The 100th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti

History has not been kind to Haiti. As the world’s first black republic, and the only nation founded by a successful slave revolt, it was regarded with contempt by world powers from the very beginning. From France’s onerous debts, to the U.S.’ repeated interference in domestic affairs, this poor yet proud nation has endured countless threats to sovereignty and prosperity — and little recognition of it.

It would likely surprise most Americans to know that their small Caribbean neighbor, rarely more than a footnote in public consciousness let alone government policy, has been repeatedly invaded, occupied, or otherwise meddled with by the U.S. since the early 20th century. In fact, as the Washington Post reminds us, it was 100 years ago today that President Woodrow Wilson — who had then-recently championed liberal, democratic values, such as self-determination, in Europe initiated an almost two-decade-long occupation of Haiti.

Perhaps to its credit, the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian is pretty candid about America’s longstanding interests in the country, and the true motivations of its intervention. Continue reading

The Richer You Are, The Richer You Think America Is

This recent Washington Post article comes well-timed following yesterday’s post about America’s large and growing child poverty rate. Citing a study published in Psychological Science by Rael Dawtry and Robbie Sutton at the University of Kent, and Chris Sibley at the University of Auckland, it explains how pervasive and entrenched socioeconomic segregation is at the heart of the U.S.’s high and widening inequities.

The wealthy, surrounded by other wealthy people, generally believed the U.S. population was wealthier than it actually is. It’s easy to imagine why they might make this mistake: If you look around you and see few poor people — on the street, in your child’s classroom, at the grocery store — you may think poverty is pretty rare.

The communities we see immediately around us, the authors argue, shape our sense of how rich America is. And those perceptions, in turn, can influence how we feel about government policies for the poor. In this study, wealthier people who overestimated the extent of wealth in the U.S. were also more likely to perceive the economy as fair and more likely to oppose redistribution policies.

This implies that attitudes about programs like welfare aren’t based solely on political ideology or self-interest (if I have a lot of money, I don’t want to be taxed more). They’re also influenced by cues we get from the environment around us. That means that the wealthy don’t just lack information about what it’s like to be poor; they also lack basic information about how pervasive poverty is.

The study’s conclusion sum up how and why the U.S. can continue to tolerate unjustifiably high levels of poverty, indebtedness, and hunger despite so much economic growth and potential; and also how mounting evidence of the worsening state of the country do not put a stop to opposition to better wages (whether privately or legally mandated), more investment in infrastructure and education, more affordable housing and healthcare, and so on.

These results suggest that the rich and poor do not simply have different views about how wealth should be distributed across society; rather, they subjectively experience living in societies that have subtle—but important—differences. Thus, in the relatively affluent America inhabited by wealthier Americans, there is less need to distribute wealth more equally.

In essence, it is not that wealthy people as a whole are wilfully cruel and callous — although there is certainly a sizeable subset that are arguably are — but rather that they simply do not know any better. Our society has become so divided along so many lines, in both geographic and psychological terms, that it is difficult for people to come around to experiences outside their own. There really are two Americas (and many more if you include race and ethnicity, which intersect with class and economic status) with two very different experiences and understandings informing their policy.

As the WaPo article points out, this is problem is all the more concerning given that economic segregation in the U.S. is worsening; that we increasingly less likely to live near, let alone interact with, people of different incomes levels; and that the economic gap between rich and poor communities — even those not far from each other — is growing.

Moreover, with wealthier Americans and their interests groups having disproportionate influence over our political system, including over policies that could alleviate poverty and inequality, it is hard to see a way out of this self-perpetuating problem — at least within current sociopolitical paradigms.

What are your thoughts?

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More U.S. Children Live In Poverty Now Than During the Recession

Eupraxsophy:

The world’s wealthiest nation by a wide margin, which has experienced steady economic growth over the past several years, which counts more billionaires than any other country in the world (indeed, than the next dozen or so country combined), and child poverty is both stubbornly high and actually growing.

There is not much else to say.

Originally posted on TIME:

In mid-September 2010, almost exactly two years to the date since the monumental collapse of Lehman Brothers, the New York Times published a bleak statistic: the ongoing Great Recession had driven the U.S. poverty rates to their highest in a decade and a half.

