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Archive for January, 2018

Adam Smith, the founder of modern capitalist economics, argued in his 1776 masterpiece The Wealth of Nations that labor created all wealth. This has been hideously distorted by the political golden rule; he who has the power makes the rules. The idle rich are now wallowing in unprecedented wealth according to a new report from the charity Oxfam. The report found that the world’s richest 1 percent raked in 82 percent of the wealth created last year while the poorest half of the world’s population received none.

In addition, the study found “the wealth of billionaires has grown six times faster than that of ordinary workers since 2010, with another billionaire minted every two days between March 2016 and March 2017.”

Oxfam used its findings to paint a picture of a global economy in which the wealthy few amass ever-greater fortunes while hundreds of millions of people are “struggling to survive on poverty pay”.

“The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima said in a statement.

Oxfam also emphasized the plight of women workers, who “consistently earn less than men” and often have the lowest paid, least secure jobs. Nine out of 10 billionaires are men, the authors added.

The report, titled “Reward Work, not Wealth”, used data from Credit Suisse to compare the returns of top executives and shareholders to that of ordinary workers.

It found that chief executives of the top five global fashion brands made in just four days what garment workers in Bangladesh earn over a lifetime.

“The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods, and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors,” Byanyima said.

To fight rising inequality, Oxfam called on governments to limit the returns of shareholders and top executives, close the gender pay gap, crack down on tax avoidance and increase spending on healthcare and education.

The study was released on the eve of top political and business figures meeting at a luxury Swiss ski resort for the annual World Economic Forum, which this year says it will focus on how to create “a shared future in a fractured world”. However, nothing will come of this.

“It’s hard to find a political or business leader who doesn’t say they are worried about inequality,” said Byanyima.

“It’s even harder to find one who is doing something about it. Many are actively making things worse by slashing taxes and scrapping labor rights.”

The top 1 percent are able to do these things and increase their wealth and income because of their control over the political processes in most nations. This is particularly true in the United States where corruption on an unprecedented scale in the post-World War II era permeates every sector of government and both major political parties.

Wall Street’s US Senator Ron Wyden is a perfect example of this. Supposedly a liberal Democrat representing the state of Oregon, Wyden has voted nearly every time to redistribute income and wealth from the 99 to the 1 percent except when the billionaires who control the Democratic party want to appear as though they oppose the billionaires who control the Republican Party and the Republican scams to redistribute income and wealth from the 99 to the 1 percent, such as Donald Trump’s recent tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

Wyden has voted to export tens of millions US jobs, on the one hand, while voicing support for liberal social issues. The corporate press and Wyden always emphasize what a great liberal he is without never mentioning that Wyden is one of the legislative architects of today’s unprecedented income and wealth inequality in the United States.

When US jobs are exported the difference between the old higher US wages and benefits and the new poverty wage benefits goes straight into the pockets of the rich via higher corporate profits, rising share prices and surging dividends. Wyden knows this, and shows his support for doing this by having a 100 percent record on voting to export tens of millions of US jobs.

The result of Wyden’s actions have been an economic system powered by a variety of bubbles, rather than actual real growth.

The latest stock market bubble will soon pop and with devastating consequences for the nation and the world. Just remember Wyden’s corruption has been a key factor in all of this and is a shining example of most Democrats in power and nearly all Republicans.

The last thing to be said about this issue is why the rich need to get richer. We have an international economic system powered by the link between corporations and high finance. Corporations, as I show in The Rigged Game, need fairly consistent ever-increasing profits in order to keep their stock prices rising. Failure to do this results in declining stock prices, if not an outright collapse in stock prices. In other words, the corporate economic system is something of a Ponzi scheme.

https://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/bp-reward-work-not-wealth-220118-en.pdf

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“I had a wonderful job,” Craig DiAngelo said of his work in Hartford, Connecticut with Northeast Utilities, New England’s largest electricity and natural gas provider with over 3.4 million customers. “It was like family at work. I would have kept working there until I couldn’t work anymore. It was the best job I ever had.” Then in October 2013, Diangelo and his 219 fellow IT workers learned they were being replaced by less skillful, but cheaper, imported labor through a US program called the H1-B visa.

“The CIO (Chief Information Officer) came down from Boston,” Diangelo said, “and said that she would hold a town hall meeting to discuss the future of IT at our company which was then known as Northeast Utilities. We all got into the room, 220 of us. She proceeded to tell us that, ‘…well folks we are going to outsource IT infrastructure and IT development, and we have chosen two companies Infosys and Tata. And the reason that we’re doing this is because global workers can adjust to change a lot faster than the American worker.’” The CIO lied.

The idea that a worker from India is a global worker and a US worker is not is an absurdity in and of itself, which Diangelo realized immediately.

