Daily Archive: 11/18/2013

Nov 18 2013

Income Inequality: “Is a Very Serious Problem”

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee to replace Ben Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen took congress to task its roll in the growth income inequality and the threat it is to the economy.

Yellen reminded lawmakers of their sheer terribleness during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Thursday about her nomination to replace Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve when his term ends in January. Republican senators moaned and groaned, as usual, about the Fed’s extreme easy-money policies. Yellen reminded everybody that Congress has forced the Fed to act by constantly imposing harsh austerity measures on an economy still recovering from a financial crisis and deep recession. [..]

This belt-tightening has probably cost the economy nearly 2.5 million jobs, according to a recent study by the Center For American Progress, a liberal think tank — one huge reason this has been the slowest job-market recovery since World War II. Economists on the right and left agree austerity has hurt economic growth, employment and consumer spending, with executives from Walmart and Cisco among the most recent capitalists to complain about it.

The sluggish recovery is also making income inequality worse, Yellen pointed out, depriving poor and middle-class Americans of more and better job opportunities.

This is a very serious problem, it’s not a new problem, it’s a problem that really goes back to the 1980s, in which we have seen a huge rise in income inequality… For many, many years the middle and those below the middle [have been] actually losing absolutely. And frankly a disproportionate share of the gains, it’s not that we haven’t had pretty strong productivity growth for much of this time in the country, but a disproportionate share of those gains have gone to the top ten percent and even the top one percent. So this is an extremely difficult and to my mind very worrisome problem. [..]

Fiscal policy has been working at cross purposes to monetary policy. I certainly recognize the importance of the objective of putting the US debt, deficit and debt, on a sustainable path… But some of the near-term reductions in spending that we have seen have certainly detracted from the momentum of the economy and from demand, making it harder for the fed to get the economy moving, making our task more difficult.

In many states, the recovery is making the income gap worse

By Niraj Chokshi, The Washington Post

For years, the wealthiest 1 percent have amassed income more quickly than the rest. From 1979 through 2007, for example, the top 1 percent of households saw income grow by 275 percent, according to a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office study. Compare that to the bottom fifth of households, which saw income gains of only 18 percent over that time. Recent Nobel Prize winner for economics Robert Shiller, who is known for creating a closely tracked home-price index, last month called income inequality “the most important problem that we are facing now today.” And just last week, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, called income inequality “an extremely difficult and to my mind very worrisome problem.”

Though rare, the recovery was strong and reduced inequality in some states, such as North Dakota, where an oil boom has provided a sustained economic boost. There, the number of households in the lowest half of income brackets shrank, while more joined the highest income brackets, a trend that suggests broad upward mobility. But in most states-and nationally-the data show the income gap worsening. In Michigan, for example, more than 65,000 households fell out of the middle-income brackets. That loss was counterbalanced by the addition of some 38,000 households, but only at the lowest and highest income levels.

That was true in many states: The number of middle-income households shrank while the number of low- and upper-income households grew. In many states, more upper-income households were added than lower-income ones-a positive economic sign not entirely unexpected during a recovery from such a severe downturn-but the middle class still shrank.

One of the “fixes” to close the income gap, create more and better jobs, and solve the Social Security fund problem is to raise the minimum wage to a livable wage. As Robert Reich explained in his recent column, if Walmart, the largest employer in America, were to “boost its wages, other employers of low-wage workers would have to follow suit in order to attract the employees they need”. He used Ford magnate, Henry Ford as an example of how that worked and made Ford a fortune.

Walmart is so huge that a wage boost at Walmart would ripple through the entire economy, putting more money in the pockets of low-wage workers. This would help boost the entire economy – including Walmart’s own sales. (This is also an argument for a substantial hike in the minimum wage.)

Now, states like New York and New Jersey and cities like Sea Tac, Washington are recognizing the need for a higher minimum wage to attract workers and business as it helps to improve the economy. There is overwhelming broad public support, with 58% of self identifying Republicans in favor. It’s time for Congress to wake up, end the sequester and austerity measures and raise the minimum wage.

Nov 18 2013

The Henry Ford Boycott

What Walmart Could Learn from Henry Ford

Robert Reich

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Walmart just reported shrinking sales for a third straight quarter. What’s going on? Explained William S. Simon, the CEO of Walmart, referring to the company’s customers, “their income is going down while food costs are not. Gas and energy prices, while they’re abating, I think they’re still eating up a big piece of the customer’s budget.”

Walmart’s CEO gets it. Most of Walmart’s customers are still in the Great Recession, grappling with stagnant or declining pay. So, naturally, Walmart’s sales are dropping.



Walmart could learn a thing or two from Henry Ford, who almost exactly a century ago decided to pay his workers three times the typical factory wage at the time. The Wall Street Journal called Ford a traitor to his class but he proved to be a cunning businessman.

