The incredible Saru Jayaraman – dynamite activist with few equals

Ms Jayaraman is taking on the US food industry in a knock-down, drag-out fight for a living wage for food workers

No 1027 Posted by fw, April 7, 2014

LOOK! LISTEN! LEARN! from activist extraordinaire Saru Jayaraman. Saru is no mere mortal. She’s a tiger. A dynamo. Clone her, I say. She’s a role model for all activists, setting a standard of excellence that will inspire the best from the rest of us.

Here’s a thumbnail profile of Saru’s knowledge and skills –

    • Saru Jayaraman

      Saru Jayaraman

      Brainy – graduated Yale Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

    • Articulate – for evidence of her speaking skills just watch the video below. Polished presentation with masterful command of facts
    • Leader — brilliant grassroots organizer, co-founder, co-director of ROC-UNITED, organization of restaurant workers, employers who support living wages for workers, and supportive consumers, united in the cause to raise wages and standards in the restaurant industry
    • Researcher – integrates empirical evidence with activism. Director of Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center the first academic institution anywhere in the country to focus on the intersection between food and labor issues in the U.S. and abroad
    • Strategist – employs multifaceted counterpower stratagems to expose and skewer opponents
    • Irrepressible – “There’s nothing people can’t achieve once they expose and resist the moneyed forces that control the system”
    • Inspired and inspiring – draws inspiration from her immigrant parents. “I just knew that I couldn’t live in a world where millions of people are hungry and don’t feel like they get respect on the job for jobs that are hard.”
    • Author – her book, Behind the Kitchen Door: What Every Diner Should Know about the People Who Feed You, blending personal narrative and investigative journalism, explores political, economic, and moral implications of dining out.

Isn’t it time for more think tanks, NGOs and activists to follow Saru’s lead? — drag yourselves away from your smartphones and keyboards and join the foot soldiers on the front lines.

To see Saru at her best, watch the embedded 26:46-minute interview below. The abridged transcript following the video includes subheadings that highlight Saru’s dazzling display of counterpower talents and tools. Alternatively, to watch the interview on Moyers & Company’s website, and access the complete transcript, click on the following linked title.

All Work and No Pay, Saru Jayaraman interviewed by Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company, April 4, 2014

ABRIDGED TRANSCRIPT

Saru Jayaraman – How is it that a major industry has basically convinced America, convinced Congress, that they practically shouldn’t have to pay their workers at all? It’s purely money and power. And their control over our legislators.

Tactician Jayaraman’s opponents unable to blunt ROC-UNITED’s “$2.13 an hour” revelation

The truth is that Richard Berman [referred to in the video as Dr. Evil, and called a “one-man goon squad”] has been following us around for the last decade, trying to shut us down on behalf of the National Restaurant Association [the other NRA]. What has happened over the last year is that they’ve definitely heated up the pressure, trying to kill our message, whatever way they can. And his operation, his M.O., is to do it by killing the messenger rather than the message, because the truth is, it’s very hard to argue with a message of “nobody should be earning $2.13 an hour.” That’s as fundamental as it is.

Researcher Jayaraman exposed Berman’s and the NRA’s dirty little secret – customers, not the industry, are paying workers’ wages

The harder they try to call us names, the more I think it’s realized that we’re saying something that’s getting on their nerves, something that they don’t want to be heard. And that something is that they as an industry have gotten away now for decades saying that they shouldn’t have to pay their own workers’ wages. In fact, we, the customer, should pay their workers’ wages for them. Because when you’ve [Berman and NR] lobbied for a wage as low as $2.13 an hour, these workers actually aren’t receiving wages at all.

And they’re living completely off their tips. Which means literally, we as customers are paying their wages, not the employer. And the Restaurant Association ultimately does not want people to know that they’ve gotten away with this immense boondoggle.

Articulate Jayaraman shred NRA’s argument for keeping food industry wages low

Well, these are their two primary arguments: one, that it will kill jobs, two, that it will make the cost of food go up. So on that first one, killing jobs. There are actually seven states in the United States that have the same wage for tipped and non-tipped workers. They range from somewhere around $8.00 and $9.50 an hour. You can go to California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Montana, Nevada, Minnesota. All seven states have faster industry growth rates than the restaurant industry nationally. And in fact, we recently did a regression, looked at the states with the higher minimum wages for tipped workers, we found that they have higher sales per capita in the restaurant industry. So we would argue that evidence shows that you could actually do better as an industry, faster industry growth, more jobs, if you treat your workers better.

On that second argument that the cost of food will go up. We used USDA methodology. And we applied the current bill that’s moving through Congress to every worker along the food chain, from farm workers, to meat and poultry processing workers, to restaurant workers. And we assume that every employer along the food chain would pass on 100 percent of the cost of the wage increase to their purchaser. The title of the report is A Dime a Day, because it would cost the average American household at most $0.10 more for all food bought outside the home. That’s groceries and restaurants alike. So we’re talking pennies more on your hamburger when you eat out, for 30 million workers to come out of poverty.

To small business owners, researcher Jayaraman argues that paying low wages is a false economy, resulting in costly high staff turnover

I would say a couple of things. First of all, you as a small business, you are actually being cheated by these very large corporations that are running the show, setting the standards, raking in millions of profits and screwing you by getting away with very– you know– very, very large, high-volume business and setting standards that require you to have to pay for very high rates of turnover. Our industry has the highest rates of employee turnover of any industry in the United States. I would say– I can point you to plenty of small businesses around the country that actually pay their workers a livable wage and have managed to cut their turnover in half, in some cases, completely out, because they treat their workers well.

I would also say that nobody’s expecting you to change your wages overnight. We’re talking about policies that would phase in a minimum wage increase. A minimum wage increase for both your servers and the back of the house. But the last and most important thing I would say is this: no customer in America believes when they leave a tip that they are leaving a wage for a worker. Nobody believes that they’re paying a wage. People think they’re paying a tip on top of a wage. We don’t think about this in any other context except restaurants. We believe somehow that because they’re getting tips, they shouldn’t get a wage. It’s not true in any other context. And that is because of the power of this industry.

Researcher Jayaraman cites evidence that managers illegally take a portion of workers’ tips, and shares even more shocking revelations about the food industry

Most people believe that when they leave a tip, it goes entirely to that worker that they’re tipping. There are so many things that happen. First of all, that worker has to share the tip with probably 20 or 30 other people in the restaurant. Often management illegally takes a portion of the tips.

The tips are meant to make up the difference between that lower minimum wage of $2.13 and the overall minimum wage of $7.25. But the U.S. Department of Labor reports an 80 percent violation rate with regard to employers actually making sure that tips make up that difference. And what results? Seventy percent of tipped workers in America are women.

And they work at the IHOP and the Applebee’s and the Olive Garden. Their median wage, including tips, is under $9 an hour. They suffer from three times the poverty rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce, and they use food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce. So we’re talking about poverty-wage workers, including their tips.

Millions of women, most women in America start their work life as a young woman in high school or college or graduate school working in restaurants. Many go on to something else, millions stay in this industry. But whether they stay or they go on, because these women are forced to live off their tips because their wages are so low, they go to taxes, and they’re not getting their income from their employer, but rather from the consumer. They’re forced to put up with whatever the customer might do to them, however they may touch them or treat them or talk to them.

And as a result, we have the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry in the United States. Seven percent of American women work in restaurants. But 37 percent of all sexual harassment claims to the E.E.O.C. come from the restaurant industry. So we are exposing young women to the world of work in this industry in which they can rely completely for their income off tips, in which they can be touched and treated any which way. It’s a demeaning situation to be in when you earn $2.13 an hour as a woman and you are completely reliant off customers’ largess, off the mercy of the clientele for your income, 100 percent. You’re living off tips.

Leader Jayaraman wages a campaign to eliminate system of lower wages for tipped workers

We need to eliminate the system of a lower wage for tipped workers all together. So there is a bill moving through Congress that would raise the overall minimum wage to $10.10 and get tipped workers to 70 percent of that, or $7. That’s a good start, because it allows these workers some base wage, $7—

[A ballot initiative in Michigan] we’re demanding that the wage go up to at least $10.10 and that the wage for tipped workers also be $10.10. And the language we’re using is that no employer should be able to pay less than the minimum wage.

In Washington D.C., we’re saying $12.50 for everybody, tipped, and non-tipped.

There’s legislation moving in Florida and Pennsylvania also to eliminate the lower minimum wage for tipped workers. So the nation is moving towards eliminating the lower wage for tipped workers. Not eliminating tips. And I want to be clear about that.

I strongly believe that you would need $18 to $25 an hour to survive in the United States, in a city like New York or almost anywhere in this country to pay for childcare, to pay for transportation, but at the very least, to have a stable-base wage that you can count on, that doesn’t fluctuate the way tips do, that doesn’t go up and down. I mean, your rent doesn’t go up and down, your bills don’t go up and down, your childcare expenses don’t go up and down. But for these workers, their income fluctuates from hour to hour, week to week, month to month.

So whether they’re working as a diner server or as a fine-dining server — you know, there are certainly ways to move up and certainly you can get a better income in a fine-dining restaurant where you can make a livable wage. They’re few and far between. For all of these workers, what they really need is a stable base wage that they can count on.

Researcher Jayaraman alerts custoners to the health risks linked to being served by workers too poor to take proper care of themselves

Their lives are going to be unending poverty, unstable family incomes, constant reliance on public assistance. What does it mean for us as customers? It means being served by workers who are too poor or often too sick to take care of themselves and thus take care of us well. It means exposing ourselves to health risks. Because when you live off of tips and you don’t have paid sick days, as most of these workers do not, if your income comes from tips, you’re going to go to work to get those tips regardless of what condition they’re in, right? You’re going to go to work with H1N1– swine flu.

We had a member in Florida testify that she worked with typhoid fever for three weeks. There’s a company, I’m sure you’ve heard of, called Darden, which is the world’s largest full-service restaurant company, they own Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille Steakhouse. In 2011, they announced the partnership with Michelle Obama saying that they were going to provide healthy food for kids at the Olive Garden. Well, at that same moment, a server was forced to work with hepatitis A in Fayetteville, North Carolina Olive Garden. And with a wage as low as $2.13 an hour, she had to go to work to get those tips.

Well, 3,000 people were exposed to hepatitis A as a result of that incident, had to get tested by the local county health department, filed a consumer class action against the restaurant, and won. So we ask, how healthy can your food really be for your kids at the Olive Garden if they’re going to be exposed to hepatitis A?

Ninety percent of restaurant workers in America do not have access to healthcare or paid sick days. Which means, according to our research, two-thirds of restaurant workers report cooking, preparing, and serving our food when they’re sick. The Center for Disease Control has said that 50 to 80 percent of all norovirus outbreaks in the United States can be traced back to sick restaurant workers.

Irrepressible, can-do Jayaraman radiates boundless hope, cites victory of paid sick days for tipped workers

There’s so much hope, Bill, there’s so much hope. So I want to give you one example. A couple of years ago, this happened in Washington D.C. The people fought for a local paid-sick-days ordinance. Meaning that every worker in the District of Columbia would be guaranteed that if they were sick, they could take a day off. Now, the Restaurant Association has been fighting this. In fact, they’ve introduced legislation, together with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, declaring that citizens in those states should not have the right to pass paid sick days ordinances, even if they vote for them. So they tried this. But in the District of Columbia, we did pass a local paid sick days ordinance.

At the last minute, behind-closed-door deal, they said, “Tipped workers should be left out.” Restaurant workers got together with allies, consumers, said, “Enough is enough.” We fought and we won. We overcame the power of the National Restaurant Association. We got paid sick days for tipped workers in the District of Columbia.

Irrepressible Jayaraman exhorts there’s nothing people can’t achieve once they expose and resist the moneyed forces that control the system

I’ve learned again and again and again that definitely there are moneyed forces that have controlled our system. But also that there’s nothing that the people cannot achieve once they expose those forces and once they resist. That we can actually overcome even the most hardened, moneyed lobbyists in Washington D.C. or in states around the country. Because ultimately, if we are a true democracy, we cannot cede, we cannot cede our democratic powers to those people. We cannot throw up our hands and say, “Well, money controls Washington, money controls politics, I’m going to sit back.” We cannot cede that because then there’s no point in living in a democracy, truly. We–

We still have some power to say, “We will not put up with this.” We still have some power to say, “This is outrageous. It is outrageous that working people should have to put up with this kind of misery. It is outrageous that working people should have to pay each other’s wages rather than these multi-million-dollar restaurant chains paying their own workers’ wages.”

This is the only industry on Earth, really in any nation on Earth, that has gotten away with saying, “We practically shouldn’t pay our workers at all. Customers should pay our workers’ wages. We shouldn’t have to pay our workers’ wages.” In any other context, what is it called when an employer practically doesn’t pay their workers, full-time workers? It’s called slavery.

And so how is it that a major industry has basically convinced America, convinced Congress, that they practically shouldn’t have to pay their workers at all? It’s purely money and power. And their control over our legislators. So obviously, Congress hasn’t been listening to the populace, Republican or Democratic alike. And that’s what we need to regain control over.

