We’ve all heard the refrain that millenials are lazy because they can’t afford to live and that they spend all their money on avocado toast (instead of something useful like diamonds?). The problem isn’t millenials but the world they were born into, crafted by their parents and grandparents. It is up to millenials and subsequent generations to literally clean up the mess. How do we do this though? Step one is admitting that we have a problem, then we can address the core issues causing that problem: unregulated hyper-capitalism. This is what author Malcolm Harris calls for in his newest book, here’s a quote from a recent interview he did with Vox:
I mean, that’s what neoliberalism is, right? We’re all individuals, not members of a class or a community. We’re all economic agents pursuing our self-interest. This is the basis of our whole society right now, and both Republicans and Democrats have signed on to it.
In the book, I talk about an Obama-era education policy that basically seeded this idea that education was all about job preparation. There was no other real justification for it. That puts you on a really dangerous course because that’s all about human capital production, and then you have a system where the schools set out to produce skills in children based on what people who own companies say they want those kids to have, what skills they’ll need from their workers.
So our entire lives are framed around becoming cheaper and more efficient economic instruments for capital. That, taken to an extreme, has pretty corrosive effects on society, particularly young people.
Unless you earn more then $200,000 a year corporate tax cuts likely make your life worse. Even though it’s a myth, it’s long been argued that by cutting taxes for wealthy companies jobs will magically pop into existence. Indeed, this myth is so pervasive in modern capitalism that we’re increasing inequality as a byproduct of supporting tax cuts. The good news is that the discourse is changing. Every year there’s more evidence that helping the 1% is detrimental to the rest of society and people are growing more aware of this. This month the Harvard Business School released their research on corporate tax cuts.
In the paperCorporate Tax Cuts Increase Income Inequality(pdf), Rouen and his collaborators, Duke University professors Suresh Nallareddy and Juan Carlos Suárez Serrato, analyze data created by tax filings to compare effects on workers at varying compensation levels in different US states with and without tax cuts.
“Compensation and income inequality are very relevant to managers,” Rouen says. “This is something that they’re now having to deal with in terms of SEC disclosures and having to disclose CEO pay ratio. Active managers are often the face of income inequality, in that these are the people who set the pay for everyone else and also are the highest paid employees in their organizations.”
When someone breaks the law or acts out in a transgressive manner we often turn to punishment to correct their behaviour. We do this in families and as a society, but is it right? If take a moment to look at the roots of modern punishment we might conclude that it’s best to try something else.
One answer is that punishment evolved to promote the greater good and prevent tragedies of the commons. This is the altruistic approach. Yes, punishment might be costly for the punisher, but (so the theory goes) it generates downstream benefits for others – stabilising cooperation, enforcing just rules, deterring freeriders. Punishment is probably essential for maintaining and enforcing norms, laws and customs. Yet its origins appear to trace back to a time before robust human societies, perhaps even before we had language to articulate the rules. Recent research has identified contexts where dominant chimps seem to punish freeloaders. So perhaps punishment preceded the benefits it generates.
The economy is sometimes referred to as an entity outside of human control – it isn’t. We control the economy through policies and practices in each nation. The last half century focussed on growing the economy at the expense of all else from social care to the environment. We’ve seen massive growth in inequality alongside easier access to consumer growth. Given the state of the planet we know this won’t work for much longer. Accordingly, it’s time to rethink what we do to support economic growth and what kind of world we want to live in.
Meanwhile we could begin to boost quality of life simply by tracking it more explicitly: instead of focusing government policy on boosting GDP (the total dollar value of all goods and services produced domestically), why not aim to increase Gross National Happiness — as measured by a selected group of social indicators? These are ways to make economic shrinkage palatable; but how would policymakers actually go about putting the brakes on growth? One tactic would be to implement a shorter workweek. If people are working less, the economy will slow down — and meanwhile, everyone will have more time for family, rest, and cultural activities. We could also de-financialize the economy, discouraging wasteful speculation with a financial transaction tax and a 100 percent reserve requirement for banks.
California’s welfare system (EITC) includes subsidies sent annually for people living without income and that’s about to change. Under new rules the money given to people who earn less than minimum wage will be sent monthly. This is really good since it provides a stable, reliable, and regular sum every month; in theory this will reduce stress for the recipients.
The plan is more like reverse income tax than it is universal basic income. Regardless, it’s good to see one the world’s largest economies delivering financial care in a more efficient manner.
“The typical pattern with the EITC is that you get deeper and deeper into debt over the course of a year,” Ruben says, “and then you use the big payment at tax time to try to pay everything off and break even.” Giving people the option to receive the credit on a monthly basis will help people plan their budgets on a more immediate basis. Benefits like food stamps are delivered monthly, so families receiving both will have a more accurate sense of their financial landscape. And in months when a household finds itself on more stable financial footing, they might be able to put some of the tax credit money aside in savings. “What we’re seeing is the idea of the importance of a steady drumbeat of financial security throughout the year,” Ruben says.
Newsom’s budget proposal aims to tackle these challenges. It will raise the household income threshold to over $30,000 (or what someone would take home working full-time at the projected $15 per hour minimum wage) to include more families. And the expanded funding will grant parents with children under six an additional $500 per year. That may not seem like a lot, Ruben says, but in focus groups run by the ESP over the past year, one woman said anyone who looks at that money and responds in that way “has never had to choose between paying rent and buying food.”