Thursday, June 29, 2006
Quote of the week
I'm trying now to recall if it was on the Daily Show or The Colbert Report, but one of them showed a clip of a press conference in which Bill Gates and Warren Buffet answered questions about their philanthropic efforts. And some very, very clever reporter asked something like, "What did your kids do wrong -- did they stay out past curfew or something?" Obviously implying that Buffet SHOULD, all else being equal, have given all his riches to his "heirs," his children. Buffet responded with something like, "I don't believe that in a just society someone should be rich simply because they happened to come out of a particular womb." (VERY rough paraphrase.)
Of course these sentiments are not new.
On the estate tax:
Question: Could you discuss your views on [the estate tax] and how you will allocate your wealth to your children?
Buffett: It really reflects my views on how a rich society should behave. If it werenÂ’t for this society, I wouldnÂ’t be rich. It wasnÂ’t all me. Imagine if you were one of a pair of identical twins and a genie came along and allowed you to bid on where you could be born. The money that you bid is how much you had to agree to give back to society, and the one who bids the most gets to be born in the US and the other in Bangladesh. You would bid a lot. It is a huge advantage to be born here.
There should be no divine right of the womb. My kids wouldnÂ’t go off and do nothing if I give them a lot of money, but if they did, that would be a tragedy. $30 billion will be generated from estate taxes, which will go to help pay for the war in Iraq and other things. If you take away the estate tax, that money will have to come from somewhere else. If not from estate taxes then you inherently get it from poorer citizens.
Less than 2% of estates will pay the estate tax. They would still have $50 million left over on average. I think those that get the lucky tickets should pay the most to the common causes of society. I believe in a big redistribution. Wealth is a bunch of claim checks that I can turn in for houses, etc. To pass those claim checks down to the next generation is the wrong approach.
But for those that think I am perpetuating the welfare state, consider if you are born to a rich parent. You get a whole bunch of stocks right at the beginning of your life, and thus you are sort of on a welfare state of support from your rich parents from the beginning. WhatÂ’s the difference?
Right on. (Emphasis mine.)
(A great film that offers perspective on this topic is "Born Rich".)
Perhaps the #1 reason the Republican Party is so completely corrupt, greedy and despicable can be seen in all its vile nakedness in their repeated, adamant attempts at repealing the "death tax." (It's still going on as I write this.)
What? There's actually a TAX on DEATH? That's an outrage! That's obscene! That's Big Government again trying to steal money from the Little Guy! That's SOCIALISM! The STATE continuing to aggregate MORE AND MORE POWER UNTO ITSELF!!!
Uhh . . . no. Actually, 1.) the estate tax began (this is relevant right now) because we were facing a world war, and our leaders thought maybe we should actually try to fucking PAY FOR IT. 2.) The ESTATE tax only affects those with a huge ESTATE (hence the name) -- that is, those with many millions (or Billions) or dollars in assets -- that is, less than 2% of the population. The greedy corrupt corporate whore Republican fascist bastards who favor the repeal of this tax like to lie about it (otherwise their efforts would be UNIVERSALLY condemned) by saying that "the government takes away Family Farms" and "the government takes away Small Businesses" with the DEATH Tax. Not a SINGLE CASE has been shown of a family farm or small business having to go under because of the estate tax. Not one. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Zip. None.
Let's repeat it once again: THEY'RE GREEDY FUCKING LIARS.
Again: GREEDY FUCKING LIARS.
All right. To be less "political" (god forbid) and more fair-minded, I'll concede that IN AN IDEAL AND PERFECT WORLD (the "Free Market Utopia," as I call it -- which does not, can not, and never will exist, by the way), every person fully and completely deserves each and every penny which he or she has. He or she has earned it, and is entitled to do WHATEVER he or she pleases with it. If Buffet wants to buy an island, more power to him. If he wants to hold a giant bonfire on the White House lawn, to symbolize what George W. Bush is doing with our tax dollars, he has every right. If he wants to EAT the money, let him. If he wants to spend it on hookers and blow -- that's his right. He's earned it. If he wants to spend it on a WAR, let him -- it's his money. If he wants to pay homeless people vast sums of money for performing degrading acts, fine. If he WANTS to give it away the charity, fine . . . But THE GOVERNMENT cannot and should not FORCE him to do so.
O.K. I understand.
This is perfectly logical. Except for a couple of things.
1.) No man is an island. No one has succeeded without help.
If you went to public school, the government (WE) provided that. If you went to an expensive and exclusive PRIVATE school, SOMEONE paid for that -- not you. Furthermore, EVEN IF you were born poor, but brilliant -- and I commend and hold in high esteem anyone who has overcome great obstacles in order to achieve success against the odds -- presumably you were able to achieve this largely because of NATURAL GIFTS that you were born with -- NOT simply because you "decided to work hard."
Furthermore, much of the private wealth in this country was generated, and continues to be generated, through public subsidies -- and I'm not just talking about agriculture. Most of the aviation industry -- hell, MOST industries -- developed because of "national security" (and those "quotation marks" are important). We used to have a concept, as a society, of "the commons" -- things that we ALL own. The very concept of "The Corporation" only came into existence because we DECIDED, as a SOCIETY, to PERMIT -- the GRANT THE PRIVELEDGE TO -- a group of people to "incorporate" in order to provide a "PUBLIC SERVICE."
If we want an extremely hierarchical society (or Aristocracy), in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer every generation, if we want an oligarchy or serfdom -- which is precisely what the Revolutionary War was fought AGAINST -- then, fine. American IS that. If that's the case -- if THAT is "America" -- then I DO hate it, and I WILL burn the flag, regardless of whatever "laws" might be passed.
2.) It is INHERENTLY unjust that one person owns 44 Billion dollars.
This whole post is a tip of the hat to Warren Buffet -- and Bill Gates, I think, also deserves MUCH adulation and praise for what he has done.
However: I do not accept the conventional wisdom that these people are necessarily selfless, great philanthropists, motivated by pure altruism. Warren Buffet is about 70 years old. Even after his donations (which he is giving in small increments, by the way, year by year), he will have AT MINIMUM 7 Billion dollars left for himself. MINIMUM. ANY person could live their entire life without working one second on a small fraction of 1 Billion dollars. (To put it in perspective: a Billionaire essentially could live one thousand years and still make 1 Million dollars every year. Think about that. Warren Buffet -- AFTER giving away most of his money -- could live for SEVEN THOUSAND YEARS MAKING 1 MILLION DOLLARS EACH YEAR. Still think he "deserves every penny"????)
If you (all by yourself) were to devise the "just" society (I'm thinking of John Rawls' thought experiment), would you state that "one person -- provided he or she is smart and works hard -- is allowed to acquire as much as 1000 times what the average person has"??????? THINK about this. Again: even THIS is assuming that "THE AVERAGE PERSON" is a MILLIONAIRE." This concept is being EXTREMELY CONSERVATIVE. With today's society and its obscenely unequal wealth distribution, the actual document would have to read: "Any one person is allowed to acquire as much as 44,000 times what the average person has." (Assuming, of course, that "the average person" owns about $44,000. The reality is that most people OWE about $30,000 -- they own LESS THAN NOTHING.)
To some extent, of course, people do indeed get what they deserve (***IDEALISM ALERT!!!! IDEALISM ALERT!!!!*** UTOPIA!!!! UTOPIA!!!! KARMA!!!! KARMA!!!!). But can you really, HONESTLY say that a mill worker, a steel worker, a mechanic, a guy in an auto plant, a guy working in a lumber mill, or a coal mine, or on a farm, or any factory, or school, or hospital, or even the guy cleaning the toilets, or the post man, or a plumber, electrician, carpenter, mason (keeping in mind, of course, that these guy sonly make a living wage because they're in UNIONS), hell, even the guy at the DMV, the guy at Walmart, or Burger King, or Radio Shack, or Best Buy . . . . . . . . who work 40+ hours a week, DESERVE to live in POVERTY?????
(Yes, I will acknowledge that some of the above-mentioned professions pay fairly well -- again, in large part ONLY because of UNIONS -- but my POINT is that 1. hard work should MEAN something and 2. IF a person can't make a living by working 60+ hours a week, (or, two parents each working 40+ hours a week), then the whole "Family Values" concept is an evil, evil scam. Even if children do not need to eat, if a mother and father are required to raise a child (NO gay marriage), when is this child-rearing supposed to take place if both parents are working MORE than full-time in order to pay the mortgage, to pay for gas to get to work, to pay for electricity and heat and garbage and car insurance and day care and clothes and shoes and . . . . . . . ??? . . .
3.) Why didn't he do this sooner?
A simple question: if you had the power to prevent millions of people from dying, and chose not to, but instead chose to invest your money and let it build and build and build . . . Should you be commended, or condemned?
Again, I want to make it clear that, like everyone else, I DO commend Warren Buffet for what he is doing -- for he does not HAVE to do it, and I respect him greatly for it.
But: this planet has some serious fucking problems that could be solved pretty easily with enough resources invested. Millions of people die every year from starvation, from AIDS, and other treatable diseases. millenniumenium Fund was considered HUGH -- REVOLUTIONARY!!! -- because it was a promise (lie) to commit 5-10 Billion dollars to the "third world" to treat disease and feed the starving.billionilion dollars: less than one-third of what Buffet has decided now to give to the Gates Foundation. Less than ONE-THIRTIETH of what we have spend so far on the Iraq War. (And that's just the allocated funds -- without the interest on that debt, which will accrue for generations to come . . .)
Again, trying to be fair, I can see the argument that, since Buffet (or Gates) is an excellent business man, he was wise to invest his money and let the wealth accumulate -- otherwise he would not now have as much as he does. You give 1 Billion dollars to Africa, they spend it to cure a million people, great -- but, then you're out of money. You INVEST the 1 Billion, let it grow into 44 Billion, NOW you can REALLY help!!!!
True. But, in the meantime, millions of people have died needlessly. And perhaps -- (probably not, but PERHAPS, as now) -- if you had made the commitment and shown your generosity earlier, others might have followed your example (even ifselfishelfih, egotistical reasons), and the funds would have increased ten-fold.
4.) EVEN IF Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, et. al., COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY DESERVE EVERY PENNY THEY OWN, that does NOT mean that their children are entitled to be born rich and live their entire lives as born-rich, non-working stiffs. THIS is the point that Buffet, and Gates, and Gates' Billionaire father -- along side Ted Turner and others -- have been trying to make.
(I say "trying" to make, because clearly George W. Bush, and most Republicans in Congress, and apparently a vast proportion of the American people -- having been properly propagandized -- have not understood this point. To this very moment, these people are trying with all their might to reduce -- or, if they can, completely repeal -- the so-called "Death Tax.")
. . . . . . . .
I have to admit, I'm pretty ignorant about economics. (I will not even capitalize the Word, because I do not believe it deserves it.) But even a child can figure out the basics:
There is a PIE, which is to be split between 100 people. (You may picture this pie in your mind, if you like, and even choose your own flavor.) Each person gets a small portion of this PIE. All else being equal, each person gets 10% of this pie. But some people are lazy or dumb or both, or cannot find a job that they can make money at, so some get more of the pie than others. (Up to here, I'm actually fine with this -- so don't call me a "Socialist." At best, I'm an EXTREMELY CONSERVATIVE Socialist.") . . . . . . . . At some point, it comes to pass that 2% of the people own 70% of the PIE. The other 98% of the people have to share the remaining 30% of the PIE. Many of these 98% fight each other, in attempt to get more of the pie, so they can eat and feed their starving children and, if they're lucky, buy a TV set. The remaining 2% of the people sit and contemplate which companies, and which countries, they should buy next . . .
Does this look to you like a "fair and just and equitable and SUSTAINABLE" society?????
HINT: If you answered "YES," then you need to be institutionalized promptly. If you answered "NO," then you need to do something RIGHT FUCKING NOW, because this is EXACTLY the society in which we live.
We have to face the truth: if you were to design the "just society" -- the "best of all possible worlds" -- you would not say that it's o.k. that some live in desolate poverty, some starve to death, some die of curable diseases, while others amass more and more wealth every day and exploit the desperate by demanding the cheapest possible labor . . .
This is what "democracy" means: we can choose the society in which we live. We make the rules.
Let's start making them.
And taking the heads of the greedy who break them.