Let’s Make Billionaires Pay

economic chart

Democracy is rule by the people and it’s up to the people to ensure that this continues to be the case. Currently the growing inequality in democracies is threatening the very existence of these societies to continue, but there is a simple solution. If we ensure that billionaires give back to the society that they used to make their wealth then we can continue to thrive. Every billionaire made their money by extracting wealth from others and we can’t forget that. If we don’t make billionaires contribute back then we’ll continue to have many social problems. Perhaps it’s time for something radical and outright ban billionaires?

But there are far more urgent reasons than poverty to get rid of billionaires and reverse the trend of economic polarization. A growing body of economic and political-science research demonstrates that Gilded Age–type inequality does not just mean having too many with too little. It is warping the very social fabric of the country, stifling mobility, innovation, investment, and growth, and putting the country at political risk.

Given all this evidence, wealth taxes are not simply a way to pay for programs for the poor. They are a way of reducing the incentive for the rich to soak up all that money in the first place. They are a way of pushing the steps of the income ladder closer together to make them easier to climb. They are a way of ending what two leading economists on inequality, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, call “oligarchic drift,” and its attending political risks. They are a way of building a healthier economic future for everyone—including those 400 families up at the tippy top.

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Fight Inequality by Taxing Corporations

happy workers in a factory

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 paper Corporate 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.”

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Thanks to Delaney!

Big Boxes Have Failed us; Supporting Downtowns will Save us

bus

We’ve all heard about how downtowns have failed in smaller cities while big box stores like Walmart succeed; what we don’t really talk about is why and what’s the solution. First we need to establish that suburban big box stores are horrible for people and the economy (which is easy); then we need to address those core issues. The folks over at Strong Towns do exactly that and recently published a great piece exploring how the costs of running a big box operation from the perspective of a city is high. The solution then should be easy: reinforce local economies for success.

And we should also recognize where our wealth really comes from. It comes from our downtown and our core neighborhoods (those within walking distance of the downtown). It certainly doesn’t come from people driving through those places. It doesn’t come from people commuting in. It doesn’t come from tourists or developers or the potential of land development out on the edge. Our wealth — the wealth built slowly over generations — is slowly seeping away in our downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Put these things together — the need to build resilience and the historic wealth that still remains in our core — and the strategy becomes too obvious to ignore: We need to piece our economic ecosystem back together. We shouldn’t spend a penny on the mall — we should be willing to let it fall apart and collapse if the market can’t support it. But we should support those investments in the core that are already paying our bills.

And here’s the really sweet thing: the downtown doesn’t need millions of dollars of investment. There are some trying to force that down the city’s throat, but we don’t need it. It’s already the most successful area in the region. We just need to start reconnecting things.

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Using Math to Solve for Inequality

Inequality has been increasing globally for years, and developed nations have seen inequality rise in rates comparable to the start of the great depression. This situation is understandably problematic and worrisome. Accordingly, a lot of thinkers have looked into the problem, most solutions come down to some level of redistribution of wealth. The New England Complex Systems Institute has used a complex math approach to conclude that tax cuts will only make the gap between the rich and poor worse. The solution is, indeed, wealth redistribution.

Bar-Yam and his colleagues’ new research shows that a purely monetary solution to the US economy’s current imbalance is insufficient. Bar-Yam likened this to trying to drive a car by focusing only on the gas and brake pedals, and ignoring the steering wheel. In addition to interest rate regulation, Bar-Yam’s research points to a transfer of wealth to the less wealthy sectors of society as the most effective way to rebalance the consumption and production cycles.

This conclusion is based on response theory, a way of looking at complex systems by changing the environmental conditions to see how the system responds. Bar-Yam and his colleagues analyzed historical data to create models that showed how the US economy responds when the distribution of wealth between the production and consumption cycles are altered. Their models demonstrated that the Trump Administration’s current approach to economic growth—cutting government spending while slashing tax rates for the rich—is misguided.

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Be Happy With What You Have

It’s often thought that if one had more money they would be happier, bills would be easy to pay and work would be less stressful. It turns out that that is not the case. Once one has their basic needs met the more they earn the less of an impact it has on their happiness.

Be happy with what you have and stop thinking that material wealth will solve your problems. Embrace the now and appreciate what is around you.

The idea of the hedonic treadmill can apply to discrete pleasures—like getting accustomed to better beer—or it can apply to an overall lifestyle. There is evidence that if an individual’s basic needs are met, after a certain point, increases in income do not lead to much greater happiness. As the money we have to spend goes up, so too do our expectations and desires—and with them the possibility of disappointment. A now-classic study from 1978 compared the happiness of lottery winners with a control group drawn from the same neighborhoods. The researchers interviewed lottery winners after the initial thrill had worn off. When asked to rate their present level of happiness, the lottery winners answered in the same way as did the control group. The two groups also made similar predictions about their future happiness. And when asked about a number of mundane pleasures—talking with a friend or eating breakfast—the lottery winners actually derived less pleasure than did the control group.

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