Hurray for Trickle Up Economics!

I’m a proponent of “trickle up economics”. It’s an economic strategy that works, unlike the “feed the wealthy” school, that in the first half of the 20th century was called “leak through” and in the 1980s was called “supply side” and “trickle down” economics. It was also called “voodoo economics” by a past Republican presidential candidate.

I think the following quote sums it up nicely:

‎”There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests up on them.”

– William Jennings Bryan in 1896

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Nice Article – “How Ayn Rand became the new right’s version of Marx”

Thanks to Marc Thompson on Make It Plain for finding this well written article in The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/05/new-right-ayn-rand-marx

Quick thoughts after reading the above article…

A lot of what Ayn Rand wrote was eerily like Marx:

  • Marx’s “Property is theft” turned into “Taxation is theft”
  • Marx made heroes, essentially, of the proletariat, casting them in the role of the producers and the wealthy (capitalists) as parasites. Rand turned that around and made heroes of the capitalist wealthy, casting them in the role of “producers”, and of the poor as “parasites”
  • Where Marxism preached the supremacy of the collective where everyone owns everything and thus no one owns anything, she taught the supremacy of selfishness and hyper-individualism

…I can go on with the anti-comparison, but it’s too creepy. Obviously, she had such a hatred of communism (as the communists were enemies of her family), that she attempted to create its exact opposite. Anyone who attributes depth of meaning to her writings is really complimenting, in a strange and unconscious way, Marx, as she obviously used Marxism as an anti-model, with little original thought of her own, outside of her near-worship of sociopathic behaviors of the child murderer-and-dismemberer William Edward Hickman.  Reference here for one of many summaries about this evil man that she so admired.  Warning:  It’s not for the faint of heart.

I have to emphasize, though, and the article touches on it, that while Alan Greenspan worshiped the woman, I think he partially did so as she attempted to create a morality around the very selfish Austrian School of Economics, where Mises and Hayek taught that true democracy is not through one man, one vote, but rather, through one dollar one vote- a bias clearly in favor of the wealthy. They also taught a contempt for unions, a living wage, indeed, for social justice, distributive justice, or any value-based economics.   Hayek taught that we should never treat one another as neighbors in favor of an unregulated, savage marketplace- as ugly a notion as can be. Greenspan probably worships Rand as she tried to place a thin veneer of philosophy in front of such an antisocial, anti-humanist, anti-Judeo-Christian-Islamic creed.

A Poorly Written Poem

This is a reply on Facebook…I find it easier to respond in rhyme to trolls.   “Poem” is too much of a compliment for the below.  Think of it as more of a ramble with some rhyming words to make it slightly more readable…

It’s an answer to a troll asking me what I wish to see and warning me about fascism from what I guess are government programs supporting the common good…

What is it that I wish to see?
More of what was taught to me and thee.

As Catholicism teaches, health care for all
Because it’s right THERE and perfectly clear,

In our Catechism on paragraph 2288
And as it’s commanded – really – it’s not up for debate.

And much MUCH more of a government commitment to the Catholic concept of the common good
Like the Living Wage – another Catholic invention- it must be understood.

For the last 120 years,
Teaching such matters to oft-deaf ears
These great teachers were often driven nearly to tears:

Leo, Pius, John, and Paul

 Not to mention the great John-Paul
They wrote and wrote

preached and preached
They traveled the world
And teached and teached

With encyclical after encyclical
Book after book

It is the the plight of the POOR
That government (yes), church and each one of us
Must look

And to do that, respect must be given
They told us, they taught us, they wrote us, they were indeed driven!

To unions, yes, that IS what they wrote
Because they’re “mediating institutions”, I do NOT misquote!

From Rerum Novarum and 

Quadragesimo Anno- as bright as snow

With GREAT wisdom these books are aglow:

Respect for workers, a pillar indeed
of everything Catholicism teaches in its creed

and…

The economy exists for the betterment of all
And as Gaudium et Spes insists, the economy’s FIRST port of call

Are the *least* of us, NOT the wealthy
And that too much accumulated wealth is morally and economically unhealthy

These core teachings say this, I do NOT tell lies
If you don’t believe me, look them up with your own eyes!

Instead…as I watched those debates, I was saddened to see
Santorum, Gingrich – loudly and lousy self proclaimed Catholics deux,
The majority of their own religion’s teachings…they smoothly eshew!

Rather…they teach a strange creed
That greed is good
With that, I WILL NOT agree

Then they insist that all government is evil!

Sorry, my and their sources teach us that such beliefs create
guaranteed and total upheaval….

(…especially for the poor and unemployed).

The poor and unemployed are so seldom mentioned by them…
…such suffering is quite beyond their comprehension.

Fascism you say?
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps one day

You’ll pick up a book
On the matter and look

To see the definition by one of its founders
Mussolini, got the definition right – no man got it sounder:

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

Make up your own mind who the uber-wealthy devour…
When money equals “free speech”…it’s the uber-wealthy who are the dictators of power.


The Conundrum of Rights

The implication of rights are that they are absolute; while the inference is really that they are not the unrestricted freedoms that many interpret them to be.

Without such functional parameters, I submit that they cease to become freedoms and instead become instruments of tyranny. A person can be grievously harmed by slander and libel, for instance, to the ruin of his or her career and livelihood.

The use of “free speech” in the First Amendment is meant from that perspective, and is therefore defined in the context of the opportunity to speak one’s mind without doing another unjust or grievous harm.

Note that the writers of the pre-Bill of Rights Constitution kept an arm’s distance away from boldly using the word “right”, probably because of the then-and-now misinterpretations that all rights are absolute. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the only right mentioned explicitly as such in the original, pre-amendment Constitution is the Copyright Clause: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” No other “rights” by name, anyways, are mentioned as far as I know, until Madison penned the “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” in the First Amendment. Now that right was at the top of his list!

People also seldom hear that the Bill of Rights is really the finalized list that Madison came up with. He asked for a list of suggested rights and amendments to the Constitution and was given well over one hundred to work through, which he narrowed down to ten. Hence he purposely was vague in his syntax on some of the more controversial amendments, such as the wording of the Second Amendment. Yes, the intent of the Second Amendment was as vague then as it is today. It was a politician’s way of getting the amendment passed.

Hence my temptation to laugh when I hear people insist that the Constitution is a divine document that’s up there with the Bible. It’s a form of idolatry to insist as such. It’s a special, special document, for sure, one certainly worth swearing fealty towards. But a sacred document brought down from the Mountain like the Ten Commandments?

I don’t think so.

Reference:  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights/

Are We More or Less a Militarized Society?

Reading the attached link reminded me of something I wondered about off and on again over the last few years: Are we more or less a militarized society today than, say, 50 years ago?

On the one hand, the US Navy has greater firepower than the next 13 navies combined. We have…last I checked…something like 716 military bases in 38 countries, with troops stationed in 148 nations. The percent of GDP dedicated to DoD, Homeland Security, etc. has increased dramatically since 9/11. When we combine the Pentagon budget, the cost of wars, intelligence agencies, contractor costs, military foreign aid, the cost of building and maintaining hardened embassies, the total comes to $1 trillion. A year. Every year.  (Source- Pat Buchanan here).

Fifty or so years ago, as a percent of the national GDP, our defense budget was much larger than it is now.  Go ahead and take a look here.  There was a national draft.  However, it seems, looking through a half-century or so lens, that we were a much less militarized a culture.

It’s an intangible that I’m going to investigate as time goes by.

US Defense Spending as a Percent of GDP 1950 - 2015

Related link:  UC Davis Pepper-Spray Incident Reveals Weakness Up Top

Home Ownership: Those who are sinking and those who aren’t

We purchased our first home in 1993. We sold it nine years later and purchased the house we’re in now. We were lucky (thank goodness) to have purchased-sold-purchased at the right times. We were also cautious about what we believed we could afford.

All during these times, I was amazed at the houses other people where purchasing.  Huge houses- “McMansions”, if you will.  Houses in many cases that were way beyond the ability for people to afford.

And now that the bubble has popped, now that the housing market has crashed, many people are of a mindset of, “Well, that’s the bed they made.  Let them sleep in it.”

That’s an overly simple and I daresay selfish way to view it.  It ignores ignores the collateral damage of what happened.  It’s a small step away from a “Let’s punish them!” mentality.

Always a heartbreak

The issue isn’t only a matter of personal responsibility. Neither is it just an issue of business ethics where loan officers were transformed, thanks to the repeal of many Glass-Steagall provisions, into the mindset of the lowliest caricature of a car salesman, pushing loans on people who did or didn’t don’t know better.

The problem is, when such things happen, we are *all* damaged. When banks run amok, and people act irresponsibly, their actions aren’t confined to their circles.   The ruin spreads to people who haven’t done anything inappropriate. It spreads to the children of those families who purchased homes much too big for them. It spreads to a general collapse in land values that affect jobs and the economy as a whole. People who were cautious and frugal get swept up in the tidal wave of the collapse.

It’s hard to believe for some, but the “9/11” crises that seared and traumatized the Great Depression generation was the banking collapse caused by rampant market speculation. Speculators didn’t just hurt themselves in those days, they damaged everybody. People don’t know it as much today, but when FDR uttered his famous, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” line, people weren’t listening that much to him. Rather, they were anxiously watching to see what was happening with the banking collapse- to their money. This was a time when Hoover placed machine gun emplacements on top of federal buildings -and ringed some of them in barbed wire!- for fear of the populace rushing the capital in their desperation.

We can say, today, of people who irresponsibly went way over the heads in real estate, and with perhaps a bit of self-satisfaction, “Screw’em. They got themselves into this mess. Let them wait until it fixes itself.”  The emotions that bring on those statements may be valid.   But is it true for the children who lose their homes? Is it true for the innocents who were swept up in this, unfairly losing their homes, too, or losing their livelihoods?

The problem with confining oneself to that attitude is that it throws the baby out with the bathwater. It forces the innocents who were caught in this wave (to mix metaphors) to endure the deprivations of the mess. It ignores that we live in communities that seek to raise and protect all of us.  As members of  our community, we *must* act to protect the innocents, if we can. Otherwise, we are turning our backs on what it means to be human.

The present housing crises is the worst ever. Worse, even, than the housing crises of the Great Depression.

FDR faced not identical, but not dissimilar issues with a real estate collapse.   He and others responded with healing, not punishment.  During the Great Depression, people were losing their homes in droves. Home ownership was down to about 40% of the population (I believe it’s hovered around 60% in recent decades). Back then, lenders could call in the full amounts of their loans arbitrarily- and because of the economy and their shortage of cash, they did! Lenders could suddenly up their rates arbitrarily- and they did!   Banks could suddenly demand half the value of the home in cash, or they’ll foreclose- and they did!  Like I said, the banking collapse was that generation’s 9/11.  It’s not remembered as much because a dozen or so years later Peal Harbor came along, blocking out the memory of the earlier national trauma.

The first step that balanced such rampant issues was 1932’s Glass-Steagall Act. Among other things, it created a “wall of separation” between investment banking and commercial, deposit-taking banks. Depositors’ monies were insulated from rampant speculation. It kept banks from getting too complex, from making them “too big to fail”, from making investments/speculations and deposited monies from being too intermixed and tangled.  And it worked.  It worked, that is, until Phil Gramm pushed through the repeal of these provisions in 1999.

FDR’s second step was the establishment of the Federal Housing Authority in 1934. No more could lenders arbitrarily and immediately call in the balance of their loans.  For the first time, really, people could transact 30 year fixed mortgages, which in many cases could be more expensive than ARMS, but lent a huge stability to the market.   The FHA operated solely on self-generated income via mandatory mortgage insurance- not a penny of taxpayer monies were spent on this agency.   The last 30 year mortgage offered to people who were part of the original FHA program was paid off in the mid 1960s. The result: A huge pillar supporting middle class wealth via land ownership.

That pillar that so much of our common wealth depends on is cracking thanks to the largest bust of a real estate bubble in history. Shall we simply say, “Well they brought it on themselves!”, while their damage continues to spread to innocents?      Shall we sacrifice our future so that we can stand up with stiff necks, cross our arms, hold up our heads, and say to those whose profligacy wounded us all, “See, I told you so!”

If that’s what you think, that to punish the foolish we must ignore the harm to the innocent, nonexistent readers who never read my invisible blog, I suggest you read God’s conversation with Lot at Genesis 18: 22-33.

Sisyphus on the Hill: Implementing the Death Penalty in the USA

Below is a draft article on the impracticality of implementing the death penalty in the USA.

DRAFT DRAFT DRAFT…on my virtual soapbox that no one reads…which is okay.  Boo hoo

(Intro Paragraph Here)

Arguments:

1. Charge of Institutional Racial Discrimination

While “racism” isn’t a legal term in the USA, “racial discrimination” certainly is a legal term .

I submit, to be bold, that the United States legal system in general commits racial discrimination in its practices of determining guilt and in its sentencing.

I realize this is a bold statement. However, there are numerous studies that support and truth of what I submit: In general, the USA at the state and federal levels has a demonstrated inclination to convict black Americans more often than whites and Hispanics for the same crimes. It also has, again proved out by numerous studies, to arrest black people at the local levels , and treat them more harshly, generally, more often than whites. Furthermore, American society has a tendency to send black Americans to jail for longer terms than for the same crimes committed by white and Hispanic Americans.

Because of this “j’accuse!” on my part, I also submit that because of this obvious racial discrimination, the USA, until and if it can fix this issue of institutional racial discrimination, should issue an immediate moratorium on executions -the most extreme act of government in taking the life of its own citizens- in the United States.

This is all the more an urgent matter as close to 40% of the prison population is black, while blacks are only about 13% of the general population. This is an obvious indicator that there is a problem regarding institutional racial discrimination.

Yes! This could indicate that because of their poverty, because of their higher unemployment rate, that part of the reason that there are more blacks in prison than whites may be due to those conditions. But really, if that is true, then is it truly just to convict them at higher rates because they’re poor and unemployed? When distributive justice is injured, is it any surprise that legal justice is as well?

Yes! It could also indicate disparate legal representation between whites and minorities due to factors such as poverty. Again, I ask: If that is true, is it just to convict them at higher rates because they can’t afford expensive lawyers? When commutative justice is injured, is it any surprise that social justice is as well?

I submit however, that the incarceration rates are so skewed against black Americans that there is a much larger issue at hand than poverty, unemployment and legal representation.

2. The human tendency towards error precludes a truly just implementation of the death penalty.

There is no graver action society can take than that of executing its own citizens. This is borne out throughout the history of Western civilization as our culture has ancient, ancient principles about the wrongful executions:

William Blackstone, the famed jurist: (around 1765): “”better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”

Benjamin Franklin: “”it is better one hundred guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer”

Sir John Fescue (1470): “One would much rather that twenty guilty persons should escape the punishment of death, than that one innocent person should be condemned and suffer capitally.”

Maimonides (around the year 1200): “”it is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”

The Bible, when Abraham was trying to spare the city of Sodom: “Abraham drew near, and said, “Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it?.. What if ten are found there?” He [The Lord] said, “I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake.”

Science has given us what the above people could only dream: Through DNA analyses, a partial window in the accuracy of our conviction rates. A partial window, mind you, as not all death penalty convictions hinge on DNA evidence, which may not be available. That is, as DNA has shown that capital cases involving DNA have a high number of wrong convictions, it’s reasonable to assume that cases not involving DNA also have a high number of wrongful convictions.

Furthermore, there is a backlog of about 400,000 DNA analysis across the nation. This means that we can’t conduct DNA analysis on anything like a timely basis. Until we do something about that backlog, until we can at least reduce the percentage of innocent people in prison, and yes, death row, then it’s wrong to continue this practice.

For the sake of the innocent, whether they be few or many, a moratorium is called for. I’m not the only one saying this. Republican Governor George Ryan of Illinois announced a moratorium on the death penalty about a decade ago, saying , “I can’t support a system which in its administration has proven to be so fraught with error that it has come so close to the ultimate nightmare: The state’s taking of innocent life.” He was followed by other governors. They recognized that accuracy is problematic and, in the taking of life, we must act very, very carefully.

3. We can’t afford it.

I submit as well, that regardless of the morality of the death penalty, the expense make it impractical.

It’s not surprising, here in “incarceration nation”, where 5% of the world’s population holds 25% of the world’s prisoners, where for the first time, more is spent on building prisons than on building and maintaining colleges, where the number of prisons has skyrocketed to incredible numbers, where a *huge* part of our taxes, and in a society that recognizes the gravity of killing its own citizens…well, it’s no surprise that death penalty are so expensive.

How expensive? VERY expensive, with the expenses ranging from high to incredible. I can get into the details (and eventually will in this pseudo-article), but there’s no dispute: Billions are spent on death penalty cases that would be much less expensive for life imprisonment, and let’s face it, is it moral to exhaust county, state, and federal resources when so much is being cut elsewhere?

As the attorney general of Massachusetts, Scott Harshbarger states, “Virtually every major program designed to address the underlying causes of violence and to support the poor, vulnerable, powerless victims of crime is being cut even further to the bone. … In this context, the proposition that the death penalty is a needed addition to our arsenal of weapons lacks credibility and is, as a sheer matter of equity, morally irresponsible. If this is really the best we can do, then our public value system is bankrupt and we have truly lost our way.”

References:

http://www.fnsa.org/v1n1/dieter1.html
http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty