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Posts tagged with New York Times

The rich get richer and poor get poorer. What, if anything, are we going to do about it?

Posted on September 28, 2014 by 2 Comments

With each passing day, it seems as if the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and while our economy expands, the divide between rich and poor gets wider and wider. Sound like an exaggeration? Perhaps not. Read Neil Irwin’s article in this past weekend’s NY Times, “The Benefits of Economic Expansions Are Increasingly Going to the Richest Americans”. Irwin cites data compiled by Pavlina R. Tcherneva, an economist at Bard College to prove this disturbing trend, although none of this should be a surprise.

Two charts in the article tell the story well. The first (below) shows the share of income growth received by the top 10 percent and bottom 90 percent of earners during periods of economic expansion.

InequalityI grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, began my work career in the 1970’s and reached a modicum of business success in the 1980’s and 1990’s. My father was a doctor. We went on family vacations when I was little. I went to good schools and ultimately raised a family and owned my own business. I wanted for nothing. Life was and still is good. As a child and teen growing up in inner city Detroit, it always seemed like the auto factories were humming, the shops were full and growth in prosperity, while not perfect, was being shared.

According to I.R.S. data, I’ve been among the 10% who’ve benefited from expansions for many years. Yet, it doesn’t take much other than a look at the daily papers or a walk around any American city to see that something doesn’t seem quite right. Shoppers seem well-heeled, coiffed and comfortable among my top tier peers. But why, I wonder, when I walk into Home Depot, Walmart or the local supermarket, I rarely see exuberant shoppers from lower and middle classes? You may think it’s the stores I shop in only cater to my types but I travel and like to walk around and check in on the retail scene to get a flavor of the local zeitgeist.

The second chart from the article (below) shows the share of income gains during expansionary periods that went to the top 1 percent versus bottom 99 percent. The trend in wealth gains becomes even more striking.

IncomeGains Before I saw these charts. I always thought things seemed to change for the worse in the 1980’s. That was when the idea of “trickle down economics” came into vogue and was put into practice. The idea was that if we cut taxes for the well-off, the additional amount they gain will “trickle down” to the middle and lower classes. But I always wondered how that could be. After all, I could only buy one car every few years, one boat, one house, etc., nothing like what hundreds, thousands or millions of people making less than me could do if they had the money. So how could the benefits that I and my fellow 10 percenters (alas, I’ve never made it into the top 1%) really make a difference in the prosperity of all. The answer as we can see from the data is that they couldn’t and haven’t.

Political forces on the right are quick to criticize programs that provide targeted job training, assistance to inner city residents and businesses, raising the minimum wage or any program that puts more money toward raising the lower class and taking away from the wealthy. Their answer is always to just lower taxes as the benefits will trick down for all. It’s been nearly 35 years since we’ve been practicing “trickle down” and we haven’t seen it trickle anywhere yet except to the top. In case you’ve forgotten Einstein’s oft quoted definition of insanity, it seems to fit here: “Insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”

 Our Congress can’t seem to do anything constructive to pass sensible solutions and our President can’t persuade them to because one party thinks it’s its job is to undermine his term. And we go to the polls and re-elect the same clowns who can’t interpret the data, read the charts or come up with any compromise that might try something different to help. In 1811, a smart guy named Joseph de Maistre, wrote “Every country has the government it deserves.” We often think that quote was intended for our “exceptional” America. It was actually directed toward Russia, a country, then and now, of rich oligarchs separated from the lower classes by their profligate wealth. Sound familiar?

 

 

 

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The way slogans should be

Posted on May 15, 2014 by 1 Comment

WayLifeThere’s a great article today by Gail Collins in the NY Times (My State’s Prettier Than Yours) in which she tries to understand the promotional slogans of our 50 states.  Give up Gail.  It’s incomprehensible.  State and country slogans have always been a pet peeve of mine because they usually don’t relate to anything distinct or different about the state.  Collins gives plenty of examples.  They’re usually a result of the excesses of bad advertising agencies or over zealous economic development and tourism teams.

There’s a list of state slogans at Wikipedia (List of U.S. state slogans) and 105 country tourism slogans at a blog called Tourist vs. Traveller (105 tourism slogans from around the world) along with a nice little video to show them all with their logos (which a lot of tourism development folks think is a brand, but that’s another topic entirely).  Collins covers the states pretty well so I’ll focus on some of my favorite country slogans.

Did you know Albania is “A new Mediterranean love”?  And all this time, I thought it was a mysterious country that supplies pizza parlor chefs to New York restaurants.  Austria is “Arrive and revive”.  I’m sorry. I don’t know what that means, particularly since I’ll have jet lag for a day or two once I arrive.  Here’s one I like:  Belarus is “Hospitality beyond borders.”  Does that mean I have to leave the country for hospitality?  One of my favorites is Romania because I’ve been there twice:  “Explore the Carpathian garden.”  Now, I never saw the Carpathians on either of my trips (hint:  it’s a mountain range), but I suspect that slogan will mean a lot to the winner of any national geography bee.

You have to read the list yourself.  It’s full of surprises.  (Actually, I think that’s Connecticut’s slogan.)  You can travel from Pure Russia to 100% Pure New Zealand in a few lines.  (Maybe Russia only got to 90% so they didn’t want to tell us how pure they are.)  “Bolivia awaits you”, which is nice to know since I probably won’t make it there for a few years.  The “Dominican Republic has it all” so don’t confuse that with “Honduras, todo esta aqui.”  They have it all too but only in Spanish.  I also like “Paraguay, You have to feel it!”.  I’ve been there too and I suppose they’re talking about their vicious mosquitoes.

Τhe amazing thing about all of these slogans for states and countries (cities have them too; don’t get me started) is that they say absolutely nothing about the country, its culture and what makes it distinct and different.  Years ago, states had mottos or nicknames that said something about them and often appeared on auto license plates.  Alabama was “The Cotton State”, Florida was “The Everglade State”; Georgia – “The Peach State”; Hawaii – “The Aloha State”; Michigan – “Winter Water Wonderland” and so on.  Washington D.C. was “Nation’s Capital”, which tells me a lot and that no other state can say.  Now, it’s become “The American Experience”, which is ironic since it’s never been a place that Sarah Palin went looking for her “real Americans”.  As a child, I always loved the slogans on license plates and could recite a lot of them.  They told me something different about each state and I wanted to visit them all.  Now they all blend into a meaningless hodgepodge that I bet nobody but each state’s tourism employees can recite.  It’s bad for the state or country, self-aggrandizing and simply poor communication.

I used to live in Maine and often drive there for long weekends.  We have a house there and a car with Maine plates that says “Vacationland”.  I like that, although I also like that it’s been called “The Pine Tree State.”  Sure, there are pine trees in other states but drive into Maine and you’ll think there must be more of them there than anyplace else and it does give you a picture.  For many years, they had a slogan on a sign when you enter the state, “The way life should be.”  Yes, it’s another one of those silly slogans but I have to admit that as someone who lived there for 25 years, seeing that sign always made me feel like I was home.  It meant a way of life to me and I hoped for others visiting for the first time.

40937319A few years ago, they added another sign about a 100 feet further down the road that read, “Worth a visit, worth a lifetime”, which signaled to me that they hired a new ad agency that wanted to establish its own brand of creativity.  Then, a year or so ago, they plastered “Open for business” underneath “The way life should be.”  I suppose it’s nice that the state is trying but did anyone check to see that Forbes put Maine last in its best for business rankings?

OpenForBizAt its core, this is all about determining what a state or country’s marketing strategy is because slogans, if they have any purpose at all, should tell us why that place is worth our patronage for business, tourism or simply, aspirations. Anyone who pays attention to strategy knows that it must tell us why the product is both distinct and different from any other, and if that strategy is not true to what’s being delivered, it is totally meaningless.  Slogans, however, have become a tactic conjured up by advertising or public relations agencies without a thought to strategy and that’s why they are incomprehensible and instantly forgettable.

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Free as a bird? That’s the idea.

Posted on December 7, 2012 by 1 Comment

In today’s NY Times, Anyone who liked swings as a child — and that should include quite a few of us — will probably feel a surprisingly visceral attraction to Ann Hamilton’s installation “the event of a thread” at the Park Avenue Armory.” The installation is open until Jan. 5th.  If you’re in New York, go there.  Don’t plan on any great revelation about art, creativity or the world at large.  Just ride a swing for an hour.

It’s odd having giant swings in a coliseum-like building that are connected to a large opaque curtain and other swings across the way.  I suppose the “event of a thread” is intended to remind us of the connections between us regardless of whether we’re near or far.  I’m sure there’s a deeper meaning here.  After all, the exhibit also includes homing pigeons caged and ready to fly about, dozens of radios in paper bags scattered around, two readers of poems at either end of the room and an operatic singer who comes out onto a balcony every hour to sing something incomprehensible.

Who knows what it all means?  The artist, probably, artsy types, perhaps.  But it doesn’t really matter.  The scene in the middle of the city is surreal and riding a swing is as freeing as being out on a sailboat or skiing down a mountain.  The objective as kids was always to swing as high as possible or get a friend to push you higher and while making that you’re goal, you tune out all the stress of the day, all the unimportant emails, tweets, blog posts and phone calls and just focus on getting that swing to go higher and higher.

Some people stand on the sides seeming to wonder if they should drop all pretense and try the swings.  Others sit tentatively, moving slowly at first before gaining the courage or losing their self-awareness to move their swing faster.  It’s a great way to observe human behavior when presented with something unexpected.  And then there are those of us who jump right on and want to get themselves airborne.  That’s me, and it was great to feel free as a bird, however, short it lasted.

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The rise and fall of leaders

Posted on October 20, 2010 by Leave a comment

It hasn’t been a week yet since the dramatic rescue of the Chilean miners riveted millions around the world to their TV sets.  We were awestruck by the scene of miners emerging one by one from their entrapment.  For two days, praise was heaped upon Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera, Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne and the international cooperation that brought technology together for a successful result.

It was inspirational and caused even the most cynical pundits to stop in admiration and hope the rescue would encourage us all to rise above the petty things we so often focus on and work together to solve the real problems at hand.  Problems such as the state of our economy, high unemployment, continuing wars abroad, environmental degradation and more, all demand the attention of leaders.  In Chile, we saw leaders come together for a common cause, drop the distractions and create a plan to achieve a positive outcome.  That’s what leaders are supposed to do.  Newspapers and TV stations across the U.S. covered the story and praised the international response.

So what’s happened in the week since the rescue?

Some recent headlines in New York tell us:

  • New York Post, October 15:  Son’s Fatal Rage
  • New York Post, October 17:  Dead Wives Club
  • New York Post, October 19:  Tiger Sex Fake
  • New York Daily News:  Every front-page headline since the rescue has covered sports

As always, The New York Times has covered a number of substantive issues but in the country’s largest city, it has the smallest circulation of the three largest daily papers.  The rest of the national print and broadcast media has dropped any mention of the rescue’s impact to the back pages, if it’s mentioned at all.  Other issues being hotly discussed include:  gays in the military, Congressional candidates as witches, whores, bigots, thieves, liars, religious zealots, girly men and manly women.  There has been little discussion of the big issues and problems that we deal with.

The mine rescue, of course, has stimulated some related discussion.  One blog tells how the drill, drill bits, drilling chief, emergency cameras, rescue pod and diet recommendations all came from the US…to cheers I suppose of USA! USA!  Others have noted that the 33 miners and 33 days to dig the shaft both coincide with Christ’s age at death, so surely this was not a victory for leadership, international cooperation and technology but for religious miracles.

It’s all quite frustrating, particularly when most of us from the most conservative to liberal know that we are faced with some of the most challenging problems in our nation’s history.  It’s probably expecting too much of an event such as took place in Chile to get us to pull our heads out of the sand.  In fact, it’s likely that the daunting problems we face are what scare us into looking elsewhere for salvation, to deny that we face a monumental economic challenge that will take more years to recover from than it took to get into and to shove looming problems such as global warming aside.  The U.S. as a nation has become like the person who notices a lump but does nothing for fear that it’s cancer only to learn that survival might have come if the lump had been addressed when discovered.  In truth, most of the problems we face are larger than 33 miners trapped beneath the earth.  Every aspect of that challenge could be dissected and planned with good organizational skills, but it stands as a symbol that should inspire us to demand better.  We don’t need anybody to shout, “the sky is falling.”  There are pieces of it lying all around us.

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