Bustin' the Self-Made Myth

>> ABOUT THE SELF-MADE MYTH >>

The "self-made man" is as American as a Norman Rockwell image. It is also just as overly romanticized and wholly separated from reality. Indeed, the notion that individual success is entirely autonomous has dangerous policy implications. It's time to do some myth bustin' and put the "self-made myth" to rest, once and for all.

UFE's new book, The Self-Made Myth, challenges the by-your-own-bootstraps myth by offering real stories of business and individual success. It also disproves the claims of several modern-day self-made business heros, including the familiar faces below. These silver-spooners have no qualms about bashing and starving government, even though Uncle Sam was (and continues to be) a key business partner in enabling their success.  

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Warren Buffett's Secretary Revealed!

Debbie Bosanek in looks on as President Obama delivers his 2012 State of the Union address.

It's true. Warren Buffett's secretary is a real person. After so many years as a nameless, faceless talking point in support of higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires, the country's most famous secretary has emerged—in momentous fashion at that. 

Debbie Bosanek is her name, and she was revealed to the world during President Obama's third State of the Union address:

Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. 

Buffett's super-low tax rate became a hot topic in the early 2000s, but it took nearly a decade for that fact to shake its purely rhetorical quality. Obama gave the issue new life last year when he announced his intent to pursue the Buffett Rule, or a tax on millionaires to reduce the growing economic chasm between the top 1% and everybody else. In his SOTU address, he called for a minimum 30% tax rate for millionaires. 

Now, not only does the Buffett Rule have the name and face of, in Bosanek's words, "an average citizen who needs a voice," but it also has numbers to place it's impact in context. Our friends at Citizens for Tax Justice calculate that the Buffett Rule would raise $50 billion this year if implemented and would affect a mere 0.08% of taxpayers.

This week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) decided to ride the wave. In the wake of the SOTU, Whitehouse is introducing a version of the Buffett Rule for a vote in the Senate with his Paying A Fair Share Act. The bill offers a very straightfoward way to meet the President's 30% rate on millionaires without changing existing income tax rates or the preferential treatment of capital gains and dividends that chiefly benefits the very wealthy. While we'd love to see more holistic reform of the tax code, we applaud the Senator for getting the conversation started.

The bill is certain to meet rabid opposition from Congressional Republicans. But with polls showing overwhelming support for the Buffett Rule, the GOP may struggle to justify continued tax breaks for the people who really don't need them, especially in an election year.

See our related infographic, "How Do We Coddle the Super-Wealthy?"

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PODCAST: "Between the Lines" on State of the Dream 2012

Dedrick Muhammad, Senior Director of the NAACP's Economic Department and co-author of State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority, and WPKN radio's "Between the Lines" host Scott Harris discuss the alarming possibilities for the race and class divides in U.S. if social and economic trends continue for the next several decades. Muhammad shares various strategies to reduce racial disparities and urges listeners to encourage support for those solutions from their lawmakers.

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PODCAST: State of the Dream 2012 on WBAI radio

State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority co-authors Wanjiku Mwangi and Tim Sullivan have an in-depth discussion of the report with WBAI Pacifica "Talk Back!" host Hugh Hamilton on his Martin Luther King, Jr. Day broadcast and fundraising drive. UFE and WBAI are partnering to offer the report as a complimentary gift to the first 100 listeners to pledge $50 or more toward WBAI's work to "foster understanding amongst nations and individuals, encourage creativity, and promote innovative, uncensored distribution of news." Visit WBAI.org to pledge your support.

Track 1 (feat. interview with Tim Sullivan and Wanjiku Mwangi):

Track 2:

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State of the Dream 2012 | Media Coverage

Select Coverage of State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority

UFE's ninth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day report assesses the current racial economic divide and offers a glimpse at a future that could be. Its findings should prompt people of all races and walks of life to unite in action for a more just and racially equitable future.

This timely publication is being covered online, in print and in broadcast media. The links below are a sampling, and the list will be updated as new coverage emerges.

If you are a member of the media or a blogger on social and economic issues and would like to schedule an interview with a co-author or spokesperson for the report, please contact Maz Ali at 617-423-2148 x101 and/or mali@faireconomy.org.

DATE         OUTLET LINK
             
11/28/2012         NNPA (national syndication) Lawmakers ponder fiscal cliff, Blacks already in poverty ditch by Freddie Allen
             
11/1/2012         CNN.com In 2012, Racism's Tenacious Hold on U.S. by Donna Brazile
             
3/4/2012         Kansas City Star
Nation's Racial Disparities are Steadily Worsening by Lewis Diuguid (Nationally Syndicated!)
             
1/13/2012         MSNBC.com Race Relations & MLK's Dream: Welcome to the Generation Gap by James Eng
             
1/13/2012         CommonDreams.org Massive Movement Needed to Fix Perverse Concentration of Wealth
             
1/13/2012         NonprofitQuarterly.org Report Finds King's "Dream" Looks Bleak Unless New Alliances Converge
             
1/14/2012         SEIU national blog State of the Dream 2012 synopsis by Kawana Lloyd
             
1/15/2012         Inequality.org A Financial Nest Egg for Every American Baby?
             
1/15/2012         The Daily World Remembering Marting Luther King, Jr.
             
1/15/2012         Black Economic Development Racial Economic Divide Threatens Stability of the Entire Economy
             
1/16/2012         KBOO-FM (Portland, OR) Tom Becker reads from State of the Dream 2012
             
1/16/2012         Concord Monitor King's Legacy: Workers' Rights by Arnie Alpert
             
1/16/2012         Black Agenda Report Listen to Black Agenda Radio (week of January 16, 2012) with Glen Ford
             
1/16/2012         Facing South (Institute for Southern Studies blog) Dr. King's March to Occupy D.C. for Economic Justice by Chris Kromm
             
1/17/2012         YourBlackWorld.com What is the State of "The Dream?" by Dr. Julianne Malveaux
             
1/17/2012         WPKN-FM "Between the Lines" with Scott Harris PODCAST feat. Director of NAACP Economic Dept. & State of the Dream 2012 co-author Dedrick Muhammad
             
1/17/2012         AllGov.com Median Income for White Families in U.S. Almost Double Blacks and Latinos
             
1/17/2012         OurFuture.org (Campaign for America's Future) Romney on the Side of Disenfranchising Black Voters by Isaiah J. Poole
             
1/17/2012         WBAI-FM "Talk Back!" with Hugh Hamilton PODCAST feat. State of the Dream 2012 co-authors, Wanjiku Mwangi & Tim Sullivan
             
1/17/2012         The Louisiana Weekly U.S. Cities, Nation Face Challenge as Americans Paulse to Remember MLK
             
1/18/2012         The Seattle Medium A Diverse U.S. Population Will Not Guarantee Parity by George E. Curry
             
1/19/2012         Dollars & Sense magazine The Great Recession in Black Wealth by Judy Wicks-Lim
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MLK and the Facts of Racial Economic Injustice Today

Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life to the struggle for racial equality. The vast racial economic divide remains a fact of American life more than forty years after his assassination. 

Unemployment Rates:
White 7.5%, Black 15.8%, Latino 11.0%
Ratio to White: Black 2.1 to 1, Latino 1.5 to 1

Median Family Income (2010):
White $70,000, Black $40,000, Latino $40,000
Ratio to White: Black 57¢ per dollar, Latino 57¢ per dollar 

Poverty Rates (2010):
White 9.5%, Black 25.7%, Latino 25.4%
Ratio to White: Black 2.7 to 1, Latino 2.7 to1

Education - Adults with College Degrees (Bachelor’s or Higher) (2010):
White 33.2%, Black 20.0%, Latino 13.9%
Ratio to White: Black 60% as likely to have a bachelor’s degree, Latino 42% as likely to have a bachelor’s degree 

Incarceration Rates (2009):
White 0.39%, Black 2.39%, Latino 0.97% of the population is in prison
Ratio to White: Black 6.1 times more likely to be in prison, Latino 1.5 times more likely to be in prison.

Average Family Net Wealth (2007) Near the Height of the Housing Bubble:
White $675,000, Black $134,000, Latino $185,000
Ratio to White: Black 20¢ per dollar, Latino 27¢ per dollar

Dr. King described the civil rights victories of the 1960s as having achieved “a degree of decency, not of equality.” Racial economic equality remains a disturbingly elusive and distant dream. In wealth and incarceration, the Black White divide has worsened in the last thirty years. The economic situation for the average Latino family has deteriorated overall relative to Whites since 1980.

Read our 2012 State of the Dream report, The Emerging Majority, for more details on how we got here and where we are headed. In the report, we look thirty years ahead to 2042 when the Census Bureau projects that people of color will become a majority of the population. We examine the trends in racial ineqaulity over the last thirty years, since the election of Ronald Reagain in 1980, and project those trends thirty years forward to 2042. 

