The New Bedford Raid and Its Aftermath

Back in March, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials pulled off the biggest raid New England has ever seen, bursting into a leather factory in New Bedford to arrest 360 illegal aliens who had been working for Michael Bianco, Inc, a company with contracts to “produce safety vests and backpacks for the US military”. The owner, one Francesco Insolia, was charged with “conspiring to encourage or induce illegal immigrants to live in the United States, and conspiring to hire illegal immigrants.” Why would they risk jail to hire illegals? Because those illegals were desperate enough to work in the intolerable conditions which were all Insolia was willing to furnish.

According to affidavits unsealed yesterday, Insolia hired illegal immigrants instead of legal workers because the immigrants were desperate for jobs and more willing to put up with working conditions in his factory. Federal investigators allege workers were denied overtime, docked 15 minutes for every minute they were late, and fined for talking on the job, or for spending more than two minutes in the plant’s squalid bathrooms.

“Insolia and others knowingly and intentionally exploited the government by recruiting and hiring illegal aliens without authorization to work,” said US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, announcing the arrests yesterday. “They exploited the workforce with low-paying jobs and horrible working conditions, exploited the taxpayers by securing lucrative contracts funded by our legal workforce, and exploited the legal workforce by hiring illegal aliens.”

A month later the Boston Globe reported that Insolia had actually had the gall to apply for – and receive – grant money from the state of Massachusetts to “train” the workers he was already abusing.

The New Bedford manufacturer raided by federal agents last month for allegedly employing illegal immigrants won approval for $111,150 in state grants over the last four years to hire and train employees, as part of the company’s expansion.

The Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development approved two grants for Michael Bianco Inc. after the owner of the company, Francesco Insolia, appealed for help in winning new contracts from the US Department of Defense and building its share of the commercial textile market.

In early 2003, Michael Bianco, which then employed 87 people, was awarded a $66,250 grant to hire and train 80 new stitchers and machine operators, and to develop an in-house training program for entry-level workers. The state approved another $44,900 for the company this January, but the March 6 immigration raid put that grant on hold.

I probably don’t need to tell you that there is no evidence whatever that the “training sessions” actually took place. Insolia simply pocketed the money. Or perhaps he used it to pay Luis Torres for the fake ID’s Torres got for Insolia’s workers. But here’s the neat part: city officials, Republican and pro-business all, actually visited the factory and, rather than being appalled by the conditions, offered to help Insolia with the grant money and tax breaks.

Continue reading

Bush’s “Health Care Reform” 2: Selling the Scam

In the previous post, I said Bush’s pro-corporate proposal to address the health care problem through tax policy was liable to turn out to be the only initiative in the SOTU that he actually cared about and might try to implement. So far, I seem to be batting a thousand. He hasn’t mentioned the ethanol/alternative fuels thing, and even in the White House nobody knows what “Civilian Reserve Corps” means, let alone how it would be set up, who would be in it, or what it would do. But less than 48 hours after the speech ended, he was already out on the hustings hustling his health care “reform” package. Continue reading

Bush’s “Health Care Reform” Aims to Kill Employer Coverage

As I’ve said elsewhere, the only initiative Bush put forward in his lame SOTU that he might actually be serious about is the health care “reform” in which he wants to address a social problem through tax-policy-tweaking. I wrote:

But the truly insidious element is in the unspoken subtext: what this proposal basically does is offer cover to the corporatocracy so it can decide to stop offering health care to its employees. Why should it?

“Now employees can buy a private plan and pay for it themselves, right? Well, they’re paying $400/mon for our corporate-subsidized plan anyway and the govt will let them keep another $400, so there’s your $800/mon for a modest plan, and what do they need us for? They don’t. End of problem. Alright, so a modest plan probably won’t cover shit like surgery and extended hospital stays, and certainly won’t cover drugs or pre-existing conditions (and everything’s a pre-existing condition to an insurance company, just ask them), but what’s that to us? We can quit paying all that money to insurance companies and put it in our own pockets.”

This is potentially a major boost in the Great Risk Shift, taking a tremendous burden off corporations and dumping it straight onto the backs of its workers under the guise of “helping” them, while at the same time ensuring that greedy, inefficient but profitable insurance companies will stay in control of our health care system. It’s not just insidious. It’s evil.

It seems I’m not the only one to have reached – or at least to be on the road to reaching – that conclusion. Continue reading

Retirement in the Age of the Ownership Society: Keep Working

Bush may not have gotten everything he wanted with his “Ownership Society” gambit – the privatization of SocSec being his biggest defeat – but he got more than he should have and his anti-middle class policies are already bearing fruit.

In the WaPo yesterday, business columnist Martha Hamilton explained how the whole concept of “retirement” has changed in the last few years.

Here’s the harsh reality for those of us who have become worker-capitalists, responsible for funding our own retirement: We can’t afford to stop working at normal retirement age.

Typically workers have retired around age 62 or 63, although most anticipated staying on the job till age 65. But that will be way too soon for the many workers who haven’t accumulated enough in retirement savings accounts.

One in four workers currently in their 50s will need to work an extra two years because retirement won’t be affordable, according to a survey of employers published last month by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.


But the truth is that finding or even retaining a job after the age of 40 isn’t always easy. An earlier study by the Center for Retirement Research found that one in five adults age 51 to 61 lost his or her job between 1992 and 2002.

This is usually what is known as a Catch-22: you need a job to retire but if you retire there are no jobs. Even Hamilton’s dismal scenario is rose-colored if you include some factors she didn’t: Continue reading

Re-run: The “Ownership Society” and the Great Risk Shift

Ellen Goodman has just discovered the “risk shift” and written a column about it that reminds me how little we’ve progressed in the last quarter century – and how much we’ve regressed. Taking the Home Depot brouhaha as a starting point (she calls Nardelli “Bob the Un-Builder”), she connects the dots by comparing the risk factors he doesn’t share with the rest of us.

We all know about the growing inequality of income. In 1965, the average CEO was paid 24 times the average worker. In 2005, the average CEO was paid 262 times the average worker.It has taken 12 years and a new Congress just to get the minimum wage moving up to $7.25 an hour over the next two years. At Home Depot, where the average wage is $10 an hour, the boss made more every day than workers earned in a year.

But Bob the Un-Builder is also a symbol of something that has gotten a lot less attention: the growing inequality of risk.

“At one time, when corporate titans went down they went down hard,” says Jacob Hacker, a Yale political scientist. “Who could be more insulated from risk than today’s CEO? There’s never been a group of people richer or more protected from the vagaries of the economy.”

Life at the tippy top is sheltered from the “golden hello” to the “golden parachute,” no matter what happens under the CEO’s watch. That’s a level of security that’s virtually extinct in the rest of the world. Indeed, as Hacker writes in “The Great Risk Shift,” one of the hallmarks of today’s economy is that risks once widely shared by government and employers have shifted onto the American family. We carry more and more of the risks of retirement, illness, unemployment, even education. Continue reading

‘Ownership Society’=A Tax on Wages

An editorial in today’s NYT nails what one part of Bush’s ‘Ownership Society’ actually means: the elimination of taxes on the wealthy and shifting the burden to anyone who lives off wages rather than investments. It’s a direct strike at what’s left of the middle-class and, as usual, he’s lying about it.

Taxes for an Ownership Society

Published: September 15, 2004

When President Bush talks about an “ownership society,” hold on to your wallet. The slogan, like “compassionate conservative” before it, is sufficiently vague to mean many things to many people, and the few details that Mr. Bush has provided – bolstered home ownership and new tax-sheltered savings plans – seem innocuous enough. But in tax terms, “ownership society” means only one thing: the further reduction, if not the elimination, of taxes on savings and investments, including taxes on dividends and on capital gains on stocks, bonds and real estate. That, in turn, means – by definition – a shift in the tax burden onto wages and salary – or, put more simply, a wage tax.

The regressive results would be appalling. The richest 1 percent of Americans earn just about one-tenth of total wages and salary, but almost half of all income from savings and investments – income that would be largely, perhaps entirely, untaxed in an “ownership society.” In contrast, taxable wages and salary make up almost all of the income of most Americans.

