Friday, September 07, 2007

Footnotes to Previous

Here are some nice illustrations of my comments below:

First, there's an excellent piece by the New York Times' Stephanie Strom on the effects of big-time philanthropy.
  • Because "the United States is one of a handful of countries to allow givers a tax deduction, . . . . the public is letting private individuals decide how to allocate money on their behalf."
It's worth reading that last phrase several times. The wealthy donor, like real estate developer Eli Broad (pictured), has so much influence over the spending of social resources that it's not unlike "one dollar one vote." This is one of the big economic issues that splits liberals from the left, with the former happily keeping elites in charge. Anyone remember Tom Hayden's late 1970s "Campaign for Economic Democracy"? The idea of democratizing the economy marked Hayden as still-radical. And it still would.
  • "Research shows that less than 10 percent of the money Americans give to charity addresses basic human needs, like sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry and caring for the indigent sick, and that the wealthiest typically devote an even smaller portion of their giving to such causes than everyone else." (In Eli Broad's case, the "human needs" donations come to about 2%.)
Unsurprisingly, the wealthy spend money on their stuff, not on stuff for other people. Philanthropy works well for selected special projects, but does not promote general social development.
  • Direct elite control of so much social spending (defined broadly to include college football stadiums) is justified by genteel Darwinist contempt for the poor. Eli Broad repeats the proverb, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This proverb, wrongly applied to the poor, says that the poor are poor because they are incapable, i.e. dumb, lazy, and ignorant, and will be fine if they learn to be more like their betters. The wealthiest Democrat in world history, Warren Buffett, puts it differently: "I think the government ought to make sure that all the people here who drew short straws have a decent minimum."

Buffett's view is somewhat better, it that it says the poor are unlucky and not just inadequate. (He also publicly objects to the absurd injustices of current tax policy.) But we are still a long way from the concept that folks are poor because they are systematically underpaid and screwed over by gross inequities in everything from school quality to tax policy - by inequities that favor nice guys like Broad and Buffett. Such ideas place the Left outside the carefully protected political mainstream, and in the US exist under a media embargo.

Paul Krugman's column slams the Doltocrats for their usual foolish compromising on Iraq war policy that guarantees the war will continue. I assume his position flows from his horror at the war, the waste and the pointless death, but I can see it also flows from his deep, permanent rage towards those who cook stats and create fake realities. This rage is only slightly more intense than his rage at those who accept the cooked stats and the phony numbers. Krugman had a long history of liberal social views and neoliberal economic ones (he was a major proponent of "free trade" during the Clinton years, and still is). But he has been radicalized - on the narrow American terrain - by discovering in himself his own willingness to confront - as obnoxiously as necesdsary - the lies and the lying liars even or especially when they come from the top.

We need to be able to talk about all these things. The tax-subsidized social giving of the rich is a crucial issue as the U.S. turns increasingly into a class society much like Dickensian England, which its leaders advertise as a glorious victory to a world where 1% of the population owns 40% of the world's resources and 10% owns 85%.

Hurry up, world: in the US 40% of our national income last year went to the top 0.1%!

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