American Math: Where 74 = 19,000,000

In the United States in 2009, there were 151 million people who received wages. As reporter David Cay Johnston has begun to explain, there is a rather amazing collection of statistics being kept in this crucial area by the Social Security Administration.

Johnston explains some of the shocking, if not at all surprising, facts revealed by a bit of analysis:

[These statistics] do give us a stunning picture of what’s happening at the very top of the compensation ladder in America.

The number of Americans making $50 million or more, the top income category in the data, fell from 131 in 2008 to 74 last year. But that’s only part of the story.

The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!

You read that right. In the Great Recession year of 2009 (officially just the first half of the year), the average pay of the very highest-income Americans was more than five times their average wages and bonuses in 2008. And even though their numbers shrank by 43 percent, this group’s total compensation was 3.2 times larger in 2009 than in 2008, accounting for 0.6 percent of all pay. These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.

And remember: This comparison includes federally taxable wages only. It says nothing about stock options, expense accounts, or benefits.

And single-year wage data also say nothing about wealth distribution, which, in a capitalist paradise like the United States, is far more unequal than the income structure.

wage pyramid Finally, I would invite people to just goggle these stats. Contemplate, for instance, the pyramidal structure of the wage system. By far the most densely populated wage segments lie at the low end of the scale. And the slots get almost precisely less-filled as they ascend into the unconscionable stratosphere.

Likewise, one might examine these numbers and ask “our” politicians why the fuck they never shut up about the so-called “middle class.” Aren’t the bottom and the top really the overwhelmingly important issues? And, even without knowing the facts Johnston discusses, aren’t people thirsty for some leadership and meaningful choice in this area?

Alas, few topics are more off-the-table in our market totalitarian society. The mass media are owned by corporate capitalists who enrich themselves by serving the other corporate capitalists who are the sponsors of their fare.  The ruling (R) v. (D) junta, the money-grubbing Business Party duo-mono-poly, a.k.a. our “serious” policians?   The same.

“The Consumerist,” My Ass

consumerist logo Consumers Union is certainly an admirable and important group. It is also an unfortunate one. Not only does it legitimize the slave-word “consumer,” but it has also declined into a mere shopper’s watchdog that has nothing to say about corporate capitalism and its radical incompatibility with a decent human future.

Seems that CU has now picked up the website called The Consumerist. The site, cited with affection by sources like Advertising Age, redoubles and hipsterizes all the present flaws of CU.

Better shopping is not going to get the job done, folks. However many issues we face at the micro level of what to buy, our make-it-or-break-it century’s pressing problems all have to do with the lack of democratic control over macro-level policies. You’d never know that, however, by consulting Consumer Reports or The Consumerist, which, as is probably well understood by their corporate partners, divert potentially radical attention from the political to the merely personal level.

“Nearly Any”

blinders The New York Times today headlines an interpretive piece, the main claim of which is this:

Yet even as vital signs weaken — plunging home sales, a bleak job market and, on Friday, confirmation that the quarterly rate of economic growth had slowed, to 1.6 percent — a sense has taken hold that government policy makers cannot deliver meaningful intervention. That is because nearly any proposed curative could risk adding to the national debt — a political nonstarter.

Translation: The overclass, as always, prefers Great Depression to a pro-labor shift in the distribution of power. This society remains entirely capable of employing all its able-bodied workers and thereby ending the present economic cliffwalk. What it lacks is a left coherent enough to demand what the elite won’t mention.

A Headline Worth 1,000 Words

moneybagsU.S. Firms Build Up Record Cash Piles

Under that headline, The Wall Street Journal reports this:

U.S. companies are holding more cash in the bank than at any point on record, underscoring persistent worries about financial markets and about the sustainability of the economic recovery.

The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that nonfinancial companies had socked away $1.84 trillion in cash and other liquid assets as of the end of March, up 26% from a year earlier and the largest-ever increase in records going back to 1952. Cash made up about 7% of all company assets, including factories and financial investments, the highest level since 1963.

And, of course, this:

The comfort of having cash on hand, though, comes at a high price companies may not be willing to pay for much longer. They are earning almost no interest on their holdings of cash, making it more difficult for them to achieve the returns shareholders typically expect from them. That will put pressure on companies to pare down the cash holdings eventually.

“Stockholders don’t want them to keep sitting on cash at a zero return,” said Paul Kasriel, an economist at Northern Trust. “They’re going to use it,” either to increase hiring and investment or to make payouts to shareholders in the form of dividends or share buybacks, he said.

Wanna bet which one it’ll be? Didn’t think so:

Earlier this week, retailer Target Corp. raised its quarterly dividend to 25 cents a share from 17 cents, saying that the company’s cash holdings were “well above the amount needed for optimal reinvestment in our core business.”

How fortunate for everybody that we love free markets and don’t begrudge people getting rich! And that we have a president who knows how things work, and that “Ultimately, true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector.”

Education, Public and Commercial

attack apple Diane Ravitch is an honest and thoughtful person.  After decades of advocating the official bi-party line on “educational reform,” Ravitch has examined the evidence and concluded that testing, school choice, and “race to the top” are not just bogus, but harmful.

Well, of course.  Who in their right mind believes that our overclass actually wants the most educated possible population?  Quite the contrary, for the all-too-obvious reason.

In fact, Ravitch herself provides a useful lens for seeing exactly how screwed up our elite schooling is.  At age 72, Ravitch, a Wellesley graduate, is just now thinking her way through the very first tuft of weeds stymieing acknowledgment that excessive public knowledge is seen as a grave danger by the primary beneficiaries of our market-totalitarian society.  Ravitch now writes like my Sociology 101 students, or like a 6th grader would in a society that actually took these words seriously, rather than as window dressing:

Without knowledge and understanding, one tends to become a passive spectator, rather than an active participant in the great decisions of our time.  A democratic society cannot long sustain itself if its citizens are uninformed and indifferent about its history, its government, and the workings of its economy.

That an Ivy-educated professional school-policy expert is, at the end of her career, just beginning to ponder what this really means speaks volumes about what passes for the top in our educational efforts.

And, despite her bravery in coming out against the status quo and its cynical trickery, Ravitch remains importantly wrong in at least one core area.  She complains that the teaching of history and literature are “so frequently politicized.”

Well, once again, duh.  They are politicized by structure and design, for the same all-too-obvious reason.  The real history of the United States and the world radicalizes most people who learn it.  Hence, it is forbidden.  The best you get in K-12 is distant hints.

This systemic ban on truth-telling is why my 14-year-old son, presently a student in one of the richest and most liberal-minded of the nation’s public school districts, while studying for his 8th grade social studies final, asked me, thinking I wouldn’t know, “Who founded the NAACP?”  When I told him it was W.E. B. DuBois, he said, “Oh, yeah.”  When I added that DuBois was a socialist, my son was floored that that fact was absent from his lessons.  This, despite the undeniable fact that DuBois himself would have insisted being a socialist was the #1 fact of his own life, the very first thing later people ought to remember about him.

The day we become serious about education (a day that will probably never arrive, given the continuing dictatorial power of our business elite and their ongoing breakneck squandering of the planet’s resources) will be the day we mandate that our spending on schools must always equal or exceed the sums corporate stockholders spend on commercial indoctrination, a.k.a. big business marketing.  At present, that latter sum is probably more than $2 trillion a year in the USA alone.

Cato is Clown Central

clowns The mighty journalistic flagship USA Today carries a story about yet another preposterous effort by medical experts to pretend that the people who run the United States are going to consider making the nation’s built environment friendly to exercise.   The delusional proposal in question is, in the credulous description of  USA Today, a “comprehensive, wide-ranging strategies outlined in the new U.S. National Physical Activity Plan, which is being released today by an expert panel representing influential health organizations. Among groups involved are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.”

The “comprehensive” plan is, as always, a melange of quarter-measures and rote incantations, none of which, puny as they are, stands a ghost of a chance of getting funded:

• Make sure roadway spending includes money for “complete streets,” accommodating cars, bikes and pedestrians.

• Have doctors assess patients’ physical activity levels at appointments and discuss ways they can meet the activity guidelines.

• Encourage early childhood education programs to have little ones as physically active as possible.

• Provide access to and opportunities for physical activity before and after school.

• Encourage school officials to find ways for children to walk and bike safely to school.

• Provide tax breaks for building owners or employers who provide amenities in workplaces that support active commuting, such as showers in buildings, secure bicycle parking, free bicycles or transit subsidies.

• Increase funding and resources for parks, recreation, fitness and sports programs and facilities in areas of high need.

Of course, for “balance” in its reporting on this piece of hopeless liberal special pleading, USA Today must turn to “conservatives,” who, of course, refuse to admit that any environmental discouragement of health exists in corporate capitalist America.

Cue the blithering clowns of the unintentionally hilarious Cato Institute:

“Most people are overweight not because there isn’t a sidewalk in their neighborhood but because we like to eat and we don’t like to exercise,” says David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C.

And the price of the changes could be high. “Everything costs something,” Boaz says. “Every action has a cost, and when it’s government-involved, whether it’s federal or local, they are generally less efficient with money. This is the elite planning for how the masses should live.”

Only in America, folks, only in America:  Choices exist independently of environments.  Government is always less efficient than mega-corporations, no evidence mentioned or required.  And, despite the fact that big business marketing is the largest and most sophisticated program of behavioral control in human history and something that receives twice as much funding as all forms and levels of schooling combined, “elite planning for how the masses should live” can only come from the government or their evil dupes and shills, worried public health researchers.