Archives for category: Economy

Mitchell Robinson, a professor of Music at Michigan State, has travelled the world and discovered that others do not share our obsession with charters and standardized testing. The so-called reform movement has blithely closed hundreds or thousands of public schools and replaced many of them with charter schools. In the rush to privatization, reformers forgot about the purpose of public Ed ivatuion, which is not to make students ready for college and careers but ready to lead a good life.

Robinson writes:

“The charter school “debate” is no longer about charter schools vs. public schools (charters are not public schools — that myth has been exploded), or even about “for profit” vs. “not for profit” charters (the evidence HERE suggests this is really a difference without a distinction).”

No, the real issue here is about the true purpose of education, and whether continuing to support two separate but unequal, and inequitable, school systems is doing anything to improve education for all children. By any objective measure, the answer is a resounding “NO!”

The charter lobby has attempted, through spending millions of dollars on PR and marketing, to redefine the purpose of education from one about producing well-rounded citizens who are capable of making valuable contributions to our society and leading fulfilling lives, to a business-driven agenda of producing workers for corporate America. The latter “purpose” now drives much of our state and federal education legislation, which is rife with references to “21st Century Skills,” and insuring that high school graduates are stamped as being “college and career-ready”.

What the charter chains overlook is that the purpose of education is to prepare young people for lives of caring, compassion, and responsility.

“This is a radical repurposing of a public goal to meet the needs of private corporations, and is echoed in the mission and “vision” statements of the leading charter school management companies zzz.”

Harold Meyerson is the editor of The American Prospect. He has written the most thoughtful article I have read about the election. He takes a long view, putting the election into a social and economic framework.

He calls the 2016 election “the post-middle-class election,” and ties its themes to the collapse of the middle class and the engorgement of the 1%. This situation created both an opening for Bernie Sanders but also for the rage of the white working-class, which responded to Trump’s white nationalist appeal.

He attended both conventions.

Here are his commentaries.

Democrats Night #1: The splits in the Sanders revolution; what happens to revolutions when they win some power and compromise; situating Bernie in the American socialist continuum:

Democrats Night #3: Mommy party vs. daddy party; what’s distinctive about an Obama speech – and presidency; Democrats find a way to attack Trump the autocrat:

Republicans Night #2: Cultural rage; GOP combats crime wave of 1988:

Republicans Night #4: Trump’s anti-democratic ethos; his debt to Roger Ailes:

This is a provocative, must-read article by Barry C. Lynn of the New America Foundation and Phillip Longman, a senior editor at the Washington Monthly. They review the history of Populism and import its essential ideas into the present era.

The… first Populists drew upon a political philosophy with roots back to the American Revolution. Part of this tradition is familiar—a belief that government must be run by the people. Populists called for direct election of senators and led the push for referendums and initiatives to bypass corrupt legislatures. But another part is largely forgotten—that the people are sovereign over the economy and have a responsibility to structure markets to promote the common good.

This was the “democratic republicanism” of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. It holds that, just like political power, economic power must be distributed as widely as possible. Thus, the Populists focused much of their energy on combating efforts to monopolize commerce and natural resources, especially land. They also closely studied how to govern large corporations, and strongly supported unionization of workers and farmers to counter the power of concentrated capital.

Read their proposals for restoring power to the people.

This is one I like a lot, and I would add charter schools to their list:

What would a True Populist do today? Insist that the managers of any corporation receiving more than a quarter of its revenues from taxpayers—including defense contractors, universities, and hospitals—work at government wages. And require that the bosses of local public utilities earn no more than the public servants who regulate them.

They also propose breaking up the giant monopolies of Google, Amazon, and Facebook, and localizing retail, banking and other services.

Since the 1970s, both Democrats and Republicans have undone almost all these laws. The result has been a concentration of power and wealth that would have horrified True Populists. In groceries, pharmacies, hardware, and office supply, control has been consolidated in as few as one or two giants. So, too, wealth—the Walton family alone is now as rich as 140 million other Americans combined. And with the rise of online goliaths like Amazon, which aims to be the “Everything Store,” control will only be yet further concentrated.

What would a True Populist do today? Besides neutralizing large online retailers, a True Populist would revive the laws Americans used to localize banking, farming, and retail through the heart of the twentieth century.

