Monday, Jul 21, 2014
Prevailing neoliberal ideology, which perverts capitalism as an economic system into capitalism as an unyielding political ideology, lurks in the shadows of almost every major issue in America, though nowhere is its influence more obvious or profound than in the spiraling rise of income and wealth inequality today.
When Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” was first released in English, it followed the Culture War Playbook to perfection: First came the triumphant plaudits from like-minded thinkers, followed shortly by the hasty rebuttals of their ideological opponents, followed themselves by a torrent of commentary from pundits left and right who skimmed the book before adding their own two cents. Soon, there was the predictable “unskewing” by the right, after which came the fact-checking of the “unskewers” on the left… at which point the whole process had reached its inevitable conclusion. High-traffic angles fully juiced, our treadmill news cycle moved on to the next plank in our bitter, pointless culture clash, what author William Gibson has termed our “cold civil war.”
So it goes.
What’s so interesting about this Kabuki dance is just how few commentators at the time bothered to note that Piketty’s findings were never particularly controversial or groundbreaking. Piketty’s book became such a sensation on the left precisely because it gave weight to what anyone with a pair of eyes in the real world (i.e., not Lower Manhattan, the Washington Beltway, or Silicon Valley) can already plainly see: Wealth inequality grows each and every day, while the middle class keeps getting pummeled by this Glorious Free Enterprise System. What used to be good, stable jobs are converted into temp positions or contract work — automated, downsized or simply eliminated entirely, they’re replaced in the labor market by the worst-paying, most utterly dehumanizing low-wage gigs that our much ballyhooed “job creators” can imagine and implement.
The consequences for our democracy and our economy are perilous and unlikely to be easily remedied.
Whether or not one is generally convinced by Piketty’s thesis that r > g (or more plainly, that capital tends to grow at a faster rate than income without some form of outside intervention), it should be plain that in our system, the stage has been uniquely well-set for the unbridled expansion of wealth that his book describes. When the effective tax rates are lower for capital gains than for the incomes of the less affluent; when political processes are legally corrupted and circumvented for a price; when regulatory agencies are gutted, stalled, or simply staffed with careerists eager to make their way through the revolving door — this is not a political or economic system likely to become less unequal over time.
Will this trend toward inequality continue? According to “U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth,” a recent survey of wealthy Americans that aims to “[shed] light on the direction and purpose of the more than $15 trillion that will be passed across generations in high-net-worth families over the next two decades,” it seems increasingly likely.
The survey, which polled 680 Americans holding at least $3 million in investable assets, unearthed a troubling trend — the birth of a new American aristocracy. As the survey notes, “Nearly three-quarters of those over 69, and 61% of Baby Boomers, were the first generation to accumulate significant wealth. Among the younger Millennial generation, inherited wealth is more common. About two-thirds are from families in which they are the second, third or fourth generation to be wealthy.” Now, it should be noted briefly that this survey relies on self-reporting, which makes these figures somewhat suspect. (More on this in a bit.) But consider two charts: The first shows the highest marginal tax rates on income and capital gains throughout the last hundred years, while the second outlines the estate tax rate during the same period.
By Amanda Marcotte
July 16, 2014
There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the increasing political polarization in America , which is at historically high levels. There are a lot of reasons for it, including changing demographics, women’s growing empowerment, the internet, the economy and cable news. But religion and religious belief plays an important role as well. There’s no way around it: America is quickly becoming two nations, one ruled over by fundamentalist Christians and their supporters and one that is becoming all the more secular over time, looking more and more like western Europe in its relative indifference to religion. And caught in between are a group of liberal Christians that are culturally aligned with secularists and are increasingly and dismayingly seeing the concept of “faith” aligned with a narrow and conservative political worldview.
That this polarization is happening is hard to deny, even if it’s harder to measure that political polarization. The number of Americans who cite “none” when asked about a religious identity is rising rapidly, up to nearly 20% from 15% in 2007, with a third of people under 30 identifying with no religious faith. Two-thirds of the “nones” say they believe in God, suggesting that this is more of a cultural drift towards secularism than some kind of crisis of faith across the country.
But even this may underrepresent how secular our country really is getting, as many people who say they belong to a church don’t really go to church much, if at all. While Americans like to tell pollsters they go to church regularly, in-depth research shows they are lying and many of them blow it off, putting our actual church-going rates at roughly the same level of secular Western Europe.
Even when people identify with a label like “Catholic” or “Methodist”, that doesn’t mean they consider it an important part of their identity in the way that people used to. Take, for instance, the way that weddings have quietly changed in this country. It used to be that you had a wedding in a church, and only people who were eloping got married by someone other than a minister. Now, outside of very religious circles, it’s more common to see weddings on beaches or at country clubs, and very often officiated by friends of the couple rather than clergy. Indeed, state laws are slowly beginning to change to reflect this reality, allowing more flexibility for people to have the secular weddings they increasingly desire.
But of those who remain religious, being affiliated with a fundamentalist or conservative religion is becoming a little more common. The same Pew research that found while all Christian faiths are slowly receding, mainline Protestant churches are shrinking a little faster and have fewer followers, at 15% of the country, than white evangelicals (19%) or Catholics (22%). This comports with other research that finds evangelicals have a bigger piece of the shrinking pie called “Christianity.”
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Jihadists in Iraq have ordered that all women between the ages of 11 and 46 must undergo female genital mutilation, which could affect up to four million women and girls in the war-ravaged country, a UN official said Thursday.
The UN’s second most senior official in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, said, “It is a fatwa (or religious edict) from ISIS, we learnt about it this morning. We have no precise numbers.”
The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), took over large swathes of the country last month and has begun imposing its extreme Salafist interpretation of Islam.
Badcock said that if you took UN population figures as a guide, around “four million girls and women could be affected”.
Female genital mutilation is unusual in Iraq and is only practised in “certain isolated pockets of the country”, she added.