Economic Update: Green Party vs 2-Party Monopoly

[S12 E09] New

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On this week's show, Prof. Wolff talks about the UK selling visa to the rich, why "non-profit" is really "un-taxed," Apple's CEO's 2021 pay of $99 million, AOC and NYPD arrests for stealing diapers and kids' medicines, cleaning products. Green Party leaders Gloria Mattera and Michael O'Neil join Wolff in the second half.

Transcript has been edited for clarity

WOLFF: Welcome friends to another edition of economic update, a weekly program devoted to the economic dimensions of our lives: jobs, debts, incomes - our own and those of our children. I'm your host, Richard Wolff.

I want to begin with a particularly, at least for me, odious phenomena that needs to be called out. In this case, the offending country is the United Kingdom, but it is hardly alone. It turns out through court cases that for some years now it has been busily selling visas. The arrangement is, again, quite common. If you will invest a certain amount of money, in other words, bring that money into the United Kingdom, well then it turns out that the United Kingdom doesn't care what your needs are, what your religion might be. Even if it's fashionable to be hostile to Muslims and so on, all is thrust aside for the real item: money. And in England, it turns out, not only is it money that gets you a visa, but the speed with which you get the visa is correlated with the amount of money you're bringing in with you. It's like what airlines are doing, charging you for an overhead suitcase, charging you if you want to cough more than once on the flight, etc., etc. To the credit of the United Kingdom, there is a public outrage now that it has been made public. Because, once again, the gap between the financial reality and the make-believe concern with other issues has been exposed.

My next update has to do with private hospitals and private universities. In this country, they are very often examples of, again, financial misdeeds disguised as lofty pursuits. Let me begin with the hospitals. They were getting the people who run them (the CEOs of hospitals) many millions of dollars throughout the pandemic. Yeah, we heard a lot about “we're all in it together,” but it turns out we weren't. The CEOs of the big hospitals were getting huge amounts of money, while the people on the front line - the nurses, the doctors, all the personnel scurrying around a typical hospital during a pandemic - didn't get much extra help, didn't get millions of dollars. And many of them get COVID with all that that implies.

People thinking about these institutions should also be aware of what it means when they are labeled “non-profit.” “Non-profit hospitals”, “non-profit universities”. So I want to tell you what that means, and my example since I’ve mentioned hospitals will now be a university, and in particular Yale University, which I have studied over the years because I have my doctorate in economics from Yale University. Yale is a non-profit (so-called) institution. Does that mean that it doesn't earn a profit? Let me be very clear with you: no, it doesn't mean that at all, and it never did. Where does the phrase non-profit come from? Well it has an origin, and the origin is in another phrase which is much more accurate which is why they dropped it. What it means is: it's not taxed under the law. A hospital and a university are not taxed. They are considered socially desirable institutions, and to make sure we have them, so the argument goes, we don't tax them. So Yale University is a non-taxed institution. It earns an enormous amount of money. It has assets in the billions, and its annual budget is in excess of a billion dollars. Does it take in more money than it pays out in expenses? Absolutely. Would you call that difference a profit? Absolutely, that's what the word means. But then they do something which is legal under the law we have in this country: they take the difference between the income they get and the expenses they have - you know, all the electricity in the classroom, the professor's salary, and all the rest it - they take the profit and they add it to their endowment. You know what that means? It's like you have a profit and you add it to your savings account. But in your case, that's the end of the story. Not for the hospitals and universities. Under the accounting rules in the United States, when Yale takes its profit and adds it to its storehouse of value (its endowment funds in banks and so on), that is considered “providing for its future”, and is therefore a cost also. Then that profit disappears and they have no tax because their profit has been handled in that way. But make no mistake: the hospital, the university that calls itself “non-profit” discovered that that sounds and looks a lot better than what they've got going, which is a tax holiday forever. Universities use their used-to-be total relief of taxes, now recently they have a very very tiny amount to pay. A much much much smaller percentage than you and I pay on our income, and if we take some of our net income and add it to our savings account, we can't count that across the way the universities can. It’s just a sign, again, that as more and more politicians are recognizing: the system is rigged.