About fifteen years ago, the Bush administration dropped the guard against vertical integration. Since then Comcast, which distributes television shows, has been allowed to merge with NBC, which produces shows. Amazon, the dominant retail marketplace for books, has been allowed to go big time into publishing books. And Google, which dominates search, has been allowed to compete directly with companies like Yelp, which rely on Google’s search engine.

What would a True Populist do today? Break up Amazon, Facebook, Google, Comcast, and any other essential network monopoly by banning them from owning companies that depend on their services.

Wow! Now here is some fresh thinking.

Larry Cuban writes on his blog about the most important inventions that have raised our nation’s standard of living. He poses the question that is the title of this post. He supposes that most people would respond “the smartphone,” but they would be wrong. His post is an intriguing review of a book by economic historian Robert Gordon, who contends that the century from 1870-1970 experienced greater growth and innovation than the past half century.

Cuban summarizes Gordon’s central argument:

Thus, an unheralded, stunning century of innovation and economic growth produced the telegraph, phone, television, house lighting, automobile, airplane travel, and, yes, indoor plumbing. These inventions networked the home and workplace in ways that raised living standards and increased workplace productivity considerably. It was in that same century that medical advances reduced infant mortality and lengthened life of Americans dramatically.

The half-century since 1970 has surely seen innovations that have enhanced these earlier inventions but the template for economic growth was laid down for that fruitful hundred-year period. In past decades, new technologies have clearly expanded communication and entertainment, making life far more instantaneous, convenient and pleasurable. But social media, immediate communication, and constant access to photos, video clips, and films have not increased the standard of living as had the decades between 1870-1970.

Cuban then segues to a discussion of the current reform movement in education, which traces its roots to the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk.” That report was “driven by an economic rationale–the human capital argument–for improving U.S. schools” and embraced by policymakers, business leaders, and foundations. If we didn’t improve education dramatically, we would lose our competitive edge in the world economy. And thus was born the “reform movement,” in which governors and “reformers” sought to raise curriculum and performance standards for both students and teachers, increase testing, and create accountability frameworks that included rewards and penalties in subsequent decades….

The current reforms in education and the pressure to raise test scores on international tests have not increased economic growth, stimulated productivity, or reduced inequality, writes Cuban.

In other words, reforms aimed at getting U.S. students to perform better on international tests for the past three decades–think No Child Left Behind, expanded parental choice in schools, more computers in schools, and Common Core state standards–was of little influence on growing a strong economy, raising median income, or lessening inequality, according to Gordon. These reforms, while aiding low-income minorities in many instances, overall, contributed little to improving productivity or raising standards of living

Gordon’s book concludes, writes Cuban, with a list of ten interventions that could raise the standard of living, like raising the minimum wage. Of his ten interventions three have to do with education. They are:

“…investing in preschools, state and federal school financing rather than local taxes, and reducing student indebtedness in higher education. Not a word about the dominant school reforms in 2016–Common Core standards, standardized testing, technologies in schools, charter schools, accountability.

In questioning the dominant beliefs in current school reform as essential to economic growth, Gordon’s argument and evidence are useful to those politically active decision-makers, teachers, parents, and researchers who know that a democracy needs schools that do more than prepare children and youth for the workplace.

The paradox, as Cuban suggests, is that the more we focus on test scores and workplace readiness, the more we sacrifice civic values that may be of greater importance in a democracy.

William Mathis was a school superintendent in Vermont. Since retiring, he has become Managing director of the National Education Policy Center and a member of the Vermont Board of Education. In this post, which he wrote for this blog, he deconstructs a recent study by prominent economists about school reform. The idea of projecting how many trillions might be saved if the schools adopted certain test-based reforms rang a bell. I checked my copy of Reign of Error and found that Eric Hanushek had predicted in 2011 that if the U.S. replaced the lowest-performing teachers with average teachers, we would match the test scores of Canada and Finland and generate an additional $112 trillion in economic output over our lifetimes. (Eric A. Hanushek, “Valuing Teachers: How Much is a Good Teacher Worth?” Education Next (Summer 2011).


The following article under review says the gains produced by raising NAEP scores would generate “only” $76 trillion in new economic output. Not sure why the future gains dropped from $112 trillion to $76 trillion. The article reviewed here can be found online at and will appear in the summer 2016 issue of Education Next (





The Cargo Cult Educational and Economic Reform Theory


William J. Mathis


As U.S. Forces island-hopped across the Pacific during World War II, Melanesians noticed that the Yankees would land, immediately bull-doze huge landing strips, put up rows of lights and build a control tower. Great metal birds would then be attracted, land, and off-load tons of valuable cargo. Being quick learners and believing that if they built it, manna would come; the islanders dug landing strips out of the jungle, placed torches along the sides and built a bamboo tower to attract these birds. Thus was born a new version of the economic theory of the “cargo cult.”


