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May 21, 2018

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So, really, what is yours when you're on the road is your car, but not the road. The speed limit applies to anyone on the road, even in their own car - the car they obtained with their own money (wj's comment about that notwithstanding).

Maybe I don't need to finish the analogy. If it's not clear, I will be happy to provide the second half on request.

And that money doesn't belong to you personally either. Cf the penalties for deliberately destroying the currency (nevermind counterfeiting).

There's a difference between the ownership of physical bills and the ownership of the stored value they represent.

There's a difference between the ownership of physical bills and the ownership of the stored value they represent.

I confess that my economics classes were quite a while back. But I'm not sure you can really separate money's medium of exchange function from its store of value function in the way this suggests.

These are sort of the facts under debate though, aren't they?

Really? It isn't my money? I'm harming others by having it? Would you mind explaining?

And that money doesn't belong to you personally either.

This is a bit of a reach. First, like most people, my 'money' is a computer entry in a bank or other institutional account. It's mine. It's not yours, it's not the governments. Your point about destroying 'bills' falls short, IMO, because the crime isn't based on whether the money belongs to me or the gov't, it's that the government produced the tangible bill itself at some cost and it puts into circulation a set amount and wants that amount to remain in circulation.

The lack of transfer payments to achieve pareto efficiency is a big problem here

Not following. Sorry.

Anyway, I'd still be interested in your views on the NFL owners' mandatory-"patriotism" rule in the context of capitalism, concentrated wealth, free markets, and so forth.

One has nothing to do with the other. The employer gets to make the workplace rules. I'm not a big fan of sports franchises for many of the reasons others here don't care for them. I don't like subsidizing an already wealthy person or persons with my tax dollars so they can have a football or basketball team to make more money off of. Do it on their own? Fine by me. Involuntary loan from me? No thanks. I don't care much for players politicizing what should be a neutral zone for folks to come together. My response was to drop the NFL, like a lot of other people. If enough people drop the NFL, the owners can go belly up and the players can find out what minimum wage work is like.

Since you asked.

Looks like you are making a moral claim, not a political or economic one?

I thought it was a factual claim.

McKinney: First,we're talking about a going concern. I picked that for a reason. The Kennedy's aren't operating the family business. They sit back and collect from a trust. In my example, because of our hypothetical estate tax, if we add to the fact pattern that it is a family business, the family cannot continue to own the business, if that is what it chooses to do. Because we've decided that having too much is a bad thing, we now require that someone else own that company. Seems coercive and arbitrary to me.

So are you saying the people who own the going concern, operating business have a stronger moral claim to their wealth because it's in that form rather than a trust that owns a bunch of financial assets?

Why wouldn't an estate tax on each be equally coercive and arbitrary?

I'm not sure I even disagree, and I think the macroeconomic case is that higher rates of estate taxes lead to less capital formation, and thus less aggregate wealth, "in the long run," but that's only the economics.

I think a similar point was made some years back, the subtext being that I'm a beneficiary of the very system I criticize.

Not just you. Everyone. Walmart doesn't happen without roads. People can't trust financial institutions without regulation. I can buy a can of peas at a supermarket without knowing anything about where they came from or who put them in the can. I feel safe enough about my and the other vehicles on the road that I'm willing to drive to work. Cell phones work because someone's making sure the companies don't screw up each other's signals. I drink tap water. I'm not particularly worried about the wiring in my house starting a fire, so I use it. I don't think the building I work in is going to fall down, and I'm willing to ride the elevator.

Not following. Sorry.

Not sure I'm capable of following my ownself, these days. :-)

To expand a bit on the tax-rate thing, I would also make the argument that no one would be accumulating the sort of wealth they can in the ways they can in the first place without a functioning system of government in place and all the underpinnings the government provides, so it's justifiable for the government to limit (or at least tax heavily at some point) the income or wealth someone might only attain with the government's infrastructure and institutions in place.

Seems to me the operative phrase is "a functioning system of government in place and all the underpinnings the government provides" and the intent of your statement can be restated as follows, "government creates the opportunity to make money, therefore, the government has the moral right to limit the amount of money someone might make or keep"?

Do I have this right? If I do, I'll comment further. If not, what am I missing?

The lack of transfer payments to achieve pareto efficiency is a big problem here

Pareto efficiency would seem to be in conflict with the Pareto principle which seems to hold for wealth distrubution.

Do I have this right? If I do, I'll comment further.

Provided it has a compelling interest to do so, yes. What I think we're discussing is whether that compelling interest exists. Of course, that would depend on the specifics of what that government wants to do (if I can put it terms of the government having desire and agency for the sake of brevity), which is a more practical question, along the lines of "does it promote the general welfare?".

Pareto efficiency is the state of the world where you can't make someone better off w/o making someone else worse off.

If you *can* make better off w/o making someone worse off, then you are not Pareto efficient and it would be better to make that person better off b/c, who the hell else cares?

On transfer payments, assume a situation where you can make person X $100 richer by doing ABC, but if you do ABC it would make person Y $75 poorer - yet together X&Y are $25 richer. So, X could transfer $76 of its improvement to Y and they are both better off (Y by $1 and X by $24). So, ABC should be done.

The issue is, in the real world, the $76 transfer is often, if not the vast majority of the time, never made. So person Y is pissed and person X happy, which creates other societal issues. See also - declining marginal utility of income.

This kind of thing comes up in gains from trade analysis.

...the government has the moral right to limit the amount of money someone might make or keep"?

Though I would take "someone" not to mean a particular person, rather what anyone might keep, with everyone subject to the same set of rules. I'd also say that we're again talking about whether taxation in general is morally wrong, not what rates should apply and when.

So are you saying the people who own the going concern, operating business have a stronger moral claim to their wealth because it's in that form rather than a trust that owns a bunch of financial assets?

Why wouldn't an estate tax on each be equally coercive and arbitrary?

I'm not sure I even disagree, and I think the macroeconomic case is that higher rates of estate taxes lead to less capital formation, and thus less aggregate wealth, "in the long run," but that's only the economics.

I find all of it coercive and arbitrary beyond a certain point. I previously asked, or intended to ask (don't want to start lying again) 'what principle allows voters to limit what a citizen can make or keep but prevents voters from limiting abortion or the right of others (blacks, just to make the point) to vote?' and got no takers, or at least none that I noticed. Apologies to anyone I overlooked.

The answer is, there isn't one, or at least no one that holds up under analysis. Instead, we have a constitution that limits voters and if there isn't a constitutional limit, voters can do whatever they damn well please. Which gets me back to my question. I chose abortion and black suffrage for a reason. The former is constitutionally protected until the court composition changes, the latter is in the express language of the constitution. Before everyone gets all worked up over the wisdom of the voters, think about what you want voters doing after Roe gets pitched, assuming that happens someday.

Not just you. Everyone. Walmart doesn't happen without roads.

Right. We need government. However, some here seem to argue that, having consented to government in some form, people like me have necessarily consented to government in virtually every form. I'm a big fan of constitutionally limited government.

Ugh,

I have no clue what "assets" are "in trust" for the descendants of old Joe Kennedy, but I suspect they include stocks, i.e. shares of ownership in "going business concerns". Especially if we subscribe to the notion that "capital" is what makes "going business concerns" possible, so that they can manufacture jobs, I think "financial instruments" are no more and no less virtuous than any "family business".

McTX: The employer gets to make the workplace rules.

True. And that's what makes concentrations of wealth inimical to democracy. Left to itself, The Free Market can winnow "employers" down to a small cabal of workplace-rule setters whose notions of "patriotism" among other things may be entirely distasteful to job-consuming working stiffs like you and me.

--TP

...having consented to government in some form, people like me have necessarily consented to government in virtually every form.

How so? Who here is suggesting you should be summarily executed (or whatever)? We're talking about tax rates on really high incomes. And why is it people like you, particularly? Like you in what way?

"I'd also say that we're again talking about whether taxation in general is morally wrong, not what rates should apply and when."

I think the discussion is about what taxation should pay for, thus whether above some amount of it is morally wrong. We have a document defining the what that is interpreted within our system by the courts and Congress.

If the government taxes to pay for things outside that compact is that immoral?

Once the agreement is reached that the spend is within that agreement the how much and who becomes a simpler question. IMO.

government creates the opportunity to make money

"Government" does much more than that I should think (as has been repeatedly pointed out). It creates the money, creating net financial assets in the private sector. It establishes the ground rules that must be adhered to to make the money. It allocates resources to enforcing those rules (rob the local 7-11, do time; rob your employee's wages...most likely will get away with it). Sometimes, it prevents us from spending it any way we want to (bribing public officials, for example), and it also taxes it. Yes, taxes are real!

Your financial journey takes place enmeshed in a web of government imposed restraints, rules, and regulations. The right to make and keep as much money as you can is, to coin a term, rightfully subject to social, legal, political and moral norms.

You seem to be arguing that since the unlimited acquisition of financial wealth is legal (seems to be currently true) it is therefore right (the moral claim)...right because it is legal.

This seems....a bit circular.

(con't)Well, yeah. But the counter to this is we can, and rightfully so, change the rules. The question is, would this be good or harmful?

I shall leave the Pareto principle for another day!

Provided it has a compelling interest to do so, yes. What I think we're discussing is whether that compelling interest exists. Of course, that would depend on the specifics of what that government wants to do (if I can put it terms of the government having desire and agency for the sake of brevity), which is a more practical question, along the lines of "does it promote the general welfare?".

Ok, if this comes across as contentious, that's not the intent: are you saying, "government's existence justifies its actions if the actions are sufficiently warranted and if the object of the government's actions would not exist but for the government?

Here's my criticism: today's majority might think income capping is the single most important issue there is. Tomorrow's majority might think mandatory multi-family dwelling is essential. And so on. Basically, if one can articulate chicken and egg relationship between government and any human endeavor and also articulate a compelling reason, there is no limit what to a simple majority can do. Problematic in my view.

Surfacing to say that I really enjoyed reading this discussion.

DIVE DIVE

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Yeah, but that's why we DO have a constitution. I don't see a constitutional argument against near-confiscatory tax rates on very high incomes. Pretending we don't have a constitution for the sake of argument is fun, but we do have one, and it prevents the sorts of things you're describing, which is kind of the point of having it.

And forget a simple majority. A well-armed minority might decide a lot of weird things should happen.

True. And that's what makes concentrations of wealth inimical to democracy. Left to itself, The Free Market can winnow "employers" down to a small cabal of workplace-rule setters whose notions of "patriotism" among other things may be entirely distasteful to job-consuming working stiffs like you and me.

Or politically correct SJW concentration camps. Unfortunately, business are already creating politically charged cultures, creating all kinds of issues.

You seem to be arguing that since the unlimited acquisition of financial wealth is legal (seems to be currently true) it is therefore right (the moral claim)...right because it is legal.

This seems....a bit circular.

Not saying that the right or proper or correct thing is the unlimited accretion of wealth. I said so above. I'm saying that, money earned legally, after paying reasonable levels of tax, is property that the person making the money has a right to keep. Even if it's big f'ing shitpile of money. I'm not a fan of conspicuous consumption or accumulating money for it's own sake. I also don't like cats. Doesn't mean people can't own as many as they want as long as they take care of them.

Pollo, it has certainly vastly exceeded my expectations!

money earned legally, after paying reasonable levels of tax, is property that the person making the money has a right to keep [Emphasis added]

And there is the crux right there: what constitutes "reasonable" levels?

...is property that the person making the money has a right to keep. Even if it's big f'ing shitpile of money.

Does this just apply to money or wealth in general? I pay property taxes every year, regardless of what I make in income. Those taxes amount to about 3% of the value of my house (of which I only really own about 1/3, with the rest belonging to a bank).

Really? It isn't my money? I'm harming others by having it? Would you mind explaining?

I think it's been done already, hence my observation, but here:

I earned the money legally

"Money", "earned" and "legal" are all social constructions here.

Money is a medium of debt that seems pretty useful, and crops up all the time, but what it is, who can have it, what it can be used for, etc. is all subject to the whims and rules of society, and can change.

Same for how it can be legally earned. Is charging interest legal? Making money from the labor of others? Making money off of things you own that you can't actually keep on your person? Making money above a certain safe, unobnoxious amount? Whichever way those questions are answered, the rules are equally artificial.

Only a very, very small bit of the structure around ownership and money could in any way be considered "natural". The rest is, essentially, a matter of utility. We allow the charging of interest these days because it serves a useful function in the dispensation of credit. We don't allow charging too much sometimes, because it can be abused. Etc.

and paid the tax on it

Since we're basically talking about how much tax you would (in future) owe on it, this seems like begging the question. If you paid 40% tax on it, but the tax owed was 80% or 100%, then no, you didn't pay the tax on it.

therefore it is mine.

Again, a construction of the society and government you live in and under. If some 'wacko' anarcholibertarians or whatever took over and said that there was no longer any concept of private property outside what you could actually carry on your person, I don't see any intrinsic moral grounds on which you could object -- anything beyond that is essentially only 'your property' in the sense that the government (i.e., your fellow citizens) have agreed to keep track of it for you when you're not around.

Having that money puts no one at risk. It harms no one.

As I have repeatedly pointed out, this is not true.

I mean, I'd concede it on your personal case - I'm sure you're well below the kinds of thresholds of dangerous wealth we're talking about. But it's the dose that makes the poison.

Large concentrations of wealth, like gravity, distort markets, policy and society around them, impinging on the freedom of the rest of us to live our lives without this influence.

It's within our rights to say 'enough'.

I don't see a constitutional argument against near-confiscatory tax rates on very high incomes.

The 5th and 14th amendments both prohibit depriving a citizen of property without due process of law and the 14th amendment addresses equal protection under the law. So, here's your constitutional argument: the 16th amendment doesn't authorize a progressive tax scheme nor does it authorize confiscation via taxation. I concede that the former has passed constitutional muster as has, I presume, a 90% marginal rate. At one time 'separate but equal' passed muster, so winning the point doesn't mean the constitution, as written, is being followed. My argument is that Gov't's power to tax cannot extend to deprivation because deprivation requires due process. Further, by singling out a minority that is, by definition, out-voted, that minority is being denied equal protection under the law.

So, there is an argument to be made. There are counter arguments--there always are.

I previously asked, or intended to ask (don't want to start lying again) 'what principle allows voters to limit what a citizen can make or keep but prevents voters from limiting abortion or the right of others (blacks, just to make the point) to vote?' and got no takers, or at least none that I noticed. Apologies to anyone I overlooked.

I accept your apology. For my part (I think there were others as well), see my comment of May 23, 2018 at 02:59 PM.

McTX: 'what principle allows voters to limit what a citizen can make or keep but prevents voters from limiting abortion or the right of others (blacks, just to make the point) to vote?' and got no takers, or at least none that I noticed.

Okay, I'll take a shot at that.

The "principle" is, way down at the bottom, power. If enough Americans decide, in the future, to forbid black people to vote or to forbid women from aborting pregnancies, neither a document from the past nor a consensus among Americans today will be able to stop them. Violent revolt by black people and women might, but violent revolt is a lot of fuss and bother for everyone concerned.

Likewise, if enough Americans decide someday that $1M of annual income or $1B of wealth is "enough" for anybody, then the poor put-upon minority of multi-billionaires will just have to lump it.

If we prefer to elevate ourselves above the need to settle things by violence and discuss "principles" in the ordinary sense, we might note that "rich" is distinguishable from "black" or "female" on the basis of what's voluntary and what isn't. I will grant that avarice may be congenital, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

--TP

Serious question: can you give me some examples? Are you thinking of the transition from feudalism via the Renaissance?

Sure, I'll try.

Market economies, I think, don't really need demonstration. People have been buying, selling, and trading for as long as we have a record of human activity, as far as I know.

Capital formation is the accumulation of the means of production. Which people have likewise been doing forever, whether in their own interest, or co-operatively as a community, or under the aegis of a government.

Capital accumulation in private hands goes back in Europe to probably 13th and 14th C city-states, especially in Italy. Maybe earlier.

Those were merchant economies, not capitalist in the form we think of now. Similar institutions - merchant associations - go back to Roman times. I'm sure they existed in most advanced civilizations.

Trading as a basic human activity - buy stuff cheap here, sell it there where it's expensive - is as old as human history. Individuals and communities of people built wealth that way, some of which was surplus to immediate need and was saved or invested in the means to produce and trade more and further.

The 5th and 14th amendments both prohibit depriving a citizen of property without due process of law and the 14th amendment addresses equal protection under the law.

Passing a tax rate would seem to meet the threshold for "due process of law." Right?

And if the (marginal) tax rate applies to everyone with income above the set threshold, that would appear to address "equal protection." (As you say, it can be argue that maybe it shouldn't. But the Courts have ruled that progressive income taxes are not a violation.)

Further, by singling out a minority that is, by definition, out-voted, that minority is being denied equal protection under the law.

I don't think this passes muster. There's nothing unequal going on here at all.

Every single person is equally prohibited from earning more than $X (or equally subject to a 100% tax on earnings above $X, or however it's formulated)*.

And before you start, 'rich people' are not even remotely a protected class. (Well, they protect themselves pretty well, but you know what I mean.)

If you're not seeing the problem here, maybe you can help me figure out how the reasoning you're using couldn't be applied verbatim to, say, bank robbery.

"As a minority, bank robbers are, by definition, outvoted and that minority is being denied equal protection under the law."

Hell, that's probably a stronger argument: unlike the rich, you at least have a nice record of the historical persecution of bank robbers...

----
* For irony, I remind you of the old saw about rich and poor being equally prohibited from sleeping under public bridges...

And there is the crux right there: what constitutes "reasonable" levels?

Well, the original point was a cap on wealth and a 100% tax on income at a certain point. I've tried to demonstrate that neither is reasonable nor desirable.

I don't like limits of any kind for all of the reasons previously stated. It is not at all clear to me that income inequality or the 1% or the 9.9% or any of the other very recent constructs mean much, or that they are in any way pernicious. So, the premise that 'something must be done about all of this accumulation" remains to be proven.

I do enjoy the back and forth and I've taken off virtually the entire day to do this. I'll probably have to sign off for a time after today. Still chasing that filthy lucre.

Does this just apply to money or wealth in general? I pay property taxes every year, regardless of what I make in income. Those taxes amount to about 3% of the value of my house (of which I only really own about 1/3, with the rest belonging to a bank).

Both. Wealth is what's left after you pay your income tax. Property tax is a local phenomena (local but universal as best I can tell) and I pay a bunch too, plus I pay tax in about 15 other states because I have imputed income from those states. What I like about property tax is that the taxpayer's vote is much less attenuated than with federal taxes. But, that's probably just me.

"Money", "earned" and "legal" are all social constructions here.

And

It's within our rights to say 'enough'.

And everything in between, IMO, can be shortened to, "we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, if enough of us want to do so." Which, in practice, would produce a revolution and not a nice one.

What we have--I think--is an agreed set of rules and a social contract that has been evolving for 250 years or thereabouts, almost entirely for the better. It is a contract that millions of people depend on. One of the things many of us depend on is stability, including the stability that flows from a constitutionally limited government. I don't buy into your theory of government or what I take to be your views of what a better society would look like.

the answer to this question is a foregone conclusion, because this is how our culture produces things

bingo

The larger picture is that if everyone is capped at X then your economy is never more than X times the population.

US GDP per capita is a little under $60K.

We got some headroom. :)

And everything in between, IMO, can be shortened to, "we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, if enough of us want to do so."

Which, over the long view of history is nothing but the plain truth. We have rules and norms for a time, sometimes for thousands of years, but sometimes bits of those rules get widely recognized as harmful, and get altered. Others drift and change for no particular reason at all. Nothing is static forever.

Which, in practice, would produce a revolution and not a nice one.

It's unclear what this means. If an income cap were lawfully and constitutionally enacted, it'd produce a bloody backlash from the rich?

Maybe.

A bloody backlash in the opposite direction is equally likely if things continue as they are. It's not without precedent.

One of the things many of us depend on is stability, including the stability that flows from a constitutionally limited government. I don't buy into your theory of government or what I take to be your views of what a better society would look like.

Nothing anyone's proposed here is incompatible with constitutionally limited government.

Those were merchant economies, not capitalist in the form we think of now.

Note the confluence of technology (steam) and the unlocking of those carbon resources (coal, oil) and the erection of the capitalist economy and its associated ideological edifice of endless accumulation. (1750-1850*).

Naturally, this was all due to the discovery of the Natural Law that states, "It's mine, and I have every right to f*cking keep it!"

How did the ancients ever get anything done? It is a wonder.

Cart? Horse? Pareto disequilibrium?**

*Also to be mentioned the economic "take off" resulting from the plundering of the New World by the Old, and the construction of the Slave Trade.

**made that up. Sorry.

Slow day at the office today, McKinney?

If the top marginal tax rate on income (not wealth) over $100M per annum was 80%, does anyone think that significant harm would come to the economy as a whole?

Note that I'm not talking about 80% on $100M, I'm talking about 80% on whatever you make above $100M. In a year.

What if it was $50M per annum? Income, not wealth?

I don't even know if it would be worth doing, I'm not sure what we would net out of that as federal revenue.

I'm just asking, just to see if there's any imaginable regime that would be acceptable to the traditional capitalists among us.

You know, if we had public policies that tended to discourage the accumulation of such wealth to begin with, we wouldn't be having this conversation, right?

McTX: Unfortunately, business are already creating politically charged cultures, creating all kinds of issues.

Heh. I think McKinney is squirming on his own petard here.

Does Dick (is there a Dick?) of Dick's Sporting Goods not own the commercial empire he built? Does he have less of a right to decide his "going business concern" will poke the "gun culture" in the eye than the god-botherers who own Hobby Lobby have to give the finger to their women job consumers? I mean, we're talking capital here. We're talking wealth (presumably vastly greater than McKinney's) exercising its god-given power. If that is "unfortunate", then maybe McKinney is starting to catch on.

--TP

Italics clean-up on page 3, please.

--TP

Done -- wj

I accept your apology. For my part (I think there were others as well), see my comment of May 23, 2018 at 02:59 PM.

Yep, missed it but now I have it. I think I inferentially addressed your position by noting subsequently that I was couching the question independent of the constitution and for specific reasons. I agree that there are constitutional reasons why, today, abortion and black suffrage are not subject to the vote. I will address TP's point next, which is more in line with the intent of the question I originally framed.

The "principle" is, way down at the bottom, power.

Yep, if "power" is a principle, that's the answer to the question.

Trading as a basic human activity - buy stuff cheap here, sell it there where it's expensive - is as old as human history. Individuals and communities of people built wealth that way, some of which was surplus to immediate need and was saved or invested in the means to produce and trade more and further

Ok, thanks for this. We have a conceptual difference. I agree, the Phoenicians were running around and before them maybe the Tartessians and who knows who else back to the dawn of time. Obsidian from the foot of some volcano winds up in the Texas panhandle. Vintners and bakers sold their stuff. I get that and I take your point. My point, now that I look back was somewhat obscure. I will elaborate in the unlikely event I continue to hold your attention.

I have a fairly conventional view of history, so for me, by the late 18th century (or thereabouts), the inception of the modern industrial economy, fueled by what I think of as proto capitalism was well underway. And with that, coupled with the ensuing, much more rapidly evolving and relatively liberal rule of law and coupled further with proto democracy (white men only), you had the seed crystals of modern liberal democracy which, IMO, could only exist in the context of a capitalistically generated market economy, i.e. an economy that depends on the accumulation and reinvestment of excess funds with minimal to no government interface. My short hand for the foregoing is "capitalism".

Passing a tax rate would seem to meet the threshold for "due process of law." Right?

Well, no. Due process means, literally, "notice and a hearing, i.e. the right to be heard" but it is in the judicial context. The original constitution, except for its enumerated taxing powers and eminent domain, does not envision confiscating citizen's property. Confiscation would come only after due course of law and a trial, meaning some legal basis for a forfeiture and a trial to establish the evidence in support of the legal basis. The 16th amendment doesn't speak to confiscation, only to taxation. Taxation to the point of confiscation is a fairly recent talking point tied into the inequality issues that are now in vogue.

I don't think this passes muster. There's nothing unequal going on here at all.

Every single person is equally prohibited from earning more than $X (or equally subject to a 100% tax on earnings above $X, or however it's formulated)*.

The fact that only a small minority are committing this economic crime in the first place means nothing? The fact that, as TP acknowledges, it is a straight up power thing in which the majority outvotes the minority, eludes you?

What we have--I think--is an agreed set of rules and a social contract that has been evolving for 250 years or thereabouts, almost entirely for the better. It is a contract that millions of people depend on.

That's a pretty shitty contract for 90% of the people, OK for 9% and awesome for 1% - I guess the 1% could afford better lawyers...

I don't think even McKinney believes his equal-protection argument.

What we have--I think--is an agreed set of rules and a social contract that has been evolving for 250 years or thereabouts, almost entirely for the better. It is a contract that millions of people depend on. One of the things many of us depend on is stability, including the stability that flows from a constitutionally limited government.

Just going over this again to see if I have this straight.

Off the top of my head, some changes over the past 250 years: the end of chattel slavery; women, black people and others obtaining for themselves the right to vote and, at least in principle, the ability to participate in work other aspects of society; the adoption of a progressive income tax as one of the primary revenue sources of the federal government; the creation of public schools and universities; the creation of national parks; the formation of public assistance schemes like unemployment insurance, social security, medicare and others; the recognition of the harm of trusts and monopolies and the adoption of laws against them (albeit spottily enforced); the adoption of standing armies, a draft or two, a couple of nuclear bombs (and a whole lot of conventional ones) used against civilian populations; a brief trip to the friggin' Moon. In the background: the transition of the United States from a handful of sleepy, agrarian, slave trading estates on the East Coast to a continent-wide industrial empire with global economic and military power.

In short, a lot of major changes. Some in the form of bona fide constitutional amendments, or even wars. And there's plenty I've missed.

If we took Jefferson, or Adams, or the unnamed slave whose skilled labor kept the distillery on some Carolina plantation somewhere running, and brought them forward in time, gave them a week or two to watch some CNN and get the lay of the land, then asked for their opinion... Well, I think they'd have no qualms in saying our society and government isn't much like the one we plucked them from. Not very much at all.

And yet. After all those changes and upheavals, the one change that would be a bridge too far, the one change that would be so unprecedented as to just necessarily bring the whole edifice of stable constitutional government crashing to a halt and forever breaking it for all time, because if people change this they could just change anything... That one change would be any kind of limitation on the arbitrarily large accumulation of wealth.

...

Right.

Nothing anyone's proposed here is incompatible with constitutionally limited government.

Where does the state have the right to confiscate anyone's property for no better reason that the people so voted?

Slow day at the office today, McKinney?

Kind of. Also, since this is the first, mostly civil, non-Trump infused topic and discussion, the timing was right. I will have some catching up to do and it will probably be drive-by's for the next several months if not longer. I don't see many weeks like this. Hitting the links tomorrow afternoon, so I'll be thinking of you.

I'm just asking, just to see if there's any imaginable regime that would be acceptable to the traditional capitalists among us.

It depends on the purpose of the tax increase. I think principles do matter. One principle I'm not on board with is getting down on someone for having too much, even if I think there most definitely is such a thing as 'too much.'

That said, for the right reasons, I would jack up the marginal rates at various levels, but I would do it for very real reasons. Stand by for a thread jack and one that I will not be able to defend after about an hour or less: after adjusting SS--pain will be inflicted--to make it solvent in the out years, and after capping all federal spending at current levels except Medicare/Medicaid, I would impose a 1 dollar a gallon tax on gas at the pump specifically dedicated to deficit reduction and I would add additional marginal rates at 5, 10, 20 and 50M of 45, 55, 65 and 75%, again only for debt reduction. Once the budget was balanced, I'd revert to 40% max. Also, cap gains would kick in at 3 years and would drop on assets held more than 5 years. I would want to encourage long term investment by taxing gains on same very favorably. Have at it.

Does Dick (is there a Dick?) of Dick's Sporting Goods not own the commercial empire he built? Does he have less of a right to decide his "going business concern" will poke the "gun culture" in the eye than the god-botherers who own Hobby Lobby have to give the finger to their women job consumers? I mean, we're talking capital here. We're talking wealth (presumably vastly greater than McKinney's) exercising its god-given power. If that is "unfortunate", then maybe McKinney is starting to catch on.

No squirming here, Amigo. Dick's can do whatever it wants. I'm more concerned with corporate cultures that openly prefer one viewpoint over another. I don't know what, if anything, can or should be done about it. I'm concerned about a lot of things that fall far short of being the proper subject of state action.

Italics clean-up on page 3, please.

No kidding! I can't get them out. What's up?
No clue. There was a < / i > there and everything. But it was being ignored. Finally had to put another one in. -- wj

Right.

We have a substantial and fundamentally different view of history.

And now they--the italics--are gone. So am I. Later. It was fun.

The fact that only a small minority are committing this economic crime in the first place means nothing? The fact that, as TP acknowledges, it is a straight up power thing in which the majority outvotes the minority, eludes you?

I'm with HSH: Do you actually expect us to take this seriously?

Larger numbers of people who prefer option A outvoting smaller numbers of people who prefer option B, and winning via the principle of a "straight up power thing", is simply how democratic government works*.

If we all vote on where we're going to dinner and you want pizza but the majority votes for Thai, the fact that you find yourself in a temporary 'minority' of dissenters who lost the vote does not automatically make you some kind of persecuted minority.

To grant that it does would set fire to both the concepts of minority classes and democracy itself.

----
* Yes, this is and should be regulated and moderated by some kind of overarching constitutional scheme, but the constitution of a democracy does not and cannot simply prevent any change that some people don't want. There's got to be an actual reason the change is wrong...

So, there is an argument to be made.

and here i thought you weren't going to argue the constitutionality of taxes.

RULE OF LAW! RULE OF LAW! TYRANNY!

STFU, 4E, GOP.

What we have--I think--is an agreed set of rules and a social contract that has been evolving for 250 years or thereabouts, almost entirely for the better. It is a contract that millions of people depend on. One of the things many of us depend on is stability, including the stability that flows from a constitutionally limited government.

And what we are discussing here is another possible step in said evolution. And not, be it noted, an unprecedented one -- see the top marginal rates in the middle of the last century. No argument that it is worth arguing whether this particular step is a good idea, either as a practical or moral matter. But it's nothing like a radical change in the way we have done things.

Good morning all, just woke up and my, we've been busy bees. McT is in his golf cart, but I'd just ask him to take a look back over the thread and note that my first comment was simply identifying what he had posted earlier and I only commented again after he called me by name.

After italics clean up, the other thing I provide for free is the space to reconsider your arguments. If you don't think it is worth anything, that's your loss, not mine...

One principle I'm not on board with is getting down on someone for having too much, even if I think there most definitely is such a thing as 'too much.'

There is doubtless some of that going on. But not much here. It doesn't (at least to me) appear to be unhappiness with people having wealth so much with as what some of them are doing with it. Specifically, what they are doing that results in their being able to get more, while others are suffering from less.

That's why you will find people speaking ill of, for example, the Koch brothers but not of Warren Buffett. Not just because they disagree philosophically with them, although that does enter in to it. But because the perception (feel free to argue that it is wrong) is that the Koch brothers are working specifically and particularly to make themselves yet better off. Whereas Buffett is working at something he enjoys, while letting his wealth get spent (via the Gates Foundation, IIRC) to help others.

Where does the state have the right to confiscate anyone's property for no better reason that the people so voted?

Any change of law in a democracy could be said to happen "for no better reason than that the people so voted". Characterizing votes that way is nonsensical.

Obviously, if the people so vote, then they have their reasons. There are definitely some plausibly good ones they could use for voting for reducing wealth accumulation, if it ever came to that.

Now, as to whether the specific right to 'confiscate' earnings or wealth above a certain level, exists in the Constitution at present, I don't know. I'm not entirely sold on such a scheme myself, and would tend to favor simply a very high upper marginal tax rate, along with aggressive enforcement of anti-trust laws, corporate ethics codes, etc.

But if you wanted one, I'm not sure there aren't plausible avenues. For one, the 'confiscate' bit assumes you have it in the first place -- but it's not clear to me that, say, making it illegal to earn the billionth and first dollar would necessarily be the same as confiscating it. (And if you do, of course there'd be a court proceeding at the end of which it would be duly seized.)

But note that I didn't specify the current Constitution. The Constitution itself makes provisions for its own adjustment, and this has happened once or twice before. Those changes do not appear to have brought an end to constitutionally limited government,
despite happening, essentially, because the people so voted, and I don't see any particular reason to think another one would, if it were deemed necessary by enough people.

Good morning to you, lj, and thanks for the clean-up.

On the good capitalist principle that it's better to teach a man to fish, could you (re)post whatever magic incantation (if any) we garden-variety commenters can use to fix our own italics screw-ups?

--TP

How to remove italics issues?

First, try using Preview and looking at it. (Something that I fail to do all too often!)
Second, if it's someone else who has made the mess, try putting a < / i > at the beginning of your own post to flush it out. (Extra's of those can't do any harm.) Note that it may require a < / em > instead, depending on how the italics were created originally.
If it still doesn't go away, you're stuck waiting AFAICT.

What wj said, but I went and fixed the closing tag in the comment that was problematic while wj added closing tags to the his own comment, underlining the fact that you can drop as many closing tags as you like and it won't cause any problems. I usually only do that when there is a link that is screwed up, but since I wanted to post a comment, I did it this time. Again, totally free.

wj,

I never hit "Post" except from "Preview" mode, but of course the "looking at it" part is key. I think this may be the 2nd time in 10 years that I looked, but did not see. Thanks for the tips!

--TP

Tony, actually, it wasn't your comment, it was a comment before yours that caused the problem.

Only a small minority of people commit the crime of (fill in the blank - “murder” if you want to be over the top)...

Wouldn’t want to outvote the murderers!!!

And, no, I’m not equating people with tons of money or huge incomes with murderers, but this oppressed-minority notion applies. Usually, when one speaks of minorities in this way, it’s based on something more intrinsic to the person, very often by birth and unavoidable.

Have been out too much and haven't gotten caught up, but after a quick dip --

Where does the state have the right to confiscate anyone's property for no better reason that the people so voted?

Confiscate is such a loaded word.

But -- there's the not-obscure concept of eminent domain, just for starters.

And -- is property law somehow more sacred than tax law?

"Mine" has various possible meanings, from the law of the jungle (it's "mine" because I took it and I'm strong enough to keep it), to however it's defined within an actual legal system.

Given the existence of tax laws, it doesn't even make sense to say that the government / the voters took something of "mine." If I owe it in taxes, according to the law it was never "mine" in the first place.

Or, to go back to my rivers/lakes/oceans metaphor (yes, all metaphors have their limits), tax law could be envisioned as being like a community regulating how much of a particular resource -- water, buying power, whatever -- I'm allowed to fence off as "mine."

I'm glad that wj started this discussion, since it gives me a chance to (further) advance my own taxation hobbyhorse:

LOW (zero?) taxation on wages/salaries.
MEDIUM taxation on dividends/interest/royalties/estates
HIGH taxation on capital gains.

That would get a bit closer to a "wealth tax", without directly taxing the wealth; all of the above privileges money earned by the sweat of ones brow, rather than "passive" income, and has the extra benefit of preventing economic bubbles.

I think there was some very early (c. 1790) USSC judge that declared that "the power to tax is the power to destroy". And Congress certainly has the power to tax. So talking about tax rates in apocalyptic terms has been baked into the debates from the very beginning.

it can be interesting to read the actual statements of the founders on these issues. not that we are bound to agree with them, or follow their example, but just to get a sense of what they had in mind.

in general, i think they were not in favor of public redistribution of wealth.

and in general, i think they were very much against accumulations of great wealth in privte hands. oddly, perhaps, given that many of them were rich.

not my field, really, but my sense is that they envisioned a broad base of ownership. land, mostly, in their time.

grow your own!

but speculative finance capital being the dominant force in the ecoomy that it is now would, i think, make them puke.

some trees of liberty might even get watered.

John Adams.

and in general, i think they were very much against accumulations of great wealth in privte hands. oddly, perhaps, given that many of them were rich.

George Washington, only recently beaten out by him who can not be named, was the second wealthiest president followed by Thomas Jefferson.

List of Presidents of the United States by net worth

Thomas Jefferson died in debt. Not sure what that list means.

He lived large, to be sure.

John F. Kennedy is second in this list.

The 10 Richest U.S. Presidents: With Donald Trump set to become the richest president in U.S. history, we look back to see who were the richest ever occupants of the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy is second in this list.

This I find plausible (although, again, with TJ so high on the list, I don't really trust the list).

I see that my second link refers to Joe Kennedy as being a bootlegger which he very likely was not.

Also, the lists are different, CharlesWT. Seems like if the list is significant, it should get its act together. :)

I suspect there's a bit of handwaving when trying to pin net worths to historical figures.

There's quite a bit of handwaving involved in trying to pin a net worth to even the current occupant of the old casa blanca.

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/10/money-measure-everything-pricing-progress/543345/

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/

how i fix italics:

write a post that contains this at the start:
</p></em></p></i>
</p></em></p></i>

that is: end a paragraph, turn off 'em' italics, end a paragraph, turn off 'i' italics, repeat.

and then cast the incantation: Italiexo!.

Good ol' Pempi!

Or, to go back to my rivers/lakes/oceans metaphor (yes, all metaphors have their limits), tax law could be envisioned as being like a community regulating how much of a particular resource -- water, buying power, whatever -- I'm allowed to fence off as "mine."

Interesting to note that in the case of actual rivers, a subject on which the Constitution is silent, there are wildly varying rules in different states based on a veritable pantheon of made-up legal principles. I'm particularly fond of two. One likens a river to a turkey running through the woods (which led to some fairly dumb decisions, but at least the judge was poetic). The other is Texas, where they simply declared naturally occurring surface waters to be the property of the state, to be distributed as the state sees fit. During the last big drought, the state decided that farmers in certain areas should be put out of business in order to keep some electric generating plants running.

Re: riparian law, there are two main sources in the USA: English (where walking across a field would result in a series of small ponds forming in your footsteps), and Spanish (where OMFG, this wet stuff is rare and precious!).

If humanity ever makes it to space in a big way, I expect there to be similar developments for stuff like 'air', that would seem completely alien to groundhuggers.

If humanity ever makes it to space in a big way, I expect there to be similar developments for stuff like 'air', that would seem completely alien to groundhuggers.

A Heinlein excerpt:

“Was Earthside once and heard expression, ‘Free as air.’ This air isn’t free, you pay for every breath.”

“Really? No one has asked me to pay to breathe.” He smiled. “Perhaps I should stop.”

“Can happen, you almost breathed vacuum tonight. But nobody asks you because you’ve paid. For you, is part of round-trip ticket; for me it’s a quarterly charge.”

The other is Texas, where they simply declared naturally occurring surface waters to be the property of the state, to be distributed as the state sees fit.

Too bad it's only surface waters. I read a fascinating article a few years ago on the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, and what it was going to mean for farming in America, and how T Boone Pickens was plundering it (main link to some info below the extract):

A Texas law granting landowners unrestricted rights to the water beneath their property makes it possible for Pickens to sell groundwater from his 24,000-acre Mesa Vista Ranch in the Texas panhandle to metropolises as far away as Dallas and El Paso

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-ogallala-aquifer/

Property rights - or the lack thereof - surrounding water are always in the back of my mind in discussions like these.

There are just so many approaches, and most of them -- at least in the US West -- are kind of a historical mess which is leading to all sorts of trouble these days.

I despair of fixing them, but at least they are a vivid illustration of just exactly how made up and arbitrary property rights are, including the allocations of income and wealth which flow therefrom.

@Michael Cain -- as a side story, this reminds me of something that happened when I lived north of Milwaukee, on Lake Michigan. It took place more than 30 years ago, so I may be misremembering some details, but the gist applies.

A guy who owned a place a few houses north of us decided to start building a "jetty" (aka mountain/peninsula) in an attempt to stop his bank from eroding into the lake. (Of course, the bank was eroding in the first place mostly because he, or a previous owner, had stupidly cut the trees for the sake of the view.)

The neighbors to the south of him, fearing that his peninsula would stop the south-flowing sediment that offset normal erosion from their banks, triggering more serious erosion downstream of him, got a committee together to try to figure out how to stop him.

I moved away not long after this started, so I never heard how it turned out, but there was a legal battle brewing that involved federal, state, county, and town governments, all with various jurisdictional roles. The feds (represented by the Army Corps of Engineers), the state, and the county all had distinct responsibilities relating to the lake, and the town, at the very least, could issue (or not) permits for the hundreds of dump trucks of fill the guy was bringing in.

It was a mess. But meanwhile, the trucks kept coming.....

There have been local battles in Maine over selling water rights to Poland Spring, which was once a local Maine company and is now owned by Nestle.

The first time I went to Ireland (1979) (or was it the second...1990), there was a fight going on over some entrepreneur's plan/desire to ship water from Ireland to the Middle East. The proponents kept shouting "Jobs! JOBS! THIS WILL CREATE JOBS for Irish people!" I think the total # of jobs was going to be ... maybe 21? And naturally no one really knew what the effect on the local ecology would have been to withdraw the quantities of surface water they were talking about.

Then there's the notion of watering dry places with water from the Great Lakes.....

And in California, one of the biggest on-going political battles (for over half a century to my personal knowledge) is over shipping water from Northern California to Southern California. There are enormous canals running down the Central Valley to LA.** LA, which is in a desert, but where transplants from the far wetter East want to have the same kind of water-hungry green lawns that they grew up with.

The current battle involves a tunnel under the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta to transport yet more water south. At noone really knows what impact to either the Delta or the San Francisco Bay. But the prospect of something like what happened to the Colorado River (essentially zero water reaches the sea) is not appealing.

** To be fair, the cities around the San Francisco Bay also pipe most of their water from the Sierra Nevada snowpacks. But it is far less controversial.

LA, which is in a desert, but where transplants from the far wetter East want to have the same kind of water-hungry green lawns that they grew up with.

That happened in Phoenix too, right? Or Arizona in general? Also, my understanding is that all those easterners who came out partly to get away from their allergies ended up bringing in the same old plants (not just grassy lawns) and starting the whole cycle all over again.

Who designed the human race, anyhow? ;-)

There have been local battles in Maine...

Long ago, when I lived in NJ and there was a moderate drought (by western standards, an extended dry spell rather than a drought), it was entertaining to listen to all of the local water districts in the Delaware River basin who thought they had plenty of water in their reservoirs howl when they learned that a many-year-old interstate water compact required them to make large releases into the river to keep the salt line below Philadelphia's intake pipes.

More recently, I'm greatly enjoying Georgia's court cases over sharing with Alabama and Florida, and attempting to correct a surveying error on the state border made in 1818 that keeps them from diverting water from the Tennessee River to Atlanta.

I live in Colorado, which is in court regularly when we are sued (or are suing) over the seven interstate river compacts we operate under. It's hard to keep track, but I think we (a) have settled with Kansas, (b) are being sued by Texas, and (c) are threatening to sue Arizona.

Something just read, the Srnicek

Amazon web services, almost entirely b2b

"AWS is now the most rapidly growing part of Amazon – and also the most profitable, with about 30 per cent margins"

30% margins from business customers. What do grocery stores get, a couple percent. The difference is the gullibility of entrepreneurs, the soggy brains of those who think they are special and deserve different outcomes. These people are great marks.

Private business and the market is stupid corrupt, inefficient, and incredibly wasteful...more so than gov'ts.

The accounting and economics is designed to disguise the worthlessness of the free enterprise system, eg the long term DOW numbers and indices don't include the cos that fail and are dropped.

30% margins from business customers. What do grocery stores get, a couple percent. The difference is the gullibility of entrepreneurs

Hogwash. The difference is competition. Groceries are available from multiple local outlets. A grocery store which charges more than those around it better have a really got reason to show their customers. And if they try to run at more than a couple of percent profit, someone else (probably someone already in the business with established supply chains) will come along and undercut them.

For things like web services, there are a very limited number of providers. And demand is exploding. So competition is limited. Result: high prices. It doesn't really matter whether the provider is a small number of businesses or a small number (or just one) of governments** -- lack of competition produces higher prices.

** Sorry if that conflicts with your communist philosophy. But that's what the data shows.

How Capitalism Tamed Medieval Europe: Knights and their wars get a lot of attention, but the merchant was the real hero of the European Middle Ages.

As I understand it, grocery stores make 1 or 2% on SALES. That's a very different thing from ROI. If you sell $1.00M of inventory for $1.02M, once, you have a tiny profit. If you do it 50 times a year, you make $1M annual gross profit on your $1M inventory investment. Sure, you have to pay wages, rent, etc. out of that gross profit, so your ROI is considerably less than 100% annually. But it's still a long way from 1-2%.

--TP

Oh hell, shouldn't

wj is talking about monopoly profits intellectual rents temp gains to innovation and first mover advantages

the question is why b's will pay that exorbitant fee when it can only gain them a short term advantage are their profits so small or declining that they need to take this risk wherefore this capitalist desire

well, yeah. Monopoly capitalism, or post-(MP) directly causes declining profits in the other capitals while simultaneously instilling that very irrational exuberance and overconfidence we saw in 1928 and 2006 as coattails of tech change get incompetent dependents

and that irrational overconfidence we saw in 1914 and 1937 and 2002

Knights and their wars get a lot of attention, but the merchant was the real hero of the European Middle Ages.

As regards the decline of knights as a military institution, I think the real hero might be the crossbow. Pierces armor, at a distance.

Sadly, the demise of knights did not herald the demise of wars.

Merchants can probably take at least partial credit for the decline of feudalism as a social system.

wj is talking about monopoly profits intellectual rents temp gains to innovation and first mover advantages

I find this sentence to be oddly poetic in a haiku-ish sort of way.

Also, too - I'm not sure that late medieval / early Renaissance merchants and merchant-based trading constituted capitalism as we consider it now.

More like mercantilism, which is more or less what Adam Smith was arguing against.

Last but not least - the rise of merchant trading and mercantilist city-states did not, unfortunately, tame Europe.

WWI, maybe, can take credit for that.

wj,

One of the biggest reasons why I don't live in the US is the water. I read a book on SoCal water issues when doing some research work there, and decided I don't want to live in an area which is only days from dying of thirst, should certain canals break. The extremely bad air quality didn't help, either.

In Finland, water law is a really arcane issue, mostly because the waters are usually owned by the real estate law villages (which is their only function), and the ownership is almost impossibly diluted. Thus, it is not usually possible for anyone to make an actual private law contract with the water owner, which is a mostly-fictional entity without any kind of representatives or administration. Happily, the law provides for the government being able to grant administrative permissions that substitute private contracts.

However, when it comes to actually using water, the law is clear:
1) Private home's domestic consumption near the water source trumps everything else
2) Then comes the municipal water supply, both locally and regionally
3) Local industry comes third
4) Non-local use is only allowed if the local needs are satisfied.

One of the biggest reasons why I don't live in the US is the water. I read a book on SoCal water issues when doing some research work there

SoCal <> "the US"

I'm totally on board with the idea that putting cities of millions of people in deserts is problematic at best. And if you never wanted to live anywhere in the US but SoCal, and SoCal was unacceptable because of the water, fine. But the US is a big and varied place. Deciding not to live here because SoCal has water problems is kind of like deciding not to live in Europe because Ireland is too wet.

Lurker,
I guess I have trouble doing an objective evaluation of Southern California air. All I'm sure of is that it's lots better than it used to be.

Circa 1970 I spent two weeks a few dozen miles east of LA. (Military training.) The first week was fine. But that weekend I noticed what appeared to be a range of mountains to the west. Sort of reddish. It seemed odd that I hadn't noticed previously.

Then Monday it arrived. Air to make your eyes stream constantly, and visibility down to a few hundred meters. Hadn't been mountains at all. That, thankfully, we no longer have there. (But California maintains stricter vehicle pollution standards than the rest of the country, just to make sure it doesn't return.)

Fun historical note. Long before Europeans arrived, the Indians referred to the LA basin as "The Valley of Smokes" -- the synergies with car-generated smog are really nasty.

I'm totally on board with the idea that putting cities of millions of people in deserts is problematic at best.

Those cities would likely be a lot smaller if they had had to pay market value for water during most of their existents.

For things like web services, there are a very limited number of providers. And demand is exploding.

Exactly. It's also a business with pretty substantial economies of scale and network externalities.

The reason people are happy to hand money over to Amazon to run their servers and data warehouses and lamdba jobs and whatever else isn't that they are idiots, it's that in many cases spinning up and maintaining their own servers to do the same stuff would cost them much more than it costs Amazon. So much more that even with 30% profit market, Amazon's way cheaper.

I'm sure there are exceptions -- sometimes there's some laziness involved and someone hasn't done all the math -- but still: turning all the operations headaches over to Amazon is super convenient and worth it for a lot of people.

It also reduces barriers to entry for businesses consuming those services. If you're spinning up a new app or website, the ability to upload it to AWS and scale from 10 users to 10 million without ever having to build and staff a single data center is pretty damn convenient.

Which does of course mean there's lots of monopoly hazard there. Especially because once you're locked in to Amazon's (or, to a less extent, Google's or Microsoft's) whole cozy ecosystem, it's hard to bust out. Critical parts of those ecosystems (like data warehouse solutions) are not particularly inter-operable or inter-changeable.

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