Reducing Inequality in the Trump Era


(Photo: Wisconsin Jobs Now / Flickr)

In a lot of ways, 2016 was a big year for reducing inequality.

Five states raised their minimum wage through citizen-led ballot initiatives. A job-killing free trade agreement, the TPP, was blocked as a result of massive public demonstrations against it.

More recently, the city of Portland, Oregon passed the first ever municipal-level check on runaway CEO compensation, a tangible step several other cities and states will likely follow.

These were just a few of the many victories that those who care about reducing the gap between the richest and the rest of us can claim this year. They also point the way forward for how we might continue this pivotal work in the age of Trump.

Outgoing president Barack Obama once called the need to address rising income inequality the defining challenge of our time. History books will surely credit his administration for helping to lift the nation out of the worst recession in recent history (one driven largely by reckless Wall Street bankers), but much work remains.

A recent study, “The Fading American Dream,” shows that social mobility has been declining for decades. Kids born in 1940 had a 92 percent chance of earning more money than their parents. The odds for kids born 40 years later dropped down to 50-50 — a figure that continues to drop precipitously for millennials and children born today.

While things are better now than they were in 2008, economic conditions are still trying for working class families. The federal minimum wage remains stagnant at $ 7.25 an hour, and just $ 2.13 an hour for tipped workers. That’s less than the basic cost of living in every major city in the country.

While unemployment has gone down, work force participation has too. Student debt continues to rise, each year a new record.

Meanwhile, wealth continues to concentrate into fewer and fewer hands. Massive loopholes in the tax code for millionaires and billionaires are creating a system the New York Times called a “private tax system for the wealthy.” CEO pay has continued to rise into the stratosphere at the nation’s biggest banks and corporations.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has made plenty clear that he isn’t serious about reversing these trends.

If Trump moves forward with the policies he described during his campaign, his administration will further slash taxes on the wealthy, remove the Wall Street regulations designed to prevent another financial crash, and do nothing for workers’ wages.

If his rhetoric wasn’t enough to convince the public he wasn’t serious about addressing inequality, his cabinet should. A collection of billionaires, Goldman Sachs bankers, and adherents to the utterly debunked trickle-down economics theory will now be in charge of our biggest economic decisions.

So if we can’t expect the Trump administration to work to stem rising inequality, how will we move forward?

The victories of 2016, which involved organizing at the state and local levels to lift up workers and expand opportunities for all, show the type of innovative campaigns we’ll need. There are no illusions that change will come from Washington — the new team in town has made clear they’re not interested.

That’s no reason to sit back and wait for another election. Progress can come from working within our own communities to push forward smart ideas that don’t need a sign-off from Congress or Trump.

That work should start now. It remains, after all, the defining challenge of our time.

The post Reducing Inequality in the Trump Era appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Josh Hoxie is the director of the Program on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.


This Artist is Taking a Historic Step Forward in U.S.-Iranian Relations


(Photo: Boring Lovechild / Flickr)

On a wall in Boston, artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo is taking a quiet but historic step forward in U.S.-Iranian relations.

His fanciful mural on an air intake structure in Boston’s Dewey Square represents a first. Ghadyanloo, who has completed more than a hundred surrealistic murals in downtown Tehran, is the first Iranian artist to do work commissioned by municipal authorities in both Iran and the United States.

This exercise in mural diplomacy couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Iran is back in the news after Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential elections. The president-elect has promised, at the very least, to renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran. The Republican-controlled Congress wants to impose new sanctions.

Quietly, however, the Obama administration has moved to build on the rapprochement initiated by the 2015 nuclear deal. In September, the Obama administration greenlighted a Boeing deal to sell commercial jets to Tehran. The Treasury Department also loosened the sanctions regulations to make it possible for foreigners to use dollars in transactions with Iran. And the administration wants to encourage more U.S. firms to do business in the country.

Still, Iran has complained that the United States has not done all that it promised to usher the country back into the global economy. And European allies, eager to push forward with a broader agenda of engagement with the country, have been dismayed at how Washington has focused its cooperation so narrowly on nuclear matters.

That’s what makes Mehdi Ghadyanloo’s recent U.S. tour so noteworthy. He knows nothing about nuclear weapons. His work isn’t political. But precisely because his utopian landscapes are so far from the worlds of nonproliferation and geopolitics, Ghadyanloo’s work opens up a window on what could be: a true detente in the relationship between Tehran and Washington akin to the sea change in U.S.-China relations in the 1970s. Just substitute murals for ping-pong.

Read the full article on U.S. News and World Report.

The post This Artist is Taking a Historic Step Forward in U.S.-Iranian Relations appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The Obama Administration’s Important Shift on Israeli Settlement

Palestine sign at UN

(Photo: Realtingley/Flickr)

“The Obama administration made the decision that Israel had gone too far,” Phyllis Bennis told Press TV concerning the United States’ abstention from a UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Allowing the resolution to go through was a very important shift, Bennis said, with long term effects.

“It provides a legal framework for those countries where there has been significant civil society pressure to impose sanctions on settlement-produced goods,” Bennis said.

Bennis said the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been working to get European countries to prohibit the sale of Israeli produce. This resolution, Bennis said, urges countries to distinguish between “Israel proper”and the occupied territories of 1967.

“That’s not the end of the story, but it’s a very important first step,” Bennis said.

Watch the full interview on Press TV.


The post The Obama Administration’s Important Shift on Israeli Settlement appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Season’s greetings from Fairfood!

Looking back & what’s ahead
For the past few months we have been working on some great plans for Fairfood. We can’t reveal too much about it now, but it will be awesome! Stay tuned for exciting news in early 2017.  We can’t wait to get started! But before that, let’s take a look at what we have done in 2016 to improve the lives of workers and farmers in our food chains.

Companies urged to improve income for vanilla farmers
Based on our extensive research in Madagascar’s Sava region where most vanilla is produced, we provided thesemultinationals with concrete steps that can be taken. They have the power to create sustainable change, even in the short term. Fairfood will keep a close eye on these companies and make sure that the vanilla farmers’ days will be merrier and brighter in the seasons to come.

Fairfood fights for decent working conditions of tomato pickers in Morocco
In March 2016 Fairfood and the Moroccan labour union FNSA organized a global conference with over 100 experts ranging from companies to governments. The focus was on how to improve working conditions in global food chains, using examples of good practices, innovation and collaboration.The value chain approach of Fairfood’s project in Morocco was nominated for the Spindle Innovation Awards 2016.

Living Wage Lab, innovative solutions for a decent living
Fairfood and Hivos celebrated the first anniversary of the Living Wage Lab. This is an initiative that gathers Dutch stakeholders in the agro-food sector to develop and experiment with innovative solutions for living wages in their supply chains. This social innovation project will continue into the new year, and will be a core part of Fairfood’s work in 2017 and beyond.


Trump and His CEO Pals are Ready to Wage Class War

Wall Street CEO Pay

(Photo: Sergei Bachlakov /

In a typical corporate board of directors meeting, what do CEOs see when they look out across their richly lacquered boardroom tables? Lots of other CEOs.

That’s no accident. CEOs today purposely pack their corporate boards with their pals, who often turn out to be current or former chiefs at other corporations. Everybody who’s anybody just feels more comfortable that way

For secretary of state, Trump has tapped Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson. At Treasury, he’s installing former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin. Trump’s pick for commerce, billionaire Wilbur Ross, runs his own investment firm and sits on five other corporate boards.
President-elect Donald Trump, a big-time business chief himself, certainly seems to want to feel comfortable, too. No other President-elect has ever packed his cabinet with more business bigwigs.

For transportation secretary, the President-elect has chosen Elaine Chao, the scion of a shipping magnate fortune who pulled down over $ 1 million last year sitting on four corporate boards. Trump’s choice for labor secretary, fast-foods CEO Andrew Puzder, has made his own fortune keeping wages low at the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains.

Betsy DeVos, the Trump education secretary-designate, has never stepped foot in a public school as a student, educator, or parent. But she does hail from the billionaire family that runs the money-making machine that goes by the name of Amway.

At the Small Business Administration, Trump is situating Linda McMahon, the billionaire who helps runs a sports entertainment empire. And the chair of Trump’s National Economic Council will be Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs.

Trump has named a variety of other tycoons to official advisory bodies. Among these new advisors: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi.

