Archive for October, 2015

ACA

The New York Times has mapped the percentage of the U.S. population that still, two years into Obamacare, remains without health insurance.

The remaining uninsured are primarily in the South and the Southwest. They tend to be poor. They tend to live in Republican-leaning states. The rates of people without insurance in the Northeast and the upper Midwest have fallen into the single digits since the Affordable Care Act’s main provisions kicked in. But in many parts of the country, obtaining health insurance is still a problem for many Americans.

Here, for comparison, are some additional maps—starting with slave and free states in 1860, rates of poverty in 2011, and red and blue states in 2014:

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University of Louisville students protested the decision by university president James Ramsey to host a Halloween party with members of the university staff at Amelia Place, a mansion owned by the University of Louisville Foundation.

The University of Louisville apologized Thursday after President James Ramsey [lower right in the photo above] faced criticism for a photo in which he and other university staffers were depicted at a Halloween party wearing stereotypical Mexican costumes with sombreros, which a university spokesman said some had “considered offensive.” . . .

“We made a mistake and are very sorry,” Kathleen Smith, chief of staff to the president, said in a statement, which noted her office had met with a top official of U of L’s Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives and shared “our deep regret for the hurt this experience has caused.”. . .

As social media criticism grew, university officials released an apology Thursday evening, addressing it to “Hispanic/Latino Faculty, Staff and Students.”

“We commit to a series of campus conversations with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to further focus on diversity and racial equality issues underpinning the pluralistic society we all support. This event shows we have much more to learn about our community,” Smith said.

This is what we’ve come to in the United States: a university president hosting a party at which he encourages his guests to dress in costumes that mock Mexican-Americans, and an apology that presumes only Hispanics are offended? While one of the major political parties debates the best way to build a wall on the southern border and deport the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Special mention

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A tale of two retirements

Posted: 30 October 2015 in Uncategorized

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We all know about the enormous gap between CEO salaries and worker’s pay.* Well, as it turns out, there’s an even larger gap when it comes to their respective retirement packages.

According to Aimee Picchi [ht: ja], based on a study by the Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies,

The 100 largest CEO retirement funds are valued at a combined $4.9 billion, or the entire retirement account savings of 41 percent of American families. . .

That means that 100 CEOs have more retirement assets socked away than a combined 50 million U.S. families, or more than 116 million people.

That’s because CEOs, first, are provided generous cuts of the surplus in their current pay and, then, are able to take advantage of extraordinary tax loopholes, which allow them to invest unlimited amounts of compensation into tax-deferred accounts set up by their employers.**

Meanwhile, last year, only 18 percent of private sector workers were covered by a defined-benefit pension, which guarantees monthly payments, down from 35 percent in the early 1990s. Nearly half of all working-age Americans have no access to any retirement plan at work. The median balance in a 401(k) plan at the end of 2013 was only $18,433, enough to generate a monthly retirement check of $104. Of workers aged 50 to 64, 29 percent have no defined benefit pension or retirement savings in a 401(k) or IRA. These workers will be wholly dependent on Social Security, which pays an average benefit of $1,223 per month.

*In 2014, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 373:1. (To be clear, that’s not 373 percent of average workers’ pay; it’s 373 TIMES workers’ pay.)

**The 50 percent of Americans who are offered a 401(k) plan at their workplace face strict limits on how much they can set aside tax-free each year toward their retirement. Workers 50 and older can contribute $24,000 each year, while younger workers can contribute $18,000 tax-free into their 401(k) accounts.

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We forget, at our peril, the extent to which academic unfreedom is enforced in departments of economics across North America.

Most departments of economics offer—in the classroom and in terms of research and policy advice—only mainstream economics. By that I mean they hire economists who only teach, conduct research, and offer policy advice defined by one or another version of mainstream (neoclassical and Keynesian) economics. Other approaches to economics—generally, these days, referred to as heterodox economics—simply aren’t recognized by or represented within those departments. That was true in the decades leading up to the crash of 2007-08 and, perhaps even more startling, it has continued to be the case in the years since.

That’s particularly true in departments that have doctoral programs in economics. While heterodox economists are often hired by undergraduate departments (such as, most famously, the University of Southern Maine), you simply won’t find heterodox economics or heterodox economists at Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Yale, and Chicago.

Now, there have been a few departments of economics over the years that have been defined in terms of a significant presence (although generally still a minority view) of heterodox economics. The University of Massachusetts Amherst was certainly one of them (which, to offer the appropriate disclosure, is where I did my doctoral work). The list also includes the New School for Social Research, the University of California-Riverside, American University, and, more recently, the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

I was in fact hired by another of those departments, at the University of Notre Dame, which as readers of this blog know was first split off as a separate department (in 2003) and then (in 2010) simply dissolved by the administration of the university.

What was extraordinary about that episode was the length mainstream economists (and their allies within the university administration) were willing to go to stamp out any and all forms of nonmainstream economics. Not, to be clear, because there was any kind of financial crisis, but simply to first marginalize and then remove entirely the existence of heterodox economics from the curriculum, research profile, and policy recommendations of the department.

I note that history because it was invoked in the extensive investigation of academic freedom in the Department of Economics at the University of Manitoba by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (pdf).* The department at Manitoba is the only place in Canada where doctoral students can receive significant training in nonmainstream or heterodox economics. According to the report,

Prior to 2006, the Department of Economics approached hiring, curriculum and pedagogical issues with an approach that made room for heterodox, as well as mainstream views, although the heterodox group remained a minority of the department. This was achieved through a solid degree of good will that permeated the Department.

After that, the “solid degree of good will that permeated the Department” was undermined by the orthodox or mainstream members of the department who, in various ways, sought to “to change the direction of the Economics Department by moving to a more mainstream/orthodox emphasis.” The problem of academic freedom within the department, according to the student newspaper, has still not been resolved.

What is extraordinary in all of this is how few departments there are in all of North America where doctoral students can be exposed to and learn—not to mention, after they complete their degrees and then find a job, teach, conduct research, offer policy advice associated with—heterodox approaches to economics. And, on top of that, in the few departments where both mainstream and heterodox approaches are in fact represented, the length to which mainstream economists (and, as I wrote above, their allies within university administrations) will go to marginalize or eliminate heterodox approaches to economics.

The University of Manitoba is just the latest example in the long line of attempts to define, impose, and police the rules of academic unfreedom in the discipline of economics in North America.

*Just to correct the historical record, though, the 2003 decision to split the Department of Economics at the University of Notre Dame was opposed by 11 of the 16 members of the department, a group that included both mainstream and heterodox economists. Because they were opposed to the split, they were not invited to join the new Department of Economics and Econometrics, which defined itself from the beginning as a purely neoclassical program.

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Special mention

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Kiss this!

Posted: 29 October 2015 in Uncategorized
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Apparently, Hershey’s chocolate is another victim of the obscene levels of inequality we’re seeing in the United States.

Chocolate maker Hershey Co , long a staple of middle-class U.S. households, is getting squeezed as consumers either pay up for fancier sweets or seek more savings. . .

Hershey executives said the company is grappling with a growing gap between low and high-income households in the United States, which has changed buying patterns for many consumer goods. On the high-end, consumers are more willing to pay up for premium brands like Green & Black’s organic chocolate bars. On the low end, families hunt for greater discounts for products.

“We think the consumer bifurcation has been an important driver,” Hershey Chief Executive John P. Bilbrey said on an investor call, referring to the growing wage gap. Bilbrey said the company has secured more merchandising space for its products in the holiday season and expected trends to improve in the fourth quarter.

Companies ranging from Campbell Soup Co to Mondelez International Inc have spoken of similar pressures in the United States. Some have tried to introduce more products to appeal to low-income consumers at convenience stores and dollar stores.

“We are seeing a widening disparity between upper-income and lower-income” consumers, said Mondelez CEO Irene Rosenfeld in an interview.