2nd Amendment, the Chinese are moving to dominate the global economy.

Most of the bill funds domestic investments to remain technologically competitive and reduce dependence on our economic adversaries. This seems like sound policy.


Monday Wake Up Call – June 7, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Paines Creek Beach, Cape Cod MA – May 2021 photo by Kristen Wilkinson Photography

People worldwide are finally waking up to the tax mischief of multinational corporations. When Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced earlier this year that it was time to end the “race to the bottom” and implement a global minimum tax for corporations, few took her seriously.

But now we could be on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation moment that would benefit funding of our public services immensely.

On Saturday at the G7 meeting, the members agreed to back a new global minimum tax rate of 15% for companies to pay on income, regardless of where they are based. The deal is focused on two main changes: reallocating taxes towards countries where economic activity takes place, rather than where these firms choose to book their profits, along with setting a minimum tax rate.

If enacted, the agreement would stop large multinational companies from locating in tax havens, which will force them to pay more taxes. This is clearly revolutionary. The winners would be large economies where multinationals sell a lot, but where they book little taxable profit, thanks to tax loopholes that allow them to siphon off income into low-tax jurisdictions.

This has become a larger problem since the rise of the digital giants like Apple and Google, companies with mostly intangible assets. The most obvious losers will be the tax haven countries that, more than half a century ago, started taking advantage of globalization by drastically lowering their tax rates.

The most sophisticated firms, those with battalions of tax lawyers and accountants, have for years employed tax loopholes in individual countries’ tax laws to minimize their total tax liability. While not all tax loopholes deal with international sales, they are a prime method that the biggest firms use to avoid income taxes.

The NYT cites a report from the EU Tax Observatory which estimated that a 15% minimum tax would yield an additional $58 billion in tax revenue per year.

Between 2011 and 2020, Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet (the owner of Google), Netflix, Apple, and Microsoft paid roughly $219 billion in income taxes, which amounted to just 3.6% of their more than $6 trillion in total revenue, according to the Fair Tax Foundation.

Had these six firms paid the prevailing tax rates in the countries in which they operate, they would have given global tax authorities over $149 billion more than they did over the past decade.

But tax reform isn’t a sure thing. Next month, the G7 must sell the concept to finance ministers from the broader G20 group of nations. If that is successful, officials hope that a final deal can be signed by the Group of 20 leaders when they meet next in October. Ireland, which has a tax rate of 12.5%, has come out against the global minimum tax. China has been quiet, but is considered unlikely to buy in.

G7 finance officials think that if enough advanced economies sign on, other countries will be compelled to follow suit. They plan to exert political pressure on Ireland to join the agreement.

The Biden administration has been eager to reach an agreement because a global minimum tax is an ingredient in its plans to raise the US corporate tax rate to 28% from the current 21%, to help shave the deficit. While Republicans and corporations think that increasing taxes would make American companies less competitive, getting other countries to go along with a minimum tax rate on overseas profits would minimize the home field disadvantage to American companies.

Time to wake up, America! We need our Congress, along with world leaders, to step up and enact this new tax policy. Changes to the tax code requires approval from both Houses of Congress, so this may never happen.

To help you wake up, listen to a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken” by RL Burnside, with an all-star supporting cast including Buddy Guy with the first guitar solo, Derek Trucks with the second guitar solo and James Cotton on solo harmonica.

You may not be aware that Rolling Stone has a list of their top 80 Dylan covers . Here’s Burnside’s blues take on Dylan:

Sample lyric:

Broken hands on broken ploughs,

Broken treaties, broken vows,

Broken pipes, broken tools,

People bending broken rules.

Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking,

Everything is broken.


Monday Wake Up Call – May 24, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sun, clouds and Saguaros, North Scottsdale AZ – photo by rayredstonemedia61

After three decades of digital technology development, it’s evident that cybersecurity isn’t being adequately ensured by Mr. Market’s “invisible hand.” In remarks at the White House last Thursday, Biden said:

“…private entities are in charge of their own cybersecurity…and we know what they need. They need greater private-sector investment in cybersecurity.”

Wrongo’s last assignment was as CEO for a division of a F500 defense contractor. We were targeted by Chinese and other hackers thousands of times per day. By 2005, the parent company was investing tens of millions annually on cybersecurity. Most non-defense firms have come to investing in cybersecurity slowly and without large funding.

We again became painfully aware of the issue when hackers shut down the Colonial pipeline on Mother’s Day, bringing back gas shortages and long conga lines of cars trying to fill up. We subsequently heard that Colonial paid the hackers $4.4 million in Bitcoin to regain control of their networks.

From the New Yorker:

“…we are a country that has seen nearly a thousand reported ransomware attacks on our critical infrastructure since 2013. This includes transportation services, wastewater facilities, communications systems, and hospitals. The average recovery cost of a ransomware attack for businesses is around two million dollars.”

Even though private companies are most vulnerable to counterattacks, they continue to set their own cybersecurity standards largely based on operational and economic priorities, even if their negligence exposes the public to risks. So why won’t companies fix their mess?

Most in the private sector think that cybersecurity regulations will cost too much, which they do not want to pay, or may be incapable of paying. Many in the private sector also consider requirements for better cybersecurity to be yet another form of government regulation.

Mostly, it’s about money and secondarily, about a shortage of IT skills. Some argue that the incentive structure is backwards. Companies often think the costs of adding robust cybersecurity to be higher than their likely losses from a cyber theft. In a way, they are self-insuring, but that ignores the harm to their customers that occurs when personal information is stolen, or when you can’t buy gasoline.

CEOs are concerned primarily with the short-term profits and stock prices of their corporations. Companies have regularly absorbed losses incurred by security breaches, rather than reveal weaknesses in their internal cybersecurity systems, all in the name of protecting management reputations.

In 2015, Obama’s DHS designated dams, defense, agriculture, health care, and twelve other sectors of the economy as “critical infrastructure,” meaning that they:

“…are so vital to the US that their incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on our physical or economic security or public health or safety.”

But while the DHS issued cybersecurity guidelines to those sectors, most companies operating critical infrastructure (like Colonial) are privately owned, and they ignored them. That includes 80% of the energy sector, including pipelines, power generation, and the electricity grid. DHS said in 2015 that those industries needed to develop a common vision and framework to deal with cyber threats.

But corporate America never developed that vision and framework.

In 2019, a European cybersecurity researcher using open-source tools available to anyone, identified and mapped the location of twenty-six thousand industrial-control systems across the US whose internet configurations left them exposed and vulnerable to attack. But you know, they would be prohibitively expensive to fix.

On May 12th, Biden issued an executive order that directed federal agencies and their contractors to abide by a host of stringent new cybersecurity regulations and reporting requirements. The order also required IT service providers and companies that operate industrial-control systems, to inform the government about cybersecurity breaches that could affect American networks.

Biden’s order is a significant workaround for the lack of government control of cybersecurity in the private sector. Many of the cloud services and software packages used by government agencies are also used in the private sector. So, Biden is creating the likelihood that those standards and requirements will be more broadly adopted. That would be similar to auto-emissions standards: When California raised its standards, 12 other states decided to adopt those requirements, and five automakers agreed to design all their new cars to meet them.

Something similar could occur with cybersecurity. Like with Covid, we’re again learning that there’s a very good reason for a robust central government that has the will to write and enforce 21st Century regulations.

Time to wake up America! Corporations aren’t your friends. From sending jobs abroad, to out-of-control share buybacks, to failing to invest in cybersecurity, they need much closer scrutiny. To help you wake up, let’s dust off Depeche Mode with their 1989 hit “Personal Jesus”:


Monday Wake Up Call – May 10, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Lone Juniper, Black Canyon, Gunnison NP, CO – 2020 photo by Mattbnet

Isn’t it time that corporations paid decent wages?

After the Labor Department released its April jobs report, the US Chamber of Commerce blamed last month’s weak employment growth on the $300 weekly supplemental jobless benefit. They then urged lawmakers to eliminate the enhanced unemployment payments that were extended through early September by Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

This, from the dudes who willingly spend $300 on a lunch.