For more information go to LivingOffTips.com, where we have all kinds of information. And especially, we would encourage people in the state of Michigan and Washington D.C., Florida, and Pennsylvania, get involved. Help support these ballot initiatives and this legislation. In other states, let’s move it there too. Let’s move this everywhere.

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America, once proud land of the free, home of the brave, now land of the throw-away underclass

America, capitalist empire that now monetizes irrelevant people by privatizing the prison system

No 967 Posted by fw, February 02, 2014

“Work is meaning for all of us. And it’s relevance and it’s our place in society–is dictated to us by what we contribute and what we’re paid to do. And if part of America is validated to the extent that they are predominant in all of the luxury that the country can afford and part of the country is utterly irrelevant to the economic structure, you know, those factories are all gone. We don’t need those people anymore. And we’ve let them know.”David Simon

To view Bill Moyer’s original interview with David Simon and access the full transcript, click on the following linked title. Or, below, watch the embedded video interview, followed by an abridged transcript with subheadings and highlighted text. Unless otherwise noted, the abridged transcript focuses on David Simon’s remarks.

David Simon on America as a Horror Show David Simon interview on Moyers and Company, January 31, 2014

ABRIDGED TRANSCRIPT

[Introduction by Bill Moyers] – Welcome. President Obama’s State of the Union address and the rebuttals from the Republican Greek chorus already have been extensively vetted by the media. So as we say here in New York, enough already. Instead, we have a reality check from someone who artfully uses television drama to report on the state of America from an entirely different perspective: from the bottom up.

David Simon was a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun whose journalism became the material for two non-fiction books, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. Each became a TV series and led Simon to leave daily journalism to create two unforgettable shows for HBO: The Wire, about the precincts of Baltimore and the corruption of its institutions…

Watching the president’s speech the other night — he was hopeful, he was upbeat, he was encouraging and inclusive and what he said. But I kept listening and thinking about that speech you had made last fall in Australia where you said what’s happening here in America is “a horror show.” And I wonder, how do you reconcile those two visions of our country?

You can’t call the American government anything other than “broken”, with a legislature for sale on the cheap

David Simon – I don’t think that you can call the American government anything other than broken at this point. And I think the break has come at the legislative level. I mean, that’s the part of the government that has been purchased.

You can buy these guys on the cheap. And the capital’s been at it a long time and the rules have been relaxed. The Supreme Court has walked away from any sort of responsibility to maintain democracy at that level. That’s the aspect of government that’s broken.

And it doesn’t matter whether it’s Obama or Clinton or Bush or anybody at this point. If this is the way we’re going to do business, we’re not going to do business. You know, they’ve paid for it to be inert. And it is inert. And ultimately that aspect of capitalism hasn’t been dealt with in any way.

“We are becoming two Americas in every fundamental sense”

I think supply-side economics has been shown to be bankrupt as an intellectual concept. It’s not only unproved, the opposite has occurred if you’re looking at the divergence in the economic health of middle class families or the working class, what’s left of the working class — certainly the underclass — and you’re looking at where the wealth of the country is going and how fast. We are becoming two Americas in every fundamental sense.

America’s economic system is throwing away 10-15% of its populations

You know, listen, a lot of this falls on people of color because, you know, they’re the last in through the door in the economic ladder. And if you look at the city where I live and you look at Baltimore, Maryland, half of the adult male African American residents have no work. That’s not an economic system that is having a bad go of it, that’s something that doesn’t actually work.

That’s an economic system that is throwing away and doesn’t need 10 to 15 percent of its population.

“We’re tossing people out of the boat left and right”

Work is meaning for all of us. And it’s relevance and it’s our place in society–is dictated to us by what we contribute and what we’re paid to do. And if part of America is validated to the extent that they are predominant in all of the luxury that the country can afford and part of the country is utterly irrelevant to the economic structure, you know, those factories are all gone. We don’t need those people anymore. And we’ve let them know.

And you know, the only factory in my city, in west Baltimore or in east Baltimore that was working, that was viable, was the drug corner. And that worked like a charm. And ultimately what I look at is the hyperbole by which we say we’re including everybody while we’re tossing people out of the boat left and right.

The moneyed people are contemptuous of the idea that we’re all in this together

We’ve changed and we’ve become contemptuous of the idea that we are all in this together. This is about sharing and about, you know, when you say sharing there’s a percentage of the population (and it’s the moneyed percent of our population), that hears socialism or communism or any of the other -isms they want to put on it. But ultimately we are all part of the same society. And it’s either going to be a mediocre society that, you know, abuses people or it’s not.

We monetize irrelevant people by privatizing the prison system

And that once they’re in that situation, they’re not only marginalized, they’re abused. I mean, we are the country that jails more of our population than any other state on the globe. More than totalitarian states we put people in prison. We’ve managed to monetize these irrelevant people in a way that allows some of us to get rich.

Now, we’re all paying for it as taxpayers for having this level of incarceration in American society which is unheard of in the world. But we let some people, you know, get a profit off of it. The monetization of human beings like that, you know, anybody tells you that the markets will solve everything, the libertarian ideal.

I can’t get past just how juvenile the thought is that if you just let the markets be the markets, they’ll solve everything.

There was a fight between labor and capital and labor lost

You know, America worked when there was tension between capital and labor, when there– when neither side won all of its victories, when they were fighting. It’s in the fight that we got healthy, that we transformed a working class into a middle class, that we became a consumer economy that drove the world for about half a century–

Well, the fight’s gone out of labor. Labor’s lost the fight. Capital’s won. There was a class war and labor, and the poor people lost and the working people lost.

The Great American Scam is “give the money to the rich and they’ll see that you’re not poor”

Talking about greed, just greed. And it’s a self-destructive greed to the economy that does lift all boats in the sense that, you know, we’re arguing about the minimum wage right now and making it $10. Ten– or we’re arguing about welfare reform and eliminating forms of welfare.

[The] argument [of] supply-side economics is give us, the job makers, the money and we’ll make jobs. Not with all of it you won’t. A lot of it’s going to Wall Street and it’s going to sit there and it’s going to be subjected to much less tax liabilities, the capital gains. You know, the scam of it, the scam of what America’s become, you know, give the money to the rich and they’ll see that you’re not poor. Is that really what you’re saying?

But you know, you actually argue about making the poor people a little less poor and then half of Congress is running away as if this is going to — you know, if you want your economy to grow, people have to have the money, they have to have the discretionary income to buy stuff. That’s what made us great in the last century is that suddenly a working class which was on subsistence wages at the early part of the century had enough money, discretionary income, to buy the things they needed and some things that they didn’t need but wanted. And that grew us.

“There is no shame anymore in America”

And now you’re arguing over whether this guy who’s working every day at the Burger King, whether he can have $10 or $12 an hour. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Aren’t– you know, where’s the shame? There is no shame anymore in America.

An America that defines its citizens’ value to society primarily by how much money they make is going to be brutal

Those are the things that make life worth living, that make — that give value to being a person, a citizen. If how much money you have is the defining characteristic of citizenship or of value or of relevance, of human relevance, and if that’s all that we’re going to measure (and apparently, since 1980 this all we’re going to measure), you’re going to get a society to live in that is structured on that metric. And it’s going to be a brutal one.

If American society were judged by its health care and prisons, it would have much to be ashamed of

But ultimately, capitalism has not delivered on the promise to be a measurement of anything other than money, of profit. And if profit is your only metric, man, what are you building? Where does the environment fit into that? Where does human potential and you know, for anything other than having some money in your hand, you know, where does, where do people stand when they have health needs or when they make a mistake in life? You know, it was said a long time ago you judge a society by is hospitals and its prisons. By that standard we’re, you know, we have a lot to be ashamed of.

Obama encountered a rigged game – the legislature does not reflect the will of the people

I don’t think Obama is any different from the person I thought we elected two election cycles ago. I think he’s encountered a rigged game. And I don’t think the next guy will have anything other than a rigged game.

And I think, you know, considering the gerrymandering that has made the representative aspect of our legislative branch an absurdity and considering the monetization of our legislative branch I don’t think anybody gets a legislature that is functional. I have no faith in the ability of the legislative branch of my government to in any remote way reflect the popular will.

He said he was going to do a lot of things in a lot of State of the Union addresses. And many of them were admirable in my eyes. Good luck. Good luck getting that passed, you know. Look at what happened with the major initiative of the first term which is health care.

The money that was heaved by– the capital that ran into the halls of government to spend to make sure that we would not achieve what most Americans have said they want at a basic level, certainly at the time the legislation was passed, we’d like to have it that all of us have access to some basic health care. That seems to be an entirely functional thing that many Western countries have managed beautifully, but we cannot.

How it happens, who gets what, you know, single payer, once you got done with what happened in the Congress it was a marginal plan that came out and then our ability to affect it, we’re arguing over an IT problem? Really? That’s what it comes down to? ‘Cause if we can’t fix the computers and if we can’t fix the administration of a program –

Politicians never get to see the America they’ve left behind

… when I was just a police reporter in Baltimore — of hearing people inside the beltway speak about the American city or about urban issues or about things that I actually knew a little bit about. And they would talk about it you know, I’d be listening to, you know, a Gingrich or even some well-meaning liberal. And I would think, I would love to have these guys in my Volkswagen Passat and just kick them out on the corner at Monroe and Fayette and you know, and just leave them there for a month, you know, and just see if they can you stop them from saying this stuff with just a little bit of aware

They’d see human beings for one thing. They’d see the America that they’ve left behind and have left behind for generations. And now increasingly it’s not all just people of color. Now the economy has shrugged again and again and we’re leaving white people behind.

And so all of a sudden, it’s encroaching in a way that people are getting a little bit more frantic. And it’s making some people more inclined to reflect on what the system has wrought. And it’s making other people more inclined to just dig the trenches deeper.

Bill Clinton made the American “gulag” as vast as it is with his legislation against the drug war

And you know, not to critique only the conservative logic and the supply-side logic, you know, Bill Clinton in maneuvering to the center, he signed all those crime bills. He made the American gulag as vast as it is with a lot of his legislation against the drug war. And he made it so that these disposable people could become grist for that horrible mill.

I am so aware of what– at this point of having covered it for so many years of what the drug war means in terms of being effectively a war on the poor. That’s all it is. It has no meaning in terms of narcotics or anything like that. That’s the shell game.

And outsourcing jobs has created a throw-away underclass – a hunted, imprisoned underclass

I think there are a lot of extra people left over when the factories all go to the cheapest labor. And you know, if you’re going to move to the manufacturing base to the Pacific Rim and to Mexico and wherever else– you’re going to have a lot of extra people. And that’s going to make you nervous. And those people are not going to have– well, you’re either going to have to pay them to be extra, which we don’t have– we’re not that selfless. We’re cutting back on welfare.

You’re either going to have to pay them to be useless, you’re going to have to find a way to completely reorient them and place them in the service economy in ways that they are not now relevant for. And that’s a lot of money, we don’t want to spend that money. Or you’re going to have to hunt them, hunt them down. And that’s what the drug war became. You know, we left one last industry in places like West Baltimore and North Philadelphia and East St. Louis; we left one last factory standing. We left the drug corner. And it was very lucrative and very destructive. And then we made that legal and then we made the laws against that so draconian that we could basically destroy lives.

And then to make it even more laughable as a capitalist enterprise, we started turning over the prisons to private companies. And so they can, certain people with the contracts can find a profit metric in destroying these lives.

It’s not like there are no alternatives

But why can’t Congress look at this and say, “You know what? This is what we say we want these people working, we say we don’t want welfare cheats, we say we don’t want to welfare to grow. Here are people who are willing to work full time to be part of our service economy. Let’s give them some discretionary income. They’re probably going to spend it buying American product.”

We are Reagan’s children, we are Thatcher’s children. You know, there is no society, there’s just you.

Most people are opting out of the political structure, a lot have given up

Where’s the pushback? Well, you saw a great first act in Occupy Wall Street. It’s a shame they had no second act, but they had a good first act. And you see it, I think, in a very tragic way in the fact that most people are opting out of the political structure. I don’t think that’s, you know, I can say all these things about it’s a rigged game and yet I still go in and I vote and I still argue in public. But a lot of people have given up. And one of the attractions of this sort of anti-government libertarian point of view, of the idea that government is the problem, you know, all those wonderful lines of, you know, “I’m here from the government, I’m here to help.” That’s the worst line you can hear. All that crap is in fact the flotsam and jetsam of everyone’s disappointment in where we’ve been going.

And it’s being harnessed in a way that only contributes to the problem. You know, government and democracy in particular, it is about constant battle, it’s about nothing ever being fixed or ever being right. We will never solve a problem to the point where we can walk away from it and the machine will, you know devour the problem without our attending to it.

Once we start regarding government as “some alien force” we’re done for

There will always be conflict, there will always be competing interests that force us to engage in the hard job of governing ourselves. And so the anti-government thing strikes me as a perversity. I don’t think the founding fathers would recognize it. They were constructing a government of the people. That’s their language and I think that’s their belief.

And the idea that the government is some, you know, once we start regarding it as some alien force that we can’t control, we’re done, democracy’s done. That’s the last stage of walking away from the responsibility of governing ourselves. If we can’t control it, if it is going to be a purchased government, if we can’t institute the reforms that are necessary, then we’re done, we’re done right now.

SEE ALSO

David Simon speaks at Australia’s 2013 Festival of Dangerous Ideas, published November 6, 2013 – In a 2-hour session, Simon speaks likes no other of the divide between the two Americas. Entrenched inequality and its companion, poverty, are the dark side of the American dream for a citizenry united by name, but not by rules.

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How the planet’s richest rob its poorest and what we must do about it

The richest 200 people on earth have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion. We need to change the rules.

No 719 Posted by fw, April 15, 2013

“We have to face the fact that the democratic institutions we worked so hard to shore up during the 20th century are no longer sufficient to protect us in this brave new world. We need to change the rules, and we need to do it quickly. Given that real power is now routinely wielded at the supra-national level, we need to start building global democratic capacity that can keep rampant greed and profiteering in check.”Dr Jason Hickel

The truth about extreme global inequality by Dr Jason Hickel, Aljazeera, April 14, 2013

The global inequality is growing in part because of the neoliberal economic policies imposed on developing countries.

Viral video exposes cruel reality of inequality of wealth disparity in US

The crisis of capital, the rise of the Occupy movement and the crash of Southern Europe have brought the problem of income inequality into mainstream consciousness in the West for the first time in many decades. Now everyone is talking about how the richest 1 percent has captured such a disproportionate share of wealth in their respective countries. This point came crashing home once again when an animated video, illustrating wealth disparities in the US, went viral last month. When an infographic catches the attention of tens of millions of internet users, you know it is hitting a nerve.

New video reveals the brutal disparity of global wealth disparity

But the global scale of inequality remains largely absent from this story. So we at /The Rules decided to put together a [3:52-minute] video that would give it some attention –

Global Wealth Inequality – What you never knew you never knewPublished on Apr 3, 2013 The extreme truth about how wealth is divided globally. Inspired by the amazing Wealth Inequality in America video. Production Company: Grain Media www.grainmedia.co.uk

While this information is not new, it is still startling. In the video we say that the richest 300 people on earth have more wealth than the poorest 3bn – almost half the world’s population. We chose those numbers because it makes for a clear and memorable comparison, but in truth the situation is even worse: the richest 200 people have about $2.7 trillion, which is more than the poorest 3.5bn people, who have only $2.2 trillion combined. It is very difficult to wrap one’s mind around such extreme figures.

Wealth disparity is getting progressively worse

But we wanted to do more than just illustrate the brutal extent of inequality; we also wanted to demonstrate that it has been getting progressively worse. A recent Oxfam report shows that “the richest 1 percent has increased its income by 60 percent in the last 20 years, with the financial crisis accelerating rather than slowing the process”, while the income of the top 0.01 percent has seen even greater growth.

The [above] video shows how this widening disparity operates between countries. During the colonial period, the gap between the richest countries and the poorest countries widened from 3:1 to 35:1, in part because European powers extracted so much wealth from the Global South in the form of resources and labour. Since then, that gap has grown to almost 80:1.

How is this possible? 

World Bank, IMF and WTO policies reward multinationals and punish the poor

The gap is growing in part because of the neoliberal economic policies that international institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have imposed on developing countries over the past few decades. These policies are designed to forcibly liberalize markets, prying them open in order to give multinational corporations unprecedented access to cheap land, resources and labour. But at a serious cost: poor countries have lost around $500bn per year in GDP as a consequence of these policies, according to economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts.

As a result we see a clear net flow of wealth from poor places to rich places. We designed the [above] video to help people visualize this flow, and to show how it pumps up the Global North at devastating expense to the Global South.

News about aid going in to developing countries seldom discloses how much wealth is taken out

Few people know about this constant siphoning of wealth. One reason for this is that the discourse of aid takes up so much space. Consider the enormous publicity captured by Jeffrey Sachs and the Millennium Development Goals, or Bono and Bob Geldof, or even big charities such as Save the Children, Christian Aid and Action Aid.

Governments of rich countries constantly celebrate how much they spend in aid to developing countries, and multinational corporations splash CSR credentials across annual reports and product lines – neither of them confess how much they take out of developing countries.   

