Author Archives: Editor

The Limits on Bootstraps

By Alex Mozell

Paddockboots

The common requisition to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is irksome, not only because its literal interpretation is impossible, but also because there are so many barriers between being poor and succeeding – a success that a very small but very loud minority enjoy.

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Up On Carmon Creek; Why Keystone Is More Than Just Symbolism

By Matson Boyd

The Keystone XL pipeline is dead. The usual parade of writers have come out to argue that the anti-Keystone activists were wasting their time, that Keystone was actually benign for the climate. In the Washington Post, Stephen Stromberg derided the “stunning lack of substance behind the anti-Keystone XL movement.” Even defenders of the activists feel compelled to agree that Keystone was symbolic. It doesn’t really mean that much for the climate, they argue, because the oil will just come out some other way. Keystone undoubtedly has great symbolic power, but the defenders of the activists are missing that the fight is already helping to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Tar Sands Before & After. Photo from Northern Rockies Rising Tide.
Tar Sands Before & After. Photo from Northern Rockies Rising Tide.

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The National Pharmaceutical Development Administration (NPDA) Doesn’t Exist, but It Should

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

Publicly funded research should yield publicly owned drugs which are available to the public at the cost of the production. 

In the capitalism of today, research by the pharmaceutical industry is guided the whims of the market, buttressed by companies’ ability to price gouge under the pretense of research-incentivizing patents, or government granted monopoly power. This kills us (see our own Brian Callaci’s great piece ‘Maximizing Shareholder Value Is (Literally) Killing Us’). But we don’t have to pay for and develop new drugs the way we do. A (hypothetical) National Pharmaceutical Development Administration (NPDA), funded by taxpayers, could develop drugs that would then be owned by taxpayers, who, for obvious reasons, wouldn’t price gouge themselves.  More, research priorities for which drugs to develop would be set publicly, and go to diseases where we need them the most.

Dr_Jonas_Edward_Salk_(cropped)

Dr. Jonas Salk found the cure for polio and made the cure freely available, refusing to patent the drug, and helping millions around the globe. And yet, his research is the exception, not the rule, in biomedical research. Why don’t we make it the norm?

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Marinaleda in the House

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

Everyone needs housing, and housing is canonized as a human right across many declarations including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Yet across the globe, housing is largely distributed to individuals on markets, from private owners to private buyers.  Private owners have their own rights, which include the ability to exclude and the ability to set the rent too damn high. Save for those who profit from ownership of real estate, we’re all hurting. As we work to stop our hurting, we’ve got to recognize the good work of activists and organizations who are helping out those hurt the most.  But we’ve also got to bring ideas for structural change to the table, and expand our imagination beyond only shoring up the egregious offenses of an unjust system.  One shining example of a structural alternative to housing comes from the small village of Marinaleda, Spain.

Live in a three bedroom apartment for $22/month in Marinaleda, Spain. No joke & no gimmicks – just a municipal government that serves its citizens, not landlords.

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Talking About Income: Inflation & Median Income

By Luke Pretz

Numbers about income are thrown around recklessly in general conversation about the economy, often to justify the status quo and make people feel ‘lucky’ about their table crumbs. Talking About Income is a series where we peer behind the numbers and explore how income, its distribution, and makeup have evolved and shape our economy today.

Wallets

Forty years ago, according to US Census Bureau data, the median household income was $11,800. Two years ago the median household income was $51,939. At first glance these are some very encouraging numbers giving the impression that incomes are growing a lot.  Those numbers seem to suggest that maybe the capitalism of the last 30 years — a variety that has cut social insurance, crushed unions, minimized taxes for the rich —  was a really beneficial. In the context of an economy that has grown from $5.4 trillion to $16.3 trillion maybe it was  actually the case that growth did trickle down to the working class as proponents of free market capitalism suggest. However, when we apply some simple economic tools to these numbers we uncover the not so surprising truth: the average worker and their family hasn’t  improved their position all that much. The pie has grown, but our share, even in absolute terms, has stayed the same. Read more

Inequality isn’t just bad for the economy — it’s toxic for the environment

By Sue Holmberg

[This is a crosspost from Grist, where staff economist and Roosevelt Institute Research Director Sue Holmberg also writes.] 

