The Monopolization of America

Happy Mother’s Day to all the blessed women who bore & raised & nurtured us through adulthood.  If your mother is still alive, as mine thankfully is, show her your full love today.  If not, tell her story to your children & grandchildren & anyone who will listen & benefit.

As I mentioned in my last post, Robert Reich is one of my true heroes and sources of inspiration.  In a recent inequality media video, The Monopolization of America” he details the high cost concentrated business control exerts on our economic and political systems.  I had previously written about this in my April 3rd post, “Small is Beautiful,” but since only two people viewed it and none commented, perhaps it warrants a revisit.

Reich begins the video with Monsanto as an example.  This agribusiness giant controls 90% of the soybean seeds and 80% of corn in the US, allowing them to raise prices beyond a competitive market rate.  He goes on to detail “monopolies everywhere”: the 4 largest meatpacking companies control 75% of sales; the 10 largest food companies have 80% of branded products.  2 companies produce 80% of the toothpaste; 2 large companies, Nestle & Mars, produce 90% of the cat food; 4 large drug companies dominate the pharmaceutical market and inflate prices by billions per year.  A few large health insurers control most local markets.  4 behemoths dominate cable & internet services, often in a local monopoly.  He doesn’t even mention the nation’s largest banks, which are “too bigger to fail” than ever, but does cite tech giants Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, the latest manifestation of our “New Gilded Age.”

The first Gilded Age, 1870s – 1920s, was brought down by anti-monopoly legislation and the ravages of the Great Depression.  The Sherman Anti Trust Act of 1890, at first little enforced against the railroad, steel, oil and financial “trusts” that dominated state legislatures and Congress, was eventually given teeth by presidents Theodore Roosevelt, who broke the Northern Securities railroad trust, and William Howard Taft, who dismantled John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co.  Woodrow Wilson added the Clayton Act and the 17th Amendment, providing for direct election of Senators.  The power of the national government really can be wielded on behalf of economic justice, when politicians heed the will of the people and the common good, rather than the selfish machinations of concentrated wealth!

For the next 50 years, the federal government relied on a mixture of active regulation of concentrated business and breaking up “trusts” when necessary.  In 1950, the Alcoa Aluminum company was broken up for achieving an effective monopoly, even though they never sought one.  By 1960 overly big businesses were held in check and the the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker was 30:1.  Then came 1980 and Ronald Reagan.  If you’re a “progressive” (a label I shun) or pro worker & poor (which I enthusiastically embrace) Reagan’s election was the nadir of our our political economy, the “great divide” that ended 50 years of progress toward increasing equality and ushered in a government “of the rich, by the rich and for the rich” that endures to present.  Today, the average CEO earns 300 times their average worker and Jeff Bezos of Amazon sees space travel as the only way to spend down some of his $131 billion (and counting) fortune.

Since the 1980s successive administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have prostrated themselves at the altar of the rich for modest campaign contributions.  This is why none have made a dent in rising economic equality.  Case in point: The CEO of AT&T just apologized (because they got caught) for paying $1.2 million to Michael Cohen to influence the Trump Administration to approve an $85 billion proposed merger with Time-Warner, which the Justice Dept. thankfully opposes.  The same article noted that AT&T spent over $17 million on lobbying last year – chump change for a multi-billion corporation, but enough to buy a lot of political support on Capitol Hill.

Note also President Trump’s new prescription drug proposal, which includes no mechanism to limit drug prices or allow the government to negotiate better rates for the massive Medicare and Medicaid programs.  Also Trump’s empty threats to stand up to the National Rifle Association after Parkland, rescinded once Republican legislators reminded him of how much they rely on NRA cash to maintain their Congressional majority.  As the old Who song goes, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The rich are too damn rich and have too damn much political power.  Just a little bit of their huge surplus is enough to turn politicians into lapdogs, doing their bidding and angling to join them in lobbying and law firms once their “public service” is done.  Currently I’m reading Democracy in America: What Went Wrong?  by Benjamin Page and Martin Gillens.  In Chapter 3 they find that, in examining 1800 discrete public policies, once you discount elite and interest group preferences, general public opinion has virtually NO impact on the outcome. “Well,” as Dana Carvey used to say as the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live, “isn’t that precious!”

We need effective anti-monopoly enforcement, campaign finance reform and publicly financed elections.  More to the point, we need a new social movement that puts the needs of the poor and working classes at the forefront of American politics, rather than in the dustbin of history, as Marx might say.  I’m talking about the type of Poor People’s Movement  that Dr. King gave his life for, in the toughest and least successful battle of his career.

Yet, while I write this, I’m listening to a “60 Minutes” interview about  a new film on Pope Francis, the headliner of my blog.  His opening remark: “Humanity is mostly deaf.”  Amen to that.  Jesus used to say “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”  Is anyone really listening?  What would it take to bring forth a response?


The High Cost of Poverty

A recent op ed by Dr. Mark Rank, professor of social welfare policy at Washington University, states that a majority of Americans will be poor at some point in their lives.  I went on his website,  and clicked on the “Poverty Risk Calculator.”  By entering only five variables – my race, age, sex, education and marital status, I found I had a 20% chance of falling below the official poverty rate in ten years and at 25% risk over 15.  Now, those acquainted with my checkered work history know I’m well familiar with poverty, both before and after my marriage, but I’m an outlier here.  A white, middle aged college graduate with three MA degrees should have the world on a string, rather than working three jobs to keep the wolf away from the door.

Others have it far worse, of course.  I am working as a long term substitute teacher in the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Service Center, instructing, as best I can, adjudicated youth awaiting a hearing and placement.  I’d estimate 80-85% are black, 10% Hispanic, less than 5% white and NO Asians I’ve seen.  Nearly all, I’d wager, come from poor families.  Counting total personnel – teachers, administrators, counselors, secretaries, residential staff, judges, lawyers, technicians, security, custodial etc. – there are more people working here, making a living (with health & pension benefits) off the backs of the poor, than being housed.  I’m told confinement costs, on average, about $975 per day per youth.  This is an extremely costly way to “correct” the costs of poverty, if in fact that ever happens.

Rank and his colleague, Michael McLaughlin, calculate the cost of childhood poverty to the nation at $1.03 trillion in 2015.  This was 5.4% of total GDP or an amount equal to 28% of the federal budget.  Consider that the recent GOP tax “reform” effort is aimed at increasing economic growth from 2.5 to 3% annually, mainly to benefit the rich, at a cost of $1.5 trillion over ten years.  This tells you where our priorities lie.  Further, they estimate that each dollar spent on reducing childhood poverty saves the country $7 in the long run in increased productivity, lower health care costs and incarceration rates.  I’m not sure how they calculate this, but the general principle makes sense.

The piece is short, with few details.  Crucially, how do you reduce childhood poverty without helping the adults on whom they depend for survival?  Other than Social Security Disability (which averages $750 per month) the Earned Income Tax Credit (worth up to $4000 per year for a worker with 3 minor children earning around $30,000) and Food Stamps ($100 – $300 a month) we have little to help the poor, working or non.  A true child anti-poverty policy would focus on increasing the employability and incomes of the adults who care for them.  These folks, however, get scant attention in the policy process, as they have few advocates, make no campaign contributions and vote at lower rates than the wealthy.  So, like the old Fram oil filter commercial used to say, “You can pay me now or pay me later.”  We, in our shortsightedness and hardheartedness, have chosen the latter path – and we pay for it.





Get Equal, Be Happy

The recently released World Happiness Report establishes empirically what we all should know intuitively, that people who live in more equal societies report higher levels of happiness and well being than more unequal countries, like the United States.  The #1 country was Finland, a moderately wealthy society with a high degree of economic equality, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland.  The United States ranks 18th, despite being the richest country in the history of the world.  According to Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, one of the editors of the report, “US society is in many ways under profound stress, even though the economy by traditional measures is doing fine.”  The USA dropped three places in the rankings due to declining life expectancy, rising suicide rates, a worsening opioid crisis and declining social trust.

These findings track perfectly with a book I’ve been reading, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by public health experts Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.  This book makes two dramatic points.  First (no “off” necessary), in wealthy countries, “the age of economic growth is dead.”  Beyond an average per capita income of around $25,000 (USA approximately equal $60,000) no further gains in health, longevity or social well being are achieved.  People in Malta live about as well and long as we do.  Each additional dollar to the overall society brings diminishing returns and declining marginal utility.  A doubling of per capita income in wealthy countries yields no additional social benefits, while increasing climate change and environmental damage in the long run.

Second, while additional income beyond the base level fails to improve the overall quality of life, in highly unequal countries it reliably produces more misery for all classes, rich, middle and poor.  Wilkinson and Pickett use international (UN, World Bank) and US (Census, state and federal agencies) data to construct an Index of Health and Social Problems that measures ten variables: level of social trust; mental illness and addiction; life expectancy and infant mortality; obesity; academic test scores; teen birth rates; homicides; incarceration levels and social mobility.  The data shows that all these problems are more prevalent in highly unequal countries (US, UK, Portugal) than more equal ones (Japan, Denmark, Norway), and the more unequal a society becomes, the worse the outcomes.

So what matters most, in mid to higher income countries, is not the level of national wealth but the distribution of resources within these societies.   Remember we’re using nations as the unit of measurement.  Within rich countries, poorer individuals certainly benefit from increased income, and this is doubly true for poorer, developing nations.  We could measurably increase the health and happiness of most of the world’s people by creatively redistributing (there, I said it!) the excess level of wealth in richer countries to poorer citizens and nations, while minimizing the environmental impact of uncontrolled and largely useless growth.  This would also stem the rising refugee crisis worldwide, since people would be better able to support themselves and families in place, rather than risking life and limb in rickety boats or hazardous land crossings to reach the West and send money back home.

Reported rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed in highly unequal rich countries like the UK and USA since the 1950s, in the midst of sustained economic growth.  What explains this?  It turns out, unsurprisingly, that human beings are exquisitely vulnerable to social evaluative threat.  We measure our self worth, esteem and status not on what we actually have (cars, homes, cell phones, clothes etc.) but by where we stand in relation to others.  Shame and pride are the primary social emotions.  The more we have the better we feel about ourselves (smarter, better, harder working, more deserving), and of course the opposite is true as well.   As inequality rises and social mobility falls, more and more people experience stress over their precarious position and prospects.  Even the “successful” find themselves increasingly stressed to maintain their class status and social image in a highly competitive, fragmented, cutthroat culture.

And we largely face these social threats alone, without the support of the broader community of extended families, churches, familiar neighbors and web of supportive relationships that sustained our ancestors and gave them a secure identity beyond the marketplace.  Lennon and McCartney were on to something when they sang “I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love” (which they later said was “all you need”).  Well, not quite.  You still need food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health care, education, recreation and a few other things that comprise the modern middle class life and keep our noses to the grindstone.  Yet, beyond a certain comfort level, having more really won’t help you, so why not give the excess away?   “Get equal, be happy.”



“Free Money for All?” Can a Basic Income Cure Poverty and Inequality? Should It?

While scrolling through some Ted Talks on Youtube last weekend on income inequality, I was led into other videos on a “basic income” approach, including ones by Rutger Bregman, Federico Pistono and James Mulvale, among others.  I admit being rather surprised and put off at first but, after further viewing and consideration, the idea began to grow on me.  I propose it for your consideration and feedback.

The basic income, or “free money for all” approach, is elegant in its simplicity.  Each (adult, I’m assuming) citizen gets a modest check (say $1000 per month) from the Treasury, sufficient to pay, or help pay, for basic needs like housing, food and transportation.  This provides a basic floor of security for all.   It would be universal and unconditional, available to everyone as a right of citizenship.

This idea was originally floated by one of my favorite Patriots, Thomas Paine (need to check the source) at the turn of the 19th century.  In the 20th century it was embraced by liberal reformers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Bishop Desmond Tutu, as well as conservative theorists like philosopher Friedrick von Hayek and economist Milton Friedman.  It was Friedman’s Negative Income Tax (NIT) idea that inspired President Nixon (no radical, he) to propose a Family Assistance Plan in 1971, which would have sent a check to every American family below a certain level.  It passed the House but failed in the Senate, bedeviled by questions of benefit levels and where to impose cut off points for higher earners.  The basic income approach avoids that dilemma by making everyone eligible and the funds taxable, clawing back much of the benefit from high income families.

This approach cuts across ideological divisions and garners support (and opposition) from both sides.  Liberals like the social insurance concept of basic security for all and its effect of lifting many above the poverty line, while increasing choices and opportunities for working and middle class people.  Conservatives like the fact that it is more efficient and less costly than the current social welfare system, with its vast armies of counselors, social workers, caregivers, lawyers, probation and corrections officers, teachers, nurses, administrators and bureaucrats, most making a good living off the suffering of the poor.  The appeal of FAP to Nixon was it would allow him to dismantle much of the New Deal and Great Society programs he loathed in favor of simply mailing a check.

The benefits of a universal basic income include: 1) Reduce poverty and economic inequality – these are serious drags on productivity, human potential and welfare; 2) Economic efficiency – it’s cheaper to send a check than to provide numerous “services” which never seem to reduce poverty and inequality; 3) Increase human freedom and choice – people can more easily exit bad situations and choose new paths, invest in education, start a business, care for a sick loved one etc.  4) Support all work done – including child rearing, homemaking, care of relatives, part time and contingent jobs etc; 5) Cushions against structural and technological unemployment – by some estimates, artificial intelligence and automation threaten up to 50% of current jobs in the economy; 6) Makes intuitive sense – poverty, by definition, is a lack of money to meet basic needs.  Why then do we continue to provide expensive “services” to people that leave them no better off?

There are, of course, objections, such as: 1) It’s too expensive – the United States is the richest country in the history of the world, with a $20 trillion plus economy.  By some estimates we could wipe out domestic poverty for about $175 billion, or 1/4 of the Defense budget.  Is it true that “we can’t afford it,” or  that we don’t care enough to try?  2) People will stop working – Bregman cites studies from Canada, India and other nations that disprove this.  In fact, work effort in most poor countries that experimented with this actually increased.  The basic income isn’t enough to retire on and most people wouldn’t want to.  Surveys show most people want to work, be productive and contribute to society.  The question is, in our increasingly technological world, will they have that opportunity in the future?       3) It’s politically unrealistic: in our current climate, yes.  Our politics are dominated by one party that wants to continually cut taxes and redistribute to the rich, and another that wants to hold on to past gains and maintain the status quo.  Yet times change.  Ending slavery, women’s and civil rights were once deemed “hopeless” causes.  What adult over 40 ever thought they’d see gay marriage legalized?   The time is not yet “ripe” for the basic income, but who knows what the future holds, especially as rising inequality, automation and globalization increasingly threaten the fortunes of a majority of the population?

I confess, as an old New Deal Democrat, that I have reservations about this.  I instinctively dislike the idea of paying people without requiring work in return.  I believe work, however humble, is essential for the mind and spirit, a source of self worth, sociability and dignity.  I’d rather see the government guarantee full employment and provide public jobs if necessary, or adopt a much expanded Earned Income Tax Credit to redistribute profits from the top to wage subsidies for the middle and bottom.  I would also adopt a stiff “automation tax,” requiring companies that displace workers to pay a large part of their profits toward creating other jobs and retraining efforts.

Yet those jobs may be unavailable in the future.  For instance: the single largest employment category for American men is “driver” – trucks, buses, cabs, vans, delivery, Uber etc. – a job I do myself, part time.  What happens when self driving vehicles hit the road en masse in the next few years?  Also, our obsession with growth as our primary economic objective may have to yield to a more sustainable, steady state, redistributive future.  We can never end poverty with our current obscene levels of inequality; we will choke on our smog and drown in rising ocean tides long before then.  We need better levels of distribution to achieve a more just, sustainable, human society and economy.  Basic income may be one means of getting there.




How Inequality Harms Societies

I highly recommend this Ted Talk by Richard Wilkinson, “How Inequality Harms Societies.”  It’s based on his 2011 book with Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (love that title!).  Wilkinson and Pickett public health experts and specialists in epidemiology.  They analyzed reams of statistics from the UN, World Bank and national databases on over 50 categories of physical and mental health and social well being.  The overall message is more equal developed societies (Japan, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands) have higher life expectancy, less social problems and greater child well being than less equal societies (UK, Portugal, Singapore and USA).  Look for how the USA is the negative outlier in almost every example!

Note also how all data strongly correlates with degrees of in/equality in these nations, and NONE with simple GDP per capita or economic growth.  The USA, despite our riches, scores extremely low on ALL measures of well being, including social trust, mental illness and addiction, violence, incarceration, high school drop outs and social mobility.  Despite our reputation as the “land of opportunity,” the ability to move from one class to another is far higher in Western Europe than the USA.  Indeed, Wilkinson states, “If you want to live the American Dream, move to Denmark!”  Touche!

In conclusion, there are two paths to a more equal future.  First, the Japanese model, which begins with low inequality and less need for higher taxes and redistribution.  Second, the Swedish model, which starts with higher inequality and corrects it with higher progressive taxes and more redistribution.  The USA seems to fall into the second camp – higher progressive taxes, anyone?


The Kerner Commission Report Turns 50

Just finished re-reading an op ed, “The Unmet Promise of Equality,” in the New York Times on March 1.  It’s co-author is Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, tasked by President Johnson with examining the roots and suggesting reforms for the 1967 urban riots that afflicted Detroit, Newark and over 100 other cities.  Published on March 1, 1968, it began with the ominous warning, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white -separate and unequal (moving toward?  What were the previous 300+ years of slavery and segregation about?).   LBJ, beleaguered by the Vietnam War, battered by domestic unrest and soon to abandon his reelection effort, largely ignored and shelved the report.  Yet it sold over two million copies, sparked some national debate and is fondly remembered by liberal historians and pundits.

The Commission concluded that “White society is deeply implicated in the ghetto,” which it created and maintained and called for “massive and sustained” investments in jobs and education to reduce poverty, inequality and prevent future riots.   Fifty years later, the authors find:

Re-segregation: The percentage of students in highly segregated (90% minority) schools declined by approximately 50% from 1968-88, then reverted to the mean following the ending of court mandated integration orders.  Today’s schools are as segregated or worse today than they were in 1968.   The biggest offenders are the Democratic states, led by New York (65% of black students in highly segregated schools), followed by Illinois (61%), Maryland (53%) and New Jersey (50%).  The most segregated region in the country is the Northeast (51%), followed by Mid West (43%), South and West (34% each).  So, it seems, in liberal “Blue” states, “Black Lives Matter,” so long as they don’t live and attend school in white neighborhoods!

Shocking Inequality: Since 1968, the number of Americans living in extreme poverty (less than 50% of the official poverty line) has increased substantially,  while the overall poverty rate remains basically unchanged.  The rich have grown much richer – the top 1% get 52% of all new income and controls over 80% of national wealth – a huge increase since 1968.  Black median household income is 60% of whites, but whites own 10 times more wealth.  CEO pay has exploded, from 24 times the average worker in 1968 to nearly 300 times today.

Mass Incarceration: Around 200,000 people were behind bars in federal, state and local facilities in 1968; today the number is 1.4 million, the highest incarceration rate in the world.  African Americans are jailed at a rate 7 times higher than whites, especially for drug offenses, though blacks and whites use and sell drugs at roughly the same rate.  The article states “Mass incarceration has become a new kind of housing policy for the poor” (and mentally ill).  Given the lack of affordable housing and subsidies for the poor (fewer than 1/5 of those eligible receive assistance) this is an understandable, though shockingly expensive and inefficient, alternative.

Do What Works: Harris and Curtis say we have learned much about what works and doesn’t in fighting poverty and inequality over the past 50 years, and could reach the Kerner Commission’s goals if only we had the political will (world’s rarest commodity) to  embrace its guiding ethos of “Everyone does better when everyone does better” (i.e. the common good) rather than the neoliberal creed, “You’re on your own” (individual selfishness).   A litany of liberal policy remedies follow: universal, single payer health coverage; significantly raising the minimum wage and EITC; strengthening labor unions and job training; actively pursuing racial integration (unclear how); fully funding public schools; housing subsidies for all eligible; enforce fair housing laws; community based policing and alternative sentencing for non violent crimes, among others.

A wonderful menu of New Deal/Great Society programs and, as a liberal Democrat, I endorse them all!  Yet we live in a country that inexplicably elected Donald Trump president, with a Republican majority in the House, Senate and two thirds of state legislatures.  None of this will fly in the current political climate, which I don’t expect to change radically in the foreseeable future (though one never knows).  We need an anti-poverty, pro equality plan that can appeal to large numbers across the political spectrum.  Does anyone have the slightest clue what that would look like?



Rising Inequality, Part 3

Having reviewed the shocking extent of economic inequality in our world (8 men have as much wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion people!) and the reasons it’s a problem (unjust, inefficient, undemocratic, unhealthy etc.) it’s time to examine some possible solutions.  Caveat emptor: conservatives will be enraged by these suggestions, which basically boil down to tax, regulate and redistribute – aka “big government.”  Well, what did you expect?  Conservative “neoliberal” economic policies (cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations, maximize shareholder value and CEO pay, freeze wages and kill labor unions etc.) are largely responsible for the vast increase in inequality since the late 1970s – my entire adult life.  In a world where a few rich men and large corporations control more resources than most countries, what force except democratic government can check and restrain the power of the plutocrats?

There are many steps toward creating a more “human economy,” based on the welfare of the bottom 99% of the world’s population, especially the majority poor.  They include, in no particular order:

  • Set concrete targets & guidelines to reduce inequality so that the top 10% receives no more than 40% of national income – a level a little higher than Western Europe (37%), but lower than USA/Canada (47%) and Brazil/India (55%).  Given the high residual inequality, this is hardly “socialism.”
  • Increase taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations and use the revenue to fully fund health, education and social programs designed to increase opportunity for all, especially the lower 50%.
  • Close tax loopholes and offshore tax havens, where the rich currently stash over $7 trillion in ill gotten gains, depriving the poor of desperately needed tax revenue for health, welfare and income support.  This will probably require an international tax agreement and a global tax body (like the World Trade Organization) to enforce.
  • Institute or increase wealth taxes (one of my favorite ideas), including property, inheritance, capital gains and levees on great fortunes (say over $10 million).  Redistribute the revenue to underpaid workers who produced the surplus in the first place, by providing a living (not minimum) wage for all workers, especially women, who are universally underpaid.
  • Redesign business models away from shareholder maximization and CEO excess to more worker oriented forms, such as cooperatives, employee ownership, fair trade and profit sharing.
  • Cap CEO pay at 20X that of an average worker.  Prohibit dividends, bonuses, stock buyouts and other giveaways to the rich until all workers receive a living wage, arrived at through democratic deliberation and expert analysis for that region.
  • Promote and protect labor unions and other civil society groups working to increase wages, improve working conditions and increase educational and occupational opportunities for the bottom 80% of the population.

Quite a list, and it’s only partial.  Of course all these suggestions will meet with hysterical resistance from the monied and corporate elite and their shills in both political parties.  We currently have one major party (Republican) whose bedrock belief is redistribution from the middle and working classes to the top 10% – witness the current “tax reform” fiasco, 80% of which benefits the wealthy and corporations rather than the “forgotten Americans” Trump hoodwinked into voting for him.  The Democratic party seems focused on preserving existing programs and regaining power, without a coherent vision of a more just society.  The Sanders wing offers some hope, but hasn’t been able to cohere into an organized, pragmatic force with reasonable plans that don’t bankrupt the Treasury more than our current, irresponsible fiscal course.

Public opinion is on our side, if weakly.  The Oxfam survey in Post #1 indicates that 2/3 to 3/4 of people worldwide believe inequality is too high and an urgent problem that governments should directly address.   Yet very few people organize around or vote on these issues, believing (with much justification) they have little chance to be addressed in a stacked game rigged by the elites for their benefit.  In our political system an intense minority can easily thwart a lukewarm majority – witness the NRA’s stranglehold on gun legislation, despite the mass shootings that occur with shocking regularity.  The vast majority of Americans support universal background checks and eliminating the sale of military assault weapons, but do these prevail?  Nooooooo!

The key seems to be in mobilizing an active, intense minority that pushes for a more fair, just and sane economy.  This is tough because there is no single, identifiable group (like women, gays, African Americans etc.) who can claim special suffering from economic inequality, with an intense group interest in reversing it.  People will fight mightily to advance the rights and interests of themselves and their groups.  Mobilizing the masses around the “common good” is a much harder affair.

Efforts must be made, in education and organizing, to tie people’s economic plight directly to inequality and demonstrate concretely how they’d be better off under a fairer distribution.  A real social movement must emerge – with leaders and specific policy demands – to demand these changes.  It must go well beyond the adolescent rebellion of the Occupy movement, which lacked plan and purpose.  It’s a tall order and seemingly thankless task, though invaluable for the health and well being of our people and planet in the long run.  I have little to lose and nothing better to do, so I’m willing to take a shot.  Will anyone join and help me, or is there someone I should join and help?