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Tim Parks on Italian politics:

It is the constant impression of people outside Italy that Mr. Berlusconi is some kind of evil buffoon and that the vast majority of Italians repudiate him. They cannot understand how a man so constantly on trial for all kinds of corruption, a man with a huge conflict of interest (he owns three national TV channels and large chunks of the countrys publishing industry), remains at the center of power.
The answer, aside from the extraordinarily slow and complex judiciary and a distressing lack of truly independent journalism, is that Mr. Berlusconis political instincts mesh perfectly with the collective determination not to face the truth, which again combines with deep fear that a more serious leader might ask too much of them.

Amia Srinivasan on the economy we have:

[I]f the poor are dependent on the state, so, too, are Americas rich. The extraordinary accumulation of wealth enjoyed by the socioeconomic elite in 2007, the richest 1 percent of Americans accounted for about 24 percent of all income simply wouldnt be possible if the United States werent organized as it is. Just about every aspect of Americas economic and legal infrastructure the laissez-faire governance of the markets; a convoluted tax structure that has hedge fund managers paying less than their office cleaners; the promise of state intervention when banks go belly-up; the legal protections afforded to corporations as if they were people; the enormous subsidies given to corporations (in total, about 50 percent morethan social services spending); electoral funding practices that allow the wealthy to buy influence in government allows the rich to stay rich and get richer. In primitive societies, people can accumulate only as much stuff as they can physically gather and hold on to. Its only in advanced societies that the state provides the means to socioeconomic domination by a tiny minority. The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other, the writer John Berger said about the 20th century, though he might equally have said it of this one: It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.

Peter Frase on the economy we could have:

An economy in which people must get by on some combination of scant public benefits, charity, and hustlingbecause they are unable to find a jobis very different from a world where people are able to make a real choice to either cut back their hours or drop out of paid work entirely for a period of time. Thats why, in different ways, Maisano, myself, and Seth Ackerman have all emphasized that full employment is central to the project of work reduction, because tight labor markets give workers the bargaining power to demand shorter hours even without cuts in pay. And its why I have especially emphasized the demand for a Universal Basic Income, which would make it possible to survive outside of paid labor for a much larger segment of the population.[...]
[Ross] Douthat sees the decline of work as part of the broader turn away from community in Americafrom family breakdown and declining churchgoing to the retreat into the virtual forms of sport and sex and friendship. It seems more plausible that it is neoliberal economic conditions themselvesa scaled back social safety net, precarious employment, rising debts and uncertain incomesthat have producedwhatever increase in anomie and isolationwe experience. The answer to that is not more work but more protection from lifes unpredictable risks, more income, more equality, more democracyand more time beyond work to take advantage of all of it.

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"Mr. Berlusconis political instincts mesh perfectly with the collective determination not to face the truth, which again combines with deep fear that a more serious leader might ask too much of them."Sounds familiar.

" Its only in advanced societies that the state provides the means to socioeconomic domination by a tiny minority. The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other, the writer John Berger said about the 20th century, though he might equally have said it of this one: It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich."Complete and utter bull hockey.

JP ... I think you mean bull PUCKEY.I did my best and retired 10 years ago. Of course, the company eliminated my job and spread the work out over the survivors.

Mr. Parks speaks of "deep fear that a more serious leader might ask too much of them."Perhaps that's why they did not vote for Mario Monti.

"Perhaps thats why they did not vote for Mario Monti."And why they did vote for Beppe Grillo. Although he started out as an acccountant.

Jim, Since other readers, like me, might find Amia Srinivasan's arguments persuasive, perhaps you should provide evidence or arguments against it, instead of simply dismissing. Frankly I see a good deal of evidence that the game is largely rigged for the rich in the US, including a well documented loss of economic and social mobility in recent decades.

Dear Jim:It's bullpucky.Sincerely, Rachel Maddow

Jim:The world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. (Benedict XVI, Caritas In Veritate)Hope you dont think that the social encyclicals of Popes Benedict XVI, John Paul II and Paul VI are bullpucky.

Kevin: You said,Frankly I see a good deal of evidence that the game is largely rigged for the rich in the US...Perhaps you would be kind enough to detail how the U.S. constitution rigs "the game" (as you refer, I assume, to our economic system) to favor the rich. Just asking...

Do I really need to provide examples of non-"advanced" societies for which "the state provides the means to socioeconomic domination by a tiny minority"? It seems to me that it's been rather the way of the world since time immemorial.

"other readers, like me, might find Amia Srinivasans arguments persuasive"I didn't find it very logical or persuasive. Which points seemed to you especially well-made?

I'd offer just a couple of points. One, inequality of income and wealth has grown significantly since the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s. Those cuts disproportionately favored the wealthy. As the article notes, hedge fund managers, some of whom make tens of millions of dollars a year, are taxed at a lower rate than most working people. That seems to me blatantly unfair, but we might not be working from the same premises. The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court seems to me to give enormous legal deference to corporations, and it looks quite possible that the Supremes will not gut the Voting Rights Act, and take power away from actual people. I'd also suggest reading Joseph Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality (2012) and David Cay Johnston's Perfectly legal : the covert campaign to rig our tax system to benefit the super rich--and cheat everybody else (2003) for well crafted and well documented arguments. By the way. I'd agree with Jim P that concentrations of wealth and power have been the way of the world; I would just hope we would do better. And it is not our constitution I fault so much as the political system we have developed. I don't see cronyism and corruption mandated by the constitution, but I certainly see them in our system.

There are a number of studies, or at least articles, that have appeared recently referring to factors that make for inequality other than tax policies, Citizens United, and such. Meritocracy is one of them, and within meritocracy, education plays a major part. Under the guise of an imagined equal opportunity we have constructed a system (or perhaps let it construct itself) in which the best and the brightest make their ways to the top of the educational hierarchy, then proceed to marry one another in unions that are likely to be more stable and more beneficial to children than those lower down the totem pole, thus producing candidates for college who are more likely to make it into Stanford, Princeton, et cetera. They, in turn, marry other Stanfordians or Princetonians, etc., and the cycle continues, and would no doubt do so even without the benefit of help from the IRS.Affirmative action, after its inception, may have slowed this a bit for a while, but probably no longer.Anent Tim Parks on Italian politics: my Italian son in law (who runs a small but successful business in Florence, inherited from his father) is apt to foam at the mouth when the name Berlusconi is even mentioned. I think, though I'm not certain, that he voted for Beppe Grillo, since he's fed up with the whole huge, wildly expensive and dysfunctional Italian political system (as he's fed up with the role of the Church in Italian politics). He sees no hope in the Center-Left, whose representatives are on the take as much as anyone else, is looking for a reform of the present hopeless system, and hopes that the Grillini will at least be able to start the process. The Economist recently ran a brief piece, suggesting that the Center-Left, helpful though it was at one point in recent history, has had its day, and that what Italy now needs is a strong Center-Right party. But of course that's where the sympathies of the Economist, with its unswerving commitment to Manchester Liberalism, still lie.

Nicholas C. --It seems to me that what turns off many people about capitalism is that it approves inequality, even though (theoretically) inequality is a result of unequal contributions to the common good. I mean that the one who starts a company and remains responsible for its maintenance contributes more to it in some way (e.g., works harder, invents something, risks more capital etc.) than the people who work for him/her.It seems to me that though greed is awful, envy is self-destructive, and to reject someone who deserves more than oneself is not a pretty thing either. Unfortunately, the capitalist system lends itself to both greed and envy, and the emphasis on "equality" where it isn't appropriate is self-harming. I very much need the bank to protect my funds, and it deserves to be rewarded when it does its job. It is when it takes more than its share of the returns on my capital that it is evil. But, as always, the problem is to figure out what is a fair share of the returns on investments of all sorts, whether or effort or money, etc. Fair wage, fair price, fair return on capital -- what does "fair" MEAN? Back to John Rawls.

Don't think you'll find your answer in Rawls, Ann. You might try G. A. Cohen instead.

"One, inequality of income and wealth has grown significantly since the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s."So has cell phone usage. I assume you and I agree that cell phone usage probably isn't very responsible for the stagnant wages of the middle and lower classes (although access to technology might be some marginal contributor to the gap between "haves" and "have nots", and cell phone packages are somewhat regressive, in that the same package of features and minutes costs the poor guy as many dollars as the rich guy). But putting two trends next to one another ("The rich are richer";"the middle class isn't richer") doesn't demonstrate correlation, much less causation. As I've stated here many times, I don't really think there is much relationship at all between the prosperity of the hedge fund manager and the plight of the retail worker. The former isn't taking food out of the mouths of the latter. He's living on a different planet than the latter. Hating the former feels really good, and even wins election, but doesn't do a damn thing for the latter.

To see that the same economic trends that have benefited financiers have hurt the working class; to acknowledge that our anti-poverty programsthose that guarantee food security to children, for examplehave been gutted at the same time that hedge-fund managers have received huge tax breaks; to notice, as Srinivasan does in the above passage, that the federal government spends 50 percent more on corporate subsidies than on social services: none of this amounts to hating anyone. And, no, the rich don't live on a different planet, although some of them may feel as if they do.

One of the ways capitalists become rich is by paying as little as possible for workers and charging prices that are as high as the market will bear (and if one can collude with other companies or establish a monopoly, the prices might go very high indeed. It seems to me that the relationship between high profits for the executives and owners and low wages for workers is hardly as tenuous as Jim suggests. If the owner keeps more of the company revenue there is less for the worker. To some extent this is fair--the owner has risked capital, presumably has had good ideas and worked hard to implement them. But at some point, for Christians at least, this can become abusive. If I and my family are billionaires, and the diligent workers who play an essential role in running my business are paid so little that a sizable proportion cannot support themselves without food stamps and other public assistance, then we have an abusive system. And I am much less interested in hating hedge fund managers or capitalists or anyone else and more interested in reforming the system so that it is fair--so that the level of inequality is proportional to effort and contribution rather than a reflection of one side's power and the other's impotence. I agree that owners/bosses in almost all cases deserve more of the financial reward; I want workers to be paid fairly--to receive a living wage.

"to acknowledge that our anti-poverty programsthose that guarantee food security to children, for examplehave been gutted"Not in the US. They've been expanded.

"One of the ways capitalists become rich is by paying as little as possible for workers and charging prices that are as high as the market will bear (and if one can collude with other companies or establish a monopoly, the prices might go very high indeed. It seems to me that the relationship between high profits for the executives and owners and low wages for workers is hardly as tenuous as Jim suggests. If the owner keeps more of the company revenue there is less for the worker. To some extent this is fairthe owner has risked capital, presumably has had good ideas and worked hard to implement them. But at some point, for Christians at least, this can become abusive. If I and my family are billionaires, and the diligent workers who play an essential role in running my business are paid so little that a sizable proportion cannot support themselves without food stamps and other public assistance, then we have an abusive system"Kevin, without wishing to give offense, this is the sort of surface-skimming argumentation that I find deplorable in Srinivasan's piece.Yes, some billionaires depend heavily on workers. The guy who has been at the very top of the heap for many years, Bill Gates, is one such. But do you know how many millionaires Microsoft has created? Certainly it numbers in the thousands. Do you know what the starting salary for a software engineer is at Microsoft? Somewhere in six figures. Do you know how many new jobs Microsoft technology has created? Surely well over one million. Travel through the suburbs of American cities, and you'll see the middle-class homes, cars and communities being funded by wealth created by Microsoft.What does Catholic social teaching say about job- and wealth-creating activities like Bill Gates? I'd think it would be, 'let's figure out how to clone him - figuratively speaking - and come up with 10,000 more of him. Let's create well-paying jobs, satisfying work, and the wealth, security and peace that comes with it.'Then there are financial speculators. How many employees does it take to risk stupendous amounts of money? Relatively few. It may take one guy, a laptop, an Internet connection and some software. But they are the ones, not Bill Gates, who pulled the world economy to its knees.Can we at least make that elementary distinction, between the guys who create jobs and wealth for others, and the guys who try to predict (or game) the movement of secondary/derivative capital markets?Are there exploited workers in the world? Absolutely. Are some owners greedy? Without a doubt. Should businesses pay living wages? For sure. The picture in the US today is that some do and some don't. And I still haven't seen a rational, coherent explanation for how taxing the rich guy, or capping his salary, is going to amount to a hill of beans for the guy who works hard at a sub-living-wage job.

Jim, Perhaps you missed some of my qualifying statements. I never said all capitalists or owners; I simply said some can abuse. I've got no gripe with people who start companies, make stuff lots of us want, employ lots of people, and pay workers fair salaries. They deserve to be wealthier than most of us. But I think there are companies--arguably Walmart--which are enormously successful but which pay their workers unfairly low wages, and there are as you rightly note financial speculators who contribute far less than Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and get obscenely high salaries. Even there I'd make the distinction between the venture capitalist who funds the next entrepreneur with a transformative idea, and the speculator who swoops in and destroys a company for quick profits. But I am in essence a reformer--I don't want to blow our system up--I recognize its strengths--but I think it legitimate to point out and try to correct abuses.

Taxing the wealthy surely will not solve all our problems. But it will help to fund the government that most of us appear to want (polls tend to show that most people want to pay lower taxes but actually do not want to live without most of the programs those taxes fund). And it will be easier to make further cuts in spending, if that is deemed necessary, or to raise taxes on middle class and working class folks, if that is deemed preferable, if the country as a whole at least has the sense that the rich are paying a fair share. After all they have gotten wealthy in a country where taxes have built the roads and airports used to transport their products, where taxes have funded much of the basic research underlying the internet and other technologies, where taxes pay for the armies and police that protect them, the schools that educate their workers and customers, the courts that enforce their contracts. I am not asking for confiscation or even to return to the tax rates of the 1950s, but what seems a reasonable contribution from those who benefit so greatly and can hardly said to be suffering.

Actually, since the rich pay more in taxes, don't they deserve to be better protected than the rest of us? More and better police protecting them? The military focused more on defending them than the rest of us? Seems only fair.

Mark:Are you trolling?

If you wonder why the GOP seems fine with cutting unemployment benefits and welfare programs and not taxing the rich:Part of the answer may be that the rich vote more than the poor. Seventy-eight percent of Americans making over $150,000 per year voted in the 2008 election, while less than half of those making under $30,000 per year voted. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/01/voter-turnoutincome_n_2790755.h...

From Srinivasan's article:"But if the poor are dependent on the state, so, too, are Americas rich. The extraordinary accumulation of wealth enjoyed by the socioeconomic elite in 2007, the richest 1 percent of Americans accounted for about 24 percent of all income simply wouldnt be possible if the United States werent organized as it is. Just about every aspect of Americas economic and legal infrastructure the laissez-faire governance of the markets; a convoluted tax structure that has hedge fund managers paying less than their office cleaners; the promise of state intervention when banks go belly-up; the legal protections afforded to corporations as if they were people; the enormous subsidies given to corporations (in total, about 50 percent more than social services spending); electoral funding practices that allow the wealthy to buy influence in government allows the rich to stay rich and get richer."This is populist rhetoric masquerading as insight. Every single one of these phrases ending in a semi-colon benefits massive numbers of middle-class and working-class workers and their families, not just the super-rich.The point of the exercise would seem to be to figure out how to invite those who aren't partaking of the prosperity and stability, to come to the feast. Perhaps raising the marginal income tax rate from 35% to 39.5% on high incomes will accomplish that. But I don't see it.

HelenThanks for the laugh, by some peoples definition, I probably am! It is curious, those (not you, of course) who are not terribly well-educated tend not to deal well with a diversity of views. Rather than engaging on the merits, they resort to threats, or name calling, or other forms of bullyinganything but dealing with the substance!You cite a reference, from a liberal source, I believe, which claims rich people are more likely to vote than non-rich people. You immediately jump to the conclusion that the GOP would be influenced by this. Why not the Democratic party too? Do you think they are above it, but the GOP is not?

" rich people are more likely to vote than non-rich people. You immediately jump to the conclusion that the GOP would be influenced by this. Why not the Democratic party too? "The median (midpoint) household income in the US last year was about $44K/year. To put that number in perspective: in the community where I live, that is also just about the demarcation point below which food insecurity might become a real issue. To state it plainly: about half the households in the US are poor. To attach a number to it: there were about 57 million households in the US that made the median income or less.There were about 1.7 million households in the US that made $250K/year or higher. To put that number in relief: the personal - not household - income above which the federal income tax rate went up in January is considerably higher than that: $450K/year. If every single household above $250K/year voted Republican, and only one out of every 20 households at or below the median income bothered to show up to the polls, but they all voted Democrat - the Democrats would demolish the Republicans.There might be a lesson in this math for Republicans: figure out how to get poor people to vote for your party.I have to say, though, that I'm more interested in elevating the incomes of those 57 million households than in trying to get them to vote one way or the other.

Jim P. --Sure, the most important thing is to raise the income of the poor. But the practical question is: how to do that? What did Jesus say to do?

Hi, Ann - he told the rich young men to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. That's still an option for rich young men today. But the church recognizes less drastic remedies, too - including what is pejoratively called income redistribution.

Jim P. --So what do we do for the poor while they are still waiting for jobs/job training/whatever?

Ann - my vote would be for policies that ignite the economy and create attainable and well-paying private-sector jobs at profitable private enterprises, and in the mean time, do our best to give them a safety net.

Jim P. --Look out! You're starting to sound like an Obama Democrat :-)