Sunday, December 7, 2014

The importance of having skin in the game: thoughts on economic diversity and liberal elitism

The shakeup at the New Republic has got me thinking about elite domination of liberal institutions and politics. It is abundantly clear liberal/left media, institutions, and politics are overwhelmingly dominated by upper middle class/rich, Ivy-educated elites, this is a serious problem. This is because human beings’ economic background and experiences shape their political views and priorities in profound ways. It is a universal truth, albeit not one universally acknowledged, that the more economically privileged you are, the less likely you are to support progressive economic policies.

Obviously, there are countless exceptions to this general rule. Of course many economically privileged people with elite educations have great politics, and it's just as true that many less affluent folks have awful politics. But there is overwhelming evidence that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to hold conservative views about economic policy, all else held equal. See two of the leading social scientists who have studied this subject, Leslie McCall and Martin Gilens, for more. Or check out the work of political scientist Nicholas Carnes, who has found that legislators from working class backgrounds are significantly more likely to vote against business interests and in favor of economic redistribution--a finding that holds true even when you control for party affiliation.

Most liberals freely acknowledge that race and gender diversity are important and that when organizations include women and people of color, they often bring unique and valuable perspectives that white men lack. Even having a lot of very well-meaning, feminist-friendly, antiracist white men around is no substitute for including actual women and actual people of color. So why are some liberals so resistant to the idea that economic diversity is also important, and for similar reasons?

Getting back to the New Republic: in the dementedly pompous editors’ letter published last week, ex-TNR staffers proclaimed that their former magazine is “liberalism’s central journal” and “a kind of public trust.” With the shakeup at the magazine, “The promise of American life has been dealt a lamentable blow.” Oh my.

Yet in spite of its claims to speak for all of liberalism, for at least as long as I’ve been reading it, the New Republic been a profoundly elitist and insular institution, not just in terms of race and gender, but perhaps even more centrally, in terms of class. I mean, not only was it overwhelmingly dominated by Ivy-educated white men, but Harvard-educated white men at that! That is a huge structural problem.

Friday, October 17, 2014

New at The Nation: my review of a stunning book on economic inequality in America

The latest edition of the Nation's The Curve is up. I'm particularly proud of this one. The theme is college, and this time around the brilliant contributors include the excellent Anna Clark, who writes about student debt, as well as two of the most renowned feminist economists in America, Nancy Folbre and Susan Feiner. Feiner addresses the war on public higher education, especially the state university system where she teaches in Maine, which has been particularly hard hit. Folbre, noting that the job market no longer reliably rewards educational credentials, argues that the "golden age of human capital" is over.

My piece is a review of one of the most brilliant works I have ever read about class in America. The book, Paying for the Party, was published last year and it's by sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton. The authors followed about 50 incoming college women for five years, from their first year on the "party floor" of a dorm at a large, well-respected state university, to their graduation and beyond. After five years, fully half of the women were on a downward economic trajectory, and their fates sorted out almost perfectly according to their class backgrounds. The daughters of the upper class were working at glamorous jobs in the big city, while the working class strivers, who often had arrived with much stronger academic records than their wealthy counterparts, had often returned to the small towns they grew up in and were toiling away in low-wage retail jobs.

What happened? The authors indict both our government's defunding of higher education and the modern university, which has reconfigured itself to cater to the desires of the elites to turn college into a social, rather than an academic, experience. Fraternities and sororities and the party lifestyle they promote are heavily implicated. When a party culture is so prevalent, as it was at the university the authors studied, it's hard for students to resist it, because there's not much of an alternative if you want a social life.

But if you devote yourself to partying nearly 24/7, academics will suffer. The university provides a ready solution to that, in the form of bullshit majors like "fashion merchandising" and "sports communication," that don't build skills and are mostly useless on the job market. The rich women didn't suffer a whit from this; their family connections ensured that they'd land good jobs after graduation, regardless of their major or academic performance. But for the less privileged women, forsaking solid preprofessional majors in favor of the bogus ones proved disastrous. The ones that managed to graduate discovered that their degrees were virtually worthless.

There are so thick and fascinating observations in this book, from the class-tinged, frequently painful social interactions of the women on the floor (there's enough material for any number of sequels to Mean Girls), to the way that class intersects with sex. For example, the authors found that the working class women were significantly more likely to be the victims of sexual assault, and also more likely to be labeled as "sluts"in spite of having fewer sexual partners. Read all about it, and more at the linkincluding some bonus Ross Douthat bashing!

Better yet, read Armstong and Hamilton's stunning book. It belongs on the shelf next to Piketty as one of the great works about economic inequality in our time. Armstrong and Hamilton give you a vivid, startlingly personal look at what economic inequality looks like in America today. It's an unforgettable and at times heartbreaking portrait.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Baffler's conference on women and work this weekend

As some of you may know, I am co-organizer for The Baffler's conference on women and work which, at long last, will be taking place this Saturday in New York City. Why this conference, and what's it all about? I've written up a preview for the Baffler website.

Here's an excerpt from the piece:
This Saturday, September 13th, in New York City, The Baffler will be hosting an exciting event: an all-day conference devoted to the theme of feminism and work.  We’re calling it “Feminism for What? Equality in the Workplace After Lean In,” and as of this writing, a few tickets are still available (you can purchase them here).

