Archives for category: Inequality

Historian of education Christina Groeger writes that Americans have long believed that education is the key to equality, but she thinks that this faith is misplaced.

She writes:

“The best way to increase wages and reduce wage inequalities in the long run is to invest in education and skills,” wrote economist Thomas Piketty in his landmark Capital in the Twenty-First Century. For nearly 200 years, education has been seen as a central means of reducing the gap between rich and poor. Today, this idea has become something of a national faith, as politicians across the political spectrum tout the power of education to shape a more egalitarian society. However, faith in educational expansion as a means of achieving the American Dream has obscured the ways the same process has in fact deepened economic inequality at different historical moments. If we don’t explore its full consequences, education as a policy tool can become a dangerous trap.

In the U.S., the relationship between education and social inequality points to a paradox. On the one hand, the U.S. has long had among the highest rates of school enrollment and attainment in the world. In 2017, the United States ranked second-highest globally for the average years of schooling for individuals over the age of 25. On the other hand, the U.S. currently has one of the highest rates of social inequality and lowest rates of social mobility in the Global North. In sum, even though many Americans are getting educated at unusually high rates, the U.S. economy is extremely polarized between the 1% and the rest. If education were indeed the great equalizer, this could not be true.

This seeming paradox stems from the fact that the American educational system and the modern corporate economy grew up together and mutually shaped one another from the start.

After briefly reviewing the importance of education in opening up new opportunities for clerical and sales workers and for white collar workers, she maintains that education does not produce equality.

The uneasy truth is that educational solutions often were and are politically palatable to those with the most economic power precisely because they do not directly threaten that power. Educational solutions have tended to place the burden of reform onto individuals to improve their skill level, rather than the larger structure of a vastly unequal economy. The notion that we can “upskill” our way out of an unequal economy, however, misdirects our attention away from the role of employers and economic elites in maintaining their immense workplace authority.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, inequality fell. What role did education play? Many scholars have attributed the decline in social inequality to massive public investment in education. However, the mid-20th century decline had to do with much more than just education. Particularly important was the power of new industrial unions. Unlike exclusive craft unions, industrial unions organized workplaces across lines of skill, race, ethnicity, and gender, reaching a peak of 36% of all private sector workers by 1953. Organized workers became the mass base of support for public policies like a high progressive income tax and social welfare programs. The expansion of public education on its own would not have been able to account for the significant decline in inequality in this period; rather, the growth of worker power, economically and politically, was the primary driver of these changes.

Since the 1970s, workers’ rights have been stripped away, unionization rates have fallen to a mere 6% of private sector workers, budgets for public services have been slashed, and the wealthy pay less in taxes. The economy is increasingly polarized between low-wage service jobs performed disproportionately by women and people of color, on the one hand, and the professional beneficiaries of the “knowledge economy” on the other. The history of the early twentieth century teaches us that there is nothing inherent in educational expansion that means its economic benefits will be equally distributed. In fact, as we are seeing today in the highly-credentialed fields of financial services, corporate law, and specialized medicine, when worker power is at an all-time low, educational expansion without additional protections can simply concentrate the power of existing elites.

The meaning and significance of education is much greater than economic advancement. But until economic subsistence is addressed, education will be tied to these vocational ends, understandably for so many students for whom education is a means of securing a living. If we want to free education up for non-vocational ends, we need to ensure that all people can achieve a livelihood first.

School expansion must be coupled with efforts that build worker power, which historically has been the basis of a more egalitarian society. These include building strong and inclusive unions, raising the minimum wage, expanding social welfare programs, and implementing the progressive taxation necessary to fund them. The collective power of workers, not education level, is ultimately what will matter most for creating a more egalitarian society.

Thus, we can understand the ongoing barrage of attacks on teachers’ unions and the growth of nonunion charter schools as efforts by elites to prevent workers from having any power and from building the egalitarian society that is part of our national creed.

McKenzie Scott is the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos. She was at his side when he founded Amazon and was the company’s first accountant. She played a role in the success of the company. When they divorced (he left her for another woman), McKenzie received a share of his Amazon stock. She is now one of the richest people in the world. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index ranks her as the 18th richest person in the world, right behind Alice Walton, with a net worth (on Tuesday) of of $62.4 billion (Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world, with a net worth of $189 billion).

In a better world, there would be no billionaires. Everyone would pay a fair share of their income and wealth in taxes, and there would be no extremes of wealth or poverty. The rich would still be richer than everyone else, but not obscenely rich, with billions that they could never spend in ten lifetimes.

McKenzie Scott is giving away more than any other billionaire. Last week, she revealed that she had given away $4.1 billion to more than 384 organizations in every state and Puerto Rico. Advised by a team, she selected the recipients to focus on directly helping those who were actively involved in serving the most vulnerable members of society. In late July of this year, she gave away almost $1.7 billion to 116 organizations focused racial equity, LGBT equity, gender equity, economic mobility, empathy, democracy, public health, global development, and climate change.

She wrote on Medium about the groups that received grants:

Some are filling basic needs: food banks, emergency relief funds, and support services for those most vulnerable. Others are addressing long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis: debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for under-resourced communities, education for historically marginalized and underserved people, civil rights advocacy groups, and legal defense funds that take on institutional discrimination.

To select these 384, the team sought suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, and non-profit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience. We leveraged this collective knowledge base in a collaboration that included hundreds of emails and phone interviews, and thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding. We looked at 6,490 organizations, and undertook deeper research into 822. We put 438 of these on hold for now due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven management teams, or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees. We won’t always learn about a concern inside an organization, but when we do, we’ll take extra time to evaluate. We’ll never eliminate every risk through our analysis, but we’ll eliminate many. Then we can select organizations to assist — and get out of their way.

We do this research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential for impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached. Because our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft. Not only are non-profits chronically underfunded, they are also chronically diverted from their work by fundraising, and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them. These 384 carefully selected teams have dedicated their lives to helping others, working and volunteering and serving real people face-to-face at bedsides and tables, in prisons and courtrooms and classrooms, on streets and hospital wards and hotlines and frontlines of all types and sizes, day after day after day. They help by delivering vital services, and also through the profound encouragement felt each time a person is seen, valued, and trusted by another human being. This kind of encouragement has a special power when it comes from a stranger, and it works its magic on everyone. We shared each of our gift decisions with program leaders for the first time over the phone, and welcomed them to spend the funding on whatever they believe best serves their efforts. They were told that the entire commitment would be paid upfront and left unrestricted in order to provide them with maximum flexibility. The responses from people who took the calls often included personal stories and tears. These were non-profit veterans from all backgrounds and backstories, talking to us from cars and cabins and COVID-packed houses all over the country — a retired army general, the president of a tribal college recalling her first teaching job on her reservation, a loan fund founder sitting in the makeshift workspace between her washer and dryer from which she had launched her initiative years ago. Their stories and tears invariably made me and my teammates cry.

It is obvious that the tax code is not going to be changed any time soon. Trump and McConnell revised it to favor the 1%, and McConnell will fight to keep it skewed toward big donors and corporations.

In the meanwhile, I salute McKenzie Scott for singling out the worthiest organizations and giving money without strings. Unlike the Billionaire Boys and Girls Club (think Gates, Broad, the Waltons), she does not choose organizations that are doing her bidding. She funded organizations serving those in need and gave them unconditional grants.

Not everyone is impressed by her generosity:

Some point out that in a different America, Scott wouldn’t have billions of dollars to give away – instead, more of that wealth would be paid in taxes that could benefit all Americans, and in higher wages to Amazon employees who could use the money directly.

Anand Giridharadas, author of the book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, said in a tweet, which has since been removed, that it was “union-busting and tax avoidance that made the fortune possible.”

As well as praising a billionaire for giving money to HBCUs, Giridharadas said rank-and-file Amazon workers should be praised for their contribution to the company’s success: “Let us salute some folks barely holding on, running up and down warehouse aisles, whose wages did this.”

But even critics of income inequality recognize that McKenzie Scott is far more generous than her fellow billionaires, most of whom signed “The Giving Pledge” (promising to give away most of their wealth) but are taking their time dispensing their vast riches. (Look at the pictures of billionaires on the website of The Giving Pledge. Think Scrooge. Think French Revolution. Liberté, Fraternite, Egalite.)

Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote at CommonDreams that while Scott is a newcomer on the billionaire-giving scene, she is doing it better than others in her cohort.

“She still has a long way to go in her stated intention of giving away all the wealth. But she’s now made two bold moves, putting to shame the other 650 U.S. billionaires who haven’t figured out comparable ways to boldly share,” he said.

“During a pandemic when US billionaire wealth has increased $1 trillion since March, other billionaires should draw inspiration from her approach to move funds to urgent needs, to historically marginalized groups, to share decision-making with non-wealthy people, and to avoid warehousing funds in private legacy foundations.”

Our society has a long way to go to create an economy where everyone has a chance to live a decent life, find satisfying work, have access to good health care, good housing, good schools.

Farhad Manjoo is an opinion writer for the New York Times. In this column, he says that the wealth of American billionaires has grown dramatically during the pandemic. We know that millions of Americans are facing hunger, poverty, and evictions. Inequality is expanding.

He writes:

When I called up Chuck Collins on Tuesday afternoon, I found him glued to one of the grimmest new metrics documenting America’s economic and social unraveling.

Collins is a scholar of inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, and since March he has been tracking how the collective wealth of American billionaires has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In previous recessions, Collins said, billionaires were hit along with the rest of us; it took almost three years for Forbes’s 400 richest people to recover losses incurred in 2008’s Great Recession.

But in the coronavirus recession of 2020, most billionaires have not lost their shirts. Instead, they’ve put on bejeweled overcoats and gloves made of spun gold — that is, they’ve gotten richer than ever before.

On Tuesday, as the stock market soared to a record, Collins was watching the billionaires cross a depressing threshold: $1 trillion.

That is the amount of new wealth American billionaires have amassed since March, at the start of the devastating lockdowns that state and local governments imposed to curb the pandemic.

On March 18, according to a report Collins and his colleagues published last week, America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. When the markets closed on Tuesday, there were 650 billionaires and their combined wealth was now close to $4 trillion. In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, American billionaires’ wealth grew by a third.

It is difficult to think of a more succinctly obscene illustration of the unfairness of the American economic and political system.

“The economy is now wired ‘heads you win, tails I lose,’ to funnel wealth to the top,” Collins told me.

Billionaires amassed their new billions just as millions of other Americans plunged into dire financial straits. More than 20 million people lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic. As Congress lazily contemplates whether or not to bother to continue to provide economic assistance to America’s neediest, as many as 13 million people are at risk of losing the expanded benefits that keep them just beyond the grip of hunger and homelessness.

Food banks across the country are bracing for another surge in demand. If a federal moratorium on evictions is allowed to expire at the end of the year, millions of Americans will have to pay months of back rent — making them vulnerable to what housing advocates warn will be a wave of evictions.

Why are American billionaires doing so well while so many other Americans suffer? Part of the story is garden-variety American inequality. Stocks are overwhelmingly owned by the wealthy, and the stock market has recovered from its early-pandemic depths much more quickly than other parts of the economy.

But some billionaires are also benefiting from economic and technological trends that were accelerated by the pandemic. Among these are the owners and investors of retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree and Dollar Generalwhich have reported huge profits this year while many of their smaller competitors were clobbered as the coronavirus spread.

Then there are companies that have bet on the rapid digitization of everything. Eric Yuan, the chief executive of Zoom, became a billionaire in 2019. Now he is worth almost $20 billion. Apoorva Mehta, the founder of the grocery-delivery company Instacart, was not a billionaire last year; this year, after a spike in orders that led to a new round of investment that pumped up the value of his company, he’s safely in the club. Dan Gilbert, the chairman of Quicken Loans, was worth less than $7 billion in March; now he commands more than $43 billion.

But like in the rest of the economy, there is a great deal of stratification even among billionaires — richer billionaires got even richer in 2020 than the poorer ones did.

Some of the numbers are staggering. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, was worth about $113 billion at the start of the pandemic. Now he is worth $182 billion — an increase of about $69 billion. Jim, Alice and Rob Walton, three of the largest shareholders of Walmart, saw their combined wealth grow by $47 billion during the pandemic.

This is a good time to urge you to read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.

The more equal societies are, the happier they are. We are sinking into an abyss of anger, hopelessness, envy, and despair.

Nathan Bomey explained the tax avoidance strategies of the super-rich in an article in USA Today.

Tax evasion is illegal but tax avoidance is not. Clever accountants can find loopholes and strategies to reduce the taxes of their clients.

It is far better to be an investor than to have a salary.

Wealthy Americans are the largest source of underreported income, according to IRS data analyzed by researchers. The top 1% of American taxpayers account for about 34% of misreported income, according to a study published in the National Tax Journal.

Many wealthy Americans deploy complex, arcane but wholly legal strategies to minimize their tax obligations. Some use fairly straightforward strategies that allow them to minimize their taxes under the tax code…

It’s much harder to avoid taxes on your paycheck than on your investments.

In general, the federal government taxes regular wages at higher rates than investment income. The long-term capital gains tax rate maxes out at 20%, and the highest income tax rate is 37%.

In other words, if you make a salary of $1 million, the government keeps $370,000. If you make $1 million on stocks or similar investments, the government keeps $200,000.

Taxes on assets such as stocks and real estate investments aren’t owed until they are sold. That helps people such as Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO, founder and richest person in the world, grow their wealth rapidly while avoiding a huge tax bill. Then they can be strategic about when they sell.

Very wealthy people have lobbyists. They make large campaign contributions to key members of Congress, who protect the interests of their donors.

It is not fair, and Trump’s tax returns should make more people aware of the need for genuine tax reform, not the kind of sham tax plan passed by Trump and Mitch McConnell to benefit corporations and the wealthy.

Jan Resseger reviews here a new book that explains the full-blown triumph of plutocracy. Trump is the culmination, not the cause. Wealth and power are now concentrated, more than ever, in the hands of a small minority, and Trump has persuaded his followers that plutocracy works for them!

She begins:

For ten years Jacob Hacker, the Yale political scientist, and Paul Pierson, the Berkeley political scientist, have been tracking exploding economic inequality in the United States. In this summer’s book, Let Them Eat Tweets, Hacker and Pierson explicitly identify our government as a plutocracy. And they track how politicians (with the help of right-wing media) shape a populist, racist, gun-toting, religious fundamentalist story line to distract the public from a government that exclusively serves the wealthy. In a new article published in the Columbia Journalism Review, Journalism’s Gates Keepers, Tim Schwab examines our plutocracy from a different point of view: How is the mainstream media, the institution most of us look to for objective news, shaped increasingly by philanthropists stepping in to fill the funding gaps as newspapers go broke and news organizations consolidate?

In their 2010 classic, Winner-Take-All Politics, Hacker and Pierson present “three big clues” pointing to the tilt of our economy to winner-take-all: “(1) Hyperconcentration of Income… The first clue is that the gains of the winner-take-all economy, befitting its name, have been extraordinarily concentrated. Though economic gaps have grown across the board, the big action is at the top, especially the very top… (2) Sustained Hyperconcentration… The shift of income toward the top has been sustained increasingly steadily (and, by historical standards, extremely rapidly) since 1980… (3) Limited Benefits for the Nonrich… In an era in which those at the top reaped massive gains, the economy stopped working for middle-and working-class Americans.” Winner-Take-All Politics, pp. 15-19) (emphasis in the original)

Hacker and Pierson’s second book in the recent decade, the 2016 American Amnesia explores America’s loss of faith in government, our massive forgetting about the role of government regulation and balance in a capitalist economy: “(T)he institution that bears the greatest credit often gets short shrift: that combination of government dexterity and market nimbleness known as the mixed economy. The improvement of health, standards of living, and so much else we take for granted occurred when and where government overcame market failures, invested in the advance of science, safeguarded and supported the smooth functioning of markets, and ensured that economic gains became social gains.” (American Amnesia, p. 69)

