Posts Tagged ‘inequality’


With tomorrow’s publication of his memoir, self-flatteringly titled The Courage to Act, Ben Bernanke is currently in the midst of his book tour.

Now, in this interview with USA Today, Bernanke is willing to admit that some things went wrong:

For one thing, he says that more corporate executives should have gone to jail for their misdeeds. The Justice Department and other law-enforcement agencies focused on indicting or threatening to indict financial firms, he notes, “but it would have been my preference to have more investigation of individual action, since obviously everything what went wrong or was illegal was done by some individual, not by an abstract firm.”

Bernanke didn’t say anything (at least publicly) at the time. And now, of course, it’s too late.

Also, in his own op-ed piece, Bernanke defends his conduct of monetary policy “to ensure that the economy makes full use of its resources” and “by keeping inflation low and stable, the Fed can help the market-based system function better and make it easier for people to plan for the future.”

Toward the end of that piece, Bernanke does confess that not all is well:

The benefits of growth aren’t shared equally, and as a result many Americans have seen little improvement in living standards.

But then he resorts to the usual defense of the limited nature of Fed policy: “These, unfortunately, aren’t problems that the Fed has the power to alleviate.”

On one hand, Bernanke wants to claim the Fed under his direction saved the U.S. and world economies from a downturn that would have been worse than the First Great Depression. But he is unwilling to admit that the way he (and others in power at the time) enacted monetary policy restored the unequalizing pattern of U.S. economic growth and left most working people falling further and further behind.

What we are witnessing, then, is nothing more than a magical mystery book tour.

*With apologies to the Beatles. For those too young to remember:

Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (We’ve got everything you need), roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (Satisfaction guaranteed), roll up for the mystery tour
The magical mystery tour is hoping to take you away
Hoping to take you away

car crashes

I’ve considered lots of different dimensions of inequality on this blog, including the fact that inequality kills.

But, I’ll admit, I have never considered the unequal impact of car crashes on the nation’s roads.

As Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham explain,

Traffic fatalities in the United States have been plummeting for years, a major victory for regulation (strict drunken driving laws have helped) and auto innovation (we have safer cars). But that progress obscures a surprising type of inequality: The most disadvantaged are more likely — and have grown even more likely over time — to die in car crashes than people who are well-off.

The question is, why?

The underlying issue here is not that a college degree makes you a better driver. Rather, the least-educated tend to live with a lot of other conditions that can make getting around more dangerous. They own cars that are older and have lower crash-test ratings. Those with less education are also likely to earn less and to have the money for fancy safety features such as side airbags, automatic warnings and rear cameras.

The number of trauma centers. . .has also declined in poor and rural communities, which could affect the health care people have access to after a collision. And poor places suffer from other conditions that can make the roads themselves less safe. In many cities, poor communities lack crosswalks over major roads. The residents who live there may have less political power to fight for design improvements like stop signs, sidewalks and speed bumps. As a result, pedestrian fatalities in particular are higher in poor communities.

Yep. Capitalist inequality kills in more ways than even I had been able to imagine.

achievement gap


We all know the gap between the rich and poor in the United States has been growing for decades—and there’s been no let-up of that trend during the current economic recovery.

That’s bad enough. However, unless we confront that problem and change the existing institutions, it’s only going to get worse in the decades ahead. That’s because, as Michelle Chan [ht: ja] explains, the country is leaving way too many children behind.

Poverty limits access to basic resources like nutrition and decent childcare. But a geometrically expanding class divide looms over all income brackets, as wealthier parents zealously splurge on “enrichment expenditures”. . .

So poor parents struggling just to cover basic food and shelter face both massive income inequality in their day-to-day lives, plus a seven-fold gap in the amount they can “invest” to help their children thrive in the future. Given that social mobility is already suppressed at all income levels—with children’s future earnings highly correlated with the earnings of their parents—the Herculean amount of “catch up” poor parents must undertake just to get on the same footing as their higher-earning peers makes the great American wealth gap seem even more devastating, for both today’s working households and generations to come. . .

economic status is a growing factor in academic outcomes, as “the relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply” over the last 50 years. So wealth trumps intellect on many levels.

In other words, the income gap is a growing factor in academic outcomes—and the children at the bottom are falling further and further behind.

Why? The achievement gap stems in part from the difficulty poor parents have in educating their children at home, as well as the massive funding gaps in programs like subsidized childcare and Head Start. It’s also because poor children are segregated outside the home into poorly funded and overburdened schools. The exact opposite has been taking place at the top, where both private and public expenditures are moving the children of wealthy households further and further ahead.

All of which means that, just as the income gap has grown sharply since the mid-1970s, so has the relationship between income and academic achievement.

The growing class divide in the United States looms over all aspects of society, especially the fate of our children.


According to a new report by the Education Trust, the national graduation rate for Pell Grant recipients attending public and nonprofit private colleges and universities is considerably lower than the completion rate of non-Pell recipients: while almost 65 percent of non-Pell recipients graduate in six years, only half of Pell students leave with a bachelor’s degree in the same time frame.

This 14-point gap (which can be seen in Figure 1 above) is much larger than the average gap (of 5.7 percent) between Pell and non-Pell students who attend the same institution (see Figure 2).

How is this possible? This occurs because the national gap is more than the product of all the individual completion gaps between Pell and non-Pell students at colleges and universities. The national gap is also a byproduct of which institutions students attend, with Pell students much more likely to attend institutions with lower graduation rates for all students, and much less likely to attend institutions that graduate most of their students.


The Education Trust refers to the university where I teach as “an ‘engine of inequality’ because very few students come from working-class and low-income family backgrounds, and it falls in the bottom 5% of all four-year colleges nationwide for its extraordinarily low enrollment of freshmen who receive Pell Grants, a type of federal financial aid for low-income students. This college is not very socioeconomically diverse.”


Marx, it seems, just won’t go away.

According to Charles Moore in the Wall Street Journal,

When things go backward in nations accustomed to middle-class stability, people start to ask questions. What is the use of capitalism if its rewards go to the few and its risks are dumped on the many? The rights of property do not seem so enticing if the value of what you own collapses or if that property is trapped by debt. What is so great about globalization if it means that the products and services you offer are undercut by foreign competition and that millions of new people can come to your country, take your jobs and enjoy your welfare benefits?

Great international banks and other corporations—and their top executives—can devise a life that escapes normal tax jurisdictions. Their successes are globalized and accrue chiefly to them; their failures crawl back home to die, at the expense of the rest of us.

So instead of feeling that it is a privilege to be an ordinary citizen of a free country, many of us start to feel a bit like suckers. Hope—the inseparable companion of progress—fades and is replaced by disappointment, even bitterness. It has always been understood that opportunity carries some price of insecurity, but what happens if insecurity rises and opportunity contracts?

Moore warns that, if Western countries can’t disprove Marx’s “dire forecasts” about a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, capitalism is going to be in trouble. In fact, he concedes,

Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.

Photo of the day

Posted: 25 September 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

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Ten photographers have united for Action/2015 to offer their perspectives on equality.*

According to one of the photographers, Susan Meiselas,

I travelled to Wisconsin to look at the state of industry in a city with a rich manufacturing heritage. I found a stark contradiction. On one hand, the wealth and power that the buildings themselves represented and, on the other, the workers who kept the business moving: mostly replaceable labour on minimum wage.

*Photos above: the headquarters of Visual Impressions, a wholesale T-shirt embroidery and impressions business, where Teresa, an embroiderer, has been working for six years.


Special mention

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