Thursday, December 18, 2008

And again

Extreme wealth does not indicate merit, it indicates thievery:

As regulators and shareholders sift through the rubble of the financial crisis, questions are being asked about what role lavish bonuses played in the debacle. Scrutiny over pay is intensifying as banks like Merrill prepare to dole out bonuses even after they have had to be propped up with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. While bonuses are expected to be half of what they were a year ago, some bankers could still collect millions of dollars.

Critics say bonuses never should have been so big in the first place, because they were based on ephemeral earnings. These people contend that Wall Street’s pay structure, in which bonuses are based on short-term profits, encouraged employees to act like gamblers at a casino — and let them collect their winnings while the roulette wheel was still spinning.
Does anybody seriously think that these people earned their money, in any system of accounting that is tethered to the physical world in any way? Why, then, do we continue to behave as though people with large incomes deserve every penny they have, and that people with small incomes deserve to go without healthcare, decent education, transportation, etc.?


Chris Rywalt said...

Because America is basically a Calvinist nation. Grace is conferred by God and cannot be earned. Grace makes itself evident. The wealthy are simply blessed, and it's not up to mere humans to redistribute the grace of God.

Anonymous said...

"Extreme wealth does not indicate merit, it indicates thievery"

Or, as we used to say, back in the day, Property is Theft. PL, you're like a deja vu of my youth today. (But not in a bad way; you're not giving me any acid flashbacks.)


Pretty Lady said...

Chris, I think you're right, it IS Calvinism. It's not a coincidence that extreme right-wing fundamentalists are adamantly opposed to the 'theft' of taxes, which support infrastructure, education, and hopefully healthcare for the masses someday, while remaining blind and indifferent to the obvious theft, exploitation, and leveraging of power that large corporations and financial institutions perform as a matter of course. There's an extreme bias in favor of assuming that those with the money inherently deserve it, while those without it are flawed and sinful in some way, regardless of the physical facts on the ground.

O, I SO do not believe that Property is Theft; I believe that theft is theft. There's a big difference. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I know. I just had to share the rhetorically inspired sense memory you triggered.


Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady, you are taking close range potshots at imaginary targets. Extreme right-wing fundamentalists and Calvinism indeed! If someone pays federal, state, county, city, sales, and property taxes along with fees, tolls, etc. and is left with crumbling infrastructure, schools that resemble stalags, little healthcare (of the sort you envision) then it (taxes) is theft (without the quotes). I also don’t think people are blind or indifferent to corporate/institutional theft. They’re just assuming the government wouldn’t throw a trillion dollars at them without some oversight.

You see, it’s not a Calvinist ethos at work or extreme right-wing fundamentalists under the bed – it’s a gullible populace co-dependant with a thieving, lying, Leviathan.

Pretty Lady said...

and is left with crumbling infrastructure, schools that resemble stalags, little healthcare (of the sort you envision) then it (taxes) is theft

Er, yeah. Right-wing fundamentalists voted for George W. Bush, who used taxes to fund an illegitimate war, systemic torture, and a corrupt financial system. And then they accused Obama of being a Marxist Muslim terrorist for pointing out that the infrastructure is crumbling, schools resemble stalags, and forty million Americans are without healthcare. That's not a potshot, that's a statement of the obvious.

And Calvinism and gullibility are not mutually exclusive. One fosters the other. Why else would we have people who live in trailers up in arms about the inheritance tax?

BoysMom said...

What about those of us who believe that the government encouraged this behavior? That giving the government control over more of society and economy will simply create more of this current mess?
Education, supported by the government, has become non-education. Look at the VA medical system, and all the problems with it. Look at all the crooks in politics, who haven't even the grace to be embarassed enough to resign when caught! (I'll point to Stevens and Blagovich, examples from both sides of the aisle.) You want those guys running health care? I thought you were in favor of a wellness centered approch? There's no money (comparatively speaking) in healthy people, you know. I'd much rather keep my high deductable plan (incedentally, my max-out-of-pocket is lower than low deductable plans) and HSA, which allows me to pay for health, not illness. I wish more folks could get this sort of plan, and that it wasn't so employer-tied. But that's government regs that insist that it be so. The government regulated a corporate structure (corporations are government-created entities--you can't have corporations without government) that encourages these sorts of bonuses and other behaviors you're decrying.
Yes, me paying taxes for 'education' when kids aren't being educated is theft. What else would you call it? I'd rather have that money for my own kids' education, since we're doing it on a shoestring. But hey, at least my kids can read, write, and do arithmatic, which their public schooled friends cannot. If I want to get out of my driveway today (over a foot of snow as of now) I'll have to shovel the street as well, because the city isn't bothering. Not hasn't gotten to it yet because there are only three of us at this tag end street, but will NOT plow it. The neighbor across the street will get around to it later today or tomorrow--he has an ATV with a plow, and we'll chip in for his gas. But our taxes didn't pay for it.
I guess resenting paying taxes and having to also do it myself or pay for it myself makes me a right-wing fundamentalist? I'm sure I'm not a Calvinist.

Anonymous said...

“Right-wing fundamentalists voted for George W. Bush”

So did Episcopalian atheists and spinster cat fanciers. Why not blame them as well?

Pretty Lady said...

What about those of us who believe that the government encouraged this behavior?

Government Is Good vs. Government Is Bad arguments are too simplistic. There are a whole host of possible paradigms that can address the problems you point out, without enabling people like Bush to demonstrate that government is incompetent by governing incompetently.

First of all, education. Yes, huge numbers of public schools are execrable. Should we then get rid of public schools? What's going to happen to millions of ghetto kids whose families are ignorant, working two jobs to survive, can't afford private school and are incapable of homeschooling? Should they be running around in the gutters, joining gangs and prostituting themselves?

Or should we, maybe, look at different ways to improve public schools, while leaving the options of homeschooling and charter schools open as well? I can guarantee that whatever education you give your own kids, they'll benefit by NOT having a huge underclass of career thugs to contend with.

I really, really, really, really don't understand people who think that the poor will just disappear if, as a society, we completely ignore them.

Second: healthcare. The fact that healthcare is tied to employment is a direct result of machinations, during the 1950's, by corporate interests who wanted to be able to hold onto their workers by bribing them with benefits. Now these same corporations are going bankrupt, leaving employees without pensions or healthcare, while new companies are burdened by having to provide increasingly expensive health benefits. Making health insurance portable and universal--i.e., funded by the government instead of the employer--would relieve large employers of this crippling financial burden, thus boosting our economy while maintaining a healthier citizenry.

I have repeatedly pointed out that universal healthcare does not necessarily have to be administered by the government, only funded by the government. I have repeatedly offered one paradigm which makes this possible. If more people let go of either/or thinking, maybe more people would understand what I am talking about.

Moreover, there are many countries which provide universal healthcare, and spend less money per capita on healthcare than does the U.S., with a healthier citizenry. There's nothing preventing us from seriously examining those systems, picking and choosing what seems to work best, and trying it out--except for the large number of people screaming that they don't want government-administered healthcare.

I have relatives who live in Maine, and some towns have excellent plowing, while others don't. All the locals know which county line to avoid crossing after a snowstorm.

Government is as good or as lousy as its citizens, who are either willing to inform themselves, insist on transparency and accountability, or else shrug their shoulders and give up.

George, SOME Episcopalian atheists and spinster cat-fanciers voted for Bush, others didn't. The fundamentalists, however, voted as a bloc.

BoysMom said...

PL, that was my point, we have lousy government. We're dealing with reality, here. Let's not trust government to do new things right when it's still screwing up on the old. In an ideal world we'd have good government. I'd like to see proof of good government before handing them any more power. I just always ask what could go wrong with this (What Would Stalin Do?) and have come to the conclusion that centralizing things gives those who are evil an advantage. This is where I stand. I understand that you stand in a rather different place, though I'm not sure where it is.
Corporations are government creations. If we didn't have government permitting corporations, we wouldn't have corporations behaving badly. We could get rid of corporations and see what happens? I'd be up for that experiment. In the mean time, there's no point in blaming corporations for behaving badly when government allows them to.
I would like an example of one single program where government funding does not mean government administration. I simply don't buy that healthcare will be any different.
I don't think the poor will disapear if we ignore them: I think government has a huge vested interest in keeping people poor. Look at what you deal with if you want to start up a small business on the side. Makes it awfully hard to get ahead. (Besides, I am poor. By government standards, anyway. We could get medical coverage through the state, and probably food stamps. Not interested. We are willfully poor, poor because we put our children first. I understand that there are those who are poor who didn't make such a choice.) I think we'd have far fewer poor people if we got our acts together as communities and took care of our people. Instead the government takes our money and it goes off into some black hole somewhere, and doesn't fund any of the things we want funded.
I believe you and I have much the same priorities.

Anonymous said...

