French economist Thomas Piketty changed the world in 2014 with his magisterial Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a book that reported out an incredibly ambitious project to map out three centuries' worth of capital flows, and from that, to derive an empirical answer about whether markets are a machine for finding smart people and allocating capital to them so that they can invent things that make us all better off ("meritocracy"), or whether they simply make the people who happened to get rich (possibly by inventing something, more often by inheriting wealth or by being a sociopathic looter) even richer (spoiler: rg, which means that markets' long-run function is to increase inequality by allocating ever-larger pools of capital to rich people who don't do much that's socially beneficial with it). Read the rest
For years, researchers have tracked the discrepancy in average life-expectancy predicted by income equality, and, as with the wealth gap itself, this life-expectancy gap just keeps getting wider. Read the rest
In the wake of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, a new debate opened up, about the mundane, everyday ways that wealthy people buy their way into elite institutions: from hiring, poorer, smarter kids to write their kids' essays, to surrendering custody of your kids in order to misappropriate low-income tuition grants, to simply "donating" shit-tons of money to the school. Read the rest
If you know the name Robert Bork, it's probably in the context of his failure to secure Senate confirmation when Ronald Regan put him up for the Supreme Court (his sins from his days in the Nixon administration caught up to him). Read the rest
Philanthropy is theoretically an expression of generosity and fellow-feeling, but in an increasingly unequal world, charitable giving is a form of reputation laundering for super-rich oligarchs who build their massive fortunes on savage programs of exploitation and immiseration. The idea is that you can paper over the fact that deliberately starting the opioid crisis made you richer than the Rockefellers by having your name plastered all over the world's leading art galleries and museums. Read the rest
The world is full of corrupt oligarchs looking to smuggle their money out of their countries and put it somewhere where the rule of law that they have helped to dismantle at home still reigns; a favourite safe asset class is luxury housing in major cities, which is viewed as easy to sell on short notice due to the large supply of other money-laundering oligarchs. Read the rest
In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay Occupy Gotham, published in Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman, commemorating the 1000th issue of Batman comics. It's an essay about the serious hard problem of trusting billionaires to solve your problems, given the likelihood that billionaires are the cause of your problems.
A thousand issues have gone by, nearly 80 years have passed, and Batman still hasn't cleaned up Gotham. If the formal definition of insanity it trying the same thing and expecting a different outcome, then Bruce Wayne belongs in a group therapy session in Arkham Asylum. Seriously, get that guy some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy before he gets into some *serious* trouble.
As Upton Sinclair wrote in his limited run of *Batman: Class War*, "It's impossible to get a man to understand something when his paycheck depends on his not understanding it."
Gotham is a city riven by inequality. In 1939, that prospect had a very different valence than it has in 2018. Back in 1939, the wealth of the world's elites had been seriously eroded, first by the Great War, then by the Great Crash and the interwar Great Depression, and what was left of those vast fortunes was being incinerated on the bonfire of WWII. Billionaire plutocrats were a curious relic of a nostalgic time before the intrinsic instability of extreme wealth inequality plunged the world into conflict.
In a characteristically brilliant essay, historian, activist and writer Rebecca Solnit connects the dots between the sexual abuses of Jeffrey Epstein, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Brett Kavanaugh, Harvey Weinstein, and the unnamed 16-year-old boy whose admitted rape was excused because the judge said that This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well: in each case, there was an elaborate scheme to silence and discredit the survivors of sexual violence, abetted by networks of (mostly) men who treat the disclosure of sexual assaults as a worse offense than committing the assaults themselves. Read the rest
Every day, the world's poorest countries lose $3b in tax revenues as multinationals sluice their profits through their national boundaries in order to avoid taxes in rich countries, and then sluice the money out again, purged of tax obligations thanks to their exploitation of tax loopholes in poor nations. Read the rest
Methodist University Hospital in Memphis is a nonprofit: it pays virtually no local, state or federal tax; but unlike other Methodist hospitals, Methodist University Hospital is relentless in pursuing medical debts from indigent patients. The hospital owns its own collection agency, and is one of the leading litigants in Tennessee's debt courts. Read the rest
18 of the richest people in America have sent a letter to all the candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, demanding that their election platform include a annual wealth tax on the largest American fortunes, something advocated by economist Thomas Piketty in his blockbuster book Capital in the 21st Century and subsequently integrated into Elizabeth Warren's campaign platform (with Piketty's endorsement). Read the rest
A new study from the United Way claims that 43% of American households are in a status called "asset limited, income constrained, employed" (ALICE), which denotes employed people who can't afford housing, food, childcare, healthcare, transportation, and a cellphone -- the basics of modern living. Read the rest
Responding to Professor Sir Angus Deaton’s report into the causes of inequality, economics writer Chris Dillow provides an excellent list of eight ways in which unequal societies sacrifice overall economic growth and national prosperity to preserve the fortunes of their elites. Read the rest
The New York Times has inaugurated its "Op-Eds From the Future" ("science fiction authors, futurists, philosophers and scientists write op-eds that they imagine we might read 10, 20 or even 100 years in the future") with a piece from Ted Chiang (previously) that imagines a future in which genetic engineering of human embryos is commonplace, leading to a well-intentioned attempt at preventing literal speciation into the haves and have-nots by subsidizing "intelligence boosting" genetic manipulation for lower-income families. Read the rest