Here are my highlights and thoughts on Jeffery Sachs The Price of Civilization which may suffice as a sort of cliff notes and hopefully prove relavant to the pressing issues of the day.
On Wealth and Poverty
- I have no quarrel with wealth per se. My quarrel is with poverty. As long as there is both widespread poverty and booming wealth at the top, and many public investments (in education, child care, training, infrastructure, and other areas) that could reduce or end the poverty, then tax cuts for the rich are immoral and counterproductive.
I like this critique. It is important not to deride wealth as immoral but to identify poverty as immoral. Ethics comes into play with regard to how we respond to poverty. As in the case of the “good” slave owner. A small minority of southern planters treated slaves fairly. This however does not make them good because they can only be as good as the system under which they operate. Even the best slave owner is still a slave owner. It is the same with exorbitant wealth. We look to the philanthropist to justify, but even a few rare cases of philanthropy can not justify a system that fails horrifically on distributive justice
- Our greatest national illusion is that a healthy society can be organized around the single-minded pursuit of wealth.
How we got here
- The economic crisis of recent years reflects a deep, threatening, and ongoing deterioration of our national politics and culture of power. We are not facing a short-term business cycle downturn, but the working out of long-term social, political, and economic trends. The crisis, in many ways, is the culmination of an era—baby boomer era—rather than of particular policies or presidents.
most defining moment of that era I believe is the Civil Rights Act. The parties we experience today are in many ways governed by that rift. The deterioration of our national discourse and it’s constant under tone of racism, sexism, classism, discrimination can be attributed to this juncture. But don’t forget Vietnam, this rift too remains.
- in the 1970s, the political Right, represented by Ronald Reagan, claimed that government was to blame for its growing ills. This diagnosis, although incorrect, had a plausible ring to it to enough Americans to enable the Reagan coalition to begin a process of dismantling effective government programs undermining the government’s capacity to help steer the economy.
the resulting course of action was more about repealing Johnson’s war on poverty than belief in free market principles and shifting discretionary spending away from minorities and the poor. This is the real class warfare that we have experienced and it has been the driver in increasing economic inequity.
- The 2008 financial crash resulted from a confluence of forces:
deregulation, monetary mismanagement, and reckless irresponsibility by the top management on Wall Street, who lusted after profits with sheer disregard for their shareholders, workers, and clients.
our share of the blame:
- American society is too deeply distracted by our media-drenched consumerism to maintain the habits of effective citizenship.
- Americans are repeatedly overconsuming today and regretting it tomorrow, whether by overeating, overborrowing, overgambling, excessive TV viewing, or indulging in yet other addictions.
if that isn’t apparent we may not find any common ground
- We are paralyzed by a shared lack of serious attention to our future.
our discourse on impending crisis of critical resources water, food, energy non-existent due to subdued populous, chronically entertained.
- Our challenges lie not so much in our productivity, technology, or natural resources but in our ability to cooperate on an honest basis.
despite all of these problems we are an extremely powerful economy and people with the capacity to do far better. It is a willful ignorance and lack of will more than ANY factor that holds us back.
- “The insulated mindset of individuals who know precious little history and civics and never read a book or visit a museum is fast becoming a common, shame-free condition.”
If you’ve made it this far you are free from my criticism but democracy is founded on knowledgeable citizens, we are collectively dropping the ball and it will be posterity who will suffer our ignorance.
Two Party System?
I will be voting for Obama again in 2012. He is not above my criticism, my criticisms however are different from those that come from the right of the spectrum because they are founded in the consistency of my political ethicand are not conditional fantasies peddled by anti-intellectual peons.
- Bush supported large deficits, in order to maintain low taxes and high military spending; Obama also supported large deficits, mainly as a macroeconomic stimulus.
large deficits from high spending and simultaneous tax breaks equals out of control debt, Econ. 101. Parties spend more in power and parties advocate austerity in the absence of power, Politics 101.
Bush wanted tax cuts for 100 percent of households.
Obama campaigned on tax cuts for 95 percent of the households but, when the deadline approached in December 2010, agreed to extend tax cuts for all.
- Bush favored nuclear power and deep-sea oil drilling; Obama favors nuclear power and deep-sea oil drilling.
Extremely dangerous consensus, lack of an energy policy moving forward will prove to be our greatest economic and national security threat.
Bush filled his White House with Goldman Sachs and Citigroup executives; Obama has done the same.
- America’s political system today to be not so much a true democracy as a stable duopoly of two ruling parties.
This is not to say objectively there are not meaningful differences in our candidates, there are. Who pays for their campaigns is of paramount importance. Election years will magnify differences but this is a red-herring to enact centrist corporate agenda.
- There is absolutely no economic crisis in corporate America.
- Corporate profits in 2010 were at an all-time high.
- Wall Street compensation in 2010 was at an all-time high.
- It began with globalization, which pushed up capital income while pushing down wages. These changes were magnified by the tax cuts at the top. CEOs then helped themselves to their own slice of the corporate sector ownership through outlandish awards of stock options by friendly and often handpicked compensation committees
A typical hedge fund manager receives as compensation a fraction of the assets under management and of the profits earned on the portfolios. Under an obscure IRS rule, the profit earnings are not treated as ordinary income for the manager, taxable at 35 percent, but rather as capital gains, taxable at 15 percent.
Mitt Romney will take any further questions on how to capitalize on this loop hole.
- Of the 100 largest public traded U.S. corporations, 83 reported operating in tax havens, tens of billions of dollars of revenues are lost per year as a result of shifting corporate profits out of the United States through transfer pricing and similar means.
Tax shelters should become a major part of our discussion. Personal income tax dominates our discussion but in terms of taxable income this is where the meat is.
The Way Out!
- Market forces, alas, will never solve these threats but only exacerbate them, until society, acting collectively at last, mindfully commits to creating a protective cordon around the threatened planet.
- America desperately needs a coherent energy strategy, since the country is being hemmed in on three sides:the global scarcity of oil; the intensifying competition over supplies in unstable regions of the world; and the environmental risks of a continued rapid rise in fossil fuel use.
couldn’t agree more.
- we must convince our fellow citizens that knowledge of science, and expert knowledge more generally, is vital to our well-being and even survival.
energy and climate problems necessitate new technologies to address
the principle of humanity must replace the invisible hand and the distributive force
- the common thread of conviction is the Principle of Humanity: “Being human must be the ethical yardstick for all economic action.”
- The economy should fulfill the basic needs of human beings “so that they can live in dignity.”
- [We must foster]the importance of respect and tolerance for others; the right to life and its development; sustainable treatment of the natural environment; the rule of law; distributive justice and solidarity; the essential values of truthfulness, honesty, and reliability; and the core value of mutual esteem. The global market economy must remain guided by humane purposes and not be regarded as an end in itself.
We have the capacity to get out from under this crisis. The forces that stand in our way are corporate influence in the political process, the resulting profits from said political influence and it’s ability to buy even more influence ultimately resulting in a single center-right party, deregulation that allowed corporate influence to grow, general public apathy and misunderstanding of our problems, lack of concrete goals with regard to energy and the environment, and relying on those who receive the least from society to carry the burden of the externalities of abundance and pick up the tab for the price of civilization while a select few reap benefits disproportional to their contribution. Humanity, in a word, that’s the way out of this mess.