Planet Earth Is ‘Quite Sick’: 7 of 8 Boundaries for Safe and Just World Already Breached, Study Says

A man tries to cool off in New Delhi, India on May 23, 2023.

A man tries to cool off in New Delhi, India on May 23, 2023.

 (Photo: Kabir Jhangiani/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“Nothing less than a just global transformation… is required to ensure human well-being,” researchers wrote.


Jun 01, 2023 (

If Earth were to get an annual health checkup akin to a person’s physical exam, a doctor would say the planet is “really quite sick right now.”

That’s how Joyeeta Gupta, professor of environment and development at the University of Amsterdam, put it at a Wednesday press conference accompanying the publication of new research in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. Co-authored by Gupta and 50 other scientists from around the world, it warns that nearly every threshold for a “safe and just” planet has already been breached and pleads for swift action to protect “the global commons for all people now and into the future.”

As Carbon Brief reported: “The new study develops the idea of ‘planetary boundaries,’ first set out in an influential 2009 paper. The paper had defined a set of interlinked thresholds that it said would ensure a ‘safe operating space for humanity.’ Its authors had warned that crossing these thresholds ‘could have disastrous consequences.'”

“We cannot have a biophysically safe planet without justice.”

The new paper, written by many of the same people, introduces justice considerations into the framework, leading the authors to propose a set of “safe and just” Earth system boundaries (ESBs) at global and sub-global scales, some of which are stricter than the “safe” limits outlined previously.

“For the first time, we present quantifiable numbers and a solid scientific foundation to assess the state of our planetary health not only in terms of Earth system stability and resilience but also in terms of human well-being and equity/justice,” said lead author Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The interdisciplinary team focused on five of the nine planetary systems identified in 2009—climate, biosphere, water, nutrient cycles, and atmosphere. To determine the health of these systems, they relied on the following eight measurable indicators:

  1. Global mean surface temperature change since the pre-industrial era (climate);
  2. Natural ecosystem area (biosphere);
  3. Functional integrity (biosphere);
  4. Surface water flows (water);
  5. Groundwater levels (water);
  6. Nitrogen (nutrient cycles);
  7. Phosphorous (nutrient cycles); and
  8. Aerosol loading (atmosphere).

As Phys.orgreported: “Safe boundaries ensure stable and resilient conditions on Earth, and use an interglacial Holocene-like Earth system functioning as a reference point for a healthy planet. A stable and resilient Earth is dominated by balancing feedbacks that cope with buffer and dampen disturbances. Cutting-edge science on climate tipping points features as one major line of evidence to set safe boundaries.”

To establish “just” boundaries for each indicator, the authors assessed the conditions needed to avert “significant harm,” which they defined as “widespread severe existential or irreversible negative impacts on countries, communities, and individuals from Earth system change, such as loss of lives, livelihoods, or incomes; displacement; loss of food, water, or nutritional security; and chronic disease, injury, or malnutrition.”

As summarized by Carbon Brief, the researchers took into account the following justice criteria:

  • Interspecies justice: prioritizing other species and ecosystems in addition to humanity.
  • Intergenerational justice: considering how actions taken today will impact future generations.
  • Intragenerational justice: accounting for factors including race, class, and gender, which “underpin inequality, vulnerability and the capacity to respond” to changes in planetary systems.

“The results of our health check are quite concerning: Within the five analyzed domains, several boundaries, on a global and local scale, are already transgressed,” Rockström said. “This means that unless a timely transformation occurs, it is most likely that irreversible tipping points and widespread impacts on human well-being will be unavoidable. Avoiding that scenario is crucial if we want to secure a safe and just future for current and future generations.”

According to the paper, “Social and economic systems run on unsustainable resource extraction and consumption” have pushed Earth past seven of the eight “safe and just” ESBs.

The paper includes the following image for reference. The Earth icons representing the current state of the planet should be in the green space, which marks where “safe” (red) and “just” (blue) ESBs overlap. Instead, they lie beyond the “safe and just corridor” for every indicator except aerosol loading.

When “safe” ESBs are looked at in isolation, the planet has entered the danger zone for six of the eight indicators. According to the authors, 1.2°C of global warming to date has pushed the world beyond the “just” ESB for climate, which requires mean surface temperature rise to be capped at 1.0°C. For now, the climate still remains in the “safe” threshold, they say, even as the impacts of increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather are already being felt, especially by the poor.

However, Gupta stressed that “justice is a necessity for humanity to live within planetary limits.”

“This is a conclusion seen across the scientific community in multiple heavyweight environmental assessments,” said Gupta. “It is not a political choice. Overwhelming evidence shows that a just and equitable approach is essential to planetary stability.”

“We cannot have a biophysically safe planet without justice,” she added. “This includes setting just targets to prevent significant harm and guarantee access to resources to people and for as well as just transformations to achieve those targets.”

As Carbon Brief pointed out: “This study is the first to assess Earth-system boundaries at a local scale, rather than analyzing the planet as a whole. This allows the authors to determine which boundaries have been crossed in specific regions and to identify ‘hotspots’ for breached boundaries.”

As a result, researchers were able to produce the following map, which shows that more boundaries have been breached in certain areas, including Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and substantial parts of Africa, Brazil, Mexico, China, and the U.S. West.

Rockström told reporters that the eight indicators were “carefully chosen” to be “implementable for stakeholders… across the world.”

The researchers hope that the “safe and just” ESBs they have put forth “will underpin the setting of new science-based targets for businesses, cities, and governments to address the polycrises of: increasing human exposure to the climate emergency, biodiversity decline, water shortages, ecosystem damage from fertilizer overuse in some parts of the world coupled with lack of access elsewhere, and health damage from air pollution,” reported.

“Stewardship of the global commons has never been more urgent or important.”

Rockström and Gupta are co-chairs of the Earth Commission, founded in 2019 “to advance the planetary boundaries framework,” Carbon Brief observed. “The concept has been widely used in academia and policy spaces, but has also attracted criticism from scientists who say it oversimplifies a complex system, or could spread political will too thinly.”

Earth Commission executive director Wendy Broadgate, for her part, said that “a safe and just transformation to a manageable planet requires urgent, collective action by multiple actors, especially in government and business to act within Earth system boundaries to keep our life support system of the planet intact.”

“Stewardship of the global commons has never been more urgent or important,” she added.

In their conclusion, the authors wrote that “nothing less than a just global transformation across all ESBs is required to ensure human well-being.”

“Such transformations must be systemic across energy, food, urban, and other sectors, addressing the economic, technological, political, and other drivers of Earth system change, and ensure access for the poor through reductions and reallocation of resource use,” they added. “All evidence suggests this will not be a linear journey; it requires a leap in our understanding of how justice, economics, technology, and global cooperation can be furthered in the service of a safe and just future.”

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.


Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

Book: “Health Communism”

Health Communism

Beatrice Adler-BoltonArtie Vierkant

A searing analysis of health and illness under capitalism from hosts of the hit podcast “Death Panel”

In this fiery, theoretical tour-de-force, Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant offer an overview of life and death under capitalism and argue for a new global left politics aimed at severing the ties between capital and one of its primary tools: health.

Written by co-hosts of the hit “Death Panel” podcast and longtime disability justice and healthcare activists Adler-Bolton and Vierkant, Health Communism first examines how capital has instrumentalized health, disability, madness, and illness to create a class seen as “surplus,” regarded as a fiscal and social burden. Demarcating the healthy from the surplus, the worker from the “unfit” to work, the authors argue, serves not only to undermine solidarity but to mark whole populations for extraction by the industries that have emerged to manage and contain this “surplus” population. Health Communism then looks to the grave threat capital poses to global public health, and at the rare movements around the world that have successfully challenged the extractive economy of health.

Ultimately, Adler-Bolton and Vierkant argue, we will not succeed in defeating capitalism until we sever health from capital. To do this will require a radical new politics of solidarity that centers the surplus, built on an understanding that we must not base the value of human life on one’s willingness or ability to be productive within the current political economy. Capital, it turns out, only fears health.


Former Gun Company Executive Explains Roots of America’s Gun Violence Epidemic

by Corey G. Johnson

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: Under the Gun

How Gun Violence Is Impacting the Nation

From the movie theater to the shopping mall, inside a church and a synagogue, through the grocery aisle and into the classroom, gun violence has invaded every corner of American life. It is a social epidemic no vaccine can stem, a crisis with no apparent end. Visual evidence of the carnage spills with numbing frequency onto TV shows and floods the internet. Each new shooting brings the lists of loved ones lost, the galleries of their smiling photos and the videos of the police response. And each mass shooting brings another surge of national outrage.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns became the leading killer of children in 2020, overtaking car crashes, drug overdoses and disease for the first time in the nation’s history. Yet as the one-year anniversary of the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, passes, nagging questions loom.

Why haven’t lawmakers acted with forceful correctives? What will it take to regain a sense of safety? When will change happen? And how, exactly, did America end up here?

Ryan Busse, former executive at Kimber America, a major gun manufacturer, recently shared his thoughts on these questions with ProPublica. He was vice president of sales at Kimber America from 1995 to 2020 but broke with the industry and has become a gun safety advocate. He testified about mass shootings and irresponsible marketing last July in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and authored the book “Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry That Radicalized America.”

In June 2021, he became a senior adviser for Giffords, a gun violence prevention group led by Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman gravely injured in 2011 during a mass shooting. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Where are we, as a nation, on guns? And where do you think we need to go?

I think we might be on the precipice of things getting much worse. I think this Bruen decision, the Supreme Court ruling, quite possibly will unleash so many lawsuits against so many counted-upon regulations that citizens may wake up to the equivalent of, like, no stop signs in their town anymore, except for it’ll be on gun regulation. [The Bruen decision has been called one of the court’s most significant rulings on guns in decades. It struck down New York’s concealed carry law as unconstitutional, saying it conflicted with the Second Amendment.]

What do you attribute this trend to?

As I write in my book, there was a time not that long ago, maybe about 15 to 20 years ago, when the industry understood a sort of fragile social contract needed to be maintained on something as immensely powerful as the freedom to own guns. And so the industry didn’t do certain things. It didn’t advertise in egregiously irresponsible ways. It didn’t put, you know, growth, company growth, above all other things. There were just these unspoken codes of conduct the industry knew not to violate. And those seem to have broken down. And now it’s kind of a victory at all costs. And sadly, I think there’s a lot of cost.

What do you say to people who make the argument that guns are protected by the Second Amendment and that yes, a deranged person here or there may do something bad, but is it fair to punish or penalize law-abiding gun owners with unnecessary or extra government intervention?

I am a gun owner. I hunt and shoot with my boys. I want to continue doing that. I believe and I think that I have a right to do those things. On the other hand, I do not believe that right can exist without a commensurate amount of responsibility. And that responsibility either has to be voluntary or it has to be legislated.

I don’t think universal background checks are an infringement. I just don’t buy that. I think it’s part of the responsibility of exercising this right. I don’t think strengthened red flag laws are in any way an infringement. I think that’s what we must do as responsible citizens. I don’t think that controlling irresponsible marketing is an infringement on our Second Amendment rights. In fact, I think it’s our responsibility to do it. I think there’s a small thread of truth in the position you portray, but democracies function in a sort of carefully balanced gray area. And I think our balance in the country right now is way, way off.

Are there others in the gun industry who share your view?

There were people who agreed with everything I said before the sort of radical shifts started to happen in about 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. But, you know, as with most things, when you earn a paycheck from something, you’re likely to be greatly influenced by it. And so, over time, most of the people in the industry have either converted to a true belief in the sort of radicalized Second Amendment absolutism that now I think is very dangerous, or they have just left the industry. There is only a place for complete, 100% devotion.

What caused the radicalization?

It was a combination of factors. After Columbine in 1999, the National Rifle Association in very well-publicized meetings now, thanks to sleuthing and digging by reporters at NPR, we now have tapes of the meetings where they literally said, are we going to be part of the solution here? Or maybe we can use these things to drum up hate and fear in our members? We might even be able to use them to drive membership. And they chose the latter. They perfected that system for about seven or eight years, getting their feet underneath them. They figured out it can drive politics. And then an explosion hit. That explosion was the future Black president leading in the polls in 2007. And then Barack Obama won in 2008. So you have this sort of uncapping of hate and conspiracy, much of it racially driven, that the NRA was tapping into. Prior to 2007, people in the United States never purchased more than 7 million guns in a single year. By the time Barack Obama left office, the United States was purchasing almost 17 million guns a year. And so I think it’s impossible to discount the degree to which Obama’s presidency lit this whole thing on fire.

When Trump was elected, there was what was called in the industry the “Trump Slump,” meaning since a Republican was elected, the fear of Obama was gone, and Hillary Clinton didn’t get elected. The sort of fear and conspiracy subsided, and sales stagnated for a little while because the industry and gun owners believed that the threat had passed. But with Trump, we experienced a whole new, never seen before level of fear, racism, hatred and conspiracy that culminated in 2020. In that year, you had George Floyd, COVID lockdowns, Black Lives Matter, Antifa protests and Kyle Rittenhouse. I mean, it’s the most tumultuous year any of us can remember with the most hatred and conspiracy and nastiness. None of us can remember a year like that. In that year, the United States consumers bought almost 23 million guns in a single year, more than three times as much as before Barack Obama took office.

Last year there was a rash of youth-related mass shootings. Uvalde comes to mind. The tragedy at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket comes to mind. How do race, conspiracy and these political headwinds you mention result in young people committing these massacres?

When those things happen, they’re not products of one particular event or series of events. They are the culmination of lots of turmoil in our society. And we’ve always had turmoil in our society, and every society has always had turmoil in it. What no other society has had is 425 million guns and this culture, on the right, that tells young men that to be real young men, they must purchase an AR-15 and go out and solve their problems. The industry 15 years ago would not even allow the AR-15 to be used or displayed at its own trade shows. I mean, they were locked up in a corner. You had to have military or police credentials to even go in there. Now, they’re spread around like crazy, and the marketing campaigns are so aimed at young men that in some ways, it’s not shocking that Uvalde or Buffalo or [the July 4 shooting at a parade in the Chicago suburb of] Highland Park, all three heinous crimes, all three committed with AR-15s, all by very young men. It’s not shocking to me that those happen; it’s shocking to me that they don’t happen every day.

What is more powerful in this country right now than social media advertising? And if it’s not so powerful, why do all the gun companies and the tactical gear companies maintain such polished social media accounts? Advertising is something that happens over time, and creates a perception and creates brands, and creates ways of thinking. And I think that certainly happened with the Buffalo shooter.

The Buffalo shooter wrote in his manifesto about perusing YouTube videos, social media accounts, all the places where tactical gear — which are some of the most egregiously advertised items in the firearms industry right now, bulletproof vests, helmets, gloves, all things that weren’t marketed at all 20 years ago. He studied very carefully what bulletproof vest to wear, what tactical gear to wear, he used the exact same gun that was used in Sandy Hook, the Bushmaster XM-15, the same gun that was advertised in [Remington Arms’] man card campaign that told young men: “You don’t have a man card if you don’t have one of these rifles. And you do have a man card if you do have one of them.”