"Government is as good or as lousy as its citizens"

My point exactly, making who voted for which irrelevant. The electorate has not given up, they've sold themselves cheap. It's nice to think that people that have should care for those that don't. They don't. They don't because the government has promised to take care of it all. Remember "are there no workhouses?" We've been relieved of our responsibility to one another. It is a broad point but it's basically true.

Pretty Lady said...

We're dealing with reality, here.

That's precisely what *I* was thinking. We're stuck with government. Getting rid of it, leaving a vacuum of schools, jobs, infrastructure, law enforcement, and social structure isn't a realistic option. Things were not better for the average human being when the world was composed of tiny city/states, chronically warring with one another for glory and resources. Haven't you read Stephenson's Baroque Cycle?

And I don't think government has a vested interest in keeping people poor, if you define 'government' as 'the system we create as a society to deal with problems that affect all members of society.' People with inordinate amounts of power have a vested interest in keeping people poor, which is not entirely the same thing. If it's done with sufficient citizen vigilance at a grassroots level--community organizers, anyone?--government can be a check on that sort of power.

I agree that doing as many things locally as possible is best, instead of centralization, but with multinational corporations controlling most of the planet, we do need central governments with enough clout to put the brakes on them.

George, people who are lazy, selfish and indifferent will always find a reason to be that way, whether society as a whole sets up safety nets or not. Blaming the existence of the safety net for that selfishness is yet another selfish cop-out. Christian charity is wondrous when it occurs spontaneously, but it's arrogant and cruel to declare to desperate people that if it doesn't happen to occur, too bad for you.

I know a French family that has been involved in missionary work for generations; they don't stop taking care of the destitute because the French government takes care of its citizens. On the contrary, they are able to work harder on behalf of the poor, in Africa and elsewhere, because their healthcare and education are taken care of. Setting up a social system which covers the baseline needs of all of its citizens frees those with genuine philanthropic impulses to focus on them, without struggling daily for survival.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think government has a vested interest in keeping people poor"

No not poor - erodes the tax base. Just dependent - ensures an easily controlled herd.

BoysMom said...

Pretty Lady, the 'people with inordinate amounts of power' are the people I see running the government. You don't see that? I like your idea of government as a system to deal with problems affecting society. I don't see it functioning that way. Do you think the current government can be reformed? I think it's less likely that it will be reformed than that it will self-destruct. I think it would be easier to dismantle government and put together a new government than to reform the existing leviathan.
I haven't read Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. You are talking about the fiction writer Neil Stephenson, right? I generally don't expect those guys to portray history accurately, though, they get to take artistic liscence. I'm currently reading 'A Short History of Byzantium' by John Julius Norwich.
It's easier around here, at least, to get immediate help from charities. The food bank can give you a box of food any day of the week. The charities help people immediately, with what they need today. They have limited resources, but they can appeal for more and get it quickly.
George--since when does being poor mean you don't get taxed? Sales, vehicle, fuel, phone, electricity, liscenses of any sort, property (covered by rent if you don't own), social security and medicare if you earn any income, and I'd bet there's more, that's just off the top of my head.

Pretty Lady said...

the 'people with inordinate amounts of power' are the people I see running the government.

Elected officials have to run for re-election. They can be impeached. They have to have some sort of public accountability for their actions. This accountability will only increase with the advent of new technology, and increased citizen engagement.

People who have huge amounts of money aren't necessarily constrained by these factors. This is why campaign finance reform is such a vital issue, and why there's a fundamental difference between Obama's grassroots fundraising, and the deep-pocket donors that have mostly driven political campaigns in the past.

I think we have a responsibility to try to reform the current government. This may very well fail, but revolutions usually cause more misery than they solve.

Of course Stephenson's novels aren't literal depictions of history, by any stretch of the imagination, but he paints a very vivid picture of what life is like for people who constantly see their villages overrun with invaders, year after year after year, with little recourse to stop it or even to understand what is happening. Bandits come through, raping and pillaging; displaced people are forced to become bandits to survive. The line between soldier and bandit is erased. It is perfectly possible to spend a backbreaking year tilling your fields, only to have the field and your home burned to the ground at the end of it.

People who decry the corruption of modern society really have no apprehension of how our era stacks up against history, in terms of violence, health and wealth per capita. The improvement has been both global and exponential, with a few notable exceptions.

The definition of power is changing as well. Power is increasingly determined by information and connection, rather than brute force. The global power structure is becoming more heterogenous by leaps and bounds; no one country or culture has a hegemony anymore. We HAVE to learn to get along with each other, or perish.