As if to move right along to more of this, I want to talk to you about the CEO of the Apple Corporation. One of the most valuable, biggest corporations on this planet. CEO’s name is Mr. Cook, and his pay package in 2021 - a year in which we were “all together” battling this pandemic - his pay last year, a little more than you got: 99 million dollars. That's just shy of two million dollars per week last year. It was, I thought you might like to know, 1447 times the average pay of an Apple employee. Wow. Meanwhile, those employees here in the United States, many of whom are retail workers, because the actual production of Apple components, Apple products, is done in other countries. You know, like China. Those workers in the retail have begun to establish unions and to fight for unions around an organization called Apple Too. But I wanted to mention the good times CEO Cook has with his two million bucks a week last year, not only because it means we weren't all in this pandemic together. But I want you to know that when you buy Apple products, part of the money you pay goes to providing Mr. Cook two million dollars a week. By the way, he's already a billionaire so he needs this like a fish needs a bicycle

My last update that I'll have time for today has to do with one of the saddest stories I came across this last week. The New York Police Department put out a video covering the arrests of twenty-three people, twenty-three warrants for arrest were executed. And the charge for these people was that they - and listen please to this - were “stealing diapers, children's medicine, and children's hygiene products.” Oh goodness. What was the total value of what they had stolen? One thousand eight hundred dollars, said the New York Police Department. For this activity, for using the scarce resources of the New York Police Department, which has a big job to do in a city like this, especially when the injustices and the inequalities are going off the chart. But those folks in the police department were directed instead to arrest people for stealing the diapers and medicines and cleaning products their children needed. And to her credit, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, congresswoman from a district in Queens, which is part of New York City, didn't think this was an appropriate event. She didn't think that attacking people trying to take care of their children was something that ought to be a police priority, let alone something the police boasted about. She asked very important questions: what in the world are the conditions that make people take a risk - in this case a serious one of getting arrested, with all that implies? What are the conditions that make them do that to take care of their children? If those people didn't do what they did, they might not have been able to pay their rent. And if they became homeless, as we have tens of thousands of people homeless in New York City, guess what? The police bringing those people to shelters, the costs of the shelters, this is financial craziness. It's more expensive if they're homeless for the city than it would be to do something about the conditions that bring all this about. And if they're denied children's hygiene products, children's medicine, and diapers, aren't we as a society punishing innocent children? That's the way to deal with this situation? People who don't have enough money to be able to have a home and to take care of their children? This is a time when I'm telling you this about the children having just told you about the millionaires who buy themselves citizenship in England, or the millionaires who get tax write-offs by giving money to places like Yale. Or Mr. Cook at Apple with his two million a week. It would have been about two minutes of his time one week to cover the expense of those children. Bravo to AOC for taking the time to make a statement about this.

We've come to the end of the first part of today's show, and as always I want to say thank you to all of you whose support makes this show and the others we produce possible. To learn more about the different ways you can support Democracy at Work and this show, Economic Update, please go to patreon.com/economicupdate or visit democracyatwork.info. Please remember to subscribe to our Youtube channel. And I'd like to encourage you to share what you've learned here today with your friends and family as that also helps us educate more people than we can do alone. Please stay with us, we'll be right back with today's special guests: Green Party officials Gloria Mattera and Michael O'Neil.

Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. I'm very proud and pleased and honored to have with us two guests today who are going to share, responding to my questions. Both of them are leading advocates of the Green Party. First is Gloria Mattera. She currently co-chairs the New York State Green Party, formerly co-chaired the United States Green Party. She's an ecosocialist and has been a Green Party candidate four times. She directs a child life program in a New York City Public Hospital and is a long-time single-payer health care advocate. With her today, Michael O'Neil. He serves on the executive committee of the New York Green Party and is the Communications Manager for the United States Green Party. In 2016 he worked on Dr. Jill Stein's presidential campaign team. He has worked for multiple Green Party campaigns in New York, winning ballot status for the Green Party from 2010 to 2020.

Okay, I want to begin with something which is a little bit special for New York, but then again is pretty representative of much of the country. Just before he left the governorship - the honest way to say that would be: just before he was forced out of the governorship because of sexual improprieties and so forth - the then-governor, Andrew Cuomo, pushed a bill through the legislature in New York that made it harder for the New York Green Party to contest elections in the state. Can we start, Gloria, by you telling us briefly what he did and why he did it?

GLORIA: Absolutely, Rick and thank you. It's an honor for both of us to be here with you. Well, this was a blatant act of political retribution, right? So Cuomo had this hand-picked campaign finance commission, supposed to be looking into campaign finance changes on the state level, headed by the Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs in December of 2019. And basically they not only looked at the requirement to achieve and maintain ballot status, which at that time was getting fifty thousand votes for your gubernatorial candidate every four years, to going to a hundred and thirty thousand votes or two percent of votes cast, whichever was higher. Both in the gubernatorial and the presidential election, so that would be happening to renew it every two year. At the same time, the signature requirements to put a candidate on the ballot for governor went from fifteen thousand signatures to forty-five thousand signatures. And so right after that, there was a court case, and the supreme court judge ruled that it was unconstitutional. But you know Cuomo was going to be bent on his, you know, political revenge settling political scores. And so - also, again under the guise of the covid crisis budget - Governor Cuomo and the state legislature put those ballot access changes right back into the 2021 fiscal year state budget. And basically leaving alternative political parties in New York state under some of the most draconian ballot access laws in the country, and killing a ballot status the Green Party of New York has sustained for a decade. But we're not going to be defeated by that crime against democracy. I just want to say that we are currently recruiting volunteers and raising funds for a statewide petition drive to begin this April. People can find out more about that at gpny.org

WOLFF: Fine, I'm glad you mentioned that, because I think it will upset people. Did I hear you right though that he just ignored the decision of the supreme court of the state and proceeded? Am I understanding that correctly?

Gloria: Well, when the court ruled it was unconstitutional, then everything was remaining as it had been in the election law. But another avenue was the governor just said: I'm going to put this election law change into the budget of 2021. And so when the state legislature voted for the budget, they were completely aware of this change. You know, this really terrible rule. They voted for that budget because your state legislature should be voting for the emergency Covid budget so that we can make sure everybody's kept safe and the governor is taking care of us. I'm sure you remember, too, those patronizing daily press conferences he had every day.

WOLFF: All right, so I mean you're right. I don't want to get lost in the weeds, the reality is - and Michael, I'd like to hear what you have to say about this - the reality is that in most European countries, there are many political parties. People want to have what they call over there “freedom of political choice.” Sort of like what Americans say about wanting freedom of choice, but there seems to be a lapse. Because you don't have freedom of choice if you have only two parties, especially when they look as similar as most of the time in most of the places they do. Is it reasonable, based on your experience as a green party activist, is it reasonable to refer to the two major parties in this country as operating a monopoly in the political life?

Michael: Oh, 100% Absolutely. It's not just reasonable, it's obvious to say that the Democrats and Republicans operate a two-party monopoly cartel. And the way that they're able to exercise control over that cartel is by passing legislation like Gloria just described that ensures that alternative parties and independent candidates who are running for office are unable to fairly compete. And if you have a party like the Green Party that is just enjoying too much success, then the Democrats and Republicans pass laws to change the rules of elections to try and set us back to square one. And I think it's important to point out though that for many voters, especially in a state like New York, it's not even a two-party monopoly because many of us live in what are functionally single party districts. At our city council district, our county legislature, state legislature district, congressional district, because of the way that the districts are drawn, and the way that one duopoly party will abandon territory to the other, it's functionally a one-party district. And so many times when a Green Party candidate runs for office, they're the second candidate in the race, they're not the so-called third party candidate in the campaign.

WOLFF: Yeah, it also makes a mockery of the standard conservative defense of the United States, relative to other countries, that says “oh, they're a one-party society,” you know. Who's calling who what kind of name? That sticks as much to the person calling as to the one being called out. Gloria - why do Americans tolerate the situation Michael just so nicely summarized?

Gloria: Well, it's the politics of fear, plain and simple. Our political culture rests on the pillars of the corporate media, the corporate politicians. And they're invested in keeping it that way, and they're relentlessly self-serving. So while public opinion polls really show everyday people are leaving the two parties of war on Wall Street in droves, they're desperately asking for more parties to choose from. More than ever, they've been told over and over that this is the only alternative. It's the only way to do it, there's no other way to vote, that's what we do in this country you know. So people for the most part don't even know about voting methods like ranked choice voting, proportional representation, and that would facilitate multi-party democracy, which we advocate for. And the media barely understands, much less reports the kind of legal shenanigans that the Democrats have used to push the Green Party of New York off the ballot. So when every day people use their vote to say “yes, Ii want more parties to choose from, I want a party that actually reflects my values,” the Democrats, in this case, responded by saying, “okay, we'll just move the goal post to try and shut you up.” And then when regular folks try to challenge the status quo and they are told that they're naive, they're crazy. When alternative candidates want to run for office, they're “spoiling the election” if people vote for them. If people vote for them, they're betraying their community.

WOLFF: It always strikes me as remarkable, especially these days, when we are told the Republicans and Democrats can't get together on anything. You're explaining to us that that's wrong. They get together perfectly well on squelching anyone who threatens this two party monopoly.

Okay, let me move on. I follow events in Europe a lot, part of my job. And I notice that in some countries, the Green Party in Europe is clearly on the left end of the spectrum. In other parts of Europe, that's not so clear, the best example being the powerful German Green Party which isn't. So I'm not interested in discussing Europe, but tell me: how much of the Green Party is focused on questions of the environment and ecology and all of that? Or is it more accurate to say that the Green Party is a broader left/left of center political formation? Can you address that, either of you?

