News Release Archive - Economy and Business

Tax Billionaires to Pay for Pandemic Recovery

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CHUCK COLLINS, chuck@ips-dc.org; also via Bob Keener, bobk@ips-dc.org@inequalityorg

Collins just wrote the piece “We should tax billionaires’ wealth to help pay for pandemic recovery” for MarketWatch. He writes: “This week, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts introduced the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act, an annual wealth tax on households with more than $50 million. Lead sponsors in the House are Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania.

“’The ultrarich and powerful have rigged the rules in their favor so much that the top 0.1 percent pay a lower effective tax rate than the bottom 99 percent, and billionaire wealth is 40 percent higher than before the COVID crisis began,’ Warren explained.

“Around two-thirds of Americans, including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, said they supported a wealth tax in a January survey. ‘A wealth tax is popular among voters on both sides for good reason: because they understand the system is rigged to benefit the wealthy and large corporations,’ Warren said.

“Under the Warren-Jayapal-Boyle bill, the richest 100,000 Americans would be subject to an annual tax of a few pennies on the dollar on their great fortunes.

“The tax rate would be just 2 cents on the dollar, or 2 percent, for people with wealth between $50 million and $1 billion. It would rise to just 3 cents on the dollar, or 3 percent, for wealth above the $1 billion threshold.

“Only the country’s 650 or so billionaires would pay the 3 percent rate.

“It makes sense to tax billionaires to pay for the immediate-term pandemic recovery, as well as for longer-term investments in infrastructure, health care, and education. As hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their lives, and millions lost their livelihoods, U.S. billionaires have seen their combined wealth increase $1.3 trillion over the last 11 months, an increase of 45 percent.

“U.S. billionaires now have a combined wealth of $4.2 trillion. That’s nearly double the wealth owned by the bottom half of all U.S. households — 165 million people combined — who collectively own just $2.4 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.”

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he co-edits Inequality.org. His new book is The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions.

New Report Calls on Biden to Put an End to Program That’s “Not Far From Slavery”

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DAVID BACON, dbacon@igc.org@photos4justice
ANURADHA MITTAL, amittal@oaklandinstitute.org, @oak_institute
Bacon is author of the new report “Dignity or Exploitation – What Future for Farmworker Families in the United States?” for the Oakland Institute. Mittal is founder and executive director of the group.

Bacon said today: “The H-2A program has created a captive labor force, made to work in brutal and often illegal conditions. In practice, it is not far from slavery. The majority of these migrant workers arrive in the U.S. already in debt. Department of Labor regulations permit companies to subject them to quotas that require them to work at an exhausting speed. Efforts to organize against exploitative conditions have been met with terminations, deportations and blacklisting.”

The report states that: “H-2A workers also face disproportionate exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The report describes some of the most acute situations, and analyzes the basic reason for the high infection rate — congregate housing, or barracks, where workers sleep in bunk beds.

Growth of the H-2A program has also exacerbated an existing housing crisis for rural workers, as recruitment has skyrocketed from 10,000 visas in 1992 to over 250,000 in 2020. The exploitative conditions and vulnerability of migrants who came under the H-2A program are very close to those of the bracero program that was in place from 1942 to 1964. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which put an end to the bracero program, established an immigration system based on family reunification and community stability, protecting the wages, rights, health, and housing of farmworkers. This system is under increasing threat today.

Mittal said: “Restoring the family preference system and halting the H-2A program are two of the most important decisions that will face the Biden administration in regards to the direction of U.S. immigration policy. The new administration needs to choose whose interests they are going to serve. Will it support the H-2A program and protect the profits of growers, or will it stand with the farmworkers who labor in the fields to feed this country?”

Cities Targeting Homeless

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KEITH McHENRY, keith@foodnotbombs.net@keith_mchenry    McHenry is co-founder of the Food Not Bombs movement. He can connect media with other activists. He points to a series of efforts in various cities targeting homeless people.

He tweeted Tuesday of the most recent example: “The City of Santa Cruz is threatening to evict Food Not Bombs again claiming they will arrest us if we don’t stop.” The group was evicted from another location just last week, see Santa Cruz Sentinel: “Food Not Bombs displaced from Santa Cruz lot.”

McHenry said today: “City governments across the United States are waging a war against the homeless and their supporters as millions of Americans are facing eviction. As the Santa Cruz City Council was meeting to introduce an ordinance against ‘Temporary Outdoor Living’ it was sending an email to Food Not Bombs threatening to arrest our volunteers if we continue to share meals in an empty parking lot at a main intersection in Santa Cruz.

“Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs will be celebrating its 365th day in a row of providing food, drinking water, and the city’s only reliable hand-washing station while the city and its corporate sponsors failed to provide for the needs of most of our community’s unhoused. The city is also pressuring the state to evict over 100 people from the roadway outside Housing Matters homeless center and is seeking to vacate an injunction ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Susan van Keulen against their holiday evictions of over 100 people living in San Lorenzo Park.

“The Denver Police Department cleared camps of unhoused on February 21, 2021. Police used an armored vehicle to support a sweep of unhoused in Bellingham, Washington on January 28, 2021. The cities of Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, New Orleans, San Jose and Sacramento are among the many other municipalities clearing camps of unhoused into the doorways and roadways of their communities.”
Food Not Bombs is a global movement. See from the London-based Freedom News: “Belarus: Food Not Bombs activists receive prison sentences for giving away food.”

Bill Gates, Super Emitter

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TIM SCHWAB, timschwab2020@gmail.com@TimothyWSchwab
Available for a limited number of interviews, Schwab is an independent journalist who just wrote the piece “Bill Gates, Climate Warrior. And Super Emitter” for The Nation. His prior pieces on Gates include “Are Bill Gates’s Billions Distorting Public Health Data?” and “While the Poor Get Sick, Bill Gates Just Gets Richer” and “Journalism’s Gates Keepers” for Columbia Journalism Review.

Schwab writes: “During the pandemic, Bill Gates’s personal fortune has increased by an impressive $20 billion, but even these gains pale in comparison to his soaring political influence — as the news media has widely trumpeted his leadership on Covid-19, praising his charitable donations or extolling him as a ‘visionary’ who predicted the outbreak.

“It’s a highly questionable narrative, one that ignores widespread controversy over the way Gates made his fortune and how he chooses to spend it. …

“’I expect to spend much of my time in 2021 talking with leaders around the world about both climate change and Covid-19,’ Gates notes in his new book, How To Avoid A Climate Disaster, which seems destined to be a best seller.

“Even before the release of his book this week, Gates’s move into climate change has made waves — an interview on ’60 Minutes,’ op-eds in Time magazine and The Guardian, and a podcast with actor Rashida Jones. Given Gates’s track record of success inserting himself into other policy debates — everything from U.S. education to global health — it seems likely he will continue to take up oxygen in the climate discourse going forward.

“If so, he proceeds from a precarious position, not just because of his thin credentials, untested solutions, and stunning financial conflicts of interest, but because his undemocratic assertion of power — no one appointed or elected him as the world’s new climate czar — comes at precisely the time when democratic institutions have become essential to solving climate change.

“Gates’s main credential related to climate change is as an investor. In 2015, he started a multibillion-dollar venture capital fund called Breakthrough Energy — recruiting a who’s who of the global super rich to join the fund: Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Jack Ma, Mukesh Ambani, and others.

“This billionaire club boasts that its investments in new technologies can ‘lead the world to zero emissions,’ but the fund’s portfolio includes companies whose impact on fighting climate change is largely hypothetical and in some cases highly dubious — like lab-cultured breast milk substitute and a hydrogen-powered airplane.

“In some ways, Gates’s book could be read as a long-winded advertisement for his investments, because he devotes many pages to promoting the need for new technologies to fight climate change. At one point, Gates even calls on the U.S. government to become a co-investor in advanced nuclear energy companies, like the one he founded, TerraPower (which has yet to put any energy into the power grid). …

“In many respects, that’s the entire modus operandi — or sleight of hand — of the Gates Foundation. Incorporated as a charity, the foundation is probably better understood as a political organization, one that uses its outsize resources to push public policy in line with Bill and Melinda Gates’s view of how the world should work (which is also sometimes in line with the Gates Foundation’s financial investments). …

“According to a 2019 academic study looking at extreme carbon emissions from the jet-setting elite, Bill Gates’s extensive travel by private jet likely makes him one of the world’s top carbon contributors — a veritable super emitter. In the list of 10 celebrities investigated — including Jennifer Lopez, Paris Hilton, and Oprah Winfrey — Gates was the source of the most emissions.

“The study only looked at Gates’s jet travel, but might have also considered Gates’s emissions from his farmland, which includes large tracts of corn and soybeans, which typically goes to feed animals (often on factory farms) — a particularly carbon-intensive model of agriculture.”

Beyond the GameStop Drama: Tax the Wall Street Casino

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The Chicago Tribune reports: “GameStop’s stock is back to the races Friday, and the overall U.S. market is down again, as the saga that’s captivated and confused Wall Street ramps up the drama.”

JAMES HENRY, jamesshelburnehenry@mac.com
Henry is Global Justice Fellow at Yale University and managing director at the Sag Harbor Group, an IT consulting firm.

He said that the GameStop story highlights the need for a Financial Transaction Tax, small tax on each financial transaction that traders make. He states that it would “dampen casino trading” as well as raise substantial revenue in a progressive manner.

He adds the “Senate filibuster and Chuck Schumer’s Wall Street ties make such a development a long shot” in Washington, D.C., but New York State, as a hub of financial activity, could impose such a tax and that unions in New York are making a fresh push for exactly this.

He said: “We don’t have to take sides in this week’s particular stock mania to observe that it is the perfect illustration of much more fundamental, disturbing institutional reality. We have allowed Wall Street’s leading securities exchanges — a crucial part of the global capitalist order — to become by far the world’s largest casino. Indeed, 2020 was an all-time high for trading on New York’s two largest exchanges, with more than $49 trillion of stock trades on the NASDQ and the NYSE — more than half of the world’s trading total. Indeed, 2020 alone saw 19 of the 20 heaviest trading days since the year 2000, with the trend continuing into 2021. And up to 85 percent of these trades consist of speculative plays by hedge funds and high-frequency traders like the ones involved here.

“Fortunately, we have the perfect remedy — one that can also yield an extraordinary amount of tax revenue and help to reduce inequality, at a time when ‘the rest of us’ badly need it to help pay the soaring costs of the pandemic and prevent state and local governments from going bankrupt.

“Eighty-five years ago, in the depths of the Great Depression (1936), the economist John Maynard Keynes had already taken note of the fact that, especially during times of economic crisis, stock markets had become casinos. He commented: ‘Casinos should always be remote and expensive to use,’ and went on to propose that we put a simple ‘progressive sales tax’ on stock trades.

“Just so happens that we already have a .05 percent stock transfer tax in New York which has been rebated to the financial institutions since 1982. $344 billion ($2020) rebated thru 2020, We’re on the verge of getting the legislature to restore it. Governor Cuomo will have to decide whether he’s going to go along with Wall Street or join the herd.

“Yesterday we had a two-hour Zoom conference in which the tax was endorsed by the TWU [Transport Workers Union of America], CWA [Communications Workers of America]” and other unions, with more expected shortly.

Billionaire Wealth vs. Community Health

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CHUCK COLLINS, via Olivia Alperstein, olivia@ips-dc.org, @inequalityorg; or Sara Myklebust as liaison to connect workers for interviews, Sara.Myklebust@georgetown.edu

Collins is director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of the new report “Billionaire Wealth vs. Community Health.”

It finds that essential workers continue to suffer as U.S. billionaires gain almost $1 trillion during the pandemic, stating that “A handful of billionaires and corporations have seen their wealth surge to record levels, in part as a result of their monopoly status and opportunism during the pandemic.

“For example, Walmart, Target, and Amazon benefited from their monopoly positions in the economy, with these three retailers considered ‘essential’ while their retail competitors were shut down. But the success of these businesses hasn’t translated into better pay or safer working conditions for the employees showing up to work in a pandemic.

“Meanwhile, private equity firms have bought up essential businesses in the health care, grocery, and pet care industries, only to aggressively cut costs, skimp on worker safety, and load companies up with debt to boost their own profits.

“Hundreds of thousands of essential workers employed by these companies have remained vulnerable and exposed. These frontline workers risk their lives every day to do the work that increases already obscene corporate wealth.”

This report focuses on a list of 12 emblematic bad actors. Here are the first six:

1. Walmart: Three owners of Walmart — Rob, Jim, and Alice Walton — have seen their combined personal wealth increase over $48 billion. In 2018, Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillion made 1,118 times the pay of Walmart’s median worker. Yet Walmart refuses to provide hazard pay to its workers.

2. Amazon: The wealth of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has increased by 62 percent since mid-March, totaling $188.3 billion as of November 17. Bezos is now the richest person on earth. Meanwhile an estimated 20,000 Amazon workers have been infected with COVID-19.

3. Instacart: CEO and founder Apoorva Mehta became an instant billionaire in June 2020. Yet Instacart has over-hired 300,000 new workers and failed to provide sufficient protections.

