Monopoly and our Economy


Staff Reports



Imagine Our Economy as a Game of ‘Monopoly’

If you set up the board game like our actual economy, the poorest players quickly run out of money and the rich run away with the game. It’s unfair, boring, and exactly what happens in real life.

By Jill Richardson |August 29, 2018

As a sociology professor in community college, I have my students play Monopoly. Only, I give them a special, rigged version.

There are five players. The wealthiest begins with $5,500, all of the railroads, and the two most valuable properties (Boardwalk and Park Place). The least wealthy begins with about $200 and no property. The remaining three are in between.

Each time the players pass Go, the wealthiest player gets $500. The poorest gets $30.

It doesn’t take long before the poorest two players run out of money entirely. It’s an unfair, boring game.

This is the game all Americans are playing.

The wealthiest player’s starting assets are proportional to the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans. The poorest player’s starting assets are proportional to the poorest fifth of the U.S. population. The remaining three are proportional to the remaining three fifths of the country.

Likewise, the money they receive as they pass Go is linked to the income of each fifth of the U.S. population.

For the richest players in the game, it’s probably the best Monopoly game of their lives. For the rest, especially the two poorest, it’s a nightmare.

I’m sick of playing this game in real life.

Where I live, in California, about one fifth of the population lives in poverty, and another fifth lives just above the poverty line. And the official poverty line doesn’t even consider the cost of living.

Since I moved here, nearly 12 years ago, the cost of rent has doubled. Areas that used to be affordable no longer are. You could once find a way to make it work by living far from the beach in an un-trendy neighborhood or suburb. Now you can’t.

Some speculate that Airbnb is driving up rental costs, and everyone speaks of an “affordable housing crisis.” But nobody’s doing anything about it.

For the wealthy, life here is great. We’ve got beaches, mountains, desert, and year-round good weather. For the people who serve them their food, clean their homes, or landscape their lawns, the cost of rent alone is strangling.

In the U.S. overall, wages haven’t kept up with either inflation or productivity over the years. Since 1973, productivity has increased by 77 percent while wages increased by only 12.4 percent. Taking inflation into consideration, wages have remained stagnant since the 1960s, while most of the gains go to the wealthiest.

Average pay keeps up with cost of living better in some parts of the U.S. than others. California isn’t even the worst.

I watch my students try to complete a college education while struggling to make ends meet.

The middle class vision of parents paying for their children’s college education and their living expenses isn’t a reality for many students. For some families it’s the opposite — the child works to put him or herself through school while contributing to the family budget.

Attending school and working at the same time is difficult, and sometimes impossible. Some students attempt it while raising children or caring for sick or elderly family members. In the end, most community college students never get a four-year degree.

We need to make our country fairer than my rigged Monopoly game. In a game, it’s just a bummer when the poorest players go broke first. In life, the costs are in human misery.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in San Diego. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Our Economy Is More Concentrated Than Ever

Just four tech superpowers raked in half of this year’s stock price gains by the 500 largest corporations.

By Jim Hightower |August 29, 2018

America’s political history has been written in the fierce narrative of war. Not our country’s many military clashes with foreign nations, but our own unending war for democracy in the United States.

Generation after generation of moneyed elites have persisted in trying to take wealth and power from the workaday majority and concentrate both in their own hands to establish a de facto American aristocracy. Every time, the people have rebelled in organized mass struggles against the monopolists and financial royalists, often literally battling for a little more economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity.

And now, the time of a new democratic rebellion is upon us again, for We the People are suddenly in the grip of a brutish level of monopolistic power

Corporate concentration of markets, profits, workplace decision-making, political influence, and our nation’s total wealth is surpassing that of the infamous era of robber barons. Apple, which just became the first U.S. corporation to reach a stock value of $1 trillion, is now larger than Bank of America, Boeing, Disney, Ford, Volkswagon, and 20 other brand-name giants combined.

In fact, just four tech superpowers raked in half of this year’s stock price gains by the 500 largest corporations. Indeed, the recent gold rush of corporate mergers has created mega-firms, shriveling competition in most industries — including airlines, banks, drug companies, food, hospitals, hotels, law firms, media, oil, etc.

The result of fewer and bigger corporations is that those few attain overwhelming power over the rest of us. They are able to control workers’ pay, crush unions, jack up prices, squeeze out smaller businesses, dominate elections, weaken environmental projections, and generally become even fewer, bigger, and more powerful.

They’re waging all out corporate class war on the American people and on our democratic ideals — and they’re winning.

Jim Hightower, an OtherWords columnist, is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Taxpayers Are Footing the Bill for Sky-High CEO Salaries

Billions in taxpayer funds go to CEOs who pay their workers peanuts. We can change that.

By Sam Pizzigati |August 29, 2018

Politicians often gab about the “private sector” and the “public sector,” as if these two categories of economic activity operated as two completely separate worlds.

In reality, these two sectors have always been deeply intertwined.

How deeply? Every year, the federal government spends about half a trillion dollars buying goods and services from the private sector. State and local government contracts with private-sector enterprises add hundreds of billions more.

And private-sector companies don’t just receive contracts from our governmental entities. They receive all sorts of subsidies — billions upon billions of dollars in “corporate welfare.”

Where do all these dollars come from? They come from us, America’s taxpayers. Without the tax dollars we provide, almost every major corporation in the United States would flounder. Some would simply cease to exist. The defense contractor Lockheed Martin, for instance, takes in almost all its revenue from government contracts.

This private sector reliance on public tax dollars gives us, as citizens, some leverage over the behavior of our largest and most powerful corporations. We could, if we so chose, deny those dollars to corporations that engage in behaviors that undermine the values we hold dear.

On other fronts, we already do this denying. For over a generation now, we’ve leveraged the power of the public purse against companies with employment practices that discriminate on the basis of race and gender. Companies that discriminate can’t get government contracts because we’ve come to a consensus, as a society, that we don’t want our tax dollars subsidizing racial and gender inequality.

Unfortunately, our tax dollars are still subsidizing — in a big way — economic inequality, as a new Institute for Policy Studies report on CEO pay details quite vividly. Billions of our tax dollars are annually going to corporations that pay their top executives more in a week, or even a day, than their typical employees can make over an entire year.

The late Peter Drucker, the founder of modern management science, believed that no corporate enterprise that pays its CEO over 25 times what its workers are earning could operate efficiently and effectively over the long haul. In 2017, every single one of the federal government’s 50 largest private contractors paid its chief executive over 25 times more than its most typical workers.

In fact, most paid their top execs well over 100 times more.

And at one, DXC Technology, the CEO pulled down over $32 million in 2017 pay — over 800 times the compensation of the firm’s typical employees.

Let’s add a little context here. The president of the United States earns $400,000 a year. The CEOs of the 50 private companies with the largest federal contracts last year averaged over $13.5 million. The CEOs of the 50 largest recipients of federal subsidies last year averaged over $12 million.

Our tax dollars, in other words, are helping a lucky few become fabulously rich.

We do live, as our politicians like to point out, in a “free country.” Corporations can pay their top execs whatever they want. But we taxpayers have freedom, too. We can freely deny our tax dollars to enterprises that are making our society ever more unequal.

Some lawmakers are starting to step in that direction. Five states have begun considering legislation that would make it harder for companies with wide CEO-worker pay gaps to get government contracts and tax breaks. And one city — Portland, Oregon — has already enacted legislation that taxes corporations with wide CEO-worker pay gaps at a higher rate than corporations with more modest gaps.

We need more Portlands.

Sam Pizzigati, the author of The Case for a Maximum Wage, co-edits Inequality.org for the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Killing for Coal (Literally)

Shocking as this sounds, the U.S. government is — by its own admission — willing to murder up to 1,600 Americans a year to enrich a few coal billionaires.

By Basav Sen |August 28, 2018

In August 1921, sheriff’s deputies in West Virginia — later joined by federal troops — massacred striking mine workers using machine guns and aerial bombardment, in what’s now known as the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Nearly a century later, the government is again going to war in support of mine owners by deregulating coal-fired power plants. This time, the target of the war isn’t striking workers — it’s the public.

