Who’s happy, who’s not!

❝ If you want to go to your happy place, you need more than cash. A winter coat helps — and a sense of community.

A new report shows Norway is the happiest country on Earth, Americans are getting sadder, and it takes more than just money to be happy.

❝ Norway vaulted to the top slot in the World Happiness Report despite the plummeting price of oil, a key part of its economy. Income in the United States has gone up over the past decade, but happiness is declining.

The United States was 14th in the latest ranking, down from No. 13 last year, and over the years Americans steadily have been rating themselves less happy.

“It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationship between people, is it worth it?” asked John Helliwell, the lead author of the report and an economist at the University of British Columbia in Canada — ranked No. 7…

❝ Norway moved from No. 4 to the top spot in the report’s rankings, which combine economic, health and polling data compiled by economists that are averaged over three years from 2014 to 2016. Norway edged past previous champ Denmark, which fell to second. Iceland, Switzerland and Finland round out the top 5…

❝ Study co-author and economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University said in a phone interview from Oslo that the sense of community, so strong in Norway, is deteriorating in the United States.

We’re becoming more and more mean spirited. And our government is becoming more and more corrupt. And inequality is rising,” Sachs said, citing research and analysis he conducted on America’s declining happiness for the report. “It’s a long-term trend and conditions are getting worse.”

Somehow, I don’t think folks betting on “Make America Great” know crap about what brings happiness to ordinary American families, working-class individuals.

Fix economic inequality? — Yes, we can.

If there’s one thing Joseph Stiglitz wants to say about inequality, it’s that it has been a choice, not an unexpected, unfortunate economic outcome. That’s unnerving, but it also means that citizens and politicians have the opportunity to fix the problem before it gets worse.

In his new book, Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity, Stiglitz, a Nobel-prize winning economist, professor at Columbia University, and the chief economist at the Roosevelt Institute, asks the question “Can the rules of America’s economy be rewritten to benefit everyone—not just the wealthy?” The answer, he insists, is yes.

Stiglitz describes the current situation as “a stark picture of a world gone wrong”: He notes that 91 percent of all income growth between 2009 and 2012 was enjoyed by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. In the first half of the book, Stiglitz focuses on the practices and policies that have gotten the country to this point. It is a familiar story: The demise of labor unions, the increasing financialization of the economy, and the lack of wealth-building opportunities in minority communities have made the rich richer while leaving everyone else to flounder. He lists off a bevy of other contributors too: weak wages, ineffective regulation and federal oversight, and a focus on short-term versus long-term growth, which embodies a preference for rewarding shareholders over workers and consumers.

Stiglitz also notes that despite advancements in technology, which should — in theory — increase efficiency and lower costs, consumers are paying more in fees for financial services, which enriches big banks and companies while siphoning money out of the middle class. All of these things, he says, have created a society with a gaping hole, not only in its economic makeup, but in its morality.

Stiglitz spends the latter portion of the book laying out how to fix things. Like his primer on how inequality came to be, the solutions cover everything from fiscal policy to corporate boardrooms to retirement savings. His overview doesn’t prioritize pragmatism: A solution that only involves overhauling the few things that everyone agrees need to be overhauled is no solution at all, he argues.

Instead, he swings for the fences, suggesting a massive revision in the way the U.S. economy does business. First up is the attempt to tame what is called rent-seeking—the practice of increasing wealth by taking it from others rather than generating any actual economic activity. Lobbying, for example, allows large companies to spend money influencing laws and regulations in their favor, but lobbying itself isn’t helpful for the economy besides creating a small number of jobs in Washington; it produces nothing but helps an already rich and influential group grow more rich and more influential. Stiglitz suggests that reducing rent-seeking is critical to reining in inequality, especially when it comes to complex issues such as housing prices, patents, and the power that large corporations wield.

RTFA for an outline of recommendations from Joe Stiglitz. Nothing you haven’t heard of – or who is affected the most. The rich and powerful who own Congress and your state government.

Read his book. Get your butt in gear to avail yourself of what little political power you have. It’s sad that our only choice – at the moment – is removing power from the evil of two lessers. Kick Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats out of office. Elect liberal and progressive Democrats. Fight to get them to adopt an electoral platform based on a complete overhaul of our tax system, a reform of our education system focussed on standards from students to teachers and administrators, rejuvenating infrastructure.

It ain’t going to happen from the top down. That will be the promise from both political parties. Crap propaganda. We need to shovel away the opportunists who chose political life for profit and power. That’s as much hard work as anything else.

CEO retirement savings: Top 100 = what 41% of US families have

The retirement savings accumulated by just 100 chief executives are equal to the entire retirement accounts of 41 percent of U.S. families — or more than 116 million people…

In a report, the Center for Effective Government and Institute for Policy Studies found that the 100 largest chief executive retirement funds are worth an average of about $49.3 million per executive, or a combined $4.9 billion. David C. Novak, the recently departed chief executive officer of Yum! Brands Inc., is at the top of the list, with total retirement savings of $234.2 million.

In recent years, pay and income inequality across different income groups have received increasing attention in the U.S. Significantly less attention has been focused on the growing gulf in retirement savings, a lack of focus that the study’s authors say they are attempting to address.

“This CEO-to-worker retirement gap is a lot bigger than the pay gap and one more indicator of the extreme level of inequality that is really tearing the country apart,” said Sarah Anderson, the report’s co-author…

Some of the chief executives with the biggest retirement stashes are at companies that have cut retirement benefits for new employees.

For many chief executives, the bulk of their pay often used for retirement comes from deferred compensation plans that permit executives to set aside salaries and bonuses on a pretax basis, with no limits. Lower-paid employees with 401(k) accounts can only set aside $18,000 a year and an additional $5,000 if they’re 50 or older. Many companies offer different investment options to executives for their deferred compensation plans than those offered to 401(k) participants.

In addition to deferred compensation plans, about 30 percent of Fortune 1000 companies in 2013 offered supplemental executive retirement plans, usually calculated by multiplying years of service and the average pay earned during executives’ final years of service.

The report’s authors called for a number of policy changes, including applying to executive compensation plans the same annual contribution limits that cover 401(k) plans and preventing companies from deducting from their taxes contributions to executive pension plans if the employee pensions have been frozen.

You won’t find this discussed in any of the Republican so-called debates. They’re idea of entitlement “reform” is taking social security, medicare and medicaid benefits away from workingclass families.

The Democrat so-called debates? Well, Bernie might bring it up. So might Larry Lessig.

RTFA for a few individual examples of pampered executives.

Inequality, Immigration, and Hypocrisy

Europe’s migration crisis exposes a fundamental flaw, if not towering hypocrisy, in the ongoing debate about economic inequality. Wouldn’t a true progressive support equal opportunity for all people on the planet, rather than just for those of us lucky enough to have been born and raised in rich countries?

Many thought leaders in advanced economies advocate an entitlement mentality. But the entitlement stops at the border: though they regard greater redistribution within individual countries as an absolute imperative, people who live in emerging markets or developing countries are left out.

If current concerns about inequality were cast entirely in political terms, this inward-looking focus would be understandable; after all, citizens of poor countries cannot vote in rich ones. But the rhetoric of the inequality debate in rich countries betrays a moral certitude that conveniently ignores the billions of people elsewhere who are far worse off

By many measures, global inequality has been reduced significantly over the past three decades, implying that capitalism has succeeded spectacularly. Capitalism has perhaps eroded rents that workers in advanced countries enjoy by virtue of where they were born. But it has done even more to help the world’s true middle-income workers in Asia and emerging markets. Even though that had nothing to do with intent.

Allowing freer flows of people across borders would equalize opportunities even faster than trade, but resistance is fierce. Anti-immigration political parties have made large inroads in countries like France and the United Kingdom, and are a major force in many other countries as well.

You seem in such a hurry to live this kind of life
And you’ve caused so many pain and misery

But look around you, take a good look
Just between you and me
Are you sure that this is where you want to be

Please don’t let my tears persuade you, I had hoped I wouldn’t cry
But lately, teardrops seem a part of me

Oh, look around you, take a good look
At all the local used-to-be’s
Are you sure that this is where you want to be

Willie Nelson

The Inequality Trifecta


— and in the United States, they own pretty much all the politicians

There were quite a few disconnects at the recently concluded Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Among the most striking was the disparity between participants’ interest in discussions of inequality and the ongoing lack of a formal action plan for governments to address it. This represents a profound failure of policy imagination – one that must urgently be addressed.

There is good reason for the spike in interest. While inequality has decreased across countries, it has increased within them, in the advanced and developing worlds alike. The process has been driven by a combination of secular and structural issues – including the changing nature of technological advancement, the rise of “winner-take-all” investment characteristics, and political systems favoring the wealthy – and has been turbocharged by cyclical forces.

In the developed world, the problem is rooted in unprecedented political polarization, which has impeded comprehensive responses and placed an excessive policy burden on central banks. Though monetary authorities enjoy more political autonomy than other policymaking bodies, they lack the needed tools to address effectively the challenges that their countries face.

…These are not normal times. With political gridlock blocking an appropriate fiscal response – after 2008, the United States Congress did not pass an annual budget, a basic component of responsible economic governance, for five years – central banks have been forced to bolster economies artificially. To do so, they have relied on near-zero interest rates and unconventional measures like quantitative easing to stimulate growth and job creation…

As a result, most countries face a trio of inequalities – of income, wealth, and opportunity – which, left unchecked, reinforce one another, with far-reaching consequences. Indeed, beyond this trio’s moral, social, and political implications lies a serious economic concern: instead of creating incentives for hard work and innovation, inequality begins to undermine economic dynamism, investment, employment, and prosperity.

So far, Mohamed El-Erian has avoided political office. In the United States as well as Egypt. Understandable when common understanding of officeholders in either nation leaves voters with a choice between the corrupt elected by the ignorant or someone too dumb to comprehend the differences.

Though he easily fits the populist definition of a prince of economics, history and academia both recognize his commitment to common folk, those of us who toil and spin, creating the profits of industry and commerce. I know I needn’t be concerned about most of the wasters in Congress understanding the article. They will not have read it.

Still, around the civilized world, most elected leaders trying to affect the lives of citizens in a positive fashion will read it and at least take his analysis to heart as honest and forthright – whether or not they agree with any logical tough remedies.

I suggest you click the link and read the whole article.

The Age of Vulnerability

Two new studies show, once again, the magnitude of the inequality problem plaguing the United States. The first, the US Census Bureau’s annual income and poverty report, shows that, despite the economy’s supposed recovery from the Great Recession, ordinary Americans’ incomes continue to stagnate. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, remains below its level a quarter-century ago.

It used to be thought that America’s greatest strength was not its military power, but an economic system that was the envy of the world. But why would others seek to emulate an economic model by which a large proportion – even a majority – of the population has seen their income stagnate while incomes at the top have soared?

A second study, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2014, corroborates these findings. Every year, the UNDP publishes a ranking of countries by their Human Development Index (HDI), which incorporates other dimensions of wellbeing besides income, including health and education.

America ranks fifth according to HDI, below Norway, Australia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. But when its score is adjusted for inequality, it drops 23 spots – among the largest such declines for any highly developed country. Indeed, the US falls below Greece and Slovakia, countries that people do not typically regard as role models or as competitors with the US at the top of the league tables…

In the US, upward mobility is more myth than reality, whereas downward mobility and vulnerability is a widely shared experience. This is partly because of America’s health-care system, which still leaves poor Americans in a precarious position, despite President Barack Obama’s reforms.

Those at the bottom are only a short step away from bankruptcy with all that that entails. Illness, divorce, or the loss of a job often is enough to push them over the brink…

American politicians continue to reject the words and work of prize-winning economists like Joe Stiglitz for a couple of reasons. First, he won’t keep quiet about endemic illness in our economy. Inequality of opportunity being among the primetime crimes. Second, he doesn’t mind pointing out who benefits from the lousy politics, sleazy economics of the conservatives who have built this inequality into a new testament of American capitalism. Starting with fossil fuel and energy barons and following the money trail into the pants of Congress.

RTFA for details of the latest Stiglitz essay on a nation with leaders who really don’t care about the lives of ordinary people. Just stay in line and don’t ask too many questions.

Inequality is not inevitable

An insidious trend has developed over this past third of a century. A country that experienced shared growth after World War II began to tear apart, so much so that when the Great Recession hit in late 2007, one could no longer ignore the fissures that had come to define the American economic landscape. How did this “shining city on a hill” become the advanced country with the greatest level of inequality?

One stream of the extraordinary discussion set in motion by Thomas Piketty’s timely, important book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” has settled on the idea that violent extremes of wealth and income are inherent to capitalism. In this scheme, we should view the decades after World War II — a period of rapidly falling inequality — as an aberration.

