Author Archives: Editor

Water Exposes Our Absurd Economic Logic & Priorities

By Jonathan Jenner

Today in America, there’s not water for everyone who needs it. At a rally last year in Detroit, two children held up signs connecting the city’s water shutoffs to convention medical wisdom: “kids need water to be healthy,” and “kids without water don’t brush their teeth.” Meanwhile Steve Yuhas, of El Rancho California, is also suffering and fuming:  “[people] should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful” and continues: “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live…and we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

The context: most of California is in a long state of either ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought.  And while a small sliver of Michigan, from the thumb to the wrist of the mitten, is in a short period of being ‘abnormally dry,’ Detroit is fine. But in both places authorities cutting back on water usage.  Across California, a series of measures has tried to cut back water usage by 25%, starting from advisories to more recent enforceable acts, including banning (home) car washing, eliminating surface water extraction rights from farmers, and advising that water only be served in restaurants “if people ask for it.”  In Detroit, utility companies and police show up to cut off water to residents and arrest thirsty people (businesses, who are also overdue on their water bills, have not been cut off), and up to 40% of the population has either had (or threatened to have) their water shut off.  Water Man Photomanipulation by Zenk01

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Design Can Be Wonderful, But it Won’t Save Us from Ourselves

By Jonathan Jenner

Design, when it’s not packaged in insufferable smugness, is really cool. Houses have always been fun for me, and I can easily get lost thinking about my plans for Earthships, Dymaxion houses, Bag End, Ecocapsules, and all kinds of other domiciles. And I still get pretty excited when I hear about some new design that will accomplish x: Tesla’s Powerwall™ could change the game,   THINX panties could change societies squeamishness around menstruation and disrupt the $15 Billion feminine hygiene market,   graphene could do everything, and these magnificent shoes could help me win friends and influence people.

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But all too often, we fetishize design.  We tell ourselves that design can solve our problems. We make grand sweeping statements – like the 2006 documentary Future by Design or in every other TED talk – and we soak it in in our daily lives, from the corner Prius evangelists to our barroom conversations.  And while design may effectively solve some problems, our seemingly growing faith in its ability to deliver us from all of our problems is misplaced at best, and dangerous at worst. Read more

Q&A: TPP and Climate Change

By Luke Pretz
What is the Trans Pacific Partnership?

The Trans Pacific Partnership, often referred to as TPP, is a multilateral free trade agreement in the style of the the multilateral trade agreements that emerged in the 90’s like NAFTA and CAFTA. TPP was not always the trade agreement it is now. It started in 2005 as a regional trade agreement between Singapore, Brunei, Chile, and New Zealand, but quickly ballooned into a large-scale 12 plus country agreement that now includes the original four plus Australia, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada, Peru, Vietnam, Japan and possibly South Korea and Taiwan.

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Class-politicizing the Climate

By An Li

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“Nice seeing you guys!” was Florida Governor Rick Scott’s (non)response last year to a citizen-activist’s question “Do you believe in the man-made influence on climate change?” And in March of 2015, Florida become even more evasive on the problem of climate change by banning the use of terms such as “global warming”, “climate change” and “sea-level rise” in official communications. Governor Scott defended his conservatism on climate change with the well-worn rejoinders: “I am not a scientist” and “I have not been convinced”. He always forgets to mention that he is, indeed, a politician, and that the issue of climate change is not a pure matter of science anymore: it is also a matter of politics and social policy.

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Executive Pay, Hillary Clinton, and the Focus on ‘Fairness’

By Susan Holmberg

This is a cross-post from The Next New Deal – the blog of the Roosevelt Institute.

Hillary Clinton surprised many progressives earlier this week with her remarks on a model populist issue. “There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker. There’s something wrong when American workers keep getting more productive…but that productivity is not matched in their paychecks.”

Indeed. From 1978 to 2013, executive compensation at American firms rose 937 percent, compared with a sluggish 10.2 percent growth in worker compensation over the same period. In 2013, the average CEO pay package at S&P 500 Index companies was worth $11.7 million. Numbers for 2014 are just starting to be released, but Microsoft’s Satya Nadella is thus far topping the list at $84 million in mostly stock awards.

Too often the CEO pay debate, which tends to come into focus during our annual rite of corporate proxy season, hinges on a question of ethics. Is paying CEOs excessive amounts fair to workers? No, of course not, as so many fast food workers, whose CEOs make approximately 1,200 times more than they do, rightfully voiced yesterday.

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The Efficiency of Worker Cooperatives is Just Fine, Thank You

By Jonathan Jenner

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Worker-owners at the fast food chain and worker-cooperative, Indian Coffee House, in Trivandrum, India

Spend enough time discussing worker cooperatives around town, and you’ll encounter a frustratingly persistent idea: worker cooperatives are inefficient.   It’s quite untrue, though, and for this reason you will not find an explicit statement of this idea as anyone’s talking point in the ever growing public discussion about worker cooperatives.  Outside of public discussion, though, the idea finds refuge in two arenas: as a general, relatively unspoken attitude among people and as a derivation behind (some of) those high walls of economic theory.  It’s time to put the idea to bed.  So, here’s a quick look at where the idea comes from, and what empirical evidence has to say.

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The Van Hollen Plan Takes on Soaring CEO Pay: A Debate We Need to Have

By Sue Holmberg (crosspost from The Next New Deal)

Taxpayers are subsidizing ever-larger executive pay packages while their own wages stagnate. For the middle class to prosper, that needs to change.

The intrepid economic proposals in Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s action plan “to grow the paychecks of all, not just the wealth of a few” may not win over a Republican Congress, but they will reinforce the progressive economic messaging championed by Senator Elizabeth Warren and conceivably embolden more Democrats to finally take command of our economic debate in advance of the 2016 presidential election. Though Van Hollen’s tax credits for working families and dilution of tax breaks for the rich have grabbed the most headlines, another controversial but important piece of his plan is the CEO-Employee Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to address one of the key contributing factors to soaring inequality and economic volatility in the U.S.

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Economic Growth Benefits Capital Owners More than Workers in the U.S. and China.

By An Li

Growth is a top priority for economic policy makers, conservative economists, and businessmen. On June 11 2014, Wall Street took a downturn, the Dow broke a four-day string of record closing highs, and the S&P 500 showed its biggest daily percentage loss since May 20 as well, simply because the World Bank lowered its forecast of global economic growth by 0.4 percentage point – from 3.2% to 2.8%.

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Why are growth figures so important? Growth means the enlargement of the economy. And a larger economic pie is better than a smaller one for a country. It’s generally believed that faster economic growth will benefit the population of a country more than slower growth does.

Is that true? Does economic growth benefit the population of a country in an equal manner? In most cases, NO: the economic pie is divided unequally among a country’s population. In this sense, the U.S. and China, the biggest developed country and the biggest developing country, respectively, have something in common: capital owners get larger and larger shares of the economic pie, whereas the workers’ share of the pie has been shrinking since the early 1980s. Read more

Announcing CPE’s Summer Workshop Series

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Typically each summer, the Center for Popular Economics puts on its Summer Institute. This year however, we are switching gears and formats, and invite you to join us in our brand new Summer Workshop Series! Please join us for weekly workshops, from June 7th through August 9th, giving CPE’s critical analysis of current issues in the economy and looking at economic alternatives.

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The Path Forward for Worker Cooperatives

By Ricardo Fuentes-Ramírez

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Many activists have turned to developing and supporting Worker Cooperatives as a fundamental part of building alternatives to our current system. In one of his recent books, economist Richard Wolff explains that there are many types of cooperatives, and activists should specifically coalesce around those that are “workers’ self-directed enterprises,” or WSDEs. Not all worker-owned enterprises, worker-managed enterprises, or cooperatives are necessarily WSDEs. In some worker-owned enterprises, worker/owners simply leave the directing of the enterprise in the hands of a board of directors. Worker-managed enterprises are usually firms in which owners give more control to workers while expecting more profits or growth, serving the interests of the former, not the latter. Finally, cooperatives include a wide variety of institutions, including firms for cooperative purchasing or selling. Many cooperatives are simply groups of small capitalists purchasing inputs cooperatively. To be considered a WSDE, the appropriation and distribution of the product of the workers’ labor has to be done cooperatively, and the workers who cooperatively produce it are identical to those who cooperatively appropriate and distribute it. In these firms, workers collectively determine what the enterprise produces, the appropriate technology, the location of production, and all related matters. For Wolff, these types of worker cooperatives are the building blocks for a future alternative system. Read more

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