“Now when you take a look at this,” Diangelo said. “Isn’t the American worker also a global worker? Don’t we have some input into what we say, or what gets said of a global economy? We (the USA) are a very large market.”

The first H1-B visa workers began arriving in mid-December 2013. The soon-to-be-former employees trained their replacements, but management called this “knowledge transfer,” Diangelo said. “The people we trained didn’t have the skills to do our jobs. Management assumed the replacements could be trained in a few weeks, but the people from India were so unskilled the knowledge transfers lasted several months.”

Hundreds of thousands of US high tech workers have been replaced by poverty wage H1-B visa workers. Some estimates place the number of displaced US high tech workers in the low millions. The list of US corporations using this scam is long, Disney, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Xerox, Toys R Us, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and thousands of other companies.

The AFL-CIO reported in 2009 that as many as 25% of imported workers have fraudulent visas. Today, this translates to as many as 17.5 million foreign employees gaming the system.

The US government, which is controlled by the billionaires bankrolling both major political parties, use a number of ways to redistribute income from the 99 to the 1 percent. One of these ways is through the H1-B visa.

The H-1 temporary worker visa program was originally established in the 1950s to grant foreign individuals with “distinguished merit and ability” an opportunity to find legal employment inside the United States. It was amended by the Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT), a measure that added the specialty occupation requirement – which means the job must require a bachelor’s degree or higher, or equivalent work experience, in a specialized field – and the visa’s dual intent status, which allows petitioners to seek legal permanent residency (a green card) while petitioning for and holding their temporary resident status. With recommendations from industry leaders and academics, the act also established the 65,000-visa cap. The visa became known as the H1-B in 1990.

U.S. corporations use the visa to outsource US high tech jobs to poverty wage nations while some corporations import these temporary low wage workers into the US in order to displace their higher compensated US citizen-employees.

Proponents of the visa say 130,000 to 195,000 H1-B visa workers are necessary every year to meet the “market conditions” of the United States. This is a lie. Pure and simple. The real market conditions in the United States mean higher compensation to US workers, but the H1-B visa distorts salaries and benefits downward. Importing low wage workers via the H1-B visa means artificially increasing the supply of US labor. This is called “distorting the market.”

At any time there are millions of H1-B visa workers in the United States since these workers can apply for the three-year extensions, and then apply for permanent residency via green cards, all of which distorts the labor market of the United States in favor of the billionaire shareholders.

According to the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI), US employers pay their H1-B visa workers “up to 40 percent less” than the US employees they replace. The EPI report does not mention most H1-B visa workers do not receive any benefits for their work, and that is particularly true of the US jobs outsourced and taken over by H1-B visa workers in India and elsewhere. This suggests a great amount of H1-B visa workers receive less than 50 percent of the total compensation package US high tech workers earn.

The difference between the higher US employee compensation and the new poverty wages and salaries of the H1-B visa workers goes straight into the pockets of the 1 percent via higher corporate profits, surging share prices, and rising dividends.

The H1-B visa is one of the many perfect examples of how easily income and wealth have been redistributed from the 99 to the 1 percent via government actions. This, in itself, demonstrates how corrupt the US government is. No doubt, our current government is one of the most, if not the most, corrupt in the advanced economies of the world. So, too, are both major political parties.

The corporate press will always lie to you on this issue regardless of whether liberal or conservative. They will tell us the US has a shortage of high tech workers, and that we must import workers to fill jobs. The press will never tell you there are hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of US high tech workers unemployed in their field, like Craig DiAngelo, who are ready and raring to go.

As for Craig DiAngelo, he is now running for the US Congress as a Republican, and, as you might expect, one of his key issues has to do with the H1-B visa.

New data on H-1B visas prove that IT outsourcers hire a lot but pay very little

Top 10 H-1B employers are all IT offshore outsourcing firms, costing U.S. workers tens of thousands of jobs–Economic Policy Institute

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The federal government initiated the student loan program in 1958 in response to the launch of Sputnik the year before by the Soviet Union. “High school students who showed promise in mathematics, science, engineering, and foreign language, or those who wanted to be teachers, were offered grants, scholarships, and loans.” In 1965, the government passed The Higher Education Act, which provided more college grants to students, especially lower-income students. The Pell Grant was established for students in 1972 (Citlen).

Then somebody on Wall Street came up with the idea of securitizing student loans, which meant pooling student loans, selling them to investment companies, which would then issue bonds to investors backed by the loans. Student loan payments would primarily go to the investors, with a little to spare to pay for the service providers.

From a Wall Street point-of-view, billions of dollars a year could be made in fees every step of the way with every securitized student loan. Subsequently, Wall Street investors successfully pushed government legislators to reduce grants and to issue more student loans. That is how the US government, as well as politicians of both political parties, has used the student loan program to redistribute billions of dollars of income yearly from the 99 to the 1 percent via the conduit of student loan-backed bonds.

