“. . . by dividing the shame among them, it is so little apiece that no one minds it.” —Benjamin Franklin

Are you ready to eat some cake?

Are you ready to eat some cake?

Benjamin Franklin thought an absolute monarchy was preferable to an oligarchy:

The arbitrary government of a single person is more eligible, than the arbitrary government of a body of men. A single man may be afraid or ashamed of doing injustice; a body is never either one or the other, if it is strong enough. It cannot apprehend assassination, and by dividing the shame among them, it is so little apiece that no one minds it  (“Political Observation.” Franklin’s Sayings. Ebook available from Google Books).

It’s a good thing to be sick now and then to keep us humble. I wonder what David Koch and Alice Walton do when they get a cold that lasts with a fever of 100 degrees for four days. Do they have access to doctors and medications better and more effective than rest of us, or do they suffer, too? I can’t imagine David Koch with a cold.

So I’m writing almost nothing today because I can’t write more. I haven’t written for four days. That in itself is enough to make me sick – crazy, at any rate.

My purpose today is very simple. If I can get one person to listen to the Bill Moyers/Paul Krugman discussion of Tomas Piketty’s book on capitalism in the 21st century, or—better yet—buy the book and read it, I will have done my part in bringing about the beginning of the revolution we need in this country.

Here are hyperlinks to Picketty’s seminal book and the discussion by Bill Moyers and Paul Krugman.

That old rabble -rouser!

That old rabble -rouser!

If you want to understand the world in this necessary new way, you might look for and read the following academic articles (I realize that academics are suspect and seen as rabid commies or something in the anti-intellectual milieu of this country, but I’ll make the suggestion).
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Fukuyama, Francis. “Left Out.” American Interest 6.3 (2011): 22-28.
(Francis Fukuyama is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute of Stanford University.) This article is available online.

“Scandalous as it may sound to the ears of Republicans schooled in Reaganomics, one critical measure of the health of a modern democracy is its ability to legitimately extract taxes from its own elites. The most dysfunctional societies in the developing world are those whose elites succeed either in legally exempting themselves from taxation, or in taking advantage of lax enforcement to evade them, thereby shifting the burden of public expenditure onto the rest of society” (Fukuyama).

“Another set of ideas was of even more direct help to the wealthy: Reaganomics. Supply-side economics provided a principled justification for the rich paying lower taxes on the grounds that entrepreneurial incentives unleashed by lower marginal tax rates would not merely trickle but pour down both via public finance and through the creation of employment. This argument was likely true at the near 90 percent marginal rates that prevailed after World War II, but those rates were reduced in several waves beginning in the 1960s. Clinton’s tax increases of the early 1990s brought rates up only slightly, and didn’t have the growth-killing effects widely predicted by Republicans—just the opposite, they preceded one of the great economic expansions of recent memory. The benefits of the Bush-era cuts flowed overwhelmingly to the wealthy, and yet were promoted on the grounds that lower rates would redound to everyone’s benefit. This is still a gospel that many people continue to believe, including, oddly enough, all too many of those left

Nothing to fear but George Lucas's money

Nothing to fear but George Lucas’s money

behind” (Fukuyama).

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“Too Important for Clever Titles — Scientific Study Says We Are an Oligarchy (Update).”
Daily KOS (Mon Apr 14, 2014)
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Piketty, Thomas, and Emmanuel Saez. “Top Incomes and The Great Recession: Recent Evolutions and Policy Implications.” IMF Economic Review 61.3 (2013): 456-478.
This article is available online.
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Spitz, Janet. “Intentioned Recession: An Ideologically Driven Re-Structuring.” New Political Science 33.4 (2011): 445-464.
This article is available online.

“. . . if my bubbles be too small for you, Blow bigger then your own. . . “

`bubblesYesterday’s newscasts included notice that the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez had died. He was 87.

He was but 18 years older than I. That’s on my mind because I’ve been talking to advisers about how to use the pittance I have put away for retirement, and I hope that, if I live to be 87, my money doesn’t end before I do. I’m sure his didn’t.

I distinctly remember Dean Anne Minton of Bunker Hill Community College telling me I MUST read Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. I tried. The closest I ever came to finishing it was meeting Edith Grossman, the translator, at the Center for Translation Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas a couple of years later when I was a graduate student there and took a course in translation

The copy I tried to read disappeared from my library at the great book giveaway I had a couple of years ago. As a faculty member at SMU, I can get an online copy. I will see if I can finish reading it.

This has been a week of much contemplation of what my life might have been. So many accomplishments such as reading Love in the Time of Cholera have simply slipped through my fingers that I am grieved by what I have not done. I know, I know, everyone my age experiences that discomfiture. If one does not have regrets, one is probably living in some sort of la-la-land.

I am not a concert organist (although I have given concerts), I have not written the great American novel (although I have two unfinished on 3 ½ inch floppy disks I can’t open), I am not a poet (although there’s plenty of what might be some stretch of imagination be called poetry on this computer), I am retiring not from a full professorship but from a 15-year fulltime lectureship, and in these golden years I am going to have to go looking for the gold to support myself..

There’s a whole lot of coulda shoulda woulda mighta in my life. Of course, if I had the ability to do any of those things, I probably would have, so I have no need to complain. I simply don’t have the brains or talent to have accomplished any more than I have.`love in the time of cholera

That’s not true. I’m pretty sure. Or is it? I’m confused. I’m unsure. I don’t know. My scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the SAT and the GRE all indicated that I would be more than marginally successful. I do have a PhD after all (proof of only one thing—the ability and willingness to jump through more hoops than the average citizen).

It’s no secret—or great discovery on my part—that hardly anyone who is 69 has no regrets. For example, I assume what is intended when PBS announces at the end of programs supported by the Carnegie Foundation, established by Andre Carnegie to do “real and permanent good,” that we’re supposed to think, “Isn’t that wonderful. He used all of his money to do Good and he can’t have any regrets.” It’s easy to give all of your money to do Good. Even you and I can do that with our pittances. His money is doing Good because in life he was a ruthless “robber baron” bastard for whom we should have little respect. Carnegie was able to assuage his conscience from “regrets” by thinking at the time of his death that his “Good” would live after him. I don’t mean that to be harshly judgmental, but a morality tale.

I’ve known a few people who lived to be 69 or 70 who seemed to have no regrets. I’m not going to make a catalog of them here. They were (are) all people for whom I have the highest regard, not for what they have done, but, more often, for what they have not done.

They are people who have managed not “To praise the very thing that [they deplore]” (E.A. Robinson). I could write a sentimental tribute to poverty, obedience, love, kindness, and so on. But I don’t need to. Anyone who reads this can fill in those blanks.

I’m not even going to write a sermonette about humility and graciousness and caring-for-one’s-fellow-man. I don’t need to do that, either. Except for a few people who are so far gone in self-centeredness they hardly seem to live on the same planet as the rest of us, we all give lip service to the sentiment expressed in the Bible, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NRSV). Would anyone who reads anything I write say they are against justice, kindness, and humility? I don’t want to associate with such a person.

Real and Permanent Good?

Real and Permanent Good?

I don’t know what I might have done with my life if I had not been an active alcoholic until I was 46, or if I didn’t have lots of other quirky obsessions that take up my time. Or if I didn’t have two little oddities in the way my brain works (not my mind—it has many more than two). Or if I were not simply lazy at the core. That’s probably why I didn’t read Love in the Time of Cholera when Anne gave it to me. Pure laziness, or obsessing about some other dumb thing.

No one else I know will admit to me that they can simply sit for an hour and do nothing—not watch TV, not play electronic games, not read, not—not anything. I can. Because I’m lazy?

What those people whom I respect can (could) do was to do nothing creatively and with a purpose. Somehow those people have (or had) a quality of simply being.

I’m not even sure what I mean by that.

“Dear Friends,” by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say
That I am wearing half my life away
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger then your own: the games we play
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.  

And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;
And some unprofitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores;
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.

“. . . he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

In the two days since I wrote about “pimping merchants” several people have contacted me. None of them got my point. They all turned what I said into a political statement which it is not. Some applauded, some did not.

The Bible

The Bible

Apparently none of them read my sentence, “I am not writing about government or capitalism or regulation or anything political. I’m writing about greed—corporate greed, small business greed, your greed, government greed, and yes, my greed.”

The fact that billions of people on the planet do not have enough of the basic necessities—food, clothing, shelter, water, safety—is not a political problem. It is not a problem of capitalism versus socialism. It is not a philosophical conundrum.

It is a matter of morality.

Do we Americans have ability to think about anyone but ourselves? Especially those of us who think we’re in what used to be the middle class and those above us on the economic ladder.

Some people are so brainwashed by the “American dream” that they think it is reality. That God or the Bible or some mystical power invented capitalism, and if we just believe hard enough and fight for it consistently enough, God or that mystical power, or we ourselves will cast down the non-believers from their thrones and the world will be saved.

At least you and I will be saved. And rich.

I don’t know why understanding the morality of money and its possession is so difficult. I’m not very smart (I know smart people, and I ain’t one), but I get it. If anyone is hungry, we’re all responsible.

Period.

The Gospel According to Luke begins with the declaration that what God does is all about equalizing resources.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:51-53, NRSV).

He (God) has sent the rich away empty. That’s how it begins.

Go ahead, explain that away. Tell me I’m proof-texting, cherry-picking, using one little sentence from the Bible to prove a point. Tell me I’m as bad as the ante-bellum  Americans who used the Bible to justify slavery.

It may come as a surprise to many christians, but the Bible is full of stuff about bringing the rich down and helping the poor. Read the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

The Quran is likewise adamant about serving the poor. “Those who spend (in the cause of Allah) privately or publicly, by night and day, have their reward with their Lord. And (on the Day of Resurrection) they shall neither fear nor grieve” (Al-Baqarah 2:274). “Allah eliminates usury (i.e. deprives usurious profits of prosperous growth) and multiplies alms gifts (i.e. increases blessings of clean wealth manifold through charity donations). And Allah does not like anyone who is ungrateful and disobedient” (Al-Baqarah 2:276).

I don’t know much about Hinduism, but I have read articles offering Hindu ideas similar to “. . . Hindu temples continue to promote charitable and community activities. Still, the highest praise in Hindu history is not reserved for the generous but for those who regard wealth with indifference and are able, when the proper stage of life arrives, to renounce all their belongings” (“Hinduism on Wealth and Poverty.” Resources. Georgetown.edu. Web.)

I don’t know if there is a religion on the planet that extols wealth—besides Joel Osteen’s “Prosperity Gospel.” Perhaps some do. But those that are easily researched certainly don’t.

The wonder of magical thinking

The wonder of magical thinking

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . .’” (Matthew 25:34, NRSV). This is definitely not a parable. It’s a prophecy or—if you believe Jesus is the Son of God—a statement of what will happen. “Then will (God) say to them. . .” Those on his right hand are those who took care of the poor, the sick, the weak.

I’m not preaching Christianity. It’s the religious tradition I know and from which I am an apostate (but not a very committed one). Whether or not I believe the fine points of the theology, it has shaped my thinking.

I’m not sure how anyone who accepts religion can believe that the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is in any way congruent with any religion.

And for those who do not believe,

Will and feeling should keep pace with thought if man is to grow as his knowledge grows. If this cannot be achieved – if, while knowledge becomes cosmic, will and feeling remain parochial – there will be a lack of harmony producing a kind of madness, with disastrous effects (Bertrand Russell, Basic Writings, page 370).

Parochial will and feeling—looking after oneself—will produce a kind of madness. Russell goes on to say that, having more than one needs produces “rivalry.” I would say that rivalry takes shape best in capitalism.

Capitalism is a religion. It is a religion in every sense of the word. It “works” only if people believe in it. It has a mythology (beginning with “the invisible hand”), and it requires sacrifice. Just as surely as the Incas at Machu Picchu offered up their children as sacrifices to placate the gods, societies devoted to capitalism offer up the poorer classes to placate the gods of poverty. The religion is based on magical thinking. The explanation for the necessity for the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer has become the evidence. Those who believe in capitalism are convinced that it’s necessary for Alice Walton to hire 1.4 million people at below-subsistence wages in order to keep making her billions of dollars so she can hire more people to live in poverty to support her lavish lifestyle and her political power. Capitalism is as primitive a religion as any human society has ever dreamed up. And, for reasons which I don’t understand (remember I know smart people, and I know I ain’t one of them) it’s the basic American religion. Or magical thinking.

Children and poor sacrificed here.

Children and poor sacrificed here.

“. . . how scary it is to be part of the 1%. . . “

Pass through the eye of my grandmother's needle?

Pass through the eye of my grandmother’s needle?

.
Just when I think I can withdraw from the stinking world of, well, “politics” (for want of a better word — “public morality,” perhaps), an event, an idea, a message of some sort draws me back in, and I must respond.

My perception is that a person can do two things that make them fully human. The first is to father or mother a child, and the second is to do an act of generosity or kindness at the most basic level of human need, that is, to help someone find food, shelter, or physical (perhaps medical) care. I’m pretty sure the first is not absolutely necessary (although at my rapidly advancing age I’ve been thinking it might have been fulfilling to try). The second, on the other hand, seems to me to be the unavoidable prerequisite for giving oneself permission to consider oneself fully human.

Anyone whose life is void of such acts or—worse by an order of magnitude almost incomprehensible— whose actions in any way deprive another of basic needs doesn’t share at the most basic level in the project of living as a human being.

I heard recently on TV that 85 persons worldwide own as much of the wherewithal to stay alive as the rest of us billions all together. Even if that number is incorrect—if it’s 85 hundred, or 85 thousand, or even 85 million—we have it in our power to give those people the chance to be fully human.

The basic text of the religion most people reading this follow (or at least know about) says that it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. That’s supported by the saying in that same text that the way one gets into heaven is by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and taking care of the sick.

I don’t give much credence to the “heaven” talk, but I think it’s at least sensible to use that idea as a metaphor for fulfillment as a human being. My guess is that a majority of those 85 (or 85 thousand) give at least lip service to the idea they are going to heaven.

But they obviously are not. Haven’t seen any camels passing through eyes of needles lately. Surely such a phenomenon would go viral on YouTube and Facebook.

However, we have it in our power to give them a chance at heaven (or simply to live fully as human beings here on earth). Caring about our fellow human beings, we need to help them divest themselves them all of that money that’s going to prevent them from getting into heaven when they die–or to live fully as human beings before they die.

I was naked, and you clothed me.

I was naked, and you clothed me.

We can’t, obviously, do anything for that guy from Mexico they say is the richest of the 85 or 85 thousand, but we could help some people in this country with names such as Gates and Walton. Or Thomas Perkins.

According to the webpage “Richest 250 People in the World” (the richest.com. 2014. Web.) Mr. Perkins is the 148th-richest person in the world. I don’t know how anyone calculates this, but where he is in the ranking doesn’t matter. He’s up there somewhere. Since he’s not in the top 85, I suppose quoting him is a bit unfair. However,

‘. . . the super-wealthy venture capitalist [Mr. Perkins] who once owned the largest private yacht in the world as well as multiple mansions, penned a letter to the editor to the Wall Street Journal this week about how scary it is to be part of the 1%, so scary it brings to mind how the Jews must have felt in Nazi Germany . . . “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich’ . . . This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”’ (Allon, Janet. “10 Most Absurd Right-Wing Lunacies This Week: Pity the 1% Edition.” AlterNet.com. January 25, 2014. Web.)

I have to admit, I’m one of the “progressive [radicals]” he’s thinking of. There isn’t a drop of camel’s blood in me. What I want to do is give Mr. Perkins a chance to get into heaven. For example, all the nations of the world could levy a 90% tax on both the income and the holdings of everyone who makes, say, $1,000,000,000 per year or more. Either 90% or an amount that would leave them $1,000,000.

I’d guess that money could give every hungry person in the world something to eat. For a long time.

Mr. Perkins, accustomed as he is to having $8,000,000,0000 (that’s billion with a “b”) would find it difficult to live on a mere $1,000,000 (with an “m”) per year. I would, too—what on earth would one do with that much money?

I can hear some of my readers complaining bitterly already. Mr. Perkins’s billions are what keeps the economy moving, his money creates jobs. I’m not saying that’s not so. Because I don’t have a degree from Cox School of Business at SMU where students learn how this works, I really have no right to an opinion.

But I do have one question that lots of Progressive Nazis (now there’s an oxymoron for you!) must be asking. If Mr. Perkins’s billions are helping the economy by making more jobs, where are they? Why are so many people jobless around the world?

And if it’s OK for 85 people to own half the world’s goods, why am I worried that when my contracted salary ends on May 31 and I retire, I won’t have enough money to live on? Me with a PdD and 35 years of college teaching experience? Worried, even while I know that I, too, am better off than an enormous percentage of the people in the world.

My home away from home,

My home away from home,