Matt Bruenig

Matt Bruenig is a blogger at PolicyShop. Follow him on Twitter

Recent Articles

1950s Capitalist Propaganda and Opportunistic Egalitarians

In yesterday's post, I wrote about the broad history of inequality under capitalism . In many countries that have undergone capitalist development, inequality has moved in three stages. First, inequality rapidly escalates. Second, the rise in inequality slows down and actually reverses. Third, inequality shoots up once again. Interestingly, when the United States was in stage two, some advocates of capitalism became very fond of egalitarian arguments. Whereas Marx predicted that capitalism would cause inequality to increase inexorably, the second stage seemed to show that wasn't true: As you can see, the market incomes of the bottom 90 percent (blue) actually grew faster than the market incomes of the top 10 percent (red) for quite some time, with the 1950s and 1960s being right on the crest of that trend. From this, Simon Kuznets, writing in the 1950s and 1960s, developed a whole theory of two-stage capitalist development , with the latter stage being a march towards egalitarianism...

Marriage and Poverty

Oddly enough, there is a gang of Republicans who have recently taken up the mantle of poverty . With the exception of Mike Lee, who has proposed to increase the Child Tax Credit, none of the people in this gang has come out with anything remotely interesting or worthwhile. Gang member Marco Rubio recently stepped out of his study, revealing that he had determined the old conservative marriage arguments are still the way to go : The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage. I have three things to say. Piling poor people into houses together misses the point. Matt Yglesias has a good response to Rubio, in which he explains that this marriage point is really about economies of scale and the way we measure poverty in this country . In a one person family, the amount of money it takes to be above the official poverty line is...

A Specter Is Haunting Alaska—the Specter of Communism

Jesse Myerson wrote a piece about economic reform at Rolling Stone , which really set conservatives off. In particular, they were real keen on calling his proposed reforms communism. "Ever noticed how much landlords blow?" — a 63-year-old man, trying to sell communism to the youngsters. http://t.co/s0dTJZ5pOv — Radley Balko (@radleybalko) January 4, 2014 "What birther crap is to lifting the lid off ugly right-wing Twitter, that communism piece was to lifting the lid off ugly left-wing Twitter." — Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) January 5, 2014 Hoping to bring some sense to the discussion, I explained on Saturday that four of the five reforms Myerson advocated already exist in America right now in one form or another . Here I want to build on that with a special focus on Republican-controlled Alaska. Why Alaska? Because it already has two (and arguably three) of Myerson's proposals in place right now. It is, I guess, America's great communist province. In 1976, Republican...

Inside the Lives of Fast Food Workers

Strikes at fast food establishments are set to sweep the nation today as part of an organizing effort that has been under way for more than a year. We should all know by now what the main concern of striking workers is. They get paid very little and that makes for a really poor existence. Although we have gotten some specific stories here and there , few have actually undertaken to systematically describe what it is like to live this kind of life. A new book just out by Jennifer Silva called Coming up Short takes on exactly this task . In the book, Silva interviews 100 working class youth (20s to 30s) to get a snapshot of what it is like to come into adulthood under these kinds of conditions. Less concerned with reiterating well-documented material statistics, Silva probes the way this kind of life affects the workers' self-concept, their notions of individuality, their notions of life progress, and their relationships. What she finds out is absolutely wretched. To be a working class...

The Racial Wealth Gap

This Jon Jeter piece about racial wealth inequality seemed to be making the rounds a lot over the weekend. Jeter begins thusly: For every dollar in assets owned by whites in the United States, blacks own less than a nickel, a racial divide that is wider than South Africa’s at any point during the apartheid era. The median net worth for black households is $4,955, or about 4.5 percent of whites’ median household wealth, which was $110,729 in 2010, according to Census data. Racial inequality in apartheid South Africa reached its zenith in 1970 when black households’ median net worth represented 6.8 percent of whites’, according to an analysis of government data by Sampie Terreblanche, professor emeritus of economics at Stellenbosch University. As someone who keeps track of such things , I was intrigued by the figures, but could not discern where they came from. The Census does not track wealth like this. The 2010 year suggests Jeter may actually be referring to the Survey of Consumer...

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