The Bush camp has been floating the idea that what the president is getting at is a consumption tax. But the administration is not talking about a true consumption tax, which would apply to spending regardless of where the money comes from – from your paycheck, cashing in your stocks and bonds, selling your house, or borrowing. It is, in effect, talking about a tax on wages.

Properly understood, a consumption tax is intended to increase national savings by making it relatively more attractive to save than to spend. The main argument against it is that it hits hardest at low-income and middle-income families, who tend to spend most of what they earn. But as Peter Orszag, an economist at the Brookings Institution, pointed out in a recent speech at Georgetown University, Mr. Bush’s de facto wage tax would be the worst of all worlds: it would have all the regressive aspects of a consumption tax and none of its potential for increasing national savings.

When Mr. Bush talks about new tax-favored savings accounts, he never mentions that most people don’t even take advantage of existing plans. They won’t be turned into owners by new tax breaks for interest, dividends and capital gains. To turn Americans into owners requires a strong economy in which the people who work for a living share in the benefits of economic growth.

A good place to start would be to tackle the obstacles to sustained growth that currently exist, like spiraling health care costs, dependence on foreign oil and the administration’s mania for unaffordable tax cuts – in short, to reverse, not intensify, the trends in the current economy.

In the past nearly three years of economic recovery, the distribution of economic growth has become more skewed than at any other time in modern memory. Currently, 47 percent of growth is flowing to corporate profits, by far the largest share during any of the other eight post-World War II recoveries. Fifteen percent goes to wages and salary, the smallest share of economic growth in more than 50 years. To make matters worse, the share of compensation that is devoted to health and pension benefits is far larger during this recovery than any other, representing a further squeeze on the wages and salaries of ordinary Americans. In 2004, take-home pay as a share of the economy dropped to its lowest level since the government started keeping records in 1929.

All of this would make the drive for a wage tax laughable, if only it were a joke. And yet, when he says “ownership society,” a wage tax is exactly what Mr. Bush is driving at.

The ‘Ownership Society’: Another Orwellian Dodge

‘Ownership’ Isn’t the CureAfter 27 years of work, Dave Parker lost his job at a small electronics sales firm in Orange in October 2001. A 1986 federal law called COBRA, requiring insurers to continue offering employer-based coverage to employees who have lost their jobs, kept Parker’s insurer from dropping him. But that didn’t stop the insurer from “customizing” his policy to address his heart condition — a personal touch that boosted his premiums by 39%. Later, his premiums soared further, and this year his insurer doubled his co-payments and raised his premiums by an additional 16%.

Welcome to President Bush’s ideal of “added choice” in healthcare.

Buzzwords like “flexibility” and “ownership” might sound empowering when read off a teleprompter, as they were frequently during this week’s Republican convention. When discussed behind the scenes by health insurers, however, they are read as code words for giving insurers more leeway to “cherry-pick” — offering bargain-rate coverage to those who need it the least (such as healthy children) while pricing care beyond the reach of many who need it the most.

Bush’s “ownership society” ideal for healthcare is embodied in the health savings account. These let a family of four put aside up to $5,150 in tax-free savings that can be used to purchase health insurance on the open market. That will be small comfort to low- and middle-income families because the premiums for such family policies ran more than $9,000 in the group market last year, and would be even pricier if purchased by an individual family.

Another danger is that many healthy and wealthy people will flee group plans in favor of health savings accounts, leaving the older, more comprehensive health insurers stuck with a growing proportion of poor and sick members. Insurers that aren’t driven out of business would be forced to raise costs.

Not all “ownership society” healthcare ideas are bad. One of the most radical — requiring all U.S. residents, some with government help, to buy health insurance, much as drivers are required to buy auto insurance now — has gained converts not only from the predictable places like the conservative Heritage Foundation but from centrist think tanks like the New America Foundation. The proposal deserves to be at least discussed by both presidential candidates.