This is actually a superficial reading of Mr. Piketty’s work, which provides an institutional context for understanding the deepening of inequality over time. Unfortunately, that part of his analysis received somewhat less attention than the more fatalistic-seeming aspects…

…The dynamics of the imperial capitalism of the 19th century needn’t apply in the democracies of the 21st. We don’t need to have this much inequality in America.

Our current brand of capitalism is an ersatz capitalism. For proof of this go back to our response to the Great Recession, where we socialized losses, even as we privatized gains. Perfect competition should drive profits to zero, at least theoretically, but we have monopolies and oligopolies making persistently high profits. C.E.O.s enjoy incomes that are on average 295 times that of the typical worker, a much higher ratio than in the past, without any evidence of a proportionate increase in productivity.

If it is not the inexorable laws of economics that have led to America’s great divide, what is it? The straightforward answer: our policies and our politics. People get tired of hearing about Scandinavian success stories, but the fact of the matter is that Sweden, Finland and Norway have all succeeded in having about as much or faster growth in per capita incomes than the United States and with far greater equality…

Ideology and interests combined nefariously…Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of “free” markets and deregulation…

The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty’s argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics…

We have located the underlying source of the problem: political inequities and policies that have commodified and corrupted our democracy. It is only engaged citizens who can fight to restore a fairer America, and they can do so only if they understand the depths and dimensions of the challenge. It is not too late to restore our position in the world and recapture our sense of who we are as a nation. Widening and deepening inequality is not driven by immutable economic laws, but by laws we have written ourselves.

Our corrupt Congress hasn’t happened by accident, you know. The design is neither new nor patented. But, the only correction – the historic cure remains unchanged. Throw the bums out of office.

That doesn’t mean replacing them with a new crop of self-seeking liars – whether they call themselves neo-conservatives, libertarians or tea party patriots. People who care not for the welfare of individuals care equally less for the welfare of this whole nation. The canary in the coal mine is still bigotry and hatred. If politicians can’t be brought to care for the civil rights of all Americans then they don’t deserve to represent any Americans.

Kansas Republicans so happy about their War on Women they decided to add a War on Children

lying creep

Many states mandate that schools must be funded at constitutionally required levels, but like many Republicans, Kansas GOP leaders disregarded the Kansas Constitution and deliberately underfunded the state’s public schools to both provide tax cuts for the wealthy and keep their population ignorant. Fortunately for Kansas residents and students, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that the state must increase funding for public K-12 schools. The Court’s ruling gutting Brownback’s education plan was a victory for parents, school districts, and students who sued Brownback who has spent the past four years significantly cutting per student funding while cutting taxes for the rich and corporations…

Brownback and his group padded education costs by illegally including teacher retirement benefits and pensions as part of the “per student” spending and made them “part of the whole” of state education costs. In the state budget, pension funds and school finance formula are separate line items, but Brownback decided they were one in the same to give credence to his claim that Kansas spends more on education now than it did in 2000…The Court’s ruling disabused Brownback of the argument he and Republicans were above reproach and immune from a judicial review of an unconstitutional practice.

…For example, electricity and insurance costs are significantly higher today than in 2000, and diesel fuel to bus students to and from school today is approximately $3.44 per gallon when in 2000 is was only $1.03 that all impacted school districts’ operational expenses. Adding in the state’s responsibility to fund pensions as per child spending “is absurd” according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs who said it was ridiculous to think school districts are responsible for keeping the state pension system solvent. He also said that tax cuts Brownback enacted in 2012 drastically reduced how much money the state had remaining to spend on constitutionally required education spending. He reiterated that “The state pension plan and the schools are both state responsibilities and both are underfunded” because Republicans squandered education money on tax cuts…

Sam Brownback may be the first Republican governor to cut school spending by requiring school districts to include the state’s responsibility to fund pensions in their budgets, but he is one of many, many Republican governors cutting education spending to fund tax cuts for the rich and corporations. Other Republican governors are shifting taxpayer money for public education to fund private Christian schools that is another ploy to keep their populations ignorant by teaching the bible as science…

I hope enough parents realize that failure to use tax dollars to provide a real education to their children cuts the likelihood of their kids growing up capable of getting a decent job.

It’s obvious to many which side thugs like Brownback are on when it comes to choosing who to aid, working families or wealthy political donors. If throw the bums out ever meant anything, Kansas voters, American voters, need to stand up and throw creeps out of office who are committed to limiting the future of American states, American workers, the whole nation.