The Immorality and Brutal Violence of Extreme Greed

Yves here. Please welcome guest blogger #SlayTheSmaugs. For those of you who have neither read The Hobbit nor seen the movies, “Smaug” is probably a meaningless word. In The Hobbit, Smaug is a massive and vicious dragon. He sits on a pile of gold and jewels that would bury a football stadium’s grass several feet deep, and he knows how much he has down to the last golden cup. He does nothing with his wealth except sit on it, and glory in it; that is his hoard’s only purpose. Smaug is greed incarnate.

Also note that #SlayTheSmaugs implicitly reinforces the “taxes fund spending” narrative by using government spending as a scale to understand how big the hoards are. While the scale is helpful and rhetorically, may seem to make for a stronger case for redistribute taxes (we need the money and they have it), it is important to remember that the real constraint on Federal spending is inflation. The low labor participation rate, stagnant real wages, the rise of McJobs and part-time work, and the inability of the Fed to hit its inflation targets all point in the same direction: the US needs to spend a lot more than it is now.

In keeping with the moral imperative #SlayTheSmaugs articulates there are plenty of reasons to tax the top wealthy much more aggressively. Lambert’s top three:

To keep them from buying government with their loose cash

To prevent the development of an aristocracy via inheritance

For the health and welfare of their children

By #SlayTheSmaugs, an elected Bernie delegate in Philly. #STS believes that the billionaire class are Smaugs (the greed incarnate dragon of The Hobbit), immorally hoarding wealth for no reason beyond ego gratification. To “Slay” the Smaugs, we need a confiscatory wealth tax, stronger democratic institutions to impose it, and a shared moral agreement that #GreedIsEvil to justify it.

Worshiping Wealth

When Gordon Gekko proclaimed that ‘Greed is Good’ in 1987, it was an obvious rejection of several millennia of teachings by traditional prophets and priests. Yet when Gekko preached greed, he was merely reinforcing the current cultural norm; greed had already been rebranded  a virtue. (Still, the speech was to remind us Gekko was a bad guy).  Consider that Madonna had proclaimed herself a Material Girl three years earlier, and “Living Large” was cool. Conspicuous consumption is walking the talk that greed is good.

Why had greed become good? I blame the creation of a credit-fueled culture of constant consumption that necessarily praises coveting stuff, plus the dismantling of the regulatory state that had kept Wall Street and wannabe oligarchs in check.

Our healthy cultural adoration of the self-made man, of respect for success, warped into worship of the rich. They are not the same. Wealth can be inherited, stolen through fraud and other illegal activities, or harvested from bubbles; none of these or myriad other paths to riches is due respect, much less worship. Paired with another 80’s definition—government is the problem—worshiping wealth facilitates all the dysfunction in our government.

Remembering Greed is Evil

Thirty years later, the old social norm—the one that protected the many from the few, the one that demonized greed as a deadly sin—is resurgent. We have a Pope who preaches against greed, and who walks his talk. We had a Presidential candidate of a major party—Bernie Sanders—who railed against those living embodiments of greed, the Billionaire Class, and walked his talk by rejecting their money. At the convention, he has invited delegates to four workshops, one of which is “One Nation Now: Winning the Fight Against Racism and Greed”. We have a late night comedian—John Oliver—ridiculing the prosperity gospel and taking on the debt industry.  We have mass consciousness rising, reflected in Occupy, the label “the 99%”, BLM and more.

But we need more voices insisting #GreedIsEvil. We need to teach that basic message at home, in school, and in houses of worship. We need to send the right signals in our social interactions. We need to stop coveting stuff, and start buying with a purpose: Shopping locally, buying American, buying green and clean, and buying less. We need to waste less, share more and build community. We need to re-norm-alize greed as evil, make it shameful again. Then we will have redefined ourselves as citizens, not consumers.

But make no mistake: America cannot become a just nation simply by the 99% becoming more virtuous. The cultural shift is necessary but not sufficient, for norms alone do not deliver social and economic justice. Shame will not slay the Smaugs; we need structural change in the political economy.

Extreme greed, the greed of Smaugs, is categorically different than the petit greed underlying the irrational, constant consumption and the worship of wealth. Extreme greed manifests as a hoard of wealth so great that “purchasing power” is an irrelevant concept; a hoard so great it lacks any utility other than to be sat upon as a throne, gratifying the Smaug’s ego and symbolizing his power. That greed must be understood as an intolerable evil, something so base and malevolent that the full power of the state must be used against it.

This essay is my contribution to the cause of returning extreme greed to its rightful place in the pantheon of ultimate evils. Here is the thesis: extreme greed must be ‘slain’ by the state because extreme greed is brutally violent.

The Stealth Violence of False Scarcity and “Cutting Corners”

Greed’s violence is quiet and deadly: The violence of false scarcity and of “corner cutting”. Scarcity is not having enough because there just isn’t enough to go round, like the nearly 50 million people who don’t reliably have food during the year, including 15 million kids. False scarcity is when actually, there’s plenty to go around, but people generally don’t have enough because of hoarders.

It’s a concentrated version of what happened to pennies in 1999. People keeping pennies in piggy banks created a shortage felt throughout New York City.  If only people had broken open their piggy banks, and used their pennies, there would have been plenty of pennies in circulation, and shopkeepers wouldn’t lose money by rounding purchases down. In this piece, I’m focusing on false scarcity of dollars, not pennies, and the maiming and premature death that results from false dollar scarcity. But the idea is essentially the same; there’s just far fewer relevant piggy banks.

By the quiet violence of ‘corner cutting’, I’m referring to unsafe, even deadly, workplaces that could be safe if the employers invested in safety.

Sporadically, greed also drives overt, and sometimes profoundly bloody violence to protect the hoard.  Think of employer violence against unions and union organizers, a la Henry Ford, or John D. Rockefeller. Nonetheless in this country now, the violence of greed tends to be more covert. It is that quiet violence, in both forms, I want you to hear now.

As Sanders often reminds us, in this, the richest nation in the world, nearly 50 million people are living in poverty; roughly one in seven Americans. And as Sanders explained, in a speech in West Virginia, 130,000 people die each and every year as a result of poverty. I have not read the study Sanders referred to, so I don’t know how much it overlaps with the rise of suicide that accelerated after 2006 and which appears to be correlated with financial stress. Nor do I know how it overlaps with the documented increase in white mortality that also appears to correlate with financial stress. Regardless of overlap, however, each of these studies reflects the quiet violence of false scarcity. Naked Capitalism has featured many posts documenting the damage of greed; this is a recent one.

Chronic and acute financial stress from false scarcity maims, and kills. And Smaugs create false scarcity to feed money to their egos and maintain their oligarchic power.

As Lambert often says, they don’t call it class warfare for nothing.

But wait, you might insist, how false is the scarcity, really? How much do a few billionaires matter? Ranting that greed is evil is all well and good, but really, can a relative handful of people be manufacturing scarcity where there is none, shortening and taking millions of lives in the process? Aren’t you making your target too narrow in going after the Smaugs?

In order: Very false, a lot, yes and no.

The Falsity of Dollar Scarcity

In 2015 the Institute for Policy Studies determined that the richest 20 American billionaires had hoarded as much wealth as 152 million people had managed to scrape together combined. Think on that.

Twenty people had hoarded $732,000,000,000.  America is a nation of about 300,000,000 people. That means 20 people could give a combined $2,370 to every American, and still hoard $1 billion each. I’m not suggesting that’s how the redistribution should be done, but it’s notable that in an era when some 200 million Americans haven’t been able to save $1000 for an emergency, twenty people could give everyone over two grand while remaining fabulously wealthy.

Now, these 20 monstrous people, these full grown Smaugs, are not alone in their extreme greed. Adding in the assets of the next 380 richest Americans brings the total wealth hoarded to $2.34 trillion. That number is so large it’s hard to process, so let’s think this through.

First, imagine that we took all of that money with a confiscatory tax, except we again left each of the 400 people with $1 billion. They would still be obscenely rich, so don’t pity them.* Our tax thus netted $1.94 trillion. Since that’s still an unimaginable number, let’s compare it to some recent government spending.

In December 2015, Congress funded five years’ worth of infrastructure construction. Congress and President Obama were very self-congratulatory because our infrastructure is a mess, and building things involves good paying jobs. So, how much did five years of infrastructure building and job creation cost? $305 billion. That’s less than the $400 billion we let the 400 Smaugs keep at the start of this thought experiment. With the $1.94 trillion we imagine confiscating, we could keep building at the 2015 pace for 32 years. Or we could spend it much faster, and create an economic boom the like of which this nation hasn’t seen in generations.

Even Bernie Sanders, he of the supposedly overly ambitious, unable-to-be-paid for initiatives, only proposed spending $1 trillion on infrastructure over five years—a bit more than half what our tax would net. (Nor did this supposed radical call for a confiscatory wealth tax to fund his plan.) Sanders estimated his proposal would create 13 million good paying jobs. With nearly double the money, surely we get nearly double the jobs? Let’s be conservative and say 22 million.

In sum, we could confiscate most of the wealth of 400 people—still leaving them obscenely rich with $1 billion each—and create 22 million good paying jobs over five years. But we don’t; we let the Smaugs keep their hoards intact.  Now consider this is only taxing 400 people; what if we taxed the richest 2,000 people more justly? What if we taxed corporations effectively? What if we stopped giving corporate welfare? A confiscatory wealth tax, however, simply isn’t discussed in polite company, any more than a truly progressive income tax is, or even serious proposals to end corporate welfare. The best we can do is agree that really, someday soon, we should end the obscenity that is the carried interest loophole.

False scarcity isn’t simply a failure of charity, a hoarding of wealth that should be alms for the poor. False scarcity is created through the billionaires’ control of the state, of public policy.  But the quiet violence of greed isn’t visited on the 99% only through the failure to pay adequate taxes. Not even through the Smaugs’ failure to have their corporations pay adequate wages, or benefits. Predatory lending, predatory servicing, fraudulent foreclosure, municipal bond rigging, and pension fund fleecing are just some of the many other ways immoral greed creates false scarcity.

While false scarcity has the broadest impact, it is not the only form of stealth violence used by the billionaires in their class war against the rest of us. The Ford and Rockefeller style violence of fists and guns may be rare in the U.S. these days, but a variant of it remains much too common: Unsafe workplaces, the quiet violence of “cutting corners”. Whether it’s the coal industry, the poultry industry, or the fracking and oil industries, or myriad other industries, unsafe workplaces kill, maim and sicken workers. Part of the political economy restructuring we must do includes transforming the workplace.

Feel the Greed

Let us remember why this stealth violence exists—why false scarcity and unsafe workplaces exist.

People who have more money than they hope to spend for the rest of their lives, no matter how many of their remaining days are “rainy”; people who have more money to pass on than their children need for a lifetime of financial security, college and retirement included; people who have more money to pass on than their grandchildren need for a similarly secure life–these  people insist on extracting still more wealth from their workers, their clients, and taxpayers for no purpose beyond vaingloriously hoarding it.

Sure, some give away billions. But even so they retain billions. For what? More; charitable foundations are not the same thing, in many cases, as true charity. Instead foundations often function as hoard preservers as well, and enrich their leadership too.

In Conclusion

Greed is evil, but it comes in different intensities. Petit greed is a corrosive illness that decays societies, but can be effectively ameliorated through norms and social capital. Smaug greed is so toxic, so potent, that the state is the only entity powerful enough to put it in check. Greed, particularly Smaug greed, must be put in check because the false scarcity it manufactures, and the unsafe workplaces it creates, maim and kill people. The stealth violence of Smaug greed justifies a tax to confiscate the hoards.

#GreedIsEvil. It’s time to #SlayTheSmaugs

*One of the arguments against redistribution is that is against the sacrosanct efficient market, which forbids making one person better off if the price is making someone else worse off. But money has diminishing returns as money after a certain point; the purchasing power between someone with one billion and ten billion dollars is negligible, though the difference between someone with ten thousand and a hundred thousand, or a hundred thousand and a million is huge. After a certain level of accumulation money is simply ego gratifying points, it’s not money any more. Thus taking it and using it as money isn’t making someone ‘worse off’ in an economic sense. Also, when considering whether someone is ‘worse off’, it’s worth considering where their money comes from; how many people did they leave ‘worse off’ as they extracted the money?

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  1. Brett

    After a certain level of accumulation money is simply ego gratifying points, it’s not money any more.

    It quite literally isn’t “money” as we regular folks know it beyond a certain point – it’s tied up in share value and other assets. Which of course raises the question – when you decide to do your mass confiscation of wealth, who is going to be foolish enough to buy those assets so you actually have liquid currency to spend on infrastructure as opposed to illiquid assets? Or are you simply going to print money and spend it on them?

    1. #SlayTheSmaugs Post author

      I’m happy to chat about “how” to responsibly confiscate Smaug wealth; this post was purely to justify such confiscation…

      1. Brett

        That’s good.

        How do you want to do it? Like I said, most of that wealth isn’t currency that you can spend – it’s assets of varying liquidity, with a lot of it being shares. Existing billionaires can’t cash out a significant fraction of their ownership shares without devastating the value of the rest unless they do it carefully and/or gradually, and a nationalization would be even harder – after all, who are you going to sell them to in order to get the funding you really want, and who would be foolish enough to buy them knowing you might just confiscate them again without compensation later on?

        Or you could just print money and spent it on them. A very disruptive way to increase inflation and get money to spend, but it would work.