With rigorous application of just such impeccable reasoning, Erik Hanushek, Jens Ruhose and Ludger Woessman have published their latest re-write, It Pays to Improve School Quality, as the feature story in the summer 2016 issue of Education Next. Retreaded several times since 2007, the basic rationale rests on the correlation between economic wealth and test scores. They conclude that if we invest in increasing eighth grade NAEP math scores, then $76 trillion in new money will descend from heaven, thereby quadrupling the GDP, and bestowing great blessings on society.


With a carefully selected data set, you can do amazing things with statistics.


Since the common school movement of the mid nineteenth century, we have known that investments in education provide great returns to society and the economy. Contemporary funding reformers have thus called for equality in investments in education. The inconsistency in this case is that a veteran opponent of adequate school funding is the lead proponent of the cargo cult education myth.


As attractive as the myth is, there are four major faults; (1) they over-simplify and misread the economic development literature, (2) they wrongly argue causation from correlation, (3) they incorporate fatal statistical errors in their analysis, and (4) they frustrate the reader with unexplained mystery methods.


Economic Development – It is puzzling to see economists interpret the economic development literature so narrowly. For instance, the World Economic Forum’s twelve pillars  of growth mentions education as part of only three of these pillars; early education, training, and post-graduate research. Unfortunately, NAEP math scores measure none of these relevant education pillars particularly well. Transportation, infrastructure, macroeconomic support, and other vital necessities for economic development are not even part of the equation. Presumably, the invisible hand of middle school NAEP math scores will provide the missing meta-flux which will parachute trillions of dollars onto a needy society.


It would be good to see the economic development theory that supports this overly constricted model, but the discerning reader will be disappointed. There is no review of the literature — even though there is an entire discipline devoted to these questions. But the reader does not have to rely simply on the World Economic Forum. The United States, with modest performance on international math scores (PISA), has won the distinction of being number one in the 2014 World Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index. And on another OECD designed assessment, the national Innovation Index, the U.S. was essentially tied for fourth place.


A more realistic and comprehensive model would surely include other relevant factors. Variables like the decline in carbon based extractive industries, the graying of the population, the effect of health care costs, and the reported oversupply of STEM-qualified job seekers might have greater economic relevance than how kids performed on an eighth-grade math test some years earlier. But broader issues, such as these, are not addressed.


Correlation and Causation – The authors strongly contend that the relationship between math scores and a stronger economy is causal (pp. 21-22). That is, high NAEP math test scores cause economic growth. This may seem a bold over-reach, but the authors flatly state “extensive analysis of the cross-country evidence has shown that a causal interpretation of the relationships is credible.” They garnish this statement with phrases such as the “strong relationship between test scores and economic growth” and advise “Any state political leader of vision would do well to make school quality a high priority.”  States should make a “sustained commitment” and “large economic benefits should accrue.” The overt necessity is an (unspecified but major) investment in education and particularly in math education.


Strangely, they then justify making this commitment by citing “the very weak correlation between increased spending on schools and higher levels of student achievement.” The reader is then faced with making sense of the authors’ urging to invest more in test scores while simultaneously saying their overall investment mechanism doesn’t work. This self-contradiction seems lost on the authors.


Perhaps, they would re-purpose some unspecified amount of money from some unknown source. But this is never addressed and is left to conjecture.


The Fatal Flaw – With correlation, it matters a great deal what variables are entered in the analysis and how they are measured. For instance, if the number of predictors is limited to a small set of highly interrelated measures, then the importance of these variables will be inflated. This leads to uncertainty due to a wide list of omitted “third factor” explanations — which is particularly problematic in this paper. Likewise, when using the states as units of the analysis, the variance is collapsed for both test scores and for spending. Elementary statistics shows that this reduction in score intervals jacks up the correlation and exaggerates the resulting findings. This is how you generate trillions and trillions of theoretical dollars.


This leads to the question of whether you can claim causality when third or lurking factors are not examined and when the ecological correlation fallacy is in play. The obvious answer, of course, is that this causal claim cannot be supported.