Ford’s decision helped boost factory wages across the board – enabling so many working people to buy Model Ts that Ford’s revenues soared far ahead of his increased payrolls, and he made a fortune.

So why can’t Walmart learn from Ford? Because Walmart’s business model is static, depending on cheap labor rather than increased sales, and it doesn’t account for Walmart’s impact on the rest of the economy.

You can help teach Walmart how much power its consumers have: Stand with its workers who deserve a raise, and boycott Walmart on the most important sales day of the year, November 29.

Nov 18 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: A Permanent Slump?

Spend any time around monetary officials and one word you’ll hear a lot is “normalization.” Most though not all such officials accept that now is no time to be tightfisted, that for the time being credit must be easy and interest rates low. Still, the men in dark suits look forward eagerly to the day when they can go back to their usual job, snatching away the punch bowl whenever the party gets going.  But what if the world we’ve been living in for the past five years is the new normal? What if depression-like conditions are on track to persist, not for another year or two, but for decades?

You might imagine that speculations along these lines are the province of a radical fringe. And they are indeed radical; but fringe, not so much. A number of economists have been flirting with such thoughts for a while. And now they’ve moved into the mainstream. In fact, the case for “secular stagnation” – a persistent state in which a depressed economy is the norm, with episodes of full employment few and far between – was made forcefully recently at the most ultrarespectable of venues, the I.M.F.’s big annual research conference. And the person making that case was none other than Larry Summers. Yes, that Larry Summers.

Joseph E. Stiglitz: The Insanity of Our Food Policy

American food policy has long been rife with head-scratching illogic. We spend billions every year on farm subsidies, many of which help wealthy commercial operations to plant more crops than we need. The glut depresses world crop prices, harming farmers in developing countries. Meanwhile, millions of Americans live tenuously close to hunger, which is barely kept at bay by a food stamp program that gives most beneficiaries just a little more than $4 a day.

So it’s almost too absurd to believe that House Republicans are asking for a farm bill that would make all of these problems worse. For the putative purpose of balancing the country’s books, the measures that the House Republican caucus is pushing for in negotiations with the Senate, as Congress attempts to pass a long-stalled extension of the farm bill, would cut back the meager aid to our country’s most vulnerable and use the proceeds to continue fattening up a small number of wealthy American farmers.

New York Times Editorial Board: The Shame of American Health Care

Even as Americans struggle with the changes required by health care reform, an international survey released last week by the Commonwealth Fund, a research organization, shows why change is so necessary.

The report found that by virtually all measures of cost, access to care and ease of dealing with insurance problems, Americans fared poorly compared with people in other advanced countries. The survey covered 20,000 adults in the United States and 10 other industrial nations – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain, all of which put in place universal or near-universal health coverage decades ago. The United States spends far more than any of these countries on a per capita basis and as a percent of the national economy.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: For Democrats, a Tax-the-Rich Road to Victory

As we enter into yet another round of budget discussions, the Democratic Party is confronted with an opportunity – and a challenge. There’s an opportunity to shift the budget debate to an area where they hold the high ground. But it will be a challenge for some Democrats to take the initiative on a subject they seem reluctant to discuss.

The subject is taxes.

Tax increases are a subject people seem reluctant to mention in the nation’s capital. Republicans have convinced everyone inside the Beltway that new tax revenues are politically impossible. The talk on the Hill is that the White House is urging Senate and House Dems to accept a cuts-only budget deal for the next go-round. It seems that the conventional wisdom says tax increases are best left unmentioned.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Robert Kuttner: Obama’s Gift to the Republicans

The ancient Greeks liked to say that character is fate.

The colossal mess that Obamacare has become reflects both the character of the legislation and that of the president who sponsored it.

The Affordable Care Act, as a government mandate for people to purchase private insurance with an array of possible subsidies, had too many moving parts. It was an accident waiting to happen.

As many of us wrote at the time, Medicare for All would be simpler to execute, easier to understand, and harder for Republicans to oppose. If doing Medicare for All in a single stroke was too heavy a lift, start with 60-year-olds, then 55-year-olds, then young people under 25, and fill in the qualifying age brackets over a decade.

In the meantime, if we wanted to expand coverage for the working poor, Medicaid was a proven vehicle. Indeed, the one part of the Affordable Care Act that is not coming off the rails is the expansion of Medicaid, because it is a public program.

Robert Reich: What Walmart Could Learn from Henry Ford

Walmart just reported shrinking sales for a third straight quarter. What’s going on? Explained William S. Simon, the CEO of Walmart, referring to the company’s customers, “their income is going down while food costs are not. Gas and energy prices, while they’re abating, I think they’re still eating up a big piece of the customer’s budget.”

Walmart’s CEO gets it. Most of Walmart’s customers are still in the Great Recession, grappling with stagnant or declining pay. So, naturally, Walmart’s sales are dropping. [..]

Walmart isn’t your average mom-and-pop operation. It’s the largest employer in America. As such, it’s the trendsetter for millions of other employers of low-wage workers. As long as Walmart keeps its wages at or near the bottom, other low-wage employers keep wages there, too. All they need do is offer $8.85 an hour to have their pick.

On the other hand, if Walmart were to boost its wages, other employers of low-wage workers would have to follow suit in order to attract the employees they need.

Get it? Walmart is so huge that a wage boost at Walmart would ripple through the entire economy, putting more money in the pockets of low-wage workers. This would help boost the entire economy — including Walmart’s own sales. (This is also an argument for a substantial hike in the minimum wage.)

Nov 18 2013

On This Day In History November 18

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

November 18 is the 322nd day of the year (323rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 43 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1883, the Railraods create the first time zones At exactly noon on this day, American and Canadian railroads begin using four continental time zones to end the confusion of dealing with thousands of local times. The bold move was emblematic of the power shared by the railroad companies.

The need for continental time zones stemmed directly from the problems of moving passengers and freight over the thousands of miles of rail line that covered North America by the 1880s. Since human beings had first begun keeping track of time, they set their clocks to the local movement of the sun. Even as late as the 1880s, most towns in the U.S. had their own local time, generally based on “high noon,” or the time when the sun was at its highest point in the sky. As railroads began to shrink the travel time between cities from days or months to mere hours, however, these local times became a scheduling nightmare. Railroad timetables in major cities listed dozens of different arrival and departure times for the same train, each linked to a different local time zone.

Timekeeping on the American railroads in the mid 19th century was somewhat confused. Each railroad used its own standard time, usually based on the local time of its headquarters or most important terminus, and the railroad’s train schedules were published using its own time. Some major railroad junctions served by several different railroads had a separate clock for each railroad, each showing a different time; the main station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for example, kept six different times.

Charles F. Dowd proposed a system of one-hour standard time zones for American railroads about 1863, although he published nothing on the matter at that time and did not consult railroad officials until 1869. In 1870, he proposed four ideal time zones (having north-south borders), the first centered on Washington, D.C., but by 1872 the first was centered 75 W of Greenwich, with geographic borders (for example, sections of the Appalachian Mountains). Dowd’s system was never accepted by American railroads. Instead, U.S. and Canadian railroads implemented a version proposed by William F. Allen, the editor of the Traveler’s Official Railway Guide. The borders of its time zones ran through railroad stations, often in major cities. For example, the border between its Eastern and Central time zones ran through Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Charleston. It was inaugurated on Sunday, November 18, 1883, also called “The Day of Two Noons”, when each railroad station clock was reset as standard-time noon was reached within each time zone. The zones were named Intercolonial, Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific. Within one year, 85% of all cities with populations over 10,000, about 200 cities, were using standard time. A notable exception was Detroit (which is about half-way between the meridians of eastern time and central time), which kept local time until 1900, then tried Central Standard Time, local mean time, and Eastern Standard Time before a May 1915 ordinance settled on EST and was ratified by popular vote in August 1916. The confusion of times came to an end when Standard zone time was formally adopted by the U.S. Congress on March 19, 1918, in the Standard Time Act.

Nov 18 2013

Sunday Train: Is Dirty Ethanol Here to Stay?

The AP Reports (courtesy of yahoo):

The failure so far of cellulosic fuel is central to the debate over corn-based ethanol, a centerpiece of America’s green-energy strategy. Ethanol from corn has proven far more damaging to the environment than the government predicted, and cellulosic fuel hasn’t emerged as a replacement.

“Cellulosic has been five years away for 20 years now,” said Nathanael Greene, a biofuels expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Now the first projects are up and running, but actually it’s still five years away.”

The administration defended its projections, saying it was trying to use the biofuel law as a way to promote development of cellulosic fuel. But the projections were so far off that, in January, a federal appeals court said the administration improperly let its “aspirations” for cellulosic fuel influence its analysis. Even with the first few plants running, supporters acknowledge there is almost no chance to meet the law’s original yearly targets that top out at 16 billion gallons by 2022. “It’s simply not plausible,” said Jeremy Martin, a biofuels expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “2030 is the soonest you can anticipate it to be at that level.”

Green Ethanol still “Five Years Away” … just as they were when I first blogged on this topic in 2007 … while Dirty Ethanol is the mainstay of the US Ethanol mandate. So how long are we to accept Dirty Ethanol as a “bridge” to a Green Ethanol seemingly always right on the five-year horizon?