Five years of fitful economic recovery have not yet bettered this situation. According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than one in five American children, about 22%, were living in poverty in 2013. Data for 2014 are not yet available, but the report anticipates that the child poverty rate remains at an “unacceptably high [level].”

The figure for 2008 was 18%.

[newsletter-the-brief]

General terms are insufficient when explaining the economy’s post-recession rebound. There are a number of conflicting statistics — the fall in unemployment versus the rise in poverty, for instance — but even efforts to compare and assess these inconsistencies…

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The U.S. Postal Service Turns 240 Today

As the venerable yet beleaguered institution faces the latest in a long string of financial and political woes, The Atlantic reflects on the Post Office’s outsized role as one of America’s most important and symbolic organizations.

During the American Revolution, the post was a crucial point of contention between colonists and the Crown because it was the means for circulating not only correspondence but also newspapers, the lifeblood of intercolonial political cooperation. When British officials threatened the free circulation of news, newspaper publishers led the charge in 1774 to replace the British imperial system with a “Constitutional Post.” Without a government structure, the post would be privately funded, but newspaper publishers and allies like the Boston Committee of Correspondence made sure that reliable, safe, and secure circulation of political intelligence was a primary function.

Shortly after Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the Continental Congress took up a post office as one of the earliest institutions of national reach — making the U.S. Post Office older than the Navy, the Marines, and the Declaration of Independence. Congressional delegates therefore believed that ensuring safe communication throughout the colonies was vital to the colonies’ efforts for military, political, and commercial unity.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 saw the operation of information channels as a core function of government: the power “to establish post offices and post roads” is one of the explicitly named grants included among the enumerated powers of Congress. At the same time, new political cleavages within the United States caused tension about the Post Office’s role as an impartial circulation mechanism. During the debates over ratification in 1787 and 1788, some anti-federalist printers accused the Post Office of suppressing their publications and arguments against the Constitution. William Goddard, the mastermind of the 1774 “Constitutional Post”, ominously suggested he would once again start his own postal system. The complaints of Goddard and other printers forced Congress to re-assert that the Post Office would circulate all news and information equally. In 1792, the new Federal Congress confirmed that promise in the first Post Office Act, setting the stage for a massive explosion in the newspaper industry and providing for the circulation of information to the far reaches of the country.

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Most Young Homeowners Have Rich Parents

Yet another big indication of America’s declining social mobility is the fact that most young people who are financially well-off are simply those already born into stable and prosperous circumstances. As The Atlantic points out, the majority of Millennials who enjoy the rare benefits of homeownership, higher education without crushing debt, or ample savings owe such prosperous standing to their parents and families.

To start with, most of those who continue their education after high school have families that are able to help financially. A recent report from the real-estate research company Zillow looked at Federal Reserve Board data on young adults aged 23-34 and found that of the 46 percent of Millennials who pursued post-secondary education (that’s everything from associates degrees to doctorates), about 61 percent received some financial help with their educational expenses from their parents.

And yet, even with this help, the average student with loans at a four-year college graduates with about $26,000 in student-loan debt. Millennials who are lucky enough to have some, or all, of a college tuition’s burden reduced by their parents have a leg up on peers who are saddled with student debt, and they’ll be able to more quickly move out on their own, and maybe even buy their own house.

To be sure, there is no shame in getting help from one’s family. But it is important to acknowledge one’s fortuitous circumstances, and the contributions of others — from loved ones to society as a whole — that helped make it happen.  Continue reading

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Entrepreneurs don’t have a special gene for risk—they come from families with money

Eupraxsophy:

In essence, only people with a lot of money can take the necessary risks required to start their own business. Sure, there are always exceptions, but for the majority of Americans, the entrepreneurial path just isn’t feasible.

Perhaps with more vocational schools, job training programs, and more generous and accessible loans, starting a business would not be so out of reach from most non-wealthy people.

Originally posted on Quartz:

We’re in an era of the cult of the entrepreneur. We analyze the Tory Burches and Evan Spiegels of the world looking for a magic formula or set of personality traits that lead to success. Entrepreneurship is on the rise, and more students coming out of business schools are choosing startup life over Wall Street.