The pope’s encyclical on climate change was received with both enormous enthusiasm and criticism, reactions that will only intensify as he continues to lead efforts to solve our climate crisis and generate momentum for the U.N. Climate Conference later this year. His latest move? Inviting Naomi Klein, author most recently of This Changes Everything, to help lead last week’s Vatican conference on climate change.

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Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis: Where’s Puerto Rico’s Syriza?

By Ricardo R Fuentes-Ramírez

Puerto Rico’s governor recently has said the island cannot pay its $72b debt and is close to defaulting, despite yesterday’s eleventh hour payment of $645.2m to pay its general obligation.  The government has been lobbying US Congress to allow it to file for bankruptcy but it remains unclear if this will actually help. Because of its colonial status, Puerto Rico is operating under a legal, political, and economic straightjacket.  Media outlets within and outside Puerto Rico have been covering the island’s recession since it began in 2006, and the current fiscal crisis since Puerto Rican bond ratings began spiraling down to junk status in 2014. However, most media coverage has discussed the Puerto Rican crisis as the result of a big government that spent too much money. Therefore, the conclusion is that Puerto Rico should follow austerity measures, laying-off public employees, and privatizing as much as possible of the island’s assets. The actual origins of the crisis suggest policy should be moving in the opposite direction.

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Smart Cities Must Serve People, Not Profits

By Sai Madhurika Mamunuru

Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Smart Cities Mission, wherein the Indian government promises to select, invest in, and build a hundred smart cities across the country over a period of five years. Though various definitions of a “smart city” can be rather nebulous, the concept essentially involves the efficient use of information and communication technology (ICT) and big data to provide improved services to people living in urban areas.

It is important to understand, however, the structure that underlies this initiative. Who pays for the Smart Cities Mission? Who benefits? Are the benefits felt by everyone? Does the plan reduce urban inequality? How does it redefine the urban experience and urbanization?

Illustration: Prathap Ravishankar

Illustration by Prathap Ravishankar for The Hindu

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Don’t Privatize India’s Banks. Democratize Them.

By Devika Dutt

The competition for unimaginative ideas (that just so happen to privilege the power of private capital) has a new winner: the business press in India, and their calls for privatizing India’s public sector banks. Last month, Raghuram Rajan, the Governor of the India’s Central Bank the Reserve Bank of India expressed concern about a rise in the proportion of Non-performing assets in the Indian banking system. Non-performing assets (NPAs) are loans that have gone bad, are not being paid back, or are in need of restructuring. In real talk, these loans are in default. A large proportion of these NPAs are held by banks in which the majority shareholder is the government. Predictably, this has spurred a slew of articles in the business press, and many of these articles prescribe the obvious answer to all our prayers, Douglas Adam’s 42 to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything:  privatization.

RBI to withdraw all pre-2005 currency notes from March 31

Picture from the Press Trust of India

This kind of editorializing pulls from distorted narratives about the inefficiencies of the public sector, but more fundamentally, it misunderstands the point of state involvement in the financial sector. Read more

Political Neutrality and the Cooperative Movement: An Interview with Carl Ratner

By Jonathan Jenner

Carl Ratner is an adjunct social psychologist at the Autonomous University of Morelos in Morelos, Mexico, the director of the Institute for Cultural Research and Education, and the author of several books, including The Politics of Cooperation and Co-ops, and Cooperation, Community, and Co-Ops in a Global Era. He’s been both an active and critical member of cooperatives, and the cooperative movement, for many years.  CPE staff economist Jonathan Jenner interviewed Carl recently about the political position of the cooperative movement today, and what we can do about it.

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Jonathan Donald Jenner: A central claim in your new book is that cooperatives have bought into the idea of political neutrality, which has made cooperatives fairly conservative with respect to taking on the big problems of capitalism. Where did this position come from, and how did it develop? Read more

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