In their new Let Them Eat Tweets, Hacker and Pierson no longer avoid the label. They now call America a full blown plutocracy: “This is not a book about Donald Trump. Instead, it is about an immense shift that preceded Trump’s rise, has profoundly shaped his political party and its priorities, and poses a threat to our democracy that is certain to outlast his presidency. That shift is the rise of plutocracy—government of, by, and for the rich. Runaway inequality has remade American politics, reorienting power and policy toward corporations and the super-rich (particularly the most conservative among them)… The rise of plutocracy is the story of post-1980 American politics. Over the last forty years, the wealthiest Americans and the biggest financial and corporate interests have amassed wealth on a scale unimaginable to prior generations and without parallel in other western democracies. The richest 0.1 percent of Americans now have roughly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined. They have used that wealth—and the connections and influence that come with it—to construct a set of political organizations that are also distinctive in historical and cross-national perspective. What makes them distinctive is not just the scope of their influence, especially on the right and far right. It is also the degree to which the plutocrats, the biggest winners in our winner-take-all economy, pursue aims at odds with the broader interests of American society.” (Let Them Eat Tweets, pp. 1-2)…

But there is another hidden element of the power of plutocrats. Philanthropies led by the wealthy make charitable gifts which subtly shape news reporting itself. And the subject here is not merely Fox and Breitbart and the other right-wing outlets. Tim Schwab’s important report from the Columbia Journalism Review is about one of America’s powerful plutocrats, Bill Gates. Schwab explores, “a larger trend—and ethical issue—with billionaire philanthropists’ bankrolling the news. The Broad Foundation, whose philanthropic agenda includes promoting charter schools, at one point funded part of the LA Times’ reporting on education. Charles Koch has made charitable donations to journalistic institutions such as the Poynter Institute, as well as to news outlets such as the Daily Caller, that support his conservative politics. And the Rockefeller Foundation funds Vox’s Future Perfect, a reporting project that examines the world ‘through the lens of effective altruism’—often looking at philanthropy. As philanthropists increasingly fill in the funding gaps at news organizations—a role that is almost certain to expand in the media downturn following the coronavirus pandemic—an unexamined worry is how this will affect the ways newsrooms report on their benefactors.”

Those of us who have been following public education policy over two decades know that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in policy itself—funding think tanks like the Center on Reinventing Public Education—which brought us “portfolio school reform” charter school expansion—which led to Chicago’s Renaissance 2010— which led to Arne Duncan’s bringing that strategy into federal policy in Race to the Top. We know that the Gates Foundation funded what ended up as an expensive and failed small high schools initiative, and, after that failed—an experiment with evaluating teachers by their students’ standardized test scores—and later experimenting with incentive bonuses for teachers who quickly “produce” higher student scores. We remember that the Gates Foundation brought us the now fading Common Core. And we remember that Arne Duncan filled his department with staff hired directly from the Gates Foundation.

I urge you to read it all. It’s important!

This may be the most important article you read this year. The pandemic has exacerbated the huge inequality gaps that existed before the virus struck. Now we see millions of our fellow citizens out of work and sinking into poverty. Wealth inequality and income inequality are growing larger and more damaging by the day.

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and Seattle labor leader David Rolf demonstrate the vast transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of our society to the top 1%. This is not good for our society. In fact, it’s horrible for our society because it creates widespread despair and hopelessness, as well as blighting the lives of our fellow citizens.

Here is a small part of the article. Open it and read it all.

They begin:

Like many of the virus’s hardest hit victims, the United States went into the COVID-19 pandemic wracked by preexisting conditions. A fraying public health infrastructure, inadequate medical supplies, an employer-based health insurance system perversely unsuited to the moment—these and other afflictions are surely contributing to the death toll. But in addressing the causes and consequences of this pandemic—and its cruelly uneven impact—the elephant in the room is extreme income inequality.

How big is this elephant? A staggering $50 trillion. That is how much the upward redistribution of income has cost American workers over the past several decades.

This is not some back-of-the-napkin approximation. According to a groundbreaking new working paper by Carter C. Price and Kathryn Edwards of the RAND Corporation, had the more equitable income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) merely held steady, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.

Price and Edwards calculate that the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality had grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. At a recent pace of about $2.5 trillion a year, that number we estimate crossed the $50 trillion mark by early 2020. That’s $50 trillion that would have gone into the paychecks of working Americans had inequality held constant—$50 trillion that would have built a far larger and more prosperous economy—$50 trillion that would have enabled the vast majority of Americans to enter this pandemic far more healthy, resilient, and financially secure.

As the RAND report [whose research was funded by the Fair Work Center which co-author David Rolf is a board member of] demonstrates, a rising tide most definitely did not lift all boats. It didn’t even lift most of them, as nearly all of the benefits of growth these past 45 years were captured by those at the very top. And as the American economy grows radically unequal it is holding back economic growth itself.

David Dayen writes a daily update on the pandemic crisis for the American Prospect. It is called “Unsanitized.” I highly recommend it.

In this post, he recounts the GOP’s lack of interest in helping anyone but their funders.

How about going to the voters with a promise to help the 1%, not them? Or just distract them by prattling about law and order and Antifa?

To read the links, open the post.

First Response

The second-to-last jobs report before the election would sound really great if you were airlifted in from the International Space Station after a year of isolation. The economy added 1.37 million jobs and dropped the topline unemployment rate to 8.4 percent. This is down from 1.7 million added in July, and remains 11.5 million jobs under the number in February, a 7.5 percent loss since the beginning of the pandemic. Permanent job loss is actually falling more quickly than it did during the Great Recession, at 3.4 million. In all 19 million workers are either unemployed or have lost their jobs, based on this report. And it includes 237,000 Census hires, who will lose their jobs shortly.

The report is indicative of a country where the rich have completely cleaved themselves off from the rest of society. As Tim Noah writes, the prediction that we were living in a plutonomy, a nation of, by, and for the 1 percent, has now come to pass. You can have an economy without caring about the welfare of an exceedingly large section of the population, if you just shut your eyes. Food bank participation and the stock market are nearing record highs, simultaneously. Threat of eviction and rental debt has never been this elevated, and neither have bank profits from investments and trading. You either have it or you don’t.

So expecting a bunch of haves in the Senate Republican caucus to figure out how to prevent disaster for the have-nots might be a foolish enterprise. Senate Republicans can enable a Federal Reserve bailout (“The Fed created a bubble where life could go on—not unlike the NBA bubble,” is one great quote from that above-linked Wall Street Journal piece), but helping invisible people they never come into contact with in a typical day? Come on, they’re not miracle workers!
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So it’s not surprising, then, that Senate Republicans can’t decide on what to do, or whether to do anything, about the continuing economic crisis. Mitch McConnell first announced a $1 trillion legislative effort, mostly as a coat rack for his scheme to give a liability release to corporations, hospitals, and schools for wrongful infections or deaths from COVID-19. That split the caucus almost in half.

McConnell has come back with something about half the size. There’s a $300 a week federal unemployment enhancement, down from the $600/week that expired in July. There’s a round of small business Paycheck Protection Program funding. There’s the $105 billion for schools, and there’s the conversion of an existing $10 billion line of credit for the Postal Service into a grant. (That’s only in there to make this bill line up with the measure House Democrats passed that was only about the Postal Service. It’s an attempt to limit the negotiation.) And of course, there’s that liability release.

Of course Chuck Schumer is outraged by the Senate GOP’s offer getting smaller, not bigger, as time goes on. And the lack of funding for state and local government (Los Angeles just announced the furlough of 15,000 city jobs), stimulus checks, rental assistance, and food assistance—those things the “other” Americans need—makes this wholly inadequate.

What McConnell wants to do is find something his entire caucus can agree on, or at least the majority of the Senate (so 50 of his 53 members), to make that the right pole in the negotiation. But that has now been threatened. Some Republicans are seeing this desire to find common ground as an opportunity to layer on unrelated ideological demands.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is pushing to add a $5 billion provision for private school vouchers to the relief bill. Few actually want this as part of the overall package, rightly reasoning that it has nothing to do with coronavirus relief. But you just need a handful of splitters—four to be exact—to derail the entire enterprise. The bill is supposed to get a vote next week, when the Senate returns to session.

One of the objections is that Cruz’ tax credit shouldn’t get in while others get out. You can imagine the mollifying of Senators playing out with the entry of other tax credits to get their grudging agreement, turning the relief bill into a tax bill with a little relief.

