STEVEN TELES ON DEMOCRACY

“Democracy is government by the people who show up.”

–Steven Teles, Braver Angels

Braver Angels is a New York-based 501 nonprofit affiliated with the Institute for American Values. The organization runs workshops, debates, and other events where “red” and “blue” participants attempt to better understand one another’s positions and discover their shared values. Wikipedia

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Manchin Tax Gambit Would Protect His Big Source Of Campaign Cash

The senator’s opposition to increasing the corporate tax rate could benefit an industry that bankrolled his election bids.

Jordan HowellApril 10, 2021 (The Daily Poster)

Photo credit: Jim Watson/Getty Images

This report was written by Jordan Howell

This week, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., signaled his resistance to President Joe Biden’s plan to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent to fund infrastructure investments — and his intransigence could protect numerous private equity donors who bankrolled his 2018 reelection campaign. 

Further review of Manchin’s campaign contributions reveals his stance on tax reform could also protect lucrative tax benefits obtained by many of his biggest campaign benefactors in the legal industry as part of President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax law. That legislation included a special tax cut for certain types of incorporated law firms.

Unlike Manchin’s private equity donors, which include familiar names like Ares Management, the attorneys and lawyers who have filled the senator’s his campaign war chest mostly belong to the inscrutable name-soup of billboard regional law firms unknown to most voters, such as the West Virginia firm of Bailey, Javins & Carter, whose lawyers donated $6,400 to Manchin’s 2018 reelection campaign. 

But those donations have added up. Since 2015, Manchin has received nearly 800 contributions averaging slightly less than $1,000 from lawyers in 31 states, according to data available through the Federal Elections Commission

In total, lawyers and law firms represent the second largest source of donations to Manchin’s campaign committee and leadership PAC after securities and investment businesses, totaling more than $822,000 in contributions since 2015, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets

Donors from Manchin’s largest individual source of law firm cash, Steptoe & Johnson, delivered $23,100 to his 2018 reelection campaign, and the American Association for Justice PAC, which advocates for trial lawyers and opposes tort reform, contributed $10,000.

And all of these lawyers have a major stake in what happens with Biden’s new tax plan.

A Tax Gift From Trump

The Trump tax cuts provided a financial windfall for lawyers. Prior to 2017, many law firms were taxed at a flat rate of 35 percent as “personal service corporations,” a common incorporation setup for smaller practices. In addition to providing significant reductions in marginal tax rates for individual filers, the GOP tax law eliminated the flat rate for professional service corporations, allowing those firms to be taxed at the new and reduced corporate tax rate of 21 percent. 

For law firms organized as personal service corporations, the Trump tax cuts have been lucrative. Changes to the tax code lowered the corporate tax rate paid by firms below the individual tax rate paid by the partners. The shift was convenient, because the revised tax code allowed members of a law firm various opportunities to shield income that would otherwise be taxed at a higher rate. They could now deduct fringe benefits and bonuses as expenses, and any cash not paid out in salaries could remain in the corporation to be reinvested however the firm decides.

In 2017, as Congress debated tax legislation, top lobbyists for the legal industry threw more money behind Republicans, and the industry as a whole spent more than $16 million on lobbying that year, the most since 2011.

When it comes to tax reform, the fates of law firms and their corporate clients are intertwined, as changes to the tax code advocated by corporations and their lobbyists at corporate law firms benefit everyone involved. The lower corporate tax rates instituted by the GOP tax law provided a windfall to both big businesses and incorporated law firms. 

At the same time, the new law’s lower marginal tax rates benefited partners at law firms organized as limited liability partnerships (LLPs) the same way they helped wealthy executives. That’s because both LLPs and LLCs operate as pass-through entities, which means that each member’s salary and bonuses are separated from the business and taxed as personal income. 

Biden’s new tax proposal would undo the Republican tax breaks — at least partially. The plan would raise the corporate rate to 28 percent, but it appears the other fringe benefits enabled by the GOP’s tax code would remain in place. Compared to Obama-era rates, many firms would still enjoy a significant tax break, and for lawyers earning more than $163,000, the corporate tax rate will remain much lower than the marginal tax rate. 

But even this limited attempt to undo the Trump tax breaks could fail if Manchin succeeds in his opposition — a development that would benefit the lawyers and law firms that have bankrolled his campaign. 

Dems’ Growing Ties To The Legal Industry

Manchin has signaled that he’s not alone in his disapproval of the new tax plan, indicating that there are potentially “six or seven” other Democrats who have so far privately objected to Biden’s proposal. And he is far from the only Democrat to have his campaign coffers filled by lawyers. 

The legal services industry has become one of the top contributors to Democratic lawmakers and candidates, especially in 2020 as lawyers abandoned the Republican Party. President Biden received more than $57 million from the industry in 2020. Thirteen Senate Democrats, including former presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, each received more than $1 million that same year, and the top 20 recipients of law firm cash in the House are currently all Democrats. 

That group includes Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., a conservative Democrat who has sided with Manchin in opposition to Biden’s tax overhaul, tellingAxios, “We need to be careful not to do anything that’s too big or too much in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis.” 

Since being elected to Congress in 2017, Gottheimer has received more than $1.5 million in contributions from lawyers and law firms, more than almost any other member of the House. 

When Biden was asked Wednesday about his plan to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, he said Congress must figure out how to fund his infrastructure plan, but he also said he is “willing to negotiate.”   

Democrats’ reliance on campaign cash from the legal services industry underscores a larger problem facing the left on tax reform: How far can they raise taxes to fund progressive priorities, when many of their largest donors did so well thanks to Trump’s tax cuts?


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Climate activists rally outside Wells Fargo, BlackRock headquarters

Activists rally after placing their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists rally after placing their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists paint a street mural depicting a thunderwoman during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters in the Financial District on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists paint a street mural depicting a thunderwoman during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters in the Financial District on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists paint a large street mural during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters in the Financial District on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists paint a large street mural during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters in the Financial District on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Members of 1000 Grandmother’s for Future Generations paint a street mural. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Members of 1000 Grandmother’s for Future Generations paint a street mural. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Isabella Zizi speaks during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Isabella Zizi speaks during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Jaline King paints one of many street murals during the demonstration. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Jaline King paints one of many street murals during the demonstration. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Grace Severtson, a members of 1000 Grandmother’s for Future Generations, holds a sign. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Grace Severtson, a members of 1000 Grandmother’s for Future Generations, holds a sign. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

(Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

(Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Protest organizer David Solnit paints a street mural. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Protest organizer David Solnit paints a street mural. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Andrea Prebys-Williams paints one of many street murals during the demonstration. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Andrea Prebys-Williams paints one of many street murals during the demonstration. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists rally outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists rally outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

(Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

(Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Marge Grow-Eppard leads a march through the Financial District towards the headquarters of BlackRock on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Marge Grow-Eppard leads a march through the Financial District towards the headquarters of BlackRock on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists place their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters during a demonstration in protest of the company’s stance on climate change on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists place their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters during a demonstration in protest of the company’s stance on climate change on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists rally after placing their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists rally after placing their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists paint a street mural depicting a thunderwoman during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters in the Financial District on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists paint a street mural depicting a thunderwoman during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters in the Financial District on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists paint a large street mural during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters in the Financial District on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists paint a large street mural during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters in the Financial District on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Members of 1000 Grandmother’s for Future Generations paint a street mural. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Members of 1000 Grandmother’s for Future Generations paint a street mural. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Isabella Zizi speaks during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Isabella Zizi speaks during a demonstration outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Jaline King paints one of many street murals during the demonstration. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Jaline King paints one of many street murals during the demonstration. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Grace Severtson, a members of 1000 Grandmother’s for Future Generations, holds a sign. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Grace Severtson, a members of 1000 Grandmother’s for Future Generations, holds a sign. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

(Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

(Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Protest organizer David Solnit paints a street mural. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Protest organizer David Solnit paints a street mural. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Andrea Prebys-Williams paints one of many street murals during the demonstration. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Andrea Prebys-Williams paints one of many street murals during the demonstration. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists rally outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists rally outside Wells Fargo corporate headquarters. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

(Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

(Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Marge Grow-Eppard leads a march through the Financial District towards the headquarters of BlackRock on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Marge Grow-Eppard leads a march through the Financial District towards the headquarters of BlackRock on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists place their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters during a demonstration in protest of the company’s stance on climate change on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists place their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters during a demonstration in protest of the company’s stance on climate change on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists rally after placing their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Activists rally after placing their hands dipped in clay all over BlackRock headquarters on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to the S.F. Examiner)Next

Hundreds demonstrated outside the headquarters of Wells Fargo and BlackRock on Friday to protest the two companies’ roles in financing an oil pipeline project in Minnesota.

Activists painted a large street mural outside Wells Fargo headquarters on Montgomery Street before staging a rally, calling on the bank to defund the construction of a new route for the Line 3 oil pipeline and remove board chair Charles H. Noski.

The group then marched through the Financial District to the headquarters of BlackRock, an investment management company on Howard Street, and placed their hands dipped in clay on the windows outside.

The Line 3 project is a proposed expansion of an existing pipeline that would carry nearly a million barrels of tar sands per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin.

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INSIDE THE WINNING FIGHT FOR REPARATIONS IN ATHENS, GEORGIA

Hattie Whitehead stands outside of Creswell Hall at University of Georgia, where Linnentown once sat on the property. Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

Hattie Thomas Whitehead, 72, is one of at least 10 living former Linnentown residents. In this April 3, 2021, photograph, she stands outside of Creswell Hall at the University of Georgia, where Linnentown homes once stood, in Athens, Ga. Photo: Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

Fifty Black families were forcibly displaced from their homes in the 1960s. Now the descendants are seeking redress and a chance to testify before Congress.

Rachel M. Cohen

Rachel M. Cohen
April 9 2021, 4:00 a.m. (TheIntercept.com)

WITHIN THE BOUNDS of a block in Athens, Georgia, three high-rise dorms stand where 50 Black families used to live. The dorms were built in the 1960s as part of the federal government’s urban renewal program, which empowered cities and colleges to seize property in the name of so-called slum clearance. As the University of Georgia and the Athens city government requisitioned lots and burned homes to the ground, they steered many residents into public housing. According to the University of Richmond’s “Renewing Inequality” project, 298 families in Athens were displaced during this period, 176 of them families of color.

In February, nearly six decades later, the county began its first attempt to offer redress. “The Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County extends to former residents of Athens’ Urban Renewal Districts, their descendants, and to all Athenians a deep and sincere expression of apology and regret for the pain and loss stemming from this time, and a sincere commitment to work toward better outcomes in all we do moving forward,” pledged Mayor Kelly Girtz in a signed proclamation. Two weeks after that, the county’s 10 commissioners voted unanimously to adopt a resolution that apologized specifically for the county’s role in destroying Linnentown, the Black, middle-class community that preexisted the UGA dorms. Join Our NewsletterOriginal reporting. Fearless journalism. Delivered to you.I’m in

The resolution acknowledges the seizure of residents’ homes and the perpetration of “an act of institutionalized white racism and terrorism resulting in intergenerational Black poverty, dissolution of family units, and trauma.” It pledges, among other things, to erect an on-site memorial honoring the legacy of Linnentown and create a new center on slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the future of Athens’s Black communities. Perhaps most importantly, it promises to calculate the total amount of intergenerational wealth lost through urban renewal and use that number to inform annual participatory budgeting on projects for redress — in other words, public funding for reparations.

Linnentown-c.1943

A view of the Linnentown neighborhood, left, in 1943 from the vantage of old Sanford Stadium. Photo: Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library/The University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries

The resolution is the first official act of reparations in Georgia, but those involved in its creation hope it won’t be the last. They aim to model an example for communities throughout the state and across the country, even as they recognize their success in the progressive city of Athens will be difficult to replicate. Nationally, reparations remains controversial at best. Last summer, amid mass protests for racial justice, one poll found just 1 in 5 respondents agreed the United States should use “taxpayer money to pay damages to descendants of enslaved people in the United States.” At the time, the city council in Asheville, North Carolina, approved a reparations resolution, but leaders have since stalled in distributing funds, and the resolution’s lead sponsor lost his reelection. 

Still, Girtz told The Intercept, “I think it will spread to other places.” The mayor pointed to St. Paul, Minnesota, which earlier this year passed a resolution to study reparations, and his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia, which is also reckoning with its lasting segregation. Evanston, Illinois, a wealthy Chicago suburb, last month announced its own reparations program: a plan to distribute $10 million over the next decade to Black residents who can show that they or their direct relatives lived in the city and suffered from racial discrimination between 1919 and 1969.

In February, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that President Joe Biden is open to studying federal reparations, though Biden has not committed to signing H.R. 40, a bill to fund a study of slavery and recommend “appropriate remedies,” in the event that it passes. The former Linnentown residents say they hope to testify before Congress on reparations and the harms of urban renewal. They have also requested meetings with their new senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and plan to push for a constitutional change at the state Legislature to make distributing direct payments easier.

Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

Hattie Thomas Whitehead holds a photograph of a street in the Linnentown neighborhood where she lived as a child, on the grounds where they used to stand, in Athens, Ga., on April 3, 2021. Photo: Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

Hattie Thomas Whitehead, a 72-year-old Black woman and fourth-generation Athenian, is one of at least 10 living former Linnentown residents. She knows their organizing work is far from over and that the next few months will be critical for ensuring that her government meets its pledges. Still, she can hardly believe they’ve reached this point.

“They voted on it in Black History Month, which is just a tremendous time for it to get approved,” she told The Intercept. “The night I watched the vote, and it was 100 percent, I was brought to tears.”

Thomas Whitehead lived in Linnentown until she was 14, when urban renewal came to Athens. Leaders burned down her home and directed her family into public housing. While details of Linnentown’s destruction had been passed down orally for decades, Thomas Whitehead said that until recently, descendants just lacked the hard data needed to make their case for justice. “Being part of this project has given me a voice,” she said. “It’s bringing healing.”

FINDING DATA ON the destruction of Linnentown began as an accident. A philosophy doctorate and library employee at UGA named Joseph Carter was doing research in December 2018 for a living wage campaign with the United Campus Workers of Georgia — hoping, he said, “to make the case for how the university suppresses wages in the county, and how that then has an effect on the local housing market.”

He called up an Athens-Clarke County commissioner, Melissa Link, who said she had heard rumors of an old community that used to be where three high-rise UGA dorms now stand. Carter began digging around in the UGA Special Collections Libraries, where he discovered many documents about urban renewal, including early 20th-century fire insurance maps that showed the Linnentown homes. The case file was called “Urban Renewal Project GA. R-50.”

Through a friend of Link’s, Carter connected with Geneva Johnson, a former Linnentown resident still living in Athens. When contractors demolished Johnson’s childhood home, her father was permitted to move another Linnentown house off-site to the neighborhood of East Athens, where she still lives today. Her home is one of just three surviving structures from the neighborhood.

Hattie Whitehead shows pictures of the former Linnentown neighborhood to Joseph Carter in Augusta, Georgia. Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

Hattie Thomas Whitehead and Joseph Carter look at pictures of the former Linnentown neighborhood in Athens, Ga., on April 3, 2021. Photo: Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

Johnson, Carter, and Thomas Whitehead connected with three more Linnentown descendants, and together they launched a campaign called the Linnentown Project in September 2019.

That month, Thomas Whitehead spoke publicly about her displacement for the first time, in a speech she gave to a full house at a local arts center. In the autumn months that followed, the Linnentown Project began drafting its proposed resolution and started its outreach to UGA and city leaders. 

Word spread through the community, and by February 2020, dozens of residents and students poured into Athens’s City Hall to demand recognition and reparations for Linnentown descendants. Protesters stood with hand-painted signs bearing messages like “UGA Took Our Homes Away” and “Redress for Linnentown.”

EVEN IN A left-leaning city like Athens, unanimous support for reparations was in no way guaranteed. Some lawmakers initially shied away from using terms like “white racism and terrorism” to describe the displacement of Black families and the burning of their homes. According to Mariah Parker, a county commissioner who helped draft the proposal, some leaders found the language too harsh and feared alienation from the university, which has refused to acknowledge any harms related to Athens’s urban renewal. Commissioners Patrick Davenport and Russell Edwards were originally against the resolution, but by the night of the vote in February, Edwards apologized for his initial opposition.

“It was an act of terrorism. It was an act of white supremacy,” he said. Davenport voted in favor as well. 

Last June, Jerry NeSmith, another commissioner who opposed the resolution, died in an accident; his successor, Jesse Houle, made support for the Linnentown Project part of their campaign platform. Carol Myers, another commissioner newly elected last year, also ran in support of the Linnentown Project. 

As the year went on, some Linnentown Project activists protested for racial justice following the death of George Floyd. One local demonstration ended with Athens-Clarke police and National Guardsmen spraying tear gas on peaceful protesters, and soon after, Girtz approached Thomas Whitehead about moving forward with the Linnentown reparations effort.

“My hunch is he realized how much he screwed up with the protests, with the tear gassing and the arrests, and so then made the decision to move ahead with the Linnentown committee,” said Carter.

Russell Hall sits on the land of the former Linnentown community. Lynsey Weatherspoon for The InterceptLynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

Top/Left: Linnentown teenagers Geneva Johnson, left, Katy Mae Thomas, middle, and Christine Davis, right, are dressed ready for church in April 1960, at Davis’s house in Linnentown. Bottom/Right: University of Georgia’s Russell Hall dormitory, which sits on the land of the former Linnentown community, seen on April 3, 2021, in Athens, Ga.Credit: Top/Left: Courtesy Christine Davis Johnson/The Linnentown Project. Bottom/Right: Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

While a year of pressure, one-on-one meetings, and racial justice organizing helped bring the mayor and all 10 county commissioners on board, the university still spurns any suggestion of its culpability.

UGA sent a statement to Athens-Clarke County commissioners in January 2020, saying it “respectfully disagrees” with the “conclusions” of the Linnentown Project. As college enrollment surged during the 1960s, institutions nationwide began taking advantage of eminent domain to make room for new students. Historical documents reveal how UGA officials worked closely with city and federal leaders to leverage funds and move urban renewal forward.

Thomas Whitehead said she’s disappointed but not surprised UGA has given them the cold shoulder. “UGA has never acknowledged anything they’ve ever done that was not in the community’s favor,” she said. 

This year, the university is celebrating its 60th anniversary of desegregation, replete with signs and commemorative events throughout the spring. On its special website for the cause, the university is soliciting donations to “support diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across campus today.” 

Meanwhile, UGA continues to dismiss entreaties from Black Linnentown descendants. “They continue to ignore the residents and that in itself is just a continued slap in the face,” said Carter. “They’re just acting like it’s the 1960s all over again.”

UGA did not return The Intercept’s requests for comment.

While local leaders say they would prefer to partner with UGA to create their wall of recognition, Athens-Clarke County intends to build the memorial with or without the university’s collaboration.

“It’s best to acknowledge that there were some horrible things done in the not-so-distant past, because then we can move together more strongly,” said Girtz. “We’re going to be moving forward, and I would hope UGA joins us.”

Joseph Carter, member of the Linnentown Project. Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

Joseph Carter of the Linnentown Project, photographed on April 3, 2021, in Athens, Ga. Photo: Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Intercept

THE ATHENS BUDGET planning period runs from now through June. As part of that process, a committee chaired by Thomas Whitehead and fellow Linnentown descendant Bobby Crook will make recommendations for how to spend the reparations funding.

Girtz is looking to hire an economist to help community members calculate how much more money Linnentown descendants might have today, had they been permitted to stay in their homes. He plans first to approach Mehrsa Baradaran, a former UGA law professor and the author of “Color of Money,” a book on the racial wealth gap. Baradaran now works as a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and progressives nationally have been pushing Biden to appoint her to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Parker, the commissioner, said she sees the work ahead as focused on both delivering material redress to descendants of Linnentown and launching additional efforts to help other lost and displaced communities in Athens. She and several local activists plan to ramp up pressure on their state legislature to change the so-called gratuities clause in Georgia’s constitution. The clause, which was initially passed as an anti-corruption measure, prevents local governments from providing direct cash payments to individuals and nonprofits. This hampers not only reparations efforts but also broader economic relief.

In January and February, Thomas Whitehead sent letters to Ossoff and Warnock’s offices to request assistance tackling Georgia’s gratuities clause. The senators have not yet answered, nor did they return The Intercept’s requests for comment.

Carter acknowledges that the success in Athens could be difficult to replicate elsewhere, particularly given the treasure trove of evidence they had available to make their case.

“There are communities in Atlanta that were affected by Georgia Tech and Georgia State that we want to take a look at, but the thing I’m concerned about is the availability of historical documents and who from those communities is still around,” he said. “To do this organizing you have to come with evidence, and with residents who see this as something that they want. Are the residents alive? Are they willing? Interested?”

According to Carter, an essential part of the process in Athens is that the decisions about how to achieve reparations have been on the Linnentown descendants’ own terms, and that they’ve been given power by their local government to make those calls. 

“We believe part of reparations should be to reallocate not just money but political power,” he said. “It’s not just you write a check and you’re done.”

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

Rachel M. Cohenrachel.cohen@​theintercept.com@rmc031

© FIRST LOOK MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Book: “The New Untouchables”

The New Untouchables

The New Untouchables

by Nigel Harris 

Nigel Harris’s ground-breaking book examines migration as a response to changes in the world economy. He shows that, despite tighter controls, increasing numbers of workers are moving, whether legally or not, between countries. Unskilled immigrant workers play a vital role in improving standards of living in the developed world. And in turn the countries from which they have come benefit in a major way from the earnings sent back home. Arguing that few of the fears about immigration are justified, and that increased immigration tends to mean that jobs and incomes expand, Harris shows why governments will have to ensure the freedom of people to come and go as they choose.

(Goodreads.com)

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Modern Monetary Theory, explained

A very detailed walkthrough of the big new left economic idea.

By Dylan Matthewsdylan@vox.com  Apr 16, 2019 (vox.com)

Illustrations by Christina Animashaun

An illustration of a person standing on a stack of coins.

Modern Monetary Theory is having a moment.

The theory, in brief, argues that countries that issue their own currencies can never “run out of money” the way people or businesses can. But what was once an obscure “heterodox” branch of economics has now become a major topic of debate among Democrats and economists with astonishing speed.

For that, we can thank Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who told Business Insider in January that MMT “absolutely” needs to be “a larger part of our conversation.” That was the most vocal mainstream support MMT had gotten, which for years had been championed by economists like Stephanie Kelton (a former adviser to Bernie Sanders), L. Randall Wray, Bill Mitchell (who coined the name Modern Monetary Theory), and Warren Mosler — as well as a growing number of economists at Wall Street institutions.

With AOC on board, a wave of denunciations from mainstream economists and others followed. Fed Chair Jerome PowellBill Gates, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and former IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff all attacked the theory.

Or, more accurately, they attacked what they thought the theory to be. MMT is more nuanced than the “governments never have to pay for stuff” caricature it’s earned among other economists, and MMT advocates are famously (and often understandably) ornery when they sense they’re being misrepresented.

At the same, that caricature gets at what may ultimately be the most important effect of MMT as an idea: It could convince some Democrats to break away from the view that spending always has to be “paid for” with tax increases. How many Democrats buy that conclusion, and how far they’re willing to take it, remains to be seen. But some are already moving in that direction: While emphasizing that “debt matters,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently noted, “we need to rethink our system in a way that is genuinely about investments that pay off over time.”

The rise of MMT could allow Democrats to embrace the de facto fiscal policy of Republican presidents, who tend to explode the deficit to finance pet initiatives like tax cuts and defense spending, leaving Democrats to clean up afterward. MMT could be Democrats’ way of saying, “We don’t want to be suckers anymore.”

That would be a big deal. Getting comfortable with new deficit-financed programs would help Democrats overcome the single biggest impediment to their agenda: raising taxes to fund their programs. MMT could offer a way to justify passing big priorities like single-payer health care or free college without resorting to major middle-class tax hikes.

And if the idea behind MMT is wrong, that shift could be a false promise, one that offers short-term political benefits at the expense of hard to foresee economic costs.

So let’s dive into the wonky details of MMT. And I do mean wonky — this is a pretty technical article that gets into the nitty-gritty of why MMT is different from mainstream economics.But I think those details are important, and they’re easy for even very smart, very informed people to get wrong.

I’ll explain MMT theories about deficits, inflation, and employment, and what it all means for Democratic Party politics in 2020 and beyond.

The standard story about deficits

If you ask a mainstream economist why budget deficits can be harmful, they’ll probably tell you a story about interest rates and investment.

In the standard story, the government levies taxes and then uses them to pay for what it can. To pay for the rest of its expenses, it then borrows money by issuing bonds that investors can buy up. But such borrowing has a big downside. Budget deficits increase demand for loans, because the government needs loans on top of all the loans that private individuals and businesses are demanding.

And just as a surge in demand for, say, tickets to a newly cool band should increase the going price of those tickets (at least on StubHub), a surge in demand for loans makes loans more expensive: The average interest charged goes up.

For the government, this is an additional expense it has to incur. But the higher interest rate applies to private companies and individuals too. And that means fewer families taking out mortgages and student loans, fewer businesses taking out loans to build new factories, and just generally slower economic growth (this is called “crowding out”).

If things get really bad and the government is struggling to cover its interest payments, it has a few options, none of which mainstream economists typically like: financial repression (using regulation to force down interest rates); paying for the interest by printing more money (which risks hyperinflation); and defaulting on the debt and saying that lenders just won’t get all their money back (which makes interest rates permanently higher in the future, because investors demand to be compensated for the risk that they won’t be paid back).

The MMT story about deficits

MMTers think this is all, essentially, confused. (Because MMT is a school of thought with many distinct thinkers, I will be using a recent textbook by MMT-supportive economists Mitchell, Wray, and Martin Watts as my main source when describing the school as a whole. But do keep in mind that individual MMT thinkers may depart from the textbook’s analysis at some points.)

For one thing, they adopt an older view, known as the endogenous money theory, that rejects the idea that there’s a supply of loanable funds out there that private businesses and governments compete over. Instead, they believe that loans by banks themselves create money in accordance with market demands for money, meaning there isn’t a firm trade-off between loaning to governments and loaning to businesses of a kind that forces interest rates to rise when governments borrow too much.

MMTers go beyond endogenous money theory, however, and argue that government should never have to default so long as it’s sovereign in its currency: that is, so long as it issues and controls the kind of money it taxes and spends. The US government, for instance, can’t go bankrupt because that would mean it ran out of dollars to pay creditors; but it can’t run out of dollars, because it is the only agency allowed to create dollars. It would be like a bowling alley running out of points to give players.

A consequence of this view, and of MMTers’ understanding of how the mechanics of government taxing and spending work, is that taxes and bonds do not and indeed cannot directly pay for spending. Instead, the government creates money whenever it spends.

So why, then, does the government tax, under the MMT view? Two big reasons: One, taxationgets people in the country to use the government-issued currency. Because they have to pay income taxes in dollars, Americans have a reason to earn dollars, spend dollars, and otherwise use dollars as opposed to, say, bitcoins or euros. Second, taxes are one tool governments can use to control inflation. They take money out of the economy, which keeps people from bidding up prices.

And why does the government issue bonds? According to MMT, government-issued bonds aren’t strictly necessary. The US government could, instead of issuing $1 in Treasury bonds for every $1 in deficit spending, just create the money directly without issuing bonds.

The Mitchell/Wray/Watts MMT textbook argues that the purpose of these bond issuances is to prevent interest rates in the private economy from falling too low.When the government spends, they argue, that adds more money to private bank accounts and increases the amount of “reserves” (cash the bank has stocked away, not lent out) in the banking system. The reserves earn a very low interest rate, pushing down interest rates overall. If the Fed wants higher interest rates, it will sell Treasury bonds to banks. Those Treasury bonds earn higher interest than the reserves, pushing overall interest rates higher.

“These activities are coordinated with the treasury, which will usually issue new bonds more or less in step with its deficit spending,” Mitchell, Wray, and Watts write. “This is because the central bank would run out of bonds to sell to drain the excess reserves created by deficit spending.”

But the basic upshot of all this is that taxing less than the government spends, and issuing bonds in tandem, isn’t a problem under most prevailing circumstances, per MMT. The main constraint on government deficitsis inflation, but at a time like now when inflation is low, that’s not a serious concern.

Indeed, MMT has incorporated an approach to analyzing deficits — the “sectoral balances” framework — developed by the late British economist Wynne Godley, which implies that government deficits are often necessary to boost savings in the private sector. Godley’s insight was that when the government is in debt, that necessarily means another segment of the economy is running a surplus, either the domestic US economy or the external economy.

So when the US is importing more stuff than it exports (as is normally the case), and the domestic US economy is overwhelmed with debt that it’s trying to get rid of (as was the case after the 2008 crash, as private homeowners and others were left underwater), the government, as a matter of arithmetic, has to run deficits if it wants to help the private sector recover. Indeed, in their textbook Mitchell, Wray, and Watts suggest that the 2001 recession was the result of the US fiscal surplus at that time forcing the private sector into deficit: “In most advanced economies, sharp, severe economic downturns typically follow a period when fiscal surpluses are accompanied by large private sector deficits.”

“In the long term,” they conclude, “the only sustainable position is for the private domestic sector to be in surplus.” As long as the US runs a current account deficit with other countries, that means the government budget has to be in deficit. It isn’t “crowding out” investment in the private sector, but enabling it.

MMT and inflation

When you lay out the MMT view on deficits, non-MMTers typically have one of two reactions:

  1. This will lead to hyperinflation.
  2. This isn’t all that different from regular economics.

The first reaction flows from MMT’s rhetoric about the government always being able to print more money. The image of a government creating infinite piles of cash to finance whatever it wants to spend brings to mind Weimar-era wheelbarrows of cash, as Larry Summers wrote in his critique of MMT:

[i]t is not true that governments can simply create new money to pay all liabilities coming due and avoid default. As the experience of any number of emerging markets demonstrates, past a certain point, this approach leads to hyperinflation. Indeed, in emerging markets that have practiced modern monetary theory, situations could arise where people could buy two drinks at bars at once to avoid the hourly price increases. As with any tax, there is a limit to the amount of revenue that can be raised via such an inflation tax. If this limit is exceeded, hyperinflation will result.

The MMT reply to this is simple: No, our approach won’t lead to hyperinflation, because we take inflation incredibly seriously. Taxes are, they concede, sometimes necessary to stave off inflation, and as a consequence, preventing inflation can require cutting back on deficit spending by hiking taxes. But the lower inflation caused by higher taxes is not an effect of “lowering the deficit”; the lower deficit is just an artifact of the choice to raise taxes to fight inflation.

Like most strands of economics, MMT thinks that inflation can result when aggregate demand (all the purchasing being done in the economy) outstrips the real stuff (consumer goods, factories for corporations, etc.) available for purchase. If there are a lot of dollars out there trying to purchase stuff, and not enough real stuff to purchase, that stuff becomes more expensive — so, inflation.

“The second reason [after making people use the currency] to have taxes … is to reduce aggregate demand,” the Mitchell, Wray, and Watts textbook states. Eliminating all taxes while spending 30 percent of GDP on government functions, they note, would spur a massive increase in aggregate demand, one that might cause dangerous inflation.

This leads into the second argument: that MMT isn’t all that different from standard econ. The most complete expression of this view is in a piece by economists Arjun Jayadev and J.W. Mason for the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a lefty research funder that has backed MMTers as well as more mainstream economists.

Jayadev and Mason argue that MMT, as they understand it, swaps the roles of fiscal and monetary policy. Under standard macroeconomics, ensuring that the economy is at full employment and that prices are stable are the responsibilities of the monetary policy — the Federal Reserve — which can achieve both goals by manipulating interest rates. If the Fed hits a 0 percent interest rate, then fiscal authorities (Congress and the president) can come in to boost aggregate demand and get the economy moving again, as the 2008 and 2009 stimulus measures attempted. But normally, it’s all the Fed’s job.

In MMT, the fiscal authority is in charge of both. Most MMTers are of the view that the interest rate set by the Federal Reserve should always be 0 percent — in part because they think the use of government-issued bonds that bear interest is a mostly pointless practice. “Our preferred position is a natural rate of zero and no bond sales. Then allow fiscal policy to make all the adjustments,” Mitchell wrote in a 2009 blog post. “It is much cleaner that way.”

To Jayadev and Mason, this looked a lot like a normal economic model, with the roles switched. Instead of raising interest rates to fight inflation, you raise taxes.

MMTers were not pleased with this characterization, with three prominent MMT writers (Scott Fullwiler, Rohan Grey, and Nathan Tankus) explaining in a letter to the Financial Times:

When we suggest that a budget constraint be replaced by an inflation constraint, we are not suggesting that all inflation is caused by excess demand. Indeed, from our view, excess demand is rarely the cause of inflation. Whether it’s businesses raising profit margins or passing on costs, or it’s Wall Street speculating on commodities or houses, there are a range of sources of inflation that aren’t caused by the general state of demand and aren’t best regulated by aggregate demand policies.

Thus, if inflation is rising because large corporations have decided to use their pricing power to increase profit margins at the expense of the public, reducing demand may not be the most appropriate tool.

In other words: Inflation doesn’t usually result from too-high aggregate demand, which taxes can help cool. Instead, it comes from monopolists and other predatory capitalists using their market power to push prices higher, and it can be tackled by directly regulating those capitalists.

But even when too much demand does result in inflation, Fulwiller, Grey, and Tankus say we shouldn’t necessarily jump to taxes as a solution. “When MMT says that a major role of taxes is to help offset demand rather than generate revenue, we are recognizing that taxes are a critical part of a whole suite of potential demand offsets, which also includes things like tightening financial and credit regulations to reduce bank lending, market finance, speculation and fraud,” they write.

Grey has pointed, for example, to France’s credit regulations in the post-WWII era as a potential inspiration. Those limited and redirected bank lending, which is one way to lower aggregate demand without new taxes. If it’s harder for companies and individuals to get loans, they’ll take out fewer loans and buy less stuff.

MMT and full employment

So if MMT prescribes various regulations (and, where necessary, taxes) to control inflation, while keeping interest rates at zero, how does it plan to achieve full employment?

Simple: a job guarantee.

This is an idea that predates and transcends MMT as a school of thought, with advocates among non-MMT economists like William Darity Jr. and Darrick Hamilton, and a history of support from American labor unions and civil rights leaders. The basic concept is that the government would offer, as a right of citizenship, a job at minimum wage (usually $15 an hour for these purposes) with benefits, working for the government or a nonprofit, to any adult who wants one.

This is different from subsidized employment, which exists in limited forms now, and even from the massive public works programs of the New Deal like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, which employed millions but did not guarantee jobs to all.

The idea behind such a sweeping and universal program, in the context of MMT, is to ensure full employment no matter what policies the government is adopting to fight inflation. Indeed, the job guarantee is in part a way to keep wages down, or at least keep them from continually rising, to prevent an inflationary spiral.

Absent a job guarantee, raising taxes excessively could slow economic activity and cost jobs, as could regulations that attempt to crack down on certain industries. A job guarantee would be able to enroll anyone hurt by those measures and make sure they’re still employed somewhere.

In the Mitchell/Wray/Watts textbook, the authors argue that both the MMT approach and the mainstream approach fight inflation in ways that generate “buffer stocks” of workers. In the mainstream approach, inflation is controlled by raising interest rates, which slows economic growth (sometimes to the point of recession) and puts people out of work, creating a buffer stock of unemployed people. That buffer stock, that increase in unemployment, is the cost of fighting inflation. This trade-off is often represented through a relationship known as the Phillips curve.

In MMT, people in the job guarantee serve as a similar buffer stock. When the government slows aggregate demand, through higher taxes or regulations or some other means, that forces people out of private sector work and onto the job guarantee — not the unemployment rolls.

“Instead of a person becoming unemployed when aggregate demand falls below the level required to maintain full employment, that person would enter the JG workforce,” the authors write.

By contrast, during downturns, a JG would work as an automatic stabilizer, putting spending money in the pockets of laid-off workers and helping mitigate recessions.

Setting the JG wage at the minimum wage is important for anchoring inflation. In tight labor markets, employers sometimes choose to increase wages and pay for the change with higher prices, setting off inflation. But if the JG wage is tethered to the minimum, then employers always have the option of hiring workers from the JG pool, who, under the theory, can be hired at the low fixed wage given to them in the JG program. That gives them a way to avoid raising wages and setting off price increases. “There can be no inflationary pressures arising directly from a policy where the government offers a fixed wage to any labor not wanted by other employers,” the textbook authors write.

It may be surprising to think of the job guarantee as a way to control, rather than bid up, wages, but this is the explicit intention described in the textbook. The authors write, “Would the incumbent workers use the decreased threat of unemployment to pursue higher wage demands? That is unlikely. … [T]here might be little perceived difference between unemployment and a JG job for a highly paid worker, which means that they will still be cautious in making wage demands.”

This vision of the job guarantee as a tool for controlling workers’ wages is somewhat at odds, at least rhetorically, with MMT’s messaging that a job guarantee is a humanitarian measure. JG jobs are probably better than involuntary unemployment, sure — but the macroeconomic role they’re playing here, in part, is in the interest of price stability, not worker well-being.

Matt Bruenig, a vocal MMT critic from the left, has argued that using a job guarantee to discipline worker wages bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the “workfare” efforts of the 1990s, a characterization that MMT advocates have vocally disputed. “The program is based on the principle of ‘fair work’ not ‘workfare,” Pavlina Tcherneva, a Bard economist and arguably the leading MMT researcher on job guarantee policy, writes. “It does not require people to work for their benefits. It is instead an alternative to existing workfare programs.” But there’s nonetheless a tension between using the job guarantee to provide good, desirable jobs and ensuring that it sets a low enough fixed wage that it’s not inflationary.

The political impact of MMT

That was a lot of theory, and frankly, a lot of it is much more nuanced than how MMT is likely to be employed in practice. Barring a radical shift in the culture of central banking, and the dominant views of both major political parties, I don’t see some of the key operational recommendations of MMT being adopted anytime soon.

Committing to a zero interest rate policy permanently, for instance, would be a dramatic move by the Fed, effectively a repudiation of its statutory commitments to ensure price stability and full employment. Indeed, it’s unimaginable to me that that could happen without an act of Congress repealing those statutory obligations and mandating a zero rate.

Similarly, a US decision to stop issuing Treasury bonds would disrupt a key part of the international financial system, where US government bonds are used as a go-to risk-free asset to which other bond interest rates are linked. That feels similarly inconceivable.

Where I could see MMT having an impact is in the realm of domestic policymaking. Already, multiple 2020 candidates, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand, have embraced a job guarantee, in various forms.

And more generally, I think it’s likely that MMT will help give intellectual respectability to the notion that Democrats don’t have to pay for everything they want to do, be that a Green New Deal or Medicare-for-all or a big middle-class tax cut.

To be sure, it is not the only force pushing in that direction. Perhaps the most important influence is the behavior of the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan exploded the budget deficit by enacting massive tax cuts and defense spending increases, which his cuts to welfare spending couldn’t hope to match. George W. Bush blew up the first balanced budget in a generation with two rounds of tax cuts and two immensely expensive foreign wars — as well as a massive financial crisis at the end of his tenure. And in barely two years in office, Donald Trump has passed his trillion-plus-dollar tax cut package, with proposals for lower spending existing mostly as an annual pledge in his budget proposal, never to be actually enacted.

Game theorists have known for decades that one of the best ways to generate cooperative behavior in a prisoner’s dilemma-type game is a tit-for-tat strategy: If your opponent cooperated last time, you cooperate, and if they defected last time, you defect.

Democrats have effectively been offering to cooperate and pay for all their budget proposals, or even entertain (as under Obama) and enact (as under Clinton) big bipartisan balanced budget deals — even as Republicans repeatedly defect and show no interest in paying for anything. The rational move in such a game is to start defecting yourself, and declare that you’re not going to pay for anything either.

So even if you want to generate balanced budgets in the future, Democratic deficit spending might be a way to get Republicans more on board with that going forward. And MMT just strengthens Democrats’ bargaining position in this regard, as it lets them send a credible signal that they don’t even think it’s a good idea to pay for everything.

What’s more, many mainstream economists are starting to conclude, given the persistently low interest rates the US and other countries have experienced this decade, that deficits may not be particularly costly, even within a mainstream framework.

“The current US situation in which safe interest rates are expected to remain below growth rates for a long time, is more the historical norm than the exception,” Olivier Blanchard, the former IMF chief economist, said in his presidential lecture at the American Economics Association this year. “Put bluntly, public debt may have no fiscal cost.”

The speech sent shock waves through the economic profession. “To people who follow the IMF, it was as if a former pope came out with an endorsement of the devil,” the New York Times’s Neil Irwin quipped.

In an essay for Foreign Affairs, Larry Summers and former Obama chief economist Jason Furman made a similar point about the effect of low interest rates, though they cautioned that debt still has costs. “Although politicians shouldn’t make the debt their top priority, they also shouldn’t act as if it doesn’t matter at all,” they conclude. As Furman has said elsewhere, “MMT may have the wrong model, but it may get you the same thing as the right model if you have the right parameters.”

It’s not clear how far just how much deficit financing of new programs the Democratic Party is now willing to countenance.Something on the scale of the Republican tax cuts, like a $3,000 child allowance costing around $1 trillion over 10 years, can probably be financed exclusively with debt, without causing any problems. You could make a good argument for financing a Green New Deal, as a one-time transitional measure, mostly with deficit spending.

Single-payer health care, which probably costs in the realm of $32 trillion over 10 years, is a totally different story. Most mainstream economists would argue that transferring that spending to the federal government, without imposing any kinds of taxes or premiums to replace the premiums currently paid to the private health system, would create huge problems, crowding out investment and sparking large-scale inflation.

MMT rejects the idea of crowding out in general, but it’s not clear whether they think single-payer can be financed entirely through deficit spending.

In a podcast debate that Vox’s Ezra Klein hosted between Furman and MMTer Stephanie Kelton, Klein asked what Kelton would do if her former boss Bernie Sanders were elected president and how much of a single-payer plan he had to pay for with taxes. She replied, “I’d tell him, ‘Give me a team of economists and about six months and I’ll let you know.’ … I think that is an extremely important question that would require some very serious, time-consuming, patient analytical work to try to arrive at the right answer.”

Other MMTers are more optimistic. Warren Mosler, a hedge funder who’s helped popularize MMT especially within the finance world, has argued that the government doesn’t need to levy any taxes to pay for Medicare-for-all. Laying off the millions of people doing health care administration for private insurers and hospitals would be a major deflationary event, he argues, so if anything, the government should offer a tax cut or another spending increase to “pay for” Medicare-for-all in inflation terms:

Mosler’s view isn’t universal even among MMTers, so I don’t think MMT will single-handedly solve the problem of financing Democrats’ 2021 (or 2025, or 2029, depending on how the elections go) agenda. But it might help solve it by making Democrats comfortable with paying for a sizable portion of their program with debt.

Thanks to JW Mason for helpful comments on a draft of this piece.

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Book: “The case for a Job Guarantee”

The Case for a Job Guarantee

The Case for a Job Guarantee

by Pavlina R. Tcherneva 

One of the most enduring ideas in economics is that unemployment is both unavoidable and necessary for the smooth functioning of the economy. This assumption has provided cover for the devastating social and economic costs of job insecurity. It is also false.

In this book, leading expert Pavlina R. Tcherneva challenges us to imagine a world where the phantom of unemployment is banished and anyone who seeks decent, living-wage work can find it – guaranteed. This is the aim of the Job Guarantee proposal: to provide a voluntary employment opportunity in public service to anyone who needs it. Tcherneva enumerates the many advantages of the Job Guarantee over the status quo and proposes a blueprint for its implementation within the wider context of the need for a Green New Deal.

This compact primer is the ultimate guide to the benefits of one of the most transformative public policies being discussed today. It is essential reading for all citizens and activists who are passionate about social justice and building a fairer economy.

(Goodreads.com)

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Biden’s infrastructure plan should cover childcare and home care. Here’s why

Jamaal Bowman

Our ‘infrastructure’ isn’t just steel and concrete. It is the millions of people who provide care services and the millions who rely on them

A teacher reads a book to incoming pre-kindergarten students in Brooklyn, New York, on 2 September 2020.
A teacher reads a book to incoming pre-kindergarten students in Brooklyn, New York, on 2 September 2020. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

Tue 6 Apr 2021 06.14 EDT (theguardian.com)

It’s the one thing everyone in Washington can agree on: our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling and in desperate need of repair. The Biden administration has outlined its sweeping plan to overhaul crumbling roads and bridges across America, while building up the clean energy economy of the future, and that’s an important first step in the right direction. Still, as my colleagues begin debating and negotiating over specific details in this proposal, one thing has become really clear to me: the way we think about infrastructure itself needs a rethink.

What we need to understand better as a nation is that our infrastructure does not just look like steel, concrete and transport – it is also the nurturing, patience and diligence of care workers. Care work touches all of our lives from beginning to end, from the unpaid labor of those who raise us as children, childcare workers, teachers, home aides and healthcare workers, to those who care for us in old age and see us through the end of our lives. Care is one of the strongest pillars of our economy, yet those who do this work – disproportionately Black and brown women, often immigrants – are under-supported, undervalued and under-compensated, if compensated at all.

Just as our physical infrastructure is crumbling and requires substantial reinvestment in a 21st-century economy, our care infrastructure is fundamentally broken. As the only industrialized country in the world without a national paid family and medical leave program, only 17% of our people have paid family leave through their employers. Hundreds of thousands face daunting waitlists for essential home care. Childcare is the highest household expense for families in much of the United States. And the median annual pay of childcare and home care workers is $25,510 and $17,200, respectively, leading to high turnover and reliance on public assistance.

