On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Wealth Gap Today Is as Bad as It Was in the 1920s, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Those at the very top hold more of the wealth than at any time since 1928; thousands of teachers from across Oklahoma joined together to demand more money for public education; the International Monetary Fund says too-big-to-fail is still too much of a problem; and more.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. The wealth gap today is as bad as it was in the 1920s. New research from economists Emmanual Saez and Gabriel Zucman shows that those at the very top hold more of the wealth than at any time since 1928. In fact, only the super-wealthy, the top tenth of the top one percent, have seen huge gains in assets over the last three decades. Even people in the top ten percent of income earners have been losing ground compared to the super rich. Most of us know that wages have been stagnant for decades thanks to Reaganomics, but the growing inequality problem is not just about our weekly pay. Average Americans have lost wealth from home values, pensions, savings, and total assets, and our broken economy prevents them from making up any ground. Meanwhile, the wealthy elite have seen larger and larger income gains, and they’ve stashed billions away in property, savings, and various types of low-or-no-tax investments. After the Great Depression, progressive tax systems helped keep inequality at bay. High tax rates on the super rich leveled the playing field, and encouraged business growth and investment. For decades, it made more sense for the corporate elite to higher more employers or expand operations. But today, low taxes make it more lucrative for the rich to screw workers and cash out. If we ever want to close the wealth gap, we need to break this cycle. We need to return to a progressive tax system – one that rewards hiring workers more than sitting around collecting a dividend check. In fact, let’s put a 100 percent tax on income over a billion, and leave the super-rich with no other money-saving option except investing in our great nation once again. Find out more at NoBillionaires.com.

If there’s 25 Tea Partiers holding a rally, the corporate media is all over it. But, we didn’t hear a peep about 25,000 teachers converging on the Oklahoma state Capitol. Last week, thousands of teachers from across the state joined together to demand more money for public education. The teachers wore red in solidarity, and carried signs protesting education budget cuts. Despite the fact that about 40,000 new schools have opened in past five years, education funding is $200 million dollars lower than it was in 2009. Teachers are being asked to do more every year, despite dealing with slashed budgets and classroom overcrowding. Scott Inman, the Oklahoma House Minority Leader, joined the rally as well. He said that lawmakers could have provided more funding for public schools, but state Republicans decided that a tax cut “would be a better way to go.” He added, “It would be laughable if it wasn’t so true.” For years, state-after-state has slashed education budgets while demanding better performance. Teachers all around our nation are fighting back and working hard to protect public education. One of the teachers at last week’s protest said, “We need the help. We love what we do. We love teaching, but we want to be able to do it right.”

The International Monetary Fund says too-big-to-fail is still too much of a problem. Last Monday, the IMF warned that the reforms enacted after the financial crisis have not done enough to solve the too-big-to-fail issue. And, taxpayers could be liable for hundreds of billions of dollars in the event of another crash. According to the IMF’s estimates, the world’s biggest banks still get about $600 billion in public subsidies because of their size. These mega-banks can borrow at lower rates and take on way more risk because they view government bailouts as a form of insurance. Gaston Gelos, a senior IMF analyst, explained that these implicit subsidies are “like insurance for which banks don’t need to pay a premium.” Rather than reducing risk, the big banks are even larger today than they were before the last economic crisis, and they have used their power to lobby against any real banking reforms. Let’s put an end to too-big-to-fail by breaking up the banks and making banking the boring business that it used to be.

The next time you hear someone tell poor people to just “get a job,” you can tell them to just “get into Harvard.” That prestigious university actually has a higher acceptance rate than the Walmart hiring department. According to the Washington Post, the new Walmart in Washington, DC received 23,000 applications for 600 job openings. That means that only 2.6 percent of all applicants were accepted. Only about one in forty people who applied to work at Walmart will get the so-called opportunity to work for low-pay and meager benefits. In comparison, the acceptance rate at Harvard University is almost 6 percent. Some people argue that the Harvard comparison isn’t meaningful, but these statistics show how hard it is for people who are trying to find a job. Our government should be stepping in as the employer of last resort, and extending unemployment benefits for those who still haven’t found work. We must keep pushing for those ideas, but in the meantime, at least now we have a response for those who claim that everyone should just “get a job.”

And finally… Last Friday, students, nurses, lawmakers, and community activists called on Congress to honor Rev. Martin Luther King’s fight for economic justice. The group held vigils in 22 different cities to ask lawmakers to put a tax on Wall Street speculation. Activists say that this so-called Robin Hood tax is an important step in the fight against economic inequality. The vigils took place in front of Congressional offices to show support for HR 1579, the Inclusive Prosperity Act, which includes the tax on Wall Street speculation. That tax would help pay for jobs, education, infrastructure, healthcare, and the fight against climate change. In the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have nots. The question is whether America will do it.”

And that’s the way it is – for the week of April 7, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.