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Stamp out starving writers, buy their books!


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Time is Money, Money is Time

The saying goes that time is money. On the other hand, you’ve probably heard that rich people live longer than poor people. So we can turn the old saying around and say that money is time. A few years ago, a movie with premise that time and money are interchangeable came out. The action-adventure sci-fi thriller was called In Time and starred Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.

Amanda Seyfried:  In Time

Amanda Seyfried: In Time

The movie takes place in an alternate present where everyone’s diminishing 25-year life expectancy is visible in luminescent numbers on their forearm. The body-clock stops at age 25, after which you have a year in which to buy more time, if you have the money. If you don’t, you can gamble for it, beg for it, steal it — or give up and die. The premise is very interesting, but the film is disappointingly commonplace with the usual smooth talking rich villains, the lower strata of relentless killers, and the dashing heroic lovers who steal from the idle time-rich to give to the desperate time-poor.

The most interesting scenes are simple visuals where Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried — he with a shaved head and not-quite-shaved cheeks, she in a high-heels and tight miniskirt — run as fast as they can to escape thugs and the time police. The pair are good runners even when holding hands. It’s too bad everything else is so lame, because a movie in which more money means more time alive dramatizes an essential fact of life in the US today.

Nowadays, men in the top 1 percent can look forward to celebrating their 87th birthday, which is about 15 more birthdays than those poor guys in the bottom 1 percent. As a matter of fact, really rich men in the USA can look forward to living longer than men anywhere on the planet. Those other guys down in the bottom 1 percent of in the United States, can expect to live as briefly as men in Sudan.

Raj Chetty

Raj Chetty

These sad facts come from an investigation into wealth and life expectancy by Stanford University economist Raj Chetty and seven other researchers. The surprising news in this news is that for the poor, where they live will help determine how long they live. The rich do well in any city, but the poor – while generally living more abbreviated lives – live longer if they reside in, say, San Francisco or New York city rather than in Detroit or Tampa. According to the researchers, it helps if the place where you live has an abundance of affluent smart people and social policies which encourage a healthy lifestyle. To be specific, if a municipality reduces the areas where you can smoke cigarettes and increases the areas for bicycling and other healthful activities, all people will benefit.

Another effect of wealth is that it tends to even out the differences in life expectancy between men and women. Poor women tend to live 6 or 7 years longer than poor men, but as men and women rise in wealth, the difference in their life expectancy shrinks and at the top, women can expect only 3 or so more years than men.

Of course the movie is, as we tell our frightened children, only make believe. In real life a phone call doesn’t cost you a minute off your life, and breakfast in a really good restaurant won’t chop eight-and-a-half weeks from your lifespan. One of the In Time characters says, “Many must die so that a few can live forever.” The relationship of wealth to life expectancy in the United States isn’t that bad.  Not yet, anyway.

College Students & Hunger

Oliver Twist asking for more.You knew that college students in the United States were being crushed under a mountain of debt. In fact, in this country the total amount of college debt now surpasses the total of all credit card debt. But you probably didn’t know that student finances have reach the point where some students are going hungry – they can’t buy food and pay college costs at the same time.

Sara Golrick-Rab, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,is also the director of the Wisconsin HOPE lab which researches, among other things, the financial hurdles that financially strapped college students face nowadays. The lab has uncovered some worrisome statistics. It turns out that poorer students are simply going hungry. Or as the HOPE people put it, “food insecurity is a growing problem on college campuses.”

Food insecurity is defined by the US Department of Agriculture as a “…social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” In other words, sometimes you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. Surveys by the HOPE lab reveal that some students can’t afford to buy enough food to stay in college. They have to choose between food and, say, rent, family needs, or the courses required to graduate.

A survey at ten community colleges across the nation discovered that half the students said they were struggling with food and/ or housing insecurity. A whopping 20 percent were hungry and 13 percent were homeless. Professor Golrick-Rab’s team began to interview low income students at Wisconsin’s public universities and colleges back in 2008. At that time 27 percent didn’t have enough money to buy enough food, and 5 to 7 percent had gone an entire day without eating.

The problem of hungry students isn’t insoluble. One suggestion by the people at HOPE is for our government to make students eligible for food stamps by treating going to college as similar to going to work. That would certainly help.

(You’re right about the image at the top. The kid with the bowl isn’t a community college student. He’s Oliver Twist asking for more.)

How Much Do Writers Make?

Monks in a ScriptoriumThe writers pictured above are monks in a scriptorium. They took vows of poverty chastity and obedience. Nowadays writers don’t take vows of chastity and obedience, but a lot of them feel as if they took a vow of poverty when they decided to try authorship.

Writers have never made a lot of money. That’s not news. What is news is that from 2009 to 2015, full-time authors’ income dropped 30 percent. No, that’s not a misprint. And part-time authors saw a 38 percent decrease over the same period.

Maybe you’re thinking that full-time authors found their income falling from, say, around $100,000 to $66,000 a year. Alas, no. In 2009, full-time writers averaged $25,000 a year from writing, and their income from that source dropped to $17,500.

These grim figures come from a survey “commissioned by the Authors Guild and conducted by the Codex Group, a leading publishing industry research firm.”

The Authors Guild chose to survey the period starting with 2009 because that was the year that publishing began to experience changes brought about by the digital revolution. In 2009, only 5 percent of readers had bought an e-book, but by 2015, 50 percent of readers were buying e-books.

The Guild put it this way in their Bulletin, “We’ve seen major consolidation within the traditional publishing industry, which means less diversity among publishers, and with most major publishers now owned by multinational corporations, there’s a tighter focus on the bottom line. These phenomena – along with Amazon’s strong-arming publishers and authors on price and other terms on its way to becoming an industry behemoth, leaving thousands of brick and mortar bookstores shuttered in its wake – have combined to make the business of authorship less profitable than it was six years ago.”

Writer maniac at keyboard

Announcement: Rising Costs, Stagnant Wages

This poster came blowing by on the Web and we decided to put it up here. It doesn’t take up much space, but it says a lot. Apparently it originated at Occupy Democrats, but it isn’t so much a political opinion as it is an announcement of facts.

Poster about costs & wages from Occupy Democrats

April & Poetry & Financial Literacy

National Poetry Month logoApril is National Financial Literacy Month and it’s also National Poetry Month. We think it’s a bad idea to put them in the same month.

On one side we have the Academy of American Poets which began National Poetry Month in 1996 to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States. On the other side,  we have US $10000 billthe US Senate which in 2003 passed Resolution 316, making April National Financial Literacy Month, and two years later the US House of Representatives passed a bill supporting the goals and ideals of Financial Literacy Month.

Because we have poetry and financial literacy occupying the same month, we’ve looked around for poems about money. There aren’t many. We’ve already posted “The Banks Are Made of Marble” by Pete Seeger and, anyway, we make a distinction between song lyrics and unadorned poems. After a critical search we think that “Money,” by Philip Larkin, is the best poem about money. Readers familiar with the rhythms and rhymes of conventional English verse may be unsettled by these unconventionally long lined couplets. We must add that Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985) was a distinguished British poet, a kind of unofficial Poet Laureate in England, and that the word screw in the poem is a Brit’s slang for salary or wages.

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.’

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.
By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

—In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can’t put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

How Much Does Free Speech Cost?

Chief Justice John Roberts

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

The full majesty of the United States Supreme Court was on display the other day when the conservative majority proclaimed that rich and poor alike can now give as much money and they please to as many political candidates as they choose, so long as they don’t give more than $5,200.00 to any one individual.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion of the court’s conservative majority. He found that the restrictions on campaign giving, which limited the number of candidates to whom you could give money, violated the Constitution. Roberts wrote that such restrictions “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise the most fundamental First Amendment activities.”

In a wonderful example of non-sequitor thinking, Roberts wrote, “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”

Somebody from Sesame Street should point out to the Chief Justice that merely because we find certain things repugnant, doesn’t mean they have any other relation to each other or to something else we find repugnant.

Anyone who so desires can burn a flag, protest at a funeral or parade with Nazis. But only the very rich can give away money in the thousands or millions to influence an election. In the last presidential election, Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire, along with his family, gave over $53 million to super PACs to help elect Republican candidates from Mitt Romney on down to a Representative from New Jersey. Thanks to the conservative Roberts court, the rich have considerably more freedom of speech than the poor.

SNAP or “Food Stamps” and Free Lunch

About 20 percent of US households are on “food stamps.” Conservatives look at that number and say, “Good grief! Twenty percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program logothe US is getting a free lunch, and the rest of us are paying for it!” Liberals, seeing the same number, say “Good grief! Twenty percent of the US lives in such poverty that they can’t afford to eat without government assistance!”

Some facts may provide a clearer picture of the “food-stamp program.”

First of all, it’s no longer stamps – it’s a card, an Electrical Benefits Transfer (EBT) Card. It used to be called the Food Stamp program, but now it’s the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It’s the government assistance program to help low-income households pay for food.

Last year, 2013,76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits go th these vulnerable household.

SNAP eligibility is limited to households with gross income of no more than 130% of the federal poverty guideline, but the majority of households have income well below the maximum: 83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013), and these households receive about 91% of all benefits. 61% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 75% of the poverty guideline ($14,648 for a family of 3 in 2013).

The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744; net monthly income of $338 after the standard deduction and, for certain households, deductions for child care, medical expenses, and shelter costs; and countable resources of $331, such as a bank account.

The statistics cited in this post come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. If you’d like more information on this subject, check out feedingamerica.org —  that’s what we did.

Putin and Geopolitical Poker

Republicans are beating up on President Obama, telling him to do something to stop Putin from interfering in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Senator Bob Corker, Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is good example of Republican thinking on the subject of Russia and Ukraine. “The Russian government has felt free to intervene militarily in Ukraine because the United States,” Corker said, “along with Europe, has failed to make clear there would be serious, potentially irreparable consequences to such action.”

