27, 2014
Crisis: Pope Francis, Piketty * 2, get money out of politics
   "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone.
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next

1. Pope Francis Signals Eased Moral Strictures
2. Can Thomas Piketty Re-Write the American Dream?
3. Bad Government and Central Bank Policy Are the MAIN
     CAUSE of Runaway Inequality

4. Why Is Ex-Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens
     Pissed Off?

About ME/CFS


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 the crisis 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.

1. Pope Francis Signals Eased Moral Strictures

The first item is an 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 worth it.)

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 part.

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:

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.

Maguire also gives an example, that I leave to your perusal. As to the refreshing sides (from my perspective), he says this:
American bishops 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.
This is 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 Dream? 

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:

Piketty's 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.

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 thing.

Actually, that 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.

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 1920ies).

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 viral.

Mainstream economists like Paul 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.

In 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 encouragedcriminal fraud.

Indeed, there are two systems of justice in Americaone 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 encouragedcriminal 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 also criticizes Piketty for failing to address crime and fraud as core causes of inequality:

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 Piketty:

Conclusion: Piketty’s a Little Rickety On Government Stupidity

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.

4.  Why Is Ex-Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Pissed Off?

The next item is not an article but a video by The Young Turks, of 4 min 49 sec:

I use the text under the video:
"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.

"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."
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.

For more, see the video.

[1] 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 government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
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 quote from is quite pertinent.)

About ME/CFS (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:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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