Most of the healthcare ownership ideas the president has proposed so far, however, are fundamentally unfair. It’s an issue both parties will have to address more seriously before the country’s near-terminal healthcare system goes flat-line.

Commentary: Freshening, Focus, Rising Bile, and the ‘Ownership Society’

I suppose I should be used to it by now: balancing the budget on our backs, scheming to take every possible advantage of us, the attitude from owners that they’re such paragons of virtue we ought to be willing to work for them for nothing and consider it a privilege, the invisibility, the lack of respect, and the daily fight to get through another week. I should be but I’m not. Some of you have noticed a rising tide of phlegm on FTT, and you’re not wrong. I admit it: I’m not less angry in my old(er) age, I’m more angry.

When I was younger, I thought conditions would improve. When I was younger, the unions were stronger; you could live on minimum wage jobs, not well, but you could live; there were rules and at least a few of them favored us; and one of the national political parties acted like it cared what we thought, thought about what we needed, and needed some, anyway, of what we had to offer. That was when I was youger. When I was younger, I had hope.

For 25 years I have watched our lives go from bad to worse to awful, experienced the shrinking of our presence in society from near-invisible to practically-invisible to ‘What? Are you still here? I thought you were dead.’ I have seen the gains we made with sweat and blood–literally–washed away in a sea of anti-labor rhetoric. Saddest of all, I have seen way too many of us buy into that rhetoric and sign on to a movement that we refuse to understand, despite all the signs and signals, is dedicated to our destruction.

We have been sold a bill of goods, a pig in a poke, a sow’s ear pretending to be a silk purse. They took advantage of our lack of education (which lets them think we’re stupid), our limited resources (which they call ‘laziness’), and our willingness to believe the best of people (which makes us, in their eyes, ‘unrealistic’ and ‘naive’), and used them to convince us that unions weren’t lifting us up, they were tearing us down; that management was really on our side and wanted to see us succeed; that our poverty was our own fault, not the result of what they were paying us, and that the way out of it was to work harder, longer, and cheaper.

I was talking union at the shop one day a couple of years ago–which I used to do a lot, to the point where many ran when they saw me coming–and one of the guys said to me that he would never join a union because he’d be ‘stuck with it’ forever. To him, joining a union was an admission that he would never be, could never be anything other than what he was–a laborer. A union wasn’t a step up, it was a trap from which there was no escape. His idea of salvation from his low-income status was in owning his own business. ‘Ownership’ was the Holy Grail.

‘Gonna get your GED soon, are you?’ I asked–he quit high school in his junior year because he didn’t think there was a ‘point’ to it.

No, he said, he wasn’t planning on that. He didn’t need to. All he needed was a good idea. He’d get a few grand from his dad as start-up money, and as long as he worked hard and aimed at the top, he’d get there. He didn’t want to be ‘a slob’ (his word) all his life. He was going to be a millionaire before he was 40.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming. What was wrong was that he wasn’t even rich yet and he already saw protecting workers as something separate from that dream and a barrier to it. He was a worker himself, yet he saw other workers as his natural enemies; a union was a bunch of them banding together to take away from him what he didn’t even have yet, scheming what and how much they would steal as soon as he managed to acquire…something.

That’s what makes Bush’s sales pitch so powerful–and so dangerous. First they convinced us that we all want to be owners; then they convinced us that we all could be owners if we’d just stop wasting our time demanding frivolous luxuries like fair wages, affordable housing, and protection from the powerful. We, too, could be rich if we stood on our own two feet and stopped expexcting the government to do ‘everything’ for us. And now they’re trying to convince us that society itself is based on ‘ownership’; that if we don’t ‘own’ something, we’re not really Americans and we don’t really count. So they, philanthropists that they are, are going to arrange it so we can ‘own’ things.

The invidiousness of this concept is almost beyond words. It takes Social Darwinism to new heights and predicates an entire society based on the premise that no man is his brother’s keeper because it’s the brother’s problem and if he can’t solve it, it’s because he’s lazy or stupid, and you’re not responsible for those things are you? Then why should society be held responsible?

Apparently, Christ was lazy, stupid, naive and unrealistic, not to mention that he was probably a Commie, too.

This is only the beginning (I have to stop here or I’ll go on for days). I’ve been thinking about the ‘Ownership Society’ for a few days and getting madder and madder at the intolerance, arrogance, and sheer brutality of it. Which leads me (yes, I know, ‘Finally!‘ you’re saying to yourself) to the point of why I started this post: The Changes.

I changed the name. Slightly. It never felt finished to me. I didn’t know why until the last few days. I should have. The very first post I wrote (the opening of that post is on the sidebar now) said very clearly where I was going; I just didn’t recognize it. I thought the white heat in which I wrote it would pass. And it did–or at least it seemed to. Actually, I buried it–like I always do, like a lot of us do, like we’ve been taught to do–so I could get on. But it never actually went away, and every article I found on the latest insult, the latest raw theft, the latest blatant manipulation, fed it like wood feeds a fire. The implementation of the new overtime rules and their consequent re-imagining of what constitutes ‘management’ only a day or so after Junior’s latest ‘Ownership Society’ bilge got respectable write-ups everywhere sent me into a tailspin. I was so pissed I could spit nails, as my mother used to say (she didn’t say ‘pissed’; she said ‘mad’).

Then, the other day, I was doing some research on something totally unrelated to it when I stumbled on Lynd Ward’s dark, angry engraving Moloch–the demon heart of Mammon. I remembered it from years ago but hadn’t thought about it, in, I bet, a full quarter-century, so seeing it again was like seeing it with fresh eyes, grown-up eyes, eyes that knew exactly what it meant, not as a vision or a stylization or a warning but as a reality I was living in and had been for some time. Something clicked–my anger was starting to make sense to me; I was beginning to understand it.

But something was missing–the words. There were words that went with it, I knew that, but I couldn’t remember them. Ginsberg or Ferlinghetti or Kenneth Patchen, I thought–one of the Beats, anyway. Howl?

Ginsberg, yes, but not Howl–a special, one-time only collaboration between a rising young poet and the established artist whose work had been his inspiration. Ward did the engraving and Ginsberg wrote the poem; neither pulled their punches. They called it The Moloch Broadside because it was published–picture at the top, poem underneath–on a single long sheet of paper and tacked to walls and telephone poles. It was intended as a call to arms like the Revolutionary broadsides it was copied from.

I hadn’t read it in at least 35 years. The first time I read it I thought it was juvenile, over the top, almost childish. I wasn’t even 20 yet. This time it was like getting kicked in the stomach–all the air was sucked out of me by Ginsberg’s bold, bald shot to the heart. Talk about ripping away the veil! Ginsberg and Ward hadn’t just opened the curtain the wizard was hiding behind, they had torn off the wizard’s mask and shown us what it hid: The God of the Walking Death, the gaping, stench-ridden yaw of The PuppetMaster. Moloch–the worship of Things and the destruction of Life.

That’s what I was feeling. That was the source of the rage I could hardly keep a lid on. Bush and his corporate cronies are actually Molochite devotees, servants to the belief that Greed is the highest emotion, and the acquisition of ‘things’ is the only measure of achievement. Moloch recognizes no human values, praises no human qualities, shows pity for no one and remorse for nothing. He is a single, simple force–he Takes. He is that in all of us that urges the virtues of unchecked selfishness whenever our generosity would have a price that would be hard to pay. He’s the one who looks in the Sharper Image catalog, scopes out the mansions on the other side of town, dreams of expensive linens and designer clothes and cars that cost more than the house you live in. He’s the one that whispers to you in the night that you deserve those things, you have a right to them, and that if you don’t have them you’re a failure.

I knew we were in a war. Now I’ve identified the enemy. The enemy isn’t Bush or Cheney or Ashcroft or Chao or Norquist or DeLay. The enemy is the shadowy figure behind and above all of them, the cold stone of a dead idol in which we’ve invested massive power because messy, chaotic, undisciplined Life scares us but doesn’t move the stone.