This does not have to be a moment of total desolation. It can be a groundbreaking opportunity to rethink our entire economy and the workers who support it

As the Biden administration unveils its plan for job creation and infrastructure, it can and must center care work as part of rebuilding the country. More than 550,000 Americans have died and 30 million have been infected with Covid-19. We are staring down decades of trauma, grief and long-term health impacts from the past year. But this does not have to be a moment of total desolation. It can be a groundbreaking opportunity to rethink our entire economy and the workers who support it.

As part of the next investment in infrastructure, Congress and the Biden administration can and should take major steps toward addressing these longstanding injustices, including passing universal childcare and pre-K, six months of paid family leave, and free, high-quality home and community-based services for seniors and people with disabilities, along with Medicare for All. Strong care programs also boost the economy: investing in care work invests in us all. A recent study found that for each public dollar invested in the care sector, $2.80 in total economic activity is created; roughly speaking, five additional jobs are created for every 10 jobs created in care work.

We must go beyond incrementalism and create new, universal, public programs that treat care as a right – bringing New Deal-level of ambition and imagination to the care economy. The New Deal vastly improved the quality of life for many and led to increased prosperity, but key components excluded communities of color. What would we be able to accomplish, what limitless potential could we achieve, if the prosperity of the New Deal was extended to all?

Indeed, that is precisely the aim of today’s movement for a Green New Deal. In the congressional resolution I recently introduced with Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Care for All Agenda, I made the case that care investments are a crucial part of transformative climate action. We cannot build a thriving, 21st-century economy without a solid foundation of care to sustain us.

In fact, care jobs should be thought of as green jobs: they are already relatively low-carbon, and are becoming even more essential as we cope with the health impacts of climate change. We need to make these fast-growing jobs the high-paying, unionized jobs of the future, just as we do in the green energy and manufacturing sectors. Fundamentally, the next economy will be about caring for each other, our communities, and the planet. That means we need to think of climate and care investments as comprising one holistic, integrated agenda – and not prioritize one over the other in the recovery effort.

Additionally, the Biden administration can usher in a paradigm shift in how we measure and evaluate our economy. The United Nations has estimated that the economic value of unpaid care work accounts for as much as 40% of GDP. Scholarship has repeatedly questioned the value of economic modeling based on GDP and stock market trends but without evaluations of quality of life, satisfaction and health of working people. What if we rooted our economy in solving problems and promoting collective wellbeing, rather than profit-making to benefit the few? What if we invested massively in the arts, research and restoring the natural world – and gave everyone the time and economic freedom to care for their loved ones, and unleash their full talents?

Care can and must be at the center of the rebirth of our country. As Joe Biden unveils his next ambitious plan for rebuilding the economy, he can shape the next vision of American exceptionalism by extending prosperity to those forced to live at the margins. Human potential is unlimited, especially in a nation as wealthy as ours. We have the resources to ensure high-quality care to our people and a life of dignity to those who provide it. Let’s get it done.

  • Jamaal Bowman, a US congressman, represents New York’s 16th congressional district
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Biden Tasks Special Commission With ‘Studying’ Potential Expansion of Supreme Court

9 APRIL 2021/SF POLITICS/JAY BARMANN (SFist.com)

President Joseph Biden has put together a 36-member bipartisan commission, comprised mostly of academics, to “study” different potential changes to the Supreme Court including term limits and adding more justices.

Actually making changes to the court would likely cause Mitch McConnell to light himself on fire in the Senate chamber. But Biden is taking a politically necessary baby step to appease liberals who remain furious that an orange-faced charlatan who once had a TV show was able to pack the court with three conservative justices during his four years in office.

The commission is not being tasked with making a recommendation on expanding the court beyond its nine members, or imposing term limits, but it is being given six months to explore the possibilities and likely produce some kind of report. As a source close to the White House tells the New York Times, the commission “is intended to provide a forum to debate the issue that is protected from the passions that will continue to rage in the political arena.” And this translates to some likely disappointment when Biden inevitably decides not to wage all-out war on this issue — especially with an evenly divided Senate and a far from certain outcome even if Democrats tried to make any changes to the court.

Biden has said that the federal judicial nomination system has been “getting out of whack,” but he repeatedly avoided answering the question on the campaign trail of whether he supported expanding the court. The court has had nine members since after the Civil War, and the Constitution does not dictate how many members the court must have.

This new White House commission is being led by Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel under President Obama, and Cristina Rodriguez, a Yale Law School professor who worked as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel under Obama. As the Associated Press reports, the creation of the commission was something that Biden promised in an October TV interview, so he’s fulfilling that promise.

But this was, of course, the next phase in a war that’s been going for decades — and which escalated in 2016 with McConnell’s egregious power play in never allowing a hearing in Senate for Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, which came after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and a full ten months before Obama left office. McConnell made an excuse about it being an election year and saying the new president should choose the nominee. But of course when another death happened in an election year, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s, just weeks before the 2020 election, the Senate of course confirmed Trump’s third and ideologically worst nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.

Liberals and likely many centrists who saw this as dirty politics by conservatives desperate for a 6-3 majority on the court are itching for the next fight and a return to a more balanced court, if not a liberal majority — which has not existed on the court in decades.

But the justices are fond of casting themselves as apolitical figures, and denying the idea that they tend to rule in one direction or another — even though history has shown us that they do, and everyone who calls him or herself an “originalist” in the mold of Scalia is going to hate abortion rights, and hate voting rights, and more. Chief Justice John Roberts said repeatedly during Trump’s tenure that it was a mistake to justices’ rulings have political motivations — and he ruled against his conservative peers in several key cases last year seemingly almost to spite Trump and prove his point.

Justice Stephen Breyer earlier this week gave what sounded like a kind of goodbye speech to the Harvard Law School community — though he has not announced his retirement. As one of three members remaining in the court’s liberal bloc, Breyer may want to step down while a Democrat is in office — much as many thought Ginsburg should have. But he doesn’t want to be cast as liberal or conservative, and he issued a warning to Biden and Democrats in his speech that any attempt to expand the court would likely weaken it in the public’s mind, turning it into more of a political chess piece than it already is.

“I hope and expect that the court will retain its authority,” Justice Breyer said. “But that authority, like the rule of law, depends on trust, a trust that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics. Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that perception, further eroding that trust.”

But activists will continue beating this drum, and the wound of Barrett’s confirmation is still fresh — let alone Kavanaugh’s.

“With five justices appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, it’s crucial that we consider every option for wresting back political control of the Supreme Court,” says Nan Aron, president of the liberal advocacy group Alliance for Justice, in a statement to the AP. “President Biden’s commission demonstrates a strong commitment to studying this situation and taking action.”

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