Mystery Methods – The methods used to support their argument remain a mystery.  While the central rationale hinges on the “strong correlation” between test scores and economic growth, the reader will search in vain to find the simple yet key statistic, the correlation between wealth and math scores. In reviewing earlier work, David Berliner noted this same omission in the 2014 version but it has not been fixed.


The authors do say test scores account for 20-35% of the growth but, again, this is not explained nor are other factors (except migration) considered. The reader is simply told to behold the “strong relationship” as illustrated by a scatterplot (Table 4) which is about as symmetrical as a shotgun blast.


It must be noted that earlier work (2012, for example) by these authors was often characterized by far greater methodological detail and lengthier discussion of omitted variables, poor measures, units of analyses, etc. The latest version provides none of this detail and the differences in findings between the reports is simply unexplained.


The results are extrapolated to a lifetime (defined as 80 years of age) of earnings. Considering the volatility of the economy over long periods of time, and the notoriously weak track record of economic predictions, the arithmetic that gets us to $76 trillion puts a lot of weight on those middle school math scores. One gets the feeling that one is listening to stock broker speculations of pork belly futures instead of policy analysts.




Ultimately, the reader is left to puzzle over the purpose of the paper. If it is to encourage investments in education, the authors would find themselves faced by their own contradictions. If it is to encourage the use of test-based reforms, they would have to overlook three decades of test-based reform which have produced no convincing narrowing of the achievement gap. If they wish to demonstrate that money matters, they inadvertently succeed. Yet, they don’t explain how this mechanism would work. When this current paper is considered as part of the ten year set, the reader is left with the impression of statistical exotica run amok displayed more for the appearance of intellectual elegance or as a numerological fantasy rather than as a disciplined or useful exploration of either education or economics.


Finally, assuming we built the runway and lit the torches, would the $76 trillion of manna descend from the heavens? Not likely. The underpinning economic theory is not developed, complete or costed. The curricular improvements are not defined, costed or planned. The fiscal gains are speculative.


For a nation that has yet to restore education expenditures to pre-2008 levels, the promise is a chimera. There is little in the current political landscape that points to sufficient investments. A more realistic scenario is that greater disparities between low and high spending states can be expected with ESSA. The probability of this proposal’s strengthened investment in middle school math being enacted is further diminished by the primary author’s tour of the nation’s courthouses

Whitney Tilson and I don’t usually exchange emails. He is one of those hedge fund managers whom I often complain about; he is a big supporter of KIPP, TFA, and charters, and he frequently lambastes me (I never speak ill of him). But Whitney reaches out once in a while to tell me we have found common ground. For example, I complimented him when he publicly acknowledged that the online charter chain K12 does not offer good education. I liked that.


Recently, Whitney has been very outspoken about the anti-gay, anti-transgender legislation passed recently in North Carolina, Georgia (vetoed by Governor Deal after loud protests by corporations), and most recently, Mississippi, which just passed a law saying it was okay to refuse service to people who are gay or transgender.


Whitney contacted me to express his outrage about North Carolina’s HB2, which prevents localities from passing legislation to protect the rights of transgender people. He sent correspondence he had with a North Carolina legislator, stating that he [[Whitney] has a cousin who is a transgender man and another cousin who is married to a transgender woman. How could a state single them out for discriminatory treatment? How could the state label them second-class citizens?


His letter was posted in full at Huffington Post. I excerpted below.


Whitney points out in the posts below that the economic backlash against North Carolina has begun. PayPal canceled a major expansion that would have created 400 new jobs. The entertainment industry is backing away. Other major corporations are reconsidering their presence in the state. They don’t want to lose valued employees because of discriminatory laws.


I will say this for Whitney: when he gets engaged in a battle, he is relentless. I wish he were on our side.


This was the communique that started our current exchanges:


Whitney wrote:


“When I read about the outrageous law that the Republican legislature and governor in North Carolina recently passed that bars transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity and prohibits cities from passing antidiscrimination ordinances that protect gay and transgender people (see the NYT editorial and two articles about it, below), I remembered that an old acquaintance of mine, who served with me for many years on the board of a charity that provides scholarships to dozens of promising, impoverished Samburu students in Kenya, had asked for my support for his campaign to become a member of the NC legislature. Even though I don’t normally support Republicans, I thought he was a very intelligent and good-hearted person, so I was happy to write him a $500 check.
“I haven’t been on that board for ~5 years so haven’t had any contact with him – I couldn’t even remember if he’d won his race much less if he was still serving. But in the off chance he was, I forwarded him one of the articles below with the comment, “Please tell me that you’re not part of this total idiocy…”
“Much to my surprise (and disappointment), he was! Below is the email reply he sent me, followed by the email I just sent back to him. Enjoy – and please feel free to forward widely!”
“His email:



“Yes, I did vote for this and would say there are a number of points not being reported.
“Charlotte clearly overstepped their legal authority in that their ordinance went beyond their government facilities and required churches, charities and any business in the state wanting to do business with Charlotte to follow the ordinance.
“There is nothing in this bill that added to or diminished discrimination statutes previously in place in NC.
“The bathroom, locker room provisions cover only public and government facilities. Essentially, there are men’s and women’s facilities as traditionally defined and a requirement for unisex or special accommodations as needed.

“Numerous lawyers initially felt this could have Title 9 and other federal education funds issues. However, upon further examination, they thought not. This included the UNC System.

“This bill does not impact private businesses. Most large businesses were already following these guidelines.
“There is nothing to prevent a municipality from approaching the legislature about changing their minimum wage. It just needs to be approved at the state level.
“I hate having to deal with this type legislation, but Charlotte went too far. Thank you for writing, inquiring or commenting any time.

“Here’s the reply I just sent him:

“I’m really disappointed to hear that you voted for this law, don’t find your rationale for it all persuasive, and am really struggling to reconcile the person I know – the highly intelligent, rational man with a heart of gold – with someone who could support a law that is so: 1) cravenly political; and 2) motivated by hatred and an attempt to further stigmatize an already-oppressed tiny minority. If it were otherwise, why was this bill rushed through in the proverbial (if not literal) dead of night? What century are you and your colleagues living in???

“I feel strongly about this in part because I have two cousins, one of whom is a transgender man and another who is married to a transgender woman. I find it offensive that you and your colleagues passed a law that stigmatizes them – and for what? If you were really concerned about protecting children from a certain group of people known for having a high propensity to be pedophiles, why didn’t you pass a bill banning Catholic priests from your restrooms?
“The absurdity of the law you and your colleagues just passed is further underscored by this photo posted by a transgender man (the NYT editorial below links to his Twitter page here:


Whitney sent this missive today:


“1) Good for PayPal!
“PayPal announced Tuesday morning that’s it has abandoned its plans for a massive global operations center, which would have brought 400 new jobs to Charlotte, North Carolina. The company was unequivocal that the decision was made because of the state’s passage of HB2, a sweeping law that blocks cities from enacting LGBT nondiscrimination protections and mandates that transgender people use the wrong bathrooms for their gender identities.


“CEO Dan Schulman explained in a statement that “the new law perpetuates discrimination and it violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal’s mission and culture.”


“Schulman asserted that the decision to not proceed with the Charlotte center “is a clear and unambigous one” that reflects the company’s “deepest values and our strong belief that every person has the right to be treated equally, and with dignity and respect.” Because PayPal’s employees would not have equal rights under North Carolina law, employing them there is “simply untenable.”


“The move by PayPal is the latest in an ever-growing backlash against the state for rushing through the discriminatory law — lawmakers passed it in a single calendar day as retribution for Charlotte passing LGBT nondiscrimination protections.


“2) From a friend:
“You may also be interested to know that the entrepreneurial community in NC is mobilizing to express our frustration with HB2 and its impact on our community and the health of our startup business climate. We have launched a website where startups across NC can share a comment: We have also launched a formal petition that we are trying to get 100+ startups to sign on to by this Friday, April 8th so we can bring this to the NC government and share the voice of the startup community.
“3) When craven politicians pass laws like HB2, it’s an invitation to horrors like this:
“In his confession, Mr. Dixon said he met the transgender woman, Islan Nettles, on the street in Harlem just after midnight on Aug. 17, 2013. Under questioning, he told the police he started flirting with Ms. Nettles, unaware she was transgender, and became enraged when one of his friends starting mocking him.


“Mr. Dixon admitted that he punched Ms. Nettles in the face, knocking her down, then punched her a second time while she lay on the sidewalk. “I just didn’t want to be fooled,” he said.


“Ms. Nettles, a 21-year-old assistant at a fashion company, died five days later of head injuries she sustained when her head hit the sidewalk. Prosecutors say the evidence shows she was struck repeatedly while she lay on the pavement, ramming her head into the concrete.


“4) As bad as NC’s law is, Mississippi is on the verge of passing a worse one! [Note: It passed, and the governor signed it into law.]
Many states have considered bills that enable discrimination against the LGBT community, but Mississippi’s proposed legislation is perhaps the most explicit in this regard. HB 1523 spells out in storied detail all of the different ways that a person should be able to mistreat people for being LGBT without consequences from the government.”




“Many states have considered bills that enable discrimination against the LGBT community, but Mississippi’s proposed legislation is perhaps the most explicit in this regard. HB 1523 spells out in storied detail all of the different ways that a person should be able to mistreat people for being LGBT without consequences from the government.


“The bill does not pretend to be neutral; it only protects people with anti-LGBT religious beliefs and nobody else:


“The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:


“(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
“(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
“(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.


“Assessing what kind of discriminatory situations this would enable is easy, because the bill spells those out as well. So long as individuals are motivated by “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” any of the following behaviors would have the endorsement of the government:


“Religious organizations can decline to solemnize any marriage or provide any services related to recognizing that marriage.
“Religious organizations can refuse to hire, fire, and discipline employees for violating the organization’s religious beliefs.
“Religious organizations can choose not to sell, rent, or otherwise provide shelter.
“Religious organizations that provide foster or adoptive services can decline service without risking their state subsidies.
“Any foster or adoptive parent can impose their religious beliefs on their children.
“Any person can choose not to provide treatment, counseling, or surgery related to gender transition or same-sex parenting.
“Any person (including any business) can choose not to provide services for any marriage ceremony or occasion that involves recognizing a marriage, including:
Disc-Jockey Services
Wedding Planning
Floral Arrangements
Dress Making
Cake or Pastry Artistry
Assembly-Hall or Other Wedding-Venue Rentals
Limousine or Other Car-Service Rentals
Jewelry Sales And Services
Any person can establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming,” and can manage the access of restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities.
Any state employee can openly express their beliefs without consequence.
Any state employee can choose not to authorize or license legal marriages by recusing themselves from those duties.


Well, Mississippi is now well protected against its gay citizens.

It is also protected against the arrival or expansion of major corporations that like the freedom to hire people without prying into their private lives.



Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” explains in this interview how the Democratic party lost its way. It is suffering an “identity crisis,” he says.


In recent years, the Democrats have been consistently liberal on social issues, but indistinguishable from the Republicans on economic issues. They are as likely to be as hostile to unions as Republicans. Their unabashed support for free trade hurt the working class and exported the manufacturing sector. America used to be a country where a person without a college degree could get a good job, but now a college degree is priced beyond the reach of low-income and even middle-income students.


What happened to the Democrats? He says that they have been blinded by their Ivy League pedigrees, and they surround themselves with people just like themselves. Their class interests blind them to the needs of working-class Americans. They do not hear from people outside their social and economic class. He takes Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as examples of people who were plucked from obscurity and turned into superstars and came to believe that meritocracy would solve the nation’s problems. They were wrong. Meritocracy served to put them out of touch and to insulate them from different points of view.


Read the interview.

Business Insider has a valuable article that explains who benefits in nations that provide universal social services (as Bernie Sanders recommends): the middle class. The article appeared originally in The Atlantic.

Anu Partenan, who was born in Finland, describes why these services enjoy broad support:
“When I lived in Finland, as a middle-class citizen I paid income tax at a rate not much higher than what I now pay in New York City. True, Nordic countries have somewhat higher taxes on consumption than America, and overall they collect more tax revenue than the U.S. currently does—partly from the wealthy. But, as an example, here are some of the things I personally got in return for my taxes: nearly a full year of paid parental leave for each child (plus a smaller monthly payment for an additional two years, were I or the father of my child to choose to stay at home with our child longer), affordable high-quality day care for my kids,one of the world’s best public K-12 education systems, free college, free graduate school, nearly free world-class health care delivered through a pretty decent universal network, and a full year of partially paid disability leave.

“As far as I was concerned, it was a great deal. And it was equally beneficial for others. From a Nordic perspective, nothing Bernie Sanders is proposing is the least bit crazy—pretty much all Nordic countries have had policies like these in place for years.

