Monthly Archives: November 2012

the best of the internets

Obama broadly follows Ronald Reagan’s (second-term) security policy, George H.W. Bush’s spending policy, Bill Clinton’s tax policy, the bipartisan Squam Lake Group’s financial-regulatory policy, Perry’s immigration policy, John McCain’s climate-change policy, and Mitt Romney’s health-care policy (at least when Romney was governor of Massachusetts). And yet he has gotten next to no Republicans to support their own policies.

Indeed, like Clinton before him, Obama has been unable to get Republican senators like Susan Collins to vote for her own campaign-finance policies, McCain to vote for his own climate-change policy, and – most laughably – Romney to support his own health-care plan. Likewise, he has been unable to get Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan to endorse his own Medicare cost-control proposals.

There are obvious reasons for this. A large chunk of the Republican base, including many of the party’s largest donors, believes that any Democratic president is an illegitimate enemy of…

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Ezra Klein on “Entitlements” and Life Expectancy

Why rich guys want to raise the retirement age

Posted by Ezra Klein

Lloyd Blankfein

If you’re the CEO of Goldman Sachs – if you have a job that you love, a job that makes you so much money you can literally build a Scrooge McDuck room where you can swim through a pile of gold coins wearing only a topcoat – then you should perhaps think twice before saying this:

You can look at the history of these things, and Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. … So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed. Maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.

That’s Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, talking to CBS. And he’s not saying anything that people, particularly wealthier people with desk jobs, don’t say all the time in Washington and New York. So I don’t want to just pick on him. But the cavalier endorsement of raising the retirement age by people who really love their jobs, who make so much money they barely pay Social Security taxes, and who are, actuarially speaking, are ensured a long and healthy life, drives me nuts.

If you want talk about cutting Social Security, talk about cutting it. It’s a reasonable point of view. You’re allowed to hold it.

But “cutting” Social Security is unpopular and people don’t like to talk about it. So folks who want to cut the program have instead settled on an elliptical argument about life expectancy. Social Security, they say, was designed at a time when Americans didn’t live quite so long. And so raising the retirement age isn’t a “cut.” It’s a restoration of the program’s original purpose. It doesn’t hurt anything or anyone.

The first point worth making here is that the country’s economy has grown 15-fold since Social Security was passed into law. One of the things the richest society the world has ever known can buy is a decent retirement for people who don’t have jobs they love and who don’t want to work forever.

The second point worth making is that Social Security was overhauled in the ’80s. So the promises the program is carrying out today were made then. And, since the ’80s, the idea that we’ve all gained so many years of life simply isn’t true.

Some of us have gained in life expectancy, of course. As you can see on this graph, since 1977, the life expectancy of male workers retiring at age 65 has risen six years in the top half of the income distribution. But if you’re in the bottom half of the income distribution? Then you’ve only gained 1.3 years.

expectancy-at-65

Graph: The Incidental Economist

If you’re wealthy, you do have many more years to enjoy Social Security. But if you’re not, you don’t. And so making it so people who aren’t wealthy have to wait longer to use Social Security is a particularly cruel and regressive way to cut the program.

It’s also a cut that’s particularly tough on people who spend their lives in jobs they don’t enjoy.

You know what age most people actually begin taking Social Security? Sixty-five is what most people think. That’s the law’s standard retirement age. But that’s wrong. Most people begin taking Social Security benefits at 62, which is as early as the law allows you to take them.

When they do that, it means they get smaller benefits over their lifetime. We penalize for taking it early. But they do it anyway. They do it because they don’t want to spend their whole lives at that job. Unlike many folks in finance or in the U.S. Senate or writing for the nation’s op-ed pages, they don’t want to work till they drop.

As Peter Diamond, the Nobel laureate economist and Social Security expert, told Dylan Matthews:

What do we know about the people who retire at 62? On average, shorter life expectancy and lower earnings than people retiring at later ages. If anyone stood up and said, “Instead of doing uniform across the board cuts, let’s make them a little worse for people who have shorter life expectancies and lower earnings,” they’d be laughed at. Anything that reduces benefits is going to hurt everybody. It’s going to hit people with short life expectancies, it’s going to hit people with high life expectancies. But we should not make it worse for those retiring earliest.

That’s what’s galling about this easy argument. The people who make it, the pundits and the senators and the CEOs, they’ll never feel it. They don’t want to retire at age 65, and they don’t have short life expectancies, and they’re not mainly relying on Social Security for their retirement income. They’re bravely advocating a cut they’ll never feel.

