About this issue

This issue’s theme: On the edge —inequality and poverty. Is it possible that most people are beginning to realize that inequality is intrinsic to our celebrated “market system”—and even a goal of government policy? One apologist said, “I believe inequality is an economic good that has received too much bad press.”

Political liberalism will not overcome inequalities of class because it denies the mechanism of inequality itself: that capitalism and “free” markets generate inequality from the very nature of the production process; and denies that an inalienable right to property must be held accountable to democratic or public ends. The ascendency of the market has been accepted at the expense of broader political aims and goals. Market processes govern every facet of our lives and market outcomes are celebrated as deserved—and final. And as inequality grows, political freedom diminishes and unequal power relations invade every sphere of life.

This is starkly evident in our cities—take for example the campaign conducted by Amazon and other Seattle businesses “fed up” with a City Council that conditioned their ability to exploit workers. It is evident in the continuous turnover of public functions and public resources to private profit-making entities: the prisons and detention centers with contracts that mandate a certain occupancy rate; municipal services like parking and garbage collection; sale of municipal water to companies like Nestle; attacks on public transit. It’s evident in our national politics as the federal government steals from the poor to give to the rich:

House Republicans put out a 2019 budget proposal that calls for $537 billion in cuts to Medicare, $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, and $4 billion in cuts to Social Security over the next decade in an effort to pay for their deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy. It also proposes partial privatization of Medicare. The Trump budget would make tax cuts to the rich permanent. and add deep cuts to many programs important to workers, consumers, families, students, and, of course, the poor.

About the cover: Commodity Chains.

European intrusion into the Americas delivered vast areas of the region and its people into export economies. Nearly all the inhabitants including millions of African slaves were swept up in a long process that has led to devastating consequences for those who did the work. The people of Mexico and Central America remain captives of this “commodity chain” that ties their production to consumers in a global marketplace. Our participation in that chain is captured in this graphic and in the poem “Commodity Chains” on p. 15 by the poet-educator and troubador Jordan Bubin.

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