Posts Tagged ‘profits’

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I have to spend the rest of the day preparing Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for class tomorrow (for the labor section of my course on Commodities: The Making of Market Society). But before I get to that. . .

The campaign against college players forming unions, as exemplified by Patrick T. Harker in his column today, continues to repeat the false impression that what the “student-athlete-employees” are demanding is to be paid for their efforts. (Even Joe Nocera, who has been very good on exposing the NCAA’s mistreatment of college athletes, makes the mistake.) No, what these employees are asking for is a voice in setting and enforcing the rules that govern their employment in NCAA-supervised athletic competitions—nontrivial things like how much time they are forced to spend in preparing for their sports, what majors and courses they can take, whether or not athletes who are injured will be given adequate medical care, and so on. No one—except the cavalcade of critics—is talking about making the athletes paid employees.

Sure, as Mark Thoma explains, rent-seeking behavior can explain at least some of the rise in inequality we’ve seen in recent decades. But why go through such tortured explanations, which require one or another deviation from perfect competition, when we can explain inequality in a much simpler manner, even when there’s perfect competition: surplus-seeking behavior. Because that’s what we need to focus on: the ability of a tiny minority in today’s economy to capture and keep the surplus being produced by the majority of workers. And how do they manage to get that surplus? Through high corporate profits that flow into CEO salaries, the growth of the financial sector, and capital gains, which in turn are taxed at low rates. And then, on top of those “normal” flows of surplus, we can consider various forms of market power that culminate in economic rents, which make the already-unequal distribution of income based on flows of the surplus even more unequal.

Speaking of inequality, how is it possible to write a paper on “Consumption Contagion: Does the Consumption of the Rich Drive the Consumption of the Less Rich?” in which Marianne Bertrand and Adair Morse [pdf] describe yet another departure from the Permanent Income Hypothesis, and never mention Thorstein Veblen and his Theory of the Leisure Class?

And, finally, under the heading of “let them eat flip-flops and cheap lingerie from Macy’s,” Thomas Edsall does a nice job summarizing the literature that explains why American workers might be wary about the claims that everyone gains from free trade and how the arguments of free-trade zealots like Jagdish Bhagwati ring so hollow these days.

Chart of the day

Posted: 28 March 2014 in Uncategorized
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As Ed Dolan explains,

The chart [above] assigns a value of 100 to each component’s share in 2007, the year before the recession began. This chart shows that corporate profits were hit hard in the first months of the recession, but began to recover already by the end of 2008, when GDP was still falling. By the time the economy had officially entered the recovery phase in mid-2009, corporate profits were surging to new highs.

Compensation of employees and proprietors’ income behaved differently. During the downslope of the recession, the shares of those two components held fairly steady, that is, they decreased but only at about the same rate as GDI [Gross Domestic Income] as a whole. After mid-2009, when the economy began to recover, the two diverged. Proprietors’ income grew faster than GDI as a whole, so that its share increased. Compensation of employees grew less rapidly than GDI, so its share began to fall, and is still falling.

These trends in the shares of GDI components provide another view of the substantial changes in the distribution of income and wealth that are underway in the twenty-first century United States. The data shown in our charts are only indirectly related to the more widely publicized increase in the share of total income accruing to top earners, but they explain part of what is going on. It is true that some high earners receive the major part of their income in the form of salaries and bonuses, and that many middle-class families receive some corporate profit income through mutual funds and retirement savings accounts. Still, corporate profits are more unequally distributed and compensation of employees less unequally distributed than income as a whole. That means the rising share in GDI of the former and the falling share of the latter are two of the factors behind the rising fortunes of the super-rich and the relative economic stagnation of the middle class.

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Many poor Americans face jail when they can’t pay steep fines for nonviolent crimes, like $1,000 for stealing a $2 beer. That’s because many courts have adopted the “offender-funded” probation model, which fills the coffers of private probation companies and forces taxpayers to pay for the incarceration of poor debtors.

In January 2013, Clifford Hayes, a homeless man suffering from lupus and looking for a night off the streets, walked into the sheriff’s office in Augusta, Georgia. It was a standard visit: he needed police clearance, a requirement of many homeless shelters, to stay overnight at the Salvation Army.

Hayes expected to go straight to the shelter. Instead, he was handcuffed and later thrown in jail. Hayes hadn’t committed a crime – or at least, he hadn’t in many years since 2007, when he committed several driving-related misdemeanor offenses, for which he pled guilty and was put on probation. That probation left him $2,000 in debt for court fines – and fees he was supposed to pay to a private company the state hired to monitor him until his probation ended. Hayes needed to pay $854 to the court to avoid a jail sentence; because he had no money except a $730-a-month disability check, he was thrown in Richmond County lockup.

The cost to taxpayers of Hayes’ eight-month jail sentence: $11,500, according to Georgia court documents.

This is the twenty-first century American equivalent of debtors’ prison.

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