Matt Bruenig

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

Recent Articles

Our Enormous Retirement Subsidies for the Rich

In the State of the Union address, Obama revealed that he will be implementing a myRA plan , which is basically an Individual Retirement Account administered by the government. Savers will put the money in after-tax (like a Roth IRA), the accounts will be small (capped at $15,000), and the returns will be modest but guaranteed. David Callahan had some preliminary coverage of the myRA idea and retirement security in general yesterday. The Economic Policy Institute also wrote on the plan , largely panning it as being inadequate. Indeed, it is hard to see how such a small account is meant to accomplish much or what this is supposed to do for low-income people who simply do not have any real money to put aside. But before people start rattling off alternative account proposals that are much better, it behooves us to collectively recall just how much money the federal government is already devoting to subsidizing private retirement accounts. Those in policy circles tend to be aware of this...

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...

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