But what often gets lost in these conversations is that the most common shared trait among entrepreneurs is access to financial capital—family money, an inheritance, or a pedigree and connections that allow for access to financial stability. While it seems that entrepreneurs tend to have an admirable penchant for risk, it’s usually that access to money which allows them to take risks.

And this is a key advantage: When basic needs are met, it’s easier to be creative; when you know you have a safety net, you are more willing to take…

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U.N. Finds Vast Decline in Global Poverty, Though Big Challenges Remain

Last Monday, the United Nations published details from its final report on the results of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of targets established 15 years ago to improve the lives of the poor. The eight goals covered every dimension of extreme poverty, from eradicating hunger and child mortality, to improving environmental sustainability and gender equality.

As the New York Times reported, the results were mixed but nonetheless encouraging.

Dire poverty has dropped sharply, and just as many girls as boys are now enrolled in primary schools around the world. Simple measures like installing bed nets have prevented some six million deaths from malaria. But nearly one billion people still defecate in the open, endangering the health of many others.

“The report confirms that the global efforts to achieve the goals have saved millions of lives and improved conditions for millions more around the world”, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said Monday as he released the report in Oslo.

In fact, though, how much of those gains can be attributed to the goals is unknown. The sharp reductions in extreme poverty are due largely to the economic strides made by one big country, China. Likewise, some of the biggest shortfalls can be attributed to a handful of countries that remain very far behind. In India, for example, an estimated 600 million people defecate in the open, heightening the risk of serious disease, especially for children.

Continue reading

What Ails Puerto Rico

For better or worse, Puerto Rico rarely enters American public consciousness these days. But in recent weeks, the U.S. territory of around 3.5 million people has suddenly garnered considerable media attention from its massive fiscal and economic problems, namely in the form of $72 billion in debt — an unfathomable amount of money for any jurisdiction of its size to pay back.

While officials and analysts debate the island’s options, many are rightly looking at the structural and political problems — namely its status as a U.S. territory — as the underlying causes for this looming crisis (along with the local government’s corruption and mismanagement, to be sure). As a recent article from the New York Times observes. Continue reading

Income Inequality Around the World

Or to be more precise, among the 34 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a club of mostly industrialized nations (including many of the world’s largest and most developed economies). Its recent report on inequality shows growing and unprecedented disparity of income across the board, albeit at different rates and levels depending on the country.

Mexico, Chile, the United States, and Turkey fare the worst, while Denmark, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Finland perform the best. The chart below displays the results, courtesy of Business Insider

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Worker-Owned Companies Begin to Take Off in the U.S.

Amid rising inequality, stagnating wages, and the increasingly inefficient (to workers) nature of traditional corporate hierarchies, more and more workers are experimenting with an alternative method of organizing businesses that has been around for some time, yet is only recently catching on (at least in the United States): worker-owned cooperatives.

The Atlantic explores this intriguing idea as it begins to gain both public attention and viable

Worker cooperatives are equally owned and governed by employees, who also earn money from the profits of their labor. There are no CEOs here making multi-million dollar salaries while workers receive minimum wage. Nor are there CEOs with decades of experience and education to successfully guide the company through the up and downs of the dog-eat-dog business world.

In worker cooperatives, decision-making is democratic, so each worker has one vote, and policies can’t be determined by an investor whose only priority is profit. (Most profit-minded investors probably wouldn’t touch a worker cooperative with a ten-foot pole anyway.)

In a typical workplace, “there’s a pretty clear hierarchy at work, where power and wealth are concentrated at the top and decisions tend to flow from the top down”, Carlos Perez de Alejo, the executive director of Cooperation Texas, an Austin-based resource for cooperatives, told me. “We end up with the results of those decisions without really knowing where they came from”.

In Austin alone, there are worker-owned green cleaning cooperatives and collectively-run thrift stores, worker-run brewpubs and worker-owned Internet hosting cooperatives. Taxi drivers, threatened by Uber and Lyft, are talking about starting a taxi cooperative.

Though a fairly progressive island within one of America’s most conservative states, it is still pretty interesting to see this “socialistic” concept become successfully incubated in a part of the country where big business, low wages, and lack of workers’ rights are all deeply entrenched. It goes to show that when push comes to shove, and governments fail to act, the people take matters into their own hands — albeit up to a point. Continue reading