Charity – Theodore Roosevelt

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Materialism

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Made with GIMP.

Income Inequality and Climate Change

Income inequality and economic injustice effects every issue this country faces, let’s just consider climate change. I’m sure you’ve noticed that there isn’t a lot of actual movement on the issue. Why? To my mind there are two big reasons for this and they both tie into income inequality. The most obvious is the fact that oil and gas tycoons have enough income to buy politicians and block real reform. If they had less money to spend they wouldn’t be able to block reform so easily. The second is less obvious, but nearly as important. There isn’t enough populist support for climate change legislation to overcome the money. Why not? I think there’s two reasons for this. First, there’s a media machine dedicated to denying climate change; again all the money showing its influence. Second, poor people have limited, but legitimate reasons to worry about how effective legislation will affect their lives. There’s a lot of people in this country balancing the cost of heat, gas for their cars, and food. A slight increase in energy costs could lead to more days going hungry every month. If these people had more money they wouldn’t have to worry and could be more supportive of climate change legislation.

A Response to Disingenuous Interpretations of Piketty’s Capital in the Media

I finished Capital in the Twenty-First Century last night. It’s an extremely interesting, though also long, read. I imagine that most people who are talking about it haven’t actually read the book because most people seem to be using the book to promote whatever ideology they had before reading a review or summary of the book, which means their analysis and policy suggestions are weak and at most tangential of the book. For example, I listen to Fareed Zakaria’s show as a podcast. It’s not my favorite show, but it’s by the far the best thing on CNN. That said, his brief comments on the book basically acknowledged Piketty’s thesis, that r>g and it’s leading to inequality, but then he went on to highlight the importance of access to education. Piketty does consider education, especially easier access to higher education, important, but he rejects the idea that is all that needs to be done; he actually suggests that the belief in education alone is actually just a reinforcement of the meritocratic myth. I’ve seen others suggest things along the same lines, people, especially those on the left who want to push market ideals but don’t want to accept the consequences of the market, high and undemocratic inequality, argue that the book’s main lesson is that we need to increase growth. Piketty firmly rejects the suggestion, arguing that the idea that growth can be increased enough to reduce, or at least stem the tide of growing inequality, is essentially absurd due to the impossibility of keeping growth at such high levels. One important point that you don’t really see unless you read farther into the book than the introduction, is that the raising growth to the average return on capital, 4-5 percent, wouldn’t be enough the reduce inequality because those with the highest levels of capital already receive returns higher than that, 7-10 percent; the idea of maintaining for 4-5 growth seems incredibly unlikely, but 7-10 percent growth is practically impossible. The real lesson from Piketty is that relatively high, progressive income and inheritance taxes are the most important steps individual nations can currently practically achieve; so raise those taxes, especially in the US. The final part of Piketty’s solution has been pretty roundly rejected as absurd due to its impossibility, which is something he essentially acknowledges so it’s a fairly weak criticism, a progressive wealth tax; Piketty’s ideal version of this tax would be world-wide. The part that people who reject the idea as impossible out of hand are missing is that he suggests that such tax could possibly be successful on a regional level, so if the European Union wanted to create such a tax it’s possible they could succeed. Even more important for Americans, he suggests that America alone could impose such a tax. After all, the most important roadblock to a wealth tax working is the existence of opaque tax shelters. We have the power to essentially eliminate tax shelters with sanctions, so we could, if we were interested, get the necessary data to impose such a tax. My primary problem with all the disingenuous responses to Piketty’s work, other than revealing that most people never get out of college style skim reading which annoys me by itself, is that it’s a long book that is fairly boring, not to me or everyone, of course, but I imagine to fairly large number of people, so most people, even, I suspect, a lot of those that buy it, won’t actually read the entire thing; they’ll read the introduction and maybe the conclusion. That means that what media commentators say about the book will have an even larger influence than usual. That means that the ineffective neo-liberal prescriptions to the malady Piketty diagnoses will seem reasonable when they are not and the book will fail the achieve its primary goal. That’s not surprising, but it is annoying to point of nearly being infuriating; I imagine it’s the feeling climate activists feel when right-wing politicians reject climate change. This is worse because you have one party outright rejecting Piketty and another essentially misappropriating him for their preexisting political ends, actually imagine it’s still pretty damn similar.