Global Inequality, Corporate Toxicity, and Rewriting the Rules with Worker Power

January 26, 2017

The Roosevelt Rundown is an email series featuring the Roosevelt Institute’s top 5 stories of the week.

1. Economic Inequality is Global

As the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, began on Monday, Oxfam International released its annual inequality report. The findings in “Reward Work, Not Wealth” are—simply put—staggering. As CNNMoney’s Ivana Kottasová reportsthe world’s richest 1 percent captured 82 percent of all wealth created in 2017, confirming that “the global economy is skewed in favor of the rich.” In a biting tweet, Roosevelt Fellow Michael Linden rebuked the fundamental flaw of Trump’s tax law. “Perfect moment for a huge tax cut aimed at millionaires, billionaires, and giant corporations,” he said.

2. Corporations Can Do Better

Recently, Walmart announced that it will raise the starting wages for all of its workers to $11 an hour—a move that the mega-corporation has tried to package as a windfall from the GOP’s gratuitous corporate tax cuts. In an op-ed for The Hill, Roosevelt Senior Economist and Policy Counsel Lenore Palladino explains why Walmart can afford to do more for its employees. “While it’s worth celebrating millions of Walmart workers getting a raise, it’d be far more worth celebrating wages that would actually get Walmart workers over the poverty line,” she says. Palladino’s back-of-the-envelope calculation finds that the salary increases will cost Walmart $300 million. Considering the company spent $8.3 billion on share repurchases last year, there’s a lot more Walmart could be doing to provide long-term prosperity for its workers.

3. High Concentration in the Heartland

Roosevelt Research Director and Fellow Marshall Steinbaum was in The New York Times on Thursday, underscoring how corporate consolidation holds workers—and their wages—back. Outlining the findings from a recent NBER working paper he co-authored, Steinbaum explains how as fewer and fewer employers control more and more job opportunities, wages fall. This phenomenon—what we call labor market monopsony—is more prevalent in rural America. “There is definitely a strong rural urban pattern that I can see,” Steinbaum said. To revive workers’ wages across the nation, it’s crucial that we combat anti-competitive behavior, especially that of employers.

4. Corporate Short-Termism is Toxic

As a way to fight global warming, college and university students across the country are urging their schools to divest from fossil fuel companies. In a new blog post, Roosevelt Fellow Susan R. Holmberg explains how a similar approach could be used to combat toxic corporate behavior. “The latest pressure on university endowments presents an opportunity to harness recent criticism directed at shareholder capitalism and its role in driving economic inequality,” she writes. In the same way students are pushing back against pollution, they can also reject a key driving force behind our broken economy.

5. A 21st Century Bill of Rights

“During periods of crisis, the Constitution can provide a backstop, spelling out foundational rules and rights that offer a bulwark against the vicissitudes of politics,” says Roosevelt Fellow K. Sabeel Rahman. But, as Rahman outlines in his review of Gerard N. Magliocca’s The Heart of the Constitution, we often limit our view of the Bill of Rights based on changing political winds while also forgetting to elevate the amendments that go beyond it. “Now, as we face a new set of crises, from war to inequality to structural exclusion, a more dynamic debate over a 21st-century bill of rights might offer some avenues forward,” explains Rahman. “Magliocca’s book can help us start that debate.”

What We’re Reading

Our economy isn’t the only system that’s rigged. In Rolling Stone, political writer Ari Berman outlines how Republicans have tipped elections in their favor. From voter suppression to extreme gerrymandering, a fair and equitable political system has become increasingly out of reach. “We could end up with a system where a well-financed minority that has views inconsistent with the vast majority of the American people runs this country,” former attorney general Eric Holder told Berman.

What We’re Watching

At the World Economic Forum, Mary Kay Henry—International President for Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—was a panelist for the “Left Behind in the United States” plenary. Discussing how Americans feel like the economy is not working for them, Henry offered her take on the importance of worker power. By coming together, working people can “join with government and with business leaders to rewrite the rules in a way that will allow us all to do better,” she said.