This clever comic is making the rounds about how privilege and inequality affect us in a myriad of hidden ways:
Over at the Guardian, Alex Andreou discusses the rise of city architecture designed to thwart homeless people from sleeping in certain areas:
We see these measures all the time within our urban environments, whether in London or Tokyo, but we fail to process their true intent. I hardly noticed them before I became homeless in 2009. An economic crisis, a death in the family, a sudden breakup and an even more sudden breakdown were all it took to go from a six-figure income to sleeping rough in the space of a year. It was only then that I started scanning my surroundings with the distinct purpose of finding shelter and the city’s barbed cruelty became clear...
We curse the destitute for urinating in public spaces with no thought about how far the nearest free public toilet might be. We blame them for their poor hygiene without questioning the lack of public facilities for washing. It costs £5 to take a shower at King’s Cross station. Willful misconceptions about homelessness abound. For instance, that shelters are plentiful and sleeping rough is a lifestyle choice. Free shelters, unless one belongs to a particularly vulnerable group, are actually extremely rare. Getting a bed often depends on a referral from a local agency, which, in turn, depends on being able to prove a local connection. For the majority of homeless people, who have usually graduated from a life as itinerant sofa-surfers, it is impossible to prove.
At Rawstory, Greta Christina discusses why fiscal conservatives who say they are socially liberal are missing the point on issues like poverty:
You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives...
And in case you hadn’t noticed, poverty — including the cycle of poverty and the effect of poverty on children — disproportionately affects African Americans, Hispanics, other people of color, women, trans people, disabled people, and other marginalized groups.
So what does this have to do with fiscal policy? Well, duh. Poverty is perpetuated or alleviated, worsened or improved, by fiscal policy. That’s not the only thing affecting poverty, but it’s one of the biggest things. To list just a few of the most obvious examples of very direct influence: Tax policy. Minimum wage. Funding of public schools and universities. Unionization rights. Banking and lending laws. Labor laws. Funding of public transportation. Public health care. Unemployment benefits. Disability benefits. Welfare policy. Public assistance that doesn’t penalize people for having savings. Child care. Having a functioning infrastructure, having economic policies that support labor, having a tax system that doesn’t steal from the poor to give to the rich, having a social safety net — a real safety net, not one that just barely keeps people from starving to death but one that actually lets people get on their feet and function — makes a difference.
Jared Bernstein is back in the Washington Post, this time to explain why presidential hopefuls' flat tax proposals are regressive:
[A]ny real-world incarnation would be a lot worse than the current code on at least two key dimensions: fairness and fiscal. It’s a highly regressive tax that would mean the loss of gobs of revenue.
Moreover, its simplicity is a ruse. The thing that complicates the tax code is not the number of rates. It’s the myriad ways in which we define different types of income. It’s all the preferences, deductions and credits...
Now, you might argue that a flat tax will get rid of those, but all that tells me is that a) you don’t know the tax lobby, and b) you’re one of the few people who’s not running for president. I deduce “b” from the fact that I find it extremely hard to envision a viable candidate who tells people that she’s going to get rid of the mortgage interest deduction. Or, if she’s a Republican (or a Wall Street-oriented Democrat), that she’s going to get rid of tax preferences for capital gains, dividends, and the interest-based financing that’s the mother’s milk of private equity investors.
George Mason University's Ilya Somin argues abuse of eminent domain harms the poor. And in other stupid news, Think Progress' Bryce Covert discusses all the new rules added on the welfare recipients' that erode time, money and probably sanity:
At the beginning of July, a new restriction will go into effect for recipients of welfare in Kansas that will only allow them to withdraw $25 in benefits a day. As Max Ehrenfreund pointed out, given that ATM withdrawals come with a fee and are usually limited to multiples of 20, families will end up losing much of the money they normally receive to paying those charges — money that will go to financial institutions instead...
But it’s not the only state that has been looking for ways to make life harder on the poorest. Others have imposed drug tests and harsh limits without evidence that the policy changes would do much good.
Your editor loves role-playing games and thus was interested when this story popped up about a game called World Factory, in which you are on the board of a company operating in China. In the Guardian, Paul Mason explains how even young hipsters easily strayed into bad business behavior:
The classic problem presented by the game is one all managers face: short-term issues, usually involving cashflow, versus the long-term challenge of nurturing your workforce and your client base. Despite the fact that a public-address system was blaring out, in English and Chinese, that “your workforce is your vital asset” our assembled young professionals repeatedly had to be cajoled not to treat them like dirt.
And because the theatre captures data on every choice by every team, for every performance, I know we were not alone. The aggregated flowchart reveals that every audience, on every night, veers towards money and away from ethics.
Svendsen says: “Most people who were given the choice to raise wages – having cut them – did not. There is a route in the decision-tree that will only get played if people pursue a particularly ethical response, but very few people end up there. What we’ve realised is that it is not just the profit motive but also prudence, the need to survive at all costs, that pushes people in the game to go down more capitalist routes.”
Advocates of the guaranteed basic income are in this piece from David Wheeler in the Atlantic:
Many experts believe that, unlike in the 20th century, people in this century will not be able to stay one step ahead of automation through education and the occasional skills upgrade. A recent study from Oxford University warns that 47 percent of all existing jobs are susceptible to automation within the next two decades. Worries about robots replacing human labor are showing up more frequently in the mainstream media, including the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Recent books, such as The Second Machine Age and Who Owns the Future, predict that when it comes to robots and labor, this time is different.
People in other countries, especially in safety-net-friendly Europe, seem more open to the idea of a basic income than people in the U.S. The Swiss are considering a basic income proposal. Most of the candidates in Finland’s upcoming parliamentary elections support the idea. But in the U.S., the issue is still a political non-starter for mainstream politicians, due to lingering suspicions about the fairness and practicality of a basic income, as well as a rejection of the premise that automation is actually erasing white-collar jobs. Hence Santens’ do-it-yourself approach.
In Vox, Joseph Stromberg looks at why so many poor people now live so far from where they work, thanks to "job sprawl":
Starting in the 1950s, extensive highway systems were built through almost every major US city, linking them with budding suburbs. Along with other factors, this led many wealthy, white residents to flee cities, initially commuting in for work on the highways.
Employers eventually followed them, bringing workplaces to the suburbs and leaving fewer jobs in the cities. Since at least the 1990s, the majority of suburbanites commute to the suburbs for work. "The dominant pattern today," says Alan Pisarski, a commuting researcher, "is suburb to suburb."
...This is an especially big problem because so many cities have poor public transportation systems, especially once you go beyond the city center. For the urban poor, this leaves two bad options for getting to work in the suburbs. "It means trying to come up with money for a car that's difficult to afford, or finding a way to take overworked, underfunded bus systems out to these locations," says Norton.
Conscious Venture Lab's Jeff Cherry argues ride-share company Uber's challenges are not just about regulation and competition but also about a lack of "organizational ethics", such as not using surge pricing in Australia during a terrorist attack:
They fail to grasp what seems to be an emerging truth, that purpose and social capital will be the true value drivers in the future.
The backlash against Uber is real, and the company isn’t handling it well because it doesn’t seem to understand this idea. So far, its response to the issues mentioned above has been ham- handed. It is as if the company believes the innovation itself should suffice. As societal forces continue to influence how we decide what companies to work for, buy from, partner with, invest in, and allow into our communities, innovation itself simply isn’t going to be enough to create great and enduring companies.
Truly successful companies are great because they’ve found a better way to create value for everyone and a better way to treat all of their stakeholders.
Impact Assets' Fran Seegull says impact investing is here to stay and retail investors have a chance to join the fun:
Impact investing - investing for financial returns as well as social and environmental impact - is on the rise. More than $6.5 trillion is now invested with impact in the US. That is a 76 percent increase from 2012 and includes investments in the public capital markets and in private impact ventures. This trend is likely to continue for a number of reasons. First, more than $40 trillion of wealth is predicted to be transferred in the next 30 to 40 years from Baby Boomers to women and Millennials - two groups that are disproportionately interested in making investment decisions that are consistent with their social and environmental values. Second, there are a growing number of intractable challenges that both require impact solutions and create an opportunity for financial returns. These problems are social (e.g., population growth, poverty, food security, and public health) and environmental (e.g., climate change, drought, sanitation, and other infrastructure issues) in nature. There is also a growing disenchantment with Wall Street and what many regard as its slavish focus on short-term value creation. These factors are creating a surging interest in and allocation of funds to impact investing.
Meanwhile, the California Community Foundation's Jack Shakely looks at the debate over donor advised funds and comes down on the side that they are good for philanthropy:
[I]f we really want to move beyond fearing this creature, we need to start by understanding how it became so large. How, after languishing in the back corners of the community foundation world for decades, did the donor-advised fund became the hottest thing in philanthropy?...
People at community foundations also have learned that by using donor-advised funds to build relationships, they can attract broad-based funding for the arts, education, health care, and the like. Sometimes, in fact, they can even attract the elusive unrestricted dollar. Many years ago, during my time at the California Community Foundation, a wealthy woman set up a small donor-advised fund under our "roof." Then she started attending our quarterly donor luncheons. Apparently, she liked what she heard and saw at those luncheons — because, some time later, she decided to leave the foundation a $260 million unrestricted gift upon her death.
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