Now, can you draw a direct line from that ad to those two shooters? I don’t know that you can draw a direct line, but I think you could damn sure draw an obtuse line. I mean, two young men who, obviously, I mean, come on, like, that’s not a mistake. And if advertising doesn’t matter, then why are they doing it?

What are the fixes? Are there any fixes?

What did Winston Churchill say? “Americans will eventually do the right thing.” And I think we may be in for more ugliness before we do the right thing. Some of that will be demanding that the Supreme Court not apply foolish originalist reasoning to instances like this. So part of that will be demanding that either through public pressure or through eventually, in the long game, replacing those justices with ones who don’t believe that way.

The other thing is, we’re going to have to, as a society, just rise up and demand responsibility, the same kind of responsibility that the industry that I worked in once imposed on itself.

You know, I tell the story that 15, 20 years ago, the industry named guns like the Smith & Wesson 629 or the Remington 870 because you had [industry] attorneys that knew that even the names of guns could be important. They could encourage people to do irresponsible things. And so you’d never wanted to even name things that might encourage bad things to happen. Now we have a gun called the Wilson Urban Super Sniper. I mean, what are you supposed to do with that? We now have a gun called the Ultimate Arms Warmonger. What are you supposed to do with that? We now have an AR-15 company called Rooftop Arms, as in when you don’t get what you want, you vote from the rooftops. And what happened in Highland Park? A kid got up and killed people from a rooftop. You see the old self-imposed responsibility; those old norms of behavior have been just completely trashed.

So we can, as a society, demand reinstatement of those norms. Those have nothing to do with laws. They don’t require legislation. They don’t require two-thirds of the vote in the Senate. We can demand that. And we may have to.

Justin Cooper, chief of operations at Rooftop Arms, told ProPublica the business name stems from the origins of founders and is in no way related to “voting from the rooftops,” past events or political causes, or views.

ProPublica contacted Remington Arms and Bushmaster for comment but didn’t receive a response.

Military bloat and empire as a way of life

Recalling William Appleman Williams final work

PATRICK MAZZA JUN 3, 2023 The Raven (

Source: CBO’s Estimate of the Budgetary Effects of H.R. 3746, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023

Starve the poor – Feed the Pentagon

Once again, while other needs are squeezed, a federal budget deal will literally starve the poor to feed the military. While new work requirements are placed on SNAP recipients that will drive some from the food support program, the military budget (never call it defense) remains untouched. The recent debt ceiling deal leaves Joe Biden’s $886 billion 2024 Pentagon budget request intact while domestic programs are slashed. The above graph from the National Priorities Project tells the story.

In real terms it is the largest military budget in U.S. history, the only exceptions being World War II and the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that came after 9-11. Larger by far than during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, or the Reagan military buildup. Again, from the National Priorities Project:

Line graph showing US military spending at a historical high level

The real military budget is even higher. Adding in nuclear weapons, foreign military aid and “intelligence,” the project puts the current 2023 budget at $920 billion. That is still an undercount. William Hartung, an expert on military spending, calculates that even in fiscal year 2020 the total military expenditure was $1.25 trillion, adding in other costs such as support for veterans and debt service. It’s easily pushing $1.5 trillion by now.

The U.S. by far is the biggest military spender on Earth, with 39% of the total, exceeding the next 10 nations combined, as this chart shows:

Most warlike nation

So why is the military budget so unassailable? Why, no matter how often bloated military spending is denounced, does the budget climb toward ever greater heights? Even after Dwight Eisenhower made the famous warning in his farewell address:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Ike would have known, being one of the progenitors of that complex as the general leading U.S. forces that invaded Europe during D-Day and as the president during the nuclear buildup of much of the early Cold War. One clue as to why his warning went unheeded is in the fact he originally wanted to call it the military-industrial-congressional complex, the “iron triangle” that keeps pumping up military expenditures. As Hartung writes, Congress is bought by the weapons industry. It is a kind of money laundering scheme where increased military spending comes back as campaign donations, a perfect example of the legalized bribery that is the real governing system of the U.S.

But there are deeper reasons, explaining why that “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” for which Ike called has never appeared, at least to the level able to tie back the power of the complex. War and militarism are rooted deep in the U.S. of American experience. As former President Jimmy Carter said, “If you go around the world and ask people which is the most warlike country on Earth, which one do you think they would respond? The United States. Since we left the Second World War, and even before, the United States has constantly been at war in some part of the world. We’ve been in about 30 combats with other countries since the Second World War . . .  So I would say that the military-industrial complex, the manufacturers of all kinds of weapons, are very influential in the country and the Congress as well.”  

Carter noted that the U.S. hasn’t been at war with someone only 16 years of its 242-year history. (Even that is doubtful since even during Carter’s so-called peaceful years the U.S. was stirring up trouble in Afghanistan in a successful effort to give the Soviets “their own Vietnam,” as his National Security Adviser, Zbignew Brzezinski, has confessed.) The list is extensive. If the U.S. was not fighting with some European or Asian power, it was warring on some native nation or another on the frontier.  War has worked for the United States, historian Geoffrey Perrett noted in his 1989 history of major U.S. conflicts, Country Made by War.

“Since 1775 no nation on Earth has had as much experience of war as the United States: nine major wars in nine generations. And in between the wars have come other armed conflicts such as the Philippine insurgency and clashes in the Persian Gulf. America’s wars have been like the rungs on a ladder by which it rose to greatness. No other nation has triumphed so long, so consistently, or on such as vast scale, through force of arms.”

Although conflicts since World War II have not been so successful, nonetheless they failed to dislodge the fundamental U.S triumph in that war, which left it overwhelmingly dominant over all other powers, each of which had been ravaged in the war. As historian Alfred McCoy noted in his recent work, To Govern the Globe, it left the U.S. in the unprecedented position of holding sway on both European and Asian ends of Eurasia. If this hegemony is eroding with the rise of China and other powers, the U.S. still remains in a powerful position.  

“Born and bred of empire”

To all this one must ask the more fundamental question. Why has the U.S. been the most warlike, most continually at war? For the answer we can look to historian William Appleman Williams and the title of his final book which summarized his substantial life work, published in 1980, Empire as a Way of Life. Williams was the dean of what came to be known as the revisionist school of U.S. history that penetrated the myth of American exceptionalism with the facts of history, that the U.S. was an empire from its colonial roots, and behaved much as any other empire.

First let Williams define his terms. “ . . . a way of life is the combination of patterns of thought and action that, as it becomes habitual and institutionalized, defines the thrust and character of a culture and society.” Then, empire, a system in which, “The will, and power, of one element asserts its superiority.” In some cases empire “concerns the forcible subjugation of formerly independent people by a wholly external power.” Such as native peoples or those who lived in the former northern half of Mexico.

Williams does not let the mass of U.S. of Americans off. We are enmeshed in the ways of empire.

“Empire became so intrinsically our American way of life that we rationalized and suppressed the nature of our means in the euphoria of the enjoyment of the ends . . . It is perhaps a bit too extreme, but only by a whisker, to say that imperialism has been the opiate of the American people.”

The U.S. was “born and bred” of another empire, the British. “The 19th– and 20th-century empire known as the United States of America began as a gleam in the eyes of various 16th century critics of, and advisers to, Elizabeth I,” Williams explains. At that time, “England was then a backward and underdeveloped small island” outclassed by other powers emerging in the Atlantic fringe, Portugal, Spain, France and The Netherlands, who were already commencing the age of European world conquest.

England concluded that “domestic welfare and social peace required vigorous imperial expansion,” and began first by consolidating the internal empire on the British Isles in Scotland and Ireland, and then in the 1600s expanding to the North American coast. “ . . . the most significant aspect of the empire was the success in transforming the American colonies from tiny, insecure outposts into dynamic societies generating their own progress . . . It produced another culture based on the proposition that expansion was the key to freedom, prosperity, and social peace.”

Inevitably, tensions rose between the ruling class of the home isles and the rising elites of the colonies. Benjamin Franklin believed the weight of development would eventually move the center of the British Empire to North America (which it finally did in 1945, but that comes later in the story), and until nearly the time of the split recommended that course. “But the British feared that such a policy would lead to the loss of control and profits, and Americans increasingly asserted their own claims to their own empire,” Williams writes.

That culminated in the Revolutionary War and the successful creation of the United States. But a weak central government seemed unable to fully press forward what George Washington would call “a rising empire” – the founders were not shy about using that kind of language. It appeared the union would fray into two or more nations, while uprisings such as Shay’s Rebellion threatened to shatter social peace. So the new national elites came together to create a framework to ensure continued expansion under a strong central government, the Constitution. Writes Williams, “ . . . the Constitution was an instrument of imperial government at home and abroad.”

“Extend the sphere”

The Constitution was founded on a clever turnaround of a fundamental political understanding architected by one of its key authors, James Madison. The general belief to that point had been exposited by French political philosopher Montesquieu “that liberty could only exist in a small state. Madison boldly argued the opposite: that empire was essential for freedom.” Madison needed to make that argument because many citizens of the new nation, burned by their experience with Britain, wanted nothing to do with a strong central government.

Madison made his case in a letter to Thomas Jefferson. “This form of government, in order to effect its purpose, must operate not within a small but extensive sphere . . . Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or in such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all to feel it . . . to act in unison with each other.”

Williams writes, “He was arguing that surplus social space and surplus resources were necessary to maintain economic welfare, social stability, freedom and representative government.” A strong central government would be needed to expand land for agriculture, to expand and protect exports, and to promote manufacturing.

With the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis & Clark Expedition to the Pacific, Jefferson fully embraced Madison’s understanding. “I am persuaded that no constitution was ever before as well calculated as ours for extensive empire and self-government,” he said as he left the presidency. “Jeffersonian Democracy, as it came to be called, was a creature of imperial expansion,” Williams writes. “He, perhaps even more than Madison, established it as a way of life, and most Americans embraced it because it gave them personal and social rewards.”

So much for the “alert and knowledgeable citizenry.”

“ . . . once people begin to acquire and enjoy and take for granted and waste surplus resources and space as a routine part of their lives,” Williams writes, “and to view them as a sign of God’s favor, then it requires a genius to make a career – let alone a culture – on the basis of agreeing upon limits. Especially when several continents lie largely naked off your shores.”

The myth of empty continents and the racism it embodies has always been part of the story. “Racism . . . began and survived as a psychologically justifying and economically profitable fairy tale. It provided the gloss for the harsh truth that empire . . . is the child of an inability or unwillingness to live within one’s own mans. Empire as a way of life is predicated upon having more than one needs.”

Next: Coming installments will review how imperial expansionism is rooted in a misguided sense of mission and compulsive drive for security, and how empire as a way of life continued to unfold after the era of the founders.

There’s a way to build thousands more housing units on San Francisco’s west side — and neighbors actually like it

As San Francisco stares down a state mandate to build 82,000 new housing units within eight years, an 80-something retired architect has a great solution. It’s called Domicity.

Heather Knight

June 3, 2023 (

Architect Eugene Lew seeks to turn single-family homes into small apartment buildings with a community space on the ground floor and five stories of housing above.
Architect Eugene Lew seeks to turn single-family homes into small apartment buildings with a community space on the ground floor and five stories of housing above.Michaela Vatcheva/Special to The Chronicle

Just a few blocks from Ocean Beach, in San Francisco’s sleepy, foggy Outer Sunset neighborhood, sits a little slice of Paris — or as close to it as one can get among the endless rows of single-family homes in varying shades of beige.

At 44th Avenue and Noriega Street sits Gus’s Community Market. Trees, picnic tables and green umbrellas primed for unlikely sunshine line the sidewalks alongside wooden stands brimming with colorful flowers, artichokes and melons. 

Above the shop sit three stories of housing, giving the bustling market more customers and the city more desperately needed homes. All in all, the pleasant corner offers a touch of the European flair two supervisors want to see replicated in their districts, swaths of San Francisco that have not shouldered their weight in helping the city address its housing crisis.

Now, Supervisors Myrna Melgar and Joel Engardio — who represent District Seven’s West of Twin Peaks area and District Four’s Sunset neighborhood, respectively — are pushing their sometimes resistant constituents to support far more Gus-style buildings. And they’re teaming up to pass legislation that could help make it a reality.

Engardio, who talked about turning the Sunset into Paris in his campaign last year, got rebuked in campaign mailers from the Affordable Housing Alliance for such blasphemy. Photoshopped images showed the Eiffel Tower sitting on top of single family homes. Mon dieu!

But the Paris-in-San Francisco that Engardio and Melgar envision is far more charming: first-floor retail or community spaces with housing on top offering far more apartments, and of far greater variety, than the city’s west side now possesses. Think spots where seniors downsize, young couples buy starter homes and lower-income families afford a tiny corner of our pricey city. 

The supervisors’ Yoda-like mentor in this endeavor is an unlikely one: an octogenarian and retired architect who has spent decades crafting a workable, practical solution to San Francisco’s housing crunch. In a city charged by the state with building 82,000 new housing units by 2031, it could be argued he’s laid a better path forward than anybody at City Hall.

His name is Eugene Lew, and his magic happens in a little studio off his garage near the Presidio Golf Course, miles from the areas of the city that could most benefit from the plan he calls Domicity.

Domicity involves slowly turning single-family homes — about 100,000 of which, he estimates, sit on cookie-cutter lots measuring 25 feet across and 120 feet deep — into small apartment buildings with a community space on the ground floor and five stories of housing above.

The beauty of the plan is its flexibility: Lew has designed numerous versions that could slide, like Legos, into the same space. The buildings could fit five large town houses for families or up to 18 small studios and one-bedroom units for seniors, students, single people, essential workers or couples just starting out. 

“This is a Eureka moment right here,” Lew told me the other day in his studio as he flipped through a book he’s published explaining Domicity in depth. “This is a vision, a product and a strategy.”

In today’s San Francisco, notoriously, we’re short on all three.

I think about teachers. I think about police,” Lew continued. “I think about firefighters living in Stockton, and in an earthquake we expect them to get across the bridge? Heaven help us.” 

Each shape, from the outside, is the same. The ground floor could house whatever the block most needs — a teen center, a day care center, a senior center, a cafe or a market plus parking spaces. The top two stories of housing are set back to preserve a facade that maintains the look of the neighborhood. A green space out back serves everybody living in the building. No individual units have stairs, but all are served by a central elevator and staircase.

Lew envisions creating a nonprofit called Domicity to buy single-family homes, mostly from seniors whose kids have moved out and who no longer want to maintain three or four bedrooms for themselves. They’re sitting on properties worth millions, but many have little cash to fund their retirement years. 

Domicity, the master developer, would provide the ready-made architectural plans to contractors to convert lots into these small apartment buildings, saving money by iterating the same idea over and over again. If two or three seniors in a row wanted to sell, the buildings could be bigger.

The seniors could then buy a Domicity apartment already created in their neighborhood — like dominoes, with more being built as more seniors sell. Under Prop. 13, they can transfer their property tax burden once to a new home, meaning their living expenses would probably decrease because they’d be maintaining so much less space but paying the same low tax rate. Their kids and grandkids could potentially afford to stay in San Francisco near them instead of being priced out to the suburbs.

Melgar has three daughters, one of whom has already left home, and said she’d love nothing more than to turn her single-family home in Ingleside Terraces into four apartments where the whole family could live together, but with its own private spaces, and she could babysit future grandchildren.

“This model that Mr. Lew came up with allows that to happen,” she told me.

It would all be purely optional: no bulldozers or mandates like in the dreaded days of so-called “urban renewal.” The seniors and other occupants would own their units, and Domicity would own and run the first floor.

Lew thinks he could bring down the cost of housing by at least 10% off the bat and slowly increase that savings to as much as one-third off today’s market rates for the same size units. Controversial modular housing — which makes sense, but isn’t supported by local unions — could also bring the costs down.

For now, the idea is a bit of a dream, but legislation from Melgar and Engardio will help. Melgar has proposed streamlining the process to turn a home into a fourplex — and up to three homes in a row into 12-unit apartment buildings. Engardio will co-sponsor the legislation in exchange for an amendment allowing Lew’s plan for six stories on all corner lots — stretching up to 65 feet tall — but not on mid-block lots.

The legislation would apply mostly to the west side, as well as some parts of Districts Two, Three and Five where the state has determined neighborhoods could build far more housing than they have historically.

Engardio said there are lovely six-story apartment buildings all over San Francisco, including along Irving Street and Lincoln Way in his district, but that building new ones was made illegal in many parts of the city decades ago. 

“Domicity is just saying we’re going back to the future to solve our housing crisis,” he said. “We’re doing what we know works and what can be beautiful.”

Corey Smith, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, is a big proponent of Domicity and said he and Lew will probably sit on the nonprofit’s board. Smith has pitched the idea to officials in other cities and said Oakland is also considering embracing Domicity.

“The goal is tens of thousands of units over the next decade by utilizing what I would call 20th century technologies,” he said. “Think about assembly lines for cars. We don’t build housing like that. But you can have the same thing get built over and over again.”

Lew’s been making the rounds at west side neighborhood associations, pitching his idea to surprisingly receptive audiences. (“I can say I escaped with my life!” he said with a laugh.) Many homeowners in the Sunset and nearby neighborhoods have long resisted changes to their neighborhoods, but Lew said that’s because they’ve never been presented with a good alternative that would serve their needs.

One sign that west side seniors are coming around to Lew’s idea: George Wooding, a 67-year-old homeowner in District Seven and the president of the Midtown Terrace Home Owners Association, has long opposed plans to build more housing near him, but he’s grudgingly supportive of Lew.

“Times are changing,” Wooding conceded. “He’s way ahead of everybody else. He’s a visionary as opposed to somebody just trying to make money.”

Lily Chu, 75, also backs the Domicity idea. She bought her Sunset home with her husband in 1979 and no longer needs so much space now that her kids and grandkids live in Los Angeles. She said she finds it difficult to maintain the home, and it feels unsafe on a corner lot with so many entry points. She’d love to downsize but stay in the neighborhood.

She visited Gus’s Market the other day and noticed the apartments on top — where she’d be protected, high off the street, with just one front door, and where she wouldn’t need a car to get groceries.

“Now that’s city living,” she said.

Reach Heather Knight:; Twitter: @hknightsf

Written By Heather Knight

Heather Knight is a columnist working out of City Hall and covering everything from politics to homelessness to family flight and the quirks of living in one of the most fascinating cities in the world. She believes in holding politicians accountable for their decisions or, often, lack thereof – and telling the stories of real people and their struggles.

She co-hosts the Chronicle’s TotalSF podcast and co-founded its #TotalSF program to celebrate the wonder and whimsy of San Francisco.VIEW COMMENTS

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Amazon and Google fund anti-abortion lawmakers through complex shell game

Blue-chip companies gave to Republican group funneling money to lawmakers who overturned abortion-ban veto in North Carolina

Nick Robins-Early Sat 3 Jun 2023 07.00 EDT (

As North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban is due to come into effect on 1 July, an analysis from the non-profit Center for Political Accountability (CPA) shows several major corporations donated large sums to a Republican political organization which in turn funded groups working to elect anti-abortion state legislators.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) received donations of tens of thousands of dollars each from corporations including Comcast, Intuit, Wells Fargo, Amazon, Bank of America and Google last year, the CPA’s analysis of IRS filings shows. The contributions were made in the months after Politico published a leaked supreme court decision indicating that the court would end the right to nationwide abortion access.

reproductive rights protesters in North Carolina

Google contributed $45,000 to the RSLC after the leak of the draft decision, according to the CPA’s review of the tax filings. Others contributed even more in the months after the leak, including Amazon ($50,000), Intuit ($100,000) and Comcast ($147,000).

Google, Amazon, Comcast, Wells Fargo and Bank of America did not respond to requests for comment. An Intuit spokesperson pointed out that the company also donates to Democratic political organizations, and that “our financial support does not indicate a full endorsement of every position taken by an individual policymaker or organization.

“Intuit is non-partisan and works with policymakers and leaders from both sides of the aisle to advocate for our customers,” an Intuit spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe engagement with policymakers is essential to a robust democracy and political giving is just one of the many ways Intuit engages on behalf of its customers, employees, and the communities it serves.”

A Bank of America spokesperson pointed to the company’s policy that donations to so-called 527 organizations such as the RSLC come with the caveat that they only be used for operational and administrative purposes, not to support any candidates or ballot initiatives. The CPA, meanwhile, argues that since the RSLC’s operations are explicitly designed to support candidates and ballot initiatives, such a policy is a distinction without a difference.

Although these companies did not directly give these vast sums to North Carolina’s anti-abortion lawmakers, the CPA’s analysis is a case study in how corporate contributions to organizations such as the RSLC can end up being funneled into anti-abortion causes. When Republican state legislators successfully overturned a veto from the Democratic governor last month to pass the upcoming abortion ban, nine of lawmakers voting to overturn the veto had received campaign contributions from a group with links to the RSLC.

The RSLC, which works to elect Republican lawmakers and promote rightwing policies at the state level, is at the top of a chain of spending and donations which eventually connected to rightwing candidates in North Carolina. This type of spending, which relies on channeling money through various third-party groups from larger organizations, is a common part of modern political campaign financing.

Companies need to know where their money is ending up

Bruce Freed of the Center for Political Accountability

In this case, the RSLC gave $5m to the Good Government Coalition political organization between June and November last year, which in turn gave $6.45m to the rightwing political group Citizens for a Better North Carolina. Finally, that organization gave $1m in independent expenditures to support nine anti-abortion state lawmakers who later voted to overturn the governor’s veto of the abortion bill.

These donations are evidence that corporations are proving to be complicit in the broader movement to limit abortion rights, the CPA non-profit argues, even as many of these companies publicly tout women’s empowerment and employee access to healthcare.

“Companies need to know where their money is ending up,” said Bruce Freed, the president of the CPA. “This should be a lesson – a lesson that they should have taken a while ago but that frankly is driven home right now with what has been happening in North Carolina.”

Several of the companies, including Intuit and Bank of America, made statements last year offering to cover healthcare costs for employees who needed to travel out of state for medical procedures, in some cases explicitly mentioning abortion as an example. Google sent an email to employees acknowledging that Roe v Wade had been overturned and informed them about options for relocating to Google offices in different states.

“Equity is extraordinarily important to us as a company, and we share concerns about the impact this ruling will have on people’s health, lives and careers,” the email stated.

The companies which donated to the RSLC are also large donors to Democratic political groups, and tech giants such as Google and Amazon tend to spend millions each year more broadly on lobbying efforts.

The RSLC, whose board members include former lawmakers, governors and White House advisers such as Karl Rove, boasts on its website that it spent more than $45m on supporting Republican candidates during the 2021 and 2022 election cycle.

In addition to North Carolina’s abortion ban, South Carolina also passed a bill last week that would criminalize most abortions at six weeks into a pregnancy – generally a period before people know they are pregnant. A state judge issued a temporary halt on the ban within hours of Governor Henry McMaster signing it into law, and it will now be reviewed by the state supreme court.

North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban is scheduled to go into effect on 1 July, drastically curtailing abortion access as many other southern states have passed near total bans.

(Contributed by Gwyllm Llwydd)


“Erdoğan’s victory will consolidate one-man rule and pave the way for horrible practices, bringing completely dark days for all parts of society,” warned one Kurdish opposition leader.


Portrait shot of President Erdogan. He is wearing a dark suit and blue tie and has his right hand over his chest.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledges supporters at the presidential palace after winning reelection in a runoff on May 29, 2023 in Ankara, Turkey. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on May 29, 2023. It is shared here under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

As supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at home and abroad celebrated his win of Sunday’s runoff election, human rights defenders and marginalized people including Kurds and LGBTQ+ activists voiced deep fears about how their lives will be adversely affected during the increasingly authoritarian leader’s third term.

Turkey’s Supreme Election Council confirmed Erdoğan’s victory over Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Sunday evening. Erdoğan, the 69-year-old leader of the right-wing Justice and Development Party who has ruled the nation of 85 million people since 2014 and dominated its politics for two decades, won 52.18% of the vote. Kılıçdaroğlu, a 74-year-old social democrat who leads the left-of-center Republican People’s Party, received 47.82%.

Erdoğan—who was seen handing out cash to supporters at a polling station in an apparent violation of Turkish election law—mocked his opponent’s loss outside the president’s home in Istanbul, saying, “Bye, bye, bye, Kemal” as the winner’s supporters booed, according to Al Jazeera.

“The only winner today is Turkey,” Erdoğan declared as he prepared for a third term in which his country faces severe economic woes—inflation has soared and the lira is at a record low against the U.S. dollar—and is struggling to recover from multiple devastating earthquakes earlier this year.

However, in Turkish Kurdistan—whose voters, along with a majority of people in most of Turkey’s largest cities favored Kılıçdaroğlu—people expressed fears that the government will intensify a crackdown it has been waging for several years.

Ardelan Mese, a 26-year-old cafe owner in Diyarbakir, the country’s largest Kurdish-majority city, called Sunday’s election “a matter of life and death now.”

“I can’t imagine what he will be capable of after declaring victory,” Mese said of Erdoğan in an interview with Reuters.

After initially courting the Kurds by expanding their political and cultural rights, Erdoğan returned to the repression that has long characterized Turkey’s treatment of a people who make up one-fifth of the nation’s population, while intensifying a war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a far-left separatist group that Turkey, the United States, and other nations consider a terrorist organization.

“Erdogan’s victory will consolidate one-man rule and pave the way for horrible practices, bringing completely dark days for all parts of society,” Tayip Temel, the deputy co-chair of Turkey’s second-largest opposition party, the center-left and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)—which backed Kılıçdaroğlu—told Reuters.

Human rights defenders—many of whom have chosen or been forced into exile—also sounded the alarm over the prospect of a third Erdoğan term.

“If the opposition wins there will be space, even possibly limited, for discussions for a common future. With Erdoğan, there is no civic or political space for democracy and human rights,” Murat Çelikkan, a journalist who founded human rights groups including Amnesty International Turkey, said in an interview with Civil Rights Defenders just before Sunday’s runoff.

Çelikkan called Erdoğan a “very authoritarian, religious, pro-expansionist conservative.”

“Turkey, according to judicial statistics, has the largest number of terrorists in the world, because the prosecutors and judges have an inclination to use anti-terror laws arbitrarily and lavishly,” he continued. “There are tens of thousands of people who are being trialed or convicted by anti-terror laws. Thousands of people insulting the president.”

“Nowhere in Turkey you can make a peaceful demonstration and protest,” Çelikkan added. “The security forces directly attack and detain you. The minister of interior targets and criminalizes LGBTI+ people on a daily basis.”

LGBTQ+ Turks voiced fears for their future following a campaign in which Erdoğan centered homophobia in his appeals to an overwhelmingly Muslim electorate and repeatedly accused Kılıçdaroğlu and other opposition figures of being gay. During his victory speech Sunday evening, Erdoğan again lashed out at the LGBTQ+ community while excoriating Kılıçdaroğlu for his campaign pledge to “respect everyone’s beliefs, lifestyles, and identities.”

Erdoğan vowed in his speech that gays would not “infiltrate” Turkey and that “we will not let the LGBT forces win.” At one point during his address, an Al Jazeera interpreter stopped translating a 45-second portion when the president called members of the opposition gay.

Ilker Erdoğan, a 20-year-old university student and LGBTQ+ activist, told Agence France-Presse that “I feel deeply afraid.”

“Feeling so afraid is affecting my psychology terribly. I couldn’t breathe before, and now they will try to strangle my throat,” he added. “From the moment I was born, I felt that discrimination, homophobia, and hatred in my bones.”

Ameda Murat Karaguzu, a project assistant at an unnamed pro-LGBTQ+ group, told AFP that she has been “subjected to more hate speech and acts of hate than I have experienced in a long time.”

Karaguzu blamed Erdoğan’s government for the increasing hostility toward LGBTQ+ Turks, adding that bigots are keenly “aware that there will be no consequences for killing or harming us.”

Ilker Erdoğan struck a defiant tone, telling AFP that “I am also part of this nation, my identity card says Turkish citizen.”

“You cannot erase my existence,” he added, “no matter how hard you try.”

Another Look at the Financial Transactions Tax That Could Eliminate Need for All Others

Posted on June 2, 2023 by Ellen Brown (

A small financial transactions tax could correct a number of maladies in our economic system, from the federal debt crisis to the widening wealth divide to the rampant financialization of the economy, while eliminating taxes on income and sales.

The debt ceiling crisis has again brought into focus the perennial gap between what the government spends and what it accumulates in taxes, and the virtual impossibility of closing that gap by increasing taxes or negotiating cuts in the budget. 

In a 2023 book titled A Tale of Two Economies: A New Financial Operating System for the American Economy, Wall Street veteran Scott Smith shows that we would need to tax everyone at a rate of 40%, without deductions, to balance the budgets of our federal and local governments – an obvious nonstarter. The problem, he argues, is that we are taxing the wrong things – income and physical sales. In fact, we have two economies – the material economy in which goods and services are bought and sold, and the monetary economy involving the trading of financial assets (stocks, bonds, currencies, etc.) – basically “money making money” without producing new goods or services. 

