An internal discussion among the IMF staff regarding income inequality

IMFStaff members of the International Monetary Fund organization just published a document for debate regarding the global scope of income inequality. And while I dislike the phrase “income inequality” and prefer the phrase “opportunity inequality”, the document makes important points about what is probably the most serious issue of our times. The disclaimer at the beginning of the document warns against associating the findings of this paper with the IMF and that the paper should be taken as the views of its authors. That’s fine. It presents a lot of facts for serious consideration. The one overarching fact is that paying people more in real wages, rather than exploiting the working poor and gutting the middle class, makes for an environment that allows the economy to work for everyone, not just a privileged few. It’s worth the read.

The measurable and socially immoral consequences of opportunity inequality

We have this posted over at Naked Capitalism this morning, originally from VoxEU. This is even more disturbing when combined with the social reality that the disenfranchisement of young people who are not integrated into the basic structures of society invites higher crime rates.

The conservative attack on academics in higher education

Since conservatives have pushed the adjunct model to its limits over the last 10 year span and effectively can squeeze productivity in that direction no longer, now they are going after tenured faculty who were all but silent while the rest of us suffered. I try not to have hard feelings about a class of faculty who viewed adjuncts as less than themselves (even though adjuncts have the same credentials and many are more qualified than the privileged tenured), but I certainly don’t wish this on anyone and I think it is grotesquely small-minded of conservative legislators who are having their ignorant way with “liberal” academics.

From Nico Lang on why we hate the economically insecure

Lang quoting Barbara Ehrenreich from Nickel and Dimed: “When someone works for less pay than she can live on—when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently—then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.”

Is the religious freedom trope just another wedge issue?

I wonder. No not really. I’m pretty confident that it is; you know, that whole religious freedom argument. Conservatives have been roiling about this for the last several months. It’s a curious phenomenon. And I’m being generous by calling it “curious.” Oh let’s just call it what it is. It’s the latest wedge issue. As the legalization of marriage equality spreads from state to state I am aware of zero (that’s nil) churches who have experienced any restriction of their religious freedom when it comes to the LGBTQ community demanding to be married in conservative congregations that don’t believe in it. None. So we have to come up with “preemptive” legislation to prevent it from happening. Kind of like a previous president’s doctrine of preemptive strike against a nation that is perceived to be a threat to our national interests (which was based on a false, contrived narrative). There is a new presidential election season that is just beginning after all. So the wedges are in the process of being sharpened. If you think the LGBTQ community should not have the right to marry because of your religious convictions, you have every right to oppose it within your religious community. You even have the right to speak out against it in public, to make your position known. That’s the freedom we all have. First amendment stuff. The problem with using our religious freedom as a wedge issue is that the government is not forcing anyone to act against their religious conscience. It is not happening. The arguments of “preemptive legislation” are not proof of religious persecution. They are conservative expressions of fear of possible religious persecution. As citizens of our country, the LGBTQ community have all the civil rights and equal protection under the law afforded by the constitution and the Bill of Rights. And there’s the rub. While some have religious convictions against the LGBTQ community and some do not, we must all recognize that we all live together in a society defined by laws based on a constitution that is not a religious document. It is a foundational legal document, providing legal and social boundaries for those who hold to the narratives of the Bible as well as for those who do not. The religiously convicted have no right to impose their religious convictions on those who don’t have the same convictions. That’s why we are a nation of laws, to protect religious communities from a government that would require them to act against their beliefs, but also to protect those who do not hold the beliefs of a religious community from having that religious community’s beliefs imposed on them through the pretense of a legal system that fails to provide equal protection under law. So, while we’re all being distracted by this “black and white” religious freedom wedgie thing, Wall Street bankers and conservatives are stealing the nation blind. Funny how that works.

Free Market Karma

Sometimes I get the impression that free-market economists think of the idea of the “Free Market” as if it were an objective reality or an inescapable cosmic force, in much the same way that Hinduism or Buddhism thinks of karma. In Hinduism as in Buddhism, karma is an impersonal force, a cosmic reality, a universal law, like gravity. The karmic wheel turns as an unalterable, unstoppable grinding reality. It just is. There is no escaping the consequences of one’s actions because … karma. From a historian’s perspective, the karmic system developed in the East where there were and still are densely populated areas and a very strident competition for material resources. So the development of a system that regulated human moral behavior (how we treat each other when the population is dense and competition for resources is pronounced) became a necessity. For those who live in the East, historically, karma was the answer to this very difficult human problem. Note the moral component. Now, to press the analogy a bit, the Free Market has within it cosmic power to reward and punish certain choices or behaviors. If you act in such a way that compromises or fails to implement the Free-Market ideal in its purity, the Free Market will punish you … or at least, so the ideology goes. It is not a moral or immoral system; so the argument goes. It just is. There is no escaping it. And if we remove all artificially contrived restraints on the Free Market, then its truly benevolent nature will emerge to reward everyone … everyone, that is, who makes the right choices. The Free Market is an impersonal force. So the argument goes, and its rewards and punishments ultimately are those of one’s own making. A lot like karma. … The failure of this ideology is in its misunderstanding of human nature. How do you convince the greedy to stop being greedy? How do you stop the murderer from having murderous thoughts? How do you turn the tyrant from using violence to seize power? … So the idea of the free market is just that, an idea. It requires regulation to prevent human beings from exploiting other human beings of lesser status and power, because having had success in the market they want to use the results of their success to use people instead of providing opportunities for others to have the same success. And once those regulations are implemented by a society that has ordered its government for the protection and the prosperity of its people, then it is no longer a free market. It’s called living and working together.