According to the US Chamber’s analysis, the extra $300 unemployment insurance (UI) benefit results in roughly one in four recipients taking home more pay than they earned working. But, if one in four recipients are making more not working than they did working, that’s not an indictment of $300 a week in UI benefits. It’s an indictment of corporations who pay less-than-living wages.

We could blame Asia for this, or we can blame our managerial and ownership class who engineered the outsourcing deals that made it possible. They built factories in Asia as an economic-production-economic-aggression platform to disintermediate American workers by sending higher wage jobs to lower wage locations in the Far East. And in many cases, the same companies who closed the American plants owned the Asian factories.

It’s sickening to hear these big business types complain that raising wages will destroy the economy! That’s the same argument which was used in the South against ending slavery (it would hurt the economy).

The US Chamber isn’t alone. South Carolina is cutting off extended unemployment benefits starting on June 30. From the SC governor:

“South Carolina’s businesses have borne the brunt of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those businesses that have survived — both large and small, and including those in the hospitality, tourism, manufacturing, and healthcare sectors — now face an unprecedented labor shortage,”

South Carolina’s unemployment rate was 12.8% in April of last year. But this March, it was down to 5.1%, significantly below the 6.1% national rate. Still, these Governors (Montana has done this too) are simply acting as shills on behalf of corporations to force workers back into low wage jobs.

Many studies have shown that the employees of big box stores like Walmart and Target cannot meet their basic economic needs on the money they make at their minimum wage job. Many turn to community social services just to feed their families.

It’s not China (or other Asian countries) that are to blame. We demand ever-lower prices, so something had to give. That something was middle-class American jobs. The American public was never part of the discussion about the pros and cons of offshoring manufacturing to lower wage countries, or how that would both lower costs for goods, but also destroy American jobs.

A lot of the people who now shop at Walmart and Target lost their jobs to Mexico, China, or Bangladesh. At which point, they needed some form of welfare, and/or another part time job at Walmart-type wages. And now that they’re on Walmart wages, Walmart prices are all they can afford.

Time to wake up America! We should be asking how can it be that food banks are overwhelmed while the Dow Jones Industrial Average hits an all-time high? Simply, the stock market isn’t the whole economy. The stock market is about corporate profits, while food banks are about minimum wage jobs and unemployment.

We should be asking: Why do these corporations (the small as well as the large) persist with business models that don’t allow them to pay living wages?

We could also ask whether more red states will try to “solve” the employment problem by hurting the unemployed rather than treating the root cause: paying living wages.

To help you wake up, listen to Rag’n’Bone Man and P!nk on Rag’n’Bone Man’s new release, “Anywhere Away from Here”. We often feature music to have fun with, or to dance to. And then there are tunes like this, music for the heart and soul:


Taxes Aren’t Theft

The Daily Escape:

Humpback Whale, Tonga – Photo by Rita Kluge

Joseph Stieglitz has an op-ed in the NYT about saving capitalism from itself. He wants to re-brand capitalism as “progressive capitalism”: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“There is an alternative: progressive capitalism. Progressive capitalism is not an oxymoron; we can indeed channel the power of the market to serve society….The prescription follows from the diagnosis: It begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure strong competition without abusive exploitation, realigning the relationship between corporations and the workers they employ and the customers they are supposed to serve. We must be as resolute in combating market power as the corporate sector is in increasing it.”

America has been debating the role of capitalism in our society since our beginnings. In 1790, John Adams published the Discourses on Davila in which he said that entrenched economic inequality would create a political oligarchy in America similar to what had already occurred in Europe.

The problem isn’t inequality. We’ve survived a permanent underclass, but until recently, it has been a statistical minority. But, we won’t survive today’s continuing erosion of the middle class. Stieglitz says:

“We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.”

He calls for:

“…a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor, and between those with jobs and those who are un- or underemployed.”

Call it progressive capitalism, capitalism plus, democratic capitalism, or whatever you want. At the core of any reform of capitalism is less corporate control over the levers of power, and a redistribution of wealth. Along with the growth in economic inequality and political impotence, so grows the myth propagated by the ultra-rich that higher taxes are a public theft of their hard earned fortunes, and are a threat to their personal freedoms.

Let’s spend a minute on the difference between positive and negative rights.

In the simplest terms, negative rights (most of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights) protect us from the government. They tell us what the government can’t do. The Constitution was designed as primarily a negative rights document, to maximize our individual liberty, and to protect us from the government interfering in our lives. They are most helpful to people whose rights are already protected.

Positive rights are different. They include things like the right to an education, and in some countries, the right to healthcare. Most of us define freedom as: freedom from hunger, freedom from ignorance, freedom from exploitation, freedom from poverty, freedom from hopelessness and despair. Very few positive rights are enumerated in the Constitution, with the exception of the right to have the government protect private property.

Today, if there’s one enduring myth that drives US politics, it is the myth that the rich have earned their reward, through nothing but their own hard work and savvy. The rich want no income redistribution, which they call “socialism”, just as the fat cats said in this cartoon from 1912:

The Republicans in the 1930s called FDR a socialist. Now, as we are thinking about a New Deal 2.0, today’s Republicans want to again brand all Democrats as socialists.

Corporations and the 1% ignore how much they are helped by a system designed by them, and for them. They are contemptuous of government and public authority, which they say act as agents of the poor, attempting to extort the rich.

They forget that our government facilitates and protects their wealth. If not for the many Federal agencies that write regulations favorable to industry, the Federal Reserve, protectors of the banking industry along with others, there would be a lot less wealth for corporations and the 1% to aggregate.

Therefore, they should pay the most.

And remember, rural electrification was a federal project under FDR. The dams on the Columbia River made irrigation possible, opening up western lands to agriculture. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was the Green New Deal of its time, and was the basis for development of a modern Southeastern US. The railroads that opened up the West relied on government property provided to private companies (redistribution?) to develop.

Let’s decide to reform capitalism. First, by making it responsive to the positive rights that average Americans are longing for. Second, paying for that with much high taxes on corporations. If the loopholes created by savvy corporate tax lawyers remain on the books, let’s create a stiff Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for corporations.

Just like the AMT that Wrongo has had to pay for lo, these many years.


The Long Battle to Reform Capitalism

The Daily Escape:

Poppies in bloom, Southern California – March 2019 photo by Leslie Simis. This annual explosion of color is enhanced this year by extraordinary rainfall

You can call the period in US history from FDR to Nixon “America’s social democratic era”.  A collection of politicians had hammered out the policies and regulations that became FDR’s New Deal in America. It became a period of post-war prosperity during which inequality narrowed, economic growth boomed, and optimism reigned.

The characteristics these policies shared were reciprocity and generosity. For the citizen, there was some form of social support that grew from Social Security in 1935 through the 1960’s with Medicare and Medicaid. In 1970, Nixon implemented the Environmental Protection Agency. There was also a willingness to care for the disadvantaged. Our Marshall Plan and our commitment to foreign aid are both great examples. The success of social democracy in the postwar era weakened the market’s power to act independently within our society.

But then things changed. Our government’s role became a helpmate for corporations, financial institutions, and their lobbyists. The result has been growing inequality between suppliers of capital and the suppliers of labor, even of highly educated labor, like teachers and professors. Economic growth slowed, and we have developed a permanent underclass that seems impervious to repair.

Yesterday, we talked about Economic Dignity, and how focusing on it might help solve inequality. Today’s market economics is partly based on the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, economists who viewed human beings as supreme over the state. As individuals who would make rational decisions to maximize utility. It turned out to be incomplete, since it left out key dimensions of human psychology, like the individual’s need for social esteem or respect. In other words, they ignored economic dignity.

Couple that with Milton Friedman’s idea, that the mission of the firm is to solely maximize profits, that any responsibilities to its employees, consumers, or society should be ignored. Profit maximization at all costs has done great damage to American society. And conservatives and free marketers have married the ideas of these three economists, making the removal of government from markets their primary mission.

But what they call “the market” is really a bundle of regulatory (and non-regulatory) rules by which market activities operate. The mix of free and regulated market activities can be changed, even though capitalists say we shouldn’t change the rules, because it adds uncertainty to markets.

Just because in baseball, three strikes and the batter is out, or with four balls, there is a free pass to first base, doesn’t mean it has to be that way. It could be five strikes and you’re out, or three balls is a walk.

As an example, we tend to fight unemployment with “trickle-down” solutions. That means we bribe the rich and corporations to hire more. But, the bribe is always bigger than the payrolls that are generated.

We could fight unemployment with fiscal policy, such as infrastructure spending by the government. It would employ many, possibly hundreds of thousands, and there would be no need to pay any entity more than was warranted by the tasks at hand.

America needs a return to what economist Paul Collier calls the “cornerstones of belonging”— family, workplace, and nation, all of which are threatened by today’s market driven capitalism. That means capitalism has to return to the ethics of the New Deal. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, says: (parenthesis and emphasis by Wrongo)

Over the past half-century, Chicago School economists, (including Milton Friedman) acting on the assumption that markets are generally competitive, narrowed the focus of competition policy solely to economic efficiency, rather than broader concerns about power and inequality. The irony is that this assumption became dominant in policymaking circles just when economists were beginning to reveal its flaws.

Stiglitz says we need the same resolve fighting for an increase in corporate competition that the corporations have demonstrated in their fight against it. We’ll need new policies to manage capitalism.

It means higher taxes on profits.

It means paying workers more.

It means rebuilding public assets like roads.

It means teaching students to be both technically capable, and grounded in their values.

Speaking of needing to teach our students, if you think we’re not in a rigged game, think about one “USC student” who is part of the admissions fraud scandal, Olivia Jade Giannulli. She was on the yacht of the Chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees when she heard about it.


We Need a New New Deal, Not a Green New Deal

The Daily Escape:

St. Augustine Beach, FL – 2015 photo by Wrongo

(Wrongo and Ms. Right leave today for Florida and their annual week-long visit with Wrongo’s sisters. We’re leaving 19° for 70°. Blogging will be uneven, unless Trump wins his wrestling match with Kim, or India and Pakistan declare war.)

Raul Ilargi:

“There are lots of people talking about how they much disagree with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, how silly she is, how dumb and impossible and irresponsible her Green New Deal is, but I think they’re missing a point or two. First of all: what’s the alternative? Who would you trade her for? Would you rather things stay the same?”

Wrongo thinks that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seems savvy beyond her years. The septuagenarians in Congress can’t present themselves as she does, because she’s 29 years old, born in 1989. She’s in the first generation to grow up with a ubiquitous internet. For her elders, like Wrongo, that’s an acquired skill.

Wrongo has been thinking a lot about capitalism reform. Changing capitalism to take advantage of lessons learned in the past 50 years should be seen as a good thing, not the first step on the path to socialism as Republicans would have everyone believe.

And the Green New Deal is more New Deal than green. It emphasizes reforming our current economic system by deficit financing a new jobs program aimed at improving our infrastructure. The new infrastructure should create clean power, zero emissions vehicles, and high quality jobs that pay prevailing wages. It would be financed by a new tax structure that adds revenue while tilting the tax burden away from individuals to corporations and the uber-wealthy.

Wrongo isn’t a fan of Ocasio saying she’s a socialist. That’s most likely a bridge too far for America in 2020. It’s also unnecessary. Calling what she, Bernie, Elizabeth Warren and a few others have as policy goals are, for the most part, reform of capitalism.

Of course, cynical politicians can say that the Green New Deal is not realistic. That takes you back to establishment Democrats like Hillary, Pelosi, Biden, Booker, Harris and a few more we can’t hear. That’s fine if you want young Americans to invade a few more foreign nations, or you prefer growing income inequality for people here at home. Otherwise, they would all be terrible political leaders, particularly if you believe those policies must stop.

Turning to the “Green” part of the Green New Deal, Benjamin Studebaker offers a great perspective: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…at this point, we have integrated the global economy so thoroughly that there may now be many irreducibly global problems that cannot be solved at the national level, even with an American commitment….We don’t have the global political institutions we need to handle problems like this, and every time we try to create them voters balk, accusing us of trying to destroy their cultures and deprive them of “sovereignty” and “national self-determination“, as if there were any meaningful sense in which they still had these things to start with.”

His point is that the US now produces only 15% of total global emissions. More from Studebaker:

“The EU commands a further 10%, while other rich states (such as Japan, Australia, and so on) add another 8%. This means that the rich states only control about a third of total emissions. China controls nearly another third (about 30%), and the rest comes from the remaining developing countries, with India and Russia making the largest contributions (7% and 5%, respectively) of that bunch.”

These developing countries are continuing to increase their emissions. This means that reductions from rich states are cancelled out by the growing emissions of developing countries.

Studebaker concludes that it’s beyond the ability of the US to go green unilaterally, and if we did, it wouldn’t bend the arc of global warming sufficiently to make a meaningful difference.

What we can do is provide an example for the world. We can do the right thing, precisely because it is the right thing to do. And along the way, reforming capitalism will quickly improve the lives of average Americans.

We can form a coalition around capitalism reform that includes most people in the bottom 90% of the economic pyramid. It can include Democrats, Independents and a few Republicans, most of whom would never be part of Bernie’s democratic socialism, or AOC’s Green New Deal.

There will be some version of the Green New Deal that starts in the near future. Let’s call it reform of capitalism, and get started on it today.


Saturday Soother – Amazon Bails on NYC Edition

The Daily Escape:

Marijuana Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands – 2017 photo by Wrongo

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michael Bloomberg agree on something, it’s worth taking seriously, and neither wanted the Amazon deal with NYC. And this week, Amazon scuttled its plans to build its HQ2 in Long Island City, (LIC) Queens, New York City, citing opposition by “state and local politicians.”

Amazon’s abrupt announcement to withdraw from the deal came after it was roughed up at two City Council meetings along with enduring the indignity of having to contend with anti-gentrification protestors and union leaders.

There were two big problems that Amazon faced in LIC. First, they were getting a huge tax subsidy, about $2.8 billion. The tax subsidy looked even worse when we learned this week that Amazon nearly doubled its profits to $11.2 billion in 2018 from $5.6 billion the previous year and, once again, didn’t pay a single cent of federal income taxes.

It didn’t help that the state and city announced the massive subsidies when both are also contending with large budget deficits. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, citing a shortfall of $1 billion in revenues, told city agencies to cut their budgets by $750 million by April. And these cuts would have to be recurring.

This helped build outrage about the nearly $3-billion corporate welfare program for Amazon.

The second problem was gentrification in the LIC neighborhood. Immediately after the announcement, real estate prices zoomed, precisely when Manhattan prices were falling. The NY real estate industry was to be one of the primary beneficiaries of the HQ2 project, but local residents would be driven out of their neighborhoods.

Amazon has a poor track record in Seattle. They had fiercely opposed a local tax on large companies to fund housing for the homeless, and got it reversed one month after it had taken effect. Microsoft, after the tax law was scuppered, pledged $500 million to fund affordable housing for the low and middle income in the Puget Sound area, and encouraged other companies to make similar efforts.

Amazon didn’t join with Microsoft.

All is not lost. Amazon says it will still be expanding employment in NYC. And LIC has been a hot real estate/development market for several years, long before Bezos started playing his urban version of the Hunger Games. If the commercial construction in LIC over the past five years was happening in a second-tier US city, it would be equivalent to an entirely new business district.

A third problem was Amazon’s sense of entitlement. They expected zero push back, and their New York City campaign was inept. Amazon seems to have thought that since it had the governor and mayor in its pocket, all it had to do was show up for photo ops. The NYT points out Amazon didn’t even hire a native to grease the wheels:

“…the company did not hire a single New Yorker as an employee to represent it in discussions with local groups. Its main representatives traveled between Washington and Manhattan, and only one had moved into an apartment to work with community members and foster support.”

Amazon’s leaving was celebrated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who represents the district. She complained about the “creeping overreach of one of the world’s biggest corporations“, and maybe that was the final straw for Bezos.

So props to AOC, and to the local politicians for standing up to this example of corporate welfare.

It’s possible that Jeff Bezos’s sudden change of heart was that he couldn’t stomach the idea of not being able to push around NYC the way he bullied Seattle into dropping its homeless tax. In NYC, he’d have to curry favor, feign interest in the concerns of locals, and make occasional contributions to the city.