Drawing on data from the Bank for International Settlements and the Federal Reserve, Smith shows that the monetary economy is hundreds of times larger than the physical economy. The budget gap could be closed by imposing a tax of a mere 0.1% on financial transactions, while eliminating not just income taxes but every other tax we pay today. For a financial transactions tax (FTT) of 0.25%, we could fund benefits we cannot afford today that would stimulate growth in the real economy, including not just infrastructure and development but free college, a universal basic income, and free healthcare for all. Smith contends we could even pay off the national debt in ten years or less with a 0.25% FTT.  

A radical change in the tax structure may seem unlikely any time soon, due to the inertia of Congress and the overweening power of the financial industry. But as economist Michael Hudson and other commentators observe, the U.S. has reached its limits to growth without some sort of debt write down. Federal interest expense as a percent of tax revenues spiked to 32.9% in the first quarter of 2023, and it will spike further as old securities at lower interest rates mature and are replaced with new ones at much higher interest. A financial reset is not only necessary but may be imminent. Promising proposals like Smith’s can lead the way to a much-needed shift from serving “capital” to serving productivity and the broader public interest. 

A Look at the Numbers

The material economy is roughly measured by the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which for the U.S. had reached $25.6 trillion by the third quarter of 2022. (Michael Hudson observes that even GDP, as currently measured, is largely composed of non-productive financial services.) GDP is defined by spending, which depends on income. Collectively, Americans earned $21 trillion in 2021. The monetary economy is defined as the total amount of money that changes hands each year. Smith draws his figures from data that the Federal Reserve publishes annually in the Bank for International Settlements’ Red Book. The Red Book is not all-inclusive; it leaves out such payments as commodity trading, various options, crypto currency trades, and exchange-traded funds. But even its partial accounting shows $7.6 quadrillion in payments – more than 350 times our national collective income. Smith includes this chart[i]:

He comments:

Most of these payments have little to do with what we regard as the real economy— the purchase of goods and services and the supply chain. Our GDP represents less than 0.33% of the payments in our economy. Once we see the big picture, the solution is obvious. We should tax payments instead of our income.

Smith calculates that U.S. spending by federal, state and local governments will total around $8.5 trillion in 2023. Dividing $7,625 trillion in payments by $8.5 trillion in government spending comes to a little more than 0.001, or a tenth of a percent (0.1%). Taxing payments at 0.1% could thus eliminate every tax we pay today, including social security (FICA) taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, capital gains taxes, estate taxes, gift taxes, excise taxes and customs taxes. With a 0.25% FTT, “If you have a net worth of $20 million or less, you would come out ahead. And if you make $500 million per year, you will finally be paying your fair share of taxes – $1.25 million!” 

Bridging the Wealth Gap

The financial transaction tax is not a new concept. The oldest tax still in existence was a stamp duty at the London Stock Exchange initiated in 1694. The tax was payable by the buyer of shares for the official stamp on the legal document needed to formalize the purchase. Many other countries have imposed FTTs, including the U.S. — some successfully and some not. In January 2021, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio reintroduced The Wall Street Tax Act, which was accompanied in March 2021 by a Senate bill introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz. According to a press release on the Schatz bill, the tax “would create a 0.1% tax on each sale of stocks, bonds, and derivatives, which will discourage unproductive trading and redirect investment toward more productive areas of the economy. The new tax would apply to the fair market value of equities and bonds, and the payment flows under derivatives contracts. Initial public offerings and short-term debt would be exempted.” Schatz stated:

During the pandemic, Wall Street has cashed in on high-risk trades that add no real value to our economy and leave working families behind. We need to curb this dangerous trading to reduce volatility in the markets and encourage investment that can actually help our economy grow. By raising the price of financial transactions, we can make our financial system work better while bringing in billions in new revenue that we can reinvest in our workers and our communities.

Scott Smith concurs, noting that millions of people were forced into poverty during the first two years of the pandemic. In the same two years, the 10 richest men in the world doubled their fortunes and a new billionaire was minted every 26 hours. Much of this disparity was fueled by fiscal and monetary policy aimed at relieving the effects of the pandemic and of the 2008-09 banking crisis. Smith writes: 

Our burgeoning monetary economy has fueled the rise of securitization, private equity, hedge funds, the foreign exchange market, commodity trading, cryptocurrency, digital assets, and investments in China. Quantitative easing further fanned these flames, driving up the price of financial assets. All such assets are monetary equivalents, and, thus, inflating the price of such assets balloons the money supply. 

What many lauded as a robust economy was really monetary inflation. This makes it more difficult for the next generation to start life. Monetary inflation moves a select few out of the middle class, making them newly rich, while relegating many more to being poorer.

… The trading of financial assets in the monetary economy represents the majority of the payments in the economy, eclipsing payments related to wages or the purchase of goods or services. Thus, it would be wealthy individuals and institutions, such as hedge funds, that would shoulder most of the burden of a payment tax.

Predictably, the Wall Street Tax Act has gotten pushback and has not gotten far. But Smith says his proposal is different. It is not adding a tax but is replacing existing taxes – with something that is actually better for most taxpayers. He has asked a number of hedge fund managers, day traders, private equity fund managers, and venture capital managers if a quarter-point tax would impact their businesses. They have shrugged it off as not significant, and have said that they would certainly prefer a payments tax to income taxes.

Responding to the Critics: The Sweden Debacle

Among failed FTT attempts, one often cited by critics was undertaken in Sweden in the 1980s. As reported by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA):

There were negative capital markets impacts seen in the great migration of trading volumes across multiple products to London, equity index returns fell, volatility increased and the interest rate options markets essentially disappeared. 

But as argued by James Li in a podcast titled “The Truth About a Financial Transaction Tax“:

Sweden’s tax policy … had an obvious, massive loophole, which is that Swedish traders could migrate to the London Stock Exchange to avoid the tax — which they did, until it was eventually abolished. On the other hand, the UK’s financial transaction tax has been much more successful. In 1694, King William III levied a stamp duty on all paper transactions, and a version of that levy still exists today, taxing many stock trades at 0.5 percent. Unlike the defunct Swedish tax, it applies to trades of shares of any UK company, regardless of where traders are based.

Again, Smith argues that the challenges met by other transaction tax proposals have arisen because they were being proposed as an additional tax. A payment tax in lieu of personal and corporate income taxes takes on a whole different character. He argues that big firms, rather than moving offshore to avoid a payments tax, would move to the U.S., since the tax rate in other nations would be much higher. Without a corporate or income tax, the U.S. would be the most favored tax haven in the world. 

He adds that an exit tax could be a good idea: any money leaving the U.S. could be taxed at a 5% rate. That would discourage people from wiring money to an offshore exchange. But incoming money would not be taxed, encouraging foreign money to come to the U.S. to stay long-term, where it would be taxed less than elsewhere. 

The Alleged Threat to Retirees

James Li’s favorite myth about a financial transactions tax is that it would be devastating for Main Street investors. He cites a report from the Modern Markets Initiative on the effects of the tax on savings and retirement security. A Business Wire headline on the report warns, “Latest Data from Modern Markets Initiative Shows the Financial Transaction Tax Would Threaten the Retirement Savings of Millions of Americans.” Among other claims is that a financial transactions tax would cost “$45,000 to $65,000 in FTT over the lifetime of a 401(k) account, or the equivalent of delaying the average individual’s retirement by approximately two years.” How that calculation was made is not included in the article, which refers the reader to the report. Li looked it up, and says on his podcast that it was highly misleading:

[T]he study stated that under this type of tax, for every $100,000 of assets in a 401(k) plan, the saver would owe $281 dollars in FTT taxes in a given year; and then over a 40-year time horizon paying in at $281 a year at 7% annual growth – the average for pension funds – that this would yield a total value of $64,232 after 40 years. 

