Friday, June 19, 2015

Possibilities - Wholeness is Emergent

I am not the swiftest thinker but seems like an unusual series of things have come into my sight in the past week that might spell the emergence of wholeness of thinking to a degree rarely visible in our culture. Let me share five of those!

I just finished reading this morning this piece by Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder and publisher of Tikkun, a thoughtful journal of our times.
Tikkun In this deeply resonant piece entitled, "Yearning for a World of Love and Justice" Lerner, co-founder of the Network for Spiritual Progressives, lays out a ten point new Spiritual Covenant.

1. We will create a society that promotes rather than undermines loving and caring relationships and families.

2. We will take personal responsibility for ethical behavior.

3. We will build social responsibility into the normal operations of our economic and political life.

4. We will reshape our education system so that it teaches values of love, caring, generosity, intellectual curiosity, tolerance, nonviolence, gratitude, wonder, democratic participation, and environmental responsibility.

5. We will seek a transformation of our entire health care system not only providing free universal health care in our own country and around the world, but also creating a system that addresses the spiritual, psychological, and physical dimensions of human beings and the impact of social and environmental influences on their well-being.

6. We will be stewards of the environment and reshape the global economy in sustainable ways.

7. We will address our desire for “homeland security” through a strategy of nonviolence, generosity, genuine caring, and respect for the well-being of others.

8. We support a strong separation of church, state, and science.

9. We will rebuild our economy to provide economic security, fundamental equality, and meaningful work that contribute to some higher good beyond maximizing money or power.

10. We seek to protect individuals from coercive powers of the government and the marketplace, while affirming our interdependence.

The wholeness of this approach as laid out more fully in the lengthy article resonated with me, especially the concept of the necessity for doing inner and outer work simultaneously.

Also recently, Gar Alperovitz and James Gustave Speth laid out what they are calling the Next System Project


 is an ambitious multi-year initiative aimed at thinking boldly about what is required to deal with the systemic challenges the United States faces now and in coming decades. Responding to real hunger for a new way forward, and building on innovative thinking and practical experience with new economic institutions and approaches being developed in communities across the country and around the world, the goal is to put the central idea of system change, and that there can be a “next system,” on the map.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Put a Lid On It

A good friend and former colleague, Dr. Frank Fear, recently blogged at The Sports Column about the funding of higher education sports programs, where the subsidies are, to put it kindly, crazy.

Subsidies are the Name of the Game in D-1 College Sports


His analysis shows how important big dollars are to run the big time collegiate sports system, whether subsidized by university budgets, alumni, or fans..

The growing cost of higher education and the escalating student debt have nudged the pundits to call for more tax support for higher education, more online courses, and even the end of tenure as Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor is trying to engineer in the University of Wisconsin system. Seems like job security even for those who invest in a good education is now in question. As Prof. Michael Schwalbe recently notes in his otherwise pessimistic review of the professorship, being a professor is a great job.

     "being a professor is still a great job—it affords status, decent pay, autonomy, control over one’s work, and a measure of democratic control over one’s workplace."

So let's put all these forces in perspective - costs climb, debt rises and so does inequality. Could there be at least a partial simple repair? How about a having a serious discussion of what is decent/sufficient pay and the what is indecent - either too little or too much? While we might begin by talking about a minimum wage or a livable wage, how about starting from somewhere closer to the middle. 

The U.S. Median (not the average) household income (50% of households make more, and 50% make less) is approximately $50,000 [$51,939 from latest government figures] before taxes. So let's start there. That's roughly $1,000 a week or $25/hr for a 40 hour work week. While a family may have shelter, food, and clothing covered with that level of income, they won't be taking distant vacations, eating at fine restaurants or attending many concerts on that income. But it sure beats the federal poverty level - by a factor of two.

The US Poverty level as of January 2015 is listed below:

Persons in family/householdPoverty guideline
For families/households with more than 8 persons, add $4,160 for each additional person.

A family of four that makes essentially less than half the median household income is determined to be in poverty. Notice that while the incomes of the 1 percent have increased 120 percent between 1979 and 2006 the income for the bottom 20 percent fell 4 percent and the middle class made a modest 15 percent gain. (Scott Myers-Lipton, Ending Extreme Inequality: An Economic Bill of Rights to Eliminate Poverty, 2015

MONDRAGON Corporation 
So here's an example that has been tested successfully over time - Mondragon. The uber successful family of cooperatives in Spain has a six times rule. The nearly 75,000 employee-owners of the tenth largest business in Spain share the profits more equally. See the recent interview with Mondragon president Josu Ugarte in the recent issue of Too Much for more on how that system works.

Too Much
 If  we employed this ratio at my former institution, the top pay based upon lowest paid full-time employee would be about $140,000 or three times the median HOUSEHOLD income. Most of us should be able to live a pretty decent life on that income, even better if we're married to a partner who is bringing in additional income - heck, it's nearly three times the median income. Certainly, those choosing to work in public university should not be expecting to get rich, again in Schwalbe's vision they are able to enjoy the perks of "status, autonomy, and control over one's work."

Of course, MSU's president earns more than $140,000 - 5 times more, $750,000, or approximately 30 times the lowest paid MSU employee. Her salary, while surely well above the median isn't the highest in the land and the value to the institution of paying college presidents higher salaries, as noted in a recent New York Times article is at least debatable. But that salary is a mere pittance compared to MSU basketball and football coaches - Tom Izzo ($4,000,000 or 135 times more) and Mark Dantonio ($3,600,000 or 125 times more than the lowest paid employee - not the players, of course). Beyond these sky high salaries are many, perhaps hundreds of other university employees -mainly some administrators and faculty  who earn more than six times the lowest paid employee at MSU.

I don't suspect that the ratios change all that much at the larger schools with big sports programs where the coaches make more than anyone else.See the interesting graphic below!

Image result for highest paid public map

A thoughtful review of addressing this inequality via increasing either the minimum wage or establishing wage ratios, like Mondragon's  is available hereAmong some of its key points are:

  • Maximum Ratio was pioneered by Ben & Jerry's whose company policy said no employee may earn more than 7 times another. In most European companies the accepted ratio is about 25, but in the United States the accepted ratio for large corporations has increased to about 500, up from 100 in the 1980s. 
  • Maximum ratio could be easily implemented by making corporate tax rate equal to the ratio between the highest compensated and lowest compensated within that company. It could also be enforced with a penalty tax equal to all the wages in the company that are greater than 20 times the wages of the workers. 
  •  Maximum Ratio, once started, operates independently of political forces. A political party can't force the wages artificially low, or high. When things are good employers will raise their worker wages in order to raise their own. 
  • Maximum ratio states to the employer, "If you can afford to raise the owners salary then you can afford to raise the workers salary." This approach is highly responsive to economic forces. For the managers to get a raise the workers should get a raise also. Implementing maximum ratio gives the employer realizing huge profits three choices, [1] pay your workers a better wage, [2] reinvest your profits in the company (promote the viability of your company or create new jobs), [3] pay an increased amount in taxes to support the system. (from
With the accumulation of more and more wealth into the hands of the few comes a more fearful reality, increasing the power that comes with it. Power to resist change, power to open doors, to make connections, power to lobby for what one wants to maintain or power to increase their wealth and power even more. Changing the rules to benefit the larger portion of society becomes more and more difficult, as the system rigs the game for those with wealth/power. We see this in extreme cases of Donald and Edward Koch, George Soros, and others who shape elections, shift markets, and gain more and more power and wealth because of the use of their great wealth.

Establishing wage ratios won't solve the whole income inequality problem, especially  global inequality. But it will apply a necessary brake on a runaway train. Other policies could be built on it. For example:

  • Restrict contracts to enterprises paying more than six times ratio to executives. 
  • Restrict grants to Non profits if their wage ratio exceeds 4:1 
  • Rescind tax deductible status for Nonprofits  if they pay more than twice median household income - individual profit beyond that profit becomes private to the individual beyond that 
  • Wage ratios should be made public so investors and consumers can make decisions about supporting the the institution and whether too much money is going to too few people
  • No employee of a public institution or tax deductible nonprofit can make more than half of the President of the United States - currently $400,000 a year.
Making these changes would lower costs, decrease debt and/or increase the buying power for those now working in poverty. Let's quit picking on the folks trying to scape by.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Strange Alignments - Trade and Democracy

As the battle for fast track status for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continues watching the alignments for either side form has been curious at least. President Obama and generally progressive Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) have been bullish on the pact, as of of course has been conservative stalwarts like Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Mitch McConnel (R-KY). Obama claims that if we don't pull this off soon (thus fast-track) will lose a big opportunity to control trade relations with China. 

Critics like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are claiming that not only is the deal secretive from the public, as the Intercept reported recently,

        " So who can read the text of the TPP? Not you, it’s classified. Even members of Congress can only look at it one section at a time in the Capitol’s basement, without most of their staff or the ability to keep notes. But there’s an exception: if you’re part of one of 28 U.S. government-appointed trade advisory committees providing advice to the U.S. negotiators. The committees with the most access to what’s going on in the negotiations are 16 “Industry Trade Advisory Committees,” whose members include AT&T, General Electric, Apple, Dow Chemical, Nike, Walmart and the American Petroleum Institute. "

But critics argue the agreement will likely empower global corporate behemoths to override local (national) policies. Wyden and Obama deny this, and suggest that pending legislation for fast track has safeguards and enforcement and a window of 90 days where citizens can read and debate the final agreement before Congress votes it up or down. Wyden clearly sees the TPP, if done right, as an economic boon for his home state of Oregon. East coasters like Warren and Sanders constituents won't see the same benefits as Wyden's. But are Wyden's and Obama's faith in global trade regimes misplaced?

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz thinks so.

     " The real intent of these provisions is to impede health, environmental, safety, and, yes, even financial regulations meant to protect America’s own economy and citizens. Companies can sue governments for full compensation for any reduction in their future expected profits resulting from regulatory changes."

 And so do groups as diverse as Public Citizen, Doctors Without Borders and the Electronic Frontier Foundaton....

A study just released this week by The Guardian of financial contributions to the Senate between January and April of this year shares some interesting findings.

     "Fast-tracking the TPP, meaning its passage through Congress without having its contents available for debate or amendments, was only possible after lots of corporate money exchanged hands with senators. The US Senate passed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – the fast-tracking bill – by a 65-33 margin on 14 May. Last Thursday, the Senate voted 62-38 to bring the debate on TPA to a close. Those impressive majorities follow months of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing by the world’s most well-heeled multinational corporations with just a handful of holdouts. 

Using data from the Federal Election Commission, this chart shows all donations that corporate members of the US Business Coalition for TPP made to US Senate campaigns between January and March 2015, when fast-tracking the TPP was being debated in the Senate."

While it might be hard to prove a quid pro quo with these donations, what they do show is that the increasing inequality and the power of the 1% to shape policy. They have access via cash contributions and invitations to participate in trade advisory committees that typical citizens do not enjoy. One of the findings in The Guardian study stands out as representative of that power.
  • In just 24 hours, Wyden and five of those Democratic holdouts – Michael Bennet of Colorado, Dianne Feinstein of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray of Washington, and Bill Nelson of Florida – caved and voted for fast-track.
  • Bennet, Murray, and Wyden – all running for re-election in 2016 – received $105,900 between the three of them. Bennet, who comes from the more purple state of Colorado, got $53,700 in corporate campaign donations between January and March 2015, according to Channing’s research.
 The only antidote to the hijacking of our democracy is for citizens to use their voice and and their vote. The proposed rush to get this deal done has its own unpleasant odor to it. Wyden and other supporters of this deal look to see the US profit from such agreements.  But with the rules rigged, there will be losers, and something tells me it will be the 99%.