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October 14, 2012


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Not at all my image of Mme Defarge from the ninth grade. But you and Phiz seem to have a point.

Anyway, Jefferson was only referring to people, not slaves. A natural oversight, right?

(And please, no three-fifths stuff. One gets tired of the bassackwards interpretation of that provision after a few decades of hearing it. Not accusing anyone in particular, or necessarily expecting it in this group; just griping.)

Ah, Mr. Jefferson; I can't find who alerted me to this article about him, but he seems to have been a piece of work.

But Thomas Jefferson was the White Shadow!

Many of the richest people in America were born before 1850. George Washington is estimated to have been worth about $500 million in today's dollars.

But, didn't Jefferson and the Founders, and their forefathers in freedom's foreplay, send the QE2 over to Africa to convey persnickety Africans to the New World in sumptuous accommodations, only to have the latter today ungraciously bite the hand hat fed them canapes and champagne on the journey and introduced them to the incentives and disincentives of free plantation agricultural markets:

I'm reading David S. Reynolds' "John Brown ---Abolitionist", and while I have mentioned Madame Defarge many times in the past here when I've wanted to conjure some just desserts and vengeful itchy knitwear for the enemies of America, why resort to fictional characters when we have our very own living historical vengeful angel, John Brown, to invoke?

I would like to witness the "border ruffian" and Arkansas Rep. Hubbard, cited above, explain to John Brown and his sons, could they be present today and as they check the blade sharpness on their instruments of incentive and disincentive, why the latter's objection to the former's recent commentary on the salutary nature of slavery is an instance of "political correctness", which I'm certain is what Hubbard is thinking about the reaction to his horsesh*t.

Let's have Michelle Bachmann on hand as well to praise the slaveholders' bequeathing of family values and the strengthening of the family unit to their chattel.

I expect the two of them, not to mention a good portion of the Republican caucus in our hallowed halls, will take the time to thank God for Hitler in the founding of Israel and for introducing Jews to regular hygienic showering regimens and to Stalin for training the inhabitants of Siberia to appreciate the free market origins of tasty shoe leather.

We elect these people in 2012. We sit quietly under knitted coverlets and watch these Confederate ilk invoke Abraham Lincoln as the father of their Party (Lincoln would vomit on them today, had they not put a bullet in his head) in their debates for the highest office in the land --- in 2012.

I'm happy to admit that history is messy. After all, even Lincoln's pronouncements on slavery, over his lifetime, were ambiguous.

But how come today's history in the making isn't messier.

It should be.

Regarding John Brown, it is interesting that he was a bit of a bounder in his business dealings before he became the John Brown we know of today, not unlike Jefferson without the plutocratic connections.

Also, our history lessons today kind of ignore John Brown.

He was much celebrated at the highest levels of government during the Civil War.

Another great history is Simon Schama's "Rough Crossing", which recounts Britain's anti-slavery, all albeit cynical and self-serving, during our Revolution.

For the NYT review of Freeland's book, go>here.

The chronic labor shortage of that era might also contribute to the blindness that looks out over a new country that held human beings in chattel slavery and sees nothing but 'equality'.

Many countries have their foundational myths. The main difference for America is that ours are recent enough, concrete enough, amd about things which were documented, that someone can go back and find evidence for how things were really.

Consider that you can not only do that for the yeoman farmers. You can do it for the hardy, individualistic pioneers -- and then find that they actually tended to go forth in groups (e.g. wagon trains), not as individuals. You can do it for the courageous lawmen taming the Wild West -- and then discover just how little recourse to the law was actually involved. You can do it for the "Founders of America as a Christian Nation" -- and then discover how many were actually deists, and how adamant they all were than no government should foist any one religion particular off on the rest of the (definitely unwilling) population. And so it goes.

Thug Tommy Thompson's racist bug filth c@cksucker of a cracker f*uck son of his slut mother renews some of our Founders' plans to send the slaves back to Africa.

It never stops with these vermin.

All of those dead Confederate filth and it will never be enough. They left a few alive and they had immaculate sex and founded the modern Republican Party.

If Romney/Ryan wins this election, the Other in America should buy every weapon and all ammo available from NRA gun shows and gun shops in the country.

For the necessary patriotic target practice.

Surely Wayne Lapierre won't mind.

His shares in the gun manufacturers will soar.

Unless they halt production because of some unidentifiable bottlenecks like, I don't know, too much consumer foot traffic by swarthy folks and white liberal with Obama stickers on their car bumpers.

I assumed and I assume every single reader of the NYT assumed that Chrystia was talking about the distribution of wealth among white males. The existence of slavery in the early 19th century in the US is no longer the closely guarded secret it once..., well, never was.

Now some decades ago if someone said what Chrystia said I would have taken it the way Doctor Science did--as a kind of whitewash (no pun) of the monstrous injustice that permeated early American history. But I assume Chrystia condemns slavery the way everyone who isn't a neo-Confederate does, and that she's only making a point about the distribution of wealth back then among the people who were allowed to own it (as opposed to being it). Whether she's right about that more narrow issue I have no idea.

D -- your reference to the story of Jefferson and Martin Hemmings reminds me of the joke that ends "A pig like that, you don't want to eat it all at once." And the comparison is not in Jefferson's favor.

I caught an interview of Ms. Freeland on NPR. She interviewed a whole bunch of billionaires and "found out" some common sense stuff: They commonly have a raging sense of entitlement and they are, as a group, perfectly willing to destroy the society that enabled their wealth in order to shave a few points off their taxes and preserve their status and power.

If true, then if follows we should not have rules that allow such massive over-accumulation. It is more socially destructive than sex, drugs and rock and roll all combined.

I'd like to see a couple of our "I'm not a Republican" (one wonders where all the Republicans have gone) conservative commenters weigh in on this: Is deliberately increasing the concentration of wealth and power in fewer hands a good thing or not?

Tee it up, Tex.

It is more socially destructive than sex, drugs and rock and roll all combined.

Which is more socially destructive: drug use or enforcement of laws governing drug use?

Is deliberately increasing the concentration of wealth and power in fewer hands a good thing or not?

bobbyp, I hope you'll accept something from someone who is still a Republican. And a conservativce on any sane definition of the term, even if the current Republican base would vehemently disagree.

No, it isn't a good thing. It's not good for society, it's not good for the economy, and I would argue that it's not even good for the people accumulating all the wealth.

Let's face it, if you are making more than $1 million a year, pretty much anything over that is just point scoring with/against others in the same league. It's not like you really need that kind of money. Certainly not the amounts you accumulate from years of making that kind of money.

Which is more socially destructive: drug use or enforcement of laws governing drug use?

On nearly all ocassions, I would go with the latter, of course. For the purposes of this discussion, let us say "both". Howzzat'? The social destruction wrought by sex and rock and roll are, of course, obvious.


That was indeed a refreshing reply. I would agree with you. Now for the hard part-what public policies should be adopted to get your desired outcome?

Again....many thanks.

Oh joy, I get to pretend (probably not very convincingly) to be an economics guru! (I wish I had time to actually think the whole question out at length. But today, business is booming, and we are really busy.)

I see several areas where changes could help. Some of them are realtively easy to sell to the general population, others not so much.

1) Cap the deductions for things like home interest deductions. Say at 5 times the median cost of a home in that area. (More symbolic than anything else. But worth it just for that.)

2) Make all forms of income equal. It doesn't matter whether your income is from wages/salary, or from interest on savings, or from capital gains -- if money came in, you pay taxes on it. At an absolute minimum, "carried interest" gets ripped out of the capital gains category and taxed like regular income.

3) Put in a couple of new high-income bands, with higher marginal rates. Say one that starts at $1 million per year, another for income above $10 million, and another above $50 million. The folks who are counting points by making that much can still do so to their little hearts' content, but the amount being amassed at the top shrinks.

4) Increase the deduction for the third and further dependents (for couples). If you are supporting more children, you are investing in the future of the country. If you are supporting elderly parents or other disabled relatives, you are saving the rest of us money.

5) Tighten the restrictions on what can be counted as a business expense for those who have essentially incorporated themselves. (Again, more symbolic than anything else. But the egregeous examples are harmful to the social fabric.)

6) Cap the amount which can be inherited tax-free at $1 million ($500,000?) per person for relatives. With a cap on the total, beyond which the estate pays serious tax before distribution.

I'll see if I come up with any more major ones. But those are the ones which leap to mind at the moment.

Let's face it, if you are making more than $1 million a year, pretty much anything over that is just point scoring with/against others in the same league.

It's funny. Here I am, a liberal, and I'm not sure if $1M/yr is high enough to make that statement true, at least not in some parts of the country. Mind you, that doesn't mean that I would oppose another tax bracket starting there, but still.

I would also put the "point scoring" bar somewhat higher than $1M. Weird as it is to say, but $1M just ain't what it used to be.

I'm not speaking from personal experience, natch, it's just an observation.

But the general point, and wj's specific policy suggestions, generally seem OK to me. Especially the part about "income is income".

The issue with the concentration of wealth is that, whether we think it's a problem or not, the tools we have to address it are problematic. They mostly consist of taking it away after it's been accrued. I.e., taxation.

IMVVVHO it makes more sense to address the issue on the front end. Distribution, rather than redistribution.

Make the legal and social infrastructure more favorable to folks who who work for a living.

Direct the flow of generated wealth more to the folks who actually create the goods and perform the services that folks actually pay for, and somewhat less to the folks whose contribution is funding capital goods.

And call it a day.

Some people will still end up raking in billions. Fine with me. They'll just have to be more directly involved in generating the more-than-billions that makes the billions in income possible.

But long story short, IMVVHO public policy aimed at preventing people from making a lot of money, or relieving them of it after they have acquired it, is highly problematic.

I agree that the concentration of wealth is socially harmful, but I don't understand what the legal and constitutional basis is for taking it away once it's acquired.

Better, as always In My Very Humble Opinion, to facilitate spreading it more widely up front.

To Doc Science's post - I thoroughly agree that excluding slaves, indentured servants, and any and all of the other forms of peonage and/or chattel status that were common in the colonial period is a FREAKING HUGE OMISSION.

That said, the much narrower point - that less-than-wealthy people were less dependent on wage labor to survive in the colonial period - is, I think, valid.

It was common for people to grow their own food, make their own clothes, build their own houses, etc. You had to have some land, but land was plentiful and, by modern standards, relatively cheap.

And the population was not so large, so labor was, by modern standards, relatively scarce.

A seller's market.

That's no longer true for most people. Most people - overwhelmingly most, in this country - are dependent on a fairly complex supply chain for all of the basics of life. And, they are dependent upon a source of *money* to participate in that supply chain.

It's a different world, with all that flows from that.

Oh joy, I get to be an economics guru!

Don't be shy. If Greg Mankiw can do it, so can you. Myself I shall proceed to demonstrate.

wj items 1-6: good solid suggestions, and probably much more politically feasible than my idealistic dreams.

IMVVVHO it makes more sense to address the issue on the front end. Distribution, rather than redistribution.

Yup. This is even more important. I'd throw in patent reform, lower the value of the dollar, looser immigration, health care reform, corporate governance reform, tighter control of corporate charters. See Dean Baker for more. And he's a real economist!

But most importantly, we need a redistribution of political power. Make labor rights a civil right. Raise wages. Provide a jobs guarantee for anyone willing and able to work, curtain corporate "personhood", etc.

Deep structural reform is necessary. The nightmare future we need to avoid is not Greece. It's more like Hapsburg Spain. Remember all that gold and silver they amassed in the 1500's? Pouuuuffftttt!!!!!


Something offhand hairshirthedonist wrote upthread caught my eye:

"at least not in some parts of the country"

Geographic concentrations of wealth cause inflation in those locales, for the wealthy and the same plus long commutes for the not so wealthy caught in the riptide.

Obvious, except maybe to the wealthy, who might complain "you just can't find a good two-dollar breakfast around here."

Yeah, they saw you coming and it ruined breakfast for everyone.

Warren Buffet in Omaha might be the exception.

That wasn't Groucho.

It will just be you me and the moon…wear a tie so I can tell the two of you apart.

That's weird. For a long time I have had to sign in through Facebook and suddenly thatroute got blocked. Now the typepad route, which ahs been blocked for years, is suddenly open.

Computers see me coming and laugh.

russell, I think most of the country would agree with you (and me) that some people making billions is not necessarily a problem.

Nobody begrudged Steve Jobs his money, because he was obviously producing something valuable. (They may not have loved his inter-personal skills. But that he got rich was not a problem.) But he is pretty clearly an exception.

Don't forget that there wasn't universal male suffrage when Jefferson was President

Nobody begrudged Steve Jobs his money, because he was obviously producing something valuable.

Deep structural reform is necessary.

My name is russell, and I endorse these messages.

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