… [What they were] actually saying is, “If you put $100,000 a year into your 401(k), you would be paying approximately $281 in taxes for that $100,000; and if you had instead invested that money every year in a fund with 7% interest, that amount would add up to about $64,000 after 40 years.” 

… I don’t know about you, but I can’t put $100,000 in my 401(k) plan every year. Very few people can. A more accurate estimate on how this would actually impact the average retirement savings is to look at the median income, which is around $52,000 a year, with an estimated $5,000 contribution into a 401(k) annually, which is around 10% of your gross pay based on commonly accepted financial planning advice. So the average person would only pay about $13 in FTT taxes in a given year. 

These people are extremely tricky and their logic is also extremely flawed, because we pay taxes all the time. It’s like saying, “Oh, if I didn’t have to pay an income tax, I would be able to put all that money away and be up like a million bucks when I retire.”

Similar arguments are made concerning potential losses from FTTs to pension funds and the stock market. SIFMA contends, “What’s bad for the capital markets is bad for the economy,” stating “The capital markets fund 65% of economic activity in the U.S.” Perhaps, but the money paid for shares of stock traded in the stock market does not go to the corporations issuing the stock. It goes to the previous shareholders. Only the sale of IPOs – initial public offerings – generates money for the corporation, and this money is typically exempted from FTTs. Trades after that are simply gambling, hoping to sell at a higher price to the “greater fool.”

Killing the Parasite That Is Killing the Host

In the 2015 book Killing the Host – How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy, Michael Hudson calls “finance capitalism” a parasite that is consuming the fruits of “industrial capitalism” – the goods and services traded in what Smith calls the material economy. Pam Martens writes in a review of Hudson’s book that this “blood-sucking financial leech [is] affixed to your body, your retirement plan, and your economic future.”

But it is not actually the pension funds that are doing most of the financialized trades or that would get taxed on those trades. It is their asset managers – including BlackRock and Vanguard, both of which lost money overall in 2022. If the asset managers can’t make money in the financialized economy, perhaps it would be better for the pension funds to move to more productive investments – from “finance capitalism” to “industrial capitalism.” 

Publicly-owned banks mandated to serve the public interest would be good options if we had them. As the economy falters, the public banking movement is picking up steam, part of a much-needed shift towards an economy that puts the public interest above private profits. 


This article was first posted on ScheerPost. Ellen Brown is an attorney, chair of the Public Banking Institute, and author of thirteen books including Web of DebtThe Public Bank Solution, and Banking on the People: Democratizing Money in the Digital Age. She also co-hosts a radio program on PRN.FM called “It’s Our Money.” Her 400+ blog articles are posted at

[i] Bank for International Settlements, (Data on cashless payments, payment systems, service providers, counterparties, clearing houses, and central security depositories. Click on the United States, (Data on OTC FX and IR derivative), (Data on XT futures and options), (Data on OTC FX Instruments), Federal Reserve Bank of New York, (Data on XT Derivatives), Cboe Global Markets, (Data on stock market volumes). All data is the latest available. Most categories are for 2020, some categories are for 2021 and 2022.

Here Are the Progressives Who Voted Against the GOP’s Debt Ceiling ‘Extortion Scheme’

Reps. Barbara Lee, Pramila Jayapal, and Cori Bush talk with reporters

First row from left, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) talk with reporters on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on May 31, 2023. 

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

“We cannot continue to capitulate to a far-right Republican Party and their extreme demands while they inflict policy violence on working-class people, gut our bedrock environmental protections, and decimate our planet,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib.


Jun 01, 2023 (

Nearly 40 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus broke with the majority of their House Democratic colleagues late Wednesday to vote against the debt ceiling agreement negotiated by President Joe Biden and Republican leaders.

The legislation, which would lift the debt ceiling until January 2025 and enact painful caps on non-military federal spending, passed the GOP-controlled House by a vote of 314 to 117, with 165 Democrats joining 149 Republicans in supporting the measure.

The bill’s passage came after weeks of talks between the White House—which repeatedly said it would not negotiate over the debt ceiling—and Republicans who manufactured the standoff to pursue austerity for low-income Americans, gifts for rich tax cheats, and handouts to the fossil fuel industry.

While Republicans didn’t get anything close to what they called for in legislation they passed in late April, progressives who voted against the bill on Wednesday said the final agreement will harm vulnerable people and the planet by imposing new work requirements on aid recipients and approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline—a top priority of fossil fuel industry ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Progressives also raised alarm over a provision that would codify the end of the student loan payment pause, setting the stage for a disaster if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Biden administration’s debt cancellation plan.

“I cannot vote for a bill that guts key environmental protections and greenlights dirty fossil fuel projects for corporate polluters who are poisoning our communities, pushes our residents deeper into poverty by implementing cruel and ineffective work requirements for our low-income neighbors who rely on SNAP and TANF for food and housing, terminates the student loan payment pause, and slashes IRS funding to make it easier for the rich to cheat on their taxes,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said in a statement.

“We cannot continue to capitulate to a far-right Republican Party and their extreme demands while they inflict policy violence on working-class people, gut our bedrock environmental protections, and decimate our planet,” Tlaib added, referring to the bill’s work requirements for food aid.

In total, 38 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) voted against the legislation:

Reps. Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Summer Lee (D-Pa.), Greg Casar (D-Texas), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ro Khanna, (D-Calif.), Chuy García (D-(Ill.), Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), Val Hoyle (D-Ore.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.).

But the CPC members who joined Republicans in voting yes on the bill, including prominent progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), outnumbered those who opposed it.

Jayapal, the CPC chair, said Wednesday that she could not in good conscience be part of the Republican Party’s “extortion scheme” by voting for legislation that “rips food assistance away from poor people and disproportionately Black and brown women, pushes forward pro-corporate permitting policies and a pipeline in direct violation of the community’s input, and claws back nearly 25% of the funding Democrats allocated for the IRS to go after wealthy tax cheats.”

Bush, who represents St. Louis, added that “this agreement, whose worst elements are undoubtedly the fault of MAGA Republicans who shamefully took our economy hostage, pairs raising the debt limit with many policies that will harm our most vulnerable communities.”

“I am disgusted with the chief hostage taker Kevin McCarthy and his MAGA insurrectionist conference for threatening economic catastrophe,” said the Missouri Democrat. “For the good of our country, and to prevent the GOP from politicizing the debt ceiling to harm our communities moving forward, I believe we must eliminate the debt ceiling altogether.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, where lawmakers are expected to act before the June 5 debt-limit deadline set by the Treasury Department.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the lone Senate member of the CPC, announced ahead of Wednesday’s House vote that he will oppose the legislation, calling it “a bill that takes vital nutrition assistance away from women, infants, children, and seniors while refusing to ask billionaires who have never had it so good to pay a penny more in taxes.”

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the measure’s new work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients would put nearly 750,000 low-income adults between the ages of 50 and 54 at risk of losing food aid.

“The fact of the matter is that this bill is totally unnecessary,” Sanders said. “The president has the authority and the ability to eliminate the debt ceiling today by invoking the 14th Amendment. I look forward to the day when he exercises this authority and puts an end, once and for all, to the outrageous actions of the extreme right-wing to hold our entire economy hostage in order to get what they want.”

This story has been corrected to include Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) on the list of no votes.

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Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams.