March/April 2021 Issue

March/April 2021 issue cover

Our March/April 2021 issue has gone out to e-subscribers and will be mailed soon to print subscribers.  (Not a subscriber? Subscribe online here!)

Here’s the p. 2 editors’ note:

In the News

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been in the news lately, as it has come to light that he withheld data about nursing home deaths from the New York State legislature last year, according to the New York Times and other outlets. The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District and the F.B.I. are reportedly investigating Cuomo for his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. It’s about time. While mainstream outlets seemed to have nothing but praise for Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic, left media outlets like The Intercept and The Daily Poster had reported on Cuomo’s executive order shielding health care industry officials, including nursing home operators, from Covid-19-related lawsuits. The state’s industry association for for-profit nursing homes, the Greater New York Hospital Association, had drafted the provision, parts of which Republicans in the U.S. Senate have copied word for word in their bid to take corporate immunity nationwide.

This issue’s cover story, by economist Bill Barclay, gets at key factors in the nursing home industry that help account for the fact that nursing home residents, who are about 0.5% of the U.S. population, account for some 40% of U.S. Covid-19 deaths. A key culprit: the takeover of the industry by private equity firms, whose business model is the extraction of profit.

Several other articles in this issue address topics that have been in the news lately.

On January 31, one of the only people to be convicted in the Libor-rigging scandal that emerged in 2012, former Citigroup and UBS trader Tom Hayes, was released from prison after serving half his 11-year sentence. With Libor, a key interest-rate benchmark, set to be retired by the end of this year, we might think the scandal has been put to rest. But in his feature article, economist John Summa lays out the evidence that there was a dimension of the Libor scandal that was missed. His analysis strongly suggests that bankers manipulated the benchmark to gain at least $1 billion a year in extra interest.

Another feature in this issue, by historian Christy Pottroff, takes a look at the role that the U.S. Postal Service played in prior pandemics. The postal service is ideally suited to play a key role in public health crises. Yet during the Covid-19 pandemic, the postal service, overburdened and underfunded for years by austerity and sabotage, has been hampered from fulfilling the role it could. Former President Donald Trump’s appointee to head the USPS, Louis DeJoy, carries on in that role under the Biden administration—for now—even as news reports in mid-February tell of how his plans will slow first-class mail and increase rates.

Arthur MacEwan’s “Ask Dr. Dollar” column answers a reader’s question about why there has been a big push to cancel at least some student loan debt. Although President Joe Biden paid lip service to debt forgiveness during his campaign, he recently seemed to balk at the idea, claiming that he doesn’t have the authority to forgive debt up to $50,000 per borrower (although experts have claimed he does), and that it would be unfair to forgive the debt rather than spending that money on early childhood education (but why not do both?).

February is Black History Month, and this issue’s final feature is an interview with economist Ellora Derenoncourt on her research on an important period of Black history in the United States—the Great Migration, when millions of African Americans from the U.S. South relocated to cities in the North, Midwest, and West. Derenoncourt’s “headline” finding is that, while Black migrants sought and found better economic opportunities in the cities they migrated to, their children and grandchildren suffered worse outcomes due to white backlash in those cities.

When northern cities are listed in order by how dramatically their demographics were altered by the Great Migration, Pittsburgh is in the middle of the list, which makes it an important comparison case. So we were thrilled to get permission from the Carnegie Museum of Art to use some of the gorgeous photographs from its Charles “Teenie” Harris Archives to accompany the interview. Harris was a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American weekly newspaper whose publication years, 1910 to 1966, coincided almost exactly with the years of the Great Migration. His photos chronicled all aspects of Pittsburgh’s Black community in the mid-20th century; we have selected three photos that show gatherings of multiple generations of Black Pittsburgh residents, whose lives would have been shaped profoundly by the Great Migration. Tens of thousands of photos from the collection can be viewed at the museum’s website (cmoa.org/art/teenie-harris-archive).

New Issue Drops!

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Our September/October issue is at the printers and has been sent to digital subscribers!  Here’s the p. 2 editors’ note:

Cliffs, Seesaws, and Leaps

The numbers are certainly scary. Key economic indicators in the current crisis—a second-quarter GDP decline at an annual rate of 30%, a drop in employee compensation at an annual rate of 20%, and a contraction in real personal consumption of nearly one quarter—are on the scale of the Great Depression. But as Alejandro Reuss shows in this issue’s cover story, even decreases on this scale could be managed without widespread hardship, if it weren’t for the staggering inequality in U.S. society and the refusal of ruling elites to take measures to help people who are struggling. As Reuss puts it: “Some people live, in effect, far away from the cliff’s edge, and can bear a decline in their incomes without too much difficulty. But many live dangerously close to the precipice—not just during crises but under the ‘normal’ conditions of U.S. capitalism.” There has been a massive government response, including spending in the trillions of dollars, but much of it has gone to bail out companies, and the stimulus payments and expansions of unemployment insurance—what’s kept the economy going—won’t likely continue, because employers don’t want them to. In this issue’s cover illustration, the U.S. working class teeters at—or over—the edge of the cliff, but the ruling class controls the seesaw.

This issue’s two other features delve into the precariousness of U.S. workers in more detail. Journalist Julian Jacobs looks at the huge overhang of private debt that is likely to make the economic crisis worse, especially for low-income workers who are more likely to have high levels of household debt. And economist David McClough’s examination of “hero pay”—the way private employers are supposedly rewarding essential workers in the pandemic—shows how those wage increases, which are as temporary as the public pandemic aid, have to be understood in the context of employers’ power over workers. As long as workers’ income is linked to employment, and employers are able to keep government from providing alternatives, workers will remain on the edge.

Reuss proposes solutions to workers’ economic subordination, as a way of de-linking income from employment, de-linking access to basic goods from income, and de-linking employment and wages from capitalist profits. The workers’ movement should demand job security guarantees, a guaranteed annual wage, direct government benefits (instead of routing them through employers), direct employment (e.g., through a federal job guarantee), and workers’ control of production (via worker-owned and -managed co-ops). All these demands have historical precedent, and many of them have been on the political agenda recently (and in the pages of Dollars & Sense).
Such demands are anathema to capitalists and their politician and media allies, which is as it should be, since they threaten their power. The organizing and actions that would make it possible to achieve these demands are the subject of a future installment of Reuss’s ongoing series, “Coronavirus, Capitalism, and the Workers’ Movement.”

But in this issue’s Active Culture, journalist Abdul Malik shows what it might take, in his account of the recent brief wildcat strike by NBA players and its spread to several other North American professional sports leagues. The strike was in direct response to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., but it’s important to appreciate that this strike was not just symbolic: it built on years of organizing, from Colin Kaepernick to Black Lives Matter, and the spread of the strike to other leagues, including Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and the Women’s NBA, shows that this was about workers’ power. As Malik puts it: “… the fundamentals of what led to this moment—a problem, management’s inability to address this problem, difficult conversations on the shop floor, and a flashpoint that led to a total work stoppage—are repeatable in every workplace and in every sector.”

This is the kind of organizing and action that could allow U.S. workers to leap from the edge of the cliff, and safely arrive on the other side of the chasm, where we can enjoy an economy that is beyond inequality and economic subordination.

Also in this issue: John Miller on Joe Biden’s version of the Green New Deal, Steve Pressman’s review of Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman’s latest book, and more!