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Thomas Piketty Believes There’s Still Time to Save the Middle Class

Inequality in America has risen since the 1980s, but robust democratic institutions can turn this trend around.

Thomas Piketty: If you look at a country like the United States, the share of the total income going to the top 10 percent of the population used to be about one-third of the total income back in the early 1980s and now in 2015 it is over one half. So it has gone from 30/35 percent to over 50 percent of total income. Marx in the 19th century says that inequality would have to rise forever. Kuznets in the 20th century on the contrary assumes that there were natural forces that would make inequality go down in the long run. My main conclusion is that there are powerful forces going in both directions and that ultimately which one dominates really depends on the institutions, policy that we choose in the area of education, labor market, taxation, corporate governance, minimum wages. And all of these matter and there are several possible futures.

If your parents are rich, like 100 percent of the generation, almost, goes to college. If your parents are poor, it's like 20/30 percent going to college and these are not the same colleges if you're rich. And so there's very unequal access to education prevents inequality from going down. Now, even if you get education policy right, there are other forces which can lead to rising inequality in the long run. In particular there is a tendency of the rate of return to capital to exceed the economy's growth rate in the very long run — can act as a powerful force to very high concentration of wealth and property as opposed to income inequality, in particular labor income inequality, which is primarily determined by education and labor market institution. So again, it really depends on the institution and policies like progressive taxation of income, wealth that we put in place in order to regulate these dynamics.

Sometimes people want just to blame globalization and say, well, because of globalization, because of the competition with emerging countries inequality has to increase and in any case there's not much we can do about it; that's just globalization. And I think this is wrong. I believe in globalization, but I believe we also need strong democratic institution and fiscal and educational policies so as to ensure that more people actually benefit from globalization so you don't have the same rise in inequality everywhere. For instance, in Europe and Japan where you also have globalization and competition with the emerging countries, inequality of income or wealth did not increase quite as much as in the United States. So this shows a different course of action can make a difference.

Globalization has created more wealth around the world, but in America, rather than being the rising tide that lifts all boats, money is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the population's top 10 percent. But robust democratic institutions can turn this trend around, says Thomas Piketty, professor of economics at the Paris School of Economics and author of the landmark 2013 book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

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Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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Has science made religion useless?

Placing science and religion at opposite ends of the belief spectrum is to ignore their unique purposes.

Videos
  • Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white.
  • This video features religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other brilliant minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
  • "I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it's not the whole story and there's a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy," says Francis Collins, American geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "But that harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention. Nobody is as interested in harmony as they are in conflict."

Signs of Covid-19 may be hidden in speech signals

Studying voice recordings of infected but asymptomatic people reveals potential indicators of Covid-19.

Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
Coronavirus
It's often easy to tell when colleagues are struggling with a cold — they sound sick.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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Supporting climate science increases skepticism of out-groups

A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?

Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
  • This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
  • The findings could lead to new methods of influencing public opinion.
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