Sam Pizzigati

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A veteran labor journalist, Sam Pizzigati has written widely on economic inequality, in articles, books, and online, for both popular and scholarly readers.

Currently an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C., Pizzigati has been editing Too Much ever since the publication’s 1995 debut. His op-eds and articles on income and wealth maldistribution have appeared in a host of major American dailies, magazines, and journals.

Pizzigati has edited publications for four different national American unions and directed, for twenty years, the publishing operations of America’s largest union, the 3.2 million-member National Education Association. The 1992 anthology he co-edited, The New Labor Press (Cornell University ILR Press), remains the primary reference for trade union journalists.

Pizzigati’s 2004 book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Rowman & Littlefield), builds on work he began with his 1992 title, The Maximum Wage. Greed and Good has earned an “outstanding title” of the year rating from the American Library Association (Choice, January 2006).

Pizzigati’s latest book, The Rich Don’t Always Win: The forgotten triumph over plutocracy that created the classic American middle class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press) appeared in 2012.

In 2008, Pizzigati played a lead role on the team that generated The Nation magazine’s special issue on extreme inequality. That issue went on to win the 2009 Sidney Hillman Prize for magazine journalism.

A Maryland resident, Pizzigati served for eight years on the founding board of directors of Progressive Maryland, the state’s leading alliance of labor, community, civil rights, and religious organizations. He spent a similar stint on the board of the Boston-based United for a Fair Economy, a national economic justice education and organizing effort.

You can reach Sam Pizzigati at [email protected].

Sam Pizzigati, USA 02/28/2018 0

The Big Pharma Family that Brought Us the Opioid Crisis

If the devil wears Prada, what do America’s most destructive drug pushers wear? They wear smiles. The drug pushers we have in mind here have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, enough fatalities to decrease overall U.S. life expectancy at birth for the last two years running. Yet no police SWAT teams have pounded down any doors hunting these drug pushers down.

These particular drug pushers have devastated millions of families across the United States. Yet some of America’s most honorable institutions, outfits ranging from Yale University to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have spent decades lauding their philanthropic generosity and benevolence.

We’re obviously not talking El Chapo or any of his drug-running buddies here. We’re talking about the mega-billionaire family behind one of America’s most profitable drug-industry empires, the privately held Purdue Pharma.

Last week, flacks at Purdue announced that the company will no longer be flooding doctors’ offices with sales representatives hawking OxyContin, the now-notorious opioid painkiller. This move may be the closest admission of guilt we will ever see from Purdue Pharma — or the patriarchs of the Sackler family that gave it birth.

The roots of Purdue’s criminal profiteering, as Patrick Radden Keefe has chillingly related in the New Yorker, stretch all the way back to three brothers in mid-20th century Brooklyn. All three — Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler — became doctors. All three had an entrepreneurial bent. Arthur had entrepreneurial genius.

Arthur Sackler saw that the pharmaceutical industry of his day had no clue to the marketing magic — and magical profits — that modern Madison Avenue advertising approaches could fashion. He linked the two. His ad agency pioneered tactics that would revolutionize prescription drug marketing.

Sam Pizzigati, USA 02/06/2018 0

Do the Poor Deserve Health Care? These Politicians Say No

In 2013, two of every five low-income people in the state had no health insurance. By 2016, only one in every 13 poor Kentuckians were going uninsured.

As a result, the share of low-income Kentuckians getting annual check-ups increased by a nearly a third. And the share reporting themselves in “excellent health” jumped by over half.

What generated this medical miracle?

Kentucky simply expanded who could qualify for Medicaid. The state funded the expansion with dollars from the Affordable Care Act, the landmark legislation more commonly known as Obamacare.

A great deal, unfortunately, has changed since 2016.

Republicans hostile to Medicaid now have a lockgrip in both Kentucky and Washington. In mid-January, these hostiles turned that lockgrip into a hammer — on Medicaid recipients.

The Trump administration has given Kentucky a regulatory waiver that will, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities documents, “reduce the number of people with health coverage and make it harder for those covered to get care.”

Officials in Kentucky claim that Medicaid needs a “work requirement.” But that makes no sense. The vast majority of Medicaid recipients in Kentucky, 77 percent, are already working. Most of the rest are taking care of elderly relatives or disabled kids, or have disabilities of their own.

No matter! The hunt for Medicaid malingerers in Kentucky will now move ahead, along with other changes that will hit the state’s Medicaid recipients with new co-pays and premiums.

All these changes will create a mountain of required paperwork. If recipients make a mistake on this paperwork, or miss a filing deadline, they’ll lose Medicaid coverage for six months.

State officials are, in fact, counting on that confusion. They’re proudly predicting that 100,000 poor Kentuckians could lose coverage.

The obvious question: Who’s driving this push to complicate — and cut — Medicaid?

The rarely acknowledged answer: America’s wealthy right-wing ideologues. These exceptionally deep pockets expect the elected leaders they bankroll to full-court press the poor.

This pile-on-the-poor ideology of America’s awesomely affluent spews out from the “think tanks” and academic centers they so lavishly subsidize. The hired hands at these outfits do all the heavy lifting on moves like the Kentucky Medicaid assault. They write the talking points and the legislative language.

Then the media outlets the rich underwrite finish the job. They demonize poor people as lazy laggards ever ready to snatch away and waste hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

This demonizing has been ratcheting up ever since the Reagan era. The richer America’s rich become, the fiercer the assault on the safety net programs that bring decency to America’s most vulnerable.

Why should that be the case?

Billionaires living in a society where many millions of people have no wealth — and shaky health — have a choice. They can consider their own wealth the product of a deeply flawed society that needs fixing. Or they can consider their good fortune a well-deserved reward for their own “superiority.”

Rich folks who do feel superior see people without wealth as inferior, as lazy no-accounts who deserve no “rewards” — not even health care coverage.

And all that talk about the “dignity” of work that pols love spouting as they rip the social safety net? They don’t really mean it.

These self-professed champions of “individual responsibility” have no problem with the idleness of the super rich. This past December, they rammed through Congress tax “reforms” that increase the amount of money that the lazy, no-account progeny of billionaires can inherit. Tax-free, of course.

Conservatives, in short, are cutting taxes for billionaire heirs and throwing 100,000 poor Appalachians off their health care. Exit a miracle. Enter a tragedy.

Top photo: Photo by United Workers | CC BY 2.0

By Counter Punch

Sam Pizzigati, USA 12/01/2017 0

How to Stop a Tax Plan Rigged for the Rich

But sometimes history does turn, and this coming week’s expected vote on the Senate version of the GOP tax plan could be one of those rare times that history actually turns for the better.

Indeed, this year’s situation bears a remarkable resemblance to the epic tax battle of 1932, a largely forgotten struggle that set the stage for an entire generation of increasing equality. Could this history repeat? It certainly is already echoing.

Back in 1932, just as today, conservatives had a lockgrip on the White House and both houses of Congress. Then as now, America’s wealthy lusted for fundamental tax changes that would significantly reduce their already reduced tax burden. Then as now, those wealthy — and the pols they subsidized — framed tax breaks for the rich as our only road to prosperity.

That prosperity seemed incredibly distant in early 1932. The nation had sunk into the Great Depression, and the federal government was collecting far too little revenue from a Depression-ravaged economy to function. The government, nearly everyone understood, simply had to raise more revenue. But the new revenue the government so desperately needed, top Republicans and Democrats in Washington agreed, must not come from the rich.

In November 1931, Democratic Senate floor leader Joseph Robinson from Arkansas had driven that consensus home with comments the Washington Post called “so conservative as to sound like a statement from Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon,” the mega-millionaire who spent the 1920s orchestrating tax cuts that sheared the top tax rate on America’s highest incomes from 77 to 25 percent. Robinson warned the American people against any move that might subject the nation’s wealthy to significant new taxation. Serious people all agreed, the Senate’s top Democrat would explain, that the government could only tax the rich so high “without discouraging investment and production.”

Democrat John Nance Garner from Texas, the House speaker, would pound home the same theme the next month. He delivered what the Los Angeles Times Washington correspondent would dub a “mild spanking” to his Democratic Party colleagues who had had the nerve to suggest boosting tax rates on high incomes back near World War I levels.

A few weeks later, another leading Democrat, acting House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Crisp of Georgia, would continue the spanking. The nation could never meet its fiscal emergency by “soaking the rich,” Crisp informed his colleagues. Average Americans will have to “gird” themselves for “tremendous sacrifices.” A national sales tax, or some other tax that demanded “stamina” and “backbone” from all Americans, was going to have to be levied.

The Herbert Hoover White House agreed, in part. Administration officials would ask Congress to enact higher federal excise taxes on many everyday purchases, everything from tobacco to telephone calls. But the Republican Hoover administration would not go along with a national sales tax. Undersecretary of the Treasury Ogden Mills, soon to become treasury secretary after Andrew Mellon resigned to become America’s ambassador to Great Britain, asked Congress instead to up the nation’s top income bracket tax rate from 25 to 40 percent.

What explains this White House willingness to contemplate slightly higher tax levies on America’s comfortable? Hoover may have considered a little political discretion here the better part of valor. Better a modest tax increase on the wealthy than risk the unpredictable popular wrath a national sales tax might unleash.

Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress had no such fears. The heat they felt came from newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, the powerful media magnate who had emerged as the national sales tax notion’s most fervent advocate.

Hearst had no particular philosophical affection for taxing sales. Neither did any of his fellow wealthy Americans. They simply wanted Congress to put in place an alternative to taxing income. Their income. Americans, Hearst wrote in a nationally circulated March 1932 editorial, must “carry on a sustained crusade Morning, Evening, and Sunday against the present Bolshevist system of income taxation.”

The Democratic Party majority on the House Ways and Means Committee would obediently oblige. Lawmakers on the panel repudiated the Hoover administration and nixed any income tax hike. They passed instead an almost all-encompassing national sales tax, a 2.25 percent manufacturer’s excise levy on everything but food.

What happened next would floor top Democrats and their calculated bid to position the party as a reliable partner for America’s rich and powerful. Powerful Democrats — like the Wall Street financier Jacob Raskob — had simply gone too far. Americans would push back. They would mount the first national political surge against plutocracy since the Great Depression began.

The surge broke out almost as a matter of spontaneous political combustion. From across the nation, average Americans began bombarding congressional offices with angry complaints about the pending new national sales tax. In the face of this surprise bombardment, rank-and-file Democrats in Congress would suddenly rediscover their inner displeasure at America’s staggering concentration of income and wealth. They would join with Representative Fiorello LaGuardia from New York and other progressive House Republicans to kill the national sales tax by a stunning 223-153 margin.

Amid shouts of “soak the rich!” on the House floor, this unexpected majority would go on to raise the top tax rate from 25 percent on income over $100,000 to 63 percent on income over $1 million. The new higher tax rates, notes tax historian Elliot Brownlee, would double the effective tax burden on America’s richest 1 percent.

House Democratic majority leader Henry Rainey would not be happy about any of this.

“We have made a longer step in the direction of communism,” he told his House colleagues, “than any country in the world ever made except Russia.”

But Rainey remained above all else a savvy politician. He saw clearly that Americans overwhelmingly supported higher taxes on the nation’s wealthy, and now he would make the best of a bad situation. The evening after the crushing defeat of the sales tax proposition, he would go live on national radio and position the new taxes on the rich as a fiscally prudent step toward balancing the federal budget. He would also do his best to convince Americans that the rich had now sacrificed quite enough.

Lawmakers in the House, Rainey told the nation, have raised income taxes on the wealthy “to the very breaking point.” Even “the most violent advocate of ‘soaking the rich’ ought to be satisfied,” the Democratic majority leader would pronounce.

“We have ‘soaked the rich,’ I assure you,” Rainey would repeat for emphasis at the close of his radio address.

In fact, the soaking had been more a quick rinse. Taxes on the nation’s wealthy would remain, even after the increases, substantially lower than top rates in effect during World War I. The bulk of the tax dollars the new revenue legislation would raise would come from new and increased excise taxes, some on luxury items like furs but most on everyday items like chewing gum and lubricating oil.

Even so, the 1932 tax fight did mark a turning point. The rich and their political enablers had reached for the brass ring, a national sales tax. The American people had slapped them down.

In Albany, the state capital of New York, an ambitious governor took notice. Just two weeks after the tax brouhaha in Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, a leading candidate for the 1932 Democratic Party nomination, would begin a remarkable series of addresses that aligned his candidacy four-square with America’s grassroots push against plutocracy.

The first of these addresses, broadcast April 7 in NBC’s Lucky Strike Hour, would champion the “forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid” and blast away at political leaders who “can think in terms only of the top of the social and economic structure.”

The next month, at a commencement address at Georgia’s Oglethorpe University, Roosevelt would deliver a stirring call for “bold, persistent experimentation” to aid the “millions who are in want.”

“Do what we may have to do to inject life into our ailing economic order,” the Presidential hopeful would explain, “we cannot make it endure for long unless we can bring about a wiser, more equitable distribution of the national income.”

The New Deal had begun.

Could a defeat of the GOP tax plans of 2017 signal a similar new egalitarian upsurge? Maybe. But first we have to deliver that defeat.

from Inequality.org

Sam Pizzigati, USA 10/10/2017 0

We Get Sick, They Get Rich

Our current health care system in the United States works just fine — for the corporate executives who run it.

Take, for instance, Michael Mussallem, the CEO at Edwards Lifesciences — a California-based company that makes heart valves and assorted other medical devices. Since 2010, Mussallem has pocketed an astounding $246 million in compensation.

Actually, astounding might not be the right word here. In the health care industry, colossally large paychecks for top executives have become standard operating procedure. In fact, four health industry CEOs have made more than Mussallem since 2010.

One made much more. John Martin, the former top executive of the pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, has collected $863 million over the past seven years.

Overall, the CEOs at 70 major American health care companies have grabbed a combined $9.8 billion since 2010. That comes to an average annual take-home of $20 million per executive.

All these numbers come from researchers at Axios, an online news media outlet. Two top corporate watchdogs — University of Massachusetts-Lowell economist William Lazonick and Matthew Hopkins of the Academic-Industry Research Network — have confirmed the Axios pay figures.

The health care industry is doing its best to ignore and dismiss these findings. The national outlay for health care last year hit $3.35 trillion. Next to those trillions, the industry reasons, the mere billions that go to health care executives amount to no more than a tiny drip from an IV.

But this glib defense of executive excess in health care totally ignores the real danger in the big bucks cascading into corporate CEO pockets. Outrageous pay gives CEOs an incentive to behave outrageously — at the expense of our health.

How so?

The vast bulk of corporate executive pay today comes in the form of stock awards. The higher a company’s share price, the heftier the CEO’s compensation. This stock connection encourages CEOs to single-mindedly focus on raising their company share prices by any means necessary.

Among those means: Pharmaceutical CEOs will jack up prices on prescription drugs and do whatever they can to get doctors to prescribe more pills. Health providers will push unnecessary tests and procedures. Hospital chiefs will downsize support staffs for patients.

All these decisions fatten corporate bottom lines, pump up corporate share prices, and leave our health care poorer.

How could health care get better? Blue-ribbon commissions have all sorts of suggestions. They urge us to eliminate unnecessary procedures, tests, and devices. We need to better coordinate care and lower prices.

Corporate CEOs in the health industry have no incentive to take any of these steps. They want to keep the health care industry a “free market” wild west where the biggest corporate players get to keep whatever they can grab.

We need to break that power.

And that brings us to the good news: Prospects for real change in health care are rapidly moving onto America’s political center stage. We now have 17 U.S. senators on the record supporting an overhaul of the U.S. health care system — introduced by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders — that places people first, not CEO paychecks.

This “single payer” Medicare for all overhaul would both guarantee every American access to health care and give the American public bargaining power against the corporate health care industry.

Just a few short years ago, this industry had both our major political parties too cowed to even discuss a move to Medicare for all.

That discussion has now begun.

By Otherwords.org/we-get-sick-they-get-rich/