AndrewCarnegie3Paul Krugman reviews “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by French economist Thomas Piketty, and discovers the origins of “Confiscatory Taxation on Excess Incomes: An American Invention.” What do you know?

one point Piketty makes is that the modern notion that redistribution and “penalizing success” is un- and anti-American is completely at odds with our country’s actual history. One subsection in Piketty’s book is titled “Confiscatory Taxation of Excess Incomes: An American Invention”; he shows that America actually pioneered very high taxes on the rich:

When we look at the history of progressive taxation in the twentieth century, it is striking to see how far out in front Britain and the United States were, especially the latter, which invented the confiscatory tax on “excessive” incomes and fortunes.

Why was this the case? Piketty points to the American egalitarian ideal, which went along with fear of creating a hereditary aristocracy. High taxes, especially on estates, were motivated in part by “fear of coming to resemble Old Europe.” Among those who called for high estate taxation on social and political grounds was the great economist Irving Fisher.

Just to reemphasize the point: during the Progressive Era, it was commonplace and widely accepted to support high taxes on the rich specifically in order to keep the rich from getting richer — a position that few people in politics today would dare espouse.

There are many reasons our precursors would have been against these trends that support the creation of an American aristocracy. Egalitarian ideal? Isn’t that socialism? Creating wealth is fine and plenty noble, but safeguarding it is not what life is about – much to the dismay of some of us. To our further dismay, the whole notion of what was and what was not imagined by the founders of this country or by later generations who helped shape it continues to be a poorly understood system of rakes on the path. Please do watch out.

Image: Andrew Carnegie, who made a lot of money but also had ideas about the role of surplus wealth that many might find surprising.

This is amazing. Amazingly simple.

Duke Energy has been dumping toxic liquid into a public waterway in North Carolina for sometime, attention to which has prompted state officials to cite Duke for violations. But then, a funny thing happens to the story:

Internal emails released Thursday by environmental lawyers confirm what activists have long charged: the North Carolina authorities tasked with regulating Duke Energy — the company responsible for the Dan River coal ash disaster — have been colluding with the corporation behind closed doors to undermine concerned environmental groups.

“These documents reveal a very cozy relationship between the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Duke and a deferential approach from DENR to Duke,” said Nick Torrey, Associate Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, in an interview with Common Dreams.

In January 2013, the SELC announced plans to sue Duke Energy on behalf of environmental organizations over dangerous coal ash ponds near Asheville, North Carolina. This was soon followed by similar action regarding the Riverbend coal ash dump north of Mount Holly. “For a long time, they’ve known their coal ash ponds are leaking and polluting groundwater,” said Torrey.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, citizens can sue a polluter to enforce environmental law. Yet, before they do so, they must give 60 days’ notice to the polluter to ostensibly give that polluter the opportunity clean up its act, explained Torrey. However, a state agency can file its own lawsuit, and if it does so on the exact same claims raised in the 60 day notice letter, then those groups cannot file own suit in federal court.

“Each time we sent 60 day notice letters, on approximately the 59th day, the DENR would file its own enforcement action,” said Torrey, explaining this effectively blocked the environmental suits.

So, if you are Duke Energy (or any number of other highly-profitable corporate entities) you can do as you wish with the land, sea and air, and when anyone notices you then can arrange with friendly state agencies, optimally peopled with your own people, to be hit with trivial fines and non-binding directives to “study” the potential effects of your pollution, ‘penalties’ that will effectively pre-empt other, perhaps more significant, law suits from environmental groups. Now that is authentic frontier gibberish corruption.

We have no excuse for this whatsoever.

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Ec_logo_800I love loathe stories like this – not because of how they’re reported or who they’re about, but because they are unfortunately true:

Most Americans likely assume that the NewsHour (which, after all, is made with support from viewers like you) is actually owned and produced by PBS. It is an understandable assumption considering PBS’s own president declared that the NewsHour “is ours, and ours alone,” and further considering that the program receives millions of public dollars every year.

However, since 1994, the NewsHour has been produced and primarily owned by the for-profit colossus, Liberty Media. Liberty, which is run by conservative billionaire John Malone, owns the majority stake in MacNeil/Lehrer Productions – the entity that produces the journalistic content of the show. While other standalone public television projects are often produced by small independent production companies, the NewsHour stands out for being owned by a major for-profit media conglomerate headed by a politically active billionaire.

But now that ownership is about to change. According to an internal memo sent to staff by NewsHour’s founders and minority owners Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, ownership of NewsHour will soon be transferred from Liberty Media to Washington, D.C.’s PBS member station, WETA.

I know – I have a public television project – there are all kinds of weird machines whirring within every sausage factory. But this split of an ostensible public good into partnerships with for-profit companies more resembles how/where democracy goes to die, if I can borrow from Pierce (And I can. Everyone can). Just look at the language MacNeil/Lehrer uses use to justify the need for an ownership change, proving you can tell yourself most anything.

And the point isn’t just the loss of a source once perhaps trusted that now should be applied only by trained cynical professionals. The realization, if that’s what it is, is that independent media outlets practically need to be hardcore believers to exist at all – despite the success of some, it’s a drag when the most important societal functions can only be left in the hands of the pure of heart and selfless of motive.