4. Tyson Foods: John H. Tyson, the billionaire owner of Tyson Foods, has seen his personal wealth increase over $600 million since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile an estimated 11,000 Tyson workers have been infected with COVID-19. [See: “Lawsuit: Tyson managers bet money on how many workers would contract COVID-19.”]

5. Target: Target CEO Brian Cornell is paid 821 times the median worker at Target. The company has enjoyed a protected status as its competition was shut down during the pandemic as “nonessential.” The company enacted an already promised $2 increase in its starting wage, but also cut the pay of its Target-owned Shipt delivery workers.

6. Dollar General and Dollar Tree (BlackRock Investment): Dollar Tree CEO Gary Philbin is paid 690 times his median paid worker. Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos is paid 824 times his median paid worker. The companies have profited tremendously during the pandemic, but understaffed stores and skimpy security pose some of the many risks to workers — including an increase in assaults when Dollar Store workers were attacked for asking customers to wear masks. The investment fund giant BlackRock has a large ownership stake in both companies.”

 

IPS published additional recommendations to reduce extreme wealth and power in its April report, “Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes and Pandemic Profiteers.”

Support Across Party Lines For Tough Wall Street Rules and Oversight

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CARTER DOUGHERTY, carter@ourfinancialsecurity.org@RealBankReform
Dougherty is communications director for Americans for Financial Reform. He said today: “Ten years after Congress passed a major reform of Wall Street in response to the financial crisis, voters continue to overwhelmingly support more and tougher regulation of finance and they strongly approve of the mission of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a new survey by Lake Research Partners.

“This support has proven remarkably durable and stretches across lines of party, race and ethnicity, age, and region. Support remains broad and deep despite the numerous events and issues demanding people’s attention, according to the surveys, which were commissioned by Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending.

“And, as the decade after the 2008 crisis unfolded to reveal continuing abuses by Wall Street, and the growth of predatory financial practices, the public’s appetite for additional reform has strengthened.

“The continuity, breadth and depth of public support for restructuring finance and Wall Street, and for tough oversight to protect the public interest remain extremely striking. Policymakers and candidates should pay attention. Transforming finance is one key to building a more just and equitable economy.

“Policy priorities in the future include a reform of private equity, an influential, multi-trillion-dollar industry, cancelling student debt, and providing consumers nationwide relief from sky-high interest rates among other things.

“Despite recent failures to protect consumers during the pandemic, the mission of the CFPB — to be an advocate for consumers vis-a-vis Wall Street and predatory lenders — remains immensely popular. An overwhelming majority (83 percent) support CFPB’s mission, the highest level since the question was first posed in 2013.

“Many voters are also concerned that the federal government’s response to the economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has mostly benefited Wall Street and big corporations, instead of those who have been hit hardest.

“According to the poll, 56 percent of voters feel that Wall Street and big corporations are receiving too much help compared to families and small businesses. A majority of Democrats and independents, and a near-majority of Republicans hold this view. About 13 percent of voters were unsure.”

See: “Polling Memo: Voters Support Strong Consumer Financial Protections and Tough Regulation of Wall Street.”

Debate Confusion, Trump’s Racism and Biden’s Praise of Police

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Newsweek reports in “Did Donald Trump Condemn the Proud Boys and White Supremacists?” that at last night’s debate moderated by Chris Wallace, President Trump, when asked to condemn white supremacist violence, said “Sure I’m willing to do that,” but then told the group the Proud Boys to “stand by.”

NETFA FREEMAN, netfa@ips-dc.org@Netfafree
Freeman is co-writing a forthcoming book, Community Control Over Police, and recently wrote the piece “Community Control Vs. Defunding the Police: A Critical Analysis.” He is also an organizer with Pan-African Community Action and an analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Freeman said today: “Corporate media’s moderation and coverage of the debates is just as complicit in mass confusion. Biden’s rejection of community control over police is comparable to Trump’s refusal to denounce the white supremacist Proud Boys.

“Everyone knows Trump is racist. But for the questions not to be softballs they should have asked Biden about the connections between racism and policing. Only a month ago we saw in Kenosha and other places amiable interactions between police and right-wing militias mobilized against anti-racism and anti-police brutality activists. Yet Biden manages to get in praise of police and a denunciation of so-called violent activists with no interrogation from Wallace.”

JPMorgan: Apparently Misused PPP Funds * Meeting with DeJoy to Head Off Postal Banking

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Reuters is reporting “JPMorgan Probing Alleged Misuse of PPP Funds by Employees, Memo Shows.”

Last month, The American Banker reported: “JPMorgan Chase in Talks to Offer Services in Post Offices: Report.”

