Introducing Sociology: Tim Kreider's influential 1999 essay (previously) on how Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut uses sex and infidelity to cover up a story of greed and murder by the elite gets a brand new afterward by the author to introduce a new site for his non-fiction writing, TimKreider.com
VC for the people - "It's just that people who have options are much more likely to actually find success than people who don't." [more inside]
At first, the new Jerry Seinfeld show seemed reassuringly like the old one. Spontaneous coffees with friends. Mindless chatter that occasionally verged on the hilariously brilliant. But look closer and you see that this show isn’t that show, and that new realities are upon us in America. Anand Giridharadas editorializes about Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Seinfeld, His Show, and Inequality. (SLNYT)
What's the link between household income during childhood and job choice during adulthood? Stats and pretty graphs ahoy!
Free Money for Everyone - "A wacky-sounding idea with surprisingly conservative roots may be our best hope for escaping endless, grinding economic stagnation." (via) [more inside]
Inside the Nightmare Launch of HealthCare.Gov - "Unknown to a nation following the fiasco, McDonough's assignment from the President had boiled down to something more dire than how to fix the site. As the chief of staff remembers his mission, it was 'Can it be patched and improved to work, or does it need to be scrapped to start over? He wanted to know if this thing is salvageable.' Yes, on Oct. 17, the President was thinking of scrapping the whole thing and starting over." (previously) [more inside]
It is time for America to reconsider who is dependent on welfare. Poverty is not only the lack of income and wealth but also the poverty of power. A key part of the poverty of power is to be defined as dependent: dependent on charity, handouts, welfare. Yet, it is the wealthy, not the poor, who are dependent on government subsidies. To transform dependency into self-determination is the work of poor people's movements. To demonstrate the dependency of the wealthy on welfare as well as on the labor of the poor must be our collective work.
Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver his 2014 State of the Union address. A stream will be available via the White House and from many other outlets. [more inside]
The return of "patrimonial capitalism": review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st century (pdf) - "Thomas Piketty's 'Capital in the 21st century' may be one of the most important recent economics books. It jointly treats theory of growth, functional distribution of income, and interpersonal income inequality. It envisages a future of relatively slow growth with the rising share of capital incomes, and widening income inequality. This tendency could be checked only by worldwide taxation of capital." [more inside]
Grantor retained annuity trusts are a method that the ultra rich use to avoid gift taxes. Many lawyers insist that these trusts are a cornerstone of any sound estate plan.
"We condition the poor and the working class to go to war. We promise them honor, status, glory, and adventure. We promise boys they will become men. We hold these promises up against the dead-end jobs of small-town life, the financial dislocations, credit card debt, bad marriages, lack of health insurance, and dread of unemployment. The military is the call of the Sirens, the enticement that has for generations seduced young Americans working in fast food restaurants or behind the counters of Walmarts to fight and die for war profiteers and elites."-- War is Betrayal. Persistent Myths of Combat, an essay by Chris Hedges of Truthdig. Responses within. [more inside]
A survey by a high-end estate agent has revealed that there are more domestic servants in the exclusive London district of Mayfair now than 200 years ago, and indeed, in the élite London neighbourhoods which have been bought up by absentee oligarchs, often only the lights in the servants' quarters are on at night. For those who fancy a life of serving the super-rich, there are courses to prepare them for catering to their masters' exacting whims. But it's not all rosy at the top; the prices of luxury goods (including foie gras, Patek Philippe watches, paintings by artists such as Cézanne and Rothko) in the basket used to calculate the Affluent Luxury Living Index have been rising at a rate exceeding inflation.
'It could have been us, but things happen. Sometimes it's better to be patient than right." Mindy Cradell has little regret about letting an older woman in front of her, while standing in line for the lottery. That woman, Gloria Mackenzie, became the sole winner of the $590 million Powerball jackpot, the largest in the history of American lotteries.
Dan Grover and Mike Belfrage have mapped transit inequality in the Bay Area after reading a New Yorker piece on the New York City subway (previously). The ways in which a widening income gap are changing the demography of San Francisco have been widely reported of late (previously, previously). The project's code is available if you'd like to try mapping your own city.
So, what's the problem with champagne socialism? Are well-off advocates of left-wing positions hypocrites? How does one square egalitarian convictions with personal affluence?
Many of these people live in a very limited environment. They have never been outside the finance district, gated communities, or the typical holiday resorts of the extreme wealthy.Do they know it's Christmas? [more inside]
ICIJ has 2.5 million files from over 120,000 offshore legal entities covering 30 years of emails and financial records from from 10 offshore tax havens.. [more inside]
Economists and the theory of politics - "why unions were often well worth any deadweight cost" [more inside]
Before Greed: Americans Didn't Aways Yearn For Riches. A response: An Embarassement Of Riches: Literature And The Ethics Of Wealth In The Gilded Age. Both from Boston Review. [more inside]
A well-executed and terrifying visual representation of exactly how stratified wealth is in America. It's far worse than you could have imagined. [SLYT]
BBC: Some 70% of Swiss voters appear to have supported plans to give shareholders a veto on compensation and ban big payouts for new and departing managers, projected referendum results suggest. One of the organisers of the referendum, Brigitte Moser Harder, told the BBC she thought the Swiss people agreed with the proposals because the gap between rich and poor had become wider. "From the beginning, 2006, we had the support of the people of Switzerland because you know not everybody in Switzerland is rich." [more inside]
The Washington Post has posted a clickable county map of the United States, illustrating the percentage of households in the top 5% of national income (based on data from the US Census Bureau).
"American Pastoral" inadvertently reveals Brooks and Halard to be deeply insecure, crass noveau riche, lowballing their renovations by hiring desperate, dirt-cheap Chinese laborers, and whining about maids who can't get to work on time, just because Hurricane Sandy knocked out train service. Where's the Vogue-style profiles of those poor souls? [more inside]
Rebecca Solnit on how Silicon Valley corporations are transforming San Francisco: I weathered the dot-com boom of the late 1990s as an observer, but I sold my apartment to a Google engineer last year and ventured out into both the rental market (for the short term) and home buying market (for the long term) with confidence that my long standing in this city and respectable finances would open a path. That confidence got crushed fast. It turned out that the competition for any apartment in San Francisco was so intense that you had to respond to the listings – all on San Francisco-based Craigslist of course, the classifieds website that whittled away newspaper ad revenue nationally – within a few hours of their posting to receive a reply from the landlord or agency. The listings for both rentals and homes for sale often mentioned their proximity to the Google or Apple bus stops. [more inside]
See how much money people make in every neighborhood in every city in America with Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks, a map that displays wealth distributions across US cities (and states).
The day would come when many West Virginians recalled the story of Jack's Powerball Christmas with a shudder at the magnitude of ruination: families asunder, precious lambs six feet under, folks undone by the lure of all that easy money.
In the spirit of the Nobel season, Yasha Levine discusses the history of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel as a PR gimmick for laissez-faire economics, and how its existence is an affront to the Nobel legacy.
T. Boone Pickens and other wealthy, elderly Oklahoma State alums decided to participate in a scheme named "Call of a Lifetime", where they would allow the university to take out $10 million life insurance policies on them. What could go wrong?
Orlando, FL - 10 ac, 90K sq ft, 13 bed, 30 bath, 20 car garage, 3 pools, 2 tennis cts, bowling alley, skating rink - $100M [more inside]
How Money Makes People Act Less Human: Earlier this year, [Paul] Piff, who is 30, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that made him semi-famous. Titled “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,” it showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can, colloquially speaking, dehumanize people. It can make them less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people. It can make them more likely, as Piff demonstrated in one of his experiments, to take candy from a bowl of sweets designated for children. “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff says, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”
Jon Ronson (whose book The Psychopath Test was the basis of a This American Life episode ) interviews folks living in America at several varied levels of income in: GQ - Amber Waves of Green.
In Praise of Leisure - "Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week. They would be paid as much as, or even more than, they now are, because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society. Leisure would occupy far more of their waking hours than work. It was exactly this prospect that John Maynard Keynes conjured up in a little essay published in 1930 called 'Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.' Its thesis was simple. As technological progress made possible an increase in the output of goods per hour worked, people would have to work less and less to satisfy their needs, until in the end they would have to work hardly at all... He thought this condition might be reached in about 100 years — that is, by 2030." (via) [more inside]
The recession didn't gut the prospects of American young people. The Baby Boomers took care of that.
Marriage is a luxury good [NYT] After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage. [more inside]
Best known for the (exaggerated) tales of her miserliness, Hetty Green was arguably the greatest female investor in history. During the 1907 Bankers' Panic, her loan of $1.1 million helped keep New York City solvent. Her estate - greater than that of J.P. Morgan's - was valued at more than $2 billion in today's money. [more inside]
One thing we can be certain of is that capitalism will end. Maybe not soon, but probably before too long; humanity has never before managed to craft an eternal social system, after all, and capitalism is a notably more precarious and volatile order than most of those that preceded it. The question, then, is what will come next.
As the Occupy protests spread, the latest phenomenon to emerge is the Stealthy Wealthy. Sensitive to negative perceptions of extreme wealth inequality in hard times, and concerned about the possibility of history repeating itself, the super-rich have been swapping their limousines for nondescript-looking yet luxuriously outfitted cargo vans.
Mr. Rockefeller has not squandered his income. He has applied it for thirty-five years to accumulating not only oil property but real estate — railroad stock, iron mines, copper mines, anything and everything which could be bought cheap by temporary depressing and made to yield rich by his able management. For thirty-five years he has worked for special privileges giving him advantages over competitors, for thirty-five years he has patiently laid net-works around property he wanted, until he had it surely corralled and could seize it; for thirty-five years he has depreciated values when necessary to get his prey. And to-day he still is busy. In almost every great financial manoeuvre [sic] in the country is felt his supple, smooth hand with its grip of steel, and while he directs that which is big, nothing is too small for him to grasp. [more inside]
Robert Reich talks at Google about the biggest problem facing the US economy. [SLYT, 57min]
16 of France's mega-rich signed a petition urging the goverment to raise their taxes. Despite relatively high taxes and a wealth tax signatories such as the L'Oreal heir and the head of a major oil company, Total, are asking the government to raise their taxes to help solve the country's financial issues. Original petition (French).
Poverty may be miserable. But being able to feel a bit better-off than someone else makes it a bit more bearable. Economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggest that people near the bottom end of financial inequity are less likely to be in favour of programs that will help increase their income if those programs will also help those lower on the scale than they are.
...the authors of the new paper argue that people don’t like to be at the bottom. One paradoxical consequence of this “last-place aversion” is that some poor people may be vociferously opposed to the kinds of policies that would actually raise their own income a bit but that might also push those who are poorer than them into comparable or higher positions. The authors ran a series of experiments where students were randomly allotted sums of money, separated by $1, and informed about the “income distribution” that resulted. They were then given another $2, which they could give either to the person directly above or below them in the distribution. The people who were a spot away from the bottom were the most likely to give the money to the person above them..This may also explain why Warren Buffet's cry to stop coddling the rich (previously) will continue to fall on deaf ears.