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Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
October 14, 2010 4:11 AM   Subscribe

America's Deepening Moral Crisis - Income inequality is at historic highs, but the rich claim that they have no responsibility to the rest of society. They refuse to come to the aid of the destitute, and defend tax cuts at every opportunity. Almost everybody complains, almost everybody aggressively defends their own narrow and short-term interests, and almost everybody abandons any pretense of looking ahead or addressing the needs of others.

The Problem with Inequality
The biggest problem with runaway inequality, however, is that it undermines the unity of purpose necessary for any firm, or any nation, to thrive. People don't work hard, take risks and make sacrifices if they think the rewards will all flow to others. Conservative Republicans use this argument all the time in trying to justify lower tax rates for wealthy earners and investors, but they chose to ignore it when it comes to the incomes of everyone else.

It's no coincidence that polarization of income distribution in the United States coincides with a polarization of the political process. Just as income inequality has eroded any sense that we are all in this together, it has also eroded the political consensus necessary for effective government.
Wealth and an American paradox - Why are Americans mostly opposed to redistribution? Here are a handful of plausible explanations forwarded by scholars:
  • "Anti-statism." Americans have been historically suspicious of and hostile to government (although they have accepted many pragmatic programs, like Medicare). Therefore, they may wish that inequality was much less than it is, but they will not empower the government to do something serious about it.
  • Opportunity, not outcome. Survey data show that many Americans generally do support government actions that widen opportunities for economic advancement, especially through education. Most Americans may believe, then, that in a society of equal opportunity, unequal outcomes can be reduced or at least tolerated. (Unfortunately, the belief that the U.S. is particularly open to upward mobility is empirically incorrect.)
  • Race trumps: In the U.S., issues of economic inequality have been tangled up with issues of race, because blacks have disproportionately been poor and the likeliest recipients of government assistance. Research suggests that this prospect leads whites to resist government action, even action that might benefit themselves.
  • Ideology of self-reliance: Americans have been historically committed to emphasizing individual independence and self-reliance; increased government action threatens to create dreaded "dependency." In practice, Americans have comprised that ideology when conditions demanded – in the Great Depression, for example; or in accepting disaster relief. But these values make for deep resistance to any major new initiatives.
  • Constricted horizons: Some have argued that political discussions here are so narrowly bounded that Americans may see and resent great inequality but cannot really imagine that things could be (and are elsewhere) different. When, for example, the free-enterprise Obama health plan is seen by so many as an extreme, socialistic program, when our tax rates on the wealthy are described as confiscatory, or when Sweden is depicted as some sort of totalitarian state, it would seem that Americans are operating with blinders on.
Does Inequality Make People More Conservative? - Yes, according to some new research from Nathan Kelly and Peter Enns... Their first main finding: increases in inequality are associated with a conservative shift in mood and increasing opposition to welfare... Their second main finding: increases in inequality are associated with a conservative shift among both the wealthy and the poor.

BONUS
Time's running out for job growth - The U.S. does not have the luxury of waiting indefinitely for job growth to resume. Already we're at the absolute limit: any longer, and most of the unemployed will be long-term unemployed and, to a first approximation, unemployable. This country simply can't afford an unemployable underclass of the long-term unemployed — not morally, not economically, and not fiscally, either. [1,2,3,4]

Young, Educated, and Unemployed: A New Generation of Kids Search for Work in their 20s - The Lost Generation: What it's like for 20-somethings to go in search of meaningful work — and not find it. [1,2,3,4]

The Left Right Paradigm is Over: It's You vs. Corporations - The Individual has been supplanted in the political process nearly entirely by corporate money, legislative influence, campaign contributions, even free speech rights... But the battle lines between the two groups have barely been drawn. I expect this fight will define American politics over the next decade. [1,2]

Hegel on Wall Street - Nothing but fierce and smart government regulation can head off another American economic crisis in the future. This is not a matter of "balancing" the interests of free-market inventiveness against the need for stability; nor is it a matter of a clash between the ideology of the free-market versus the ideology of government control. Nor is it, even, a matter of a choice between neo-liberal economic theory and neo-Keynesian theory. Rather, as Hegel would have insisted, regulation is the force of reason needed to undo the concoctions of fantasy. [1,2]

America's Shame - The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones. [1,2]

The Final End of Bretton Woods 2? - The time may finally be at hand when the imbalances created by Bretton Woods 2 now tear the system asunder. The collapse is coming via an unexpected channel; rather than originating from abroad, the shock that sets it in motion comes from the inside, a blast of stimulus from the US Federal Reserve. And at the moment, the collapse looks likely to turn disorderly quickly. If the Federal Reserve is committed to quantitative easing, there is no way for the rest of the world to stop to flow of dollars that is already emanating from the US. Yet much of the world does not want to accept the inevitable, and there appears to be no agreement on what comes next. Call me pessimistic, but right now I don't see how this situation gets anything but more ugly. [1,2]

From currency warfare to lasting peace - The "international currency war" mentioned by Brazil's finance minister poses massive dangers for the world trade and financial systems. This column by one of the world's most respected international economists argues that there is a better way. The G3 should engage in quantitative easing so they all can export more to each other. For the emerging markets, the danger lies in inflation, asset bubbles, and trade retaliation. To shield their key manufacturing sectors, they should encourage the domestic demand for manufactures. [1,2]

Blaming China Won't Help the Economy - [T]he dominance of free-market thinking in international economic management is over... the United States must adapt to an environment where exchange rates and trade imbalances are managed consciously and have become a legitimate subject for debate in international forums like the Group of 20... Outside America ... a strong conviction now exists that some new version of global capitalism must evolve to replace what the economist John Williamson coined the "Washington consensus." ...governments must deliberately shape market incentives to achieve objectives that are determined by politics and not by the markets themselves, including financial stability, environmental protection, energy independence and poverty relief. [1,2]

Will America come to envy Japan's lost decade? - Whether we like it or not, we are "built to grow" and we use the fruits of that growth to buy off interest groups as we go along. Japan in contrast has greater capacity to stifle these grabs for new redistributions because their politics is more of an insider's game. Imagine a future world history where, fifty years from now, we look back and decide that Japan was the one country that made a semi-success of near-zero growth.

How Facebook is Killing the Economy - We are in the year 2025. Because of advances in production technology, much of the path from extracting the required renewable resources through to the production and distribution of most of the items we demand can be accomplished with automated methods overseen by a small cadre of engineers... I don’t know exactly how this economy works, but I can tell you that it is not working well.

The End of Finance? The monetisation of everything - I know it's wrong, or at least deeply problematic, to adopt a teleological view of history: to say that History has an End, or Purpose, and is inexorably driven by deterministic Iron Laws towards that End, with perhaps an occasional hiccough along the way. But I can't stop myself... Why is it taking so long? The answer of course is that the technology of promising is imperfect... But we learn from crashes in the monetary technology, just as we learn from bridges falling down and rockets exploding. We revert to an older, more familiar technology temporarily. But then History Marches Forward again, and the monetisation of everything progresses further towards its inexorable End. [1,2]

What Does Cutting-Edge Macroeconomics Tell Us About Economic Policy for the Recovery? - That is is what I take to be the guts of Niall Ferguson's read on today's economic problems... Public spending putting people or artificially inducing private employers to put people to work will backfire. I, by contrast, take my stand with John Stuart Mill's 1829 critique of Jean-Baptiste Say (1803). Mill pointed out that people in the aggregate can and do spend less than they earn on currently-produced goods and services... Then you do have a general glut -- an excess supply of pretty much every kind of currently-produced good and service and of currently-employed labor. It happens whenever you have a substantial excess demand for financial assets... in the end, Say bowed... Until we see actual, real signs that expansions of government balance sheets are impairing investor confidence in government promises-to-pay, it seems to me that it would be extremely foolish not to continue to attempt to boost production and employment by expanding government balance sheets. I want to see the money that stimulative policies are impairing confidence--and not just listen to arguments that stimulative policies ought to be impairing confidence. [1,2]

The cost of being unbanked - Candice Choi has a great first-person story about the cost of not having a bank account... check-cashers and payday lenders are likely to be around for a long time yet, acting as yet another tax on poverty.

The solution to the mortgage mess - There are three main ways this can be done. The first is to refinance the current loan, possibly through HAMP. The second is for the banks and the homeowners to negotiate a principal reduction. And the third is to allow a short sale of the house.

How To Cut the Budget Deficit - Kudos to Bill Galston at the Brookings Institution and Maya MacGuineas at the New America Foundation for putting on the table a credible plan to get the federal budget under control. I don't agree with each and every one of their proposals — no one would — but their plan is both specific and sensible. It sets out an achievable goal and has the potential to reach it. And while it gores just about every ox in the budget, it equitably distributes the necessary pain.

Toward a New American Century - Immigration reform, investments in human capital, and a saner housing policy can help restore U.S. economic leadership.

More Preschool, Please - If you're looking for projects that are likely to have really high ratios of benefits to costs, these are your babies. [1,2,3,4]

American People Hire High-Powered Lobbyist To Push Interests In Congress - Citing a desire to gain influence in Washington, the American people confirmed Friday that they have hired high-powered D.C. lobbyist Jack Weldon of the firm Patton Boggs to help advance their agenda in Congress. Known among Beltway insiders for his ability to sway public policy on behalf of massive corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, Monsanto, and AT&T, Weldon, 53, is expected to use his vast network of political connections to give his new client a voice in the legislative process. Weldon is reportedly charging the American people $795 an hour. [1,2]

The Secret Big-Money Takeover of America - Not only is income and wealth in America more concentrated in fewer hands than it's been in 80 years, but those hands are buying our democracy as never before – and they're doing it behind closed doors. [1,2]

Global power: On top of the world - Why the West's present dominance is both recent and temporary. [1,2]

Red Plenty - It's a fictionalised account, or a non-fiction novel, about the project in the early 1960s to use computers to plan the Soviet economy. A key figure is the genius Kantorovich, who invented the mathematical technique of linear programming in 1938. (We follow his mind as the idea dawns on him, on a tram.) He and other real characters such as Kosygin and Khrushchev mingle with fictitious characters – some based on real people, some not, but all convincing. It's a bit like reading a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, or Ursula Le Guin – or maybe a mashup of all them; full of arguments between passionate and intelligent people, diverting (in both senses) infodumps, and all about something that actually happened – and, more significantly, about something that didn't happen, and why it didn't. [1,2]

TR and the city of history - For Roosevelt, the literary historian's major talent is not for writing but for empathy. She must look at data, at potsherds, at memoirs, at the whole quantity of available evidence and then by an effort of imagination put herself in the place of people whose whole world has long passed... The engineers and the builders could make us a city, Roosevelt says, and it could be a city safe and clean to live in, with modern sanitation and all our material needs met: but would it be a city worth living in? Would we have anything to draw us out of ourselves, and into the lives of our fellows? Roosevelt fears not. He also fears that not only the historical profession, but the whole nation, is heading in this direction, which is where his second metaphor comes in. The historical profession that despises history as literature is America in the Gilded Age, gripped by "the hard materialism of our age." The only hope is something like Rooseveltian progressivism: "the strange capacity for lofty idealism which must be reckoned with by all who would understand the American character... a peaceful people who ... surely possess an emergency-standard far above mere money-getting." [1,2]

---
that is all; cheers :D
posted by kliuless (78 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: I know you must have spent a bunch of time on this, but a megapost on a complex of fight-starting subjects isn't a great idea for the front page. -- cortex



 
I'm gonna be unemployable before I can parse all these links. Favorited as awesome reading for a rainy third shift.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:15 AM on October 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why are Americans mostly opposed to redistribution?

Maybe Americans think they can move from one economic class to another more easily than others, even though it is a myth.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:17 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Tax-cut Jesus?
posted by bardic at 4:19 AM on October 14, 2010


Amazing post. See you in a few days ;)

It's interesting to see a swathe of the US recoil from contemporary 'European commie socialism' whilst being hell bent on recreating the income inequalities of the age of aristocracies.
posted by i_cola at 4:31 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's like 2 weeks of MeFi in one hyper-concentrated dose. This makes drinking from a firehose look like sucking on a sippee cup.
posted by itstheclamsname at 4:35 AM on October 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


This all sounds like it was written by laymen and directed at a certain personality type. What I would call "Leftist MefiCrack" sprinkle a little gay/fringe/rape culture in there and you got a hit! First instead of these sweeping grand statements, bites of edifying info about the topic would be far better.

I don't believe the inequality bit at all. Mostly because of dynamic Industry rendering the "classes" porous unlike any other country. USA continues to command the Lion's share of immigrants who come, Americanize and surpass those who sit judge and bitch about one of the greatest capitalist machines ever built.
posted by Student of Man at 4:40 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Race trumps: In the U.S., issues of economic inequality have been tangled up with issues of race, because blacks have disproportionately been poor and the likeliest recipients of government assistance. Research suggests that this prospect leads whites to resist government action, even action that might benefit themselves.

I've always thought this was behind at least a sizeable majority of lower- and middle-class white America's resistance to liberal reforms. I mean, Lee Atwater famously revealed that much of Republican strategic thinking since the Civil Rights movement has revolved around subtle dog whistles to racism:

"You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

I also think it's interesting to look at how supposedly enlightened European countries respond to influxes of nonwhite immigrants. Look at the prominence of people like Jean Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands... nobody is winning elections yet, but they and their xenophobic far right parties are definitely on the rise in response to Muslim immigration. (And I think one of the big reasons that they're not even more influential is that European nations' parliamentary systems of government allow for a plurality of semi-influential political parties, rather than necessitating a two party state, as America's winner take all system demands.) The bottom line is that it's easy to have a generous welfare state when your country is 98% white, like Sweden. Everyone believes their taxes go to support people like them who've just had a run of bad luck.
posted by notswedish at 4:41 AM on October 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


New Yorker Cartoon: "As a potential lottery winner, I approve of tax cuts for the wealthy".
posted by ovvl at 4:42 AM on October 14, 2010 [13 favorites]


Wow, one heluva thorough post, but you've sure created a loaded post with this one.
*stands back and grabs the popcorn*
posted by tgrundke at 4:45 AM on October 14, 2010


USA continues to command the Lion's share of immigrants who come

Who I suspect mostly by into the myth that the US is a country with great social and economic mobility (see Blazecock Pileon's link above).

That being said: Holy massive FPP, Batman!
posted by Harald74 at 4:45 AM on October 14, 2010


Nice post, this gets to the heart of the problems you are highlighting.

The sad fact however, is that the majority of our populace, including tea partiers, are unwilling to face this and our politicians have already been bought out by our Corporate Masters.
posted by Max Power at 4:47 AM on October 14, 2010


I'm only a short way into this FPP, but I am totally confused by your choice of links. The third one ("but the rich claim") is a link to an Onion "news" video. The fourth one ("they have no responsibility to the rest of society") is talking about how we have crappy politicians because sane, intelligent people don't want to run for office. The fifth link ("They refuse to come to the aid of the destitute") is about a rich person who...uh...comes to the aid of the destitute.

I'm sure there's a germ of a good discussion in here on income inequality and ethics, but it's discouraging trying to sort the wheat from the chaff from the completely tangential. There's no need to Post All The Things!
posted by drlith at 4:51 AM on October 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


Why are Americans mostly opposed to redistribution?
What makes you think they are? Polls show that people favor increasing taxes on the rich.
posted by delmoi at 4:55 AM on October 14, 2010


Mostly because of dynamic Industry rendering the "classes" porous unlike any other country

This myth is not reflected in reality.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:00 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obligatory
posted by Catblack at 5:05 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why are Americans mostly opposed to redistribution?

Maybe because redistribution is theft. You may not like the way things have worked out in your life, but you have no right to project your dissatisfaction on society as a whole, and propose appropriating other people's wealth and property in the name of "fairness." You may want to find the sources of your own unhappiness and materialism. Find out why you blame others for your problems, and why you want vengeance on the world. Why have you created this enemy, "the rich", and why do you think that if they go away, you will lose your bitterness, be able to sleep at night and stop drinking? What's that funny smell that comes off you? You can't smell it, but other people do. Has your body turned on itself in response to your self-hatred? How come everyone else has been able to get ahead, but you can't get anywhere? You've tried being nice, but what good has it done? Everyone at work still avoids you. Especially that one girl. Who does she think she is? She isn't even that beautiful. There's no reason she should give you that look. f you were rich, that would be different. If it weren't for those right-wingers, you'd be on top. Right-wingers. Those rich people. You can punish them now. Look at porn. Go ahead. Enjoy it. Right wingers hate porn. Even though they look at it themselves, those rich hypocrites. Anything they hate has to be good. Someday you will crush them ... crush them all ... sob.
posted by Faze at 5:06 AM on October 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


First instead of these sweeping grand statements, bites of edifying info about the topic would be far better.

Good advice. You might consider following it yourself.
posted by blucevalo at 5:09 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, American workers work longer hours for less pay than in any other industrialized nation.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 5:09 AM on October 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm in favor of redistribution; that's why I started the More Stuff party.

Our slogan is: "More stuff for you, someone else pays."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:10 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who says there is anything wrong with inequality?

People are not equal. They are not born equal, they do not live equal lives, an they do not die equally.

Some people are smart and industrious and productive. Some people are not.

Some people are responsible spenders and investors. Some people are not.

Some people build networks of family, friends, associates and colleagues. Others do not.

Some people are more successful because of their actions than others.

And, Yes, Some people are richer than others because of an accident of birth.

So ... good for those people, all of them. And good for everyone else, too. Because I ain't stingy with my heartfelt goodwill.

But money is money.
posted by jannw at 5:12 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ooo...if you liked The Fountainhead you're going to love Atlas Shrugged. Get back to us when you're done.
posted by i_cola at 5:22 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


This war is long since over and, unless you are a zillionaire, you lost. The erosion has been steady and undeterred for the past four decades. The only reason it is now emerging as a real concern is because the pace has rapidly and visibly accelerated since Citizens United. To quote Warren Buffet:

"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
posted by jim in austin at 5:22 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


>Why are Americans mostly opposed to redistribution?

Maybe Americans think they can move from one economic class to another more easily than others, even though it is a myth.


Maybe Americans think that robbing from the rich to feed the poor is still theft.
posted by valkyryn at 5:24 AM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maybe because redistribution is theft. You may not like the way things have worked out in your life, but you have no right to project your dissatisfaction on society as a whole
What do you mean no right? If I can round up enough other dissatisfied voters, then obviously I can redistribute as much as I please. That's how democracy works.
posted by delmoi at 5:28 AM on October 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Maybe Americans think that robbing from the rich to feed the poor is still theft.

And the Sheriff of Nottingham was a hero, a hero I tell you.... but misunderstood.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:29 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe Americans think that robbing from the rich to feed the poor is still theft.

Yes taxes equal theft, even though "the rich" have bought our politicians to create laws that allow them to accumulate all their riches (I know, I know, they're rich because they work harder than the rest of us.)
posted by Max Power at 5:29 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


jannw: "Some people are smart and industrious and productive. Some people are not."

It doesn't matter how industrious some people are, or how smart they are, because they were born dirt poor and some asshole with a ton of money doesn't want to contribute to the good of the society that promotes his wealth, doesn't want to pay for basic public education.

"Some people are responsible spenders and investors. Some people are not."

Some people don't have a wooden nickel to save, while others were born rich and will never have to work a day in their lives.

"Some people build networks of family, friends, associates and colleagues. "

For some people, family is your fifteen year old mother and thirty year old grandma, friends are the gang on your block (or the football team), associates and colleagues are your fellow inmates or the guy on the next part of the assembly line, who you're not allowed to even talk to during your shift because it's "unproductive". Not exactly much networking potential there.

Look, dude, a lot of what you have isn't due to your great personal character. It's cuz you're lucky. Some of us think that perhaps we should take care of the really unlucky, because, you know, maybe we have a smidgen of empathy.
posted by notsnot at 5:30 AM on October 14, 2010 [38 favorites]


Maybe Americans think that robbing from the rich to feed the poor is still theft.

Maybe Americans need to collectively work on moving their rhetoric from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first, look around and realise the way their economy functions is the exception, rather than the norm. And that a lot of people in a lot of other places are, on balance, a lot happier.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:30 AM on October 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


I didn't realize that MeFi was home to so many bed wetting looters.
posted by Leta at 5:31 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes taxes equal theft, even though "the rich" have bought our politicians to create laws that allow them to accumulate all their riches

Just because you couldn't come by that amount of money honestly doesn't mean that someone else couldn't.
posted by valkyryn at 5:31 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just because you couldn't come by that amount of money honestly doesn't mean that someone else couldn't.

Who says they came by it honestly? Did you miss the entire financial debacle that just happened?
posted by Max Power at 5:34 AM on October 14, 2010 [13 favorites]


Some of us think that perhaps we should take care of the really unlucky, because, you know, maybe we have a smidgen of empathy.

A gift not freely given isn't a gift; taxes do not earn you empathy points. The fact that I give 10% of my income to charity may do something for me morally, but the fact that another 10+% of my income is confiscated for a redistributionist Ponzi scheme does not.
posted by valkyryn at 5:35 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, some really substantive discussion happening here guys - keep it up!

Or shall we just line up and spit at each other for a couple of hours?
posted by Happy Dave at 5:36 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Who says they came by it honestly? Did you miss the entire financial debacle that just happened?

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the richest men in the country, didn't have anything to do with that.

Let me introduce you to the fallacy of composition. Check back when you're done.
posted by valkyryn at 5:37 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or shall we just line up and spit at each other for a couple of hours?

You think this post was intended to do anything else?
posted by valkyryn at 5:37 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


People are not equal. They are not born equal, they do not live equal lives, an they do not die equally.

Some people are smart and industrious and productive. Some people are not.


Which would both be germane points, if they had anything to do with a given person's likelihood of being rich or poor.

Some people build have dropped into their laps by virtue of their parentage networks of family, friends, associates and colleagues. Others do not.

Ah. Now we're getting to the meat of it.

Wealth has almost nothing to do with how hard one is willing to work, and everything to do with who one knows, and how much of a head start one is given by one's parents. A throw of the dice, where if you roll sixes you can comfortably coast through life, and if you roll snake eyes you stand essentially no chance of ever overcoming the long odds against you. That's what we want to tax the everliving shit out of.
posted by Mayor West at 5:37 AM on October 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the richest men in the country, didn't have anything to do with that.

Warren Buffet, the hedge fund manager who pays a 15% tax rate due to a loophole that our politicians are to cowed to close?
posted by Max Power at 5:40 AM on October 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


There are so many links that no one is actually reading them, and is just talking about the text of the post. Good job!
posted by smackfu at 5:42 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Warren Buffet, the hedge fund manager who pays a 15% tax rate due to a loophole that our politicians are to cowed to close?

Oh, so it's okay for you to use the political process to take Warren Buffet's money, but it's not okay for him to use the political process to try and make sure you don't?

Just asking for clarification.
posted by valkyryn at 5:42 AM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wesfarmers, a sleepy little farmers' organisation from a sleepy little town, has transformed itself into an ASX megacorp and share market darling in 25 years or so.

I saw an interview with the now retired CEO from the late 1970s. The rule was: no employee should earn more than 20 times the lowest paid Wesfarmers' employee.

You reckon a rule like that would fly in today's "income inequality" world?! You'd be laughed out the boardroom. It would be nice to go back to that way of thinking.

Although I understand other economic arguments such as "incentive," so I'm sure a learned MeFite will be able to argue that it wouldn't be nice to go back to that way of thinking.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:47 AM on October 14, 2010


You know what? Screw this. There's no possible way this conversation goes well. You could pretty much replace this entire whopping link-dump of a post with "Rich people are selfish evil bastards and we should take away their money, because that would solve all of our problems!" and have done with it.

I'm sorry I got pulled in by this flame bait in the first place. Y'all enjoy your two-minutes hate.
posted by valkyryn at 5:47 AM on October 14, 2010


Oh, so it's okay for you to use the political process to take Warren Buffet's money, but it's not okay for him to use the political process to try and make sure you don't?

He wouldn't HAVE that money if not for the entire structure of our government. How's he going to make a billion dollars in say, Somalia? Why would he NOT want to pay to keep that functioning?
posted by Max Power at 5:51 AM on October 14, 2010


I don't believe the inequality bit at all. Mostly because of dynamic Industry rendering the "classes" porous unlike any other country. USA continues to command the Lion's share of immigrants who come, Americanize and surpass those who sit judge and bitch about one of the greatest capitalist machines ever built.

Ah, American exceptionalism. A plethora of failed wars; a basket case economy; a democracy almost wholly subsumed by private interests; welfare that developing world countries scoff at; a health system that lets people die (or die trying to pay their bills); a huge underclass of non-citizens that are exploited, abused and ignored; a minimum wage that you can't even live off; a democracy that advocates torture; a property market that makes dutch tulip speculation look reasoned and low-risk; a haven for climate denialists, fundamentalists, and evolution nay-sayers; xenophobic; racist; ignorant; insular.

I don't know what it will take to kill you dead, but I'll say one thing for Americans, you guys are confident, and you are undeniably enthusiastic and optimistic. A lesser person might view the country as systemically dysfunctional, but some of you still maintain it's the best that ever was, ever is, and ever will be. And no one in the world can touch you.

Right in all the wrongs ways.
posted by smoke at 5:56 AM on October 14, 2010 [29 favorites]


Yeah, tho I am agreeable with the material, this seems like a flame-bait of a post. Show me something I can't get on Daily Kos or TPM.
posted by cross_impact at 5:57 AM on October 14, 2010


valkyryn: "Or shall we just line up and spit at each other for a couple of hours?

You think this post was intended to do anything else?
"

Uh, yeah, actually. I thought it was a pretty wide-ranging look at the issue of inequality. But it's pretty hard to have a reasonable discussion when every third comment is equating tax policy with straight-up robbery. Because we can't ever get beyond that. It's the equivalent of sticking a stick in the spokes because you don't like the idea of even talking about bikes.

What's your answer? Really? Leave it up to everyone in society to donate what they feel like giving to the needy? How do all the common goods you drew from on your way up through life get paid for? Schools? Roads? Gas pipes? Police?

I laugh my arse off when I see American conservatives and libertarians talking about their horrific tax burden. Really. It's really tough not to see it as intensely entitled whining and a complete failure of recognition of the value of society. I pay fully 40% of my income in taxes, once you factor in income tax, VAT, council tax etc, and by mainstream Euro standards my country is considered fairly socalist-lite. Mostly, I'm happy to pay it. Because it means free schooling, roads, libraries, support for people who lose their job (including me at some point, if I need it) and not having to spend any emotional energy or time on worrying about what happens if I get sick. If some of my tax money gets a kid who didn't previously have any options the chance to get on in life, all to the better. Because I'm a middle-class white bloke who has had an extraordinary range of opportunities and support in my life, and I'm nowhere near the top of the social scale in terms of who I know and where I could go with my life. I'm pretty blind to all the implicit ways I'm insulated from true failure, but I at least have the intellectual honesty to recognise that, at least in part, by virtue of things I had no control over (my skin colour, place of birth, familial history, tax policy in my country), I've had a good life. My own efforts are not moot, by any means, but pretending that everyone starts life as a blank slate or that structural inequality doesn't exist is simply blindness.

Put it another way - it's tough to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps if you don't have any boots in the first place. Taxes are a way of making sure everybody at least has boots.

In all the many, many times I've seen this hashed over, in conversation and here on MeFi, I've yet to see a single person who uses terms like 'redistributionist' and 'tax is theft' ever, ever, ever lay out an even halfway convincing alternative. Taxes are how we manage scarce resources without guns and violence.


So go on - what's your alternative?
posted by Happy Dave at 5:58 AM on October 14, 2010 [44 favorites]


I feel I should clarify for fear of misreadings: American exceptionalism is what I don't know what it would take to kill dead, not Americans.
posted by smoke at 6:03 AM on October 14, 2010


valkyryn: "You know what? Screw this. There's no possible way this conversation goes well. You could pretty much replace this entire whopping link-dump of a post with "Rich people are selfish evil bastards and we should take away their money, because that would solve all of our problems!" and have done with it.

I'm sorry I got pulled in by this flame bait in the first place. Y'all enjoy your two-minutes hate.
"

Oh, I see I was too late.

Well, you could replace the substance of the post with 'Rich people are all bastards'. You could also replace the substance of your (and other's) posts with 'you people are thieving commies', because, really, that's about the level of your argument.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:04 AM on October 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hey everyone, the rational maximizers are out!
posted by sneebler at 6:06 AM on October 14, 2010


this post is FUD
posted by numbskeleton at 6:09 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironic that Student of Man is favorited by Mefi's most persistant troll.
Faze - that is one of the nastiest statements I've seen on this website. I hope it stays so that the rest of this community realizes what a sour bitter little person you are.
This is an enormous post and I doubt you have even bothered to open a link before frothing your bile. Argue the posters position if you like but your screed above is probably why so many loathe you..
posted by adamvasco at 6:11 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]



Oh, so it's okay for you to use the political process to take Warren Buffet's money, but it's not okay for him to use the political process to try and make sure you don't?


Warren Buffett is probably a bad example to use when defending the position of the rich keeping their money.
Mr Buffett, who is worth an estimated $52 billion (£26 billion), said: “The 400 of us [here] pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you’re in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.”
posted by drezdn at 6:17 AM on October 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


While there are many interesting links there, they don't really make much of a coherent thesis. The breathless tone of the post itself, and the lack of any realistic proposals for action, made me think, This was curated by a very young (albeit impassioned) person...
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 6:32 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe because redistribution is theft.

This is an argument that (conveniently) ignores half of the equation. It's the typical "I got mine, you get yours" platitude.

The wealth that a person accumulates in this country does not occur in a vacuum. Some people become very wealthy because they are fortunate enough to operate within a system that allows them to accumulate that wealth. Put the same person in another economic system and the results could be drastically different.

So, to the self-important movers and shakers who trumpet "I earned it on my own, it's mine" I say - no man is an island; countless people, known and unknown, are responsible for your success. If you refuse to acknowledge that and/or don't wish to willingly pay back to the society that made you, then fuck you - you earned what's coming.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:35 AM on October 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


Warren Buffet, the hedge fund manager who pays a 15% tax rate due to a loophole that our politicians are to cowed to close?

Warren Buffet is not a hedge fund manager. In fact, he made a large public bet against them.
posted by electroboy at 6:36 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


>Why are Americans mostly opposed to redistribution?

>>Maybe because redistribution is theft. You may not like the way things have worked out in your life, but you have no right to project your dissatisfaction on society as a whole, and propose appropriating other people's wealth and property in the name of "fairness." You may want to find the sources of your own unhappiness and materialism....


I took a v.interesting unit one semester which was basically "Accounting Philosophy."

There was a great lecture on redistribution of wealth after death. "What if" there was no such thing as inheritance? No passing on of worldly goods to your surviving family. Then it went onto to describe the history of inheritance and cultures that do not recognise such a system.

/The text book didn't give us a right or wrong answer, BTW.

//Also a lecture regarding cultures that do not recognise land ownership, and how their society and economies developed.

posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:37 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


*Sigh*. But where is anything any better? The art of dialogue has been lost. I wholly agree that "decline of empire" is where we're at in the US. You can't have a class war, because the people at the bottom of the pile are too beaten down to organize effectively. They don't understand. There's no actively functioning political system left in this country- there's the appearance of one, but underneath, it's all about follow-the-money. And in a country that produces fewer tangible items with each passing year, it's pretty much all funny-money at this point.

I have a family, a nice home and a good job. My husband is unemployed. We have two children, ages five and ten. What do we tell them? How do we prepare them for a future? How do I overcome my own fears, at the age of thirty-eight, that massive changes are coming?

I want, and have wanted for some time, 5-10 acres, a modest well-built energy efficient home, my own well and a barn. I am ready to produce my own food, bust out the sewing machine and generate as much of my own power as possible. If the larger US society at this point won't let people participate because people have lost or never learned the art of civilized, reasonable, well-informed discourse, then I don't want to participate. Take me off the grid and I'll live a happy and productive life and raise my family and we'll do fine. My husband of course, thinks I'm nuts. I don't feel nuts. I feel heartbroken that what I was raised to believe is not true. It's overwhelming. To some degree, I realize that much of what I'm dealing with is an existential breakdown of sorts, but there's not a way out of it right now.

I wish with all my might that 9-11 had never happened. Not just for the violation of that attack and the lives lost, but for what has happened to the country and the capitalizing of fear that has taken place since. We were probably always headed down the path we're on, but maybe we'd have retarded the pace some, and not lost our collective minds along the way.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:44 AM on October 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


Anecdote from a community college, and damn let me tell you we are in the trenches when it comes to inequality and the Great American Dream.

The narrative has been for who know hows long that if you want to get ahead, you go to college. So now in my very economically distressed city we are seeing our enrollment go up by two zillion.

In addition to young adults/teenagers, we have many many older workers who have been laid off at age 50 or whatever and they think that a junior college degree is all that is needed to set them straight, economically.

I don't tell them they're unrealistic. But I know it. I wish I could unknow it, though.
posted by angrycat at 6:50 AM on October 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's the typical "I got mine, you get yours" platitude.

Even this sentiment in America would be an improvement. The prevailing attitude from to top today is more accurately stated "I got mine, Fuck You and Yours."
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:50 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I pay fully 40% of my income in taxes, once you factor in income tax, VAT, council tax etc, and by mainstream Euro standards my country is considered fairly socalist-lite. Mostly, I'm happy to pay it. Because it means free schooling, roads, libraries, support for people who lose their job (including me at some point, if I need it) and not having to spend any emotional energy or time on worrying about what happens if I get sick.

So you've got your Euro-state. How's that working out for you? Last I checked, NHS is having money troubles, the French are rioting over an attempt to make necessary benefit cuts, as are the Spanish, to say nothing of the Greeks, who have been at it for a few years now. All of these countries have more generous social programs than does the US. All of them are finding that they can't afford them, even with their higher rates of taxation, and no one is seriously suggesting that the shortfall can be made up by simply raising taxes.

Thing is, the US can't do that either. We already pay a lot of taxes--not as much as the Europeans, granted--but we can't even afford current benefit levels, even if we do raise taxes. The United States currently owes $13.6 trillion, and is adding to that at a rate of $4.15 billion a day. The total US household wealth is currently in the neighborhood of $54 trillion, the vast majority of which is concentrated in the top 20% of the country. But if you took every single penny from them, after paying off the current debt you'd only make up the current budget deficit, which shows only signs of growing, for about two and a half decades. Then you'd still be up shit creek without a paddle at the negligible cost of impoverishing everyone in the country. Nice job breaking it, hero.

Conclusion: democratic socialism is unsustainable even at at current levels, and even current levels aren't adequate to put much of a dent in poverty. I have no interest in mortgaging my future and my children's future in tilting at a utopian windmill.

pretending that everyone starts life as a blank slate or that structural inequality doesn't exist is simply blindness.

I'm not pretending that at all. But the fact that I have money and you don't does not, by itself, give you the right to take it from me. You're going to need some broader argument to support that. And the modern liberalism which forms the basis of Western democracies has no such argument. The position that all men are created equal but poor people in sufficient numbers have the right to take from those more fortunate is completely schizophrenic. On one hand, there's the assertion that the poor owe absolutely nothing to the rich, but on the other hand, there's the assertion that the rich owe a whole ton to the poor. Fuck that noise. All it produces is a society where the poor feel entitled to other people's money and the rich feel entitled to keep their money for themselves. Entitlement is the problem, not the solution.

So go on - what's your alternative?

Unless we're willing to fundamentally question our commitment to egalitarian democracy, massive benefit cuts. Because you're right: life isn't fair. Trying to make it fair by force of political will is a fool's game. We could spend an enormous amount on infrastructure improvements, incentives for employment, and education if we weren't spending so much on health care programs which don't even work. Seriously, 70% of Medicare spending is in the last six months of life, mostly for incredibly expensive cancer treatments that don't extend life significantly. Do you have any idea how many days of round-the-clock in-home nursing care can be provided for a single PET scan or round of chemo? Me either, but it's a lot. That right there means almost $350 billion in annual spending we could eliminate right off the top, but even that wouldn't eliminate the deficit.

And don't talk to me about "bending the cost curve" bullshit. The only way of spending less on health care is spending less on health care, which means consuming less of it, not more of it.

Then there's Social Security. I'm all for means testing it, though I doubt that would produce all that much in the way of savings, as most Americans don't have much in the way of savings, and pensions are going the way of the dodo. But raise retirement age to 70 and freeze benefit levels. Gotta be some savings there. Oh, and get way more rigorous on disability claims. There's no way that fully eight million people on the rolls couldn't work some kind of job, even if it's sweeping floors or schlepping boxes.

I'm completely for cutting defense expenditures too, but I can only see wringing about $200-300 billion out of the Pentagon. Even if we stop taking on unnecessary foreign adventures we still gotta take care of our veterans, who are now shamelessly underserved.

And you know what? We could have afforded some of the more obvious social safety nets if we hadn't fucked up and decided that we could afford to have every American spend the last twenty plus years of his or her life on the public dime. Well, we can't afford that, and now we're way in the hole because we tried. So we need to turn off the spigot and spend a few years getting our economic feet back under us before we try to expand those programs which might actually do some good.

I'm seconding OneMonkeysUncle: this post is freshman-quality breathlessness. The only solutions available are massively difficult ones, and none of them involve a situation where everyone gets as much of a social safety as would probably be optimal. Griping about the evil of inequality isn't good for anybody.
posted by valkyryn at 6:55 AM on October 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


I'm always appalled at how many people will bitch and moan about taxes when they're going towards helping to keep someone eating, despite the fact that that's a pretty little slice of the pie. Our huge and bloated military budget though? Nothing.
posted by metagnathous at 6:58 AM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I used to dismiss the idea that an armed rebellion in this country could ever get off the ground as a rightwing fantasy. A bunch of rednecks with the firing pins of AR-15s filed down and more delusion than sense or ability.

Then someone I know pointed out that the National Guard, as abused as it currently is with active deployments, still retains enough assets and more importantly local geographical knowledge and support to…well you get the picture, especially if one considers the economic situation and political leanings of the average guardsperson.

So I no longer think a redress of inequality within the US through force is an impossibility. It’s unlikely at this point, but one ignores the weight of history at one’s peril.
posted by digitalprimate at 7:13 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Maybe Americans think they can move from one economic class to another more easily than others, even though it is a myth.

And they hate people who actually make it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:16 AM on October 14, 2010


We already have a Tennessee fire department. As a half-Chinese American, I'm campaigning to change the term "Chinese fire department" (which I am having difficulty locating) to "Tennessee fire departments."
posted by bad grammar at 7:16 AM on October 14, 2010


Excellent post. But...

"the rich claim that they have no responsibility to the rest of society"

That's just false.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:19 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


But if you took every single penny from them, after paying off the current debt you'd only make up the current budget deficit

I'm really confused, why is paying off the national debt important? Is there any reason we have to do that? As far as I can tell the $10 trillion or whatever is just a bogeyman pulled out by the modern crazy-con right wing to distract people from the comparatively minuscule costs and huge benefits we could get from expanding existing social programs.
posted by shii at 7:21 AM on October 14, 2010


So go on - what's your alternative?

health care programs which don't even work
Then there's Social Security
cutting defense expenditures

posted by valkyryn


I'm encouraged by the start of some actual dialogue and these are all fine examples. To me, though they seem like symptoms, not diseases. To be serious about systemic change you need to address the vicious cycle of human shortsightnedness enabled by corporate entities.

The problem is that the table where that conversation used to take place has been taken by the latter from the former.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:22 AM on October 14, 2010


Income inequality as a way of measuring prosperity, has its own difficulties and seems to push buttons in folks to knee jerk reactions. It's not very enlightening to simply observe that the span between rich and poor is widening. The simplest example would be is if my extended family were the fine citizens of Everytown, USA, all of us middle class-ish folks. Then Oprah and Bill Gates and Warren Buffet decided to move there. By numbers alone, inequality in Everytown just zoomed up. Yet, none of the middle class folks actually lost anything or are suffering any more than before, despite the huge rise of inequality.

Yet just mention inequality, and folks fire off responses about taxation is theft, eat the rich, etc. Inequality is a useful and nuanced data point, but I almost never see it used as anything but a cudgel for hammering home the most simplistic and sometimes irrelevant points about society and prosperity.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:25 AM on October 14, 2010


>But if you took every single penny from them, after paying off the current debt you'd only make up the current budget deficit

I'm really confused, why is paying off the national debt important? Is there any reason we have to do that?


Yes. Because if you don't, you run into the possibility of a sovereign debt crisis, which gives you situations like the one Iceland and Greece are currently experiencing, i.e. complete inability to borrow more money necessitating crippling spending cuts and tax hikes.

We cannot simply keep borrowing money forever. The French Revolution was sparked by a sovereign debt crisis.
posted by valkyryn at 7:26 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's no way that fully eight million people on the rolls couldn't work some kind of job, even if it's sweeping floors or schlepping boxes.




OH.




MY.





FUCKING.





GOD.



You do realize that roughly 10 to 15% of the normal, non-disabled population is currently out of work and unable to get a job "seeping floors or schlepping boxes"?

You do realize that, don't you?
posted by Avenger at 7:26 AM on October 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


To be serious about systemic change you need to address the vicious cycle of human shortsightnedness enabled by corporate entities.

What does that even mean?
posted by valkyryn at 7:27 AM on October 14, 2010


>
Excellent post. But...

"the rich claim that they have no responsibility to the rest of society"

That's just false.


Yes, that was a pretty broad stroke.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:27 AM on October 14, 2010


You do realize that roughly 10 to 15% of the normal, non-disabled population is currently out of work and unable to get a job "seeping floors or schlepping boxes"?

Sure, and there are programs for that. I'm completely in favor of expanding them, provided we can slash benefits elsewhere.

But we're talking about something like 6-10% of the American workforce that permanently doesn't have to look for work. That's different than being unemployed, and it has pernicious effects both socially and fiscally.
posted by valkyryn at 7:28 AM on October 14, 2010


But money is money.

By the laws of the human jungle only the heartless will survive.
posted by squeak at 7:33 AM on October 14, 2010


Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the richest men in the country, didn't have anything to do with that.
What? Warren Buffett's major investments was in the rating agencies which caused so much rot in the system. And on top of that he dumped billions of dollars into Goldman Sachs, right before the bailouts. (in fact, his entire investment plan was that the system would be baled out, and he would have lost all the money if it hadden't been)

So to claim that Buffett had nothing to do with the crisis is simply wrong. He not only was instrumental in the collapse, but he also took home a big chunk of change on the bailouts directly.

Only someone totally ignorant could think otherwise. Aside from the fact that 50% of your examples actually were involved, there are actually more then two rich people in the country, and may of the other rich people were also involved.
You know what? Screw this. There's no possible way this conversation goes well.
That's because you don't know what you're talking about.
So you've got your Euro-state. How's that working out for you? Last I checked, NHS is having money troubles, the French are rioting over an attempt to make necessary benefit cuts
Back for more, eh? First of all, when was the last time the French weren't rioting? It seems to happen at least once every two years. And If you actually read the comment you quoted, you'd see that it's working out well for Dave.
---
Where did all these randroid idiots come from?
posted by delmoi at 7:37 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


You do realize that roughly 10 to 15% of the normal, non-disabled population is currently out of work and unable to get a job "seeping floors or schlepping boxes"?
Sure, and there are programs for that. I'm completely in favor of expanding them, provided we can slash benefits elsewhere.
What "programs" are those?
posted by delmoi at 7:38 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love how this has so many favorites, and yet everyone in here is bitching. Funny that.

Yes, I'm gonna comment on the link texts, because, well... i don't have time right now to read it all... But, I do want to say, first, that the one link text that gets in my craw whenever I hear it, is "There is no left/right" bullshit.

That is pure and utter bullshit propagated by right-wing populist demagogues like Alex Jones and other "Libertarians" and NWO Paranoiacs and Truthers and such.
posted by symbioid at 7:39 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


France solved this problem 221 years ago.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:42 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the reasoned response valkryn. I'm not trying to be funny, but if that had been the first thing you typed instead of five or six one-liners about 'tax as theft', maybe this thread would have gone a lot better than it has.

I don't agree with you, but thanks for making the effort.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:42 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


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