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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Beefing Up Intolerance In India

By Sai Madhurika Mamunuru

On 28th September, 2015, a 50 year old man named Mohammad Akhlaq was brutally beaten and killed by a mob in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, for allegedly storing and consuming beef at home. The slaughter of cows is banned in 11 states in India, with Maharashtra and Haryana among the most recent to join the list. The bill in Maharashtra received Presidential assent after being stalled at different stages of legislation for 20 years. The punishment for consumption of beef could go up to 10,000 Indian Rupees and five years in jail.

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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 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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Don’t Believe the Hype: Neoliberalism Has Failed Pakistan

Recent slum clearance in Islamabad

By Danish Khan

The processes of economic development across different countries and different times are uneven, multi-faceted, and even counteracting. In recent history, as the global South industrialized and urbanized, manufacturing jobs moved from the global North to the global South. But such structural changes to the global economy didn’t just happen; they were cajoled by a policy package that included policies of free trade, deregulation of financial markets, de-unionization of the work place and a reduction of the state’s role in an economy.  When advocates of these neoliberal policies are confronted in the US about the dismal outcome(s) of their prescribed policies (see: the Rust Belt), they argue that these policies are helping the world’s poor by generating employment in developing countries. If neoliberal policies are simply transferring jobs from the developed world to the developing world, their argument goes, these policies would be regarded as progressive and redistributive. Who, with an eye to global equity between rich and poor countries, could oppose such policies?

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The Journal knows only costs, not values

By Gerald Friedman

The Wall Street Journal cited Gerald Friedman’s research on single-payer healthcare in it’s recent hit piece on Bernie Sanders. The Journal made great mention of the $15 Trillion dollar price tag for single payer health care, and omitted Friedman’s finding that single-payer health care would replace $20 Trillion dollars in private health care spending, for a net savings of $5 Trillion dollars.


It is said of Economists that they know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.  In the case of the article “Price Tag of Bernie Sanders’s Proposals: $18 Trillion,” this accusation is a better fit for the Wall Street Journal that published it.  The WSJ correctly puts the additional federal spending for health care under HR 676 (a single payer health plan) at $15 trillion over ten years.  It neglects to add, however, that, by spending these vast sums, we would, as a country, save nearly $5 trillion over ten years in reduced administrative waste, lower pharmaceutical and device prices, and by lowering the rate of medical inflation.

These financial savings would be felt by businesses and by state and local governments who would no longer be paying for health insurance for their employees; and by retirees and working Americans who would no longer have to pay for their health insurance or for copayments and deductibles.  Beyond these financial savings, HR 676 would also save thousands of lives a year by expanding access to health care for the uninsured and the underinsured.

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Indian Government’s Crackdown on NGOs

By Sai Madhurika Mamunuru

Over the past year, the Government of India has revoked the licenses of nearly 9000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India. According to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, NGOs are expected to report details of donations received from abroad. These organizations, the government claims, failed to comply with the regulations even after being issued a notice.  This “crackdown” by the Indian government comes at a time when other Asian economies (all of them, democracies) are becoming increasingly intolerant of organizations that contest the policies and practices of the State. Read more

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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To Trade Or Not To Trade

By Matson Boyd


Pick up a newspaper, ask a member of congress, or worse yet, ask someone on Wall Street, and you’ll hear that the way to stop climate change is to pass cap-and-trade— put a price on carbon and let Wall Street trade in the carbon permits. This understandably has many folks concerned that we’re going to commodify our atmosphere and open the door to Wall Street shenanigans. Our recent history of bubbles and fraud suggests there’s some reason to worry about what Wall Street will do as we tackle climate change. But on closer inspection, capping carbon doesn’t require trading carbon. And the loopholes and fraud that have plagued carbon trading schemes stem from “offsets”, which are not needed at all. So which systems of carbon regulation are vulnerable to Wall Street trickery, and which are resistant to it?

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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.


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

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