The impetus for the conference was Susan Faludi’s attention-getting 2013 Baffler essay about the Sheryl Sandberg phenomenon. Like many feminists, Faludi was troubled by Sandberg’s message. In her best-selling book Lean In, not only does Sandberg unabashedly address herself mainly to professional class women, she focuses on women’s internal obstacles to advancement on the job, rather than any structural barriers. Sandberg seems to argue that what women need most are not better workplace public policies, but to change their own attitudes and behaviors.
Faludi strongly suggests otherwise, and presents an alternate vision of feminism she presents—skeptical of capitalism, deeply class conscious, grounded in the economic realities the overwhelming majority of workers face. The tension between Lean In and Faludi’s alternative view have served as the guiding inspiration for this conference. “Feminism for What?” is an effort to move the conversation about gender equity in the workplace well beyond the  mainstream media’s perennial obsession with elite women’s issues such as opting out and breaking glass ceilings. We’ve chosen to organize the conference by focusing on several major themes that might be said to be missing from Lean In.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This week at The Nation's The Curve: the criminalization of motherhood, and how we can stop it

In recent months, nightmarish stories about the criminalization of poor mothers have made headlines. There was, for example, the case of Debra Harrell, charged with child abuse for letting her 9-year old play in a nearby park while she worked her shift at McDonald's, and Eileen Dinino, who was thrown behind bars for being too poor to afford the legal fees from her kids' truancy cases -- and ended up dying in jail.

What is driving the assault on poor mothers, and how can we end it? Writer and activist Mariame Kaba, journalist Sarah Jaffe, economist Randy Albelda, and I explore these issues in the latest edition of The Curve.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mark your calendars: exciting Sept. 13th Baffler conference on women and work!

All, I am thrilled to announce an exciting project I've been working on for The Baffler magazine. On Saturday, September 13th, The Baffler will be hosting an all-day conference on women's work issues. The conference is entitled Feminism for What? Equality in the Workplace after Lean In and it will take place at John Jay College in New York City. The conference was organized by me and my Baffler colleague, Noah McCormack.

Susan Faludi will deliver the keynote, and the conference will include four panels on the following topics:

- the advantages and pitfalls of self-help as as strategy for women's workplace advancement;
- intersectional issues (race, immigration status, and LGBT identity) at work;
- class and economic inequality;
- and finally, feminist visions of economic justice for women.

Other speakers include such brilliant women as E.J. Graff, Zerlina Maxwell, Imani Gandy, Sarah Leonard, Heather Boushey, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Liza Featherstone, Irin Carmon, Nancy Folbre, and Kathi Weeks.

You can find out more about the conference at its main webpage, here. The Facebook page is here and the Eventbrite page, where you can buy tickets, is here.

Admission to the conference is $20 for the general public, but it's free if you're a Baffler subscriber or a member of the press. Email me if you want to get on the press list.

The issues we'll be exploring at this conference are close to my heart and it's been an honor and a privilege to help put this together. Please spread the word about this exciting event and help us move the conversation about women's workplace issues into the twenty-first century!

This week at The Nation's The Curve: feminists discuss gender and Thomas Piketty

And now for something completely different: for this week's edition of The Nation's The Curve, feminists discuss gender and Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

If you've read everything there is to read about this watershed book and think there's not much more to say, think again! I can promise you that you will find ideas and insights here that you haven't seen anywhere else. Joining me in this exciting roundtable are the following outstanding participants: economist Heather Boushey, political scientist Zillah Eisenstein, and two younger women you may not be familiar with but from whom you will, I'm sure, be hearing much more: Kate Bahn, economics Ph.D. student and blogger for the wonderful site, Lady Economist, and Joelle Gamble of The Roosevelt Institute (who is, to my knowledge, the first women of color to have written about the book).

The discussion of this book has, thus far, been shockingly male-dominated. Only a handful of women and people of color have written about this book, and only two women reviewed it in major American print publications. You already know what 27,000 white dudes have had to say about Capital. It's long past time you listen to what feminists have to say.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

New edition of The Nation's The Curve: The Supreme Court's economic war on women

For the latest edition of The Curve, Sarah Jaffe, Sheila Bapat, and I look at recent Supreme Court decisions in which the Court expanded its economic war on women: Hobby Lobby, McCullen, and Harris. In my piece, I write about the Harris v. Quinn decision, which invented out of wholecloth a separate-but-unequal class of worker known as the "partial public" employee, and then granted this type of worker far weaker union protections.

I focus on an aspect of the decision that has not attracted nearly the attention it warrants: its blatant sexism. I wrote, "With its decision in Harris v. Quinn, not only did the Court target this largely female workforce [of home care workers], but it also undermined broader feminist goals. In granting a second-class legal status to labor that is performed in the home, the Court reinforced patriarchal norms that devalue domestic work and care work. It also attacked the larger feminist project of advancing women’s economic equality by recognizing care as work and insisting that our society compensate female workers fairly."

The other major point I make in my piece is that the Court is hardly likely to stop here. Though they have shrewdly and carefully tailored this ruling to just one group of vulnerable workers (home care workers, who are overwhelmingly low-income women of color), the Roberts Court, as the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin has noted, often decides a case in a relatively narrow way, then uses that ruling as a precedent for far more sweeping decisions. Clever bunch, these boys are. Next time, they'll be coming after public sector unions more broadly -- make no mistake. And after that, who knows?

Friday, July 11, 2014

From "defining issue of our time" to flavor of the month: the Dems abandon economic inequality talk

As you may have heard, the Democrats have abandoned economic inequality as a campaign theme. Now the Dems' talk is all about "mobility" and "creating opportunity" and that holiest of holies, the "middle class," and oily Wall Street middle men like Chuck Schumer, as well as various Third Way wankers, are practically wetting themselves with excitement.

In my latest Baffler piece, I explain that, contrary to the claims of Schumer et al., polling data on inequality actually show a solid basis on which to build an anti-inequality politics. Did you know, for example, that 65 percent of Americans believe that economic inequality continues because it benefits the rich and powerful? That 69 percent say the government should act to reduce inequality? That given a choice, a whopping 92 percent of Americans would prefer to live in a society with a wealth distribution that resembled Sweden’s, as opposed to the one we have here? Oh, and for decades in public opinion polls, some 45 percent of Americans have consistently identified as working class -- about as many who identify as middle class.

Sadly, however, most Democrats have no real interest in doing anything about inequality. They'll support an increase in the minimum wage and some mild welfare capitalism, but that's it. And it's hardly enough.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My new Daily Beast piece on Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis's possible mayoral run against Rahm Emanuel

Here's my piece on why Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, should go right ahead and do what she recently said she's "seriously thinking" about doing -- jump into the race against Mayor One Percent, aka Rahm Emanuel. Lewis said she's "a little sick of" Rahm -- aren't we all? As I argue, there are solid reasons why a Lewis run would be good for the city, even if she doesn't win.

This is my first piece for the Beast, and they definitely Beasted it up with the tabloid-style headline and teaser. Also, they gave me the tiniest byline I have yet received as a professional writer! But they pay better than most other places, and it's a high-traffic site, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

Here's a paragraph that was cut for space, but I think it makes an important point. Read it, and then read the rest of the piece. And if Karen Lewis does indeed run for mayor and you live here in Chicago, please consider volunteering for her. She's pretty great.
Governing as an elected official is, of course, different from leading a big labor organization like CTU. It demands weighing the interests of all voters rather than advocating for the interests of just one group. But both roles require many of the same skills, such as negotiating and coalition building, and numerous labor leaders have gone on to successful political careers. Two of the most effective progressive political leaders of our time, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Brazil's Lula, got their start as trade union leaders. Closer to home, the current mayor of Fayetteville, Arizona, Lioneld Jordan, had been president of his AFSCME local. Other labor leaders-turned-politicians include Coleman Young, former mayor of Detroit (who had been active in the UAW) and, um, Ronald Reagan (who served as president of the Screen Actors Guild).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Democrats' policies on work and family: less than meets the eye

Today at The Baffler, I have more on the Democrats' economic agenda for women and the big White House Summit on Working Families that was held on Monday. The bottom line is that while Democrats are talking the talk, they're not walking the walk. The ratio of CEOs to labor-affiliated types who spoke at the summit was approximately 5 to 1. And leading Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are not supporting vital policies such as a national paid family leave law, comprehensive child care, pay equity (it used to be known as comparable worth), or even an executive order that would improve the pay of low-wage employees who work for federal contractors.

It's encouraging that Democrats are finally starting to talk about these issues again, after more than 20 years of putting them in the deep freeze. But sadly, the Democrats' economic agenda for women is more about paying lip service than about getting real.

Orange Is the New Black and the women's prison film

Here's my latest Baffler piece, in which I review the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black in the context of some classic Hollywood-era women's prison movies. My take, basically, is that while the show is enjoyable and has moments of real power, ultimately it falls short by indulging in too much audience-pleasing sentimentality and comedy shtick. For a far tougher look at a women's prison that does a much better job at looking at prison as a system, I strongly recommend the classic 1950 film noir Caged. The critic Jonathan Rosenbaum called Caged “probably the most ferociously effective and politically potent women’s film ever made.” He was right.

Eleanor Parker in Caged (1951)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New discussion at The Nation's The Curve: Will the Democratic Party Deliver for Working Women?

Here's our latest feminist economic roundtable at The Nation's The Curve. This one is on the Democrats' economic agenda for women. Joining me this week is a motley crew of extremely smart and interesting women: journalists Bryce Covert, Liza Featherstone, and Zerlina Maxwell and economist Deirdre McCloskey. I'll have even more to say about the Dems and economic feminism in a piece for The Baffler this week -- it will probably go up tomorrow or Thursday.

Suffice it to say I'm skeptical. One data point: at yesterday's much-ballyhooed White House Summit on Working Families, speakers and panelists who were CEOs outnumbered workers and labor movement types by a ratio of approximately 5 to 1.

Our online conversation took place last week, before the summit. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Debtors' prisons and other catastrophes

Last week, a 55-year old mother of seven was found dead in her Pennsylvania jail cell. She was thrown in the slammer because she was too poor to pay legal fines stemming from her kids' truancy cases. In my latest Baffler post, I explore this ghastly case in more detail. In particular, I look at three insidious trends it exemplifies: sticking poor people with exorbitant legal fees and fines and depriving them of their freedom if they can't pony up, jacking up those costs further even through private probation debt collection firms, and finally, dealing with truancy cases via the criminal justice system. In short, a perfect twenty-first century horror show, American-style.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

New Baffler post: our deadly culture of overwork

The terrible auto accident last week that nearly killed comedian Tracy Morgan was caused by a Walmart truck driver who hadn't slept in over 24 hours. In my latest Baffler post, I cite that accident as an example of America's deadly culture of overwork and the lax labor laws that enable it. Research strongly suggests that working long hours is associated with a host of poor health outcomes that include higher rates of injuries, depression, anxiety, coronary heart disease, and -- yes -- death. Yet there's little evidence that long working hours increases productivity -- in fact, the truth appears to be the opposite. In many countries in Europe, the maximum legal work week is 48 hours. It's long past time the U.S. institute a similar cap.

UPDATE: To be clear, it's professional class workers who are working longer hours these days -- lower-income workers are actually working less, on average. As a recent Economist piece noted, "Americans with a bachelor’s degree or above work two hours more each day than those without a high-school diploma," and the share of college-educated men working over 50 hours a week has risen significantly in recent decades. But the decline in the average number of working hours for low-income workers isn't exactly voluntary -- to a large extent, it "reflects a deterioration in their employment prospects as low-skill and manual jobs have withered," says the Economist.

SECOND UPATE: The New Republic's excellent David Dayen has more on the economics of the trucking industry and the regulatory failures which are contributing to many deadly trucking accidents.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Check out my exciting new project with The Nation: The Curve, a feminism and economics group blog

I'm pleased and proud to announce a new project I am hosting at The Nation. We're calling it The Curve; our tagline is, "Where Feminism and Economics Intersect." The Curve is a group blog that takes on a New York Times Room for Debate-style format. Twice each month, we will gather a roundtable of feminist voices to comment on economic issues that are of vital interest to women. I will be one of the regular commenters but the other voices will vary.

Here's how the editors and I describe the rationale for the project:
The Curve’s editors—Betsy Reed, Sarah Leonard, and Emily Douglas—began this project with Kathy because we have long been frustrated by two phenomena. 
One is the way in which women’s voices are so frequently sidelined in economic debates. Our voices are few and far between in the economics blogosphere. It’s striking that almost none of the reviewers of Thomas Piketty’s groundbreaking Capital in the Twenty-First Century were women. And as Media Matters recently showed, women are rarely invited to discuss the economy on cable news. 
The flipside of this problem is that, even amongst ourselves, feminists don’t talk enough about economics. Too often, discussions about so-called culture problems like abortion access and domestic violence lack the economic context necessary to appreciate their true causes and repercussions. When topics such as the pay gap or workplace discrimination come up, coverage is often superficial and focused on the experiences of a tiny elite. Meanwhile, the economic pressures on women are mounting: as inequality soars, women make up a growing proportion of the long-term unemployed, low-income women lead a growing majority of single-mother households, middle-income women struggle with few social supports, and even the progress being made by high-income women into the executive suites remains glacially slow.
Hence The Curve—where feminists will hash out economic issues and intervene in feminist debates from an economic perspective. We will draw on the many fine economists, labor journalists, bloggers and academics already producing tremendous work.
For our first forum, we take on a provocative topic: "Does Feminism Have a Class Problem?". In more detail, here's the question we're exploring:
Later, we will get more granular, but for the first round of discussion we are asking our contributors to think big. Given arguments among feminists over Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and debate about the firing of Jill Abramson at The New York Times, and in the context of ongoing movements to gain rights for low-wage care workers, we’d like to begin by exploring the very nature of feminist success. How much does it matter for women that gender discrimination persists at the top? Does feminist success mean an equal number of corner office suites and stock photos, or something more? Is there an inherent class conflict within feminism—indeed, has feminism lost sight of class? Is there the potential for a cross-class feminist movement that transforms the economy for the benefit of all women?
You can read my contribution to the forum here.  My fantastic co-contributors are Demos president Heather McGhee, Center for American Progress senior fellow Judith Warner, and the eminent feminist economist Nancy Folbre (whose book on the economics of care, The Invisible Heart, is a feminist classic).

I am thrilled to pieces to be part of this project. The economic side of feminism is so important and it is one that is perennially undercovered in the media -- even feminist media. As recent debates on everything from sex work to Lean In to feminist twitter wars have shown, feminists disagree with each other -- a lot. But the 140 characters that twitter provides is hardly the ideal format to discuss complex ideas and productively air our differences. Hopefully, this format will provide a better way.

I hope you enjoy this week's forum. In future weeks, we'll be exploring issues ranging from the Democrats' economic policy agenda for women to what feminists have to say about Thomas Piketty. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why we need reparations: because without them, deep, race-based economic inequality will persist

Recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a powerful cover essay for The Atlantic making the case for reparations for black people. My response to his essay can be found here. I concur that reparations are a moral and political necessary. Deep, race-based economic inequality is not going away, and in many troubling ways it is getting worse, not better. I agree with Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree's prescription for reparations in the form of a broadly based social democratic agenda that, in Coates' words, “takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.” We won't come close to achieving racial equality in this country until structural economic issues are addressed as well.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How the American higher education system creates more economic inequality, instead of alleviating it

The Obama administration thinks the answer to soaring levels of student debt and predatory, increasingly powerful for-profit colleges is a new, government-sponsored college ratings system. The administration believes rating colleges would be simple enough: "It's like rating a blender," said an Education Department official recently. In my new Baffler post, I explain why this system is hopelessly inadequate to dealing with the problem.

I also look at a disturbing new book, Suzanne Mettler's Degrees of Inequality, which makes the case that the American system of higher education, which once provided a pathway of upward mobility for millions of Americans, is “evolving into a caste system with separate and unequal tiers” that leaves students “more unequal than when they first enrolled.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to get real about closing the gender pay gap

In recent years, earnings for the median woman worker have stagnated (economists are calling the last ten years the "lost decade" for women's wages) and progress in closing the gender pay gap has screeched to a halt. What is to be done? In my latest Baffler post, I discuss three policies that have been shown to significantly improve women's pay and narrow the gap. One is unions, which boost wages for women workers at every educational level, from female high school drop-outs to women with graduate degrees. The other two are pay equity (a policy which involves paying women the same for doing work that is comparable to men's) and workplace flexibility (giving workers more freedom to schedule their hours and in some cases, to work from home).

Democrats are running on narrowing the gender gap this year, and while it's heartening to see them finally pay attention to this issue, the policies they are offering fall far short of what is needed. Let's push them to do better.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Trigger warnings: bad for feminism, bad for intellectual culture

I am not a fan of trigger warnings, and in my latest Baffler piece, I explain why. I make two basic points. One is that trigger warnings are anti-intellectual and but the latest manifestation of the pernicious trend of the corporatization of the university and its attendant student-as-customer model. The other is that trigger warnings reinforce the worst Victorian-era stereotypes of women—that we’re fragile flowers who can’t deal with the world’s harsh truths and need to be protected from them. Trigger warnings are actually counter-indicated for survivors of trauma -- research I cite suggests that confronting triggers, not avoiding them, is the best way to avoid PTSD.

Trigger warnings are seemingly innocuous but the little buggers are actually quite insidious in the habits of mind they instill, and their use should be firmly resisted.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Protests against commencement speakers and the politics of symbolism

My latest Baffler piece concerns campus protests against commencement speakers, which we're seeing a lot of these days.  I certainly support some of these protests, like the one at Rutgers against Condi Rice. But overall, I tend to think that the protests are largely symbolic gestures that may feel briefly exhilarating, but don't change anything structurally. Activist energies would be better targeted elsewhere. Here's an excerpt from my piece:
Let’s start with the institution of the university itself. The vast majority of colleges in the U.S. receive lavish taxpayer subsidies, because they are not-for-profit. Nonetheless, there is startling economic injustice on campus. Many of the nation’s top private colleges have endowments in the billions, and college presidents and coaches earn eye-popping salaries, with total annual compensation frequently reaching in the millions. Yet over 700,000 employees across American campuses do not earn a living wage, and pay and working conditions for adjunct faculty are often wretched. (See, for example, this recent Salon article about professors living in homeless shelters and subsisting on food stamps.) The American taxpayer is underwriting that system of economic apartheid. 
Taxpayers also bankroll our oppressive student loan system, which impose an onerous debt burden on millions of Americans. (The un-dischargeable “loans” are more akin to contracts for indentured servitude). There are many other bizarre features of the modern university, such as the fact that elite private colleges tend to receive more in tax subsidies than public universities. Even for the Rutgers students protesting Condi Rice, a more promising target for long-term reform is the system that enabled outrageously high speaking fee ($35,000!) the school was prepared to pay her. That fee was offered in spite of the painful and well-publicized budget cuts that the school has recently suffered—and also the fact that a massive shortfall in the New Jersey state budget was recently announced.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Neoliberal Democrats, Piketty, and inequality

Yeah, you knew they weren't going to like this book very much, either. My latest piece for The Baffler.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What the Mad Men economy reveals about our own

My latest Baffler piece is up. If you watched Mad Men this past Sunday, you will no doubt remember that Peggy Olson earned herself a big fat raise, one that equivalent to 25 percent of her previous salary. On Twitter and fan sites, viewers expressed emotions ranging from envy to longing to disbelief at this development.
I did some digging into the economic statistics and discovered this amazing fact: between 2003 and 2012 median earnings for full-time, year-round workers declined by 2.7 percent for men and 1.5 percent for women. But between 1960 and 1969, the years during which Mad Men is set, real median earnings—again, for full-time, year-round workers—increased by a staggering 29 percent for men and 25 percent for women.
What the hell happened?, you may well ask. I explain (hint: it has to do with economic inequality -- big surprise, right?) The bottom line, as I say in my piece, is that "Rising wages for the average worker shouldn’t be viewed as a quaint relic from a time when men wore hats."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My latest Baffler post: the fake populism of rich conservatives

You know what's funny? When wingnuts and the rich want to prove they're the salt of the earth, only they're so privileged they have to reach back several generations into the family tree to find any personal connection to hardship. My latest for The Baffler.

Friday, May 2, 2014

New Baffler post: the Apple-Samsung patent wars and our broken intellectual property system

Here's my latest Baffler piece, which concerns the Apple-Samsung court case. The ongoing litigation between the two tech giants over various software patents threatens to become the longest, and most pointless, legal case since Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Read my piece to find out how our dysfunctional intellectual property regime, which this case exemplifies, stifles innovation, rips off taxpayers and consumers, and generates economic inequality.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tweet of the year

And that's putting it mildly. It really is an extraordinary statement, when you think about it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mayor One Percent: Why Rahm Emanuel is the worst mayor in America

Here's my latest Baffler piece. It's about the worst mayor in America, Mayor One Percent himself, Rahm Emanuel. I pivot off recent revelations that an eight-part CNN documentary series about Chicago was virtually scripted and directed by the mayor's office to focus on what has actually been happening to Chicago under Rahm's leadership. It is not a pretty picture. 

While cities from New York to San Francisco are enacting economically populist policies in a trend that's been called "The Rise of the Progressive City," Chicago is stuck in the failed neoliberal policies of the past. The results are having a devastating impact on the city -- among other things, we're struggling with double digit unemployment and an epidemic of gun violence. 

Yet Mayor One Percent keeps on partying like it's 1999. There's much more, but for a taste, here's how I end the piece:
Most tellingly of all, consider the fact that literally one of his best buddies—a man he vacations with, in fact—is Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate and centimillionaire venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, a Scott Walker type who’s running on a platform of making Illinois a right-to-work state. (Rauner charmingly refers to AFSCME, the public employee union, as “Af-scam-ee). 
They don’t call Rahm Emanuel “Mayor One Percent” for nothing.

Monday, April 28, 2014

How the right (mis)reads Piketty

In my latest piece for The Baffler, I look at conservative responses to Thomas Piketty. There are two major categories of right-wing Piketty reviews. One group of reviewers engages in shameless anti-intellectualism (such as Megan McArdle, who accomplishes the remarkable feat of reviewing the book although she confesses she did not read it) and/or old-school red-baiting (such as Wall Street Journal reviewer Daniel Shuchman, who concludes his review by admonishing Piketty to read Animal Farm and Darkness at Noon).

A second group of conservative reviewers make more serious-sounding criticisms. But if you read them carefully, you'll find that they misread Piketty on certain key points, that they misrepresent some of the evidence (contrary to what they say, consumption inequality is on the rise) and/or are impervious to the implications of there own arguments (if living standards are what matter most, shouldn't we be worried that wages are stagnating for the bottom 90 percent?).

You can read my review of the conservative reviewers clicking here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

My latest Baffler post: forget all the nonsense you've been hearing about "liberal intolerance" on campus and elsewhere. The biggest threat to freedom is at the workplace.

We've heard a lot in recent weeks about alleged "liberal intolerance" -- at Mozilla, where a CEO was forced to resign due to controversy over his donation to an anti-gay marriage campaign, and at Brandeis, where the university revoked a planned honorary degree for anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But the "intolerance" charges were bogus. The Mozilla guy was a PR disaster, and Mozilla was within its rights to fire him. Hirsi Ali has herself made many intolerant comments about Islam (such as her statement about the necessity of defeating all forms of Islam -- not just the radical kind).

The Mozilla and Brandeis cases pose no actual danger to free speech. There is a serious threat to freedom of expression in America, but it’s one that conservatives largely remain silent about: the threat posed to employees’ freedom of speech, by their employers, both on and off the job. Read my latest Baffler piece to find out about how, in recent years, employers have been able to legally fire workers for everything from driving a car with a bumper sticker of a candidate they didn't like to wearing a tie of a football team the boss didn't prefer to being a fan of My Little Pony. You can also find out about the growing trends of loss of privacy on the job (employers are demanding jobseekers and employees' Facebook usernames and passwords -- how could that possibly go wrong?) and political coercion at work (I cite examples of employees receiving campaign literature in their pay envelopes, being forced to attend political rallies, and more). Smell the freedom!

Sadly, conservatives rarely complain about the threat to freedom many Americans experience at the workplace. And to be honest, not a lot of liberals do, either. Liberals and conservatives alike tend to focus on cases where elites are affected -- hence the obsession, even on the part of some liberals, with "political correctness" on campus. The concerns of ordinary working people are not deemed as important, unfortunately.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

America is a plutocracy, and social science proves it

In my latest Baffler piece, I review a host of political science studies that show that the preferences of moneyed elites dominate the political process and drive political outcomes. I also look at a study which shows that our government is overwhelmingly dominated by millionaires, and that, yes, this matters -- our elected officials' class backgrounds influence the way they vote, particularly where economic issues are concerned. Can anyone doubt that we're living in a new Gilded Age that would put the old one to shame?

Friday, April 4, 2014

High-frequency trading is minor con. Wall Street is the real scam.

Here's my latest Baffler post. In it, I take a look at Flash Boys, Michael Lewis's new book about high-frequency trading. As I note, I'm puzzled by the parade of notables who have come forward vying for the Captain Reynault Memorial Award to declare how shocked (shocked!) they are about the corrupt practices of the high-frequency trading sector. In fact, these practices are well-known and have been covered in the financial press. 

I argue that the most serious problem isn't high-frequency trading so much as it is more systemic problems with the entire financial sector, which specializes in wealth appropriation, does a crap job at efficiently allocating capital toward investments (allegedly its primary function), and is a huge contributing factor to soaring economic inequality. That said, anti-Wall Street populist outrage is welcome. Let's just hope it doesn't stop there.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Check out my new gig: weekly blog posts at The Baffler

Readers, I'm excited to announce a new writing gig. The other week, I began blogging for The Baffler. I've been a huge Baffler fan since forever and I'm thrilled that they're publishing my work. My first post skewered recent comments Bill Gates made about how to end economic inequality. My second piece, which appeared Friday, takes a look at a fascinating wage-fixing case in Silicon Valley. I hope you enjoy what I've written so far. Look for my weekly posts to appear on Thursdays from now on.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dark satanic mills