Image: 1970s PBS children’s series “The Electric Company.”

Reports of capitalism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, apparently. Interesting take on resiliency from The Guardian:

The idea – catastrophism, as it is often called – that the system was going to crumble under the pressure of its own contradictions, that the bourgeoisie produces its own “gravediggers” (as Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto) has been disproved. When the rate of profit started showing signs of decline in the first half of the 70s, the redistributive policies implemented after the second world war were terminated and the neoliberal revolution was launched.

This resilience of capitalism has little to do with the dominant classes being particularly clever or far-sighted. In fact, they can keep on making mistakes – yet capitalism still thrives. Why?

Capitalism has created a world of great complexity since its birth. Yet at its core, it is based on a set of simple mechanisms that can easily adapt to adversity. This is a kind of “generative grammar” in Noam Chomsky’s sense: a finite set of rules can generate an infinity of outcomes.

The context today is very different from that of the 60s and 70s. The global left, however, is in danger of committing the same error of underestimating capitalism all over again. Catastrophism, this time, takes the form of investing faith in a new object: climate change, and more generally the ecological crisis.

There is a worryingly widespread belief in leftwing circles that capitalism will not survive the environmental crisis. The system, so the story goes, has reached its absolute limits: without natural resources – oil among them – it can’t function, and these resources are fast depleting; the growing number of ecological disasters will increase the cost of maintaining infrastructures to unsustainable levels; and the impact of a changing climate on food prices will induce riots that will make societies ungovernable.

The beauty of catastrophism, today as in the past, is that if the system is to crumble under the weight of its own contradictions, the weakness of the left ceases to be a problem. The end of capitalism takes the form of suicide rather than murder. So the absence of a murderer – that is, an organised revolutionary movement – doesn’t really matter any more.

But the left would be better off learning from its past mistakes. Capitalism might well be capable not only of adapting to climate change but of profiting from it. One hears that the capitalist system is confronted with a double crisis: an economic one that started in 2008, and an ecological one, rendering the situation doubly perilous. But one crisis can sometimes serve to solve another.

Literal headline from Climate ProgressChipotle Warns It Might Stop Serving Guacamole If Climate Change Gets Worse

The guacamole operation at Chipotle is massive. The company uses, on average, 97,000 pounds of avocado every day to make its guac — which adds up to 35.4 million pounds of avocados every year. And while the avocado industry is fine at the moment, scientists are anticipating drier conditions due to climate change, which may have negative effects on California’s crop. Scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for example, predict hotter temps will cause a 40 percent drop in California‘s avocado production over the next 32 years.

We don’t even have a Chipotle – though we did enjoy the excellently local Tlaloc last night. Mmmm… but (“Batman” Voiceover voice): Is this a sign of things to come?

Tune in next week tomorrow right now WTFU.

The great filmmaker passed away on March 1 at 91. Great life, great work, as much joy, collaboration and exploration as any one person may hope to accomplish. Here’s the 13-minute short, Guernica, from 1950. Poetry.

It’s, well, amusing is not the right word but, fatuous how some might think that since trains have accidents and barges can spill oil into large rivers, that it somehow recommends a pipeline as the best way to transport crude oil:

The spill occurred on Saturday when a barge carrying oil crashed into a tugboat between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Authorities closed the stretch of river on Sunday and still can’t say exactly how much oil was spilled, though a light sheen of oil is being reported. No injuries were reported from the crash.

In St. Charles Parish, public drinking water intakes along the Mississippi were closed as a precaution, but a news release Sunday assured the public that the water supply “remains safe” in the parish. As of Sunday night, the closure was stalling 16 vessels waiting to go downriver and 10 waiting to go upriver.

Keystone XL lurks as an epic, grand scale, Spielberg-meets-Ridley-Scott-on-the-steppes-featuring-Russell-Crowe-As-Tom-Hanks environmental disaster waiting to happen. TransCanada’s track record is already a Spotify favorite. Yes, that’s right.

As always, it’s the problem that’s the problem.

 

As much as I want to and probably should just post poems all the time, some serious OMG as Nomoremister points us to a post about the less humane reasons why high levels of inequality are so damn bad:

What is happening in America today is both unprecedented in our history, and virtually unique among Western democratic nations. The share of our labor force devoted to guard labor has risen fivefold since 1890 — a year when, in case you were wondering, the homicide rate was much higher than today.

Is this the curse of affluence? Or of ethnic diversity? We don’t think so. The guard-labor share of employment in the United States is four times what it is in Sweden, where living standards rival America’s. And Britain, with its diverse population, uses substantially less guard labor than the United States.

In America, growing inequality has been accompanied by a boom in gated communities and armies of doormen controlling access to upscale apartment buildings. We did not count the doormen, or those producing the gates, locks and security equipment. One could quibble about the numbers; we have elsewhere adopted a broader definition, including prisoners, work supervisors with disciplinary functions, and others.

Sure I’d rather dwell on why growing inequality is unjust and unhealthy for a democracy. But this is the Third World coming to a United Staes near you. Gruesome.

By W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

See more.

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