Capital Investment Income Drives Income Inequality
A recently published analysis by Thomas L. Hungerford (see highlights below) looks at factors driving the growth of income inequality for the period between 1991 to 2006. Hungerford looked at the contributing impact of three factors, tax policy, labor wages and capital income. During the studied period he found that capital income (capital gains, interest income, business income and dividends) was by far the largest factor contributing to rising income inequality. Wages and salaries alone were not a factor and tax policies were only a minor contributor during this period, largely due to the more favorable tax treatment of capital gains.
This report doesn’t trace the history of income inequality prior to 1991 where changes in wage growth in the late 1970’s and the collapsing of upper income tax brackets in 1980 and 1985 were more dramatic.
It is worth remembering that for most of the past 100 years capital gains was treated as ordinary income for tax purposes. In recent times, capital gains have be treated as a separate class of income with a more favorable tax treatment. Capital ownership has always been more concentrated at the upper end of the income/wealth continuum. Capital is, of course, an ownership stake in our economy whether through stocks, bonds, property or business ownership. The income generated when these capital investments are bought and sold is currently taxed at 15% (if it is held for more than a year). That is less than half the top tax rate for wages and salaries. And how is capital ownership distributed in America?
Who Owns What In America?
The distribution of wealth ownership, as opposed to income inequality, is even more skewed towards the wealthy as the pie chart below shows. The whole pie represents the total wealth in America. Each of the five slices of the pie represent 20% of the US population according to how much wealth they own.
The slice of ownership for the poor and working poor are barely visible. Eighty-percent of all Americans own just 15.6% of America’s wealth. The number of people who slipped into poverty in 2010 was at an all time high of 46.2 million, so the poorest 20% of all Americans, in terms of wealth ownership, includes 15.5 million who are technically above the income poverty line. The poorest 40% of Americans essentially own almost nothing while the top 20% own almost 85% of everything. As a result, favorable tax policies for capital gains income has a highly disproportional benefit for the wealthiest Americans. Capital income for this wealthy segment is what drives rising income inequality today.
Changes in Income Inequality Among U.S. Tax Filers Between 1991 and 2006: The Role of Wages, Capital Income, and Taxes
Thomas L. Hungerford
January 23, 2013
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2207372
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THIS REPORT:
Research has demonstrated that large income and class disparities adversely affect health and economic well-being (see, for example, Marmot 2004, Wilkinson 1996, Frank 2007, Singh and Siahpush 2006).
Research has shown, however, that income mobility [in the United States] is not very great and the degree of income mobility has either remained unchanged or decreased since the 1970’s (Hungerford 2011, and Bradbury 2011).
Earnings inequality has been increasing since at least the late-1960s (Kopczuk, Saez, and Song 2010). [The] CBO (2011) has documented that income inequality has been increasing in the United States over the past 35 years.
Three potential causes of the increase in after-tax income inequality between 1991 and 2006 are examined in the analysis: changes in labor income (wages and salaries), changes in capital income (interest income, capital gains, dividends, and business income), and changes in taxes.
Increased salaries paid to CEOs, managers, financial professionals, and athletes, is estimated to account for 70 percent of the increase in the share of income going to the richest Americans (Bakija, Cole, and Heim 2010).
A declining real minimum wage could affect lower income tax filers (the inflation-adjusted minimum wage fell from $6.57 per hour in 1996 to $5.57 per hour in 2006).
Income of the richest 0.1 percent of taxpayers is sensitive to changes in asset prices and this may have been especially important in the increase in the income share of those at the top of the income distribution (Bakija, Cole, and Heim 2010).
Frabdorf, Grabker, and Schwarze (2011) also find that capital income’s share in disposable income has increased in recent years in the U.S. and show that capital income made a large contribution to income inequality in relation to its share in income.
While the individual income tax system is progressive and has been since it was introduced in 1913, the trend has been toward lower marginal tax rates and a less progressive tax system (Piketty and Saez 2007, and Alm, Lee, and Wallace 2005). As a result, the tax system may be less able to equalize after-tax incomes.