Casualties in this war are projected to be steep. By the government’s own estimate, up to 1,600 people a year are going to die from the additional soot and ozone pollution by 2030, thanks to its proposed rules.

They didn’t mention that in the press release or any of the fact sheets accompanying the proposed new rule. Instead, those estimates are buried in technical tables (on pages 169 through 171 of a 289-page document). But they’re there.

These deaths won’t be equally distributed, either. Consequences of ozone and soot pollution include asthma, and the disparities in who gets asthma — and who dies from it — are striking.

More than 11 percent of people in poor households have asthma, compared to under 8 percent of all Americans. Almost three times as many black people die of asthma as white people. And children are particularly acutely affected.

This doesn’t include the additional deaths from extreme heat or violent storms attributable to planet-warming emissions of carbon dioxide, which are projected to increase by up to 37 million tons a year compared to current regulations.

Yet the document proposing the deregulation mentions the phrase “climate change” only three times, and the press release and fact sheets don’t mention it at all. The estimates of increased carbon dioxide emissions are also hidden in a table (on page 142 in a 236-page document).

Shocking as this sounds, the U.S. government is — by its own admission — willing to murder up to 1,600 Americans a year, and still more Americans in other ways it doesn’t own up to. Since pollution crosses national borders, they will kill people outside the U.S. as well.

Why? The same reason as on Blair Mountain: to benefit the coal industry.

A combination of cheap natural gas, falling renewable prices, and state policies have battered the coal industry. Unable to compete, the industry has turned to the government for help.

Coal billionaires such as Robert Murray of Murray Energy and Joseph Craft of Alliance Resource Partners have bribed the president (or to sugarcoat reality, given him “campaign contributions“), handed memos with policy prescriptions to the president’s minions, and schmoozed with them at basketball games.

Unsurprisingly, one of the policy prescriptions from Murray was to deregulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. Trump and his team have obliged.

The government claims its motive is to help coal miners. Trump evidently loves photo-ops with them, so he went to West Virginia to promote his coal deregulation plan.

The propaganda doesn’t match with reality. While many in the audience were supportive, a sizable number weren’t buying it. “Will coal ever be what it was? Hell, no,” a maintenance worker named Charles Busby told E&E News. Busby’s father has black lung.

Indeed, black lung cases among U.S. coal miners have been growing since 2000, even as the industry tries to reduce its responsibility to miners suffering from the debilitating illness. Even after all those photo-ops with miners, Trump hasn’t gone to bat for them.

Trump and his cronies aren’t on the miners’ side — they’re on the side of their bosses. And the U.S. government is willing to kill its own citizens to enrich these billionaires.

This is class war. Unlike in 1921, it’s not being waged with machine guns and aircraft, but it’s just as deadly. Understanding this assault is key for us to organize and fight back.

Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

REVIVING THE SPIRIT OF ’68

By Robert C. Koehler

I was a hippie/bicycle delivery boy living in San Francisco when the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago 50 years ago, so I absorbed the chaos, the police riot, from half a continent away, but I knew with absolute certainty that the nation was changing and I was part of it.

We were in the violent spasm of transition. How long would it last? MLK and RFK, as they called for peace and sanity and civil rights for all, had just been assassinated. This was the God of War, turning its vengeance inward.

A year earlier I had been part of the march on the Pentagon. At one point a group of soldiers charged us as we stood on the grounds next to the building and I got clonked in the head by a rifle butt. Later, as we sat in, I felt with sudden certainty that Lyndon Johnson was going to emerge from the Pentagon and declare an end to the Vietnam War. Uh … that didn’t happen.

Instead, I eventually just got up and left. When I returned to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I was in college, the first thing I did was drop out. Apparently I wanted to remove myself entirely from the infrastructure or normal, middle-class existence and join others in creating something new.

As I read about the chaos in Chicago at the convention — the thousands of cops and National Guardsmen and U.S. troops storming the protesters, whacking them with their batons, throwing them into paddy wagons, as the pro-war consensus (epitomized by the grimace on the face of Chicago’s mayor, Richard J. Daley) held tight to the reins of power — I felt myself quietly retreat back into my own life. The “movement” wasn’t going to remake America. Or rather, idealism all by itself wasn’t going to bring about the world I had envisioned with such certainty as I sat on the steps of the Pentagon.

I didn’t surrender my idealism; I didn’t turn into a cynic. But I shifted my focus to my own life and returned to school. Half a century later …

I gape in awe at how little has changed.

“The reality is that the war has created the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe today,” Moustafa Bayoumi wrote recently in The Guardian. “Three-quarters of the population, some 22 million Yemenis, require humanitarian assistance and protection. About 8.4 million people hang on the brink of starvation and another 7 million lie malnourished. Since 2015, more than 28,000 thousand people have been killed or injured, and many thousands more have died from causes exacerbated by war, such as a cholera epidemic that has afflicted more than a million people and claimed over 2,300 lives. At least one child dies every 10 minutes from causes linked to the war, according to the United Nations.”

Actually, something has changed — the opposite of what I had anticipated in 1967, as I sat on the steps of the Pentagon, or in 1968, as I silently cheered the protesters demanding that the Democratic Party become a party of peace.

The war in Yemen, which the U.S. is making possible with billions of dollars in weapons sales to the Saudi coalition, is barely even news. Neither are the wars — at least seven of them — in which the U.S. is directly participating, including Iraq (15 years and counting) and Afghanistan (17 years and counting). I fear the forces the antiwar protesters were confronting 50 years ago have made a shift in keeping with their deepest interests: not to “win” the wars but simply to make sure they continue.

Even Donald Trump was shocked by this: “When Trump announced … that he was ordering a new approach to the war,” the Associated Press reported last March about Afghanistan, “he said he realized ‘the American people are weary of war without victory.’ He said his instinct was to pull out, but that after consulting with aides, he decided to seek ‘an honorable and enduring outcome.’ He said that meant committing more resources to the war, giving commanders in the field more authority and staying in Afghanistan for as long as it takes.”

In other words, he was pulled back into line — that is, back into lyin’. Glory, glory, hallelujah. In America, clichés rule. We may bomb children, and (even more to the point) manufacture and sell the bombs that take out school buses, etc., etc., etc., but we still pull out our clichés about freedom and honor and such, stale as they may be, on a moment’s notice.

America’s journey to its Orwellian present-day reality, in which wars are endlessly expanding background noise (as opposed to news), essentially began in the tumultuous late ’60s, when peace consciousness had seized much of the nation. While LBJ did not declare the end of the Vietnam War, the war eventually did end — in defeat, dishonor and disgrace, leaving behind a shattered country (more than million dead, an environment despoiled with Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance) and countless U.S. vets spiritually and physically wounded. The American public was weary not of war without victory but of war itself. This was called Vietnam Syndrome, and it was profoundly troubling to the political status quo.

It took several decades, but Militarized America did achieve its one and only post-World War II victory. It defeated Vietnam Syndrome. Step one was eliminating the draft, which freed the public from any personal risk — and thus, any real stake — in future wars, leaving only a poverty draft to fill the ranks, and who cares about them?

Ronald Reagan was forced to fight proxy wars against the commies in Central America, but his successor, George H.W. Bush, declared a victory over Vietnam Syndrome after Gulf War I. A decade later, his son, as we know, launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which, having accomplished none of their alleged aims, nonetheless continue with no end in sight, two presidents later. Victory no longer matters. A seemingly rational mission no longer matters. Clichés and a bloated military budget are enough.

Fifty years ago, the country was in tumult about the war in Vietnam and millions of people wanted to reshape the Democratic Party into a party of peace. The War Machine, which owned (owns) both parties, held fast and tough. Billy clubs won. The media surrendered.

But we the people have not surrendered. We were outmaneuvered, gerrymandered, removed from the voting roster, but we have not surrendered. Is the spirit of ’68 coming back to life in the Trump era, as evinced by an upsurge in progressive electoral victories? The War God is ruthless and clever and will not give up. Neither should we.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

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Staff Reports