Posts from Paul Buchheit

The "Jobs for Everyone" Fantasy

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

"The more robots we add to our fulfillment centers, the more jobs we are creating." —Tye Brady, Amazon's Chief Technologist 

That's just one outlandish example of the job-related hyperbole we've been subjected to. We keep hearing about the low unemployment rate and the "booming" economy. "Economic news has been staggeringly good," said Jared Whitley, associate director in the White House under George W. Bush. More hype comes from CNN Money, which talks about "opportunities for almost everyone"; and the windy Wall Street Journal, which claims that "Americans traditionally left behind...are reaping the benefits.." 

The super-capitalists want us to believe that they know what they're talking about. Part of their strategy, based on a neoliberal disdain for any government efforts to provide opportunities for average people, is to perpetuate the myth, as Milton Friedman said, that "the free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people." Part of this myth is a job for everyone, or "full employment," which many economists believe we have attained with an unemployment rate under 4 percent. 

But "jobs for all" is a fantasy, if we're talking about family-sustaining, living-wage jobs, as we should. The facts make that clear.

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The kindly 87-year-old man who took all the school kids’ lunch money

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

He seems to stand out as the one beloved billionaire among us, a man who admitted he doesn’t need a tax cut and promised much of his fortune to charity.

But Warren Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, hasn’t paid much in real taxes over the years, choosing to defer $77 billion through the end of 2016. And now the company has taken advantage of the Trump tax law to claim a $23 billion 2017 federal tax benefit, ironically the same amount as the cost of the Child Nutrition Programs, which provide school lunches and other nutritional needs for millions of America’s children.

Paying hypothetical taxes until the tax bill expires

Berkshire Hathaway has declared nearly $200 billion in U.S. income over the past ten years, but including the 2017 writeoff has paid only $16 billion in current (non-deferred) taxes. The company’s annual tax obligation has been announced to shareholders as satisfied by a “hypothetical” tax payment. Now, suddenly, with Trump’s corporate tax break, $23 billion of its deferred tax liability just fades away, never to be paid, never to be used for the vital public services that are dependent on tax revenue.

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Extreme Poverty Cut in Half? Only in the Minds of the Capitalists

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

"Take a bow, capitalism." That's from the Economist, a business-happy publication that has every reason to perpetuate the myth that a world run by free enterprise is improving people's lives. Its story continues with an astounding claim: "The world now knows how to reduce poverty." Perhaps by presenting questionable data that seems to support what the business community wants us to believe. 

Other super-capitalists are similarly exuding hyperbole in defense of their shaky beliefs. Said a spokesman for the American Enterprise Institute: "It was the American free-enterprise system that started to spread around the world. They looked at you and said, 'I want to have their life, their freedom, and their stuff, and they threw off their chains of poverty and tyranny.'" But it's clear, when the facts are checked, that the chains of poverty are being wrapped around more and more human beings. 

Extreme Poverty Has Increased, in Terms of Wealth 

According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2016, the median wealth of the world's adults is $2,222, down from $3,248 at the end of 2007. While the rich people of the world have taken more than their share of the $35 trillion wealth gain since the recession, the world median has dropped by over $1,000!

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Now Five Men Own Almost as Much Wealth as Half the World's Population

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

Last year it was eight men, then down to six, and now almost five.

While Americans fixate on Trump, the super-rich are absconding with our wealth, and the plague of inequality continues to grow. An analysis of 2016 data found that the poorest five deciles of the world population own about $410 billion in total wealth. As of June 8, 2017, the world's richest five men owned over $400 billion in wealth. Thus, on average, each man owns nearly as much as 750 million people.

Why Do We Let a Few People Shift Great Portions of the World's Wealth to Themselves?

Most of the super-super-rich are Americans. We the American people created the internet, developed and funded artificial intelligence, and built a massive transportation infrastructure, yet we let just a few individuals take almost all the credit, along with hundreds of billions of dollars.

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Unsure About Socialism? Here's More Evidence That Capitalism Is Killing the US

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

A recent Gallup poll found that less people would vote for a socialist than for an atheist, a Muslim, or an evangelical Christian. Media-numbed Americans still believe that "government is the problem." Yet evidence keeps pouring in that free-market capitalism treats public safety as a profit-killer, dismisses environmental issues as irrelevant to business, and eliminates jobs to please investors.

Reports from the past six months show that the ongoing record of capitalist greed and irresponsibility has plunged to new lows.

1. Mocking Public Health and Safety

It's disturbing enough that Volkswagen and Ford and General Motors and other auto companies rigged emissions tests and took safety shortcuts to save money; and that the Southern California Gas Co. lied about its poisonous sulfur levels; and that Exxon was found to be hiding its own climate change research for four decades; and that tens of thousands of government-subsidized abandoned mines have been left to pollute our waterways.

But Monsanto, which proclaims "We are committed to long-term environmental protection," sued the State of California for trying to protect its citizens from the company's toxic materials.

2. Showing Contempt for Workers

The sharing economy has created companies that promote worker 'independence' while denying them health and retirement benefits, sick pay, overtime pay, and vacation pay. It's not a new capitalist idea. Merck and Out Magazine are among the companies that have "outsourced" employee positions to independent contractor positions, either by a mass layoff or by selling part of the company, after which former employees could be hired back at lower pay and without benefits.

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5 Reasons the Top Tax Rate Should Be 80 Percent

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

It came up in the Republican debate again, the curious notion that striving for less inequality is somehow a form of "class warfare." The implication is that the richest people earned everything they have through their own initiative and hard work. But most of them have exploited an American financial system that has facilitated the transfer of our national wealth to the people who manage that wealth.

Informed Americans understand that an economic war has been waged against the middle and lower classes. As a result, there are at least five good reasons why the tax rate on the upper classes should be MUCH higher.

1. Massive Redistribution Has Occurred. Upward.

Total U.S. wealth increased by a stunning 60 percent since 2009, from $54 trillion to $86 trillion, but 3/4 of that massive increase went to the richest 10% of Americans. According to the New York Times, the wealthiest Americans have formed an "income defense industry" to shelter their riches, with, "a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means." From 2003 to 2012 the average income tax rate paid by the richest 1% went down, while for the 99% it went up.

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Our Jobs Are Disappearing

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

Americans are feeling the impoverishing effects of the shift from middle-income to low-income jobs. The disappearance—or, more accurately, downsizing—of living-wage jobs is documented by numerous reports that reveal the suddenness and the extent of this affront to middle America.

First, the Neoliberal Explanation: It's Not Really Happening

Business writer Robert Samuelson calls the post-recession low-wage recovery a "myth." To support his claim he cites a study from the Economic Policy Institute which, according to Samuelson, proves that "the economy’s employment profile—the split between high- and low-paying jobs—hasn’t changed much since the recession or, indeed, the turn of the century."

But the EPI analysis is based on average wages within industries, rather than on the median, which reflects unequal growth. If the median had kept up with the average over the past 15 years, the current median wage would be $1/hour higher, or about $2,000 per year. The employment profile has actually changed a great deal since the year 2000.

There's more. The EPI analyst claims that "jobs are being added relatively in proportion to their share." But she only considers one year's data, after much of the damage had already been done. Even so, the EPI figures show that the percentage of middle-wage jobs added in 2014 was 6.3 percent less than the overall percentage of middle-wage jobs (42.7% to 40%)—a rather dramatic change for a single year.

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The Real Terrorists: The .01%

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

The Real Terrorists: The .01%

They consist of 16,000 individuals, about the size of a crowd at a professional basketball game. The inequality horror they've fomented is reaching far beyond the half of America that is in or near poverty, for it now impacts those of us well above the median, those of us in the second highest of four wealth quartiles.

1. The .01% Have as Much Wealth as 80% of America

The combined net worth of the 16,000 richest Americans is approximately the same as the total wealth of 256,000,000 people. Details for this statistic and other facts to follow are at You Deserve Facts.

2. Americans with up to a Quarter-Million Dollars are Part of the Nearly 80% of Americans with Less Wealth Than the .01%

The 80% includes all Americans with a net worth up to about $277,000.

3. The .01% Own about as Much as 75% of the Entire World

The world's poorest 75% own roughly 4 percent of total global wealth, approximately the same percentage of wealth owned by the .01% in the United States. Again, calculations are shown here.

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Three Middle-Class-Killing Industries for 2016

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

Capitalist enterprises have little incentive to work for ordinary people, and instead they do whatever is necessary to enrich the owners of their corporate stock. Choosing the leading job-killing industry is a difficult task with so many candidates. But technology, pharmaceuticals, and the "sharing economy" are clearly in the running.

The companies in the spotlight are specialists in the disdainful business practices that permeate their industries.

1. Big Pharma: Spotlight on Pfizer

Blowing Off Taxes: Pfizer had nearly half of its sales in the U.S. over the past three years, yet claimed losses in the U.S. along with $50 billion in foreign profits. Despite paying an effective tax rate of just 7.5 percent in 2014, and despite being one of the nine pharmaceutical companies among the top 30 Fortune 500 firms in offshore tax hoarding, Pfizer CEO Ian Read complained that U.S. taxes had his company fighting "with one hand tied behind our back." So now his company is preparing to avoid even more taxes by merging with Allergan in what the Wall Street Journal calls the "largest so-called inversion ever."

Taking from Taxpayers: Even more incredibly, Pfizer's tax avoidance occurs in an industry that receives most of its basic research funding from the taxpayers, and which spends almost $20 on marketing for every dollar spent on R&D.

Spending on Itself: From 2001 to 2015 Pfizer spent an astounding 117 percent (!) of its income on investor-enriching stock buybacks and dividends, while slashing its post-recession employee base from 110,000 to 78,000.

Taking from Consumers: To support its self-serving buyback obsession, Pfizer, along with other pharmaceutical companies, charges up to $10,000 per month for cancer drugs, an amount approximately 600 times the cost of production, and up to ten times higher than just 15 years ago. Thanks to a business-friendly Supreme Court, their massive profits are made without competition from generic drugmakers.

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Private Health Care as an Act of Terrorism

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

The FBI defines terrorism as "Acts dangerous to human life...intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." Much of the behavior of our current health care system meets that definition. The facts show intention on the part of corporations to intimidate the population by using market strategies to charge whatever they like for their medical products and services, and an effort to coerce the public into accepting the current system as the only option.

The Average American Family Pays $4,000 for Medical Fraud and Subsidies 

Medical billing fraud is estimated at 10 percent of all health care, or about $270 billion, while patent monopolies raise the price of prescription drugs by another $270 billion a year. Combined, this represents an astonishing annual cost of over $4,000 to an average American household. As The Atlantic puts it, "The people most likely to bilk the system are doctors and medical providers, not 'welfare queens.'" 

Intimidation by Outrageous Markups 

In a recent analysis of 50 hospitals (49 for-profit) with the highest charge-to-cost ratios in 2012, the average markup was 1,000 percent, which means that a procedure costing a hospital $100 is marked up to $1,000 for us. 

Some of the markups test the limits of sanity: an 80-cent needle for $143.25 (a 17,000 percent markup). A 25-cent IUD device for $1,000. A blood test that costs $10 in one hospital and $10,000 in another. 

A Johns Hopkins professor explained, "They are marking up the prices because no one is telling them they can’t."

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Union Matters

A Broken Immigration System

From the AFL-CIO

After a week of family separation, workplace raids and even more bad legislation, it is clearer than ever that we must fix our broken immigration system.

“The Trump administration is using enforcement overreach to terrify immigrant workers and is directly threatening our freedom to stand together and fight in unions for fair pay and treatment,” said AFL‑CIO President Richard Trumka.  

Trumka added: “Nothing embodies our broken immigration system more than the unnecessary pain and suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters as families are torn apart at the border.”

America’s broken immigration system and threats of detention and deportation have been used as leverage to lower pay, worsen benefits and make workplaces less safe for decades.

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Concern of Concentration

Concern of Concentration