The major tax changes between 1991 and 2006 were (1) the enactment of the Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act of 1993 (OBRA93), which increased the top marginal tax rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent, and (2) the enactment of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, which reduced taxes especially for higher-income tax filers. The Bush tax cuts involved reduced tax rates, the introduction of the 10 percent tax bracket (which reduced taxes for all taxpayers), [it also] reduced the tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. In 1991, long-term capital gains were taxed at 28 percent (15 percent for lower-income taxpayers) and all dividends were taxed as ordinary income. The next year, the
long-term capital gains tax rate was reduced to 20 percent. By 2006, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends were taxed at 15 percent (5 percent for lower-income taxpayers). Tax policy changes that affect progressivity will affect after-tax income inequality (Kim and Lambert 2009, and Hungerford 2010).
Hungerford (2010) notes, however, that about 75 percent of families contain just one tax unit (another 17 percent contain two tax units with the second tax unit usually a cohabitating adult or a working child that cannot be claimed asa dependent on another tax return). Consequently, most of the tax units likely represent a family.
Piketty and Saez (2003) argue that capital gains are not an annual flow of income and have large aggregate variations from one year to another; they exclude capital gains from much of their analysis. Blinder (1980) argues that capital gains should not be included in income because what is important is real accrued capital gains [cashed out]. Also, that capital gains represents partial maintenance of in an inflationary world. [in other words, gains shouldn’t be taxed as it serves as an inflation adjustment for capital]
capitals gains have increasingly become an important source of compensation for corporate executives (through stock options), and private equity and hedge fund managers (carried interests). Consequently, income from capital gains is included in the analysis.
Several recent studies estimate that most or all (in some cases more than 100 percent) of the burden of the corporate income tax falls on labor through reduced wages [while] other evidence suggests that most or all of the burden of the corporate income tax falls on owners of capital. [So take your pick!]
Federal individual and corporate income taxes had an equalizing effect on inequality regardless of the inequality measure. Federal taxes had a slightly greater equalizing effect in 2006 than in 1991—taxes appear to have been slightly more progressive in 2006 than in 1991. The top marginal tax rate in 1991 was 31 percent compared to 35 percent in 2006; the lowest tax marginal rate was 15 percent in 1991 and 10 percent in 2006. However, the increased equalizing effect of the individual income tax is likely due to bracket creep—more income is taxed at the highest rates—than to tax law changes. Tax policy changes appear to have played a direct role: OBRA93 tended to have an equalizing effect on after-tax income while the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts tended to have a disequalizing effect.
Tax policy may have also have had an indirect effect on rising income inequality, especially between 2001 and 2006. The reduction in the tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends may have led to the increased importance of this source in after-tax income.
Overall, changes in [wage] labor income does not appear to be a significant source of increased income inequality between 1991 and 2006. Wages had no or a small disequalizing effect when other inequality measures are used.
By far, the largest contributor to increasing income inequality (regardless of income inequality measure) was changes in income from capital gains and dividends. Capital gains and dividends were less equally distributed in 1991 than in 2006, though highly unequally distributed in both years.
Thomas L. Hungerford currently works at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) which is part of the Library of Congress. The CRS provides the policy and legal analysis to Congressional committees and Members, regardless of their party affiliation. CRS staffers sometimes do reports on their own. Hungerford says this report, “… [does] not reflect the views of the Congressional Research Service or the Library of Congress.” Hungerford is well-published in the professional literature. He has worked for the Social Security Administration, the Office of Management and Budget, and the General Accounting Office in the past. The excerpts highlighted here are of my own. You are encouraged to read the full study at the URL address provide above.
Raising Wages Would Revive Our Economy
It seems so obvious that consumption is the fire that powers an economy and money is the fuel. It doesn’t matter from where the spending comes in the short run, but it must come from ordinary people in the long run. Wages paid are dollars spent and a dollar spent is a dollar earned in a free economy. Just as you can dampen consumption by raising the cost of borrowing, you can also dampen consumption by suppressing wages, which is exactly what we have been doing for more than 30 years. Corporations have become cash rich but customer poor. They could end this sluggish economy tomorrow by raising wages.
Living Wage Should Be Our Minimum Demand
Here are the facts: The federal minimum wage = $7.25 /hr. President Obama wants to raise it to $9.00 /hr. The current US Poverty wage = $10.60 /hr. The current living wage rate averages $16 to $23 /hr depending on where you live. The poverty wage rate and living wage rates are based on a 40 hour work week.
Profitable companies paying workers, or their out sourced or supply chain workers, less than a living wage are financially benefitting from government aid to the working poor. We need a stable work force to be competitive. We also can’t have people starving to death in the wealthiest nation on Earth. Companies take advantage of this and let state or federal governments step in to help care for their workers. This amounts to a labor discount. Cheap labor! Corporations are padding their profits at taxpayer expense.
At least 45% of working households require some form of government subsidy to maintain their financial stability. The cumulative effect of wage suppression over the past 40 years has become a huge taxpayer drain on households making more than the median income. While almost everyone’s wages are suppressed relative to GDP, the ranks of the working poor have grown to almost half of the work force. Business profits that have not been shared with workers over the years has gone instead to the wealtiest 1% of American’s creating the huge income inequality we have today.
In effect, profitable corporations and companies are making their higher paid employees subsidize part-time workers and full-time works who make less than a living wage.
So the next time you see that cleaning lady at work, remember your employer is expecting you to subsidize her family though income taxes rather than pay her the living wage she needs just to make ends meet. Every conservative argument against raising the minimum wage is just a smoke screen for the real culpret behind unemployment and our sluggesh economy, Wage Suppression!!!
Are Slaves and Children Making Our Clothes?
What follows is a medley of articles on the subject of child and economic slaves at work making our clothing apparel. The purpose here is to raise awareness surrounding this issue and provide readers a starting point for learning how we unwittingly contribute to human exploitation.
Are Slaves and Children Making Our Clothes?
A new report by the California-based non-profit organization Not for Sale has found that many major fashion retailers, including Abercrombie and Fitch, Carters, Quiksilver, Walmart, and Aramark, are complicit in the persistence of modern-day slavery through negligence. The report, titled Apparel Industry Trends: From Farm to Factory, studied the publicly available and self-reported data of 300 apparel brands so as to determine the supply chain links between those brands and companies known to engage in child- and forced-labor—abuses suffered by an estimated 300 million people worldwide.
REPORT ON MODERN DAY SLAVERY IN THE APPAREL INDUSTRY
“To create true breakthrough in the fight against slavery, we need systemic change,” said David Batstone, Not For Sale President and Co-Founder. “Free2Work and the Apparel Industry Trends Report equip everyone to advocate for that change and make it a part of their everyday life.”
The report released in a presentation on Nov. 13 in Ankara, Turkey at the United Nations General Assembly expert group meeting on “Human Trafficking & Global Supply Chains.” The meeting included corporate, government, labor union, and NGO leaders from around the globe. It is the first comprehensive report on forced and child labor in international supply chains.
Not For Sale created the report to urge the clothing sector forward by offering best practice examples from industry leaders. It also points out brands that are fueling modern-day slavery through their negligence: Carter’s, Quiksilver, Walmart, and Aramark all receive “D” or “F” ratings and need to make significant improvements.
Ratings only indicate how companies are addressing the particular issue of modern slavery and do not reflect the overall measure of general supply chain working conditions. For example, while Adidas receives a “B,” campaigning is currently underway in response to the company’s refusal to pay over a million dollars in wages owed to Indonesian workers.
This is Not For Sale’s first full-length Free2Work report, and the organization has plans to release similar industry trend reports in upcoming months. To date, Not For Sale has released indepth grades and profiles on over 500 brands in industries like apparel, food and electronics.
Click here to view the report and become a smart consumer.
How Many Slaves Work for You? New Online Tool Measures Your Impact
Bought a smartphone lately? What about a computer, T-shirt, or even a cup of Joe? Chances are, slaves made them. The Emancipation Proclamation may have abolished slavery in the United States nearly 150 years ago, but forced labor is still alive and well in the rest of the world. No matter what the brand, everything boils down to the supply chain: the people who pick and mill your cotton, mine the tungsten and gold, and harvest the coffee beans. And they’re all working for you. At least 27 million bonded laborers exist worldwide, according to Slavery Footprint, a new website and mobile app that measures the role forced labor plays in supporting our lifestyles. Most of us would like to assume the answer is zero, but even the most conscientious of consumers aren’t exempt—according to the calculator, this writer has 22 slaves forced to work against their will.
People Falsely Convicted Spend Years In Jail Before Exonerations, And They Are the Luck Ones.
- The procedure for convicting a defendant of a crime is set by law: unless the defendant pleads guilty, he must be convicted at a trial before a judge or a jury by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
- There is no set legal procedure for deciding that a convicted defendant is innocent when subsequent proof of innocent surfaces.
- Persons convicted of a crime can appeal but
- Appeals are mostly based on some misapplication of law at trial
- New evidence cannot be presented to win a chance to appeal
- Accuracy of the trial court’s judgment is not reviewed
- Winning an appeal triggers a new trial, not an exoneration
- Most exonerated defendants have their convictions vacated by courts at some point, but that almost always occurs in some form of “collateral review” or “extraordinary relief” proceeding after the process of ordinary appellate review has run its course, which can take years.
- We know the race of the defendants in 92% of the cases (802/873):
- 50% were black (399/802),
- 38% were white (303/802),
- 11% were Hispanic (86/802), and
- 2% were Native American or Asian (14/802).
- 8% pled guilty (71/873) and the rest were convicted at trial – 87% by juries and 8% by judges.
- 37% were cleared at least in part with the help of DNA evidence (325/873).
- 63% were cleared without DNA evidence (548/873).
- Almost all had been in prison for years; half for at least 10 years; more than 75% for at least 5 years.
- As a group, the defendants had spent more than 10,000 years in prison for crimes for which they should not have been convicted – an average of more than 11 years each
Exonerations by Category of Crime
1989 – 2003 REPORT
1989 – 2012 REPORT
Murder (including manslaughter)
Rape (and other sexual assaults)
Other Crimes of Violence
Drug and Property Crimes
GAO – $450 Billion Gap in Taxes Owed Per Year
The following excerpt is taken directly from a GAO report called “HIGH-RISK SERIES An Update,” which highlights the difficulties in collecting revenue legally owed to our federal government. You will note from the steps recommended that significant collection efforts are to be focused on corporations and other business practices. The $450 billion in annual lost revenue does not take into account other shady tax loopholes used by the wealthy hide their income. It also isn’t clear if this total includes taxes lost in the underground cash and barter economies, which costs us billions in lost revenue. Unpaid taxes are an affront to a fair and balanced tax system. Lost revenue must be made up out of the pockets of law abiding citizens. Any changes to tax laws to make them fairer must include provisions to make collection more uniform.
Enforcement of Tax Laws
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently estimated that the gross tax gap—the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid on time—was $450 billion for tax year 2006. For a portion of the gap, IRS is able to identify the responsible taxpayers. IRS estimated that it would collect $65 billion from these taxpayers through enforcement actions and late payments, leaving a net tax gap of $385 billion. The tax gap has been a persistent problem in spite of a myriad of congressional and IRS efforts to reduce it, as the rate at which taxpayers voluntarily comply with U.S. tax laws has changed little over the past three decades. Given that the tax gap has been persistent and dispersed across different types of taxes and taxpayers, coupled with tax code complexity and a globalizing economy, reducing the tax gap will require applying multiple strategies over a sustained period of time.
IRS enforcement of the tax laws is vital for financing the U.S. government. Through enforcement, IRS collects revenue from noncompliant taxpayers and, perhaps more importantly, promotes voluntary compliance by giving taxpayers confidence that others are paying their fair share. GAO designated the enforcement of tax laws as a high-risk area in 1990.IRS and Congress have shown a commitment to addressing the tax gap. Importantly, IRS continues to research the extent and causes of taxpayer noncompliance and is using the results to revise its examination programs. While still in the early planning stages, IRS has met with key stakeholders to develop options for expanding compliance checks before issuing refunds to taxpayers. IRS is also extending a program to encourage taxpayers to voluntarily report their previously undisclosed foreign accounts and assets, which has resulted in billions of dollars in collections. IRS, as well as Congress, has taken other innovative actions aimed at further improving tax compliance, often directly based on GAO’s work, including the following:
• Since 2012, brokers have been required to report their clients’ basis for securities sales.
• Since 2011, banks and other third parties have been required to report businesses’ credit card and similar receipts.
• Starting in 2014, U.S. financial institutions and other entities are required to withhold a portion of certain payments made to foreign financial institutions that have not entered into an agreement with IRS to report details on U.S. account holders to IRS
• Starting with tax year 2010, IRS is requiring businesses to report on their tax returns uncertain tax positions—those for which a business reported a reserve amount in its financial statements to account for the possibility that IRS does not sustain the position upon examination or that the position may be litigated.
• IRS is continuing its multiyear effort to replace the systems it uses to process individual tax returns and receive electronically filed tax returns.
The impact of these initiatives on taxpayer compliance and the tax gap may not be known for years and will depend, in part, on how IRS implements them. Using the new information from financial institutions could require IRS to develop new business processes and uses of information technology. Implementation will also be influenced by IRS’s ability to provide quality taxpayer services, such as telephone, correspondence, and online assistance. GAO found that some services
have experienced performance declines in recent years and IRS’s website could offer additional interactivity for taxpayers.
Another initiative IRS undertook in 2010 was to begin implementing new requirements for paid tax return preparers, such as competency testing, with the goals of leveraging relationships with paid preparers and improving the accuracy of the tax returns they prepare. Given that they prepare approximately 60 percent of all tax returns filed, paid preparers have an enormous impact on IRS’s ability to administer tax laws effectively. In January 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia enjoined IRS from enforcing the new requirements for paid preparers. IRS has filed a motion to suspend the injunction and intends to appeal the District Court’s decision.
Further refining of direct revenue return-on-investment measures of its enforcement programs could improve how IRS allocates resources across its programs. Better use of such measures, subject to other considerations of tax administration, such as minimizing compliance costs and ensuring equitable treatment across different groups of taxpayers, could help maximize income tax collections. Resource allocation will become increasingly important as IRS is tasked with broader responsibilities, such as those in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in a time of tight budgets.
Additionally, targeted legislative action may be needed to address some compliance issues. IRS has statutory authority — called math error authority—to correct certain errors, such as calculation mistakes or omitted or inconsistent entries, during tax return processing. Expanding such math error authority could help IRS correct additional errors before interest is owed by taxpayers and avoid burdensome audits. Additional types of information reporting could also help improve compliance.
Taxpayers are much more likely to report their income accurately when the income is also reported to IRS by a third party. By matching information received from third-party payers with what payees report on their tax returns, IRS can detect income underreporting, including the failure to file a tax return. Currently, businesses must report to IRS payments for services they make to unincorporated persons or businesses, but payments to corporations generally do not have to be reported.
Taxpayers who rent out real estate are required to report to IRS expense payments for certain services, such as payments for property repairs, only if their rental activity is considered a trade or business. Expanding information reporting in these areas could increase payee reporting compliance. In 2010, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated revenue increases for a 10-year period from third-party reporting of (1) rental real estate service payments to be $2.5 billion and (2) service payments to corporations to be $3.4 billion.
A broader opportunity to address the tax gap involves simplifying the Internal Revenue Code, as complexity can cause taxpayer confusion and provide opportunities to hide willful noncompliance. Fundamental tax reform could result in a smaller tax gap if the new system has fewer tax preferences or complex tax code provisions, reducing IRS’s enforcement challenges and increasing public confidence in the fairness of the tax system. Short of fundamental reform, targeted implification opportunities exist. For example, changing tax laws to include more consistent definitions across tax provisions, such as which higher education expenses qualify for some of the savings and tax credit provisions in the tax code, could help taxpayers more easily understand and comply with their obligations. For IRS to improve its enforcement of tax laws it must continue to:
• perform compliance research on a regular basis and use the results to identify areas of noncompliance;
• seek ways to leverage paid preparers to improve tax compliance;
• implement new (1) requirements for sources of taxpayer information and (2) technologies to enhance the effectiveness and timeliness of service and enforcement corrective measures; and
• develop return on investment measures to better allocate resources and maximize income tax collection.
In that regard, IRS should implement GAO’s open recommendations, such as those on developing measures of direct revenue return on investment. To assist IRS in reducing the tax gap, Congress should consider expanding IRS’s math error authority to correct taxpayer calculation mistakes or omitted or inconsistent entries during tax return processing before issuing refunds. Congress should also consider requiring payers to report service payments to corporations and making rental real estate owners subject to the same payment reporting requirements regardless of whether they engaged in a trade or business under current law. In the event that IRS cannot implement its new requirements without additional statutory authority, Congress should consider whether tax compliance could be improved by regulating paid preparers. The ongoing debate about tax reform also provides opportunities to consider the effect of tax simplification on taxpayer compliance and the tax gap.
Minimum Wage Proposal A Small Step
In his State-of-the-Union Address President Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9.00 per hour and indexing it to inflation. He said a family of four with two children still lives below the poverty line when one parent works full-time at minimum wage. The proposed increase would lift them out of poverty, he said.
by Google Images
What a welcome suprise! Virtually no attention was given to the working poor in the last election. In the past decade real wages rapidly declined for the working poor, driving ever more citizens into the grip of intractable poverty.
When a person works full-time for a profitable company their compensation should enable them to care for their family. When this isn’t the case, they must rely on taxpayer-subsidized housing, food stamps, medical care, daycare, or other supportive services. This takes a toll. It can erode a person’s dignity and self-worth. It can foster a sense of inadequacy or self-loathing.
On a social level the working poor are often labeled and marginalized. They are deemed to be less worthy. They are less likely to be promoted or rehired after a layoff. Any economic hardship at all can lock them into a cycle of poverty where their hope for a better life evaporates with each passing year. Escaping poverty in America today is the exception, not the rule.
Many wealthy companies are just as dependent on government subsidies for cheap labor. Without taxpayer assistance for their workers these companies would have to pay a living wage in order to maintain a stable workforce.
And what is wrong with that? Shouldn’t adequate compensation be part of the cost of doing business? Why should business owners be allowed to pad their profits by cutting labor costs at taxpayer expense?
We can expect the pro-business lobby to oppose an increase in low-wage pay while calling for more spending cuts and lower business taxes. Austerity can’t create more jobs and spending cuts will never result in more pay for low-wage earners. Only an increase in the minimum wage or a living-wage law can do that.
Pro-business economists will claim that a higher minimum wage will increase unemployment and hamstring businesses, especially small businesses. Much evidence suggests the opposite. Higher minimum wages have a simulative effect on the economy. The extra $1.75 per hour will be spent immediately, boosting business profits and sparking more demand.
The pro-business lobby will claim the proposed increase is excessive, but here the facts are against them. Even President Obama got this wrong. The poverty wage for a family of four is current $10.60 per hour. If passed, President Obama’s proposal would still means a minimum-wage worker would have to work overtime, take another part-time job, or have their spouse work part-time to reach the poverty line.
And what does it really mean to be at the poverty line? Does this make a family economically self-sufficient?
No, it does not. A living wage to lift a family of four above the need for taxpayer subsidies is considerably higher. In Wyoming, for example, a living wage for this family is $16.93 per hour. In Virginia it is $20.88 per hour, and in California it is $22.15 per hour. These figures are not government artifacts. They are actual costs based on local free-market economies.
While business owners and corporations may squeal at the size of the proposed increase in the minimum wage, they would still benefit greatly from taxpayer subsidies for their low-wage employees. Raising the minimum wage shifts some of the burden of caring for employees to the employers, but not much. It still doesn’t hold wealthy corporations responsible for their low-wage workers or for the harm that poverty wages inflict on their families.
The Death Penalty in Alabama: Judge Override
PDF REPORT: http://www.eji.org/files/Override_Report.pdf
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND MAJOR FINDINGS
No capital sentencing procedure in the united States has come under more criticism as unreliable, unpredictable, and arbitrary than the unique Alabama practice of permitting elected trial judges to override jury verdicts of life and impose death sentences.
- Of the 34 states with the death penalty, Alabama is the only jurisdiction where judges routinely override jury verdicts of life to impose capital punishment.
- Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury verdicts 107 times. Although judges have authority to override life or death verdicts, in 92% of overrides elected judges have overruled jury verdicts of life to impose the death penalty.
- Twenty-one percent of the 199 people currently on Alabama’s death row were sentenced to death through judicial override.
- Judge override is the primary reason why Alabama has the highest per capita death sentencing rate and execution rate in the country. Last year, with a state population of 4.5 million people, Alabama imposed more new death sentences than Texas, with a population of 24 million.
- Override is legal in only three states: Alabama, Delaware, and Florida. However, Florida and Delaware have strict standards for override. No one in Delaware is on death row as a result of an override and no death sentences have been imposed by override in Florida since 1999. In Delaware and Florida, override often is used to overrule jury death verdicts and impose life – which rarely happens in Alabama.
- Alabama’s trial and appellate court judges are elected. Because judicial candidates frequently campaign on their support and enthusiasm for capital punishment, political pressure injects unfairness and arbitrariness into override decisions.
- Override rates fluctuate wildly from year to year. The proportion of death sentences imposed by override often is elevated in election years. In 2008, 30% of new death sentences were imposed by judge override, compared to 7% in 1997, a non-election year. In some years, half of all death sentences imposed in Alabama have been the result of override.
- There is evidence that elected judges override jury life verdicts in cases involving white victims much more frequently than in cases involving victims who are black. Seventy-five percent of all death sentences imposed by override involve white victims, even though less than 35% of all homicide victims in Alabama are white.
- Some sentencing orders in cases where judges have overridden jury verdicts make reference to the race of the offender and reveal illegal bias and race-consciousness. in one case, the judge explained that he previously had sentenced three black defendants to death so he decided to override the jury’s life verdict for a white defendant to balance out his sentencing record.
- Some judges in Montgomery and Mobile Counties persistently reject jury life verdicts to impose death. Two Mobile County judges, Braxton Kitrell and Ferrill McRae, have overruled 11 life verdicts to impose death. Former Montgomery County Judge Randall Homas overrode five jury life verdicts to impose the death penalty.
- There are considerably fewer obstacles to obtaining a jury verdict of death in Alabama because, unlike in most states with the death penalty, prosecutors in Alabama are not required to obtain a unanimous jury verdict; they can obtain a death verdict with only ten juror votes for death. Capital juries in Alabama already are very heavily skewed in favor of the death penalty because potential jurors who oppose capital punishment are excluded from jury service.
Reflections on the Human Spirit
Spirit is a word with many meanings, but the difficulty we have in defining it should not take away from the fact that it is real.
For me, spirit is a personal, intuitive sense of being, distinct from, yet an integral part of the greater universe. It is the source of morality, ethics, justice and universal truths. It is not synonymous with religion. I believe human spirit is the source, not the result of religion. It is what makes human rights unalienable. It is what knits us all together while singling each of us out as somehow special at the same time. It is the organizing force behind our social economy and the broader social ecology of our collective development. It is that which, despite all individual and group differences, makes all of us equal from birth. It broadens and deepens our social bonds. It is the essential element for our personal well being, our survival as a species and the survival of Earth as we know it today.
From my perspective, spirituality is indwelling. It invades conscious awareness from fundamental sources deeply imbedded within each of us, as if our whole body is a spiritual organ physically connected to all things. Other people experience spiritual perceptions from a different direction, such as emanating from outside the body and beyond physical existence. It hardly matters. What matters is that it connects us to the world and to each other. It reveals to us pure and enduring insights that we all share. It is a source of knowledge, accessible through introspection and heightened perceptions, that dissolves the estrangement we sometimes feel towards nature or other human beings. The human spirit always arches towards a broader, deeper unity and that special sense of well being we call love.
With all the tensions and challenges today, are we loosing our humanity? I don’t believe so. The human spirit has always faced competitive forces. The most persistent form of this competition pits self-interest over communal interests or present advantage over future needs. Nearly every challenge we face today fits this form. Our challenge, as always, is to elevate the human spirit in our selves and in our world. There are no secret strategies. Most everyone reading this knows what they need to do. Together we must overcome greed with our generosity, both materially and in spirit. We must empower the marginalized, inspire the dispirited, organize the discouraged, protect the vulnerable, overpower the skeptics, confront the intolerant and above all, bring up our children to be champions of the human spirit.