Economic Dignity

The definition of economic dignity has three parts, to be able to take care of your family, having the ability to reach your potential and being free from domination and humiliation. It’s from an article by economist Gene Sperling in the journal Democracy. Sperling worked with both presidents Clinton and Obama. He believes that economic dignity should drive economic policy and that metrics like GDP can be misleading and not produce the right results. In other words economic policy need to make sure for example that people can have jobs with living wages or that corporations not contribute to decreasing upward mobility. Here is how he ends his article: “Government cannot guarantee happiness. But there is little question that with wise and just policy, we do have the power to say to all our people that if you do your part, you care for your family, pursue potential and purpose without ever feeling that you have been given up on, and participate in our economy with a degree of fairness and respect as opposed to domination and humiliation. That much—that basic promise of economic dignity for all—is something that is within our grasp.”

If economic equality means anything to us, then economic dignity is a concept both powerful and useful. And as we begin to ponder national elections, gauging candidates by how closely their rhetoric to combat inequality mirrors this concept may be essential.

The Children of Sex Tourists

The story in The Guardian kept recurring in my thoughts until I finally decided to write about it. The article was about the children of sex tourists in  Pueblo de los Angeles, one of Manila’s poorest neighborhoods, and what made it haunting was that it is duplicated in the slums of many cities, in Asia and the US and surely other continents. Of the 4.7 million tourists in the Philippines each year, 1.2 million are men traveling alone and it has been estimated that probably 40% of them are sex tourists. They have web sites and their own social networks where they call themselves “mongers” for whore-mongers and share tips and other information including what they call GFE, girl friend experience. Maybe 40 to 50% of the girls working in Angeles City had at least their first child from “mongers” whether they were from Europe, America or Australia. These children have no fathers and consequently no financial support from them. They often live in dire poverty, where the mother perhaps a third generation sex worker, may live on the equivalent of $3 a day. They may not have enough to eat, live in hovels with leaky tin roofs where the floor turns to mud when it rains. It can be difficult for them to go to school. The article mentioned one child who was too weak from hunger to walk to school.

If these men are that oblivious to the consequences of their self-gratification they would hardly make good fathers. But if they have the means to travel to the Philippines or elsewhere, they should have the means to help support their progeny. Tourism is embedded in the economy of many nations so it is doubtful sex tourism would be banned by the respective governments. Still it can be addressed, perhaps something like  a general tourist tax or a  tariff to create a fund for those children. Any way to address this problem is very much in order and quite possible.

Auto Debt and Inequality

Seven million Americans, according to numbers from the US Federal Reserve Bank of New York, are at least three months behind on their car payments. By the summer of 2018 Americans owed more than   1.26 trillion, more than they did at the end of the recession in 2009.  It paints a troubling picture. Car delinquencies usually come after housing but nevertheless are used to reflect a measure of inequality. While some do own cars they cannot afford, car ownership which is a necessity for many to be able to go to work, is associated with more stability and a bank account that may have a  bit of a balance. Experts say that the number of people defaulting on their car loan points to “financial duress”. People are delinquent on their house first, their credit cards second and their car third. So the increase in delinquencies with car debt is more significant than it first appears. It means that too many people are not able to hold on to something they consider an important or necessary asset.

We hear about near full employment, about the economy doing well and it’s easy to forget about income inequality and how it manifests itself, but it is a mistake to do so. It’s not only a question of remembering those who are struggling, it’s also seeing what lies behind a prosperity that benefits too few.

Web Access For Those With Disabilities

If someone close to you has a disability then you know the importance of their having access to any number of things, things we don’t think about or take for granted. A few years ago we didn’t realize how important wheelchair ramps were. And lawsuits prompted by the Americans With Disabilities Act gave us ramps, wider doorways and lower counter tops.  Now the issue is web access and the number of lawsuits has tripled in 2018.  Henry Tucker, A blind New Yorker is systematically suing New York City art galleries because as it stands he does not have access to their websites. While this latest slate of lawsuits is aimed at art galleries, in alphabetical groupings, any business has been or will be affected, yoga studios, moving companies, fashion stores, wine shops, insurance companies, colleges… The cost of making a site accessible to those with disabilities varies from a few hundred to a few thousands. And often businesses comply and settle because it’s cheaper than the costs of a lawsuit.  With the art galleries the settlement may be around $10,000 to $15,000 per.  Many of these lawsuits, sometimes called “drive-by lawsuits” come from just a few law firms which seem to specialize in them. They can be lucrative. I remember meeting a lawyer a few years ago, who made his living this way.  While on the whole these lawsuits have widened the experience of those with disabilities, there are at least two problems. One is that despite adjustments and changes, some websites remain inaccessible to the visually impaired. Another lies in how these actions are being carried out and perhaps why. Lainey Feingold a disability rights lawyer who specialized in digital accessibility says that they give a bad impression of the Americans With Disabilities Act and give a bad impression about web accessibility. If I were blind, for example, I would be willing to make some allowances but I would want access to the web like anyone else. Wouldn’t you? But I don’t think I would approve of lawyers using my disability as a means to enrich themselves.