Five things to keep repeating if we want a better economy for everyone

September 3, 2018 at 11:39 am

I was talking this week about the Mueller investigation with a guy I know from Western New York.

He said he’s sticking with Trump because of the economy and because he believes Trump and his tax cuts for the wealthy are responsible for the current strong economy.

I’ve heard this from many many folks who have bought into the narratives that corporate special interests create about our economy. It’s likely you’ve heard some of this advertising and framing:

  • Tax cuts create jobs
  • We need to grow the economy so everyone will benefit
  • Free markets
  • Regulations “hold back” the economy
  • I’m a capitalist, you’re a socialist
  • The private sector is better at everything

And so on. This powerful marketing is used by corporate special interests to elect politicians who will do what corporate special interests want. More power and money for them.

In my experience, we tend to be good at critiquing these claims without describing what would make a better economy. What should we be striving for? Where do we want to be if we can get there?

Towards this end, I thought I’d share the 5 simple points I’ve found to be most successful in talking about the economy.

ECOT: $2.1 million in donations to Ohio politicians, $1 billion in charter school contracts

July 18, 2018 at 12:39 pm

ECOT stands for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. It is a charter school founded in Ohio in 2000 by businessman William Lager and is a story that hasn’t received nearly enough media attention. Probably because it highlights everything that’s wrong with for-profit charter school entities delivering public services.

From 2001 to 2016 Lager’s ECOT received more than $1 billion from Ohio taxpayers to deliver an appalling graduation rate. In 2014, the graduation rate was under 39 percent. For the 2016-17 school year, it was up to a little over 40 percent in four years.This ranks as worst in the nation.

The state of Ohio is working to recover $80 million in overbilled state funds. In 2016, an Ohio audit estimates the school was paid for 9,000 more students than ECOT could document for the 2015-16 school year. In 2018, the state is still working to recover the money, which has since increased to $80 million.

Dave Yost, the Ohio auditor who has himself spoken at past ECOT graduations, said:

With the level of incompetence displayed by both the school and (the Education Department), the regulator, it’s amazing that any money went to education whatsoever.

Over this same period of time, William Lager has donated more than $2.1 million to influential Ohio politicians including several speakers of the Ohio House and Andrew Brenner, the chair of the House Education Committee.

Because much of the news coverage in Ohio only focuses on small pieces of this story at a time, here’s the full story of how ECOT scammed Ohio.

Why companies like Disney are willing to give out temporary bonuses

February 18, 2018 at 12:55 pm

You’ve probably seen announcements from Walt Disney and other companies about bonuses recently. Walt Disney recently announced a $1,000 bonus to each of its 125,000 employees. To the average person, this seems like a significant amount. How is Walt Disney able to do this and, more importantly, why?

In 2017, Walt Disney generated $13.79 billion in pretax income on $54.98 billion in sales. On this income the company paid 34.2 percent in domestic taxes or roughly $4.7 billion. This left Walt Disney with a profit of roughly $9 billion. After paying all of their employees and all of their operating costs and all of their taxes, Walt Disney is returning a profit of $9 billion.

The Trump corporate tax plan drops Walt Disney’s corporate tax rate to 20 percent. Under his plan, Walt Disney only pays $2.76 billion in taxes, saving $1.94 billion. A year. Walt Disney gets to keep an additional $1.94 billion/year (assuming years similar to 2017) in profit forever. Over 10 years, for example, this is a benefit of $19.4 billion.

Now let’s look at what their temporary bonus cost them. Disney announced $1,000 bonuses for 125,000 employees. This is a cost of $125 million or 6.4 percent of what they received in one year of tax savings. Over 10 years, it’s 0.6 percent of the nearly 2 billion/year tax break they received.

How to explain in five minutes or less what happens when the rich get tax cuts

December 18, 2017 at 8:58 am

A political cartoon and a parody of the second scene of Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode with politicians playing the main parts. A wealthy couple is having breakfast in a richly decorated room, the morning after a card party. (Wellcome Images/Wikimedia)

The corporate special interest group spin is that the rich will spend more if only we give them more in the form of tax cuts.

If people buy this story, then they think they’re doing the right thing by giving rich people tax cuts. That is, it doesn’t even matter if all of the benefits of the GOP tax bill are geared toward America’s wealthiest, because the wealthy will use this money to “create” more jobs as they say.

This is why it’s important to have a simple story about what really happens when the rich get tax cuts. Here’s how to explain in a way that makes it easy for people to understand in five minutes.

How corporate special interests socialize costs: moral hazard

November 26, 2017 at 10:43 am

One of the ways corporate special interest propaganda works is by framing reality so there are only two choices: one good, one bad.

The most common frame used is capitalism vs. socialism. The right is framed as a bunch of wonderful superhuman capitalists out to make the world better through their endless pursuit of profit over everything else. Meanwhile, the “left” is described as a bunch of horrible Venezuelan socialists destined to bring ruin to all of America with their irresponsibility and laziness.

Sadly, all too often we fall for this framing trap and find ourselves in the weak position corporate special interests want us to be in: fighting for something that a majority of people in the United States see as morally wrong.

One way to break out of this trap is to fight a different battle, to reframe the world as democracy vs. oligarchy. I’ve written before about how to make a strong argument for democracy as key to a vital economy.

Another way to do this is to talk about what it is that corporate special interests and the wealthy in our country really want: To privatize the profits while socializing all the costs and risk.

Seven ways the wealthy raise taxes on the 99 percent after cutting them for themselves

November 2, 2017 at 10:53 pm

One of the biggest lies told by conservative pundits is that one-half of Americans pay no taxes.

Conservatives like to throw around numbers, like the top 1 percent of wage earners will pay 45.7 percent of federal income taxes (from a 2014 report). This only tells a small part of the story.

For example, income tax accounts for less than one-half of federal taxes, and only one-fifth of taxes at all levels of government. Or that the top 1 percent receive 21 percent of total income.

What they also don’t tell you is that the 80 percent of taxes that aren’t income taxes tend to fall heavily on the the poor and middle class.

When you give massive tax cuts to the rich, as Donald Trump’s new tax plan proposes, what this means is that revenues will fall at the federal level. The federal government then cuts money to state governments, who cut money to local governments, who cut services and shift the costs onto the 99 percent.

What this strategy does is privatize profits for the wealthy, create stock bubbles, and push costs down to everyone else at the state, local, and individual level.

Here’s some of the regressive taxes that the 99 percent pay most of—and that are likely to increase if we write more tax loopholes for the rich.

The United States is becoming an extraction economy (like Puerto Rico)

October 20, 2017 at 9:19 am

While watching Trump troll us with Puerto Rico, one question kept popping up: why?

In some ways it’s obvious why he’s trolling us. He wants to distract us from what his team of billionaires is doing in Washington and control the news cycle.

But why troll us by going to Puerto Rico?

The answer is that he’s there to show us that they are poor and we are not, and that we should be afraid of ending up like them. In other words, he’s campaigning. He’s telling the country that he knows what’s best because he’s a rich businessman.

This is a variation on the corporate special interest group propaganda we see so much of: Everything that is good is business, capitalism. Everything that is bad is socialism.

Sadly, it’s working.

The reason it’s working isn’t because it’s right, but because so many people believe and repeat these terrible ideas about what’s made us a successful country.

Everyone I talk to knows something is wrong with our country. Yet many think the only people who know how to solve it are the “good” business people of our country. This is a big reason Trump won.

People don’t know why and how Puerto Rico is the way it is and they think we need people like Trump. What we need is a better story about why Puerto Rico is poor, how it’s run as an extraction economy, why this is bad, and why all the successful economies of the world tend to be democratic.

Universal health care would save $17 trillion

July 26, 2017 at 9:29 pm

$32 trillion. You may have seen this number in corporate media coverage and Republican propaganda. It’s the estimated cost of universal health care over a 10-year period.

It’s a big number—a big, scary number. So hacks like the editorial board at The Washington Post use it to scare people with titles like “Single-payer health care would have an astonishingly high price tag.”

Not just high—astonishingly high.

Of course what the editorial board of The Washington Post leaves out (though you think they’d know better) is any comparison to what we’re currently spending.

Compared to what we’re currently spending, universal health care or single-payer health care would save us $17 trillion over 10 years.

Of all developed countries, America self-invests the least because of tax cuts for the 1 percent

April 18, 2017 at 12:30 pm

As tax day (April 18) approaches, it’s interesting to consider the lie that America is “overtaxed.”

The average developed country reinvests 34 percent of its gross domestic product back into the country and its people.

As of 2014, America only invests 26 percent, which puts it ahead of Korea, Chile, Mexico, and exactly zero other developed countries.

What does this do?

Democratic capitalism: Freeing people from the corporate special interest definition of ‘corruption’

January 18, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Monument to the victims of capitalism in Montreal. (photographymontreal/Flickr)

This week someone asked me if I’d heard any questions about IDEA, the federal law protecting students with disabilities (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearings.

I get these types of questions a lot because I write about politics. It’s kind of funny because I don’t think I know much about politics—at least not when it comes to policy details. I’ve had people tell me in response, “But I love listening to you talk. You know so much.”

Here’s a secret: It’s more important to know what you believe in—and how to talk about what you believe in.

The problem is that corporate special interests “get” this, and all too often we don’t—especially many of us who come from academic backgrounds, where arguing is the accepted way to flesh out ideas and learn.

Let me demonstrate by showing you how corporate special interests redefined “corruption,” why this is so important, and how you can help break people out of this trap.