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

How Kenneth Thorpe Led Paul Starr Astray: Thorpe’s Seemingly Clever Analysis Does Not Add Up

By Gerald Friedman

Jerry Friedman

Friedman speaking on Single-Payer in 2013

Paul Starr is wrong about the Sanders Improved Medicare-for-All and wrong about single payer health care because he relies on a flawed analysis by Kenneth Thorpe.[1] 

While Thorpe does not provide enough documentation to make an explicit comparison between his estimates and those provided in detail by the Sanders campaign, we can extract enough to conclude that his analysis relies on fundamentally flawed assumptions.  To conclude that the Sanders health plan will cost $1.1 trillion per year more than estimated, Thorpe is assuming that national health expenditures over the next decade will total $51 trillion (21% of GDP), which is nearly $4 trillion above current projections from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (20% of GDP), and $10 trillion more than projected by Sanders (or 17% of GDP).[2]  Compared with CMS, however, Thorpe’s projection includes at least two areas of savings: he anticipates a 4.7% reduction in spending from reduced administrative waste, and a reduction in provider prices to save a further 1.3% of spending.  With these savings, Thorpe must be assuming an increase in health care spending from increases in real medical services of $6.6 trillion, including $1.3 trillion from covering the uninsured and $5.3 trillion from increasing utilization by Americans freed of copayments and deductibles.  This is an increase of 11% in spending, including an increase of nearly a third for “discretionary” activities, such as doctor visits.[3] Read more

What Would Sanders Do? The Dynamic Effects Of His Economic Program

By Gerald Friedman

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is running for President on a platform that repudiates the neoliberal economic policies of the last 40 years. He favors an expansion of government spending on infrastructure and social services, progressive tax increases, and regulatory reform to favor working people. No one should be surprised by the popular support that his campaign has enjoyed. Nor should we be surprised that he has been attacked not only by the right but also by centrists and Wall-Street liberals.

Sanders’ proposals for infrastructure, early-childhood education, higher education, youth employment, family leave, private pensions, climate change, health care, and Social Security would total $14.5 trillion over 10 years (see Table 1). In addition to investments in infrastructure and education (birth through college), he would raise Social Security retirement and disability payments to lift all beneficiaries out of poverty, and he would create a national health insurance program to provide universal access to health care.

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Now Seeking Qualified Candidates

By Alex Mozell

White People

The market may be brutal, so goes the theory: thousands of people are laid off at a corporate whim, the price of HIV medication skyrockets, oil, arms, private prison, and tobacco companies bring global climate change, warfare, injustice, and lung cancer to the masses; colleagues backstab, bosses harass, and the CEO runs away with millions.  But, all this advances the greater good, continues the theory, for through the tumult, the market transforms selfish tendencies of humankind into productivity.  It seamlessly pursues output and growth.  What may appear on the surface to be cruel injustice is actually to be lauded, for suffering of a few is bounty for the rest.   This theory, informally termed, “Neoclassical Economics,” assumes market efficiency, where businesses cannot sin, for sin is inefficient, and inefficiency does not exist in the market.

John Kenneth Galbraith, in his book, The Culture of Contentment, wryly quips that an entrepreneur, and he includes corporate executives in this category, may fail, but they can do no wrong.  Or can they?  To do right, by Neoclassical standards, is to use resources to their most efficient ends.  To do wrong is to misuse them.  Firms spend a lot of money on their people.  How well do managers make hiring, firing, and promotional decisions?  Is it based on productivity?  Or is it based on other factors?  The answer, to a disgraceful extent, is that it is based on other factors.  Some of these are listed below, and range from the egregious to the absurd.

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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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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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“Reasonable White Man” Confronts “Stupid Kids Wanting Free Shit”

By Matson Boyd

The right-wing side of the internet is ablaze right now with self-righteous condemnation of young radicals and their supposed inability to do math. Here, Fox Business Channel’s Neil Cavuto confronts Million Student March activist Keely Mullen. On closer inspection, it is Cavuto, a very responsible seeming man wearing a very nice suit, who has a serious math problem. My comments bolded:

MULLEN: The Million Student March is a movement for a more equitable and fair system of education as opposed to the really corporate model that we have right now. So the three core demands of the national day of action are free public college, a cancellation of student debt and a $15 an hour minimum wage for people who work on campus.

CAVUTO: How’s that going to be paid?

MULLEN: Great question. I’m not sure if you’re talking about on a national level or at particular schools, but I can touch on both —

CAVUTO: Well, you want all that stuff. Someone has to pick up the tab. Who would that be?

MULLEN: The one-percent of people in society that are hoarding the wealth and kind of causing the catastrophe students are facing…

CAVUTO: Alright, Keely, so if the one-percent just had their taxes raised a few years ago back to almost forty-percent, then to pay for the healthcare law had them raised another few percentage points, then they had their deductions raised another couple points depending on the state or locality — they’re pushing about fifty-percent in taxes — how much higher do you think, how much more do you think they should pay?

This is a great moment to point out that the 50% total tax rate that Cavuto mentions is still well below the tax rates the rich paid in the era of the highest U.S. growth, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Then the rich paid as much as 90% of their income in taxes. Cavuto makes it seem like 50% is communism, but we aren’t talking about communism here, we are talking about taking tax rates part way back to the Golden Era of U.S. growth.

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Economic Crisis, Self-Blame, & The Dangerous Underbelly Of The American Dream

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

The American Dream, by attributing success to personal attributes like hard work and trumpeting the idea of a ‘level playing field,’ also causes people to blame themselves when they experience economic difficulty. This occurs even when the hardship is clearly not caused by the actions of individuals, but from the structural failures of capitalism[i].  This misplaced blame has dangerous effects on our health, affects our ability to mount viable responses to the structural failures of capitalism, and worse, allows snake-oil salesmen to direct that blame outwards – on immigrants, the poor, and other marginalized groups.

The American Dream has such a hold on the American imagination, in part, because it’s our great equalizer. Though some of us are poor and a few of us are rich, we can all still work hard. And we live in a structure, so the Dream goes, where hard work can make you at least not poor. Never mind that the Dream is substantially untrue, or that whatever elements of truth it may have had are eroded by the day: substantial amounts of Americans still believe it! The hold on America’s collective imagination has been weakened by the Great Recession, but it’s still there – last year, according to the NY Times, 64% of American’s believed that hard work can make one rich, down from 72% at the beginning of the Great Recession. Another poll though, by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that only half of Americans believe in the American Dream[ii].

‘Despair,’ from Zoja Trofimiuk’s Raw Emotion Series, 2012.

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What’s Really Going On With The Trans-Pacific Partnership?

By Devika Dutt

On October 5, leaders from 12 countries- Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States- reached agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which had been in the works since 2008. The TPP, like other agreements for trade liberalization, seeks to lower tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade between countries. Reports suggest that the agreement includes the elimination of more than 18,000 taxes. Understandably, the agreement on the TPP has been welcomed in several quarters of the business press. Negotiations in trade deals can go on forever, indeed the Doha round of WTO trade negotiations that began in 2001 has still not been concluded! So it is no small feat that a deal has been passed that is expected to boost trade in goods and services between the signatory countries, which can provide an impetus to the anemic recovery from the financial crisis.

However, is there really much to celebrate? Due to several trade agreements in the first decade of the century, tariffs are already at an all-time low. A study by David Rosnick at the Center for Economic Policy Research showed that the impact on the US GDP as a result of the TPP is likely to be very small: 0.13 percent of the GDP by 2025.  Several other studies have shown that, at best, trade would increase by 0.4 percent of the GDP of the 12 countries over several years: hardly something to write home about.

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