Exactly what “serious, potentially irreparable consequences” does Senator Corker have in mind?  “The United States and our European allies should immediately bring to bear all elements of our collective economic strength to stop Russian advances in Ukraine,” he said.  Oh, our economic strength — maybe that means boycotts or trade sanctions or limiting the G8  to G7, something like that. Or, better yet,  maybe we can withdraw our ambassador from Moscow before they withdraw theirs from Washington, that’s been suggested, too.

The unpleasant fact is that in this game of geopolitical poker, Putin is holding the strong cards.

The US is currently trying to disentangle itself from its longest war; our voters are broke, the Republicans want to shrink government and cut taxes, the Democrats want to raise the minimum wage and the middle class, and everybody is tired of wonderful foreign adventures to bring democracy wherever. Furthermore, the US wants cooperation from Putin in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear facilities, and in Syria and in regard to North Korea.

Ukraine had been part of Russia for about 300 years. Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 when Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union – or Evil Empire, as President Regan correctly called it. And Crimea is sufficiently distinct from the rest of Ukraine that it’s a semi-autonomous republic with its own parliament. Ukraine has been an independent nation since 1991 when the Soviet Union fell apart – that’s 23 years, during which time it’s  had a largely corrupt pro-Russian government, the underlying reason  it lost the support of its people.

What’s going on in Ukraine is terribly important for the Ukrainians. As for Russia and the West,  in terms of strategic geopolitics, it’s far more important to Putin and the future of Russia than it is to the United States or the nations of Western Europe.  We can jawbone the Russians and we can put together NATO meetings, committees and envoys and negotiators. But the principal actor in this dangerous game isn’t a politician in the United States or Europe, he’s an autocrat in the Kremlin.

Eighty-five very, very rich people…

Eighty-five very, very rich people own the same amount of wealth as the bottom  half of the entire population of the world.

In the United States, the 400 richest have more wealth than the 150 million citizens who comprise the poorest half of the population.

Maybe you’re wondering if these crazy statistics were produced by a wild-eyed radical group intending to overthrow the capitalistic system No, these facts come from a briefing paper, “Working for the Few,” prepared by Oxfam International.

Just to be on the safe side, let’s take a closer look at that organization. Oxfam was founded in 1942 in Oxford, England, as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. It was organized by a group of Quakers, Oxford academics, and social activists. Over the years it has spread and now has many affiliates around the globe. Oxfam America is a member of Oxfam International, an international confederation of 17 organizations networked together in 94 countries, as part of – to quote them – “a global movement for change, to build a future free from the injustice of poverty.” Oxfam America is a 501(c)(3) organization, and gifts are tax-deductible to the full extent allowable under the law. Definitely not radical. You can make a donation without worry.

Here are some of the other interesting statistics from the Oxfam briefing paper:

• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
• Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
• In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

I’m sure there’s a way of looking at this data and believing that we can’t do anything about it. Capitalism is the dominant economic system around the globe — in some places it’s more regulated than others, but it’s still capitalism. And some people believe that capitalism is a “natural” system of economics, that it simply comes into being all by itself, naturally.  But none of that is true. Capitalism is an economic structure created by people, not by nature nor by God and angels. Like legislative or judicial systems, it’s devised and brought into being by people. For a long time, monarchy was considered the natural system of governance, part of the divine order of things created by God. It wasn’t and neither is capitalism. We can change it. We can make it better, fairer, more broadly productive.

How To Feel Good About The Less Fortunate

It helps if we call them the less fortunate, rather than the long-term jobless. Calling them less fortunate means they do have some good luck — they just don’t have as much as we do.

The beginning of the New Year is a time of optimism, so it’s a drag to know that 1.3 million of our fellow Americans — those who have been looking for a job for 27  weeks or more — will no longer get unemployment relief. Families dependent on assistance will lose an average of $1,166 a month. According to the Labor Department, that means that in California some 214,000 unemployed workers will cease getting their payments, and by June that number will more than double. And on the other side of the country, 127,000 New Yorkers will be cut from the rolls.  Duration_of_U.S._unemployment copy

On the surface, it looks grim.  Fortunately, there’s a brighter way to look at this. It comes from the Cato Institute.

The Institute says this about itself: “The Cato Institute is a public policy research organization — a think tank — dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues.” You can see right off that it’s a worthy enterprise. Of course, every think tank does independent, nonpartisan research.  We chose the Cato Institute because it’s a very conservative think tank and they have a much happier way of looking at the end of unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed. Makes us feel better.

When you read the research provided by the Cato Institute you learn that “extended unemployment benefits raise the duration and rate of unemployment,” especially if those are “generous” benefits. You probably never thought of it that way. In fact, says the Cato Institute, “bribing people to stay on the dole for an extra 53-73 weeks leaves them with less money to spend, not more. It also looks bad on resumes, and may cause lasting damage to future job prospects.” Wow! You probably never thought of your government actually bribing unemployed workers to not get jobs

All right now!  Looked at this way, we can all feel better — much, much better! —  that Congress has not extended unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed.

More Notes


Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.