        1. #SlayTheSmaugs Post author

          Well, when banks went under they gave equities and bonds to the fed, precisely to prevent liquidation in a crisis fashion. One way to do the tax, then, would be to create an authority to receive such assets, manage and liquidate them over time. Foundations do this; Buffett gives his stocks with requirements that it be sold and spent. They can also sell real assets, like real estate. How is a much less difficult problem than getting the political will to do it.

        2. James Kroeger

          Existing billionaires can’t cash out a significant fraction of their ownership shares without devastating the value of the rest..

          This is actually a much more important point than it might seem at first glance. It is an absolute fact that any substantial increase in the tax ‘burden’ imposed on the very wealthy will drive down asset prices. The good news for rich people is that this deflation will not actually harm them in any real way.

          It would simply reverse the price inflation that has been occurring since legislators decided to reduce the tax ‘burden’ of rich people over the past few decades.

          What rich people do not realize is that when all rich people are given the same big boost in their disposable incomes, none of them actually ends up being better off, in real terms.

          All of those extra disposable dollars/pounds/euros ends up getting burned up in a pure inflation event.

          Increasing the tax ‘burden’ of rich people would indeed set off a round of deflation in the asset markets, but in real terms, rich would lose nothing, all else equal.

          They would continue to have the highest disposable incomes in the land, and in a market economy, that’s all the disposable income you need to obtain the scarcest goods/services/experiences that the economy brings to market.

          They would remain at the top of the economic ladder and they would actually experience no loss of overall purchasing power. The prices of all those things the wealthy like to buy would simply drop to a level that they would find affordable.

          They’d still own everything, only at lower prices.

          So your point that prices would drop is true, but in real terms, rich people would lose nothing.

          1. #SlayTheSmaugs Post author

            Just because ownership of assets transfer, it doesn’t mean the assets have been liquidated, and it is the liquidation that has the effect you are talking about. What am I missing?

            1. James Kroeger

              The biggest problem with taxing ‘wealth’ is that our estimates of how much a billionaire is worth are based on the assumption that current prices in the marketplace could be obtained if the billionaire’s non-monetary assets were sold.

              Of course, if all billionaires were to try to sell their assets in order pay the tax in dollars/pounds/euros, the original price estimates of those assets would not hold.

              So you’ve suggested that a predictable collapse of prices could be avoided if the government were to simply seize ownership of the assets and then sell them off gradually over time.

              This may be true to a certain extent, but it would sort of defeat the purpose of orchestrating a major seizure of privately held assets, wouldn’t it, if spendable funds would only become available slowly over time? If you are quite sure that you don’t want to see asset prices decline precipitously, then why even bother with the seizure?

              The purpose of taxation is to give the government money to spend. The seizure of non-monetary assets in the way you have suggested (gradual liquidation) does not so much give the government money to spend as it gives the government something to own.

              I’m finding it difficult to see any beneficial end that can be derived from the government getting itself involved in the business of ‘owning stuff’, especially since it can much more directly obtain the spendable funds it requires by taxing income.

              It seems far more prudent for the government to stay away from such concerns (managing its properties) and simply rely upon citizens providing it with the most liquid of all forms of wealth: spendable cash.

              Understand that even relying only on higher marginal tax rates and a sales tax on financial transactions would still end up producing a decline in asset prices.

              The upper class as a whole would have far fewer disposable dollars/pounds/euros on hand with which to bid up the prices of a relatively fixed number of assets (real estate, art, luxuries in general, less so equities), and so they would gradually decline (see the Great Depression).

  2. Thomas Hinds

    Wealth on this scale has nothing to do with financial security or luxurious living. For the trivial, it is (as per D. Trump) a game and money is how you keep score. For the serious, it has to do with power, with the ability to affect other people’s lives without their consent. That is why the Smaugs’ wealth is absolutely our business. It should be understood that we’re talking about taking very large amounts of money and power away from very rich people, people for whom money and power are pretty much the only things they value. It will not be pretty.

    1. redleg

      At some point it stops being “not pretty” and becomes bloody. But where is that point?
      One way or another extreme wealth will get redistributed eventually.

      1. JTMcPhee

        And entropy ensures that (if what I read of current cosmology is correct) the universe will end up as a big soup of motionless particles drained of energy. Scant comfort to all the “self-organized matter” that G_D or whoever put here and now with the unfortunate ability to feel pain — physical, emotional and spiritual.

        In the meantime, the sh$tes with the skills or inheritance to amass and augment all that power over others, all that wealth, all the ability like the Kochs and Adelmans and such to say “Make it so” to legislators and regulators and presidents, to force the world to conform to their fokking sick world views — but then as NC has noted, neoliberalitarianism may be a likely end point for the present political economy: “Journey Into A Libertarian Future,”

        “Government-like organizations.” Buy your insurance/protection. Everything is owned by one GLO or another. What a surprise.

  3. Ranger Rick

    People become rich and stay that way because of a market failure that allows them to accumulate capital in the same way a constricted artery accumulates blood. What I’m wondering, continuing this metaphor, is what happens when all that money is released back into the market at once via a redistribution — toxic shock syndrome.

    You can see what happens to markets in places where “virtual money” (capital) brushes up against the real economy: the dysfunctional housing situation in Vancouver, London, New York, and San Francisco.

    It may be wiser to argue for wealth disintegration instead of redistribution.

      1. a different chris

        Yes I was thinking about that … money is just something the government prints to make the system work smoothly. But that, and pretty much any view of money, obscures the problem with the insanely “wealthy”.

        If these people, instead of having huge bank accounts actually had huge armies the government would move to disarm them. It wouldn’t re-distribute the tanks and rifles. It would be obviously removing a threat to everybody.

        Now there would be the temptation to wave your hands and say you were “melting it into plowshares” but that causes an accounting problem — that is, the problem being the use of accounting itself. Destroying extreme wealth and paying for say roads is just two different things and making them sound connected is where we keep getting bogged down. Not a full-on MMT’er yet but it really has illuminated that fact.

        And no, as usual l have no solutions.

        1. John Merryman

          The western assumption is that money is a commodity, from salt to gold, to bitcoin, we assume it can be manufactured, but the underlaying reality is that it is a social contract and every asset is presumably backed by debt.
          Here is an interesting link which does make the point about the contractual basis of money in a succinct fashion;

          Since the modern commodity of money is backed by debt and largely public debt, there is enormous pressure to create as much debt as possible.
          For instance, the government doesn’t really budget, it just writes up these enormous bills, attaches enough goodies to get the votes and the president can only pass or veto it and with all the backing and no other method, a veto is a weak protection.
          To budget is to prioritize and spend according to ability. What they could do would be to break these bills into all their various “line items,” have every legislator assign a percentage value to each one, put them back together in order of preference and then the president would draw the line.
          It would balance the power and reduce the tendency to overspend, but it would blow up our financial system, which if anyone notices, is based on the sanctity of government debt.
          If instead of borrowing the excess money out of the system, to spend on whatever, if the government threatened to tax it out, people would quickly find other ways to store value than as money in the financial system.
          Since most of us save for the same general reasons, from raising children to retirement, we could invest in these as public commons, not try to save for our exact needs. This would serve to strengthen communities and their environments, as everyone would be more dependent on those around them, not just having a private bank account as their personal umbilical cord.
          We treat money as both medium of exchange and store of value. As Rick points out above, a medium is like blood in the body and it needs to be carefully regulated. Conversely, the store of value in the body is fat and while many of us do carry an excess, storing it in the circulation system is not wise. Clogged arteries, poor circulation and high blood pressure are analogous to a bloated financial system, poor circulation and QE.
          Money is not a commodity, but a contract.

