Capitalist Bonanza: Share Buybacks Reached Record High In 2021

The coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc in 2021, with the Omicron and Delta variants, supply chain disruptions, and inflation battering the global working class. In the United States, companies continued to put profits before worker well-being while the Biden administration refused to provide relief like continuing the child tax credit. Amid much bad news for workers last year emerged a key victor: wealthy shareholders.

Share buybacks hit a record high last year. Companies in the S&P 500 — a market index which tracks the stock prices of 500 leading U.S. companies — repurchased shares worth over $245 billion in the third quarter alone. These exorbitant buybacks helped U.S. stock market indices reach record peaks: the S&P 500 broke 67 records in 2021 and increased its value by 25 percent.

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The Year In Inequality

A year ago we had such high hopes. We expected the Covid vaccine rollout to bring a swift end to the pandemic, opening a window for pushing bold solutions to the long-standing economic, racial, and gender divides that had grown even wider under Covid.

Where are we as 2021 comes to a close? These 10 charts highlight major inequality developments of the year, covering some steps back and some important steps forward.

The combined wealth of the 745 U.S. billionaires surpassed $5 trillion in 2021, up 70 percent since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness analysis of Forbes data.

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A Critique Of Obscene Wealth

Wherever and whenever obscenely rich people existed, they always protected their wealth and the privileges that come with it from the majority of non-wealthy people working for them and around them. Emperors, kings, czars as well as masters of huge slave plantations, lords of big feudal manors, and major shareholders and top executives of capitalist megacorporations did so partly by the use of brute force, or through the exercise of power, and bribery. All of them also used ideological persuasion, but none more so than capitalists today. And while “the weapon of criticism can never replace the criticism of weapons,” according to Karl Marx, a critique of capitalism’s obscene wealth today and its ideological justifications is arguably much needed.

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Wage Inequality Continued To Increase In 2020

Newly available wage data from the Social Security Administration allow us to analyze wage trends for the top 1.0% and other very high earners as well as for the bottom 90% during 2020. The upward distribution of wages from the bottom 90% to the top 1.0% that was evident over the period from 1979 to 2019 was especially strong in the 2020 pandemic year, yielding historically high wage levels and shares of all wages for the top 1.0% and 0.1%. Correspondingly, the share of wages earned by the bottom 95% fell in 2020.

Two features of the pandemic economy distorted wage patterns in 2020 and led to faster wage growth, especially at the top. One feature was that inflation grew at a subdued 1.2% rate, boosting the average real wage (but not affecting distribution).

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How China Is Taking On Billionaires And Big Tech To Combat Inequality

China is imposing harsh regulations on private education, big tech, and billionaires. The new Cold Warriors in the U.S. government and media call these moves authoritarian, leftward tyranny, and bad for business. But Chinese president Xi Jinping calls it part of a “common prosperity” agenda to create a more equitable society on the road to building socialism. To help understand the Chinese point of view, Rania Khalek was joined by Tings Chak, a writer and researcher with Dongsheng News and the Tricontinental Institute.

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Anti-Imperialism You Can Try At Home

Robin Rue Simmons had been very curious about the truth of American life as a young person. But it was only after she finished high school, left her native Evanston, Illinois, and returned as an adult — ready to buy a house in the historically Black neighborhood in which she grew up — that she delved deep into her city’s history and fully understood the policies that had kept Black residents poor while enriching their white neighbors. Of course, this isn’t the kind of history that’s taught in school, even if today’s students do sometimes learn unsavory truths about the American empire. Local history is different, perhaps because it can be especially uncomfortable to examine how that empire’s economic plunder shaped our present-day communities.

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Black Families Passed Their Homes From One Generation To The Next

Margaret Alston doesn’t remember the night that Hurricane Matthew hit, but she remembers how afraid she was of the flooding that followed.

The biggest hurricane to hit South Carolina  since 1999, the storm caused massive inland flooding across large swaths of the south-east. In Bucksport, the small, unincorporated town where Alston grew up, the Wacamaw River overflowed, inundating the street Alston’s house is on and making it impassable.

“The water was everywhere,” she says. “And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere.” She found refuge at a nearby community center, before moving in temporarily with her sister in Conway, 14 miles away.

Six years later, she is still in Conway, her house sits abandoned and in disrepair, and the funding allocated to Hurricane Matthew victims has dried up.

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The Pandora Papers Are Just A Distraction

The latest revelations of creative accounting used by the global elite notably failed to mention any American billionaires. A curious omission, considering eight of the ten richest men on Earth reside in the good old US of A.

The release of the Pandora Papers, which brag of leaks exposing the somewhat ‘artistic’ financial practices of the rich and powerful, has once again seen the media take aim at Vladimir Putin. The West’s obsession with the Russian president’s private life is on full, torrid display. His name and picture are on the front pages of publications and above online articles, although reports finally acknowledged that he is not actually named anywhere in the ‘bombshell’ papers.

