Category Archives: Social Justice

New ways to measure progress

Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, at the request of the French Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, put out a report on alternative methods for measuring economic performance. Such methods include Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistics, but the report calls for including social and environmental factors.

Herman Daly and many others in the Ecological Economics community have been calling for better measures of our economic, social and environmental progress for over twenty years.  Indeed, Redefining Progress already releases its Genuine Progress Indicator each year, though at a three year delay.

Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns rightly points out (via Naked Capitalism) that GDP is an inadequate measure of our economic state.  Rather he wants to be sure that our economic statistics include not just income (GDP), but debt.  I completely agree with him and hope that such revised metrics, note the plural,  include measure such assets as our environment, the health & education of our people and other non-market debts and assets.

Hopefully this report will put a pressure on the world's governments to devise and track metrics that better reflect our economic, social and ecological progress.  Until then, we should create and track our own community indicators.

Sacrifice

A few bits on sacrifice from Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life, (Chapter 12) which I am reading now:

"… the master-slave dialectic implies that the mythic sacrifice of the
master embodies within itself the real sacrifice of the slave: the
master makes a spiritual sacrifice of his real power to the general
interest, while the slave makes a material sacrifice of his real life
to a power which he shares in appearance only."

and:

"The refusal of sacrifice is the refusal to be bartered. There is
nothing in the world of things, exchangeable for money or not, which
can be treated as equivalent to a human being. The individual is
irreducible. He is subject to change but not to exchange. Now, the most
superficial examination of movements for social reform shows that they
have never demanded anything more than a cleaning-up of exchange and
sacrifice, making it a point of honor to humanize inhumanity and make
it attractive. And every time slaves try to make their slavery more
bearable they are striking a blow for their masters."

This book and Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War are the two books I am striving to finish of late.  Sigh… the Sicilian Expedition, about which I am reading, was yet another case of imperial overstretch.  Not like our current follies.

Noble lies or Glad we got that out in the open

Irving Kristol, "godfather of neoconservatism", died on the 18th.  A friend blogged about this quote from Kristol:

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people.
There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate
for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and
truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion
that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a
modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."

Here he is expounding on the need for "Noble lies".  Glad we got that cleared up.  Nice to know the "grandfather of neoconservatism" thought it was ok for elites to lie to us lowly citizens.  Its for our own good after all.

Considering the last eight years of lies: Iraq has WMDs, we need to bail out the fat cats on wall street who save the economy, the planet isn't warming because of our emissions of CO2, housing prices will keep going up, the rich deserve their wealth, I'd rather some truth please.

The Reason magazine article, don't worry they are libertarians, that reports the previous quote has this little Kristol gem as well:

"If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the
majority of men cannot live without…let men believe in the lies of
religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of
sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among
themselves. Men are then divided into the wise and the foolish, the
philosophers and the common men, and atheism becomes a guarded,
esoteric doctrine–for if the illusions of religion were to be
discredited, there is no telling with what madness men would be seized,
with what uncontrollable anguish." (cite).

Seems to me that the Golden Rule of "do to others what you would like to be done to you" is pretty universal.  Whether given from a god, gods, or just something we developed in our long evolution, it doesn't much matter.  However, Kristol seems to believe "he who has the gold makes the rules".  How very Machiavellian of him.  I'll leave out the Dante reference.

You’ve been robbed!

The Left Business Observer (LBO) just put out another useful issue.  There is great deal there about the state of the economy, the fact that most of the increase in consumption is due to the increase in health care costs, the attempts to fix health care, and whether the economy really is deleveraging from the debt boom we have been in for over twenty years.  Full with lots of good details while a quick read and pretty inexpensive to boot.

One thing I want to call out is one of the end articles on the rich.  Thanks to Doug Henwood of LBO, I am able to provide you with two of the graphs in the article.  By the way, the source data for the charts below comes from the IRS by way of economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty.  See my previous post The rich continue to get richer to find a link back some of their papers.

The first graph I will share is the share of income received, I won't say earned, from the early 1900s to 2007 by those in the bottom 90%, top 10%, top 1%, and top 0.1%.  Remember that the figures for the top 10% include those of the top 1% and 0.1% and those of the top 1% include those in the top 0.1%.

Income_shares

The graph speaks for itself, but for the post World War 2 period until the late 1970s/early 1980s, income for the bottom 90% was about 2/3.  During Reagan, and later, the wealthiest 10% claimed a greater share of the income produced in the US, to the point that they receive about 50%.  The dip in the end of the series is the 2000 recession.  Clearly eight years of Clinton didn't hinder the trend of the rich getting more.  One other thing to call out is that much of the change in the income share of the top 10% is due to increases in the top 1%.  This will become obvious below.

What is not shown is the shares for those in the bottom 50% or even 20%.  Based on other things I read, my guess is that those shares declined as well.

The next chart shows the percentage gains in income by group for the periods of 1948-1973 and 1982-2007.  Both are 25 year time periods and the first period reflects the post-World War 2 economy while the later represents the last 25 years (since the data set goes up to 2007.)

Income_gains

Clearly the bottom 90% saw a doubling of their income in 1948-1973, but a much smaller growth in 1982-2007.  Even the bottom 99% did better during 1948-1973 than in 1982-2007. 

Clearly, the big winners were those in the top 1%, especially the top 0.01% who saw their incomes quintuple during the 1982-2007 period.

So if you aren't in the top 1% and you are wondering where yours went, you know who got it.

Data point: Diversity among Boston-area Tradable Card Gamers

I took my son and his friend to a Yu-Gi-Oh! sneak-peak and Magic game day at Pandemonium Books & Games this last weekend.  They had fun playing the game with each other, another friend and a few of the other folks there.

One thing I noticed was how the composition of the players both confirmed and challenged the perceptions that such science fiction and fantasy oriented gaming is a white-male only activity.

It was certainly true that the players were overwhelmingly teenagers (or at least in their early 20ies) and of the seventy-five people I counted there, only four were women.

However, the ethic breakdown, albeit from my subjective observation skills and the few conversations I had, was:

8 African descent

28 Asian descent

18 European descent

10 Latino descent

1 Mixed descent

I found the ethnic distribution (though not the gender distribution) pretty refreshing, certainly compared to my work environment and even the Green-Rainbow Party.  While I was clearly in the top 10% in terms of age, I didn't feel much out of place.

I do not know if this data point reflects the true diversity of this group, but I found it interesting nevertheless.

The rich continue to get richer

Paul Krugman calls out the latest income inequality numbers from Emmanuel Saez.  The nearly thirty year trend of increasing income inequality got noticeably larger during the Clinton & Bush II years.  And yes, that is the % of income claimed by the wealthiest 1/10000th of the US population.  The wealth values are no doubt even higher.  These values only go up to 2007, but my guess is that 2008 was even higher, and possibly 2009 as well.

Saez07 

If we look at just the top 1%, they claim 23% of all income and followed a similar path as the top 1/100%, though not as radical.  The top 1%, by the way, represents families with an annual income above $398,900 in 2007.  Who says we cannot pay for health care and close the deficit by taxing these folks more.

Download the data and graphs in Excel format.  Table 2 has a nice summary.

I Stand with Chuck!

I stand with Chuck Turner in his fight against the accusations the FBI has made against him.  I urge folks to check out the Support for Chuck Turner website and come out for the press conference and rally on Wednesday, November 26 at Chuck Turner's District Office at 51 Roxbury Street, Roxbury, MA 02119.

I'll leave you all with the following letters, which were emailed to me, but could not find on the web:

Case of Chuck Turner is different than Dianne Wilkerson
Howie Rotman
SEIU1199er at Boston Medical Center (ground zero)

I agree completely with Danny Schechter's call : *"Free Chuck Turner"
 "Free Ourselves"*.

Danny is *RIGHT ON* when he says "this is  not just an attack on a politician but an attack on all of us, an attempt to discredit a leader supporting the fight against a dangerous Biolab program.

As a civil rights and anti-war activist since the 60's ; and union activist for almost 4 decades at Boston City Hospital/ Boston Medical Center, I also have known Chuck Turner as a committed community organizer of the highest principles. When some people at Boston Medical Center tell me that they don't vote, "because all politicians are crooked", I always tell them that I understand their feeling, and hold similar views. And then I go on to say, there are a small number of politicians that I entirely trust. I always give as an example one politician that can be trusted… a COMMUNITY ACTIVIST… who just happens to be an elected official on the Boston City Council … Chuck Turner. Over the decades I have witnessed Chuck Turner turn up at
meetings for social justice causes that are totally out of the limelight, meetings where */only a handful/* of progressive activists have taken the time to show up.

From what I know about the character of Chuck Turner, I agree with Danny Schechter's statement below, that "we must *ASSUME* his innocence and see this for what it is: one last shot by a lacking in all credibility Bush Administration Justice Department in the aftermath of the Obama victory." From the FBI affidavit I have seen in print, this is a clear case of entrapment of a man that is not prone to be materialistically self serving. The FBI affidavit against Chuck admits that a "second attempt" to entrap Chuck with a monetary favor was futile.

Chuck Turner is not Dianne Wilkerson. Chuck does not have a lifestyle of house arrest for failure to pay taxes. He would not disrespect the people in his community the way Dianne did by refusing to pay condo fees , thereby putting the burden of upkeep of property shared with
neighbors on the neighbors who had to go to court to force Dianne Wilkerson to contribute her share.

Unlike Dianne Wilkerson, Chuck Turner would not put the people in his legislative district and surrounding communities at risk of DEATH by exposure to incurable biological pathogens used in weapons of mass destruction that are planned to be experimented on at a level 4 bioterror lab at the BU Medical Center Campus in South End/ Roxbury. Chuck is a leading opponent of the bioterror lab. Chuck is a principle author of the ORDINANCE before the Boston City Council on December 15 at 6pm, an ORDINANCE which seeks to ban research on biological agents used in weapons of mass destruction, that the United States used to justify its entrance into Iraq,  a search that turned up nothing.

(Ironically, if BU/ BMC 's level 4 lab was "found" in Iraq, that would have "justified" the US invasion.)

Support Chuck Turner !!!

Come to the Boston City Council Hearing on the bioterror lab on
December 15, 2008, 5th floor City Hall, 6pm.

"Danny Schechter" <danny@mediachannel.org> wrote:

Journalist and filmmaker Danny Schechter here….

I have known Chuck Turner  from when we worked together back in the l960's in the civil rights movement. He was always a committed community organizer of the highest integrity. He has also always been a principled and courageous stand-up public servant.

We must ASSUME his innocence and see this for what it is: one last shot by a lacking in all credibility Bush Administration Justice Department in the aftermath of the Obama victory. This is  not just an attack on a politician but an attack on all of us, an attempt to discredit a leader supporting the fight against a dangerous Biolab program.

It comes just weeks after the FBI admitted it has NOT been pursuing white collar criminals connected to the housing and financial crisis because of funding cutbacks. Yet, somehow,  it has the money  and the time for a well calculated entrapment stunt like this.

I am confident that Chuck will discredit whatever case the government brings against him, and all of us who know him and love him have to stand with him against this smear on his distinguished career of public service.

Free Chuck Turner. Free Ourselves.

DANNY SCHECHTER
"News Dissector"