      2. IDG

        In MMT world or any world even. Even under commodity-based monetary system taxing will more likely decrease savings stock than not if the governments are committed to balanced budgets, although the distributional effects may be helpful (if such distributional effects exist, but more often than not too the net effect would be middle-income households financing capital intensive projects which capitalists otherwise could not).

  4. Julian

    Do you realize that this supposed billionaire wealth does not consist of actual US dollars and that, if one were to liquidate such wealth (in order to redistribute it in “fair” equal-dollars) that number might drastically change?

    The main thing these people (and indeed your pension funds) are actually hoarding are financial assets, and those, it turns out, are actually “scarce”. Or, well, I don’t know what else you would call trillions of bonds netting a negative interest rate and an elevated P/E stock market in a low-growth environment.

    It’s a bit of a pickle from a macro environment. You can’t just force them to liquidate their assets, or else the whole system would collapse. It also kind of escapes the point that someone has to hold each asset. I would be excited to see what happens when you ask Bill Gates to liquidate his financial assets (in order to distribute the cash). An interesting thought, for sure. And one that would probably bring the market closer to reasonable valuations.

    It is simply a wrong conclusion to say “Wealth is x, and if we distribute it, everyone would get x divided by amount of recipients in dollar terms”. Now if you wanted to redistribute Bill Gates’ stake in Microsoft in some “fair” way, you could certainly try but that’s not really what you proposed.

    Either way you can’t approach wealth policy from a macro perspective like this, because as soon as you start designing macro-level policy to adjust (i.e. redistribute) this wealth, the value of it will fluctuate very wildly in dollar terms and may well leave everyone less well off in some weird feedback loop.

    1. Brett

      Even a wealth tax can lead to some perverse consequences. Put it high enough, and you’re discouraging the holding of long-term assets – after all, if they’re being taxed 10% a year on their total wealth, then they need to liquidate 10% of their assets every year (or more depending on the tax) in order to pay it.

      Some countries still do it, but it’s usually quite small (and there are ways to avoid it).

      1. #SlayTheSmaugs Post author

        I’m not thinking of a perpetual tax, other than an estate tax and perhaps a truly luxury goods sales tax (eg mega yacht). In re confiscatory wealth tax, I’m talking about a one off confiscation. A reckoning and a reordering as part of restructuring the political economy.

  5. JTMcPhee

    “The full power of the state must be used against” #extremegreed: Except, of course, “L’etat c’est moi…”

    Of course as a Bernie supporter, the writer knows that, knows that it is a long game to even start to move any of the hoard out of Smaug’s cave, that there are dwarves with glittering eyes ready to take back and reduce to ownership and ornamentation the whole pile (maybe they might ‘share” a little with the humans of Lake Town who suffered the Dragon’s Fire but whose Hero drove a mystical iron arrow through the weak place in Smaug’s armor, all while Sauron and Saruman are circling and plotting and growing hordes of genetically modified Orcs and Trolls and summoning the demons from below…

    The Elves seem to be OK with a “genteel sufficiency,” their wealth being useful durable stuff like mithril armor and those lovely houses and palaces up in the trees. Humans? Grabbers and takers, in Tolkien’s mythology. I would second that view — sure seems to me that almost any of us, given a 1000-Bagger like Zuckerman or Jobs or that Gates creature fell into, or Russian or Israeli or African or European oligarchs for that matter (pretty universal, and expected given Davos and Bilderberg and Koch summits) the old insatiable lambic system that drives for pleasure-to-the-max and helps our baser tribal drives and penchant for violence to manifest and “thrive” will have its due. Like 600 foot motor yachts and private-jet escape pods and pinnacles islands with Dr. No-style security provided by guns and accountants and lawyers and faux-legitimate political rulers for hire…

    Lots of analysis of “the problem.” Not so much in the way of apparent remedies, other than maybe lots of bleeding, where the mopes will do most of it and if history is any guide, another Smaug will go on around taking all the gold and jewels and other concentrated wealth back to another pile, to sit on and not maybe even gloat over because the scales are just too large…

    Still hoping for the emergence of an organizing principle that is more attractive that “take whatever you can and cripple or kill anyone who objects…”

  6. Ulysses

    “People who have more money than they hope to spend for the rest of their lives, no matter how many of their remaining days are “rainy”; people who have more money to pass on than their children need for a lifetime of financial security, college and retirement included; people who have more money to pass on than their grandchildren need for a similarly secure life–these people insist on extracting still more wealth from their workers, their clients, and taxpayers for no purpose beyond vaingloriously hoarding it.”

    These are people who are obscenely wealthy as opposed to merely wealthy. The fastest way to challenge their toxic power would be to help the latter group understand that their interests are not aligned with the former. Most millionaires (as opposed to billionaires) will eventually suffer when the last few drops of wealth remaining to the middle and working classes are extracted. Their future prosperity depends on the continued existence of a viable, mass consumer economy.

    The billionaires imagine (in my view falsely) that they will thrive in a neo-feudal future– where they own everything and the vast majority of humanity exists only to serve their needs. This is the future they are attempting to build with the new TPP/TISA/TTIP regime. If we fail to prevent the imposition of this transnational regime there will only be three classes of humans left: kleptocrats, their favored minions, and slaves. Most neoliberal professionals, who imagine that they will be in that second group, are delusional. Did the pharaohs have any need for people like Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd?

    1. a different chris

      Yeah unfortunately they did. It wasn’t just the pharaoh and peasants, there was a whole priestly class just to keep the workers confused.

      Now the individuals themselves weren’t at all necessary, they have always been easily replaceable.

      1. FluffytheObeseCat

        Pharaohs didn’t need a middle/professional class as large as the ones in most western democracies today. But, we are going in the pharaonic direction.

        The problem our polite, right wing professional classes face is that they are increasingly too numerous for society’s needs. Hence the creeping gig-i-fication of professional employment. The wage stagnation in all but the most guild-ridden (medicine) professions.

        It’s so reminiscent of what happened to the industrial working class in the late 70s and 80s. I still remember the “well-reasoned”, literate arguments in magazine op-eds proclaiming how line workers had become “excess” in the face of Asian competition and automation. How most just needed to retrain, move to where the jobs are, tighten their belts, etc. It’s identical now for lawyers, radiologists, and many layers of the teaching professions. If I weren’t part of that “professional” class I’d find the Schadenfreude almost too delicious.

