Category Archives: Paul Buchheit

How 90% of American Households Lost an Average of $17,000 in Wealth to the Plutocrats in 2016

Paul Buchheit | March 06 2017 | Common Dreams

Steve Lambert, an artist living in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, created this sign in 2012 to find out from people in the Greater Boston area what they thought of this question. (Photo: Nate Goldman/WBUR)

America has always been great for the richest 1%, and it’s rapidly becoming greater. Confirmation comes from recent work by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman; and from the 2015-2016 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databooks (GWD). The data relevant to this report is summarized here.

The Richest 1% Extracted Wealth from Every Other Segment of Society 

These multi-millionaires effectively shifted nearly $4 trillion in wealth away from the rest of the nation to themselves in 2016. While there’s no need to offer condolences to the rest of the top 10%, who still have an average net worth of $1.3 million, nearly half of the wealth transfer ($1.94 trillion) came from the nation’s poorest 90% — the middle and lower classes, according to Piketty and Saez and Zucman. That’s over $17,000 in housing and savings per lower-to-middle-class household lost to the super-rich.

Put another way, the average 1% household took an additional $3 million of our national wealth in one year while education and infrastructure went largely unfunded.

It Gets Worse: Each MIDDLE-CLASS Household Lost $35,000 to the 1%

According to Piketty and Saez and Zucman, the true middle class is “the group of adults with income between the median and the 90th percentile.” This group of 50 million households lost $1.76 trillion of their wealth in 2016, or over $35,000 each. That’s a $35,000 decline in housing and financial assets, with possibly increased debt, for every middle-class household.

Housing Wealth for the 90% Has Been Converted into Investment Wealth for the Plutocrats 

In the 1980s, the housing wealth of the bottom 90% made up about 15 percent of total household wealth (Figure 8 here and Page 41 here).

Continue reading How 90% of American Households Lost an Average of $17,000 in Wealth to the Plutocrats in 2016

Morbid Inequality: Now Just SIX Men Have as Much Wealth as Half the World’s Population

Paul Buchheit | February 20 2017 | Common Dreams

“Inequality is extreme and pathological and getting worse every year,” writes Paul Buchheit. (Photo: Austin Kirk/flickr/cc)

Yes, inequality is getting worse every year. In early 2016 Oxfam reported that just 62 individuals had the same wealth as the bottom half of humanity. About a year later Oxfam reported that just 8 men had the same wealth as the world’s bottom half. Based on the same methodology and data sources used by Oxfam, that number is now down to 6.

How to account for the dramatic increase in the most flagrant and perverse of extreme inequalities? Two well-documented reasons: (1) The poorest half (and more) of the world has continued to lose wealth; and (2) The VERY richest individuals — especially the top thousand or so — continue to add billions of dollars to their massive fortunes.

Inequality deniers and apologists say the Oxfam methodology is flawed, but they’re missing the big picture. Whether it’s 6 individuals or 62 or 1,000 doesn’t really matter. The data from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook (GWD) and the Forbes Billionaire List provide the best available tools to make it clear that inequality is extreme and pathological and getting worse every year.

How It’s Gone from 62 to 6 in One Year

As of 02/17/17, the world’s 6 richest individuals (all men) had $412 billion. Tables 2-4 and 3-4 of the 2016 GWD reveal that the poorest five deciles of the world population own just .16% of the $256 trillion in global wealth, or $410 billion. That latter figure is based on mid-2016 data, but since then the status of the bottom 50% has not improved, and has in fact likely worsened, as both global debt and global inequality have increased.

Continue reading Morbid Inequality: Now Just SIX Men Have as Much Wealth as Half the World’s Population

Five Faces Of Dystopia

Paul Buchheit | February 13 2017 | Common Dreams 

We’ve seen Donald Trump many times in history. And yet we’ve never seen anything like Donald Trump.

Based on reliable news sources, his biographer, and his own writings, the most powerful man of his era has been referred to as an “egomaniac” and “narcissist,” possessing a “big mouth” with an “impulsive style,” unable to differentiate between truth and falsehood, preferring emotion over facts, focused on national greatness and law & order, fearful of “foreignization,” prone to coarseness and put-downs in speeches, and fond of “mantralike phrases” filled with “accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future.”

Depravity

The man described above is Adolf Hitler. All of the descriptions were attributed to the Nazi leader: some of it by news media in the 1930s, some of it by modern historian and biographer Volker Ullrich, some of it by Hitler himself in “Mein Kampf.” Eerily familiar to the present day.

Racism

Donald Trump placed a painting of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, apparently feeling pleased that, in his own words, “a lot of people they compare the campaign of Trump with the campaign of [Jackson].”

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Facts That Our War-Happy Leaders Would Like To Keep Hushed Up

Paul Buchheit | January 23 2017 | Common Dreams

Just because it’s not being reported, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. (Photo: U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mike Brady, Task Force Cyclone, 38th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Donald Trump said, “I’m going to make our military so big, so powerful, so strong, that nobody — absolutely nobody — is gonna mess with us.”

Simple-minded but deadly thinking at the top derives from influential groups and individuals who think we have to KILL to keep the rest of the world in line. The compliant mainstream media scares us into accepting wars and drone killings overseas, military-style defenses on our own streets, surveillance of our private lives. For the war-happy leadership of America, certain realities are better left unsaid, or at most reported quickly and quietly.

1. Terrorist Acts in the U.S. Were More Common 40 Years Ago

Terrorist acts are deadly, but the panicky reports of mainstream news sources scare us more than they should, as when a FOX reporter called ISIS “the single biggest threat in [America’s] 200-year history.”

This graphic derived from the Rand Corporation’s terrorism database shows that the frequency of terrorist acts was greatest in the 1970s and 1980s. CNN notes that “There were literally hundreds of terrorist bombings, shootings and hijackings in States during the 1970s.”

2. Violent Crime Is Down — Except Where Young Men are Left to Languish and Die

The rate of violent crime has been consistently dropping since 1993. Except in places like Chicago, where nearly half of young black men are neither working nor in school.

The New York Times summarizes the effects of constant media scares: “Americans are primed, when they hear a loud bang or screams, or see a crowd break into a run, to think in terms of mass killings and active shooters. Yet crime statistics show that over all, violence in the United States is as low as it has ever been, and experts say the fear far exceeds the risk.”

Continue reading Facts That Our War-Happy Leaders Would Like To Keep Hushed Up

How American Life Continued to Deteriorate in 2016

Paul Buchheit | January 16 2017 | Common Dreams

Recent studies show America at or near the bottom among developed countries in disposable income poverty, income and wealth inequality, safety net provisions, employment, economic mobility, life expectancy, infant mortality, and the well-being of children. (Photo: Maryland GovPics / Flickr)

The reality of the disposable American has been building up in recent years, and new evidence keeps pouring in. Now the potential exists for greater suffering under the rule of a billionaire Cabinet that is far, far removed from average workers and renters and homeowners.

First the “Upside” — 5% of Us Are Millionaires 

Depending on the source, America has anywhere from 7 million to 13.5 million millionaires — about 5% of U.S. adults, and about a 40% increase in just six years. At the other end, 90% of us have gained NOTHING since 1997, and at least half of us NOTHING since 1980.

New Evidence of an Overall Collapse 

Recent studies show America at or near the bottom among developed countries in disposable income poverty, income and wealth inequality, safety net provisions, employment, economic mobility, life expectancy, infant mortality, and the well-being of children. We’ve run the table. The better part of America is equivalent to a third-world country.

Neglecting the Most Vulnerable Among Us 

We have fallen far as a nation when a half-million of our children under the age of four are taking anxiety drugs, and when the great majority of American families have to spend over 10% of their income just to send their four-year-olds to pre-school. And the “American Dream” for our kids? According to one careful study, they only have about half the chance that they had fifty years ago.

Racist Gap-Widening 

Today just 100 individuals own as much wealth as the entire Black population of America. Even a middle-aged African-American with a graduate degree has only about the same odds of becoming a millionaire as a white person with a high school diploma. The common misperception is that Black youths turn to drugs at a disproportionate rate. Not true. According to the American Journal of Public Health, “drug-use disorders were most prevalent among non-Hispanic Whites, followed by Hispanics, then African Americans.” Yet “racial/ethnic minorities are disproportionately incarcerated, especially for drug crimes.”

Finding a Stable Job is Becoming Impossible for Much of America 

Continue reading How American Life Continued to Deteriorate in 2016

From the Moon to the Sun: How America’s Ego Could Save the Planet

Paul Buchheit | January 03 2017 | Common Dreams 

‘The greatest imaginable energy source is out there for the taking by the nation smart enough to take it,’ writes Buchheit. (Photo: Pixabay/CC0/Public Domain)

In October, 1957 the U.S. suffered a crippling blow to its pride when Russia’s Sputnik soared 500 miles into space. The response from the White House was to call it “a useless hunk of iron” and “a silly bauble in the sky.” But for the first time American Cold War superiority came into question. David Halberstam called Sputnik’s success “a kind of technological Pearl Harbor.” All America was stirred up, determined to fight back, especially after Sputnik II, a month later, sent a dog into space. In a hurried effort to catch up, America fired off the Vanguard in December 1957, but after a journey of several feet it sputtered and blew up. Russia’s Premier Khrushchev mocked us, saying “the sputniks are lonely…waiting for American satellites to join them in space.” Americans mocked themselves, calling our first rocket the Flopnik.

Continue reading From the Moon to the Sun: How America’s Ego Could Save the Planet

The Terrorism Targeting Our Grandchildren

Paul Buchheit | November 21 2016 | Common Dreams

‘Our grandchildren will face the economic terror trickling down from the greedy top.’ (Illustration by Daniel Pudles)

Four decades of American narcissism and greed and exceptionalism have allowed the super-rich to dictate the future path of our nation. We’re paying the price now, with environmental disasters, nonexistent savings for half of our families, Americans dying because of expensive health care, and a growing fear of blowback from desperate victims of our foreign wars.

Environment Be Damned

Almost all reputable sources agree that human-caused climate change is killing people, with up to 400,000 annual deaths “due to hunger and communicable diseases that affect above all children in developing countries,” and up to 7 million deaths—over a half-million of them children under the age of five—caused by air pollution.

The richest people in the world create most of the pollution, yet are the least likely to feel guilty about the effects of their behavior, and the least likely to suffer from the impending environmental damage. This could lead to terror-filled years for the generations to follow us. Even the CHANCE of such misery for their grandchildren should motivate the super-rich to address the root causes of global warming. Instead, they have plans to retreat to impregnable “safe rooms” with food and water, oxygen, medical supplies, and all the amenities for a year or more of underground living.

Disdain for the Taxes that Support Society

Charles Koch said, “I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington.”

Beneficial to society? Where is the incentive for Charles Koch, or any other billionaire beneficiary of decades of tax subsidies, to support the needs of average people?

The breakdown in taxes began in the 1970s, when University of Chicago economist Arthur Laffer convinced Dick Cheney and other Republican officials that lowering taxes on the rich would generate more revenue. Conservatives have contorted this economic theory into the belief that all tax reductions are beneficial. It was proved wrong from the start. Several economic studies have concluded that the revenue-maximizing top income tax rate is anywhere from 50% to 75%. Yet our next president wants to cut taxes on the rich.

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What the Robots Are Doing to the Middle Class

Paul Buchheit | December 05 2016 | Common Dreams

A technician makes an adjustment on Hiro, a “humanoid robot for automotive assembly tasks in collaboration with people.” (Photo: Tecnalia/cc/flickr)

The simplistic response to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on employment is that we’ve experienced this before, during the Industrial Revolution and beyond, and that the “market” will eventually provide plenty of jobs. The reality is that tens of millions of Americans will have to accept food service and retail and personal care jobs that don’t pay a living wage.

The Deniers: The Middle Class Has Nothing to Worry About

Optimism is the feeling derived from sources like The Economist, which assures us that “AI will not cause mass unemployment…The 19th-century experience of industrialisation suggests that jobs will be redefined, rather than destroyed..” The Atlantic concurs: “The job market defied doomsayers in those earlier times, and according to the most frequently reported jobs numbers, it has so far done the same in our own time.” And even economistDean Baker scoffs at the tech takeover of jobs: “Large numbers of elite thinkers are running around terrified that we will have millions of people who have no work because the robots have eliminated the need for their labor…The remarkable aspect to the robot story is that it is actually a very old story. We have been seeing workers displaced by technology for centuries, this is what productivity growth is.”

Perhaps most significantly for the optimists, the New York Federal Reserve found that since 2013 over two million jobs have been added in transportation, construction, administration, social services, education, protective services and other middle-wage areas.

The Doomsayers: The Middle Class Is Disappearing

According to a comprehensive study by Citi and Oxford University, nearly half of American jobs are susceptible to automation. Based on analysis that one reviewer calls “some of the most important work done by economists in the last twenty years,” a National Bureau of Economic Research study found that national employment levels have fallen in U.S. industries that are vulnerable to import competition, without offsetting job gains in other industries. Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates an annual $9 trillion in employment costs within ten years due to the impact of AI and robots. The McKinsey Global Instituteconcludes that technology and related factors are having “roughly 3,000 times the impact” of the Industrial Revolution.

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How Capitalism Kills… And May Be Getting Deadlier

Paul Buchheit | December 12 2016 | Common Dreams

We’ve seen what capitalism can do, but it’s possible we ain’t seen nothing yet. (Photo: Jörg Kantel/flickr/cc)

In each of the following areas of our lives, capitalism has been a deadly force in the past, and prospects for the future seem even worse with Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks.

1. Medications

In 1996 Purdue Pharma began marketing its painkiller Oxycontin with a promotionalcampaign unlike any other seen before. As noted in the American Journal of Public Health, “The high availability of OxyContin correlated with increased abuse, diversion, and addiction, and by 2004 OxyContin had become a leading drug of abuse in the United States.”

About 75% of heroin addicts used prescription opioids before turning to heroin. Deaths related to heroin have more than tripled since 2010, and a dramatic surge in overdoses has occurred among children. Opioid use is also triggering a rise in hepatitis C, which kills19,000 people every year, most of whom can’t get treatment because the drug manufacturer Gilead Sciences charges $84,000 for pills that cost less than $300 to produce. In Kentucky in 2016, for every 100 people with hepatitis C only THREE were able to receive treatment.

Donald Trump’s rumored candidate for the FDA is staunch libertarian Jim O’Neill, who said about drugs: “Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized.”

2. Jobs

Numerous studies show that the suicide rate is linked to unemployment and deterioratingwork conditions and declining wealth. The rate has accelerated since the 2008 recession. Too many black people, especially, can’t find living-wage jobs, and a lot of it is due to racism. A recent study found that job applicants were about 50 percent more likely to be called back if they had “white” names. A hiring analysis study found that white job applicants with criminal records were called back more often than blacks without criminal records.

Donald Trump’s reported choice for Labor Secretary is Andrew Pudzer, who opposes a minimum wage increase and favors robots over workers: “They’re always polite…they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never…an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

3. Environment

The World Health Organization, the United Nations, cooperating governments, andindependent research groups all agree that human-induced climate change is killing people, with up to 400,000 annual deaths “due to hunger and communicable diseases that affect above all children in developing countries,” and up to 7 million deaths caused by air pollution, over a half-million of them children under the age of five.

Continue reading How Capitalism Kills… And May Be Getting Deadlier

How a Disappearing and Deluded Middle Class Awaits the New President

Paul Buchheit | November 07 2016 | Common Dreams

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Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are making a pitch for the votes of an activist middle class. (Hollywata/Flickr cc 2.0)

Disturbing truths about the wealth gap in America have surfaced in recent months. Our nation is breaking in two. Yet downtrodden Americans are hoping for a fairy-tale ending to their misery, instead of demanding the progressive measures that would empower them.

Collapse of the Middle Class

For every $100 owned by a middle-class household in 2001, that household had just $72 in 2013.

Half of us are barely surviving, and it may be more than half. A J.P. Morgan study concluded that “the bottom 80% of households by income lack sufficient savings to cover the type of volatility observed in income and spending.”

More Rich, More Poor, Less Empathy

Nearly two-thirds of American families were considered middle class in 1970. Today it’s half or less. The rest of us have gone up or down, mostly down.

Continue reading How a Disappearing and Deluded Middle Class Awaits the New President