But you know what they would feel? Social Security taxes don’t apply to income over $110,000. In 2011, Lloyd Blankfein’s total compensation was $16.1 million. That means he paid Social Security taxes on less than 1 percent of his compensation.

If we lifted that cap, if we made all income subject to payroll taxes, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would do three times as much to solve Social Security’s shortfall as raising the retirement age to 70. In fact, it would, in one fell swoop, close Social Security’s solvency gap for the next 75 years. That may or may not be the right way to close Social Security’s shortfall, but somehow, it rarely gets mentioned by the folks who think they’re being courageous when they talk about raising a retirement age they’ll never notice.

Again, I don’t mean to pick on Blankfein here. He’s not saying anything unusual, and he’s one of the CEOs who’s pretty straightforward about the fact that his taxes are going to need to go up. But he and all these folks who like to talk about raising the Social Security retirement age as if it’s a no-brainer need to think harder about why they’ve settled on the cut to Social Security that will concentrate its pain on people who haven’t fully shared in the remarkable increase in life expectancy, who don’t make much money and who don’t love going to their jobs every day.

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Mario Piperni on Jon Huntsman

Secretary of State Jon Huntsman?

November 29, 2012 By

Just finished reading a HuffPo piece on Jon Huntsman and his thoughts on the Republican primary and his party’s shortcomings. I’ve always viewed Huntsman as far and away the most rational of the Republican nominees. Unfortunately, he was much too rational for a political party where right-wing fanaticism ruled and science had become little more than a four letter word. Any chance Huntsman had of winning the Republican nomination ended the day he tweeted the following:

How warped was Republican’s thinking during the primary? Well, one can say with a fair amount of certainty that had the primary come down to a choice between Jon Huntsman and the amazingly ignorant Herman Cain, pizza man would have taken it. Here’s how Huntsman now views those heady days of lunacy.

Some do it professionally. Some were entertainers. I looked down the debate stage, and half of them were probably on Fox contracts at one point in their career. You do that. You write some books. You go out and you sell some more. You get a radio gig or a TV gig out of it or something. And it’s like, you say to yourself, the barriers of entry to this game are pretty damn low.

With Bachmann, Cain, Santorum and Gingrich in the running, “pretty damn low” is an understatement.

Some are now floating the idea that President Obama should choose Huntsman to replace Hillary as Secretary of State. It’s an idea definitely worth considering.

Huntsman on foreign policy:

We used to be the party that put out wars: Eisenhower, Korea; Nixon, Vietnam; Reagan, the Cold War. And here we talk about starting wars. That’s all Republicans on the defense side seem to want to talk about — not negotiating a way forward diplomatically, as we had under earlier Republican administrations, but always falling back on the war option as if we haven’t had enough over the past 12 years.

As much as I’d love to see Susan Rice get the nomination because: a) she’s as qualified as any to fill the post, and b) just to stick it to John McCain who has solidified his bitter old man persona with his ridiculous Benghazi stance, a Jon Huntsman pick would work on many levels.

  • he has the respect of most Democrats so confirming him as  Secretary of State would not pose much of a problem
  • his position on foreign policy matches the President’s and Huntsman’s years as Obama’s ambassador to China shows that the two can work together
  • bipartisanship would get a major boost

As much as the GOP deserves every bit of scorn and criticism that’s been thrown their way by the left, they still are the choice of half the nation. President Obama’s bipartisanship efforts over the last four years have not gained him any favor with wingnuts but now that he’s been given a second mandate, a willingness to bridge the great divide between left and right is well worth the effort.

As for people like the conservative who wrote the following in a HuffPo comment, let them rant on in their shrinking world. Responsible decisions should never be governed by what the crazies perceive as truth.

There was only one issue in 2012 – would America’s leeching Takers continue to be allowed to rent seek off of our Makers at the point of a government gun.

After three quarters of a century of the advance of socialism under the guise of our growing social democratic state, the Takers finally won the political war – with Huntsman the RINO advocate for appeasement.

From here on, the war must move to non-violent, extra-democratic means to destroy the social democratic state and restore freedom to all Americans … and Huntsman, the accommodationist to socialist ambitions, has no place in this revolution.

He and America as we have known it are history.

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Naked Capitalism on How I Learned to Love the Cliff

Obama Calls on Citizens to Ask Congress to Slit Their Throats

If this weren’t so terrible, it would be funny.

The Administration is worried that there won’t be a fiscal cliff deal by year end. Per Bloomberg:

The co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s 2010 fiscal commission said it’s unlikely the president and Congress will reach a deal by the end of this year to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.

Erskine Bowles, also a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, estimated there is a one-third probability the sides will strike a deal by the end of this year. Speaking today at a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, he said there’s another one-third chance that all sides will reach a deal early in 2013.

“I’m really worried,” Bowles told reporters. “I believe the probability is we’re going over the cliff.”

Bowles isn’t involved in the budget negotiations, though he said he met with Obama yesterday.

Yves here. Given the Bowles visit with Obama, this means (as we’ve indicated from the get go) that Obama really has his ego invested in getting a deal done by year end.

In fact, NOT getting a deal done is far better for everyone except the uber rich. As Paul Krugman has stressed, going into 2013 with no deal in place is not a dramatic event, and would substantially weaken the Republican’s bargaining position as far as preserving tax breaks for the wealthy are concerned. And if the Administration wanted to preserve middle cut tax relief, like lower payroll taxes, it can make that retroactive to the start of 2013.

Letting the negotiations go into 2013 also increases the odds of preserving Social Security and Medicare in their current form, since they will not be affected at all by the automatic budget cuts that would kick in in the absence of a deal.

But Obama, through folks like Bowles who have media access, is putting out panic signals to pressure Congresscritters to get a deal, any deal, done by December 31. And he’s also trying to rally the middle class to petition Congress to implement austerity, when the experiments in Ireland, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, and Greece all have shown that it makes debt to GDP worse and increases unemployment while shredding social safety nets. In other words, as Lambert has put it, we are all supposed to demand Congress to have one kidney removed.

From the Financial Times:

Mr Obama sought to increase pressure on Republicans to give ground by launching a new social media campaign.

The move by Mr Obama heightened the political theatre surrounding the US budgetary stand-off, with little more than a month left before the American economy is hit by a mix of spending cuts and tax increases that could tip it back into recession.

“I’m asking Americans all across the country to make your voice heard,” Mr Obama said, suggesting emails, phone calls and the use of social media such as Facebook and a new Twitter hashtag called #My2k, a reference to the $2,000 tax increase per family that would occur if the US plunged over the fiscal cliff.

“I want to make sure everybody understands this debate is not just about numbers. It’s a set of major decisions that are going to affect millions of families all across this country in very significant ways,” Mr Obama said.

No kidding, except the options that Obama is allowing to be considered range from utterly dreadful to merely awful. And the part the officialdom is failing to acknowledge is that the immediate hazard of hitting the fiscal cliff tripwire is on the impact on confidence. Obama’s scaremongering to sell the deal is damaging confidence now, while telling the truth, that any impact of the fiscal cliff would be gradual and in any event could be reversed (for instance, via making tax changes retroactive to the beginning of 2013, or catch-up payments) would alleviate the increasing nervousness among businessmen (also flagged in the FT article cited above, based on the latest Fed beige book).

So I urge all NC readers to go mess with Obama’s messaging:

Use #My2k and Facebook to tell everyone that we need to run deficits when the economy is slack and unemployment is high, and the deficit hysteria is being promoted by Wall Street and big businesses to get their tax levels lowered at the expense of the middle class, particularly by cutting Medicare and Social Security

Call your senators and representative and give them a piece of your mind

Obama won’t change course, but Congrescritters are a different story. If the powers that be insist on engaging in economic malpractice, they need to be reminded that the public is overwhelmingly opposed to cutting Social Security and Medicare.

Global Warming Ignored?

Thinking the Unthinkable: What If America’s Leaders Actually Want Catastrophic Climate Change?

Dave Lindorff

What if the leaders of the United States — and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government — have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?

I’m not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but this horrifying thought came to me yesterday as I batted away yet another round of ignorant rants from people who insist against all logic that climate change is a gigantic fraud being perpetrated, variously, by a conspiracy of the oil companies (who allegedly want to benefit from carbon credit trading), the scientific community (which allegedly is collectively selling out and participating in some world-wide system of omerta in order to get grants), or the world socialist conspiracy (which of course, is trying to destroy capitalism), or all the above — god, whenever I write anything on climate change these people hit me with flame-mail like mayflies spattering a car windshield in mating season!

What prompted me to this dark speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US — in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself — to do anything to reduce either this country’s annual production of more atmospheric CO2, or to promote some broader international agreement to slow the production of greenhouse gases.

It seems insane that this nation’s leaders, corporate and political, would even now still be deliberately refusing to take action to protect the Earth, which of course they and their children and grandchildren will also have to live on, and yet almost to a one they are on the side of the deniers or the delayers. The business leaders for example overwhelmingly provided campaign funding to the Republicans — a party that makes jokes about global warming and openly urges more burning of coal.

Could US leaders think maybe US could gain by letting the world cook?

Could US leaders think maybe US could gain by letting the world cook?

Okay, a lot of Republicans are wacky believers in a 6000-year-old world where Adam and Eve hunted dinosaurs and god talked to Moses. But it seems equally or even more insane that people who clearly know better, like President Barack Obama, or most of the Democratic Party leadership in Congress, would resist even minimal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and would directly work to undermine international efforts at reaching a rigorous treaty on global reduction of carbon emissions.

Unless, that is, you consider that in a dog-eat-dog environment of nations struggling to survive in a world that, as the World Bank’s latest report predicts, could be 4°C hotter (7.2°F) by as early as 2060, with mass starvation in Africa, Asia and South America, flooding of critical river deltas and low-elevation population centers like Shanghai, Bangladesh, Holland, etc., and the loss of most of the world’s fish to an acidified ocean, the US could be sitting pretty, at least relatively speaking. Sure low-lying places like Cape Cod, the Outer Banks, the lower Florida peninsula, New Orleans, and the Rockaways and the Manhattan financial district would be gone, but given this nation’s current wealth and military power, its vast natural resources, and its widely varied climate zones, including Alaska, the U.S. could probably come out ahead in such a survival-of-the-fittest struggle.

Consider that perhaps the current breadbasket region of the midwest might become a dust-bowl. Okay, nasty, but the evidence so far suggests that at least for the next hundred years, all the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other land ice in northern Canada, will be impacting the nation’s northeast by having all that new fresh water pushing the Gulf Stream out to sea (a Gulf Stream that we are told will also be weakening dramatically), actually making the northeast cooler and wetter during that period. That is to say, states from Ohio to Maine, and south to perhaps Virginia or North Carolina, could become better places to grow crops, at least until all the ice up north is gone. Arizona and Florida would be hell for retirees, but they could retire elsewhere. Deep wells could draw on prehistoric aquifers, as farmers in Texas and Oklahoma have done for years, which could compensate for epic climate-change-caused droughts. So what if this would destroy the aquifers eventually? Nobody thinks a century ahead anyhow.

Meanwhile, while the US would adapt fairly handily to the global catastrophe, most of the rest of the world would become a pure hell, with nations desperately battling nations over dwindling water supplies, and famine killing people not by the tens of thousands as today, but by the millions, or perhaps even billions. Think of China and India, our biggest competitors in global markets these days. With their relative poverty, their massive populations, mostly concentrated along low-lying coastal areas, they will be toast in a 4°C hotter world, especially after the Himalayan glaciers that feed their key rivers, the Ganges, the Indus, the Irriwaddy, the Yellow, the Yangtze and the Mekong, melt away and leave them nothing but giant arroyos.

I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t have a hard time imagining most of our ruling elite looking at this scenario and thinking, “Hey! That could work out well for us! With huge oceans separating us from the desperate masses in Asia and Africa, and only a relatively small desert border to protect to our south, and with a small, weak and friendly nation to the north, we could come out of this with the world at our feet, ripe for the picking.” What’s a mass extinction event that wipes out half of all living species to such people? What’s it matter to them if the teeming oceans lose their food chain and become filled with nothing but jellyfish? What’s it matter if hundreds of millions or even billions of poor people starve to death, or if nations in Africa or Asia blow each other up? If they, the US and their companies, can come out of this rubble largely intact, and with the same elites still in charge, where’s the downside?

I haven’t looked closely at the science of this, but I think I’m correct in saying that the US is probably better situated than most other countries to survive a major global warming event. Of course, even in the US, climate change of this scale would be massively destructive and destabilizing, and would cause huge social and political upheaval. This may explain why we keep reading about the Department of Homeland Security ordering huge quantities of dumdum bullets (even for places like Social Security Administration field offices!) and building mass detention centers, or about Congress continuing to pass ever more intrusive and invasive police state-type legislation, while militarizing local police.

I’m not suggesting that these leaders would be contemplating just walling off the US, and allowing us all to continue on as the free society that we have grown used to over the last few hundred years, while the rest of the world goes through its death throes, horrendous and unacceptable as that would be. Rather, I’m speculating that the elites may be contemplating a way that they, the ruling class, not we as Americans, could, by doing nothing to stop climate change, come out on top as a result of it.

I realize this is conspiracy thinking, and that as such it is rather far-fetched, and yet what troubles me is that it’s hard to imagine an alternative explanation for the years of complete inaction on combating global warming, and the deliberate undermining of any sort of international accord which America has engaged in for the past decade.

Our leaders, political and corporate, may be puerile, egocentric greed-heads, but they are not stupid. They surely for the most part recognize that the Earth is heating up and heading at full speed towards ecological, social and political disaster. How else to explain, then, their astonishing unwillingness to take action?

Humor: The Borowitz Report

Republicans Blast Susan Rice for Misleading Public: “That’s Our Job”

Posted by
 

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—A trio of Republican senators today blasted U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for misleading the American public, which, in the words of Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC..), “has traditionally been our job.” “Ambassador Rice has been engaged in nonstop lies and double-talk,” said Sen. Graham, one of three Republican senators who had a closed-door meeting with Rice. “If she really wants to do those things so badly, she should run for the U.S. Senate like the rest of us.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) agreed with Sen. Graham’s assessment, saying of the meeting, “I heard Susan Rice spew nothing but half-truths, distortions, and complete fabrications. It felt like I was watching Fox News, except that she’s black.”

The third senator, John McCain (R-Ariz.), said that he found Ambassador Rice’s story profoundly disappointing: “Considering that the C.I.A. was involved, I thought there’d be more sex.”

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Photograph by Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call.

Mario Piperni Does Rick Scott

Dirty Business in Florida

November 27, 2012 By

Anyone following the transgressions in Florida over the last few years already knew this to be true. Now there’s no doubt.

A new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants have told The Palm Beach Post.

Republican leaders said in proposing the law that it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law’s main purpose: GOP victory.

Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.

“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.

It’s always been about voter suppression in Florida as it’s been in other Republican controlled states where new voting legislation was aimed at dissuading minorities from voting. Tampering with one’s constitutional right to vote is serious stuff but don’t count on the Benghazi-crazed conservative media to be talking about it much. It’s time for Eric Holder and the Justice department to get involved in a serious way.

Florida needs to clean up its act and there would be no better way to start than to boot out the sociopath they elected as governor two years ago. Did anyone seriously believe that putting a Medicare fraudster like Rick Scott in the governor’s mansion would have brought on anything other than disaster for Floridians?

Rick Scott, the poster boy for everything that is wrong with the Republican party, is up for reelection in 2014 and voting him out of office would go a long a way in sending a clear message to the GOP that enough is enough.

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LUV News: Where’s the Money?

The mainstream liars of our mass media have been trying for some time to convince workers that their taxes are high, among other reasons, because public sector workers get paid too much.  They never make the argument that those who inherit from robber barons and have such power over our elections and media are given too much (nor are these lords and ladies ever required to do any work, as they enrich themselves off the sweat of the working class, while us peasants are told we must work harder).

In fact, often I hear rigged facts over the mass media that the rich pay most of the taxes, a complete lie.  The super rich pay next to nothing.  To come up with this “fact” requires one to re-label those who used to be called “middle class” before that term was twisted to mean middle of the working class.  In my youth, and still in much of the world, middle class meant professionals and small business owners, people today making largely six figure incomes, some of whom are small millionaires.

These old-definition middle class people do pay taxes, big taxes, and most of them are too ignorant to know that if only they had hundreds of millions or billions, there would be enough loopholes that they would only pay taxes if they wanted to, like Mitt Romney did this year so that he wouldn’t be outed as non-taxed (he refused to claim exemptions and deductions that he would otherwise have included). He didn’t, of course, disclose what he paid in previous years, probably nothing, like Nelson Rockefeller disclosed at his Senate hearing to confirm his nomination for Vice President (the billionaire paid $200 one year, zero the other year in the two federal tax returns he was required to submit while in the 70% tax rate bracket when capital gains were also taxed, days when there were far fewer loopholes for the wealthy).

The old joke has it that our income tax laws are entirely fair because the poor, like the wealthy, may write off, under the cattle depletion allowance, their livestock herds.

The disparity in who is required to pay taxes accounts for part of the fact that, from a study out this morning, between 1983 and 2010, middle income earners lost 18 percent of their net worth, even as those in the top 1 percent increased their wealth by 71 percent.

It is all a dog and pony show now, Gertrude Stein would have said “There’s no there, there.”  In the following piece, Paul Buchheit elaborates on some of the common mass media-spewed “facts,” repeated ad nauseam, refuting the hell out of them.  Citizens will, of course, not be allowed to see this in their controlled mass media.  —Jack Balkwill

Private, Public, Union, or Management: Who Takes All the Money?

by Paul Buchheit
It’s not public workers..

Start with local government, whose 14 million employees make up almost two-thirds of the public payroll, according to Census Department data. They make up 11% of the total U.S. workforce but receive only 10% of the total compensation. Their average salary is $43,000.

State government employees make up 3.6% of the U.S. workforce and receive 3.9% of the total compensation.

CEOs from the financial institutions who received TARP funds testify before the House Financial Services Committee Feb. 11, 2009. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Federal employees, who make up just two percent of the total U.S. workforce, do considerably better, earning an average of $68,000. Their pay advantage is largely due to higher education levels and more advanced professional skills. The Economic Policy Institute, Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Congressional Research Service, and Congressional Budget Office all acknowledge this. 44% of federal jobs are professional positions (lawyers, economists, engineers), compared with 32% in the private sector. Close to 50% of full-time federal and state and local government employees have college degrees, compared to 35% for private employees.

Overall, Census Department data reveals that government employees earn about 1% more than private sector employees. With all retirement benefits included, the 21.4 million government employees make up 16.7% of U.S. employees and receive 20% of the total compensation.

It’s not union members..

After years of declining numbers, union employees make up about 12% of the workforce, but their total pay (14.8 million union employees with a $47,000 median salary) amounts to less than 12 percent of wages, as reported by the Census Department.

Unions are sometimes accused of excess, when in fact they keep employees from falling into substandard wage conditions. According to the State of Working America, the union wage premium exists, but it’s a modest 13.6%.

Unions also provide a degree of stability for a shrinking middle class. Retirement funding, however, is actually much less than perceived by union critics. The Pew Center notes that the latest available annual pension contribution by the 50 states amounted to just under $60 billion, which is about 1% of wages as reported by the Census Department.

Finally, unions promote equal opportunity. A recent study at Harvard and the University of Washington concluded that “the decline of organized labor explains a fifth to a third of the growth in inequality.”

It’s not, for the most part, even the private sector.

The average private sector worker makes about the same salary as a state or local government worker. But the MEDIAN salary for U.S. workers, 83% of whom are in the private sector, is almost $14,000 less, at $26,363.

This striking difference reveals the degree of inequality in private industry, and leads us to the conclusion:

CEOs and Financial Managers take much more than their share.

Corporate executives and financial employees make up just one-half of 1% of the workforce, but with nearly a trillion dollars of annual income (11.3% of $8.12 trillion), they make more than ALL 15 million unionized workers in the United States, and almost as much as ALL 21 million government workers. Much of their income derives from minimally-taxed capital gains. Meanwhile, the great majority of their private company employees toil as food servers, clerks, medical workers, and domestic help at below-average pay.

While unions and government jobs promote stability and security, private industry, which is driven by the profit motive, leads to a “winner-take-all” philosophy that is steadily splitting our country in two.

Have they earned it?

Again, consider the facts:

They’ve destroyed jobs. According to Newsweek, “the CEOs of the 50 firms that laid off the most workers since the onset of the economic crisis took home 42 percent more pay in 2009 than their peers did — largely because cutting workers boosts short-term profits.”

They’ve made the country less productive. As noted by Frontline’s Money, Power, and Wall Street, the financial industry is almost double the size of the manufacturing sector.

They’ve taken massive bonuses for their failures. Again from Frontline’s Money, Power, and Wall Street: Since the crash of 2008, banks have paid out more than $80 billion in bonuses.

As an analyst pointed out on the Frontline documentary, the rise of financial derivatives led banks to start trading for their own gain, and not for their customers. So yes, they’ve earned something. Our lasting contempt.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.