    2. HotFlash

      If we fail to prevent the imposition of this transnational regime there will only be three classes of humans left: kleptocrats, their favored minions, and slaves.

      Sounds about right, but you are overlooking the fact that the largest class will be The Dead. They will not need nearly so many of Us, and we will be thinned, trimmed, pruned, marooned, or otherwise made to go away permanently (quietly, for preference, I assume, but any way will do).

      Ergo, the violence of ineffectual health care, toxic environment, poisonous food, dangerous working conditions and violence (for instance, guns and toxic chemicals) in our homes, schools, streets, workplaces, cities and, well, everywhere are not only a feature, but a major part of the plan.

      And I’m actually feeling rather optimistic today.

    3. Tim

      It has been extensively documented that the merely wealthy are very upset at the obscenely wealthy.

      If the author is truly focusing on a tax for obscene wealth I’d like to know a specific threshold. Is it 1 Billion and up? annual limit how many times the median income before it kicks in?

      1. #SlayTheSmaugs Post author

        Well, I’m happy to have a discussion about at what threshold a confiscatory wealth tax should kick in; it’s the kind of conversation we have with estate taxes.

        I’m thinking a one off wealth tax, followed by a prevention of the resurrection of the problem with a sharply progressive income tax. Is $1 billion the right number for this initial reclamation? maybe. It is about the very top few, not the merely wealthy.


        1. Vatch

          $1 billion is a reasonable amount of assets for determining whether to confiscate a portion of a person’s wealth in taxes. Or perhaps we could base it on a percentage of GDP. The U.S. GDP in 2015 was approximately $17.9 trillion. Anyone with $1.79 billion or more in assets would have 1% of 1% of the U.S. GDP (0.01%). That’s a lot of wealth, and surely justifies a heavy tax.

    4. Quantum Future

      To your question Ulysses

      ‘Professionals, who imagine that they will be in that second group, are delusional. Did the pharaohs have any need of Paul Krugman’

      Sure they did. Those were called Priests who told the people what the gods were thinking. And since Pharoah’s concluded themselves gods. The slaves revolt by working less. Anybody notice the dropping production levels the last couple of years? Whipping the slaves didn’t turn out well for the Egyptians.

      A more modern similarity of the US is Rome. Vassals have been going full retard for several years now, traitors sell international competitors military secrets while the biggest merchants buy off the Senate.

      Ceasar becomes more a figurehead until one leads a coup which has not happened yet.
      Aquiring more slaves begins to cost more than what the return in general to the society brings but the Smaugs do not care about that until the barbarians begin to revolt (See Orlando for example, the shooter former employee of DHS. Probably pissed some of his comrades were deserted by US in some manner.

  7. Ulysses

    My point was that the category of people in this priestly caste will likely be far, far smaller than the millions of credentialed neoliberal professionals currently living large in the top 10% of the developed world.

    Interesting mental image– to see Paul Krugman chanting praises to the new Son of the Sun God the Donald!!

  8. #SlayTheSmaugs

    Look, there’s a simple way to #SlayTheSmaugs, and it’s a confiscatory wealth tax coupled with a sharply progressive income tax, as part of an overall restructuring of the political economy.

    Simple, is of course, not easy; indeed my proposal is currently impossible. But like Bernie I’m trying to change the terms of political debate, to normalize what would previously be dismissed as too radical to be countenanced.

    I don’t think the looting professional class needs to be slain, in the #SlayTheSmaugs sense. I think they can be brought to heel simply by enforcing laws and passing new ones that are already within acceptable political debate, such as one that defines corruption as using public office for private gain. I think norms matter to the looting professional class as well. Another re-norm-ilization that needs to happen is remembering what a “profession” used to be…

  9. Sylvia Demarest

    Friends and neighbors!! Most of this “wealth” is ephemeral, it is based on the “value of assets” like stocks, bonds, real estate, et al. If all of this “wealth” gets liquidated at the same time, values would collapse. These people are fabulously wealthy because of the incredible inflation we have seen in the “assets” they hold.
    Remember, during the Great Depression the “wealth” wasn’t confiscated and redistributed, it was destroyed because asset values collapsed and over 2000 banks failed wiping out customer accounts. This also collapsed the money supply causing debt defaults, businesses failures, and worker laid offs. No one had any money because there was none.
    The US was on the gold standard limiting the creation of liquidity. President Roosevelt went off the gold standard so that he could work to increase the money supply. It took a long time. The result of the depression was decades of low debt, cheap housing, and hard working people who remembered the hard times. The social mood gradually changed as their children, born in more prosperous times, challenged the values of their parents.

    1. Yves Smith

      Even though the bulk of what the super rich hold is in paper assets, they still hold tons of real economy assets. They’ve succeeded in buying enough prime and even merely good real estate (like multiple townhouses in Upper West Side blocks and then creating one monster home behind the facade) to create pricing pressure on ordinary renters and homeowners in the same cities, bidding art through the roof, owning mega-yachts and private airplanes, and most important of all, using the money directly to reshape society along their preferred lines, witness charter schools.

      1. ambrit

        I am seeing this ‘wealth demand destruction’ argument in several new commenters to this site expressed in almost a scripted fashion. The CTR crowd is my first suspect group. The fact that ‘they’ are fighting here is evidence that NC has ‘arrived.’ Good for Yves and Lambert! Another DDoS attack would be the most logical next move in such a struggle. Gird your loins Site Admins!

  10. GlassHammer

    If you are going to fight against the “Greed is Good” mentality, you are going to have to address the habits of the average middle class household. Just take a look at the over accumulation of amenities and creature comforts. The desire to signal ones status/wealth through “stuff” is totally out of control and completely divorced from means/income.

    1. #SlayTheSmaugs

      Fair, and I do propose that:

      “But we need more voices insisting #GreedIsEvil. We need to teach that basic message at home, in school, and in houses of worship. We need to send the right signals in our social interactions. We need to stop coveting stuff, and start buying with a purpose: Shopping locally, buying American, buying green and clean, and buying less. We need to waste less, share more and build community. We need to re-norm-alize greed as evil, make it shameful again. Then we will have redefined ourselves as citizens, not consumers.”

      1. perpetualWAR

        I haven’t bought anything in 2 years except for groceries. I built a little library in front of my house. People share their books and sometimes little toys for children within this community add-on.

        I love my new life. Buy nothing! Sharing community and knowledge!

        1. abynormal

          ‘built a Home Library to share’…You Are The Example For True Wealth!

          I see the cold mist in the night
          And watch the hills roll out of sight.
          I watch in ev’ry single way,
          Inside out, outside in, ev’ry day.

          And one peculiar point I see,
          As one of many ones of me.
          As truth is gathered, I rearrange,
          Inside out, outside in, inside out, outside in,
          Perpetual change. ~Yes

          1. ambrit

            I’m listening to my old Prog/Art Rock albums lately too. Are we yearning for that earlier time when we all had some hope for better times?
            By the way, everyone who holds a mortgage is enslaved by a Parole Officer.

    2. dots

      Isn’t there an idiom about cutting off the head of the snake? Once you deal with the strongest opponents, it’s easier to go after the others. Too big to fail is nothing short of feeding the beast.

  11. Punxsutawney

    There was a time not that long ago that I would have opposed a “confiscatory wealth tax”. After looking at what most of those in the .1% are doing with their wealth, and their contempt for the average person, those days are long gone. Plus it’s good economics.

    The only question is what is “obscene wealth”. Well like pornography, I think we know it when we see it.

    1. ambrit

      An even better ‘tell’ is when “it” is assiduously hidden from the general public.
      Treasure Islands was an inspired name for Shaxs’ book about ‘offshore’ tax havens.

  12. Alfred

    I am wondering about the distribution of all this concentrated wealth; how much of it is spread around in the equities and bond markets?

    And if that amount was redistributed to the general public how much of it would return to the equities and bond market?

    I’m thinking not very much which would have catastrophic effects on both markets, a complete reordering. This would undoubtedly crush the borrowing ability of our Federal government, upset the apple cart in other words. With less money invested in the equities market it would undoubtedly return to a lower more realistic valuation; fortunes would be lost with no redistribution.

    Oh the unintended consequences.

    1. #SlayTheSmaugs Post author

      Fair to ask: How do we achieve a confiscatory wealth tax without catastrophic unintended consequences? But that’s a very different question than: should we confiscate the Smaug’s wealth?

      One mechanism might be to have a government entity created to receive the stocks, bonds and financial instruments, and then liquidate them over time. E.g. Buffett has been giving stock to foundations for them to sell for awhile now; same kind of thing could be done. But sure, let’s have the “How” conversation…

      1. Quantum Future

        If lobbying were outlawed at the Federal level the billionaires and multi millionaires would need to invest in something else. That signal has a multiplier your right eboit enforcement of mostly what is on the books already. A ‘wall’ doesnt have to be built for illegal immigrants either. Fine a couple dozen up the wazoo and the signal gets passed the game is over.

        But until a few people’s daughters are kidnapped or killed like in other 3rd world countries, it wont change. That is sad but reality is most people do not do anything until it effects them. I started slightly ahead of the crowd in summer of 2007 but that is because a regional banker told me as we liked discussing history to look at debt levels of 1928 and what happened next. On top of that, we are the like the British empire circa 1933 so we get the downside of that as well.

        Pain tends to be the catalyst of evolution that fully awakens prey to the predators.

  13. juliania

    “As Sanders often reminds us. . .”

    I am sorry, Sir Smaug slayer. The underlying theme of your lengthy disquisition is that Sanders is the legitimate voice of the 99%, and his future complicity within the Democratic Party is thereby ameliorated by his current proposals within it. This is the true meat of your discourse ranging so far and wide – even with the suggestion early on that we the 99% need tutoring on the evils of greed.

    Not so. That ship has sailed. Our Brexit is not yet upon us, but that it is coming, I have no doubt. The only question is when. To paraphrase a Hannah Sell quote on such matters. . . for decades working class people have had no representation in the halls of Congress. All of the politicians . . . without exception, have stood in the interests of the 1% and the super-rich.

    Bernie Sanders included. Hannah’s remarks were more upbeat – she made an exception for Jeremy Corbyn. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. Bernie has folded. We need to acknowledge that.

  14. amousie

    One of the arguments against redistribution is that is against the sacrosanct efficient market, which forbids making one person better off if the price is making someone else worse off.

    I think you mean downward redistribution here since upward redistribution seems to be rather sacrosanct and definitely makes one person better off at the price of making many someones worse off to make it happen.

  15. Tim

    Confiscatory wealth tax is too blunt an instrument to rectify the root causes discussed in this article, and you do not want a blunt impact to the effect of disincentivizing pursuit of financial success.

    Further Centralization the populous’ money will incite more corruption which is what allows the have’s to continue lording it over the have nots.

    What are alternatives?
    Instead Focus on minimizing corruption,
    Then it will be possible to implement fair legislation that limits the options of the greed to make decisions that results in unfair impacts on the lower class.

    Increase incentives to share the wealth, (tax deductible charitable giving is an example).

    We do need to encourage meritocracy whenever possible, corruption and oppression is the antithesis to that.

    We need to stop incentivizing utilization of debt, that puts the haves in control of the have nots.

    1. JTMcPhee

      “Financial success. ” As long as those words go together, and make an object of desire, the fundamental problem ain’t going away.

      Of course the underlying fundamental problem of human appetite for pleasure and power ain’t going away either. Even if a lot of wealth was taken back (NOT “confiscated”) from the current crop and hopeful horde of kleptocrats…

  16. NeqNeq

    Interesting choice in hashtags. Maybe my memory is incorrect, but didnt the timeline go something like:

    1) Dwarves, who mined, forged, and created mechanical wonders, accumulated a lot of wealth
    2) Smaug came and took over the (already hoarded) wealth
    3) Dwarves (and a couple hobbits) took a tiny bit of the wealth. Causing Smaug to decimate a nearby human village in retaliation (all those lives lost to fire and drowning!).
    4) Humans are enlisted to kill Smaug
    5) Dwarves ‘get back’ their wealth (hoarded gold) and refuse to give Humans any.
    6) Humans finally get a small portion of the hoard after threat of violence against the Dwarves.

    #SlaytheSmaugs is catchy though.

  17. Jeff N

    I had another idea – give each of the 99.99% a billion dollars of newly-printed money, to make the Smaugs less rich

  18. Ulysses

    “We do need to encourage meritocracy whenever possible, corruption and oppression is the antithesis to that.”

    I disagree strongly with your premise that some sort of pure and natural meritocracy has ever existed, or could ever exist in human society. Corrupt and oppressive people will always define as “meritorious” those qualities that they themselves possess– whether wealth, “gentle birth,” “technical skills,” or whatever. We all possess the same merit of being human.

    An Egyptologist, with an Oxbridge degree and extensive publications has no merit– in any meaningful sense– inside a frozen foods warehouse. Likewise, the world’s best frozen foods warehouse worker has little to offer, when addressing a conference focused on religious practices during the reign of Ramses II. Meritocracy is a neoliberal myth, intended to obscure the existence of oligarchy.

    1. NeqNeq

      An Egyptologist, with an Oxbridge degree and extensive publications has no merit– in any meaningful sense– inside a frozen foods warehouse. Likewise, the world’s best frozen foods warehouse worker has little to offer, when addressing a conference focused on religious practices during the reign of Ramses II. Meritocracy is a neoliberal myth, intended to obscure the existence of oligarchy.

      I am confused.

      You claim meritocracy is “a neoliberal myth, intended to obscure the existence of oligarchy”, but (seemingly) appeal to meritocratic principles to claim a warehouse worker doesnt offer much to an academic conference. Can you clear up my misunderstanding?

      I agree, btw, that Idealized meritocracy has never existed (nor can). Follow up question: There has never been an ideal ethical human, does that mean we should stop encouraging ethical behavior?

      1. Ulysses

        Meritocracy is not the same as recognizing greater and lesser degrees of competence in various activities. It is absurd to deny that some are more skillful at some things than others. Assigning the relative “merit” to various competencies is what I find objectionable.

        Encouraging ethical behavior has nothing to do with ranking the “merit” levels of different occupations. While some occupations are inherently unethical, like that of an assassin, most can be performed in such a way as to do no harm to others, and some are nearly always beneficial to society at large.

        Someone who did nothing but drink whiskey all day, and tell funny stories in a bar, is far more beneficial to society at large than a busy, diligent economist dreaming up ways to justify the looting of the kleptocrats.

        1. NeqNeq

          Ah, just to make sure I understand: You accept that skill levels differ between people and the normative claim that those with more skill should be the ones performing the action. Additionally you might accept (speculation from interpretation of your post) that renumeration (in some way/shape/form) could vary across skill levels and still be fair or just. Some projects need a higher baseline skill than others (engineering family sedans or designing nuclear power plants) so the renumeration is higher accidentally (as opposed to some inherent property of Nuclear Engineering or Much Engineering). The problem you have is that some actions/occupations are valorized more than others and that renumeration is based on that valorization.

          But (if that set of interpretation and then inferences are correct) renumeration based in valor is not renumeration based in merit. So, it appears, your objection is not with meritocracy (in principle). Rather you object to those who twist meritocratic principles in an attempt to justify valor-salary. Much like economists who twist Utilitarianism to ethically justify $profit maximization. No doubt that happens a lot, but its no mark against meritocracy as a guiding principle.

          Which is why I asked about the ideally ethical person. Ethical systems are, to some degree, idealized systems and have never been fully fulfilled (that we know of). Its very possible that no human could fulfill them. They are still considered guiding principles. Meritocratic systems (which are not systems of ethics…) are similar in that the are idealized and nonexistent/not possible in perfect execution. But maybe they could still be guiding principles?

          Some people reject idealized normative systems (ethical, political, or economic) because they are seen as impossible to perfectly fulfill and ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. If you held that belief, then you would reject meritocracy for the same reason…thus the ‘follow up’ question. It appears you did not follow given your response.

  19. Pierre Robespierre

    Wealth Redistribution occurs when the peasants build a scaffold and frog march the aristocracy up to a blade; when massive war wipes out a generation of aristocracy in gas filled trenches or in the upcoming event.

  20. Softie

    it’s seemingly naive to believe the beginning of Neoliberalism made “Greed is good” into an acceptable doctrine. Let me quote Nick Land here:

    Like zero, money is a redundant operator; adding nothing in order to make things hum. When Marx associates capital with death he is only drawing the final consequence from this correspondence. Surplus value comes out of labour-power, but surplus production comes out of nothing. This is why capital production is the consummating phase of nihilism, the liquidation of theological irreligion, the twilight of the idols. Modernity is virtual thanocracy guided insidiously by zero; the epoch of the death of God. There is no God but (only) zero—indifferentiation without unity—and nihil is true religion.

    – Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

  21. financial matters

    Thanks for this post #SlayTheSmaugs. Nice to see the Bernie legacy staying alive. I think this legacy will form many productive branches.

    Socialism is currently doing well with millennials and MMT fits in well with this by telling us money for these projects is available. This is a message that balancing the budget can be counter productive and taxes are not necessary for this sort of spending. I think it would be nice to see the socialist and MMT camps come closer on these principles.

    That being said taxes are very important (giving value to money, MMT), and for the reasons you and Yves mention.

    Also a shoutout to another Bernie branch, Jane Kim, advocating for the homeless in San Francisco.

  22. Roland

    “Fair to ask: How do we achieve a confiscatory wealth tax without catastrophic unintended consequences?”

    Answer: Do it and find out. Some things can only be determined empirically.

    First, do what needs doing. We can take care of the Utility afterwards.≥

  23. nothing but the truth

    here we go again confusing the nominal with the real.

    when “taxes do not fund spending”, all that is happening is that real resources are being commanded by the govt and people close to it at the expense of those who hold that currency.

    no real wealth was generated. people with govt blessings got access to resources at the expense of those without the blessings.

    1. financial matters

      Yes. I think Bill Mitchell does a good job explaining this relationship between real resources and taxes.

      “”It follows that the imposition of the taxation liability creates a demand for the government currency in the non-government sector which allows the government to pursue its economic and social policy program.

      This insight allows us to see another dimension of taxation which is lost in orthodox analysis.

      Further, while real resources are transferred, the taxation provides no additional financial capacity to the government of issue.

      Conceptualising the relationship between the government and non-government sectors in this way makes it clear that it is government spending that provides the paid work which eliminates the unemployment created by the taxes.

      That governments, as long as they can enforce the rule of law, have many options available to ensure they have sufficient taxing capacity to create the necessary real resource space to accommodate a public spending program.””

  24. animalogic

    What is the purpose of “obscene” wealth ? The answer is Power.
    Wealth, when measured in billions has a limited reference to actually buying goods and services in the sense we understand it.
    “Obscene” wealth, merely by its existence has a gravitational pull on democratic functions. When such wealth is purposefully used to further it’s own interests the functioning of a democracy is inevitably warped & corrupted.
    Thus, the idea of wealth taxes, of progressive & estate taxes are a knife to the heart of our Elites: they won’t surrender a cent without a fight.
    Wealth taxes etc ? Call them what they are: Revolution.
    Time to fight.

    1. abynormal

      Revolution…to spring another group of wealthy power mongers?
      Time to Challenge the norm thinking that got us here…Time to Educate Each Other.

      Absolute power was not meant for man.
      W. E. Channing, Thoughts

      1. animalogic

        “Time to Challenge the norm thinking that got us here…Time to Educate Each Other.”
        Good luck, sport.

  25. Yesac13

    I have a suggestion. It was done before by Venice and was very successful. It actually led to the bond markets we have today.

    Venice had expensive wars and they needed money. So they levied mandatory bonds on the richest Venetians. The bond name was the Prestiti.

    The richest Venetians were levied the bonds. It really was a tax. They were allowed to sell their bonds – always at a loss because nobody buys at full price (well not back then). Others were happy to buy the bonds for the income which were perpetual. These Prestiti bonds lasted for 300 years or so til Venice lost its Empire.

    I suggest American Prestiti levied on the One Percent. It is an additional tax – they have to buy the American Prestiti at full price which then funds the government. They then have the option of sitting on the American Prestiti and wait or sell at a loss to free up liquidity. The American Prestiti after being sold by the original owner becomes an ordinary bond.

    I do not favor more standard taxes because in reality, people cheat once past 20%. Loopholes, strategies, etc all explode once past 20% tax rates. Best to do the American Prestiti and reform the government at the same time. Too many mandarins in the government right now. I like the idea of negative income taxes. It feels wrong but it is cheaper to pay Americans direct instead of excessive bureaucrats intent to make complex rules which then require more bureaucrats to oversee it all, a cancer.

    I repeat again – do American Prestiti – any One Percenter is required to buy it at full price at a lousy interest rate (a penny is good – .00001% yield). They can turn around and sell it for liquidity. If the One Percenters balk, remind them that they benefited from the system and it is collapsing. Remind them you will never be able to hire enough security in an event of a collapse. Remind them that your assets becomes worthless. The American Prestiti is nothing like current bonds – it is a special tax which then becomes a bond once sold by the original taxpayer.

    1. JeffC

      The parallel between modern times and renaissance Venice doesn’t really hold up.

      In the US, when the government “borrows,” dollars come in to the government and a bond goes out from it, to be followed immediately by spending: the dollars go back out as goods and services are acquired by the government. Of course US Treasury bonds (or notes or bills) find a liquid market, so the bond and the spent dollars shuffle about to put the bond into the hands that prefer to hold it.

      In the net, a bond has been created and spent to acquire goods and services, with the bond floating about per preferences afterward. Dollars and bonds are effectively two forms of money, with this “fiscal” bonds-for-goods mechanism the way new money enters the economy.

      The Federal Reserve exchanges one form of money for the other in the market to keep a comfortable balance of quantities of the two in circulation as needed, guided by interest rates in the two markets. Except in QE times (when the Fed buys less moneylike securities), that’s all it does. It does not create money, whether the misnamed “base money” (which is not “multiplied” and so is not a base) or any other kind.

      Forcing the wealthy to buy bonds as one step in this process would in our modern system be irrelevant, unless they are cheated on the price, but in that case a tax is more straightforward.

      Prestiti in earlier times were “necessary” because there was no Fed. The market could and did find itself starved of currency and flush with bonds, relative to preferences, so the prestiti mechanism permitted bonds to be force fed to a reluctant system.

      The analysis would be a bit different in the EU, as the ECB is not quite like the Fed. Their operational rules and mandates are different. That case is left, as they say, as an exercise for the reader!

  26. Norb

    The main issue is demanding good government. A fair and just government for the people. The people being defined as the mass of society. Only through the promotion of government power supporting a just society can the masses have any chance of not being exploited by a powerful few.

    Demonizing government is the lynchpin holding the current order together. Defining and demanding social justice begins with constructing a government that works for the masses and not the wealthy few, but still the overall sentiment circulating in society at large is a distrust of government leading to apathy. Convincing fellow citizens to act as responsible citizens beholden to each other above all is step one.

    The current crimes being perpetrated are so massive, and so perverse, an ordinary sane individual cannot comprehend them. Large-scale crimes seem to be similar to comprehending large numbers. The human mind has not evolved to comprehend the vast scale and relate it to anything meaningful.

    For all our science and technology, it seems we are a society that is insane. We have severed our connection to the natural world, have decoupled our economy from providing for real needs to pursuing fantasy, and reward the least empathic of our species as being somehow special. We are in a battle for sanity.

    The revolution underway is to reclaim the proper functioning of government and to make fellow citizens understand that fact. Bringing back a collective sanity will comprise many small steps. It took a long time to reach this level of dysfunction but persistence does pay off in the long run. Defining what is sane is important though and consensus is needed.

  27. Tom Finn

    Start Naming Them, listing them. If they are anonymous, invisible, able to purchase security and privacy then they can remain comfortable with their hoarding and sociopathic greed.

    And there is that…The sociopath has become the new hero, the anointed ones. Just look at the two front running presidential candidates. Is there any doubt?

    I do question; would it do any good? There was the self labeled “Plutocrat” who gave the Ted talk calling out his ilk, something about pitchforks. He, at least recalls some history. However, fuck him for insinuating that those of us of lesser capitalistic accumen will become murderous rabble, driven to such by envy of what the 1% has. His is really the more pitiable lot.

  28. ramon

    please forget the mega-yacht tax. it has been tried and the only ones who paid were the folks who build them

  29. Cry Shop

    “… it’s notable that in an era when some 200 million Americans haven’t been able to save $1000 for an emergency, twenty people could give return to everyone over two grand while remaining fabulously wealthy.”

    Language is important. The fortunes were extracted from someone, almost nearly always through (virtual)monopolies/exclusionary cartels protected by state violence.

  30. james a lucas

    I admit that I skimmed the article so I missed it if there were any references to US imperialistic, genocidal and inhumane treatment of many people in the rest of the world based on a chauvinistic, exceptionalistic attitude toward them. Wars are for profit. The struggle to end racism and poverty in the U.S. should be a world-wide one. Jim Lucas

  31. Mark

    As a gay man nearing 60 I can tell you that it is no fun being on the target end of populism. All my life till a certain Supreme Court ruling I was not only reviled by the majority of Americans but actually outlawed in many places, even got a broken jaw in a restaurant parking lot simply walking out to my car. Which partially explains my natural aversion to both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Once populism is unleashed it is very much like toothpaste, impossible to put back into the tube and often leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

    I agree with every single statement above about greed and wealth inequality, and having a degree in Finance as well as being a former stockbroker (when that was actually regulated) I would go further and say that wealth inequality and hoarding of money will destroy capitalism in the USA not just for the reasons stated above but because it strangles the formation of pools of capital that are the FOUNDATION of capitalism.

    So, what I am saying is that we have identified the problem and even come up with most of the solution, but I need to disagree with how/who gets it done. It cannot be a result of the fat meat hammer of mob rule. It needs to come from a respected politician, and even then it will have to come after crisis gives that politician carte blanche to make new policy.

    I am thinking of FDR here, he could not have done any of the New Deal or made any changes in social policy without the Great Depression. And change they did, we never would have had what we came to think of as the middle class in the scope we did in the 1960’s without him. We would not have social security, so much of what we take for granted is because of his work.

    And though institutional racism persists even now the process of equalization for Black Americans did not really begin until Eleanor Roosevelt made it her mission as First Lady to end the vile scourge that was Jim Crow. Again a crisis was what gave that effort the push it needed to succeed, WWII and the labor shortage that came with it.

    So, please deliberate on the answers. We know that greed is evil, and that the greedy are killing our nation. We know that dynastic wealth and permanent oligarchic families cannot be allowed to rise here, but do not resort to populism and mobs to fix it. Populism is a stupid beast that does not know when to leave off. Mobs ALWAYS do more harm than good.

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