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MLK Day Report: Dr. King's Dream 30 Years from Now



DOWNLOAD STATE OF THE DREAM 2012

The last 30 years of public policy have hindered progress toward Dr. King's dream of racial equality. Thirty years from now, people of color will collectively represent the majority of the U.S. population. If we continue along the same governing path, the racial economic divide will remain in 2042 and, in many regards, will be considerably worse.

The racial economic divide is a national embarrassment. Eliminating it should be a moral imperative, and as the non-White share of the population grows, it will become an increasingly urgent economic necessity.

United for a Fair Economy’s ninth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day report, State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority, assesses the state of the racial economic divide since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and uses the trends of the last thirty years to project thirty years forward to 2042.

We find that the past thirty years of public policy has done little to address racial economic disparities. If the current trends continue, the racial economic divide will be immense in 2042 across a wide variety of indicators. Progress toward economic parity between Black and White is slow and inconsistent and, in some cases, inequality is increasing. Latinos who account for most of the growth of the population are, in most cases, experiencing a decrease in economic well being relative to Whites.

If the current trends continue:

Income: Black and Latino median incomes will be 61 cents 45 cents, respectively, for every dollar of median White income in 2042. Blacks will have gained only 4 cents while Latinos will have lost 15 cents of median income relative to Whites from 2010 to 2042.

Poverty: In 2010, poverty rates among Blacks (25.7%) and Latinos (25.4%) were more than two and a half times the White poverty rate. By 2042, the Black and Latino poverty rates will remain 1.9 times and 2.6 times that of the White poverty rate.

Jobs: The current unemployment rates stand at 7.5 percent for Whites, 15.8 percent for Blacks and 11 percent for Latinos. In 2042, Black and Latino unemployment will be 1.8 times and 1.5 times higher than White unemployment, respectively.

Wealth: By 2042, Blacks and Latinos will both have lost ground in average wealth, holding only 19 cents and 25 cents for each dollar of White wealth. The average net worth of Black and Latino families in 2007 was 20 cents and 27 cents, respectively, for every dollar of White net worth. 
 
Higher Education: Black adults were 60 percent as likely to have a college degree as White adults in 2010, while Latino adults were only 42 percent as likely as Whites to have a college degree. By 2042, Black will be 76 percent as likely as Whites to have earned a college degree; Latinos will have become even less likely (37 percent) than Whites to have a college degree.

Incarceration: In 2010, Blacks were a staggering 6.1 times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites. Latinos were 2.5 times more likely than Whites to be incarcerated, and this figure does not include the disproportionately Latino population being held in immigration detention centers. In 2042, Blacks will still be six times and Latinos two times as likely as Whites to be incarcerated.

It does not have to be this way. Public policy does not have to follow the course that it has been on since Reagan. The growing share of the non-White population presents an opportunity for Blacks and Latinos to build political power. In the current era of extraordinary economic inequality, the fate of the vast majority of the White population is more connected with the economic interests of Blacks and Latinos than with the ruling political elite. 

Shifting from the dominant conservative public policy direction of the last thirty years that has not addressed racial equality will require a broad coalition dedicated to eliminating the racial economic divide.

We need policy solutions that will significantly reduce the racial divide. Foreclosure relief, federal aid to states and targeted job creation programs are needed to both combat the economic slump and to reduce racial economic disparities. Longer-term strategies including wealth-building programs, increasing taxes on the rich, strengthening safety net programs, ending the war on drugs, and humane immigration reform are needed in order to substantially reduce the racial inequality.

The racial economic divide is the legacy of centuries of White supremacy practiced as national policy. As a nation, we honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a holiday, but we tolerate the perpetuation of racial inequality that he dedicated his life to fighting. If we do not change course, our economy will not be able to bear the swelling numbers of Blacks and Latinos out of work, in poverty and in prison.

Absent a powerful and sustained political movement aligned not just along the lines of race but by economic interests, Whites will still make a disproportionate share of the national income and hold an overwhelming majority of the nation’s wealth and power in 2042.

Click here to download your copy of the report.

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UFE's Forthcoming Book Busts the "Self-Made" Myth

Learn more!

With a new year before us and new battles ahead, we at United for a Fair Economy and Responsible Wealth are proud to announce to you our forthcoming book, The Self-Made Myth — And the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeedavailable nationally on March 5th.

Through this book, co-authors Brian Miller (Executive Director, United for a Fair Economy) and Mike Lapham (Project Director, Responsible Wealth) expose the societal damage wrought by the myth of "self-made" success — one that undercuts progressive taxation and investments in the common good.

The Self-Made Myth lays the foundation for a more honest understanding of success. The book includes profiles of business leaders who recognize the public investments that have contributed to their success, including billionaire investor Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s), Kim Jordan (CEO of New Belgium Brewing), and many others. In acknowledging society's hand in their good fortune, these remarkable individuals make a compelling case for why they should pay higher taxes.

The Self-Made Myth is already earning the advanced accolades of several national figures, in addition to a foreword by Bill Gates, Sr. Here are a few highlights: 

"It is critical to change the conversation about how wealth is created, who creates it, and the role of government, and this book does that effectively and importantly. And it couldn’t be more timely. I urge you to read this book and get engaged in the debate about progressive taxes."
— Bill Gates Sr.

"After decades of disingenuous bashing of community and our common interests, this book serves as a reality check, reminding us that no one can survive without the contributions of the rest of us."
— Former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun


"Miller and Lapham debunk the self-made myth that has been bought and sold by the corporate media. I urge anyone who cares about forging a more just and fair economy to buy this book, and take its smart ideas to heart.”
— Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor & Publisher, The Nation

"This book challenges a central myth that underlies today’s anti-government rhetoric: that an individual’s success is the result of gumption and hard work alone. Miller and Lapham clearly show that personal success is closely tied to the supports society provides. Must reading for all who want to get our nation back on track."
— Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor

How we view wealth creation and individual success shapes our views on taxes, regulations, public investments in schools, research and infrastructure, CEO pay and more. Our goal with The Self-Made Myth is to change the way people view success, and in doing so, change the way they view critical public policy choices.

Brian and Mike will soon embark on a book tour, joined in select cities by individuals profiled in the book. They will discuss how others can translate the ideas in the book into political action for an economy that works for all people, not just the rich. Stay tuned for updates about events happening in your area.

You can help us now by spreading word about the book to others in your community and online networks. We're also in the middle of our year-end fundraising efforts. How strongly we finish in 2011 will help to determine how effective we can be in 2012. If you haven't already, please make a donation to support this important work.

Thanks and Happy New Year!

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Congressional Progressives Are Back with a Bill for the 99%

This week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) introduced a great piece of legislation that's been months in the making—the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act.

Back in April 2011, the CPC, with the support of UFE and other allies, fought to counter the onslaught of attacks by deficit hawks on both sides of the political aisle. The CPC's People's Budget became progressives' answer to Rep. Paul Ryan's "path to prosperity," which was actually just a path to more disparity.

While the People's Budget didn't pass, it helped to stave off Ryan's destructive plan. Members of the CPC decided to hit the road to have conversations with real people—not just the wealthy or corporations masquerading as people—in order to develop a legislative plan that would respond to their most pressing concerns.

As these progressive legislators moved from town-to-town, the Occupy Movement emerged, grew and the country erupted with social and economic justice activism. At the same time, the Rebuild the Dream project, a collaboration of over 80 organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals, created the "Contract for the American Dream," a point-by-point plan to repair the economy. UFE wrote the tax fact sheet for the Contract.

More people than ever are becoming aware of how devastatingly unequal the U.S. economy has become and are taking action to restore fairness to it. A chart demonstrating income inequality became a popular protest sign! A protest sign! (It still surprises us.) Clearly, the CPC couldn't have picked a better time to be with the people. 

The result of the tour — the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act— is the best piece of legislation we've seen in a long time.

The comprehensive bill simultaneously addresses the jobs crisis, the budget deficit, never-ending wars and wasteful military spending, all while protecting and strengthening Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And, much of the plan is paid for through higher taxes on millionaires, Wall Street banks and other large, tax-dodging corporations. Every single one of us should take every opportunity to promote this bill within our communities and demand support from our elected officials.  

This plan isn't just for the 99 percent; it's for all 100 percent of us, because we're all in this together. Learn more with this bill summary:

The Act for the 99% creates over 5 million jobs over the next two years and reduces the budget deficit by over $2 trillion over the next ten years while protecting the programs Americans rely on. 

KEY JOBS CREATION PROVISIONS 

  • Emergency jobs to put America to Work: creates 2.2 million jobs through on-the-job training and direct hire programs for cops, teachers, firefighters, construction and maintenance workers for schools, parks and public land workers, work study jobs for students, health providers including nurses and assistants and a new Community Corp to take care of our neighborhoods. 
  • Buy America: requires materials for government contracts are manufactured in the U.S. 
  • Infrastructure bank: establishes an infrastructure bank that will allow private sector partnering with regions, states and localities to create infrastructure projects
  • Protection of our wounded veterans – ensures that our veterans are not discriminated against in the workplace for time spent receiving treatment for injuries
  • Investment in infrastructure and transportation – provides $50 billion to fix our crumbling roads, bridges, rail lines, sewer systems and to upgrade power lines and mass transit systems

REVENUE INCREASES AND SAVINGS 

  • Fairness in taxation – requires people who make over $1 million a year to pay their fair share, raising $800 billion
  • Defense spending - A rare consensus has emerged among a wide range of policymakers that any deficit reduction plan must tackle defense spending; ending unnecessary programs saves $280 billion
  • Unchecked war spending - restricting spending in Afghanistan to planning and executing a responsible troop withdrawal saves ≈ $1.2 trillion
  • Oil and gas industry and polluter taxes – the oil and gas corporations are among the most profitable on Earth; ending tax giveaways and requiring polluters to clean up their mess will raise over $60 billion
  • Wall Street and speculators tax - The financial sector shattered the global economy – this 0.03 percent tax disincentivizes dangerous speculation by slightly raising the cost to trade, which raises $350 billion
  • Making Work Pay Tax Credit – this progressive tax refund puts money into the pockets of those who need it most to boost the economy; it would be extended for 2 years

PROTECTING MEDICARE, MEDICAID AND SOCIAL SECURITY

  • Public option – allows a public option to operate with private insurance companies in the health care exchanges; saves $88 billion
  • Negotiate drug prices – allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies saves $156 billion
  • Enhancing Medicaid rates – the fastest way to support state governments is to restore the increased federal Medicaid matching rates 
  • Scrapping Social Security cap - Social Security by law cannot contribute to the deficit; however people making over $106,800 do not pay taxes on the additional income. To ensure long-term solvency, this requires anyone making over $250,000 to pay the normal social security tax on their upper income

 

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For the Super-Committee, Failure is Success

The Super-Committee didn’t fail. The failure was the creation of the Super-Committee itself. It was created as a result of the false, politically manufactured debt ceiling crisis last August. By not reaching an agreement, the Super-Committee produced the best outcome of any of the options that were on the table in this terribly misguided process.

Despite not reaching agreement on a deal or grand bargain to reduce the deficit in the Super-Committee, $1.2 trillion will still be cut from the federal budget. Those cuts will be distributed equally between the military and federal programs other than Social Security and health benefits for the poor and elderly. Slashing government programs is exactly the wrong priority with the economy as weak as it is now. However, the Super-Committee did succeed in appropriately focusing much of the cuts on the bloated military budget, protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and blocking Republican attempts to hand out even more new tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.

The automatic cuts mandated by the August debt ceiling fiasco will be devastating to non-defense discretionary programs – a category that makes up only about 15% of the budget and includes education funding, unemployment insurance, veterans benefits, and virtually all federal spending other than the military budget, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest payments. But literally every other proposal in the Super-Committee was worse.

Rather than focusing on the long-term deficit, congress should have tasked the Super-Committee with addressing the actual immediate problems raging in our economy, including disastrous unemployment and the lack of jobs, the ongoing mortgage crisis, and runaway economic inequality.

Jobs are the best way to rebuild the economy and to lower the deficit. When people get back to work, they’ll start buying goods and services and paying taxes. And with taxes on the rich at historically low levels, any good budget or deficit proposal should start with ending tax breaks that benefit the wealthiest few. Poll after poll shows that these are the priorities of a huge majority of the American public.

Instead, the Super-Committee was headed toward a very bad deal. Democrats on the Super-Committee blocked Republican members’ demands for even bigger tax cuts for the rich coupled with deep cuts to social insurance programs.  If those proposals had passed, the result would have been higher unemployment, serious harm to everyday Americans -- and worsening deficits.

It isn’t a failure that the Super-Committee didn’t accept the train wreck of bad policy and misguided priorities that Republicans proposed. In today’s Tea Party fueled political environment, it’s something to be thankful for.

Update:

Read UFE and Responsible Wealth's full letter to the Super-Committee here (PDF).

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