Tax avoidance and debt service used as a form of cash transfusions from poor to rich

The [above] video highlights the fact that aid disbursements from rich to poor pale in comparison to the amount of capital that flows the other direction. Tax avoidance alone accounts for more than $900bn each year – money that corporations steal from developing countries and hide in tax havens (or thiefdoms, more accurately), of which the City of London is the global hub. Debt service accounts for about $600bn each year, much of it paid on the compound interest of illegitimate loans accumulated by dictators long since deposed. Both of these flows can be understood as direct transfusions of cash from poor to rich.

Land grabs are another form of wealth stealing from poor to rich

There is much more that we could have included in the video. Land grabs, for example: Fred Pearce’s new book, The Land Grabbers, shows that land exceeding the size of Western Europe has been grabbed from developing countries by corporations in the past decade alone. If we could quantify the value of that land, we could have added a huge amount to the $2 trillion stack of cash that the video depicts flowing from poor to rich.

Climate change disasters cost poor countries larger portion of their GDP than that of rich countries who caused the problem

Or consider climate change: A 2 degree rise in global temperature will cost regions like Africa and South Asia about 5 percent of their GDP, much more than rich countries will suffer despite the fact that they bear most of the responsibility for causing this disaster. Losses on this level make aid seem insignificant.

These are the ultimate drivers of poverty and inequality. These are the problems that we need to tackle. 

Wealth disparity no longer a geographic divide; it’s increasingly a class divide within borders

It bears pointing out that the geographic divide that the video depicts between the Global North and the Global South does not make as much sense today as it once did. We tried to show how both China and Russia embody this divide within their borders. But to be even more accurate we would have had to depict a small wealthy core of corporations and individuals – a global elite versus the majority of the world’s people. It is no longer only about the West versus the Rest; the class divide is now internationally dispersed.

Western institutions that control the global economy represent interests of wealthy not poor

It remains true that the institutions that control the global economy (the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and various bilateral Free Trade Agreements, or FTAs) are monopolized by Western countries. But that does not mean that they represent the interests of voters in those countries, for the people who run these institutions – central bankers, trade representatives and their corporate lobbyists – are not elected by any democratic process. 

The World Bank and the IMF have the power to impose economic policies on developing countries even when voters and elected politicians in those countries unanimously reject them. On top of this, they enjoy “sovereign immunity” status that protects them from lawsuit when their loans fail and their policies cause economic crisis and human devastation. In other words, not only are these institutions undemocratic, they also trump local democracies and override the will of voters in independent nations. The people affected have no recourse to justice.

Moreover, corporate power of wealthy elites trumps national sovereignty of the poor

We see the same democratic deficit in corporations. The majority of the world’s biggest economic entities are now corporations, not countries. They are run by CEOs who are unelected and unaccountable to any citizens; they are responsible only to their shareholders, and their mandate is to turn as much profit as possible at whatever cost to human life or the planet.

These corporations often have more power than the governments of the countries in which they operate. One reason for this is that the WTO and most FTAs enforce “investor-state dispute agreements” that allow corporations to sue local governments for legislation that compromises their profits, like minimum wage laws or pollution laws.  

The point here is that corporate power regularly transcends national sovereignty. We have to face the fact that the democratic institutions we worked so hard to shore up during the 20th century are no longer sufficient to protect us in this brave new world.

We need to change the rules – e.g. global corporate tax; global democratic oversight

We need to change the rules, and we need to do it quickly. Given that real power is now routinely wielded at the supra-national level, we need to start building global democratic capacity that can keep rampant greed and profiteering in check.

This might mean a global corporate minimum tax that will put an end to trade mispricing and tax havens. It might mean a global minimum wage that will put a floor on the “race to the bottom” for labour. It will certainly mean wresting control of international trade laws from the hands of IMF bankers and WTO technocrats and placing it under new institutions that are transparent and democratic.  If we are going to have a global economy, we need to have global democratic oversight.

Can we accomplish this?

Yes. And anyhow, we have no choice; the future of humanity, and of the planet, depends on it. They will say we are dreamers for demanding these changes. But the dreamers are those who imagine that we can feasibly carry on with the status quo.

Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules. He has contributed political critique and analysis to various magazines, including Le Monde Diplomatique, Foreign Policy in Focus, The Africa Report, and Monthly Review. He is currently working on a new book titled The Development Delusion: Why Aid Misses the Point about PovertyFollow him on Twitter: @jasonhickel

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