PORTER McCONNELL, via Carter Dougherty, carter at ourfinancialsecurity.org, @RealBankReform
McConnell is Take on Wall Street campaign director at Americans for Financial Reform.

She said today: “Apart from politically motivated attacks on the Postal Service before the election, there’s another malevolent force at work on this important institution: Wall Street. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is in talks with JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, on an exclusive contract to put that private bank’s branches inside post offices. At the same time, JPMorgan employees appear to have misused aid intended as relief for small businesses during the pandemic.

“JPMorgan and DeJoy are trying to head off rising support for what is known as ‘postal banking’ — a plan to revive the post office as a place where people can go to get low-cost, non-predatory banking services. (One version of this plan would have the Federal Reserve provide the accounts through its infrastructure, while ordinary people access them through postal branches.) This plan has won support from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, his top rival in the primaries.

“One in four U.S. households are either unbanked or underbanked. That’s an astonishing number. Even before the pandemic, bank branches were closing across the country, creating more rural and urban ‘banking deserts’ and ATM fees are as high as $7.50 in some places. These households are unbanked or underbanked because traditional banks like JP Morgan Chase don’t want low-income customers. A postal banking system would create a universal option for banking while leaving private banks to offer the services they choose.

“We should treat the U.S. Postal Service as a service, not a business, and certainly not a plaything of Wall Street. We should roll back all of the artificial barriers that hamper the Postal Service — notably the requirement that it break even, which creates pressure for it to close rural branches, cut service hours, and limit delivery, as well as raise prices.

“Instead, the Post Office can be a local hub for services. They already provide money orders and manage passport applications. What if they could provide everything from basic bank accounts to remittances to fishing licenses? We could join our OECD peers, and indeed most nations around the globe, in using the over 30,000 post offices around the country to provide the bricks-and-mortar infrastructure needed to serve every community in the digital age.

“There is nothing inevitable about letting the USPS atrophy. Why not instead invest in a national treasure with a storied past, and turn it into a practical tool to reduce inequalities, geographic or otherwise? Let’s lead with what works for people, not Wall Street.”

Labor Day: Tipping Point for Restaurant Workers?

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Labor Day is Monday. Many restaurant workers are increasing their organizing and their demands for ending the tipped minimum wage. Last year, the House passed a bill doing just that, but the Senate refused to consider it.

ABBY GINZBERG, abbyginzberg@gmail.com, @wagingchange
Ginzberg is a Peabody award-winning director, producing documentaries about race and social justice for over 30 years. She has just released the film “Waging Change.”

She said today: “In honor of Labor Day, we are doing a national free virtual screening of ‘Waging Change,’ which reveals a disaster hiding in plain sight — that restaurant workers in 17 states make only $2.13 an hour and have to get to minimum wage by relying on their tips. Only seven states require that workers be paid the full minimum wage plus tips. With the pandemic, the situation for tipped workers has gone from bad to horrendous as many do not qualify for unemployment due to their low wages.” The trailer is here.

SARU JAYARAMAN, saru@onefairwage.org,   NIKKI COLE, nikki@onefairwage.org, @onefairwage
Jayaraman is the president of One Fair Wage, Cole is the group’s national policy director. Jayaraman said today: “Coronavirus shutdowns throughout the pandemic have exacerbated the problem of the tipped minimum wage. Many service workers are being denied unemployment insurance because their wages were literally too low to qualify. And now they’re being forced back to work without safety protocols and paid sick days for a sub-minimum wage of under $5 an hour in most states, when tips are down 75-90 percent in most parts of the country. … Black workers are tipped less because of implicit bias, and women are subject to twice the rates of sexual harassment when they aren’t paid a base, living wage.”

CHIEADZA KUNDIDZORA, ladychikundi@gmail.com
A restaurant worker, Kundidzora said today: “As an African American woman who has worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade, I have seen and experienced the damage done to women workers who are forced to rely on tips to survive and feed their families. It is past time to end the tipped minimum wage so that restaurant workers have the opportunity to earn a living wage without being dependent on sexual harassment in order to survive.”

Ginzberg is making segments of the film available to news outlets, including clips covering the following topics: overview of tipped minimum wage by states; wage theft in the restaurant industry; sexual harassment in the restaurant industry (featuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez); racial inequities in front vs. back of the house; reliance on public assistance; the tipped minimum wage as a legacy of slavery; and the little known fact that the House of Representatives passed a bill to end the tipped minimum wage in 2019, which has not been considered by the Senate.