Gloria: You know, so we're a left party, because we understand that the capitalist system oppresses workers and communities while destroying the planet. That's why the Green Party stands equally on their four pillars of ecology, peace, direct democracy, and economic and social justice. In fact, in 2016 at our national convention the Green Party of the United States actually voted an eco-socialist plank into the national party platform. So we reject the current capitalist system, instead we advocate for a system based on large-scale green public works, municipalization, and worker and community democracy. One example of our understanding of eco-socialism that goes beyond just what people see traditionally as environmental issues would be our advocacy for worker co-ops and other aspects of the solidarity economy. So Greens in office can fight to remove legal and other bureaucratic impediments to having worker co-ops incorporated, fighting for financial and other support for the growth of these kinds of initiatives. Similar to the way the Democrats and Republicans have been passing laws and subsidies that favor their capitalist ventures. One example is a Green New Deal program that we go back to 2010 that we ran on in New York state was fighting for a public bank. And that public bank would fund these kinds of enterprises, like worker co-ops and other direct democracy initiatives.

WOLFF: Michael, let me direct this question to you. I know it's an old argument, but it's always there, so I want you to kind of tell us how you think about it. Especially if the election moves, as it sure looks to me it's moving, that the Democrats will have almost nothing to run on except that they're against Donald Trump or they're against that kind of Republican, you will be then confronted as the Green Party so often is with - Gloria mentioned it before - an argument, “don't vote for the Green Party, because the crucial thing is to defeat the Republican/Trump movement. Vote for the Democrat.” What will you say? What are you saying when that kind of argument, which I assume the Democratic Party will be pushing, confronts you?

Michael: Our elections have been designed to disenfranchise as many voters as possible. And the voters know this, and that instills a sense of desperation or even nihilism that someone like Donald Trump or another right-wing Republican nightmare can exploit. And so while the Democrats use the politics of fear and the threat of the spoiler to hold their voters hostage, they're actually setting the conditions for the next Trump or whoever comes after Trump who's even worse. Because they're not offering an agenda that directly addresses the crises we face. Crises like racism, and escalating economic inequality, and the climate crisis. They're not addressing those head-on, and in fact they're silencing solutions that groups like the Green Party and others are advancing. And so if we want to see systemic transformations like Medicare for All or housing as a human right or worker co-ops as part of a eco-sociaistl Green New Deal, then we have to dismantle this two-party cartel because it is producing the conditions for political nightmares like Donald Trump, and also the neoliberal Democrats and policies, like someone like Joe Biden who is taking us to the brink of war with Ukraine right now, for example. So we have to dismantle this two-party monopoly that's owned by war on Wall Street. And that's why we're asking folks to support the Green Party in 2022. And folks can learn more at gpny.org about how to do that, because we're fighting to democratize elections for everyone.

WOLFF: Michael, I wish we really had more time, but you've made the statement eloquently, but we don't. So bear with me. Let me thank you again for making all this available. And I urge my audience to pursue ways of learning more about what the Green Party is about. Not only thank you for being with us, but I look forward as always to speaking with you again next week.

Transcript by Lauren Shiel

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About our guests: Gloria Mattera is currently the co-chair of the Green Party of New York and a former co-chair of the Green Party of the United States. Gloria is an eco-socialist and 4 time Green Party candidate. She directs a child life program in a New York City public hospital and is a long time single payer health care advocate.

Michael O'Neil serves on the Executive Committee of the Green Party of New York and works full-time as the Communications Manager for the Green Party of the United States.  In 2016 he worked on Dr. Jill Stein's presidential campaign team, and he has served on three gubernatorial campaigns for the Green Party of New York, including as campaign manager, winning ballot status for the party from 2010 to 2020. 

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Showing 1 comment

  • Pasqual DiGesu
    commented 2022-03-17 11:19:49 -0400
    Thank you for laying out the true business working mechanisms of nonprofits, universities and hospitals. As you know their are developed nations that provide these for free or practically free using only the same average 40% accumulated salary deductions that we experience here, After all our a’la carte deductions over state and federal tax it pans out the same. Capitalism as I have stated before does not only operate in private business but in institutions, civil service agencies etc. to include Defense, medical / hospitals, banking, State, federal, Legal / court system, and many more. Uncontrolled capitalism grows back and into every part of our lives almost naturally if it left to do so, as greed itself, which is what IT IS.

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