Virtually every speaker used the phrase, with sometimes misty-eyed stories of bootstrapping, "I did it alone" success (with no help from government). Signs featuring the phrase hung over the main stage and filled the convention center, boasting: We built it! We built it! We built it!
Meanwhile, fact checkers, writers, and progressive organizations fired back, both recounting the full quote from President Obama (his "You didn't build that" comment was referring to the roads and infrastructure, not the businesses themselves) and making the case for why businesses do, in fact, depend heavily on public investments.
This debate is only getting started. As NRP's Ron Elving wrote, "The central theme… in Tampa is about to become the party's mantra for the fall." So get used to a lot of talk about who actually built it, what they built, and why it matters. Looking beyond this one election, this is a critical debate about core values that shape our views on taxes and the role of government in our society.
In March, months before Obama's statement in Virginia, we published a book entitled The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed. In it, we contrast the "self-made myth" with the "built-together reality." Little did we know when we came up with the term "built-together," that this would become a defining theme of this election cycle.
The stories of business leaders tell a more honest and complete story of their success. Jerry Fiddler, founder of Wind River Systems (sold to Intel for $880M), talks about publicly-funded research and land-grand universities as key to his business success. Jim Sherblom, former CFO of the Genzyme, notes the importance of the SEC in providing a stable financial market. Kim Jordan, CEO of New Belgium Brewing, declares "beer is heavy" as she emphasized the importance of roads and transportation infrastructure in making her business possible.
We also investigated people like the Koch Brothers who graze their cattle on federal land and use eminent domain law for their pipelines. We examine Donald Trump, whose father constructed FHA-guaranteed homes for US naval personnel, leaving the junior Trump with a sizable inheritance. Similarly, Ross Perot's software business rode to success on the backs of the federal Medicare program.
Governmental supports and public infrastructure are an important part of any success story in America, along with a bit of luck, various head starts in life, privilege, and the contributions of others, including the many employees (The AFL-CIO responded to last weeks convention theme with an email titled, "No, WE built it"). Such an honest and more rounded assessment helps put the "self-made" narrative in perspective.
But that's not what we heard last week. We heard, "I built it," and from that bootstrapping narrative comes a host of policy implications.
If they can convince us that the successful business leaders achieve their wealth through gumption and hard work alone, then extreme inequality is simply the result from their exceptional intelligence and hard work of those at the top …and the sloth of others. Efforts to rein in that inequality are thus viewed as "punishing success." Efforts of workers to demand a fair wage are viewed as "thuggary." Taken to its logical conclusion, this frame helps to fuel an anti-tax, anti-government, and anti-worker agenda.
The business leaders we spoke with understand that their hard work was matched in many ways by the contributions of society, not to mention a good bit of luck. As such, they take a very different view on taxes and the role of government, actively speaking out for a strong estate tax and ending the Bush tax cuts for top income-earners. Many also insist on paying their workers fair wages, or even sharing ownership with their workers.
In the weeks ahead, we have an opportunity to open a more meaningful discussion about the origins of individual and business success, and in doing so, shifting the public policy debates in positive ways. We sincerely hope our book, The Self-Made Myth, is a valuable contribution to this discussion. But we also need writers, bloggers, and organizers across the nation to pick up on this message. If we're going to create a new narrative, we'll need to "build it" together.
What would your ideal distribution of wealth in the United States be? You may not realize it, but if this research by Dan Ariely is any indicator, you likely prefer wealth to be held much more evenly than is currently the case in our country.
The gap between people's perceptions versus the reality of wealth distribution was the topic of a WNHN "Political Chowder" interview with UFE’s Steve Schnapp. Ariely and Norton found that many in the US are not fully aware of how dramatically unequal our economy has become.
We may be unaware of wealth inequalities, but do we want a more equal society? Research suggests that the answer is an overwhelming 'YES!' The commanding majority of those polled expressed a strong preference for a society in which wealth was distributed far more equitably. Need more reason for optimism? Those responses transcend political boundaries, with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents represented among those who desire a more equal distribution of wealth.
In light of Ariely's findings, we have to begin asking why our public policies are reinforcing—and making worse—economic inequality. The basic values of fairness and hard work as a means to move up the economic ladder that we hold so dear appear absent as we continue to witness the accumulation of great fortunes among so few people, even as so many millions continue to struggle.
Steve takes aim at the dominant narrative of the wealthy achieved such financial enrichment simply by virtue and hard work, which is an incomplete and misleading picture of how wealth is created. (Learn more with UFE's book, The Self-Made Myth.)
Ariely's data presents a compelling case for a shift in public policy priorities, but he doesn't get into the how of moving from research to social change. Steve points to community education and organizing as necessary strategies to break that paradigm and to bring people together to fight for a people's economy.
The Occupy Movement also showed us that it is possible to unite around a common cause and to draw the world's attention to the root causes of inequality. Our economic system is tilted in favor of the wealthy and is dangerously unaccountable to the people. Wall Street and the big banks sent our country into the Great Recession. We the taxpayers bailed them out. Now they've more than bounced back, but too many of us in the real economy, not the casino economy, have not.
A powerful movement for social and economic justice has to start somewhere. Why not start by asking the people around us what they know. As with Ariely's study, Steve asks listeners to consider what kind of economy they want. He challenges them to think about whether their values are reflected in our current reality. If not, he urges them to join and support groups fighting to improve their communities, states, country, and, ultimately, their world.
Inequality is worse than you thought. What are you going to do about it?
Related post: Economic Inequality: What We Think vs. What's Real
Housekeepers nationwide need your help. If you’ve ever stayed at a Hyatt and had a good night’s sleep, you have a housekeeper to thank for your fresh sheets and fluffed pillows. But invisible to hotel guests is the pain and hardship that housekeepers endure to provide us with an atmosphere of comfort and luxury.
That’s why this week Hyatt housekeepers are launching a global boycott of Hyatt. Please take two seconds to support them by voting Hyatt the Worst Hotel Employer in America and supporting the boycott.
Why is Hyatt the worst? Hyatt has replaced career housekeepers with temp workers earning minimum wage. Hyatt housekeepers have heavy workloads that can lead to debilitating pain and injuries. Hyatt has fired women shortly after they have spoken out about abuse and indignities at work. And Hyatt even turned heat lamps on workers protesting these conditions during a brutal Chicago heat wave.
Worldwide, we are calling on two million people to take a stand and Vote Hyatt Worst. By joining together, we will urge Hyatt to change its ways. Please join the boycott, vote them the worst employer in the country and share your vote.
This post was produced by HyattHurts.org. Please support the Hyatt Hurts campaign.
The Trayvon Martin case illustrates that we still have a hard time dealing with issues of race in this country. The issue of racial injustice, coupled with economic injustice, is not likely to fade away.
The Census Bureau estimates that by 2042, the population will no longer be majority white. Many believe that this demographic shift will automatically bring with it a qualitative improvement in the situation for people of color.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is a segment of white America that deeply fears the demographic changes and sees in them a threat to its status. Such fears lead some of these people to gravitate toward right-wing populism.
But the demographic changes are not expected to bring about any significant improvements for most people of color, particularly blacks and Latinos, according to a new study, State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority, by the Boston-based United for a Fair Economy.
If current trends continue, we will witness widening gaps in income and wealth, as well as in education and incarceration rates. The study predicts, for instance, that blacks will make 61 cents and Latinos will make 45 cents for every dollar whites make in terms of median family income.
Contrary to right-wing populists' "dystopia for whites," the report paints a picture of a reconfigured Jim Crow — almost an apartheid situation of haves and have-nots.
Most whites won't be benefiting, either. The overall living standard of most of this country, which began to decline in the mid-1970s, will continue to decline. The fates of poor and middle-class whites will be much more connected to those of people of color than to the very rich and largely white ruling elite.
The implications of this report are sobering — even frightening.
We need concerted political and economic action in the days and months and years ahead if we are to conquer our racial and economic disparities. That means not just continuing affirmative action. It also means launching policies of redistributive justice.
Let's face it: Those at the top have been redistributing income and wealth their way over the past three decades. If we don't implement policies that redistribute income and wealth to the vast majority of Americans who need it, our country will become increasingly — and dangerously — divided.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the co-author of "Solidarity Divided." He wrote this for Progressive Media Project.
The iconic "self-made" businessman is a tired and false cliche; it's time for a more honest national dialogue about what makes wealth and success possible. And a new book by two UFE staffers aims to do just that.
The Self-Made Myth—And the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, released this month by UFE executive director Brian Miller and Responsible Wealth project director Mike Lapham, exposes the false claim that business success is solely the result of the heroic effort of a single individual. The book contend that, among other supports, businesses are built atop public structures and services established and maintained by taxpayers’ collective investments made through government. As such, they owe something back to society.
“Debunking the self-made myth is critical, particularly during an election year where taxes and the role of government are center-stage,” says Brian Miller in a press statement released today. “We wrote this book because how we view wealth creation and individual success shapes our choices on policies, including taxes, regulations, public investments in schools and infrastructure, CEO pay, and more.”
Since the Reagan presidency, those involved in the broader conservative movement have based their anti-tax efforts on the notion that wealth is derived from the superior efforts of “job creators.” This frame fuels an anti-government and anti-tax narrative that the authors say is counter-productive to the kinds of investments we need to make to get our nation’s economy back on track.
“Members of Responsible Wealth, including some of the business owners profiled in our book, understand that there’s a lot more working in their favor than smarts, creativity or hard work,” says Mike Lapham. “They believe they owe a chunk of their good fortune to government investments in education, research, infrastructure and a regulatory system that have created a fertile business environment.”
The co-authors of The Self-Made Myth add that social relations can also provide an economic boost. “We hear these icons of business success, Donald Trump, Ross Perot, and the Koch brothers, for example, tout themselves as ‘self-made,’” said Miller. “But their failure to acknowledge the role of luck, privilege, and even government is misleading and dishonest.”
The Self-Made Myth book tour launched last week, fittingly at a public institution of learning, the Boston Public Library. The tour will continue around the country, with stops in New York City, Portland (Oregon), and Seattle.
Black History Month may have come to an end, but the fight against racial injustice is hardly over. In order to close the racial economic divide, we must first take an honest look at the policies and practices that created and perpetuate racial disparities.
Here are 11 ways federal government giveaways gave an economic headstart to white people while excluding people of color.
1. Free land
White Revolutionary War veterans were given nine million acres of Indian land.
2. Legalized squatting
In 1841, the U.S. government legalized squatting, allowing white settlers to take over Native American land.
3. Military-enforced squatting
The U.S. Government helped enforce squatting by employing the U.S. Army out west to beat back Native Americans from land coveted by white settlers.
4. More free land
In addition to conquering half of Mexico, the U.S. Government reclaimed Latino landowners’ land for minor infractions such as missing paperwork or back taxes, and then sold it to Anglo settlers at a minor cost.
5. Even more free land
The Homestead Act of 1862 provided free or very inexpensive land was provided by the government to 1.5 million white families.
6. Revoked promises to slaves
Following the Civil War, freed slaves were promised ‘40 acres and a mule.’ Following Lincoln's death, this promise was revoked and land was returned to its previous White owners.
7. Preferential treatment of white workers
Through the New Deal, the U.S. Government provided minimum wages, union rights, and social security to industrial workers, almost all of whom were white. These same benefits, however, were denied to agricultural and domestic workers, most of whom were people of color.
8. Government-sponsored aid
Government-sponsored aid was provided to struggling white farmers while denying it to most black farmers from the 1930’s right through the 1980s.
9. GI Bill benefits
Provided free college education, vocational training, and cheap mortgages to nearly two million white WWII vets via the GI Bill, while simultaneously blocking most veterans of color from accessing the same benefits.
10. Neighborhood investment through homeownership
Invested in infrastructure to expand suburban neighborhoods where white households were able to access government-subsidized mortgages while urban, inner-city neighborhoods were red-lined.
11. Tax breaks
Tax breaks on investment income (such as dividends, capital gains and inheritances), which are disproportionately owned by wealthy white people, have been cut and lowered much more than taxes on income from work.
In the past few months, we’ve heard more than ever about economic inequality. This increased awareness is a breath of fresh air, but it’s not enough by itself. We can’t just point out the existence of inequality. We must uproot the ideological underpinnings that support it. No matter how unequal wealth and income are, if people can rationalize it in their minds as the result of some working harder or being more virtuous than others, then our efforts to rein in inequality will fall flat.
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.
Take a look at the images below, share with your networks, and help us bust the self-made myth once and for all.
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.
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.
|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.