Donald Trump, to be sure, won’t go down in history as the first president to ever plop business chiefs in the federal government’s loftiest positions. Previous presidential business picks have even generated some intense controversy.

In 1953, for instance, President Dwight Eisenhower put forward as his secretary of defense the president of America’s most powerful company, Charlie Wilson of General Motors.

That January, Wilson went before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearings. Some senators wondered whether the GM top dog would be able to put the interests of the United States before the interests of General Motors.

Wilson’s purported answer — “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” — soon became a staple of American political folklore. But Wilson didn’t actually put his sentiments exactly that way. His real answer, the hearing transcripts show, smacked of less arrogance.

Wilson told his Senate inquisitors that he didn’t think he would face a conflict of interest between his corporate and government service because, he explained, “for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

“Our contribution to the nation” at GM, Wilson added, “is quite considerable.”

And Wilson did have a point. In postwar America, big companies like GM did make a contribution to the nation. They didn’t just extract wealth. They did some serious sharing. Years of labor militance had convinced business leaders like Wilson that corporations had to bargain reasonably with their workers.

In 1950, Wilson’s General Motors and the United Auto Workers had signed a landmark contract that came to be known as the “Treaty of Detroit,” and the basics of that treaty — productivity-based wage hikes above and beyond inflation, significant pension and other fringe benefits — would soon spread throughout America’s unionized heavy industries.

And Charlie Wilson shared personally, too, via the steeply progressive tax rates then in effect. In 1950, Wilson earned $ 586,100 from his GM compensation and personal investments. He paid 73 percent of that — $ 430,350 — in income taxes.

Just ponder those numbers for a moment. In the middle of the 20th century, the top exec at the top corporation in the United States had an after-tax income of $ 155,750, the equivalent, after taking inflation into account, of a mere $ 1.56 million today.

Last year, America’s top 200 corporate chiefs averaged $ 19.3 million. They took home more than $ 1.56 million every month.

Now we don’t know exactly how much our contemporary corporate chiefs are paying in federal taxes. We do know, from an IRS report released earlier this year, that Americans in their income neighborhood — the top 0.01 percent — paid federal income taxes at a 26 percent effective rate in 2013.

Charlie Wilson paid taxes at nearly triple that rate 66 years ago.

For corporate chiefs, America has changed a good bit since Charlie’s time. And now Donald Trump and the business kingpins he has populating his inner circle want to change it a good bit more. The latest tax plan that Trump has advanced would on average, the Tax Policy Center calculates, slice the tax bill of America’s top 0.1 percent households by over $ 1 million each in 2017.

Trump and his pals aren’t signing treaties. They’re waging class war.

The post Trump and His CEO Pals are Ready to Wage Class War appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


How Can You Keep Standing with Standing Rock? Move Your Money


(Photo: Peg Hunter / Flickr)

After months of Native American water protectors gathering in peace, prayer and solidarity to protect their sacred lands, the Obama administration announced on Dec. 4 that it’s sided with the Standing Rock Sioux and halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A battle was won. But with a Trump administration looming, the fight isn’t over.

The president-elect has pledged to remove constraints on fossil fuel projects, and it’s likely he’ll try to reverse this decision once he takes office. But there’s something you can do to help stand up for life and for justice.

The controversial pipeline would be 1,170 miles long and cost $ 3.7 billion. A project of that scale doesn’t build itself. Behind the lead investor, Energy Transfer Partners, stand heavily armed police forces, sound-cannon trucks, water cannons, tear gas and attack dogs – and 38 banks funding it all.

That’s why the Institute for Policy Studies, where we work, is pulling its money from one of these banks – SunTrust – and switching to a more socially responsible institution. Banks that fund the planet-destroying fossil fuel economy and undermine Native American land rights aren’t the ones we should be doing business with.

Read the full article on US News and World Report’s website.

The post How Can You Keep Standing with Standing Rock? Move Your Money appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Cavanagh is the director of the Institute for Policy Studies.
Domenica Ghanem is the media manager at the Institute for Policy Studies.


A Deadly Day: Russian Ambassador Assassinated, 12 Dead in Berlin Truck Crash, Zürich Mosque Attacked

“The only thing we can be sure of is that refugees across Europe are going to face the very serious consequences of this range of attacks that we’ve seen over the last day,” IPS’ Phyllis Bennis told Democracy Now! in response to the assassination of a Russian ambassador in Turkey, a truck crash into a German Christmas market that killed 12, and a shooting at a mosque in Switzerland on December 19.

Trump responded by sending prayers to those in Berlin and saying “Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.”

Bennis said Trump’s statement was filled with false claims, since Islamic extremist organizations have not only targeted Christians. “Far more Muslims all around the world have died in these horrific attacks than Christians have,” Bennis said.

Instead of making false claims based in Islamophobia, Bennis said, it’s more important to understand the motivations of those who’ve carried out these acts to learn how to prevent further attacks.

“The militarization of the global war on terror, both in Syria and in Iraq, is taking a huge toll on civilians,” Bennis said. Meanwhile, she notes, ending ISIS control of territory is not going to end the problem of ISIS as a terrorist force.

Terrorism experts, Bennis said, know that as ISIS loses territory, it will just turn back to old-fashioned tactics of carrying out attacks on civilians. “What we’re seeing now is the reality that this global war on terror is indeed having global ramifications,” with the threat being increased around Europe, but most particularly in the Middle East region.

Watch or read the full interview on Democracy Now!’s website.

The post A Deadly Day: Russian Ambassador Assassinated, 12 Dead in Berlin Truck Crash, Zürich Mosque Attacked appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Calling Working People of All Colors


(Photo: Maryland GovPics / Flickr)

A little over 80 years ago, NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois wrote “Black Reconstruction in America,” a groundbreaking essay that looked at the racial politics of the post-Civil War years.

The major failure of those years, Du Bois insisted, was that poor whites and poor blacks failed to form an alliance around their mutual economic interests and challenges. Instead, white elites doubled down on their efforts to divide poor people of different races.

“So long as the Southern white laborers could be induced to prefer poverty to equality with the Negro,” Dubois lamented, “a labor movement in the South [was] impossible.” Though similarly exploited by white elites, economically disenfranchised whites and blacks “never came to see their common interest.”

More than eight decades later, we’re still waiting.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, the resounding explanation for Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump has been that Democrats failed to respond to the economic needs of the white working class. As a result, this story goes, the white working class turned towards Donald Trump and contributed significantly to his victory.

For some, then, the diagnosis for the party’s malaise is simple: Bring the white working class back into the fold.

“If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded,” Columbia University professor Mark Lilla wrote. He sharply criticized Hillary Clinton for “calling out explicitly to” blacks and Latinos while supposedly neglecting the white working class.

Bringing those white voters into the fold would make the Democratic Party a formidable force, but not if it means marginalizing the concerns of people of color. That would be an unmitigated disaster.

The best way for progressives to realign themselves with the white working class isn’t to reverse this progress. It’s to argue forcefully that the economic concerns of the white working class and people of color are more alike than different.

For instance, working white people understandably complain of lower wages and lost jobs. Yet these economic challenges are part and parcel to those confronting communities of color.

The unemployment rate for black Americans is twice that for the white community across education levels. Similarly, the income gap between black and white households grew to $ 25,000 as of 2014, a statistic due in no small part to the same wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and de-unionization plaguing many Rust Belt whites.

Trends in wealth have mirrored those in income. Where the Great Recession led to a 16 percent loss in wealth for the average white family, it led to a 53 percent loss for the average black family. As of 2014, around of quarter of black and Latino Americans lived in poverty, compared to 10 percent of whites.

The racism that’s worsened conditions for many Americans of color needs to be addressed head-on. But many of the same populist economic policies that would lift them up would also help struggling whites.

Instead of erasing race from the equation, working people and their progressive advocates should take their cues from Du Bois and get to work building what he called a unified “proletariat” of all colors.

At this rate, we don’t have another 80 years.

The post Calling Working People of All Colors appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Ebony Slaughter-Johnson is a research assistant at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Calling on the Wealthy to Help Stop Our Racial and Economic Apartheid

When he was 26, IPS’ Chuck Collins gave away all of his wealth after getting a front-row seat into the lives of low-wage workers, he tells Marketplace in an interview about his new book, Born on Third Base.

Collins acquired his wealth as the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer.

“The reality is I still have this mountain of advantage coming from a stable and wealthy family. Social capital. And I’m white, I’m male,  I got a debt-free college education,” Collins said.

Twenty years from now, Collins said, we’ll be in a racial and economic apartheid if we keep on track as we have for the last 30 years “in terms of growing wealth and income inequality, declining social mobility, and the racial wealth divide.”

He said that wealthy people tend to withdraw to their enclaves of private paradises, but in his new book, he’s calling on them to bring their wealth home.

“Take it out of the offshore tax havens and the global finance casino, and actually bring it back to the real economy of goods and services,” he said, because the wealth divide isn’t in anyone’s best interest.

Listen to the full interview on Marketplace’s website.

The post Calling on the Wealthy to Help Stop Our Racial and Economic Apartheid appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Lifting Up 2016’s Faces on the Frontlines

In April 2016, we started a weekly “Face on the Frontlines” feature in our newsletter. Since then, we’ve had the honor of lifting up more than two dozen workers, organizers, artists, students, business leaders, elected officials, and others who are fighting to reverse extreme inequality.

In a year that offered many good reasons for despair, these individuals have kept up our spirits and reminded us that we can take on formidable obstacles — and win. As 2016 winds down, we wanted to highlight some of the “Faces on the Frontlines” that we found especially inspiring.

We started our series with Jobs with Justice Organizing Director Erica Smiley, who wrote about the need for labor organizing strategies that can succeed even in the face of anti-union laws and institutions. In our new political landscape, her words are even more prescient.

Erica Smiley, Jobs With Justice

Erica Smiley, Jobs With Justice

In May, we featured John Mudie, a veteran telecom lineman and executive vice president of Communications Workers of America Local 1122 in Buffalo, New York. He reported from the frontlines of a strike involving nearly 40,000 workers over outsourcing and lower labor standards at Verizon, where the CEO was making well over $ 25,000 a day. A few weeks later, the strike was called off after the company agreed to major concessions, including adding 1,300 new call center jobs and reversing several other outsourcing initiatives.

In June, we were proud to publish a piece by restaurant server Christopher Alvear about the need to raise the subminimum wage for tipped workers. In November, we were happy to report that both Maine and Flagstaff, Arizona had passed ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage and phase out the tipped minimum. Look for this issue on more ballots in the next election.

In July, we talked to Ben Chin of Maine People’s Alliance about his experience being targeted with racist attacks by the state’s rightwing governor, Paul LePage. As the Alliance ramped up their ballot initiative campaigns to raise taxes on the wealthy and increase the minimum wage, we reported on LePage’s statement that Chin and other organizers “should be sent to jail.” And so while we were still recovering from the outcome of the presidential election, we were thrilled to interview Ben post-vote about their ballot initiative victories.


Ben Chin, Maine People’s Alliance

In August, we featured Magdalena Zylinska, a housecleaner and organizer from Chicago about the big win on a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in the state of Illinois. This was the seventh such state victory for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and their allies.

In early September, IPS Associate Fellow Manuel Pérez-Rochashared lessons from his many years of work against free trade in Mexico and Central America about the likely impacts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A main focus of his work has been to fight trade rules that allow private corporations to sue governments over public interest regulations. And so in October we were pleased to report on a victory by Salvadoran activists against one of these corporate lawsuits, in this case over the denial of a mining permit on environmental grounds. Only a few weeks later, we were able to celebrate the demise of the TPP negotiations.

In late September, we interviewed Judith Le Blanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance, about the struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline and the role played by billionaire and big bank investors in the project. After the number of water protectors continued to swell, federal authorities halted construction, at least temporarily on December 4, in a huge win for the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies.

In October, we ran a commentary by Steve Novick, a member of the Portland, Oregon city council who was pushing a path-breaking proposal for a tax penalty on corporations with extreme CEO-worker pay gaps. On December 8, we had the pleasure of reporting that the proposal had been adopted. And since then we’ve been hearing from elected officials in many other jurisdictions who are interested in taking similar action.

We look forward to getting to know more champions in the fight against inequality in 2017 and sharing their stories and strategies.

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Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.