This forced students to borrow more money to help finance their higher education than would otherwise be the case, making loan defaults more likely, especially during economic downturns. The Great Recession hit in December 2007 and lasted until June 2009, but the negative effects of this disaster have continued. The government, of course, is working hard to disguise how bad the situation really is.

Five years ago, fearing an increase of student loan defaults, and a massive devaluing of the student loan backed bonds they owned, investors began selling off their bonds, which resulted in declining values. They couldn’t stand this. Something had to be done to restore investor confidence, and so the federal government doubled student loan interest rates on all new loans from 3.4 to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2013 (Sheehy).

This increased the return on investment while doubling the burden on the 99 percent who take out new loans to finance their college education. The public outcry was so heavily against this increase politicians felt compelled to reduce student loan interest rates within a year. The burden for students and their families had been too great. The US government dropped the rate to 4.9 percent in 2014, which was still a nearly 50 percent increase over 3.4 percent (Lobosco). Doing so, however, stabilized the market for student loan-backed bonds.

Dictionary.com defines “crisis” as “a dramatic, emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life.” Student loans are a perfect example of such a crisis in the personal lives of borrowers. In 2016, total outstanding student loans represented roughly 7.5 percent of the United States gross domestic product (GDP), up from 3.5 percent only ten years earlier (ACE). Nearly 43 million Americans were chained like slaves to rich bondholders via student loan debt, each with an average balance of $30,000 in 2016 (Friedman).

The cost of university education has grown faster than the value of Federal Pell grants (in current dollars) since 1976. The average Pell grant in 1976 paid 72 percent of the maximum cost of going to a public four-year college or university. This figure grew to 79 percent in 1979. Nowadays, the average Pell grant is less than half of that, hovering inside the 32 to 34 percent range (ACE). Therefore, students have had to increase their borrowing to fund their higher education and Wall Street investment banks and investors of the 1 percent all benefit from this higher student loan debt.

As the negative economic consequences of the Great Recession of 2007-2009 slowly gave ground to better times, student loan defaults fell, from nearly 15 percent in 2013 to 11.8 in 2015 to 11.3 percent in 2016. Defaults occur when former students go 360 days without making a payment. About 593,000 former college students out of 5.2 million total borrowers were in default on their federal debt as of Sept. 30, 2015, the US Department of Education reported. Default rates at public and for-profit colleges dipped, while private, nonprofit schools experienced a slight increase (Nasiripour).

Perhaps the biggest reason the default rate declined was that student loan borrowers deferred their payments at increasing rates, and for longer periods. The default rate, therefore, doesn’t accurately represent the degree to which former students have problems making their loan payments. An Obama White House report said in 2015, “The cohort default rate published by the Education Department is “‘susceptible to artificial manipulation.’”

The share of student borrowers paying down their loans more accurately reflects what is occurring than default rates alone (EPI). The report noted that a rising number of students are unable to make payments on their loans, but manage to avoid defaulting. Because of this, the report stated the actual default rate at four-year institutions is about 12.5 percent, and 25 percent for community colleges. For-profit colleges and universities have a 30 percent default rate. 41.5 million Americans owed more than $1.4 trillion federal student loans by the end of 2016. About one in every four borrowers is either delinquent or in default the report stated. Furthermore, “total indebtedness has doubled since 2009” (Nasiripour).

However, it turns out the White House report understated the numbers by quite a lot. Leaked documents showed only 46 percent of students out of school three years or more are paying down their student loan debt (Obama’s Student Loan Fiasco). This means 54 percent are not paying down their loans. Something else is terribly amiss as well. To be among the 46 percent, you cannot be in default, and you must have paid down the principal of your loan by at least one dollar. So if somebody who has owed $30,000 in student loans since they graduated from college ten years ago paid a dollar on the principal of their loan eight years ago, they have officially paid down their loan and are among the 46 percent. In other words, the bar for those who have not defaulted and are paying down their loans are about as low as one can get.

The government is paying the interest on student loans to bondholders for people who cannot pay down their loans. In other words, the rich are getting richer at the expense of the government and those who are paying down their student loans.

Clearly, tens of millions of people are in a state of personal crisis when it comes to student loans they cannot pay off. In addition, the next economic downturn may bring about a crisis in the financial markets centered on student loans, just as it occurred last time, only it will likely be worse. That economic crisis is looming.

People who have left higher education institutions saddled with an average of $30,000 in debt and limited job prospects are facing a crisis, which will only bring about another crisis in the student loan-backed bonds markets. Student loan debtors have other debts and bills to pay that turn their student loans into tens of millions of individual financial catastrophes, forcing them to spend years postponing payments so they can make their monthly mortgage payments, rent payments, put food on the table, pay their monthly bills, and raise their children.

People go to universities to increase their earning power so as to enjoy greater fruits of their labor. However, the growth of wages and salaries for most people have been flat or in decline for the last thirty-seven years when the official inflation rate is factored in. However, there is significant evidence this official rate is heavily understated, which means people are coming out of college and earning less in real terms than their parents thirty-seven years ago. This is why many people remain mired in student loan debt. Prices are going up faster than their earnings. They simply cannot pay it off and are forced to postpone payments for years and decades.

The remedy to this situation is to increase Pell Grants or simply make college free. According to the nonpartisan Office of Budget Management, the US government is giving the 1 percent and corporations $1.5 trillion dollars over ten years with the new Republican tax cut. Surely the US government can afford to provide such a sum to the middle class via a similar amount, thereby rendering college free. Studies clearly show this would be good for the US economy while there is not one scrap of evidence the tax cuts will do anything positive for the economy.

Student loans are an example of the golden rule of massive US government corruption; he or she who has the gold makes the rules that redistributes income and wealth their way from the less financially well endowed. Nobody knows this better than Wall Street Senator Ron Wyden.

Works Cited
Friedman, Dan. Americans Owe $1.2 Trillion Dollars In Student Loans. New York Daily News, May 17, 2014. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/americans-owe-1-2-trillion-student-loans-article-1.1796606

American Council on Education, (ACE) http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/FactSheet-Pell-Grant-Funding-History-1976-2010.pdf

Investment Memo. Merganser Capital Management, 2016 http://www.merganser.com/PDF/Memo/2015-Q3.pdf
http://money.cnn.com/2012/09/28/pf/college/student-loan-defaults/

Carrillo, Raul. How Wall Street Profits From Student Debt, Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone Magazine, April 14, 2016).

Sheehy, Kelsey. What the Stafford Loan Rate Hike Means for Students. US News and World Report, March 7, 2013 http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2013/07/03/what-the-stafford-loan-interest-rate-hike-means-for-students

Obama’s Student Loan Fiasco. Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Jan. 22, 2017

Allan, Nicole, Thompson, Derek. The Myth of the Student Loan Crisis. Atlantic Monthly, March 2017

Citlen, Jeff. A Look into the History of Student Loans. http://www.Lendedu.com, August 15, 2016

Lobosco, Katie. Student Loan Interest Rates Are Going Down. CNN Money, June 30, 2016 http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/30/pf/college/student-loan-interest-rates/

Nasiripour, Shahien. Student Loan Defaults Drop, but the Numbers Are Rigged. Bloomberg News, Sept. 28, 2016
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-28/student-loan-defaults-fall-but-the-numbers-are-rigged

Kroeger, Teresa; Cooke Tanyell; Gould, Elise. The Class of 2016. Economic Policy Institute. 21/04/2016. http://www.epi.org/publication/class-of-2016/

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The United States Federal Reserve Bank issued a report in September 2017 showing the top 1 percent of US income earners own almost twice as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of Americans.

According to the Fed’s report, the bottom 90 percent of citizens have seen their wealth fall from nearly 38 percent of total US wealth in 1989 to 23 percent today, a 40 percent drop. Meanwhile, the 1 percent has seen their share of wealth grow from just under 30 percent in 1989 to 38.6 percent today.

In the same report, Federal Reserve researchers reported the rich took a record-high 23.8 percent of the overall US created income in 2016, up from approximately 8 percent in 1980. The report showed the bottom 90 percent of families now make less than half of the country’s income. That figure slipped to 49.7 percent in 2016, down by more than 20 percent since 1989.

A perusal of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows total US corporate profits hit their highest level ever in the third quarter of 2017. The next three highest were during the three quarters preceding the third quarter. Corporate after-tax earnings were also at their highest levels during the past four quarters. This shows US corporations are doing fine without the tax cuts.

According to the BEA, despite record aggregate corporate earnings in 2017, average monthly job growth was lower than in 2016. Rather than increasing jobs, much of those record earnings are providing higher dividends and share buybacks. Both of these are done with the intention of raising share prices, thereby fueling an already dangerous stock market bubble.

There is a good chance that much of the corporate tax cuts will be used to increase dividends and find ways to increase share values, which redounds mainly to the rich.

In a research report for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economist Edward N. Wolff shows that the top 1 percent own 40 percent of all corporate shares, while the 90-99 percent own 44 percent, as of 2016. That means the top ten percent will be the primary beneficiaries of the new tax cuts for corporations, increasing both their income and their wealth relative to everybody else.

Thus, income and wealth inequalities are certain to increase under the newest Republican tax cuts. People may reasonably suspect the tax cuts were written to ensure this result, and with potentially dire results.

The stock market bubble may grow bigger than would otherwise be the case in the absence of the tax cuts. Once the bubble bursts, the 99 percent will likely be the principal victims in the form of higher unemployment, reduced incomes, home foreclosures, increased homelessness, and all the things that historically come with the bursting of stock market bubbles.

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