mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Paralysis Isn’t Inevitable”: Income Inequality And N.R.A. Dominance May Not Last Forever

One of the hardest things for us to do is to envision a future that is different from the present. For instance, we live in an age of paralyzed politics, so it is hard, in the here and now, to imagine what could change that. A second example: It is difficult to think of a scenario where federal gun legislation could be passed over the objections of the National Rifle Association. And a third: Income inequality has been the trend for some three decades; doesn’t it look as if it will always be that way?

What prompts these thoughts are two papers that landed on my desk recently. Although they tackle very different issues, they have one thing in common: They imagine a future that breaks from the present path.

The first is a draft of a speech given earlier this month at TEDMED by Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. (TEDMED is associated with TED Talks.) The second is an article in the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review by Roger Martin, the former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Webster’s speech lays out an agenda that he predicts will reduce the murder rate by 30 to 50 percent within 20 years. “I don’t think that our current level of gun violence is here to stay,” he declares in the draft of the speech. Martin’s article is about how the rise of the “talent economy,” as he calls it, has helped further income inequality. But he doesn’t believe a high level of income inequality is an inevitable part of our future.

Let’s tackle Webster first. Politically, he told me, “It’s a loser to call for a gun ban.” Instead, his reforms would make it more difficult for criminals to get their hands on guns. Using background checks, he would keep guns away from people who have a history of violence. He would raise the age of gun ownership to 21. (Webster notes that homicides peak between the ages of 18 and 20.) He would pass laws that make gun dealers more accountable, including “requiring business practices that prevent guns being diverted to criminals.” And he would mandate something called microstamping, “which would make it possible to trace a gun used in a crime to its first purchaser.”

When I asked him why he thought these changes would eventually take place, given the inability of the Senate to pass a background check bill after Newtown, he pointed to polls that show the vast majority of gun owners favor such changes.

“The N.R.A. has been very successful in controlling the conversation and making it about a cultural war,” he told me. “But I believe that narrative won’t persist.” The key, he says, is to change the conversation so that it is about pro- and anti-crime instead of pro- and anti-gun. Once that happens, “gun owners will start to demand changes.” He added, “I think that ultimately that idea will prevail, and it will be a pretty mainstream idea.”

Now to Roger Martin. His essay traces the way “talent” came to replace labor and capital as the most important factor in the economy, so much so that those who were part of the talent economy could become billionaires even as the median income stalled and then slipped back. Chief executives, who have gorged on stock options, are part of the talent economy, and so are hedge fund managers, who charge the infamous “2 and 20” (meaning a 2 percent management fee and 20 percent of the profits), which ensures their wealth no matter how poorly their investors do. The interests of such talent, in his view, simply don’t align with the interests of the rest of us.

Like Webster, Martin also proposed a series of changes to “correct the imbalance,” as he puts it. He suggests that pension funds should see that they are best served when they do not hand capital to hedge funds, for instance. And he wants talent to show “self-restraint.”

When I told him that seemed unlikely, he told me he thought we were approaching a moment like 1935, when, after years of letting labor fend for itself, the government passed laws that protected labor and helped bring about the rise of the labor movement.

If talent doesn’t start taking the rest of the country into account, he said, he feared that the government would once again take significant action to level the playing field.

Given the current political paralysis, I asked, what might bring that about? “Another boom and crash,” he said.

Martin clearly sees his article as a warning to corporate executives and others who are part of the 1 percent. And maybe, just maybe, it will take hold. After all, not long after his article was published, Calpers, the huge California pension fund, announced that it was going to eliminate hedge funds from its portfolio. There’s hope yet.

 

By: Joe Nocera, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 26, 2014

September 28, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Gun Deaths, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sorry Gov Walker, Wisconsin Pension System Is Nation’s Most Solvent

Wisconsin’s budget may be in a hole, but the state’s pension system is among the healthiest in the nation.

In fact, the Badger State was one of just two states to fully fund its public employee pension in 2009, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States. New York was the other.

Although nationally there was at least a $1.26 trillion gap in 2009 between what states have promised in public employee retirement benefits and what they have set aside, Wisconsin stands out as a leader in managing its liabilities for both pension and health benefits over the long term, the Pew report concluded. The shortfall is 26 percent greater than it was in 2008.

Pew researchers attribute the gap to unwise decisions by retirement benefits fund officials and the Great Recession that whacked pension fund investments. In all, 31 states were below the recommended 80 percent funding level for their pension plans in 2009, compared with 22 states that fell short of that threshold the previous year.

“Over the last decade, it was all too common for state leaders to skip or shortchange their annual retirement contributions and increase retiree benefits without checking the price tag or figuring out how to pay the larger, long-term bill,” said Susan Urahn, managing director for the Pew Center on the States. “Now, policymakers in many states are taking a long overdue look at how they have managed, or failed to manage, the considerable costs for public employees’ retirement benefits. Even in states like New York and Wisconsin, where pension systems are well-funded, governors have sought policy changes aimed at reducing their pension liabilities.”

The report was released at a time when Wisconsin sits at the epicenter of state budget battles across the country as governors are focusing on public employee benefits to cut costs and balance budgets. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ignited a firestorm with his “budget repair” proposal that strips public employees of many of their collective bargaining rights and requires them to contribute more of their income toward their retirement benefits. Several states followed with similar proposals, fueling a debate over the role of pension systems in the financial crisis in the states.

At a Capitol Hill forum Tuesday sponsored by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, the consensus among panelists was pensions are not to blame for states’ fiscal woes. One panelist, Eli Lehrer, vice president of the Heartland Institute, said given the health of Wisconsin’s pension fund, Walker would be wise to focus his budget balancing effort elsewhere.

“The pension system in Wisconsin is fully funded,” Lehrer said. “As a budget focus, I think he’s better off expending his political capital somewhere else.”

Andrew Biggs, a pension expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said just because Wisconsin’s pension fund is solvent doesn’t mean it should be off-limits.

“It could be well-funded and still be a drain on the budget,” Biggs said.

Pew researcher Stephen Fehr said retirement benefit costs for all states continue to rise, and while states like New York and Wisconsin should be commended for maintaining their funding obligations amid hard times, they face financial strains.

“They don’t have a pension crisis, but on the other hand they do have some pressures as all states do when it comes to figuring out how do we pay our bills,” Fehr said.

New York and Wisconsin have fulfilled their pension fund obligations regardless of the economic times, Fehr said.

By: Larry Bivins, Greenbaypressgazette.com, April 27, 2011

April 28, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Politics, Public Employees, States, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: