The Unsocial and Erratic: The Growing Instability of the Working Class

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By Elaine McCrate

In August 2014, the New York Times described the erratic work schedule of Jannette Navarro, a single mother who worked for $9 per hour on a part-time job at Starbucks. Her wage would have been at poverty level even on a fulltime schedule. But because her total hours varied from week to week, she could never count on a stable income stream, rarely bringing home more than $1000 per month. In addition, because her work schedule changed frequently, seldom with more than three days’ notice before the start of the work week, she could not commit to finishing her degree, she had chronic childcare crises, and she had recurring conflicts with members of her extended family who were often called upon at the last minute to provide childcare. She would sometimes arrive at work as scheduled, only to be told that business was slower than expected and she should return home. She was afraid to ask for a more stable schedule because she feared being assigned fewer hours of work.

Ms. Navarro is not alone in this regard. Using a national sample of American workers aged 26-32 in 2011, researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that 38% of them got notice of their schedules one week or less in advance (Lambert, Fugiel and Henly, 2014). Examining a broader group – all civilian employees aged 18-65 – and defining unstable scheduling as varying starting and stopping times that workers have little control over, I conservatively estimated that 11.5% of American workers had unstable schedules in 2004, up from 6.6% in 1997. (McCrate, 2012) (More recent data for the entire country and a broad age group are not yet available.) This is not work-life flexibility for workers: among young Americans who are paid by the hour and whose hours vary from week to week, about 50% reported that their employer determined their schedules unilaterally. Another 45% enjoyed some discretion, or consultation with their employer, in setting hours (Lambert, Fugiel and Henly, 2014).

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Forests, Trees, and the Limits of Moral Reasoning from the Belly of Capitalism

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

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Capitalism is all around us. And because of that, we easily forget about it, in the way that a squirrel might be thrown by the concept of ‘forest.’ Of course, if prompted, we know it’s there (it’s on our citizenship exam!). It’s one of the amazing things about capitalism: as it lives in our minds, it’s both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. We contribute to this omnipresence/invisibility when we posit the capitalist process as natural, or as the inevitable end of history, or collapse the particular social institutions of capitalism into the generic and universal term ‘the economy.’ That is, we push capitalism into the background and inhibit our ability to use capitalism as an analytical category in our moral reasoning. This erasure, then, weakens our moral reasoning and hinders our ability to liberate ourselves.

When we look around the world, we see things we don’t like: poverty in the midst of plenty, persistent unemployment, long standing and widening disparities between groups, and environmental ruin. To engage in adequate moral reasoning about the things we don’t like, we need to understand what their causes are. Here by way of assertion, but worked out elsewhere in detail: many of the things we don’t like are caused by capitalism. But since the culprit – capitalism – is pushed from our field of view, our moral reasoning is rendered inadequate by extension. 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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The worst crimes are not always the punishable ones

By Alex Mozell

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“The worst crimes are not always the punishable ones.”1

-George Orwell

George Orwell was an esteemed writer, political philosopher, socialist, and critic, who braved the Luftwaffe hellfire and joined the armed resistance against Franco’s rise to power.  He hated dictatorship in all forms, from dogmatic fascism in the West to the dehumanizing communism of the East.  He wrote against totalitarianism, and in his novel, 1984, imagined a world in which thoughts were punishable by death, while “vaporizing” political dissenters was not only legal, but official policy.

Indeed, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  And those with power use it to legalize their corruption. Their touch reaches far, scores of people harmed by their maneuvering.  Ultimately, corruption is a parasite, stealing much from the masses, and enriching only a few.  Of course, there are horrible people everywhere, who roam the streets, stealing, destroying property, or murdering, but they rarely hold political sway, and so their crimes are reviled and punished – and very rightfully so.

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Limited liability – Only for a Limited Few

 

By Kartik Misra

The Limited Liability Act of 1855 allowed British corporations to separate their firm’s financial liabilities from the assets and wealth of their owners. This was expected to encourage entrepreneurship and investment which in turn would generate employment, prosperity and lead to greater innovation. If a limited liability firm goes belly up, it’s investors are not required to liquidate their assets. However, if the firm’s owner is a sole proprietor, as is generally the case with small businesses, then there is unlimited liability and debts have to be repaid at all costs. Today most countries have some form of limited liability clause in their rule books, but only for a select few citizens. This disparity has consequences: wealthy entrepreneurs can take chances risk free, petty entrepreneurs live in danger, and governments are made subject to the will of lenders.

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“Jack and the Giant Joint-Stock”, a cartoon in Town Talk (1858) satirizing the ‘monster’ joint-stock economy that came into being after the Joint Stock Companies Act 1844. (Source: Wikipedia)

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A Primer On The BDS Movement

By the members of the graduate students’ Palestine Solidarity Caucus at University of Massachusetts Amherst

The legal and ethical foundation for the BDS campaign

 

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It is by now clear that there is no viable two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since signing the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 to supposedly pave the way for such a solution, Israel has actually expanded its illegal settlements, entrenched its occupation of the West Bank, tightened its grip over the Gaza Strip, escalated its eviction of Palestinians from Jerusalem and of Bedouins from their villages, and consolidated the attack on outspoken members of the Palestinian Israeli community.

A quick look at the map of the region evinces Israel existing alongside not a Palestinian territory that can form the basis of a state, but along numerous fragmented bantustans whose airspace, borders, and water Israel itself controls. Bantustans were territories set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa during the apartheid regime and are increasingly used to describe the fragmented and martially controlled territories set aside for Palestinians by Israel. The contrast between Israel and the Palestinians is striking in terms of territorial integrity and control, but also in terms of rights. In the occupied territories, Jewish settlers enjoy rights as Israeli citizens while the Palestinians next door are subject to martial law and stateless. Within Israel, Jewish citizens enjoy preferential citizenship rights relative to Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin, as enshrined in Israel’s Law of Return (1950) and the Citizenship Law (1952); less explicit but equally salient discrimination takes place in the redistribution of resources and social welfare and in access to economic assets including land.

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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

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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

Bernie Sanders And The Definition Of Socialism

By Ricardo Fuentes Ramirez*

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Among the most interesting aspects of the current electoral process in the US is that candidate Bernie Sanders openly identifies himself as a “democratic socialist.” It has prompted many to discuss what is, or what is not, socialism. The problem is that “socialism” is a word used to refer to many different things. Here are just a few of its unofficial definitions:

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Are Billionaires Fat Cats or Deserving Entrepreneurs?

By Didier Jacobs

The 62 richest people in the world own as much wealth as half of humanity. Such extreme wealth conjures images of both fat cats and deserving entrepreneurs. So where did so much money come from?

It turns out, three-fourths of extreme wealth in the US falls on the fat cat side.

A key empirical question in the inequality debate is to what extent rich people derive their wealth from “rents”, which is windfall income they did not produce, as opposed to activities creating true economic benefit.

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Source: Oxfam

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