who can give up essential
liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety, deserve neither liberty
-- Benjamin Franklin
"All governments lie and nothing
say should be believed."
"Power tends to corrupt, and
absolute power corrupts
absolutely. Great men
almost always bad men."
1. Pope Francis Signals
Eased Moral Strictures
2. Can Thomas Piketty Re-Write the American
3. Bad Government and Central Bank Policy Are the MAIN
CAUSE of Runaway Inequality
4. Why Is Ex-Supreme Court
Justice John Paul Stevens
This is the Nederlog of April
27. It is a crisis issue.
It also is fairly
brief. There were not many crisis items; it is a Sunday; and also
yesterday you got the largest Nederlog I wrote this year (apart from
index). It happened by accident, but it is a fact: 58 Kb.
The first item is on Pope Francis, and pro condoms; the second is on
Thomas Piketty as seen by Heidi Moore, which I found disappointing; the
third is again on Thomas Piketty - I am sorry, but he did write an
important book on economics, and economics is currently somewhat
popular - and by Washington's Blog, and that seems a fair appraisal;
and the last is on getting money out of politics, on which Cenk Uygur
and John Paul Stevens seem to agree.
Pope Francis Signals Eased Moral
The first item is
article by Daniel C. Maguire on Consortium News:
I am a lifelong atheist
but that is not a good reason not to know about the Catholic church,
and indeed I do know something about it - or at least, I did read some
Thomas Aquinas, some other Scholastics (notably: Ockham and Duns
Scotus), and a few more modern theologians. Indeed, at least Aquinas
and Ockham were geniuses, but I also grant that I have no taste for
God, and also do not see anything in the Church. (In fact, I read the
Scholastics mostly because of my interest in logic, and they were well
Then again, at least a billion of my contemporaries think differently
about God's existence and the importance of the Church, and I was also
a bit glad to find that the Catholic church did not care much for
postmodernism, and agrees with me at least on the theses that truth
exists and that there is an independent reality of which we all are
Anyway - this is a brief article by a professor of moral theology at a
Jesuit institution, and I consider it because it is about the present
pope, who has - let me say - some refreshing sides, and who also leads
more than a billion persons.
It starts of as follows:
Maguire also gives an
example, that I leave to your perusal. As to the refreshing sides (from
my perspective), he says this:
Liberal critique of Pope
Francis says that while he merits praise for rediscovering the biblical
concern for the poor and for his explicit condemnation of
“neoliberalism” (the greedalism that dominates right-wing economics),
he has not moved to serious reform of the Catholic Church.
Wrong! The pope is
undermining the hierarchical authority structure and he is doing so by
retrieving liberating Catholic traditions that were carefully hidden
away in the church attic.
are harassing President Barack Obama and his health care plan that is
bringing health care options to millions saying it violates Catholic
teaching on contraception. It does not. The majority of
Catholic theologians and people – and some Catholic bishops – see
contraception not as a sin but often as a duty. Even Pope
Benedict, the conservative predecessor to Pope Francis, grudgingly
allowed that condoms could be used to prevent HIV-AIDS infection.
important, also for non-Catholics (HIV-AIDS doesn't know the
difference) and clearly I am in favor of condoms. I do not know whether
Maguire is right against the bishops, and I certainly know that what
the "majority of Catholic
theologians and people"
thinks has been of little weight in much of the Church's history, but
yes: it is good there is a breakthrough in the allowance of condoms.
2. Can Thomas Piketty Re-Write the American
The next item is an
article by Heidi Moore on Common Dreams:
I think I can answer
that question immediately: No. And it is a silly question. But this is
another item about Thomas Piketty, who at least has the merit of having
published his book at a time there was a great demand for it.
Here is Heidi Moore
on its main message:
sublimely nerdy book, packed with graphs, statistics and history, is
all evidence for an immensely depressing theory: that the meritocracy
of capitalism is
a big, fat lie.
meritocracy is a lie - in the sense: "everybody has a fair chance to
get rich and famous, for all you need is to have some talents and work
hard" - only requires a little logic and the elementary
knowledge that every complex society is pyramidically structured: few
on the top, and many on the bottom, and some in between.
Piketty's research, which
is immaculate, reaches back hundreds of years to establish a simple
thesis: the American dream – and more broadly, the egalitarian promise
of Western-style capitalism – does not, and maybe cannot, deliver on
its promises. That, he writes, is because economic growth will always
be smaller than the profits from any money that is invested. Economic
growth is what we all benefit from, but profits from invested money
accrue only to the rich.
The consequences of this
are clear: those who have family fortunes are the winners, and everyone
else doesn't have much of a shot of being wealthy unless they marry
into or inherit money. It's Jane Austen all over again, and we've just
fooled ourselves that the complicated financial system has changed a
It is a lie because where there is only place for a few, only a
few will make it to the top, and the vast majority will fail.
And not because they lack talent or persistence or chances (though this
also enters, for some) but simply because there are far more
competitors than places.
It is like this - and I know I have used this illustration before, but
I like it, for it is good propaganda, and is more true than false:
But for this Piketty isn't needed (and the illustration is from the
As to the rest of the quotation: I suppose it is a fair summary, but it
forgets that there is more than economics. There are laws,
for example, that may cream off part of the riches; and there are progressive
tax laws, which if they work, level some of the
inequalities, besides providing money to the state. (And as Supreme
Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. observed: "Taxes
are what we pay for civilized society".)
One important problem is that the laws do not work anymore,
have been withdrawn, or are simply not maintained by
the Department of Justice, that wants to prosecute only small
criminals, because big criminals are too big to fail. (That's what Mr.
Holder says - or at least, what it comes down to.)
And there is this bit by Moore:
But there remains a lot
of controversy anyway. Why? Because Piketty wants to change the lever
on income inequality by putting a tax on wealth – not on income, which
is the stuff of the middle class, but on fortunes themselves, on the
money that is invested and reinvested and compounded and grown.
You can see the problem.
No, I fail to see
that problem: The very rich are too rich anyway; they pay a lot less
tax, in terms of percentages, than the middle and lower classes; taxing
them more will not make them very much less rich, and will
benefit everybody else - but I do see the problem that
they pay many of those who are in the media or in Congress.
Anyway: That was Ms
Moore's take, that seems to me subtly wrong.
3. Bad Government and Central Bank
Policy Are the MAIN CAUSE of Runaway Inequality
The next item is an
article by Washington's Blog:
This begins as follows
(with the colors and boldings in the original, like the links):
Thomas Piketty: “Rock Star Economist” Pushes
Inequality to the Forefront of Economic Discussion
French economist Thomas
Piketty’s book on inequality – Capital in
the Twenty-First Century – has gone completely
Krugman and Joseph
Stiglitz endorse it. So does Economist
magazine. The Financial
Times and New
York magazine both call him
a ”rock star economist”.
I say. Anyway, another
article on Piketty, but better informed and written than Heidi Moore's
article, although this last quote proves very little.
But here is Washington's
Blog on Piketty's main contention:
Piketty Is Right about Inequality
We noted in 2010 that
extreme inequality helped cause the
Great Depression … and the 2008 financial crisis. We noted in
2011 that inequality helped cause the fall
of the Roman Empire.
a few short years, mainstream economists have gone from assuming
that inequality doesn’t matter, to realizing that runaway inequality
cripples the economy.
Pikettey correctly notes
that inequality is now the
worst in world history … and will only get worse.
OK - except
for the last part: inequality will get worse unless it is
tamed, and it can be tamed quite easily, by undoing a number of
laws, regulations and practices that have become fashionable since
Reagan, and that indeed turned out to be extremely corrupting, and to
benefit only the rich.
There is also this:
Indeed, the big banks
continue to manipulate
every market and commit crime
after crime and … and profit handsomely from it, while law-abiding citizens
slide further and further behind.
Yet Obama is prosecuting
fewer financial crimes than Bush, or his father,
or Ronald Reagan. Indeed, the government has actively covered
up for – and encouraged – criminal
Indeed, there are two
systems of justice in America … one for the big banks and other fatcats, and one for everyone else.
Holding the little
guy to the letter of the law – while letting the fatcats run around
immune to the law - is making inequality much worse.
That seems quite true to
me, especially as regards "Indeed,
the government has actively covered
up for – and encouraged – criminal
fraud". (That's again Mr
Holder's only prosecuting small criminals, although he is not the only
one who is culpable.)
And there is this:
Economist Michael Hudson
Piketty for failing to address crime and fraud as core causes of
The other thing that is
left out of the income tax statistics is of course how fortunes are
really made, and that’s crime and fraud. The good thing about Piketty
is he points out, why is it that French novelists and English novelists
tell you much more about wealth than economics? And he points out that
in the 19th century novels by Jane Austen and Balzac, the way to make a
fortune is to marry into it. That’s true, but what Balzac also said is
that behind every fortune is a great theft.
Yes, that seems true (and
is true about Balzac).
Finally - and I have only
quoted some bits from a rather large article: use the last dotted link
if you want to read all - here is Washington Blog's judgement of
Conclusion: Piketty’s a Little Rickety On Government
The bottom line is that
Piketty has done a great job of documenting the extent of inequality,
and some of its causes. But he misses the degree to which bad
government and central bank policy is responsible.
This also seems fair
to me, especially as it are bad governments and bad central bank
policies that have produced the present crisis, and that also continue it.
Why Is Ex-Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Pissed
The next item is not
article but a video by The Young Turks, of 4 min 49 sec:
I use the text under the
"Justice John Paul
Stevens, who turned 94 on Sunday, is a mild man with an even
temperament. He has a reverence for the Supreme Court, on which he
served for almost 35 years until his retirement in 2010, and he is fond
of his former colleagues.
In fact, he proposed the
same as Cenk Uygur is trying to effect: Get money out of politics,
namely by arranging for a constitutional amendment.
"But there was a hint of
anger in some of his remarks when I went to see him last week in his
Supreme Court chambers. He said the court had made a disastrous wrong
turn in its recent string of campaign finance rulings.
"'The voter is less
important than the man who provides money to the candidate,' he said.
'It's really wrong.'
"He talked about what he
called a telling flaw in the opening sentence of last month's big
campaign finance ruling. He filled in some new details about the
behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to the Citizens United decision.
And he called for a constitutional amendment to address what he said
was the grave threat to American democracy caused by the torrent of
money in politics."
For more, see the video.
 Here it is necessary to insist, with
Aristotle, that the governors do not
rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the
if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my
More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn
It is more proper
that law should govern than any one of the
citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the
supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to
be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I
from is quite pertinent.)
(that I prefer
to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which
is a disease I have since 1.1.1979: