Category Archives: Politics

Forces of Divergence – Is surging inequality endemic to capitalism?

Source: John Cassidy, New Yorker, March 31, 2014

….What are the “forces of divergence” that produce enormous riches for some and leave the majority scrabbling to make a decent living? Piketty is clear that there are different factors behind stagnation in the middle and riches at the top. But, during periods of modest economic growth, such as the one that many advanced economies have experienced in recent decades, income tends to shift from labor to capital. Because of enmeshed economic, social, and political pressures, Piketty fears “levels of inequality never before seen.”

To back up his arguments, he provides a trove of data. He and Saez pioneered the construction of simple charts showing the shares of over-all income received by the richest ten per cent, the richest one per cent, and, even, the richest 0.1 per cent. When the data are presented in this way, Piketty notes, it is easy for people to “grasp their position in the contemporary hierarchy (always a useful exercise, particularly when one belongs to the upper centiles of the distribution and tends to forget it, as is often the case with economists).” Anybody who reads the newspaper will be aware that, in the United States, the “one per cent” is taking an ever-larger slice of the economic pie. But did you know that the share of the top income percentile is bigger than it was in South Africa in the nineteen-sixties and about the same as it is in Colombia, another deeply divided society, today? In terms of income generated by work, the level of inequality in the United States is “probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world,” Piketty writes…..

….In the United States, the story was less dramatic but broadly similar. The Great Depression wiped out a lot of dynastic wealth, and it also led to a policy revolution. During the nineteen-thirties and forties, Piketty reminds us, Roosevelt raised the top rate of income tax to more than ninety per cent and the tax on large estates to more than seventy per cent. The federal government set minimum wages in many industries, and it encouraged the growth of trade unions. In the decades after the war, it spent heavily on infrastructure, such as interstate highways, which boosted G.D.P. growth. Fearful of spurring public outrage, firms kept the pay of their senior executives in check. Inequality started to rise again only when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan led a conservative counter-revolution that slashed tax rates on the rich, decimated the unions, and sought to restrain the growth of government expenditures. Politics and income distribution are two sides of the same coin…..

Detaining Democracy? Criminal Justice and American Civic Life

Source: Edited by: Christopher Wildeman, Jacob S. Hacker and Vesla M. Weaver, ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, January 2014
(subscription required)

From the extract:
“We Mail Books to Prison.” So reads the sign adorning the window of a bookshop tucked away in a struggling corner of Trenton, New Jersey. It communicates the obvious—an available service—but also something less innocuous: many of the shop’s customers have loved ones in prison. It communicates something else, too: the effects of prison are not as distant from this troubled neighborhood as the prison itself might be. Following the opposite course of the books, the effects of incarceration feed back into the communities from which prisoners come and to which most of them will return. In a nation where the capacity to punish and surveil has witnessed stunning expansion over the last generation, “We Mail Books to Prison” is a reminder that the state’s role as arbiter and enforcer of criminal law now represents one of the most powerful influences on the social and civic fabric of communities across the nation, affecting everything from the socialization of children to the political participation of residents.

We live in the midst of what may be the most visible and transformative government intervention since the 1960s. The number of prisoners has multiplied fivefold in just 35 years. At the same time, other types of criminal justice contact—from the use of misdemeanor charges (Natapoff 2012) to stop-and-frisks (to brief detentions based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity rather than probable cause)—have dramatically increased as well (Fagan et al. 2010). In the words of historian William Novak, “The power of the U.S. government to regulate, study, order, discipline, and punish its citizens . . . has never been greater” (2008, 760).

This power has not been felt equally by all Americans. For most, it is virtually invisible. For men of color—especially those who reside in the poorest neighborhoods—and for the people close to ….

Articles include:
Incarceration and Social Inequality: Challenges and Directions for Future Research
by Kristin Turney

Mass Imprisonment and Trust in the Law
by Christopher Muller and Daniel Schrage

How the Criminal Justice System Educates Citizens
by Benjamin Justice and Tracey L. Meares

Detention, Democracy, and Inequality in a Divided Society

by Glenn C. Loury

Do Voting Rights Notification Laws Increase Ex-Felon Turnout?
by Marc Meredith and Michael Morse

Locked In? Conservative Reform and the Future of Mass Incarceration
by David Dagan and Steven M. Teles

Incarceration, Inequality, and Imagining Alternatives
by Bruce Western

Mass Incarceration and American Democracy
Source: Scholars Strategy Network, Scholar Spotlight, 2014

The Speech and Association Rights of Employees: Implications of Knox v. SEIU, Local 1000 and Harris v. Quinn

Source: Catherine Fisk, Erwin Chemerinsky, University of California, Irvine School of Law, Research Paper No. 2014-13, February 12, 2014

From the abstract:
In 2012, the Supreme Court held in Knox v. SEIU, Local 1000 that a union representing government employees may assess money from the employees whom it represents to support political activity only if those employees first opt in to supporting political expenditures. In reaching this holding, the Court reasoned that public sector employees have a First Amendment right to refuse to contribute money to support the political speech of their union and that protection of that First Amendment right requires states to allow such assessments only if the employees first opt to make a financial contribution. Knox is the latest in a long series of Supreme Court cases delineating when a union selected as the exclusive bargaining representative by the majority of employees in a workplace violates the First Amendment rights of dissenting employees by acting on behalf of the majority. The Court’s next case in this line, Harris v. Quinn, which was argued in January and will be decided later this year, presents the question whether home care workers who are state employees have a First Amendment right to refuse to pay the union anything for the services the union is statutorily obligated to provide them. The petitioners in Harris invite the Court to overrule decades of precedent and hold that the First Amendment prohibits a union representing government employees from collecting dues or fees from dissenting employees. In colloquial terms, the petitioners in Harris seek to have the Supreme Court declare that, as a matter of the First Amendment, all government employment must be on a “right-to-work” basis. The petitioners in Harris argued that bargaining on behalf of employees is petitioning the government and “political in nature” even when it addresses wages, and it violates the First Amendment to require dissenting employees to support the union’s bargaining. As the Justices recognized at oral argument, the logical extension of the petitioners’ argument is that the First Amendment invalidates any statute allowing employees to bargain collectively on the basis of exclusive representation. While the petitioners noted that the Harris case itself did not require the Court to consider whether empowering a union to be the exclusive representative of employees for purposes of negotiating wages and working conditions necessarily involves compelled speech with respect to those employees who disagree with the majority representative’s positions, their brief invited the Court to find collective bargaining on the basis of exclusive representation to be unconstitutional. This article analyzes Harris, Knox, and other leading Court cases to assess union representation and the First Amendment, contradictions in applied standards of associational speech, and the future of public sector collective bargaining.

Congressional Officials Grant Access Due To Campaign Contributions: A Randomized Field Experiment

Source: Joshua L. Kalla – Yale and David E. Broockman – University of California, Berkeley, 2014

Concern that lawmakers grant preferential treatment to individuals because they have contributed to political campaigns has long occupied jurists, scholars, and the public. However, the effect s of campaign contributions on legislators’ behavior have proven notoriously difficult to assess. We report the first randomized field experiment on the topic. In the experiment, a political organization attempted to schedule meetings between 191 Members of Congress and their constituents who had contributed to political campaigns. However, the organization randomly assigned whether it informed legislators’ offices that individuals who would attend the meetings were contributors. Congressional offices made considerably more senior officials available for meetings when offices were informed the attendees were donors, with senior officials attending such meetings more than three times as often. Influential policymakers thus appear to make themselves much more accessible to individuals because they have contributed to campaigns, even in the absence of quid pro quo arrangements. These findings have significant implications for ongoing legal and legislative de bates. The hypothesis that individuals can command greater attention from influential policymakers by contributing to campaigns has been among the most contested explanations for how financial resources translate into political power. The simple but revealing experiment presented here elevates this hypothesis from extensively contested to scientifically supported.

Waging a successful library funding campaign: a case study

Source: Brent S. Roberts, Cheryl L. Hoover, Library Management, Vol. 35 no. 3, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Purpose – To identify common arguments and points of resistance to library development projects, and to outline effective political and communication strategies, which can be used by library administrators and supporters when pursuing funding campaigns.

Design/methodology/approach – This study analyzed media messages from local newspaper and radio stations, including open comments posted in online discussion threads, over a one-year period. Interviews were also conducted with the library’s director and foundation development officer.

Findings – Analysis of media coverage drew out primary points of resistance, while the interviews provided strategies utilized to counteract anti-library rhetoric.

Research limitations/implications – Further comparison with other library funding campaigns is needed. Particular areas to be studied include the relationship between the tone of online discussion forum posts and actual voting results; also, the impact of strongly opinionated posters on other participants.

Practical implications – Library administrators seeking public support should strongly consider the following points which contributed to the success of the campaign analyzed in this article: –The need to understand common public responses and points of resistance to proposed library projects. –The importance of a supportive city council. –The need to reduce uncertainty about potential physical locations. –Understanding the distinction between political vs. marketing campaigns. –Identifying potential supporters, regardless of whether they were library users….

The Continuing Vitality of Unions

Source: New York University Annual Survey of American Law, 2014

The title of the NYU Annual Survey of American Law’s annual symposium on February 21 might well have ended with a question mark: “The Continuing Vitality of Unions.” In the event’s keynote, Professor Benjamin Sachs of Harvard Law School acknowledged the beleaguered condition of organized labor in the US, with ever-dwindling membership numbers and the passage of laws across the country hostile to unionization. Sachs stressed the importance of vital unions both economically and politically. “Unions are an essential contributor to economic equality,” he said. “Across time and across countries, the higher the level of union density, the more economically equal a society is likely to be.”…

Keynote: Benjamin Sachs

The Future of the NLRB

* Deborah Malamud (moderator) – AnBryce Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
* Wilma B. Liebman – Former Chairman and Member, National Labor Relations Board; Visiting Lecturer, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Cornell University Law School
* Kent Y. Hirozawa ‘82 – Member, National Labor Relations Board
* James J. Brudney – Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law
* Zachary D. Fasman – Partner, Proskauer Rose LLP

Unions in the Public Eye

* Cynthia Estlund (moderator) – Catherine A. Rein Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
* Randel K. Johnson – Senior Vice President, Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
* Thomas A. Kochan – George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management
* Steven Greenhouse ’82 – Labor and Workplace Correspondent, The New York Times

Unions in the Political Process

* Samuel Estreicher (moderator) – Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
* Trevor Burrus – Research Fellow, Cato Institute Center for Constitutional Studies
* Michael A. Podhorzer – Political Director, AFL-CIO
* Raymond J. LaJeunesse, Jr. – Vice President and Legal Director, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation
* Laurence E. Gold – Of Counsel, Bredhoff & Kaiser, PLLC

The Political Divide Over How Best To Reduce Poverty

Source: Diane Rehm Show, March 5, 2014

In his 2015 budget, President Barack Obama calls for expanding tax breaks for low-income workers. Republicans are pushing welfare reform and an overhaul of social programs. Debate over government efforts to reduce poverty.

Damian Paletta – reporter, The Wall Street Journal.

Olivia Golden – executive director, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP); former assistant secretary for children and families, Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration; author of “Reforming Child Welfare.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin – president of the American Action Forum, chief economist and director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2003 to 2006.

What Persuades Voters? A Field Experiment on Political Campaigning

Source: Jared Barton, Marco Castillo, Ragan Petrie, The Economic Journal, Vol. 124, Issue 574, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Candidates spend considerable resources campaigning. Prior research indicates campaigning affects voting decisions but, as with advertising generally, what element of campaigning persuades – the content or its delivery method – is not fully understood. Using a field experiment in a 2010 general election for local office, we identify the mechanism behind one campaign method: candidate door‐to‐door canvassing. We vary both the method of contact and the information conveyed by campaign materials. We find that voters are persuaded by personal contact with the candidate and that personal contact apparently works by providing a costly signal of quality rather than through social pressure

Why Teachers Unions Make Such Useful Scapegoats

Source: Rebecca Kolins Givan, New Labor Forum, Vol. 23 no. 1, Winter 2014
(subscription required)

In the last several election cycles, it has become de rigueur for right-wing candidates to express their anger at teachers and their unions, blaming them for any and all ills of public education, and characterizing them as resistant to change. These attacks have metastasized: formerly the rhetoric of conservatives who one might expect to hate unions, “taking on” teachers unions has become a popular activity for a number of prominent Democrats. At a time when education reform and health care reform are at the center of our national policy agenda, it is curious that there is so much blame and animosity focused on teachers unions, while nursing and other health care unions continue their work relatively unmolested by mainstream politicians. …

Where is the angry middle-class revolution?

Source: Robert Reich, Salon, January 27, 2014

Our incomes are shrinking while the 1 percent profits. Change will only happen when the middle class gets mad. …

…Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.

First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.

In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. The labor movement led the charge for a minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.

No longer. Working people don’t dare. The share of working-age Americans holding jobs is now lower than at any time in the last three decades and 76 percent of them are living paycheck to paycheck.

No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.

Besides, their major means of organizing and protecting themselves — labor unions — have been decimated. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.

Second, students don’t dare rock the boat. …

Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible….