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  • Is Runaway Inequality Ruining Economy And Society?
    Updated On: Jul 15, 2016

    By JoAnne Pow!ers, March 4, 2016

    Les Leopold, Executive Director of the Labor Institute of New York, is the author of the new book “Runaway Inequality.” The book argues that our economy and society are being ruined by an ever-increasing disparity in income and wealth between the nation’s top financiers and CEOs and the rest of us. Leopold’s motivation for the book came from his son, who was working with the Fight for 15 in New York:

    [Les Leopold]: “…he would come home to New Jersey where we live and he’d say, ‘You know, I can’t really understand what’s going on. I walk around New York, there are all these homeless people sleeping on the street. How can this country be so rich and have this?’ First, I thought, well, maybe I’ll do something on homelessness. And as I got into it, I realized, whoa, this is a much, much bigger problem. This goes all the way back to the late 70s, to this transformation of our economy…what economists call financialization, what I’m calling financial strip-mining. The deregulation of Wall Street has led to this incredible, growing gap. This is no longer your grandfather’s capitalism. This is something very different and pernicious.”

    Leopold notes that since the crash of 2008, 95 percent of new income has gone to the top one percent:

    [Les Leopold]: “For the rest of us, we’re living in constant austerity. The average worker has not had a raise since 1980 in terms of real buying power. Students are increasingly in debt. The infrastructure is falling apart. If you’re a low-income person, your life is on the margin and you’re likely to get swept up into the criminal justice system. As a matter of fact, if you look at the rise of income for Wall Street people and the top CEOs, the shape of that chart looks exactly the same as the rise of the prison population.”

    As an example of Leopold’s “Runaway Inequality”, you don’t need to look any further than General Motors:

    [Les Leopold]: “We did not bail out general motors in order to enrich Wall Street hedge funds, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Two weeks ago, GM announced that it was doing a nine billion dollar stock buyback, which basically returns cash to hedge fund investors. That is obscene, and any environmentalist should be up in arms about that process. The rest of us want that money to be used to pay its workers decently, and produce the best green cars in the world. By 2007, catch this, 75 percent of all corporate profits went to buy back their own shares. If all the money’s gonna go to stock buybacks to enrich the CEO, the last thing they want to do is spend any money on pollution controls.”

    With economic inequality impacting a wide array of issues ranging from criminal justice and the environment to war-and-peace issues and education, Leopold hopes his common analysis will help unite the progressive movement in America:

    [Les Leopold]: “It’s an issue that would help us form a more coherent progressive movement, kinda help us break out of our issue-oriented silos, and come together to build the kind of political revolution that we need to make the country work for working people again.”

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