Bezos may have felt all that was too high a price. But we should assume Amazon penciled out the deal, and didn’t like the result. For Amazon, it may have been a prudent business decision, artfully dressed up as a response to the political opposition the incentive package was facing.

Maybe, it’s no longer business as usual in America. AOC and other young people may not have money, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use power.

These corporate tax subsidy deals never add up for the cities that make them. Maybe people in other cities will learn from this NYC moment, and fight against the selling of our cities and towns to the uber-wealthy.

Now, it’s time to let go of Amazon, AOC, and Trump’s National Emergency. It’s time to get some Saturday Soothing.

Start by brewing up a vente cup of Roasting Rabbi Coffee, where the company slogan is: “Releasing the Holy Spark in Each Bean!” Try their Breakfast Blend.

Now settle into your most comfy chair and listen to Valentina Lisitsa play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, recorded live in May, 2010 in Leiden, Holland:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.



Today’s Wages Have the Same Purchasing Power as in 1978

(Email publishing of The Wrongologist should be restored as Wrongo is using a different vendor, WordPress. Apologies to those who read in email.)

The Daily Escape:

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, as it might have looked at night in the 12th Century lit by camp fires. Mesa Verde is unique since it is the only NP that preserves the works of man – photo by Rick Dunnahoo

This is going to be a historic year, even when compared to 2018. And it’s starting out with a bang. The government is shut down, half the cabinet is empty, the 2020 presidential race has officially started, and the Democrats are taken over the House.

And that’s without whatever Mueller shoe will drop sometime in the year, or whatever Twitter atrocities Trump decides to commit. In other words, we’re going to have our hands full.

But today, let’s talk about how bad the economy is below the surface of the headline numbers. Debt is rising, and rising debt is supposed to be matched by rising income. It shouldn’t be a surprise that more income is required in order to service more debt. But so far, in the 21st century, for the bottom 90%, debt is growing while income is stagnating.

Pew’s Fact Tank has an analysis that speaks to this problem. Average hourly earnings for non-management private-sector workers in July were $22.65, 2.7% above the average wage from a year earlier. But in the years just before the 2007-08 financial collapse, average hourly earnings often increased by around 4% year-over-year.

And during the high-inflation years of the 1970s and early 1980s, average wages commonly jumped 7%, 8% or even 9% year-over-year.

However, after adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has about the same purchasing power it did in 1978. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.

Here is Pew’s chart demonstrating the problem:

Because there’s been little growth in wages, the growth in the standard of living for those below the 90th percentile has been largely fueled by additional consumer debt. The WSJ reports that consumer debt, including credit cards, auto and student loans and personal loans, is on pace to top $4 trillion in 2019, the highest in history. Debt allows you to furnish your home, pay for education, and get a car without having to save for them. In that way, it supports the growing economy.

But Pew also shows how most of the income gains went to those at the top of the food chain:



Among people in the top 10th of the distribution, real wages have risen a cumulative 15.7%, to $2,112 a week – nearly five times the usual weekly earnings of the bottom tenth ($426).

This lack of symmetrical growth in debt and income actually matters. At some point household borrowers will default in greater numbers than they do today. When those losses occur, the monetary system won’t be able to bail out debtors (or banks) this time around as handily as we did in 2008.


Sluggish and uneven wage growth is a key factor behind widening income inequality in the US. Another Pew Research Center report found that in 2016, Americans in the top tenth of the income distribution earned 8.7 times as much as Americans in the bottom tenth ($109,578 versus $12,523).

Compare that to 1970, when the top 10th earned 6.9 times as much as the bottom 10th ($63,512 versus $9,212).

There is no simple solution to get American workers back on the right track. At a minimum, it will take a political groundswell aimed at overturning the way the tax code favors corporations. Along the way we will have to displace the political power of our corporate oligarchs.

Government must be made to serve the public interest, not Mr. Market.

Democracy is the sole mechanism enabling our citizens to have political and economic agency. But, democracy will cease to matter in a corporate-controlled, globalized system of government influence.