Author Archives: Editor

Reel Economics #2 – Two Days, One Night on Saturday, October 1st

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

For those of you in Western Massachusetts, please join us on Saturday, October 1st at 7pm at the Unitarian Community of Amherst (121 N. Pleasant Street) for a free screening of ‘Two Days, One Night,” as the second installation of the Center for Popular Economics fall film series Reel Economics.

After the film, stay for a short talk and audience discussion about the political economy of divided workplaces under capitalism, with labor activist and UAW 2322 Grievance Coordinator, Avery Fürst.

‘Two Days, One Night’ is a critically acclaimed film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, nominated for the Palme D’or at the 2014 Cannes film festival, and several Best Actress awards for lead Marion Cotillard from various groups (European Film Award, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle).

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Reel Economics: Exploring Economic Structures Behind Good Films

By Jonathan Jenner

This fall, the Center for Popular Economics will host the inaugural ‘Reel Economics’ film series. The series will screen six award-winning independent films, and then host a discussion on the political economy of the topics explored in that film. All films will be free and open to the public, and screened at the Unitarian Universalist Community of Amherst.

A still from 'Under the Same Moon' by Patricia Riggen

A still from ‘Under the Same Moon’ by Patricia Riggen

The series will kick off on Wednesday, September 14th at 7pm with Ava DuVernay’s groundbreaking Middle of Nowhere. After the film, John Jay  professor (and CPE member) Geert Dhondt will give a short talk titled ‘Mass Incarceration in the Neoliberal Era,’ with time for informal discussion and questions from the audience. Dhondt’s talk will explore the political-economic structures that have led to the quadrupling of the US prison population 1980 to 2008 (from half a million to 2.3 million people), and why this growth has been targeted at black and brown people. Dhondt has spoken and written widely about the political economy of race, crime and justice.

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Valeant Pharmaceutical’s Path of Destruction as Microcosm

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

The stock price of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, 1994-2016

The stock price of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, 1994-2016

Bethany McLean, in this summer’s issue of Vanity Fair, has done a terrific piece on the meltdown of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a company led by a billionaire wonderkid who wasn’t. Before losing $81bn from a $90bn company that offshored its way to a meager 5 percent tax bill, Valeant price gouged sick people. McLean writes about Syprine and Cuprimine, the only drugs available to treat Wilson’s disease. The drugs were invented in the 1950s and formerly available for $1/dose, and now cost a stunning $300,000 for annual treatment after Valeant bought the patent. The piece highlights the terrible, inefficient system of drug distribution and development, as well as the scary behavior of corporations that puts all of us at risk. Read the whole thing here.

If Valeant Pharmaceuticals were one bad apple, we could leave the story at that. But the story reads more like a microcosm of our ‘recovering’ economy, and we should heed the warnings here of a system that puts short term shareholder return above all else. Read more

Socio-Economic Inequalities and Religious Extremism

By Danish Khan

We’ve had too many attacks of late: after a terrible March 22nd terrorist attack in Brussels which took away more than thirty lives, a bombing five days later in Lahore brought more misery and pain. This time the second largest city of Pakistan was struck by a devastating terrorist attack in which more than seventy people lost their lives, specifically targeted at Christian Pakistanis who were celebrating Easter in a public park, though the victims were both Christians and Muslims.

The brutality of the two attacks is similar, but both public outcry and modes of analysis have been wildly divergent. In the countries of the global North, and especially in the US, we did not see an outcry and outrage at the similar scale as we observed after a devastating attack in Brussels. We must sincerely ask, why? Is it simply because we in the US can better relate with Europeans (but not everyone has a European ancestry in the US)? Or is it because we don’t expect a rich European country like Belgium to be under attack? Or because terrorist attacks not something new for a third world Muslim majority country like Pakistan? Or is it just a coincidence and there is not a systemic rationale/prejudice behind it? We don’t know. But we want readers to think about it.

Similarly, in the mainstream media a lot has been said about the prevailing socio-economic and cultural aspects of Belgian society. But when it comes to country like Pakistan not much is said in terms of socio-economic and cultural aspects. This article is a modest attempt in this regard.


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Overspending or Overempowered? Part II – The Transfer of Income from Taxpayers to Banks

By Amanda Page-Hoongrajok

Part II of of a two part series. Here’s Part I.

The implication of banks’ power over state and local budget management is that money is effectively being transferred from residents of the locality to big banks.  Public schools are being shut down, social services to the economically most vulnerable are cut while banks take in millions of dollars in fees and interest payments.


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Overspending or Overpowered? Part I – The Financialization of State and Local Debt

By Amanda Page-Hoongrajook


Part I of of a two part series. Here’s Part II.

Over the past decade and a half, the US has experienced a slew of municipal bankruptcies and defaults[1]. Most notably, the City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and even more recently Puerto Rico defaulted on its debt for a second time. Even non-defaulting municipalities’ finances are being scrutinized – Illinois has been singled out for its underfunded public pension funds.  Why are state and local budgets all of a sudden so fragile and does the financial crisis have anything to do with it?

One narrative claims that states and municipalities have simply spent more than their means, particularly on overly generous pensions for public employees[2]. If governments engaged in fiscally irresponsible behavior, imposing an austerity agenda that cut expenditures – such as public school budget allocation and benefits to pension beneficiaries – might be more justifiable.

The approach taken by Roosevelt Institute’s Refund America Project involves a thorough look at municipal income statements, inspecting both the revenue and expenditure side.  They conclude the story isn’t about municipalities overspending; it is about big banks leveraging their power over state and local governments to extract money through financial deals.     Read more

The Stories Hollywood Doesn’t Tell – How the Structure of the Film Industry Marginalizes Narratives of Minorities & Women

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

The #oscarssowhite and #oscarsstillsowhite not just because the academy snubs the contributions of non-white actors, writers, and directors who have excelled in a particular year, but also because of the many films that are never made by minorities and women.  Behind the film industry in Hollywood sits financial power whose whiteness, masculinity, and money is reflected both in the stories that are told and in those that are not told. Telling stories that are everyone’s stories requires thinking through and beyond the power structures which shape Hollywood. Here are some anecdotes, some facts, and some implications for building an inclusive cinema.

Oliver Law

Oliver Law, American hero seen here in real life fighting against the fascists in Spain, won’t be found on the silver screen.


Oliver Law’s true hero life story reads like a made-for-Hollywood film synopsis:

Son of West Texas and Army veteran Oliver Law becomes radicalized in Depression era Chicago, and joins the Abraham Lincoln Brigades to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, quickly rising to become a battalion commander (the first African American to lead an integrated military unit), before being killed in Boadilla del Monte as the battle for Castille raged on, whose memory lived on as a martyr for the Spanish Republic.

This film does not exist, even though Paul Robeson attempted to make it. Read more

Sanders, Coates, and Reparations

By Matson Boyd

In case you missed it, Bernie Sanders has been criticized by Ta-Nehisi Coates for not supporting reparations for African Americans, and Coates in turn has been criticized by some on the left for his dismissal of class politics. This dispute echoes long standing debates about race and class, and takes on extra salience now as the Sanders and Clinton campaigns fight for the black vote in the upcoming primaries. The current debate is instructive, and there is much work from scholars that has explored the tension. Scholars, such as William Darity, Darrick Hamilton, and Charles Ogletree, have developed class-based reparations proposals that are fully in concord with radically progressive platforms, and we should look to these proposals for common ground.

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American Sports & Socialist Possibilities

By Francisco Perez

Sandlot Ball 1923

Sandlot Baseball, c. 1923

Sports and politics analyst Nate Silver made headlines last year when he called American sports ‘socialist’ and European sports ‘capitalist’. There’s a good discussion to be had there. In most European soccer[1] leagues, the richest teams win every year while the poorest teams fight to stave off relegation[2], or demotion to a lower level.  In contrast, American sports teams have mechanisms which distribute income around and create a (more) level playing field than European soccer. As a rough analogy, European sports structures are to American sports structures as free market capitalism is to Scandinavian social democracy, with attendant inequality greater in the former.  In all of these sports, some teams have the advantage of being in larger markets. In setting up a competitive structure, the league has to decide how much, if at all, to level the playing field.  American sports leagues— the militaristic, patriotic NFL being the most successful—set up a structure where small market teams are more likely to compete.  The publicly owned Green Bay (population 300,000) Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, while the New York (population 9 million) Jets have not won since 1968. Read more

Hours as Rewards & Punishment: Scheduling Practices in Clothing Retail

By Kyla Walters and Joya Misra

for blog three or something

Retail is one of the fastest growing sectors of the service economy – and one that can include extremely unpredictable work scheduling. While retail positions are generally recognized as “bad jobs” because of their poor wages and benefits, scheduling makes these jobs particularly challenging. Our interviews with 55 clothing retail workers highlight the unpredictability of when workers receive the schedule, the amount of hours they’ll work, whether they’ll be called in last minute, and sometimes, when they can clock out. These practices are part of “just-in-time scheduling,” which link employment hours to customer demand. In this arrangement employers essentially expect workers to be available whenever the store gets busy.

Our study highlights that clothing retail workers experience their employers’ scheduling practices as difficult to navigate. Workers see their employers as both rewarding them with better schedules (since promotions and pay raises are rare) and punishing them by removing them from the schedule, rather than firing them. Scheduling appears to be clothing retail employers’ main means of disciplining workers.

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