All of which is an astoundingly long-winded way of saying that this site is going to stop assuming the war is metaphorical and start treating it like it’s a real shooting war–which it is. Thus ‘Dispatch From the Trenches’–messages from and for The Front where the battles are being fought and the troops are doing the dying. And thus the words of Allen Ginsberg to remind us who the real enemy is.

I can’t say I know yet how this is going to work out in practice. What I can say is that I intend to try to cut to what’s behind the stories; we can never match his superiority of weapons, but maybe we can even the playing field a bit by cutting off his supply lines. In any case, I probably ought to warn you that there’s going to be a lot more anger floating around here–and plenty of targets to aim it at.

I think hope (remember ‘hope’?) is a function of the belief that things can change for the better, but also the result of active resistance to and rejection of anything and anyone who tries to take that hope away by closing off options and rigidly defining what’s an ‘acceptable’ response. Anger is a key part of that half of Hope. You need focused anger to resist and resist and resist again.

Welcome to the Resistance.

The Great Risk Shift

A lot of Republicans–and media types–profess confusion over why polls are showing that Americans in general don’t believe the US economy is ‘turning the corner’ and ‘getting better’ as the president insists it is. After all, some of the economic indicators aren’t as bad as they were a couple of years ago when Bush’s tax cuts helped shove a slightly faltering economy over the cliff into a full-blown recession. About a third of the jobs lost during Bush’s first three years have been made up in the last eight months; unemployment appears to be going down slightly; and Wall Street (up until this week anyway) has been reacting positively: stocks and investments have been up. Is this simply a problem of perception?

FTT has argued that it is far from that, that our ‘perception’ is based on hard-core economic realities that have been ignored both by those in power and by a majority of the media, neither of whom seem to be terribly interested. Wages are stagnant and have been since trickle-down began in the 80’s, yet our taxes are up, our costs are up, and we’re working longer hours than at any time since 1969. Our jobs are disappearing overseas at an alarming rate and being replaced by lower-paying service-sector jobs (often half what we were getting before–or less). Pension funds are under attack, and the Republicans want to privatize Social Security even as they raid it.

The last couple of items I spoke of referred to perception in the sense that they are not only important for our understanding of what’s happening right now but for understanding what we expect to happen in the future. We perceive that in an atmosphere where corporations continue to behave as if we’re just cannon fodder they can dispense with whenever they need to shore up their profit margin a tad, our jobs aren’t very secure. Therefore our future isn’t very secure. Therefore we don’t feel secure about the future. Since one’s ‘perception’ of one’s security is a sizable portion of what we think about when asked if we feel things ‘are getting better’, even if we’re hanging on at the moment, we’re likely to say No. ‘Getting better’ to us doesn’t mean that the numbers have been better the last three months; it means the threats to our future stability have decreased.

Jacob Hacker, a Yale Professor of Political Science, has been studying the factors that comprise a feeling of ‘security’ and measuring them. In a New Republic article, Hacker argues that the actual income squeeze from which we’re all suffering is less a factor in our attitude toward the economy that our perception of how secure we are–or aren’t. In other words, the income squeeze wouldn’t be affecting us so much if we saw signs that it was about to end. And we don’t. According to Hacker, we have good reason not to.

[T]he income squeeze that families face is not exactly the same as insecurity. Insecurity is something larger–the risk of large drops in living standards caused by loss of income or catastrophic expense. And, my research suggests, insecurity is something that more and more Americans, even the relatively well off, are confronting.

The signs are everywhere. Fourteen million more Americans lack health insurance now than two decades ago. Meanwhile, corporations have abandoned “defined-benefit pensions” that offer a fixed payment in retirement in favor of more risky “defined-contribution” plans like 401(k)s. And, according to Princeton economist Henry Farber, the effect of job loss on work hours, pay, and prospects for reemployment has worsened substantially since the 1980s. Indeed, in area after area, there’s evidence of a vast shift in the economic security of most Americans–a massive transfer of financial risk from corporations and the government onto families and individuals.

This great risk shift has gone surprisingly underreported. Though we’ve heard about economic hardship, most of the stories concern static measures–poverty, inequality, wages, joblessness. That’s in large part because no standard economic statistic tries to assess the stability of family income. We know with great precision how many Americans are rich and poor at any moment and how large the gap is between the bottom and the top. But we know next to nothing about the extent to which their economic status changes over time or what causes these shifts.

In response, I have spent the last couple of years trying to assemble new figures on changes in family income, aided by Professor Nigar Nargis of the University of Dhaka. Our research has centered on the Panel Study of Income Dynamics–a nearly 40-year project that tracks the same families from year to year and, hence, provides unique insights into how and why incomes change over time.

What has become clear from this research is that family incomes rise and fall a lot–far more than one would suspect just looking at income-distribution figures.

The search for economic security reflects a basic human desire to guard against losing what one already has.Judged on this basis, what my evidence shows is deeply troubling. When I started out, I expected to see a rise in the instability of family income. But nothing prepared me for the sheer magnitude of the increase. At its peak in the mid-’90s, income instability was almost five times as great as it was in the early ’70s, and, although it dropped somewhat during the late ’90s (my data end in 1999), it has never fallen below twice its starting level. By comparison, permanent income differences across families have risen by a more modest, if still troubling, 50 percent over the same period.

The full explanation for this dramatic rise in instability is still unclear, but two causes loom large. The first, and most obvious, is changes in the nature of work. In today’s postindustrial economy, less skilled workers are much more vulnerable than when unionized, manufacturing labor was more of the norm. (Not surprisingly, instability is greater for families headed by less educated workers, though it has actually risen more quickly in the last decade for workers who went to college.) Workplace benefits, such as health insurance and pensions, have been on the chopping block. And corporate America increasingly relies on part-time, contingent, and contract workers–all of whom enjoy precious little security.

The second overarching cause of increased insecurity is a shift we often take for granted: the movement of women from home to work. As mothers have entered the labor force in increasing numbers, families have gained a second income, which most desperately need. But they’ve also had to take on new expenses and face the increased job insecurity of having two family members in the workforce.

A stunning finding from my research illustrates this double-edged effect: When adjusted to account for the expenses a family of a given size incurs, a family’s total income actually falls when a couple starts living together. That’s not, of course, because families in which there are two potential earners receive less in earnings. It’s because they are likely to receive less in public benefits and to pay more in taxes just as their family size increases–and so their overall economic standing drops. Divorce and separation obviously aren’t good for income security. But it turns out that marriage and cohabitation aren’t a guarantee of it either.

All this reveals a truth often forgotten amid talk of “family values”: The United States has never done much to deal with the income risks that come from having both mom and dad in the workforce–from child care costs, to the need for time off to have kids and care for sick family members, to the increased risk to accustomed standards of living that plague families dependent on two jobs. We live in a twenty-first century economy dominated by two-earner families. Yet, social protections for working Americans have changed remarkably little since the mid-twentieth century–and, when they have changed, they have usually been cut, not expanded.

This isn’t a coincidence, of course. The last two decades have witnessed a revival of the American credo of personal responsibility, championed by conservatives as an all-purpose tonic to every social ill. Bush voiced the credo while criticizing Kerry in May: “My opponent is against personal retirement accounts, against giving patients more control over their medical decisions through health savings accounts, against providing parents more choices over education for their children, against tax relief for all Americans. He seems to be against every idea that gives Americans more authority and more choices and more control over their own lives.” To the extent government has any role to play in this everyone-on-their-own vision, it is limited to giving people tax breaks to encourage them to save and invest on their own.

Not surprisingly, then, spending on social programs has barely budged over the past two decades, but private-sector spending, subsidized by hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for retirement and health benefits received disproportionately by the well-off, has grown at a much faster clip. Indeed, private expenditures on such benefits now represent more than one-third of all U.S. social spending–an amount that, if added to public spending, would make the American welfare state larger than Denmark’s.

(emphasis added by me)

This is a long-ish piece I can only excerpt here, but I urge you to read the whole thing. What Hacker is getting at is that his study shows that all the risks of the new global economy are being limited–by the govt they say they hate–for corporations and shifted onto the backs of the rest of us–‘We still have limited liability for American corporations, but, increasingly, we have full liability for American families.’ Even as the ‘free-market’ Republicans are shifting onto us reponsibility for paying the corporate share of federal taxes as well as our own, they’re shifting the risks corporations should be taking on themselves to us as well. We’re expected to pay for their growth, to indemnify them from the risks they take, to take on their share of social responsibilities, to provide them with goodies like roads and sewers and water service out of our own pockets, and to do all this while they shrink what they’re willing to pay into those pockets and constantly threaten to stop paying altogether and move our jobs to India because we’re ‘too demanding’.

And then they wonder why we’re feeling insecure.

Bush’s ‘Ownership Society’: A Society Geared Toward Owners


Published: NYT, August 13, 2004

A new Bush campaign ad pushes the theme of an “ownership society,” and concludes with President Bush declaring, “I understand if you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of America.”

Call me naïve, but I thought all Americans have a vital stake in the nation’s future, regardless of how much property they own. (Should we go back to the days when states, arguing that only men of sufficient substance could be trusted, imposed property qualifications for voting?) Even if Mr. Bush is talking only about the economic future, don’t workers have as much stake as property owners in the economy’s success?

But there’s a political imperative behind the “ownership society” theme: the need to provide pseudopopulist cover to policies that are, in reality, highly elitist.

The Bush tax cuts have, of course, heavily favored the very, very well off. But they have also, more specifically, favored unearned income over earned income – or, if you prefer, investment returns over wages. Last year Daniel Altman pointed out in The New York Times that Mr. Bush’s proposals, if fully adopted, “could eliminate almost all taxes on investment income and wealth for almost all Americans.” Mr. Bush hasn’t yet gotten all he wants, but he has taken a large step toward a system in which only labor income is taxed.

The political problem with a policy favoring investment returns over wages is that a vast majority of Americans derive their income primarily from wages, and that the bulk of investment income goes to a small elite. How, then, can such a policy be sold? By promising that everyone can join the elite.

Right now, the ownership of stocks and bonds is highly concentrated. Conservatives like to point out that a majority of American families now own stock, but that’s a misleading statistic because most of those “investors” have only a small stake in the market. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that more than half of corporate profits ultimately accrue to the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers, while only about 8 percent go to the bottom 60 percent. If the “ownership society” means anything, it means spreading investment income more widely – a laudable goal, if achievable.

But does Mr. Bush have a way to get us there?

There’s a section on his campaign blog about the ownership society, but it’s short on specifics. Much of the space is devoted to new types of tax-sheltered savings accounts. People who have looked into plans for such accounts know, however, that they would provide more tax shelters for the wealthy, but would be irrelevant to most families, who already have access to 401(k)’s. Their ability to invest more is limited not by taxes but by the fact that they aren’t earning enough to save more.

The one seemingly substantive proposal is a blast from the past: a renewed call for the partial privatization of Social Security, which would divert payroll taxes into personal accounts. Mr. Bush campaigned on that issue in 2000, but he never acted on it. And there was a reason the idea went nowhere: it didn’t make sense.

Social Security is, basically, a system in which each generation pays for the previous generation’s retirement. If the payroll taxes of younger workers are diverted into private accounts, there will be a gaping financial hole: who will pay benefits to older Americans, who have spent their working lives paying into the current system? Unless you have a way to fill that multitrillion-dollar hole, privatization is an empty slogan, not a real proposal.

In 2001, Mr. Bush’s handpicked commission on Social Security was unable to agree on a plan to create private accounts because there was no way to make the arithmetic work. Undaunted, this year the Bush campaign once again insists that privatization will lead to a “permanently strengthened Social Security system, without changing benefits for those now in or near retirement, and without raising payroll taxes on workers.” In other words, 2 – 1 = 4.

Four years ago, Mr. Bush got a free pass from the press on his Social Security “plan,” either because reporters didn’t understand the arithmetic, or because they assumed that after the election he would come up with a plan that actually added up. Will the same thing happen again? Let’s hope not.

As Mr. Bush has said: “Fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – can’t get fooled again.”

(emphasis added by me)