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Friday, March 14, 2008

The Twilight Zone takes over my mind

The Art of Living Together

On the radio I heard a Frenchman defend the wealth tax in France. It is unpopular among some French citizens, but he said simply that it was the art of living together. We share, just that simple. To whom much is given much is required. Share, and get over it. Have a glass of wine.
In Europe the wealth tax once was policy in twelve nations, and now only five. Some well-off performers, singers and actors, have switched national provenance and passports so as to defend their mercurial gains. Others search for secret bank accounts in Lichtenstein or off-shore tax havens in the Cayman Islands. Anywhere to stash a well-earned kruger or franc.
In my opinion taxes --- wealth, income, payroll, sales, and excise taxes --- should be voluntary. Pay according to your whim. Taxation is a form of theft. If this means that we have to pay someone for the privilege of walking on his sidewalk, then so be it. If we have to pay before turning on the water, so be it. If we have to strap on a gun to our waists and be careful of bands of sequestering traffickers in human slaves, so be it. If we have to defend our homes with small bazookas, and hire air forces, and buy memberships in private nuclear-arms-arsenals clubs, so be it. The eighteenth century enlightenment and its universal human rights were fantasies of an agrarian age of low fire-power. Gun control obviously means a steady arm, and nothing else.
Government has had its day. It has run its course and now should be abolished. Some day in the near future we will not have national currencies but each of us will carry a credit card backed by an account of so many ounces or fractions of a kilo of gold. Purchases and payments will be organized by a private company with vast holdings of gold whose storehouse will be located in the Australian desert. The fallacy of national currencies will be history. No longer will we have to put up with the mischief of national central banks, their currencies, and the havoc they play with the supply of money. Finished will be the plethora of rupees, rubles, riads, and other mythological currencies. A chemical mole of gold will be the absolute minimum registered amount to keep a gold account viable, and those who fall below this atomic weight will be auctioned to the highest bidder or euthanized. Euthanization squads, maintained by the central gold company, will be the new collection agencies.
If oddly you have an impulse to pay taxes, you can convert this impulse into a charitable gift to some cause. You may donate a few ounces of your hard-earned gold to build a non-profit community firing range, target practice, that is. Or you may donate to a para-military camp for poor Christian children. That’s your own private business, and no one will stop you. But, more than likely, you’ll be anxious to maintain your account in good-standing in the local militia. It’s monthly fee may be high, but delinquency penalties are far higher. The militia has preserved the only surviving right from the original Bill of Rights from the defunct U.S. Constitution, the right to bear arms. The federation of local militias is sponsoring a population stabilization project in over-populated Africa and China. If you miss a payment you might be sent to the front lines. Or worse, since the Mad Maxes of the world have proliferated, Max may enter through your back door one night and foreclose your militia account and your patriot status. No longer a patriot in the true sense, that is paid-up, you’ll be guilt of treason. In this dangerous era of terrorism the act of treason is even more heinous than ever, and it’s penalty more certain. Treason’s penalty is summary execution. Blindfolds are not offered to traitors, shirkers or scalawags. The penalty is strictly observed, as everyone will be deadly aware of.
This new enlightened age will demonstrate the real art of living together, and the Frenchman’s statement about the “art of living together” will be seen as antique, very “old Europe.” “Have a glass of wine” -- hah! Taxes will be replaced by sales charges, and payment delinquency will be punishable by death. It’s a simple system. Community and elections were well and good at one point in human history before civilization evolved the AK-47 rifle and the gold card payment system. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. The old enlightenment was the stuff for weaklings. A wealth tax, and taxes of any kind, are treasonable ideas. “Treason” and “treasure,” the two words are truly in harmony.

Now, to balance that horrible essay, maybe by a very little, I offer this quotation from the Discourses of Meher Baba, from the one titled Love:
Love is a reflection of God’s unity in the world of duality. It
constitutes the entire significance of creation. If love were excluded
from life, all the souls in the world would assume complete externality
to each other; and the only possible relations and contacts in such a
loveless world would be superficial and mechanical. It is because of
love that the contacts and relations between individual souls become
significant. It is love that gives meaning and value to all the world
of duality. But while love gives meaning to the world of duality, it is
at the same time a standing challenge to duality. As love gathers
strength, it generates creative restlessness and becomes the main
driving power of that spiritual dynamic which ultimately succeeds
in restoring to consciousness the original unity of Being.
(page 116, Discourses of Meher Baba)

Letter to Congressman Pete Stark, February 5, 2008

Dear Congressman Pete Stark, February 5, 2008

Re: Economic Solutions

In the past, Congressman Stark, you’ve been very cordial to me, replying to my letters. I wrote you on the topic of “A Wealth Tax to Eliminate Poverty.”
Do not bother to respond to this letter. I know your time is short, so I’ll try to write briefly.
I’ve studied economics the past 18 months, I’ve read a lot of material. My view is somewhat different from most economists, but my ideas also conform with some top-rate thinkers. It’s taken about thirty years to construct a perfect storm.

1. You should buy Why America Lost the War on Poverty and How We Can Win It by Frank Stricker, and/or read his web article at
In short, inequality has grown enormously, and has hollowed out purchasing power or aggregate demand. We need government stimulus to step in with a jobs program. Go to the Levy Institute’s web page to get the best ideas about a stimulus plan.
Their article The U.S. Economy: Is There a Way Out of the Woods? advises for
a stimulus package of 2% of GDP, or $260bn.
You may not find time to read this, but you get the idea.
Jeff Madrick, economist and editor of Challenge Magazine, provides a scholarly accounting of demand-led economics. L. Randall Wray in Understanding Modern Money proposes a permanent pool of government jobs
and the government as “employer of last resort.” Academics have been at work creating approaches to an alternative economic paradigm.

2. The current account deficit is the major culprit that will drag on, and maybe drag down, the world economy. Richard Duncan, former analyst for the World Bank, wrote the book The Dollar Crisis and a short interview from January, 2008 can be found at

Duncan contradicts Alan Greenspan about the effect of the account deficit. I’m afraid that most politicians do not accept Duncan’s position, but Warren Buffett, Paul Volkert, and Stephen Roach from Morgan Stanley, who popularized the saying Economic Armaggedon, all agree with Duncan. For another interview with Duncan from 2005 you can go to
Just how to fix the balance of trade is a long story. Sorry. Not here.

3. A brief article by Robert Weissman, the editor of the Multinational Monitor, recently describes five failures of government regulation that have led to the current recession. See
He says “a severe world recession is a distinct possibility.” The first regulatory failure is the same as Richard Duncan’s thesis, “Failure to Manage U.S. Trade Deficit.”

4. Dean Baker, an economist, author of the book The United States since 1980 says that
“As a result, for most of the population of the United States, the quarter of
a century from 1980 to 2005 was an era in which they became far less secure economically, and the decrease in security affected their lives and their political attitudes. It is important to realize that this decrease was the result of conscious policy, not the accidental workings of the market.”
(my underline, the genesis of a perfect storm)
For your information, Baker lists seven main causes that led to the inequality in American economic life:
1. Decline of unions, 2. trade policy that led to manufacturing sector to
be exported (from 20% of working force to 10%), 3. taxation (between
1943 and 1983 the average top bracket rate was 80%, yet the effective rate
was in the 30%s), 4. Federal Reserve policy, 5. Deregulation of certain
industries, 6. immigration increases (from 300,000 legal a year to 600,000
not counting the undocumented, illegal immigration of 300,000 on average)
7. drop in minimum wage (a 40% drop from 1980 to 2005).

5. The economist Robert Kuttner, author of The Squandering of America, and editor of the magazine The American Prospect, reports on elected Democratic Party legislators (page 45)
“Traumatized as they are by deficits and in league with their own business elites, Democrats offer mainly small, token programs that mock their bold initiatives of the past, such as Social Security, the G.I. Bill, Medicare, the Wagner Act, and serious regulation of financial excesses, all of which really did serve the broad middle class and created a generation of economic opportunity and security.
With the exception of Democrats who run as populists, the Democratic message fails to rouse voters (who have been) harmed by the new economic realities. “New Democrats” treat the necessary instruments of greater equality as policy anachronisms no longer needed in the new era of a self-regulating economy. Progressive Republicans have vanished.
The result is a cumulative depoliticization of economic ills. This revolution of declining expectations is one of the most widely validated finding of public opinion polls.”

Democrats gave up on helping the economy and the middle income group. Now, we have serious inequality, that leads to weak aggregate demand, and that leads to world recession, possibly. I think the recession will hit the developing nations because, according to Charles Schwab and Co., Global Overreach, December, 2007, 51% of their GDP is tied up in exports, up from 39% in 1997.

Thanks for the time, Congressman Stark. I hope this has been helpful. I’ll continue in my own way to push to relieve inequality.

This last:
What does inequality look like? This may help. And it explains why socialists will soon be coming out of the sofa and woodwork.

Income distribution: Imagine the U.S. as a company. It has 100 employees and each year it produces 100 dollars, called the GDP. At the end of the year the income is distributed to all 100 workers. Each could get a $1.00. No, no, no, NO! that won’t do. In reality, the bottom 80% get $0.50 each (and 80 times 50cents is $40). The next 20 workers get $2.00 (and 20 times $2 is $40). So $80 dollars are distributed, but what about the last $20? That amount goes to the top one percent, he gets $20 (Does he work for a bank? Does he even work?). So 80% get 50 cents, 19% get a little more than $2.00, and the last one percent get $20. (See State of Working America, 2006/2007, by Mishel, Bernstein and Alegretto, Economic Policy Institute, page 79)
1 to 80 ------- get $0.50 ----------- $40.00
81 to 99 ----- get $2.00 ----------- $40.00
last 1 ------ gets $20.00 ------------ $20.00
total ----- $100.00 (admittedly I approximated)

That’s income distribution. Wealth distribution goes like this: again, we have 100 people working with a savings total of $100. If all of them had equal savings amount, everyone would have a dollar. No, no, no, again. The lower 50% of workers has a savings on average of $0.05 (a nickel) (and 50 time $0.05 is $2.50). The next 40 percent save $0.70 each (and 40 times 70 cents is $28.00). The next 9 percent, the 91st to the 99th percentile, get $4.00 each (and 9 times $4 is $36). So we’ve distributed $2.50 and $28.00 and $36.00, and that leaves $33.40 for the top one percent.

To review, the savings is distributed thusly
1 to 50 ------ get $0.05 each --------------- 2.50
51 to 90 ----- get $0.70 each -------------- 28.00
91 to 99 ----- get $4.00 each -------------- 36.00
last 1 -------gets $33.40---------------------33.40
(See Currents and Undercurrents, U.S. Federal Reserve, Consumer Finance Survey, 2006, Arthur Kinneckell, page 11)
All those numbers are real people.
Now I understand why socialists complain and call the system a failure. But in fact we are all human, we live in a great society in many respects. We have to respect, cherish and love one another. And we have to do better for those who are disadvantaged. Remember, I was a school teacher in east Oakland at Webster Academy for 8 years, and in Oakland and Richmond for 16 years. Those are the ones we have to help out. They need a federal jobs program. They are about to get clobbered by this coming recession.
Solutions: 1) jobs program, 2) fix the trade deficit somehow, read Duncan.

Thanks for your patience, and for your service. My best to you !!!

Ben Leet, in San Leandro.

Economic Justice and Democracy by Robin Hahnel, a book review that was published in the Alameda County Green Party News, Oct., 2007

Economic Justice and Democracy,
From Competition to Cooperation
by Robin Hahnel

a book review by Ben Leet

Income --- the top one percent of U.S. households earns more each year than 50% of U.S. households. Restated, this says the incomes of 1.1 million American homes exceeds the incomes of 44 million homes. (Source, State of Working America, 2006/2007, Economic Policy Institute, p. 79)
Wealth --- the top one percent exceeds the wealth of 91% of U.S. households. (See Consumer Finance Survey, Currents and Undercurrents, page 11, 2006, Federal Reserve Board). Restated, the net assets of 1.1 million American households exceed the net assets of 99 million households. And even though there is great wealth, the book Hardship in America states that 29% of households with children under 12 are unable to meet their basic family budgets.
In light of such astounding facts economic justice becomes a paramount problem. Neither of our major political parties is willing to face the issue, in fact they have sold themselves to the highest bidder, and our tax laws reflect this. Once the top marginal tax bracket was 90% between 1943 and 1962, and then it dropped to 70% for another twenty years. Today, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, the overall tax rate (not just the income tax rate) is 19.7% for the poorest 20% of households, whose annual average cash income is $10,400. The overall tax rate for the top 1%, whose average income is $978,000, is 32.8%. This passes for tax progressivity. Even Warren Buffet, a very wealthy businessman, complains that his tax rate is lower than that of his secretary and entire staff.
The Green Party has provided a manuscript for reforming our U.S. economy, the Green Party Platform of 2004. (See For beginners, it states in the section on Livable Income that “We call for a universal basic income (sometimes called a guaranteed income, negative income tax, citizen’s income, or citizen dividend). This would go to every adult regardless of health, employment, or marital status, . . . The amount should be sufficient so that anyone who is unemployed can afford basic food and shelter.”
In the section Small Business and Self-Employed the platform states, “Greens support a program that counteracts concentration and abuse of economic power. We support many different initiatives for forming successful, small enterprises that together can become an engine of (and sustainable model for) job creation, prosperity and progress.”
The Green Party Platform is a meaningful document describing necessary changes to preserve the hope of American democracy.
Robin Hahnel, author of Economic Justice and Democracy, published in 2005 by Routledge Press, is Professor of Economics at American University. “He has been active in many social movements and organizations over the past forty years, most recently with the Southern Maryland Greens and Green Party USA,” to quote the back cover of the book.
Hahnel’s book is about the hope of participatory economics. He states that “economic visionaries had failed to provide a coherent model explaining precisely how their alternative to capitalism could work.” His model provides an alternative to the “market system” we are familiar with. This is a visionary model, a visionary book. Central to his economic model is a reliance on social intelligence that replaces financial power in the allocation of resources and distribution of goods. He envisions worker councils, consumer councils, an efficient yet liberal planning process, a plan for environmental protection in the short and long terms, and a plan for integrating such an economy with the international economy. Asking “What Do We Want?” he responds, “Do we want economic decisions to be determined by competition between groups pitted against one another for their well-being and survival. Or do we want workers and consumers to be able to plan their joint endeavors democratically, efficiently, and equitably? In other words, do we want to abdicate economic decision-making to the marketplace or do we want to embrace the possibility of participatory planning?”
I think this is a question that resonates for today and many tomorrows. Over the past 20 years the average wages for a white male have dropped by 5%, median household income is up only about 15% over the past 35 years and that is due to women working more hours three months more per year. We are entering into a future where U.S. workers will bid their skills and labor against workers in Mexico who earn 12% of the U.S. standard, those in maquiladoras earn 6%, and those in China and India earn 3%. The economic future is not a bed of roses for those in the most wealthy nation. Certainly the distribution of rewards as I recounted in the first paragraph has not been fair. Readers of the Alameda County Green Party News are directed to the Platform of the Green Party, the Web sites mentioned, and to Hahnel’s book if they have intense interest.
While the Green Party focuses on present conditions, and practical and achievable steps to immediately repair the damage of the last 30 years of economic malpractice that enriched the few and impoverished the many, it’s useful to also look far into the future to a society where cooperation prevails over competition, and the creative destruction of advancing technology is managed intelligently and humanely, and the concerns for the environment are accounted for before the damage is done.
I wish to offer to Alameda County Green News readers a list of Web sites and organizations that are marvelous references on the topic of economic justice and democratic reform: United for a Fair Economy (, the Center for Popular Economics (, the Economic Policy Institute ( and, Raise the Floor (, Too Much (, Citizens for Tax Justice (, Grassroots Economic Organizations (, Leading Progressive Organizations (, Demos (, and But, of course, the Green Party Platform, 2004, also describes remedies for the U.S. economy, at

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Odd, Very Odd

Odd, Very Odd

Twenty men who work as directors of twenty private equity firms in 2007 earned on average more than $650 million each. Their combined income was over $13 billion. Twenty ordinary workers and payday is $13 billion. They are taxed at 15% rate, a rate lower than everyone else, because of some crazy tax justification, and Congress won’t change the law. The median income in the U.S., with a workforce of over 140 million workers is above $32,000. So these 20 earn in excess of 20,000 times the middle-earning worker, or half the workforce, but pay a lower tax rate. If I live in a city of 400,000, those 20 people earn as much as the entire city combined. (This is reported in In These Times magazine, page 34, November, 2007, Pirates of Private Equity, by Adam Doster, citing a report by Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy.)
Sixty percent of the workforce earn 20.3% of the national income, while 1% earned 18.4% (see The State of Working America, 2006/2007 by Michel, Bernstein and Allegreto, Economic Policy Institute, page 79) And 80% of the workforce earned 40% of the national income. One person in a hundred earns what 60 combined earn. Eight tenths of the workers earn four tenths of the income.
Furthermore, half of the U.S. households own 2.5% of the national net worth, or property. That implies a 40 to 1 ratio between two equal halves of Americans. The top one percent own 33.4% of everything, the next nine percent own 36%, the next 40% own 28% and the bottom 50 percent own 2.5% of the American pie whose total amount is over $50 trillion dollars. But in terms of debt and ownership of cars, the rates between the two halves are the same.
In Mexico the average wage is about 12% of the average wage in the U.S., and on the border in the maquiladora factories the wage is 6%, and in undemocratic China the wage is 3%, and extended into dollar amounts it comes to $16 a day in central Mexico, $8 a day in the maquiladoras, and $5 a day in China assuming a ten hour work day. Our cars, our stereos, our flat screen TVs, our plastic razors, and so forth, come from all these hardworking people who couldn’t survive in the U.S.A. earning the little they earn.
In Mexico half the families report that at least one person earns $7 a day or less. In Mexico the government reports that about 26% of all deaths are related to malnutrition, and other sources report that the actual rate is double the official rate.
You might go to the Web page “” to see how income is distributed in the U.S.A. Also you might go to and and discover other Odd, Very Odd details about our economic life.
Complaining is one thing. What to do? and Who is going to do it? is quite another thing.
Voting and monitoring your representative and joining in awareness groups is the best action. I’m hoping that Congress will have to pass the gauntlet of groups that insist on fundamental changes. They will receive ratings from these groups, and voters will be educated on needed reforms. These reforms will affect the broad community, and by ties between communities local changes will become possible.
Here is a sample of issues that have to be considered:
1. Unionization rules allowing formation of unions, appointments to the NLRB, enforcement of labor rights are needed. Because shared prosperity is basic to economic health this will be necessary.
2. Taxation and tax policy. Redistribution is a viable form of economic reform, and progressive income taxes can play a large role. Not only raising top marginal income tax rates, but lifting the cap on Social Security taxes, or creating another rate for incomes over $100,000. A wealth tax has been discussed by Gar Alperovitz writing in the magazine Dollars and Sense, and is policy in five European nations. And the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Individual Development Accounts are tried methods of lifting low income/low wealth families from poverty.
3. Trade policy obviously should include workers’ rights and environmental oversight. It should also include a minimum wage standards for exporting industries that send products into American markets. Trade with politically repressive nations should be curtailed, and that means non-democratic China.
4. Federal Reserve policy should be expansive to increase employment while gambling that inflation will not be induced through higher labor rates. Naturally this is a technical assessment and assumes oversight by progressive scholars who understand the intricacies of monetary policy.
5. Federal Jobs Program that aims at full employment. Probably the most significant measure to ensure a healthy society is a policy of government acting as employer of last resort. Demand-led economic growth will have to become the normal model on a national level. This requires a very great change in social awareness of economic growth. Roosevelt did not finish his revolution, but we can still move forward.
6. Minimum Wage policy must be high enough to support a family of three, or a set percentage of the prevailing national wage.
7. Immigration must be addressed. We changed from 300,000 a year to over 600,000 legal immigrants a year in the era of Lyndon Johnson. Also illegal immigration increased to about 300,000 a year. We are approximately 5% of the world’s population, and no limits to immigration would result in massive inflows into the country.
Very odd? All this sounds very odd. It implies a public that is aware of many economic factors, including the household median income, the income tax rates, the role of corporations and the active community participation in their governance, the distribution of wealth and the controls on the power that implies. Mostly it will involve removing the influence of wealth from democracy and information dissemination. Other non-profit information avenues will have to come to the fore, and a candidate that does not conform to public financing of his campaign will be ostracized politically.
It implies a sense of common well being. I don’t think that humanity need change fundamentally, but the normative standard will include those values that will make true equality of opportunity a reality for all children. “A chicken in every pot,” or a college savings account in every child’s portfolio. Equality will be more meaningful than the chance to pay off a debt on a large powerful vehicle which eventually you will own. At eight dollar per gallon gasoline, even that opportunity may vanish. Odder things have happened. “We can do it” will be a standard assumption.

Ben Leet
March 3, 2008
1,134 words