Scanlon and Obama on Inequality

Scanlon and Obama on Inequality

Recently, President Obama has stated that income inequality, and inequality of opportunity, is the “defining challenge of our time.”  As debates about the minimum wage start to gain traction in American politics, it appears that inequality may  be a major issue in 2014.  Last month, Harvard philosopher Tim Scanlon sat down with the philosophy bites podcast to discuss the morality of inequality in the context of political philosphy.

Here is a description of the podcast which asks “what is wrong with inequality?”: 

Why do so many people object to inequality? Is there something intrinsically wrong with it? Is it wrong because it has bad consequences? Or is there nothing wrong with it? Harvard philosopher Tim Scanlon discusses these questions with Nigel Warburton in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.

“The Grapes of Wrath” and Poverty Today

It appears likely that poverty and inequality will be major political topics for 2014. No novel captures the suffering associated with poverty better than John Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” Recently, The Diane Rehm Show discussed “The Grapes of Wrath,” its enduring legacy and an upcoming film remake.

Here is a description of the program:
For our January Readers’ Review: “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Published almost 75 years ago, Steinbeck’s story of the Joad family’s migration from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to California holds important lessons for today. Diane and her guests discuss Steinbeck’s classic novel.

Leslie Maitland former reporter, The New York Times and author, “Crossing the Borders of Time.”
Joseph McCartin history professor, Georgetown University and director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. He is an expert on U.S. labor, social and political history.
Susan Shillinglaw English professor, San Jose State University (SJSU) and scholar in residence, National Steinbeck Center. For 18 years, she was director of the Center for Steinbeck Studies at SJSU.

Extreme Swiss Inequality Reforms

Extreme Swiss Inequality Reforms

President Obama recently stated that inequality is a “defining challenge” for the United States. Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria reported that Switzerland, a country with significantly less inequality than the US, considered radical reforms to reduce inequality, including capping executive compensation.  

Here is the beginning of the segment from Fareed Zarakia GPS

If there’s one country in the world that looks like a utopia, its name must be Switzerland. This is a country that has it all. The average income is $82,000 a year – 65 percent more than the average American income. Everyone has great healthcare, childcare, and education. The unemployment rate is 3 percent. There is almost no corruption. According to the OECD, of 34 developed countries surveyed, the Swiss have the greatest degree of trust in their government. And, of course, it is a spectacular country with great traditions of skiing, cheese, chocolate, and wine.


What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot, actually.

The Swiss are furious about income inequality. The story is a familiar one. According to Reuters, in 1984 top earners in Swiss firms made 6 times as much as the bottom earners. Today, they make 43-times what bottom earners make. At some banks and firms, CEOs make 200-times the salary of the lowest-paid employee.


Now, before you assume things about Europe and European attitudes towards capitalism, remember that Switzerland is one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. The conservative Heritage Foundation has an “Index of Economic Freedom.” Switzerland ranks 5th in the world, well ahead of the United States of America.


But in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Swiss have become far more concerned about the nature of today’s free market system. So, some Swiss political groups came up with a plan. It’s called the 1 is to 12 initiative. The highest-paid company executive should make a maximum of 12 times what the lowest-paid employee makes. In other words, no one should earn more in one month than someone else makes in a year.

Rockanomics and the US Economy: “It’s a Long Way to the Top . . .”

Rockanomics and the US Economy: “It’s a Long Way to the Top . . .”

“. . . if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll.” This quote from AC/DC and Jack Black’s School of Rock is applicable to a short story by NPR’s Weekend Edition.  The segment discusses how the economics of the music industry can teach us lessons about the broader American economy.  Most notably, both are currently in a state of radical inequality. 

Here is a description of the story: 

White House economic adviser Alan Krueger took some ribbing from his boss this week. President Obama noted that Krueger will soon be leaving Washington to go back to his old job, teaching economics at Princeton.

“And now that Alan has some free time, he can return to another burning passion of his: ‘Rockanomics,’ the economics of rock and roll,” the president said. “This is something that Alan actually cares about.”

In fact, Krueger gave a speech this week at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where he said the music business offers valuable lessons about the broader U.S. economy.

Wage Inequality 50 Years After the Equal Pay Act

Wage Inequality 50 Years After the Equal Pay Act

Yesterday, NPR’s Morning Edition commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act and discussed woman in the workplace today.  

Here is an introduction the story: 

On this day 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in an effort to abolish wage discrimination based on gender. Half a century later, the Obama administration is pushing Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, designed to make wage differences more transparent.

Some dispute the frequently cited figure that women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. But even those who argue the gap is narrower agree it’s most prominent when a woman enters her childbearing years.