Progressive Breakfast for April 24

Morning Message

Piketty’s “Capital” Is A Hit. So What Comes Next?

When a product sells phenomenally well, as Thomas Piketty’s new book is currently doing, popular economic theory says that means one of two things: either it’s filling a substantial unmet demand, or the product is exceptionally well executed. In the case of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” both statements are true. ... Piketty has given us a superior product. He has brilliantly and eloquently analyzed the crisis of inequality that threatens the global economy. The question now is, what do we do about it?

Talking Trade

Obama to use Japan visit to reassure Asian allies. Reuters: “U.S. President Barack Obama will use a state visit to Japan on Thursday to try to reassure Asian allies of his commitment to ramping up U.S. engagement in the region, despite Chinese complaints that his real aim is to contain Beijing’s rise. U.S. and Japanese trade negotiators for the two countries were working around the clock in Tokyo on a two-way trade pact seen as crucial to a broader trans-Pacific agreement.”

Obama trade push gets thumbs down from Democrats. Politico: “President Barack Obama’s in Asia this week pushing a deal that almost none of his allies at home want. On the Hill, most of the pushback is coming from the president’s fellow Democrats, who say it undercuts the economic fairness argument that’s a central focus of his midterm strategy. Despite Obama’s support for the agreement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have made clear they don’t have much interest in TPP or broader fast-track trade authority passing before November — if then.

Battle for the Capitol ad

Mind The Pay Gap

Pay Gap Is Because of Gender, Not Jobs. NY Times: “Are women paid less than men because they choose to be, by gravitating to lower-paying jobs like teaching and social work? That is what some Republicans who voted down the equal pay bill this month would have you believe…. But a majority of the pay gap between men and women actually comes from differences within occupations, not between them — and widens in the highest-paying ones like business, law and medicine, according to data from Claudia Goldin, a Harvard University labor economist and a leading scholar on women and the economy.

Breaking bad: Gender pay gap narrows, but women shouldn’t be happy about it. Washington Post: “The gender pay gap can narrow for a couple of basic reasons. Women could be catching up to men because women are moving into jobs that pay relatively high wages. But, they also could be catching up because men’s wages are falling. The former story represents good news, but the latter story doesn’t. Unfortunately, the latest data from the Labor Department show that one reason the gap between what women and men make each week is closing is because men’s earnings have fallen slightly while women’s earnings have been essentially flat over the past decade.


Economic Inequality Update

Why middle class can’t afford rents. CNN.Com: “A new analysis by Zillow finds that the typical renter can no longer afford the median rent in 90 cities across the United States. Many Americans are severely cost-burdened: 4 million working renter households pay more than half of pre-tax income on rent. … The housing recovery is a few years old, and home prices have started to rebound. But why isn’t the rental market fixing itself?

U.S. Workers Losing Ground in Leisure Time, Too. NY Times: “Workers in other advanced countries aren’t just closing the income gap with Americans, as an article Tuesday on The Upshot reported. They are doing so while working fewer hours. The French work, on average, 491 fewer hours per year than in 1970. The Dutch work 425 fewer hours, and Canadians 215. Americans, by contrast, have reduced their yearly workload by only 112 hours over the last 40 years. Today, Americans work more than employees in most, if not all, rich countries. The extra toil is buying less and less.”

Colin Gordon notes the role of Wall Street in economic inequality: “The success or failure of the financial sector has a disproportionate impact on the rest of the economy, especially when the combination of too much speculation and too little regulation starts inflating and bursting bubbles. And its returns flow almost exclusively to high earners. An overcharged finance sector, in other words, breeds inequality when it succeeds and when it fails.”

Matt Stoller, at Naked Capitalism, says America’s not an oligarchy: “A lot of people are misreading this Princeton study on the political influence of the wealthy and business groups versus ordinary citizens. The study does not say that the US is an oligarchy, wherein the wealthy control politics with an iron fist. If it were, then things like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, veterans programs, housing finance programs, etc wouldn’t exist. What the study actually says is that American voters are disorganized and their individualized preferences don’t matter unless voters group themselves into mass membership organizations. Then, if people belong to mass membership organizations, their preferences do matter, but less so than business groups and the wealthy.”


Running On Obamacare

Poll: Americans really love Obamacare’s birth control coverage. Salon: “According to a new poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans support the birth control requirement of the Affordable Care Act. (Take that, Hobby Lobby.) The survey, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that 69 percent of respondents supported ‘mandated coverage of birth control medications in health plans.’”

Southerners Don’t Like Obamacare. They Also Don’t Want to Repeal It. NY Times: “Despite strong dislike of President Obama’s handling of health care, a majority of people in three Southern states – Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina – would rather that Congress improve his signature health care law than repeal and replace it, according to a New York Times Upshot/Kaiser Family Foundation poll. … The findings in the four states — all with political races that could tip the balance of power in the Senate — underscore the complex and often contradictory views of Mr. Obama’s principal domestic legislation four years after it became law.

Kevin Drum says running away from Obamacare is “a fool’s errand”: “Electorates in red states know that these Democrats voted for Obamacare. Their opponents are going to hammer away at it relentlessly. It’s just impossible to run away from it, and doing so only makes them look craven and unprincipled. The only way to turn this around is not to distance yourself from Obamacare, but to try and convince a piece of the electorate that Obamacare isn’t such a bad deal after all. You won’t convince everyone, but you don’t need to. You just need to persuade the 5 or 10 percent who are mildly opposed to Obamacare that it’s working better than they think.”