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Even Super Good Times Sometimes Stop Rolling

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

India’s self-styled “King of the Good Times,” the Kingfisher beer and airline baron Vijay Mallya, seems to be in store for lots of not-so-good times. This past September, a local court ordered the sale of the super yacht Mallya had abandoned in Malta — complete with 40 crewmembers — after his arrest in London on fraud and money-laundering charges. Earlier this month, another court ruling awarded the abandoned crew almost $1 million in back pay. Mallya is now fighting extradition to India. The cells in India’s Mumbai Central Prison, he’s complained to British authorities, lack natural light. The 62-year-old is also tweeting regularly that he’s not getting “fair treatment” from politicians and the media. Mallya’s yacht, meanwhile, has begun a new life as a charter boat renting for $850,000 per week.

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Charmer Has a Severe Case of Upper Class Angst

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

The business press has pinned the label “charming” on Iain Tait, the 40-something with an inside track at becoming the top banana at one of the UK wealthy’s top wealth managers. But Tait himself acknowledges that money managers can be “strongly opinionated” and “picky.” What these days has Tait at his prickly pickiest? The prospect of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn becoming the UK’s next prime minister. His wealthy clients, Tait told one British journalist last week, are worrying themselves sick about Corbyn’s egalitarian, pro-worker leanings: “It is now, without a doubt, the first thing that clients ask us: ‘What can we do to protect our wealth against Corbyn?’” Fears about Corbyn, Tait adds, “have doubled over the past couple of weeks.” What are Tait and his wealthy pals not particularly worried about? The new stats showing that British workers have just experienced the weakest paycheck decade since the 1870s.

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GM, Jobs, and Corporate America’s Incentive to Exploit

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

On Monday morning, November 26, the auto giant General Motors announcedplans to shut down production at five plants in the United States and Canada and shear off 15 percent of the company’s salaried jobs. The moves will cost 14,700 GM workers their livelihood.

The communities where those workers live will lose out, too. In Lordstown, the Ohio locale that hosts one of the plants set to be shuttered, officials estimate that every GM job cut will cost seven other workers outside GM their employment.

Did the GM executives who made the shut-down decision take that spin-off devastation into account? Did they soberly conclude that they had no choice, that only massive job cuts could ensure their enterprise a stable and sustainable future? Or do the GM job cuts reflect, in the end, nothing more than naked self-interest on the part of those executives, an attempt to enrich their own future — at worker expense?

The simple answer: We can’t get into the minds of the GM execs who’ve ordered the job cuts. We can’t divine how much greed determined their decision. But we can, rather easily, see who stands to gain from GM’s massive job cutting. Certainly not GM workers. In the wake of the GM layoffs, thousands of workers and their families will be poorer. GM execs, on the other hand, will be richer.

Substantially richer. At GM, as at all major U.S. corporations, the ultimate compensation top executives take home rests either directly or indirectly on their enterprise’s share price. The more that price rises, the more they pocket. In the afternoon after the GM job-cut announcement morning, Wall Streeters bid up the company’s shares a whopping 7.9 percent. Shares ended the week almost as high.

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The House Has Gone Democratic. Can the House Now Go Bold?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Tony Maxwell, a retired African-American naval officer, was trying — without much success — to get his Jacksonville, Florida neighbor to go with him to the mid-term election polls and vote. The young neighbor, a high-school-dropout, had no interest in taking the ride.

“Voting,” the young man declared, “doesn’t change anything.”

That world-weary attitude suits some Americans — those who sit atop our deeply unequal economy — just fine. These affluents don’t want things to change. They’ve worked too hard to rig a set of structures and policies that keep their wealth safe and growing, at everyone else’s expense.

Now Democrats, thanks to Tuesday’s mid-terms, have a comfortable working majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Can these Democrats use this newly won majority to reach that dispirited young man in Jacksonville? That all depends — on their eagerness to think big and bold, on their willingness to challenge the concentrated wealth and power that’s keeping things from changing.

Any such challenge, of course, will not actually produce significant new legislation in the immediate future. Democrats may have the House come January, but conservative Republicans will still control the Senate and have a like-minded pal in the White House. Over the next two years, getting any big and bold new legislation into law will be next to impossible.

But just pushing for such legislation could point us — and move us — in a positive direction. Just holding hearings on legislation that takes on our economic powers-that-be, just encouraging rallies on this legislation and taking floor votes on it, would send all of America the empowering message that meaningful change can conceivably happen.

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Waffles, Beer, and the Penalty We Pay for Tolerating Inequality

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Forget those Belgian waffles and all those wonderful ambers and lagers from Belgium, too. What those of us in the rest of the world — especially Americans — really need from this small European nation has nothing to do with beer or breakfast treats. We need Belgium’s much more egalitarian distribution of wealth.

Four centuries ago, the famed English scientist Francis Bacon compared wealth to manure. Both only do good, Bacon quipped, if you spread them around.

Belgium is spreading about as well as any nation on Earth, according to data the Swiss bank Credit Suisse details in its new Global Wealth Report 2018. No other major society currently sports a distribution of wealth much more equitable than Belgium’s.

How do we know? The new Credit Suisse report serves up all the key numbers for computing who gets what in over 200 nations worldwide. But we do have to exercise our imaginations a bit to get the most out of the Credit Suisse data.

We have to imagine, as a first step, a world with every nation divvying up its wealth on a totally equal basis. That, of course, isn’t happening anywhere. No nation shares its wealth completely. We can, on the other hand, visualize that sharing by simply dividing each nation’s wealth by each nation’s adult population. That gives us an average national wealth per adult. The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report conveniently makes all these calculations.

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In Australia, ‘Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing’

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

In Australia, people still get angry about CEO pay packages that would draw a ho-hum in the United States, and that has John Mullen, the board chair at Aussie telecom giant Telstra, more than somewhat bent out of shape. At Telstra’s annual meeting earlier this month, 62 percent of the company’s shareholders gave an advisory thumbs down to the $4.5 million the Telstra board has okayed for CEO Andy Penn. That brought Mullen to his feet for a “furious” retort. He told the Telstra board’s critics to “get real” about the tough business climate the company is facing. Corporate directors, he went on, don’t “sit around like witches of Macbeth scheming as to how they can manipulate incentive schemes to give improper benefit to already excessive executive salaries.” Mullen’s “staunchly” delivered defense of CEO Penn, who this past June announced a plan to lay off 8,000 workers, left critics distinctly unimpressed. Last year, economist Jason Murphy points out, Aussie CEO pay overall increased six times faster than worker wages.

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Reposted from Sam Pizzigati

In New York, the Art of a Deal Gone Bitterly Bad

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

“If you gain fame, power, or wealth,” the philosopher Philip Slater once noted, “you won’t have any trouble finding lovers, but they will be people who love fame, power, or wealth.” Tell me about it, David Mugrabi might be thinking right about now. The billionaire art dealer and his wife Libbie Mugrabi are currently contesting a bitter divorce that has the New York couple in and out of the courts and the headlines. In July, the two tussled in a tug-of-war over a $500,000 20-inch-tall Andy Warhol sculpture. Libbie claims the incident had her fearing for her life, and a friend has testified that David angrily called her and Libbie “low-lifes” and “gold-diggers.” The latest installment: Last Tuesday, lawyers argued over how much Libbie should get for a vacation she and their two kids will be taking this Thanksgiving. Libbie’s lawyer asked for an amount commensurate with the couple’s “$3.5-million-a-year lifestyle.” The judge okayed $4,000, then added: “No one’s going to starve in this family.”

Nostalgia for NAFTA? Our Wealthy Will Have Plenty

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

NAFTA will soon be no more. The Trump administration has a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico — and a new name for the North American trade order.

Trade union and other fair-trade experts are now parsing the details of the new Trump agreement, and we don’t yet have a full sense of exactly how this new “USMCA” — the plodding shorthand for “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement” — will play out politically over the next few months.

But we do know, no matter what happens with the new deal, that America’s most wealthy will always look back fondly at NAFTA’s 25-year run. For America’s richest — and the most financially favored of Canada and Mexico as well — NAFTA has been the gift that never stopped giving.

The NAFTA quarter-century, simply put, may well go down in history as the most lucrative quarter-century North America’s privileged have ever experienced.

Forbes magazine has just delivered the most up-to-date evidence of just how lucrative — for our wealthiest — the last 25 years have been. That evidence comes from the latest Forbes annual list of America’s 400 richest. Put this new list in a bit of historic perspective, and the picture we see would thrill even the most jaded of deep pockets.

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Keeping Cancer Cures a Corporate Profit Center

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Who knew fighting cancer could be so lucrative? Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center CEO Craig Thompson, for one. Last year, Thompson pulled down nearly $600,000 in cash and stock from his service on two for-profit drug company boards, all on top of his $6.7 million in Sloan Kettering pay the year before. No wonder Thompson looked the other way while his chief medical officer “failed to disclose” in medical journal articles that he had received millions from companies that could be banking on matters he was writing about. In September, that scandal went public, and Thompson at first insisted that working with for-profit companies must remain a priority. Last week, amid mounting public outrage, Thompson retreated and announced he would resign his corporate board seats. But the real scandal remains: a hospital-Big Pharma complex that focuses single-mindedly on patentable pharmaceuticals that generate huge returns for corporate execs and shareholders.

Share the Wealth? Of Course. But When?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

In the United States, back during the Great Depression, three simple words animated a grassroots upsurgethat would help make the nation the world’s first mass middle-class society: Share the wealth!

And the nation did. By the end of the 1960s, the top 1 percent’s share of America’s national income had dropped by more than half. The bottom 90 percent share, meanwhile, had jumped from half the nation’s total income to over two-thirds.

Redistribution — via the tax code — drove this dramatic egalitarian shift, as high incomes faced high tax rates throughout the middle decades of the 20th century. But these high tax rates, levies that topped 90 percent on income over $200,000, would have no staying power. The relentless assaults of America’s wealthiest would over time grind them down.

Egalitarians in other developed nations saw the same dynamic. They could not sustain steeply progressive tax rates. Redistribution via the tax code, progressives worldwide began to understand, would not be enough. We can’t tax away inequality. We have to prevent inequality from taking hold in the first place. We have to brake the economic forces making the rich ever richer.

Foremost among the forces: the large corporations that dominate our global economy. These corporate giants create grand fortunes for those who run them. And those who run them create chronic economic insecurity for those they employ and the communities where they live.

Corporations have, in effect, become inequality’s single most powerful engine. We need to slow that engine down. But how?

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Union Matters

Even Super Good Times Sometimes Stop Rolling

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

India’s self-styled “King of the Good Times,” the Kingfisher beer and airline baron Vijay Mallya, seems to be in store for lots of not-so-good times. This past September, a local court ordered the sale of the super yacht Mallya had abandoned in Malta — complete with 40 crewmembers — after his arrest in London on fraud and money-laundering charges. Earlier this month, another court ruling awarded the abandoned crew almost $1 million in back pay. Mallya is now fighting extradition to India. The cells in India’s Mumbai Central Prison, he’s complained to British authorities, lack natural light. The 62-year-old is also tweeting regularly that he’s not getting “fair treatment” from politicians and the media. Mallya’s yacht, meanwhile, has begun a new life as a charter boat renting for $850,000 per week.

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Who Really Pays for Tax Cuts?

Who Really Pays for Tax Cuts?