inequality,

I’m sorry to be a bummer but can we just talk about this for a second? Can we talk about how no little girl is ever going to be in a picture with a caption like that? Can we talk about how many little girls wish they could be? Can we talk about how when little me used to watch Yankees games and throw a baseball around in the back yard and hero worship Andy Pettite because he was a lefty and so was I… There was no room for me to dream about being him one day? All this awesome hype about the U.S. women’s soccer team makes me so happy and simultaneously so sad because of the way women are relegated to a back burner in some sports and completely excluded from others. I hate that teenage boys get to dream about being a major leaguer and teenage girls can only dream about, like, maybe dating one.

I think a lot of younger people especially are of two minds on issues of economic inequality, the decline of the middle class, and mythology about the American economic system. People are clearly worried about income inequality, student debt, and other economic problems they face. The brief, wondrous history of Occupy showed that clearly. And widespread support for the minimum wage hikes even in conservative states like Arkansas continues to demonstrate demands for more equality at the workplace. However, young people also really strongly believe in the myths of American capitalism. They believe that if they work hard, they really can be successful. And they often believe that those who fail do so because of their own personal failings. The embrace of the so-called sharing economy is a perfect example. People are happy to try and craft lives based on freelancing, Uber, and other jobs that effectively force all the responsibility for the job onto the individual employee while the corporation holds all the control. They are happy to be independent contractors in exchange for a vague notion of freedom on the job. They are voluntarily entering into an unequal employment situation because they think if they work hard, they can be successful. Well, mostly they can’t because the cards are stacked against us in 2015.

lindzanity asked:

Thank you for not pulling any punches when people are trying to defend an obvious inequality like amazing champions getting paid less simply because they are women. You, sir, are awesome.

Thank you. I have no patience for anyone who accepts inequality; I am flat-out disgusted for anyone who people who don’t even recognize that it exists.

How Did The Tories Win (Again)? Part 2: A Bankrupt Democracy

Any attempt to understand why a particular election produced a particular result has to contend with two fundamental difficulties, that a) different people vote x or y for an enormous number of often mutually incompatible reasons and b) that the particular institutional form of our democracy, as well as the wider political and economic make-up of society, affect outcomes in ways that often seem to have little to do with the real spread of public opinion or the distribution of votes. The result of an election is always the result of an interplay between ideology, economics, random circumstance, concrete history and changing institutional forms, and this interplay is itself always subject to changes in the relative weight of each of its parts. The only way to decipher the result is to give each component its due and, by analysis, to begin to assign to each its relative importance. It is often instructive to examine objective factors, such as the determining character of institutional forms first, before moving on to the subjective factors which organise people’s responses, in our late capitalist society, to the prospect of democratic participation. In this post, I’ll take a look at the failures and foibles of our electoral system and draw some broad conclusions about the relationship between the way the country voted in 2015, and the reality of how we shall now be governed.

A Bankrupt Democracy

As with the banks in 2007-08, so too with our democracy today. Democracy means first and foremost that we should not be ruled; it argues that we should manage ourselves as equal participants in a shared and interdependent communal life. For most of us who believe in democracy as a fundamental value, one core organising principle is that people should be able to participate in making decisions in proportion to the degree that those decisions affect them. With this in mind, ask yourself: when was the last time you participated in a decision about taxation, policing, the provision of public services or the privatisation of the NHS? When were you last consulted about whether or not we should go to war, frack for oil or stop or start building wind turbines? When did you last vote on whether or not there should be gay marriage, open-door immigration, or unlimited freedom of speech? Have you ever in your life felt that you had any say about what you are paid, your rights as a worker, about the way in which the goods you buy are produced, or about the exploitation and extraction of the natural resources that fuel our economy? Your answer to all of these questions, unless you are either very dishonest or very rich, should be never, and yet you are intimately affected by each and every one of these issues. If you are a glass half-full sort of person, you may say that you participated in all of these decisions by voting at the last general election. If so, then you have exercised your rights as a citizen of a democracy exactly once in the last five years, and perhaps a handful of of times over the course of your adult life. The decisions, of course, go on being made without you every day, in the hallowed halls of government and in the conference rooms of corporate real estate.

In capitalist society, we make an artificial distinction between decisions which are ‘political’, and decisions which are ‘economic’. Economic decisions, which are supposed to pertain to the production and distribution of goods and services, must be taken individually in a market economy, and are thus protected from what is explicitly viewed by many liberals as the harmful influence of democracy. Everything else, that is, the limited range of issues we permit the label of ‘political’, is decided, at the highest level, by that which is sovereign. While our Queen is still nominally the sovereign, the sovereign function is performed (leaving aside the undead monstrosity that is the House of Lords) by the House of Commons, the UK’s elected parliamentary chamber. In a democracy, of course, the people are supposed to be sovereign, and parliament is clearly not the people. What justifies the principle of a sovereign parliament, in the minds of its supporters, is that it is supposed to represent the people, creating a situation in which the people’s will is carried out, but circumventing the supposed technical difficulties of deliberation and decision making among millions of people (you would think, from the way in which this point is belaboured, that the reason we have MP’s is because you can’t fit sixty-four million people inside the House of Commons). Such a democratic system is called representative democracy; its legitimacy, such as it is, stands and falls on whether our parliament does, in fact, perform the function of representation.

There is much to be said about whether representation, and in particular local representation is even a goal worth having. Tony Benn, rightly considered a hero of the Left, believed that it was, and on these grounds strongly opposed the idea of proportional representation. I think the case for direct democratic control is stronger than the case for representation, especially for Left politics, but let’s accept for the moment that representation is the proper goal of democracy. How did this election fair? The first thing to do is to take a look at the share of seats won vs the number of votes cast for each party. Below are the figures for 5 major UK-wide parties, plus the Scottish National Party.


Seats won (of a possible 650) and % of seats:

Conservatives: 331 (51%)

Labour: 232 (36%)

SNP: 56 (9%)

Lib Dems: 8 (1%)

UKIP: 1 (0.2%)

Green Party: 1 (0.2%)

Votes won (of a possible 100%):

Conservatives: 36.9%

Labour: 30.4%

SNP: 4.7%

Lib Dems: 7.9%

UKIP: 12.6%

Green Party: 3.6%

If we expect our representation in parliament to reflect the way we vote, these results should sorely disappoint. The difference between the percentage of seats and the percentage of votes is staggering. The Tories won over half the seats in parliament with just over a third of the vote. Labour received a modest 6.5% less of the vote than the Tories yet ended up with only two thirds of the number of seats. The SNP received double the number of seats that their share of the vote would imply. The Lib Dems received almost double the number of votes of the SNP, but a seventh as many seats. Far and away, however, the parties most abused by the first-past-the-post system that we insist on retaining were the Greens and UKIP. Both parties received a single seat each with 1.15 million and 3.8 million votes respectively. Effectively, this means that UKIP paid 3.8 million votes for their solitary seat in parliament; this versus the 34,000 votes the Tories paid for each of their seats, and the 2500 votes the SNP paid for each of its seats. Labour and the Lib Dems in particular are currently engaged in the most painful internal soul-searching; how can they have failed so badly? The short answer is that they didn’t do that badly at all, but that it doesn’t matter because our electoral system does not reward, and is not designed to reward, parties in proportion to how many votes they win.

What it can it mean for representative democracy when 3.8 million people are effectively represented by one person in a parliament of 650? This is where things get tricky, because in theory, every UKIP voter who does not reside in Clacton, where UKIP got their single seat, is being represented by a different member of parliament: the member in their own constituency. Every UKIP voter, which in this case is the vast majority of UKIP voters, is therefore being ‘represented’, whatever this can possibly mean, by an MP from a party they didn’t vote for, and whose policies they may be fiercely opposed to. Moreover, every voter who did not vote for the person who won in their constituency is being represented by someone from another party. Generally speaking, significantly less than half of MP’s win more than half of the votes in their constituencies, meaning that the majority of people in the majority of constituencies did not vote for their MP. Insanely, this means that considerably more than 50%, and in 2015 probably more on the order of 70%, of voters are not currently represented by a member of parliament that they voted for. In what possible sense, then, are the vast majority of voters in the UK being represented at all?

Democracy and Scale

A key thing to remember is that the first-past-the-post system, which is continually throwing up these sorts of absurd results (the 1951 general election, for example, in which Labour earned over a million more votes than the Tories but in which the Tories gained more seats and formed a government), is not designed to represent individual voters, but rather areas of the country, constituencies. This has always been one of the two central arguments for first-past-the-post (the other being the formation of a ‘strong’, i.e unchallengeable, government), that it treats constituencies as relatively autonomous and permits the majority in each constituency to be directly represented in parliament.

Whether or not you think this localist compromise is appropriate will depend on whether or not you think that the majority opinion in your constituency should receive direct representation in our national parliament. In our modern era of nation-states with significant government centralisation, and amidst a contemporary political discourse which places issues such as devolution, regional ‘powers’ and membership of international political bodies such as the EU centre stage, it is understandable that many people feel as though local representation in national parliaments is a good thing. There exists a fear in some quarters that were that not the case, the voices of majorities in local areas would be lost amidst the larger national debate, and that any semblance of democratic self-determination would be lost. Of course, the lines which divide constituencies are often completely arbitrary and subject to change, and it would be a huge assumption to claim that people have their primary identities and loyalties in their electoral constituencies, as opposed to regional-national identities (Welsh, Scottish, Irish) or religious and political affiliations. Moreover, electoral constituencies do not always, if ever, map directly onto local council administrative areas, which is where one would assume autonomy would be centred, were it to exist.

The attachment to notions of local self-determination, here projected onto the idea of regional representation in larger parliaments, is not inaccurate in its diagnosis of a local autonomy deficit. In an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, regional autonomy of all kinds, and at all levels, is being both asserted and denied, demanded by populations at the same time as it is rendered implausible by all manner of political, economic and historical forces. In this particular case, it comes down to a problem of democracy and scale. What is the appropriate unit of representation in a democracy? While some may argue that constituencies (or the majority view therein) should be directly represented at the higher level of parliament, notice that they do not also argue that local councils should be elected on the basis of majority representation within wards or villages, or within individual streets, cul-de-sacs or households. We accept more or less universally that the appropriate unit of representation at the constituency level is the individual; the make-up of a local council reflects the proportion of individual votes cast for each party, no matter the distribution of majorities gained in smaller geographical divisions. Why, then, should a different principle apply at the national level? Because a nation is bigger?

Recall that a fundamental goal of democracy is that people should have a say in decisions in proportion to the degree that the outcome of that decision affects them. I don’t need to have a say in what you name your child because it doesn’t affect me, but if you are going to build an airport next to my house, I will expect to have some input. The impulse towards local self-determination comes from the sense we all have that we should be able to make decisions which affect only ourselves, or our immediate neighbours, without interference from people far away who are not affected. In practice, of course, we routinely and grossly underestimate the impact our individual choices have on others; one of the best examples is how our individual decisions to purchase meat and dairy products affect the global use of water and farmland, to the serious detriment not only millions of people in other countries, but to our shared chances of a sustainable global future. Even taking such common underestimations into full account, however, it is clear that there are a range of decisions made by individuals and communities which, since the outcomes of those decisions have only local impacts, should not require ratification from distant centres of power.

It is important to remember that the sorts of decisions which individuals and communities may make which affect only their locality (whether or not loud music should be played at night, for example) are not the kinds of decisions which are made, or which ought to be made, in national parliaments. The decisions made there affect everyone in every locality; and the most fundamental of these relate to taxation, foreign policy, public budgets and fiscal policies, and the common laws by which we live day-to-day. Each of these areas of decision making impact everyone in the UK, and a democracy which abides by the rule of ‘input proportional to impact’ will therefore need to consult the entire national electorate on these issues. Of course, this rather obvious point does not in itself recommend a more proportional form of representation. After all, aren’t the individuals that comprise the national electorate being consulted precisely by virtue of the fact that each and every constituency is equally represented by its MP?

In short, no. The problem is that just because it may be democratically appropriate for a majority within a locality to have the final say on purely local matters, that same local majority ought not to be considered a discreet entity when the borders between localities are quite rightly dissolved upon the presentation of a national issue to a national electorate. What may be a majority view in one locality may be a minority view nationally, and it makes no sense to pretend that local majorities have democratic precedence over national majorities when the issues themselves are national in scale. If there were a rule in place which required MP’s to win over 50% of the vote in each constituency, we could be reasonably well assured that the majority opinion across the country was accurately reflected in the distribution of seats in parliament. Since MP’s only rarely win over 50% of the constituency vote, however, this would result in a majority of constituencies being unable to return MP’s. In reality then, and of necessity, MP’s are only required to secure more votes than any other candidate to win their constituency; if, on average, this figure is 40%, this means that 60% of people in each constituency, i.e. 60% of the country, are not represented in parliament. Worse, since the figure will in fact vary between constituencies, some localities will be better represented than others, which undermines the very foundation of the localist compromise (i.e. equal representation for each locality).

A Two-Court System

We balk at the idea of one-party rule in countries like China; the very concept is an offence to our most cherished democratic values. And yet we assent, largely without thinking, to what is effectively a five-year cycle of exactly that; rule by one party. Is this how things must necessarily be, given the nature of our democratic institutions? It is difficult to imagine how it could be otherwise, and so we must ask why on earth we accept a condition which causes us great pangs of sympathy when it is suffered by people in other countries.

Along with the localist compromise which, as I hope I have shown, falls very short indeed of achieving democratic representation, the other traditional argument for first-past-the-post is that it facilitates a ‘strong’ government. By ‘strong’, of course, is meant a government which does not have to give any ground whatsoever to its enemies; within a parliamentary system, this means achieving an outright majority of seats. With such a majority, an incumbent government, provided it can keep its own ranks relatively in line, can do more or less whatever it wants provided it doesn’t spark a revolution. The only real limiting factor to what such governments can do, besides the perennial requirement of ‘not sparking a revolution’, is that it needs to be electable again in five years time. This requirement lulls many into believing that governments are deeply accountable to the people. This could well be so in a society which accurately represented its people in parliament, but when a government can achieve an outright majority with just 36.9% of the popular vote, as the Tories just did, they know where their goalposts are likely to stand come the next election. We therefore have a situation in which encumbent governments knowingly play to the sympathies of minorities within the electorate whom it knows will, if shrewdly advertised to, will put it back into power at the expense of the majority. Marginal seats, given this utterly predictable pattern, become kingmakers as, at the same time and for the same reasons, relatively safe seats, in which there really are strong local majorities, are ignored (uselessly large majorities, from a parliamentary perspective, pile up around safe MP’s – clusters of safe MP’s with enormous majorities in urban centres have long bedevilled Labour).

At every level of the parliamentary game, a greater and greater proportion of voters are chipped away from the final representation of the electorate; the sculpture that remains is a gross caricature of the people. First, there is the entire electorate, the supposedly sovereign demos. As each constituency returns MP’s, somewhere between 50% and 70% of voters are denied representation. From this parliament of 650 seats, representing roughly 40% of voters, one party alone is victorious and may form a government; since this party may only have achieved a bare majority, as the Tories just did, that 40% representation is further reduced. A party is now in power that represents somewhere between 20% and 35% of the total vote, and from within its ranks a cabinet will be formed, by which all decisions of importance will made for the life of the parliament. The cabinet does not always get its way; if it did there would be no need for parliamentary whips. But it gets its way enough of the time that we can say with some confidence that the day-to-day running of the country is performed by some two-dozen MP’s who collectively represent about 1.5% of the electorate. I feel completely justified is calling this what it is: a modern court. This ‘democratic court’, a textbook oxymoron, has its members refreshed and reshuffled, with much pomp and circumstance, every five years. What we get for our votes is, in effect, a two-court system.

A two-party or two-court system is the near-certain consequence of the mathematics of first-past-the-post. Smaller parties, whether left, right or centrist whose support, while potentially substantial, is scattered around the country, are systematically excluded from the parliamentary procedure since they fail to command constituency majorities. Where they do, by extraordinary effort, manage to gain significant parliamentary representation, such as in the case of the Lib Dems in 2010, the following election will often see them thoroughly routed as voters see the results of their third party or protest votes going to waste. Voters who, angered and disillusioned by decades of two-court rule, legitimately put their hopes in parties of the left, right and centre who promise to break away from the Westminster consensus. On occasion, such parties can muster enormous support; lest we forget, UKIP achieved an impressive 12.6% of the vote. But when voters see such gains converted into so sorry a number of seats, and thus into so little influence, it is hardly surprising that the result is the disillusioned malaise we condescendingly refer to as ‘apathy’. In the worst cases, third party, principle and protest voters on the left and right see their votes translate into victory for the major party they least wanted to see in power, which creates a strong incentive for them to back the main opposition party next time around. Centrist voters, while buoyed by the odd uplift in their electoral fortunes (again, the Lib Dems), are so regularly beaten down again that they lose faith in the ability of centrist parties to take power; come the next election, the centrist vote gets redistributed between the monolithic centre-left and centre-right blocks, restoring the very binary which they had hoped to challenge.

Inconvenient Truths

What I have tried to demonstrate in this post is that while we are quite right to spend time engaged in discussions of economics, class and ideology, of ‘Conservative Britain’, of the psychological ‘swing’ of the electorate, of fear-mongering, of successful and unsuccessful campaigns, of party leaders and their idiosyncrasies, of perceptions, lies, misinformation and propaganda, we risk everything by not seeing as central the hard facts of institutional forms and the strict limitations they place upon electoral outcomes. The will of the electorate is so thoroughly distorted by the barriers to representation which inhere within the system that it becomes almost meaningless to claim that the Tories did, in fact, ‘win’. If by ‘win’ we mean ‘got into power’ or ‘played the system best’ then yes, the Tories did win. But if we mean, as we ought to mean when speaking of elections, that the Tories won the hearts and minds of the people and achieved a legitimate democratic mandate to govern in the interests of the whole country, the Tories did not ‘win’ by any conceivable measure; they simply achieved power.

Of course, we do not live a substantive democracy, and we cannot afford to comfort ourselves with the idea that the Tories didn’t really convince Britain to back them. They convinced enough people, within the crippled democratic system that we have, that they will now rule us however misbegotten their mandate. Electoral reform must be very high indeed on the agenda of everyone who cares about democracy come 2020, but we must also face the fact that we could be facing another several elections based upon broadly the same set of rules as this one. In that case, it is incumbent upon us to really thoroughly understand why the Tories won, even if only under the present degraded system of rules. The difficult fact remains that they won more votes than any other party and that, in enormous swathes of the country, significant majorities voted Tory. For the Left, we must face a further inconvenient truth: that a majority of people in the UK voted on the Right in 2015 (50.5% for the Tories, UKIP and the Northern Irish DUP combined). If, as I think we should, we also add half of the Lib Dem vote to this figure (to represent the Right-leaning element in the centre), we reach a figure closer to 55%, and this following a period of severe economic recession and five years of incredibly destructive and reactionary Tory rule. 

There will be no easy answers to the question of why the Right appears to be in ascendency. In the next entry to this series I’ll present a broad-brush overview of what I think are most important factors. Then, in the fourth and final entry, I’ll try to synthesize these into a more properly Marxian analysis of our electoral (mis)fortunes in late capitalist Britain.

5

The pics you see above were taken from a Twitter hashtag called the #kyliejennerchallenge Funny how black people were caricatured for having big lips & now Kylie Jenner is doing it so its “trendy” kind of like the same way Zendaya’s faux locs smelled like patchouli oil & weed until Kylie started doing it. So go ahead and say it isnt about race…

Reblog this & dont stop until everyone has seen this. Stop fucking praising white girls for the SAME THINGS y'all shame black women for!

This Is The Hourly Wage You Need To Afford A 2-Bedroom Apartment Around The U.S.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition released its annual housing report “Out of Reach” earlier this month. The organization calculated the hourly wage a resident would need to earn to afford a moderate, two-bedroom apartment – and the outlook is grim. The report found that a person earning minimum wage in each state cannot afford to spend only 30 percent of income on such an apartment in the U.S.

States with the largest inequality gap between housing income and renter wage for a 2-bedroom apartment here. 
A political system dominated by wealth could be democratic if wealth were evenly distributed. Sadly, the United States has a greater disparity of wealth than almost any other nation on earth. Four hundred U.S. billionaires have more money than half the people of the United States combined, and those 400 are celebrated for it rather than shamed. With the United States trailing most nations in income equality, this problem is only getting worse. The 10th wealthiest country on earth per capita doesn’t look wealthy when you drive through it. And you do have to drive, with 0 miles of high-speed rail built. And you have to be careful when you drive. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D+. Areas of cities like Detroit have become wasteland. Residential areas lack water or are poisoned by environmental pollution — most often from military operations.
theatlantic.com
Genes Don't Cause Racial-Health Disparities, Society Does

On April 24, 2003, shortly after the completion of the human genome project, its director Francis Collins and his team posed 15 grand challenges to the scientific community. They dared researchers to harness the genome to crack puzzles of biology, health, and society. In particular, they called for genome-based tools to close health disparities. Since then, the United States has pumped more than $1 billion a year into genomics research. What do we have to show for it?

“What we found in the literature published from 2007 to 2013 was basically nothing,” said Jay Kaufman, the lead author of the first study to examine available genetic data for evidence that explains a major racial-health disparity. For many years, researchers speculated that what they couldn’t explain about disparities must be the fingerprint of some mysterious genetic component. But since they are now able to scan the entire genome, this speculation appears both lazy and wrong. When it comes to why many black people die earlier than white people in the U.S., Kaufman and his colleagues show we’ve been looking for answers in the wrong places: We shouldn’t be looking in the twists of the double helix, but the grinding inequality of the environment.

2

Voting matters. Though many Americans believe that voting is either useless or merely a civic duty, in reality it carries huge consequences for the decisions of politicians. There is overwhelming evidence that politicians are more responsive to the preferences of voters than non-voters, and that voting affects government policy. These facts have key implications for policies that disenfranchise individuals who would otherwise vote. Indeed, America’s racialized voting practices continue to disenfranchise the poor and communities of color, robbing them of billions in public funding.

The negative effects of mass-incarceration are even worse than we thought

America’s greatest shame in 2015 is not a piece of cloth. It’s that a black boy has a life expectancy five years shorter than a white boy. It’s that the net worth of the average black household in 2011 was $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to census data. It’s that almost two-thirds of black children grow up in low-income families. It’s that more than one-third of inner-city black kids suffer lead poisoning (and thus often lifelong brain impairment), mostly from old lead paint in substandard housing.