Scenes from the of history of capitalism: ever wonder where the phrase "to have been through the mill" came from? I just read an LRB review of a new book about memoirs from the Industrial Revolution. It includes an excerpt from one autobiography by a man named J.R. Clynes,, who'd been a child laborer in the Lancashire mills:
When I was a young man the term ‘to have been through the mill’ had a grim meaning. We accept it now as a slang addition to the English language, indicating a knocked-about and hard-worn appearance. In 1890 it described a mill worker whose childhood had been ruined by hard labour and little sleep, and who, in manhood, looked shrunken and white-faced.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

In praise of Thomas Piketty's utopianism

In my latest Nation post, I take another look at the big new Piketty book on inequality. There's a lot to like about it. Here's something else to add to the list: the dude's giant brass clanking balls. He tackles a huge topic, and he's honest enough to admit that dealing with it successfully will require bold -- even utopian -- solutions. Fiddling with the tax code on the margins, or throwing a few crumbs at the poor -- remember midnight basketball? -- is not going to do it. Give the man some, I say!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Latin America's surprising success story: how economic populism is transforming the most unequal region of the globe

Across the U.S. and Europe, economic inequality continues to soar. But there's one place in the world where economic inequality is declining significantly: Latin America. Attention must be paid, for several important reasons. Latin America has long been the most unequal region in the world, so what's behind the decline? As I explain in my most recent Nation post, economic growth has something to do with it. But more important than the growth has been the wave of  economic populism that's been been sweeping the region over the past decade, leading to redistribution, a sharp decrease in the poverty rate, and higher standards of living for working people throughout Latin America. These forms of populism take different forms, but one thing they they all share in common is a rejection the neoliberalism that marked the "lost decade" of the 1980s.

"Let them eat start-ups!" Why tech sector neoliberalism won't solve America's inequality problem

Recently, Google billionaire Eric Schmidt gave a talk at SXSW, in which he shared his Deep Thoughts about how to cure America's raging economic inequality. His main idea involves getting the feds to fork over more subsidies to the tech sector. Um, no. I explain why in my latest post for The Nation.

My new post at Blog of the Century: why we need to bring back ye olde progressive taxes

Here's my first post for Blog of the Century, the blog of The Century Foundation. It looks at a new paper in the current issue of the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy co-authored by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Stefanie Stantcheva. Piketty and company examined data from a number of OECD countries over a period of 50 years to determine the optimal marginal tax rate on the highest incomes.

According to them, that rate should be -- wait for it -- 83 percent! They find that tax cuts for the rich are associated with increased inequality and also that there's no evidence that raising tax rates on the rich slows growth.  

In my piece, I argue that dramatic increases in the tax rates on the highest earners are one of the most important items on the anti-inequality agenda. Not only that, "confiscatory" taxes -- very steep progressive taxes with a purpose not so much of raising revenue, but of discouraging bad economic behavior -- are as American as apple pie. As I point out in the the piece, America invented confiscatory taxes, for heaven's sake. Read the entire post for more.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Happy International Women's Day!

Happy International Women's Day! My latest Nation post discusses the radical history of International Women's Day, which was invented and promoted by commie firebrand types like Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai. The purpose of the original International Women's Day celebrations was to bring together two great political movements, feminism and socialism, and to pay tribute women’s revolutionary potential.

Nowadays, the celebration often seems like just another opportunity to sell cheap pink crap. But as a sobering new report reveals, women around the globe continue to trail behind men by every economic measure. One hundred years after the first International Women's Day, we need a feminism that fights gender inequality and economic inequality as much as we ever did.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Now they tell us! The IMF admits that inequality slows growth

My latest for The Nation concerns the a stunning reversal by the IMF. Last week, IMF researchers finally 'fessed up to something that leading economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have been arguing for some time now: that inequality slows economic growth. That they finally admitted this is progress -- even though it doesn't begin to undo the decades of damage that IMF austerity policies have inflicted across the globe. The real question is: will this admission cause them to reverse course and adopt the kinds of anti-inequality, pro-growth economic politics that have been so successful in countries like Bolivia? We shall see.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My first post at The Nation is up: a review of The Killing Fields of Inequality

I can't tell you how honored and thrilled I am to announce that today, I've published my first piece for The Nation. Not only that, I get to review a fascinating new book about the issue I'm most passionate about: economic inequality. The book, which is titled The Killing Fields of Inequality, is by the eminent Swedish sociologist Göran Therborn. You can find my review here.

Me in The Nation -- I didn't think it would get any better than that today. Then I tweeted a link to my piece. And guess who the very first person who retweeted my tweet was? Branko Milanovic, that's who! Yes, that Branko Milanovic, bitchez!

Okay, obviously I need to get over myself. I'll be guest blogging at The Nation for the remainder of this week and next. You can find my stuff here. I'll be posting links to my pieces on this blog as well.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Recent inequality-related posts

Readers, please accept my deepest apologies for my neglect of this blog of late. The exigencies of making a living have messed with my best-laid plans, and for a while I was working one full-time job, one part-time consulting job, plus the weekend blogging and some deadline-driven writing assignments. For weeks, I was either too exhausted or too busy to attend to this blog. Fortunately, I now have a chance to catch my breath.

I'm thrilled to announce landed an exciting short-term gig that involves writing about inequality. Details will follow in a separate post. In the meantime, here are links to my recent Washington Monthly writings about inequality-related issues:

-- The solution to inequality in San Francisco -- and America? It's the taxes, stupid!

-- Your bummer read of the day: how Amazon's labor policies are worse than Walmart's

-- Opinion piece of the day: Rosa Brooks on why workers need to "Lean Out"

-- Study: Republican presidents are associated with higher infant mortality rates

-- After a scientist makes some inconvenient discoveries, agribusiness plots to destroy him (This should be read in relation my earlier post about What Obama Left Out of His Inequality Speech: Regulation).

-- The ACA makes it possible for workers to quit jobs they hate. This is awesome.

-- Could the ACA help the millions Americans drowning in debt? A new study of Massachusetts health care reform offers some clues.

-- On the Raiders' cheerleaders wage theft suit: no pay for practices, unreimbursed expenses, and $125 per 10-hour work day

-- Conference that promises to "reset the agenda for women in the workplace" invites CEOs and Hollywood types aplenty -- but snubs unions

-- Walmart's holiday profits are way down. Food stamp cuts are a big part of the reason.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Congress is a millionaires' club. Why that matters, and what we can do about it.

This week at the Monkey Cage blog, Duke University political scientist Nicholas Carnes wrote a fascinating pair of posts arguing that, when it comes to America's political system, class matters -- even more than a lot of us thought. The posts are based on his recent book, White Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making. It's hardly news to American voters that our elected officials tend to be wealthy, to a wildly disproportionate degree. But the extent to which this is so is stunning.

Carnes points out that, although millionaires make up only 3 percent of the population, they "have a majority in the House of Representatives, a filibuster-proof super-majority in the Senate, a 5 to 4 majority on the Supreme Court and a man in the White House." At the same time, working class people -- whom he defines as "people with manual-labor and service-industry jobs" -- make up more than half of the population, yet people from working class backgrounds have never held more than 2 percent of the seats in Congress.

You might suspect that a legislator's class background would not independently affect the policies she supports -- that, once you control for other factors like political party and constituents' views, the impact of class would disappear. But this is not the case; as Carnes writes, "even after controlling for these factors using a variety of statistical techniques, there are still significant differences between politicians from different classes."

Looking at roll-call data in Congress, Carnes discovered that:
Like ordinary Americans, legislators who worked primarily in white-collar jobs before getting elected to Congress — especially profit-oriented jobs in the private sector — tend to vote with business interests far more often than legislators who worked primarily in blue-collar jobs.
Moreover, Congress is hardly the only government institution where class matters. Carnes also found that:
At every level of government, in every time period and in every stage of the legislative process, the shortage of lawmakers from the working class tilts economic policy in favor of the conservative outcomes that more affluent Americans prefer.

Inequality round-up, 1/11/13

I apologize for my neglect of this blog as late. I've been insanely busy over the past couple of weeks.  I'll have a new post up later today. For now, here is a round-up of inequality news I found especially interesting over the past week:

-- Last weekend at the Washington Monthly, I noted a surprising fact about economic inequality in the U.S. If you look at the growth of economic inequality between 1979 and 2007, the increase is even bigger if you account the impact for taxes and transfers than if you don't. As I wrote, "This doesn’t mean that taxes and transfers don’t make things more equal than they would have been absent taxes and transfers — they do.  What it does mean is that they're not as effective at ameliorating inequality as they were in 1979. In plain English, we’re doing a far worse job at redistributing wealth than we used to."
-- Paul Krugman has a pair of very interesting posts today.  This one is about how the disappearance of jobs has affected Kentucky. Krugman, citing William Julius Wilson, argues that the social problems of poor folks in Appalachia have been created, not by a "culture of poverty," but by lack of employment opportunities -- which is precisely what Wilson was arguing back in the 80s about urban poverty. Krugman's other post is about how North Carolina's decision to slash unemployment benefits has devastated the economy there.

-- Yesterday's job numbers confirmed a long-standing trend: large numbers of Americans are leaving the workforce, and no one is quite sure why. The New York Times' Binyamin Appelbaum and Wonkblog's Brad Plumer discuss various theories that attempt to account for the phenomenon.

-- An alarming Census report has found that growing numbers of Americans are experiencing poverty.  Nearly one out of every three Americans experienced poverty between 2009 and 2011, and the length of the median poverty spell has also increased significantly.

-- A new study shows that, beginning in the mid-1980s, median life expectancy in the U.S. fell sharply behind median life expectancy in the other OECD countries. The reasons for this disturbing development are unclear, but our "fragmented" health care system has been identified as one possible cause. (H/T Economists' View)

   -- Wonkblog's Lydia DePillis looks at how getting married makes male economists richer and female economists poorer, along with other depressing evidence that progress for women in the economics profession has taken a giant step backwards over the past 20 years.

-- In These Times' Michelle Chen reports about how the case of a domestic worker abused by a diplomat shines a harsh spotlight on the plight of domestic workers worldwide. Domestic work is a large and increasingly globalized sector of the economy, but in the U.S., domestics lack basic legal protections and experience high rates of violence, sexual assault, wage theft, and other forms of abuse and exploitation.

-- In France, Goodyear workers facing mass layoffs due to plant closure have taken two of the firm's top executives captive in protest. This tactic is surprisingly popular there; previous polls have shown that close to half of the French public approves of locking up the bosses. Vive la France!

-- Finally, Maureen Dowd unpacks the class politics of Downton Abbey. Yes, on occasion Dowd writes a sharp column, and this is one of them: she's dead-on about how the show greatly sentimentalizes class relations.  But I would also argue that every now and again the show exposes the cruel realities of the class system (the episode where the maid Ethel gives up her baby is one example), and those moments pack a punch.