“But wait, most Americans would say: Those policies work well because all Nordics share a sense of kinship and have fond feelings for each other. That might be nice if it were true, but it’s not, as anyone who has followed recent political debates about immigration or economic policy in Nordic countries understands.

“Nordics are not only just as selfish as everyone else on this earth but they can—and do—dislike many of their fellow citizens just as much as people with different political views dislike each other in other countries. As for homogeneity, Sweden already has a bigger share of foreign-born residents than the U.S. The reason Nordics stick with the system is because they can see that on the whole, they come out ahead—not just as a group, but as individuals.”

Jonathan Pelto is a veteran political analyst in Connecticut and a former legislator. He is concerned about the rise of Donald Trump, and he understands that Trump taps into middle-class and working-class anger. Why are they angry? Connecticut has seen little economic growth, jobs are not increasing, the gap between rich and poor is getting wider.

This is an important article about Uber and the new “sharing economy.” It is great for the entrepreneurs, whose companies are valued in the billions. But not good at all for the workers, who don’t earn minimum wage and have no health insurance or any benefits. The article was written by Strphen Greenhouse, who covered labor issues for the Néw York Times for many years.

“AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT in recent American history, one corporation has stood out as the “it” company, the symbol of the new and the cool—think of IBM, then Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon—now it seems to be Uber’s moment. In just six years, Uber has gone from start-up to upstart to juggernaut, pushing its way into 250 cities and 53 countries. Boasting 1.1 million drivers worldwide and 400,000 in the United States, Uber is one of the fastest-growing start-ups in history, with an eye-popping valuation of $62.5 billion, more than that of General Motors. Uber has probably done more to transform—its executives would say “disrupt”—urban transportation around the world than any other company in the last half-century. Its investors include such heavyweights as Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, and Jeff Bezos.

“Uber has also become the foremost symbol of the on-demand economy, with a super-convenient app that consumers love because it often gets them a car faster than it takes to find a taxi. The company sees and depicts itself as offering a cool, new, flexible employment model that is being copied by other companies, including Lyft, Handy (housecleaning), Caviar (food delivery), Postmates (on-demand delivery), Washio (dry cleaning), and Luxe (parking your car).

“To many, however, Uber has become the foremost symbol of something else—something unlawful. Many labor advocates view Uber as the leading practitioner of illegal worker misclassification because it insists that its 400,000 U.S. drivers are independent contractors rather than employees. Uber says its drivers—it calls them “partners”—are their own bosses who have the flexibility to drive whatever hours they want and even drive for competitors like Lyft and Sidecar.

“Indeed, with its clout, cachet, and big-name backers, Uber has sought to redefine what an employee is. No way, it says, should its drivers be considered employees, asserting that its relationship with them is attenuated—even though the company hires and fires the drivers, sets their fares, takes a 20 percent commission from fares, gives drivers weekly ratings, and orders them not to ask for tips. For Uber, there are manifold advantages to treating its drivers as independent contractors. Not only does it avoid being covered by minimum wage, overtime, and anti-discrimination laws, but it sidesteps having to make contributions for Social Security, Medicare, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance. It also escapes the employer obligations of the Affordable Care Act. By some estimates, all this cuts Uber’s compensation costs by more than 20 percent per driver.

“Uber’s aggressive expansion and unusual employment model—almost all driver interactions with the “boss” are through Uber’s smartphone app—have raised questions about what a 21st-century company’s responsibilities are to workers in—whatever you want to call it—the gig economy, the on-demand economy, the crowdsourcing economy, the sharing economy, or perhaps the unsharing economy. (I’m flummoxed why anyone, except for public relations reasons, would call Uber and Lyft part of a sharing economy when they are in essence little different from a taxi or any other livery service that picks up riders and charges a fare.)

“Uber’s critics say the company is shrewdly seeking to evade all of an employer’s traditional legal responsibilities and obligations, while enjoying all the benefits of being an employer—including taking a hefty percentage of what its workers earn. But many champions of Uber argue that the nation’s employment laws have grown obsolete and need to be updated because, in their view, Uber’s employment model is so different from, so much looser and less structured than, the models at traditional companies like General Motors and Procter & Gamble. In response, labor advocates often argue that the nation’s employment laws are not outmoded and that the problem is that many people simply fail to recognize that Uber has a fairly traditional employer-employee relationship (with its newfangled app and boasts of being a master disrupter confusing matters).”