In the end we’re likely not to see any coronavirus bill at all. It’s already September, and at the end of the month government spending runs out. Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin have reportedly agreed on a stopgap that avoids a government shutdown, regardless of the impasse over stimulus. That stopgap is probably the last chance before the election for any additional measures. But House Democrats want a “clean” continuing resolution, which means that it won’t be used to pursue other stimulus efforts.

Again, in a plutonomy, you can’t expect plutocrat-owned lawmakers (or plutocrats themselves) to see past their noses to the non-people in the streets. The stock market took a tumble yesterday, but it would take plenty more for official Washington to notice the pain

In recent days, the public learned that Jeff Bezos’ net worth has soared to more than $170 billion. Bill Gates trails Bezos at “only” $114 billion. The Walton family is in the same range ($150 billion among three of them). This vast accumulation of wealth by a very tiny number of people distorts the entire economy, especially since it contrasts with millions of people who are unemployed, homeless, and living in deep poverty. Is this the America we love? Is this the America that we want?

G.F. Brandenburg has reposted an essay here about the “looting of America” by the super-rich.

To change this imbalance which eats away at the soul of our society, we need the courage to write a new tax code. I don’t know how to write a tax code but I know what inequity looks like. It looks like what we have today.

Time to recommend an important book: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.

Tomorrow night, Andre Perry and I will talk about his new book Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Lives in a ZOOM discussion sponsored by the Network for Public Education. We can accommodate only 100 people, so please sign up early. If you don’t get into the first 100, the discussion will be live-streamed on NPE’s Facebook page and archived on its website.

Andre Perry was a charter school leader in New Orleans. He has since rethought the impact of charter schools on children, families, teachers, and communities.

I look forward to meeting him, virtually, and talking about what he learned. I hope you will sign up and join us.

Andre Perry writes, in a piece co-published by the Hechinger Report:

Defunding the police won’t mean much if we keep defunding schools that serve Black children and allowing a school choice movement rooted in anti-Blackness to thrive

A national uprising for racial justice and a pandemic killing disproportionately more Black people have made the call to action clear: We must dismantle the structures that generate racial disparities. Education activists have joined that call by demanding that districts defund police in schools. School boards are listening. The Los Angeles Board of Education last week voted to cut funding to its school police force by 35 percent, amounting to a $25 million reduction.

Calls to defund the police, whether in schools or in our cities, are just one part of what must become a larger movement to end taxpayer funding for institutions that are anti-Black at their core. But as millions of protestors across the country call for monies to be redirected from police to institutions that propel economic and social growth, democracy and unity, school choice advocates are holding fast to their sordid legacy of defunding already under-resourced traditional public schools that serve Black children.

Last week choice advocates won a legal battle that is out of step with the current march toward racial justice and democracy.

On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that a program that grants tax credits to “those who donate to organizations that award scholarships for private school tuition” cannot prohibit families from using such scholarships for tuition at private religious schools. The scholarship tax credits were passed by the Montana legislature in 2015, but the program was effectively modified a year later when Montana’s Department of Revenue barred the scholarships from being used at religiously affiliated institutions. In support of its decision, the department cited the Montana Constitution’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the state from allocating public dollars to any school “controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.” Kendra Espinoza and two other parents took the state to court; the case eventually reached the Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court’s conservative majority found that barring religious organizations from a “public benefit” was unconstitutional. “A state need not subsidize private education,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

There are several states with similar tax credit programs; this ruling could open the door to more religious schools accessing state dollars from voucher-like programs

The Black Lives Matter uprising should turn its sights to these states.

Voucher programs have largely failed at delivering better educational outcomes, and they prevent us from removing the barriers that stand in the way of quality for public schools. By diverting tax revenue and students away from school districts, states remove much-needed dollars that support a vital necessity of neighborhoods and society: public schools in which people of different religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic classes and genders can learn basic national principles of justice, fairness, tolerance and the common good. Vouchers support private institutions which do not have to make room for this kind of inclusion.

Public schools are not the problem. Racism is. Parents don’t need escape hatches; we need states to remove the structures that inhibit public school districts that serve Black and Brown children.

Voucher advocates use the words “choice,” “freedom” and “liberty” to promote their programs, but their use of these words is as fraudulent as that of the slave owners who signed the U.S. Constitution. The original supporters of vouchers were unabashed in proclaiming that the sole reason for these grant programs was to maintain racial segregation. After the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision struck down “separate but equal” educational systems, various state governments used public funds to facilitate the choice of many white people to send their children to private schools.

Shortly after the Brown decision was announced, Virginia Gov. Thomas Stanley was of one of many white leaders to look for a work-around. Thomas established a 32-member Commission on Public Education to study the effects of the Supreme Court decision and make recommendations that would, in essence, nullify the Court’s ruling. The group, known as the Gray Commission after its chair, state Sen. Garland Gray, met its mandate.

The Gray Commission’s 1955 Report to the Governor argued that “compulsory integration should be resisted by all proper means in our power.” It included suggestions such as using public funds to “prevent enforced integration by providing for the payment of tuition grants for the education of those children whose parents object to their attendance at mixed schools.” Across the South, many families chose private segregation academies, many faith-based, moving resources away from local districts. Ever since, choice movements in this country have been tied and rooted to anti-Blackness.

Combined with racist housing policies, the concept of school choice has often been a weapon against Black people’s pursuit of quality and justice in public schooling. The collective choice of the majority of white Americans to opt out of integrated school systems, by sending their kids to private schools or by drawing district maps that continue racial and socio-economic segregation in the suburbs or exurbs, has resulted in $23 billion less funding for schools predominated by people of color than for majority white schools.

Even charter schools, many launched as a way to better serve Black children, have been used as a tool for segregation or have been strategically concentrated in Black districts to defund traditional district schools. Many charters embedded racist disciplinary practices that helped drive the school to prison pipeline.

Just last week, the nation’s largest charter chain, KIPP, jettisoned its iconic slogan, “Work hard, be nice,” which it acknowledged “diminishes the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future that they want.”

Voucher advocates, on the other hand, have celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision and doubled down on rhetoric around choice that fails to recognize the need for the communal good provided by public education and that is short on any acknowledgement that the promotion of individualism has hurt public schools that Black students attend. Choice advocates will say that Black parents should have the same options as white families, but they do not concede the cost of white choices on Black schools — and democracy itself. While public systems should not eclipse individual rights or needs, institutions like public schools that benefit the common good facilitate individual growth and societal stability. Exclusion, which private schools inherently facilitate, has distorted how people view public institutions. Private doesn’t mean better — for students or society. Filtering out students isn’t a reform we should be adopting.

At the precipice of change, we have an opportunity to do more than create escape hatches. We can actually get at the sources of inequality — anti-Black policies and practices within supposedly democratic systems. We don’t know what kind of choices traditional districts serving a majority of Black students could offer, because states have underfunded them for decades. White Americans who wave the banner of choice are promoting racism and getting in the way of real educational reform. And choice is blocking equity in public schools.

Andre Perry is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.”

This story about vouchers was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

For those of us old enough to remember the protests against racism and police brutality in the late 1960s, the outrage of African Americans has a sad and sickening familiarity. It’s sad because yet another black man was killed by police officers although he was not resisting arrest (and even had he been resisting arrest, the officers were wrong to apply lethal force to an unarmed person). It is sickening because so little has changed in 50+ years.

We don’t have to think back to the 1960s for examples of racism and racial profiling. We see it now, with disgusting, appalling frequency.

Some important things have changed: our nation twice elected a black man as president. Yet so much remains unchanged: segregated neighborhoods, segregated schools, persistent inequality and disparate treatment.

And now a federal administration that exploits and encourages racism, as it did in Charlottesville when neo-Nazis marched and brazenly displayed their bigotry and hatred. And a president who appoints federal judges who can’t say whether the Brown decision was correctly decided in 1954.

Black Lives Matter. Colin Kaepernick was right. Symbolic statements and gestures matter but they don’t change injustice. We need change in enforcement.

We need a Justice Department committed to protecting the rights of all Americans and to defending the most vulnerable and to enforcing civil rights laws. We need a president who sets a moral example and stands forcefully against racism in word and deed.

Whoever is president creates a tone and climate that others take as a signal of what is appropriate.

Vote. Vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. It does. Vote for justice. Vote for decency. Vote to defend civil rights.