Western media are obsessed with trying to peek inside the private life of Putin for anything salacious, and their motive is transparent.

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Racism Denies Common Prosperity In The United States

Mainstream U.S. media frequently depicts China as a “closed off” country that treats ethnic minorities with contempt and oppression. The New York Times took this baseless accusation further in an op-ed published on September 9 that claimed China was closing itself off from the world and rejecting the English language. No verifiable proof was offered beyond reforms to the education system that seek to address economic and social stressors faced by Chinese families.

The op-ed argued that China’s decision to place tighter regulations on its private tutoring and examination process is a sign that the country is closing itself off from the world. Yet China’s reforms actually achieve the opposite by adhering to the goal set out by the central government to ensure “common prosperity” for all.

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Amazon’s ‘Factory Towns’ Will Be Satanic Mills For The Working Class

Amazon and its hyper-neoliberal cheerleaders are polishing turds again. Jeff Bezos, the billionaire spaceman, and his company are about to ‘lift the working class’ by creating new ‘factory towns,’ Bloomberg writes.

“Plentiful new jobs at higher wages in places with cheaper housing sounds like a solution to inequality,” investment adviser Conor Sen wrote in a piece for the news agency.

Bloomberg and Amazon are putting such a shine on this idea, it reminds me of those Victorian texts where the working class living on the master’s land would bow and doff their caps every time his carriage passed them on their way to a 14-hour shift in his mine or mill.

Old books are full of those cheery commoners thanking landlords and industrialists for allowing them to live and work in poverty. Have we really come full circle?

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A Climate Stat We Can’t Afford To Overlook

Ace researchers dropped two blockbuster reports on us last week. The first — from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC — hit on Monday with a worldwide thunderclap.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is dubbing this first report’s findings “a code red for humanity” — and for good reason. Our global thermometer is already averaging 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If current trends continue, we’ll reach 3 degrees this century. Where do we need to be? To avert “catastrophe for people and natural systems worldwide,” we can’t afford to let global temperatures rise over 1.5 degrees.

This week’s second blockbuster report arrived Tuesday, sans the thunderclap. Few media outlets chose to give this second study — the Economic Policy Institute’s latest look at U.S. CEO pay — any high-profile real estate.

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The Eviction Crisis Is A Race And Gender Wage Gap Issue

The federal eviction moratorium coincided with Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2021, which marks the number of days into the year that the average Black woman has to work to catch up to the average white man’s annual earnings in 2020. Based on recent Census data, Black women make just 63 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.

If Black women’s earnings continue to grow as slowly as they have since the mid-1980s, it will take them more than 100 years — until 2133 — to reach pay equity with white men.

“Lower pay deprives Black women of resources they need to provide for themselves and their families and over a lifetime can really add up — the loss of earnings in D.C. alone adds up to almost $1 million dollars over 20 years,” said Chandra Childers, lead author of a new report on the wage gap from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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Social Banditry For The 21st Century

At least as early as the first century A.D., shiftas of the Horn of Africa renounced their allegiance to emperors, government and law, and took to the wild where — through their disruptions of the usual business and trade — they would manage to survive as outlaws. For centuries, the Balkan haiduks roamed their lands, stealing from their Ottoman occupiers. Yi brigands and others from across the Chinese frontier sustained their economies in large part through raiding during the early 20th century. From 1917-1937, Peruvian women led bands of sharpshooters by horseback to rob the rich and give to the poor.

Despite limited research and the folkloric fictionalization of the Robin Hoods of our past, social banditry seems to be present wherever even the most primordial forms of civilization have offered class inequalities.

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Parks For The People

It’s a mid-July evening in Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick, Brooklyn and people are out, enjoying the final few hours of daylight. The sounds of basketballs bouncing and sneakers squeaking echo in the nearby courts. Some people sit placidly on benches, others walk their dogs along the paths. Parents chase children teetering on their bicycles and teenagers skateboard over the cobblestone pavement. A group of 20-somethings sits talking on a blanket in the grass, which, in certain patches, is overgrown and littered with soda cans and plastic bags. Over by the volleyball court, a match has drawn a rowdy crowd along its perimeter.

Maria Hernandez Park may not be a tourist destination, but it is a staple for the surrounding neighborhood, which is largely Hispanic and working class.

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State Of The World: Poverty Is Widespread

The world’s population was about 7.8 billion people in 2020. About 2.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, and over 4 billion do not have safe sanitation.(1) About 800 million suffer from chronic undernourishment. A fifth of all children under 5 suffer from stunted growth.(2) Each year approximately 6 million children and many millions of adults die of easily preventable diseases(3) and 9 million people die of hunger.(4) Some progress has been made on some of these issues, particularly in China. However, things have been getting worse in other regions, such as Africa.(5) Since 1960, the income gap between rich countries and poor countries has roughly tripled in size.

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