The Column of Lasting Insignificance: February 12, 2011
“(Privatizing) Social Security, (an idea) slaughtered when George W. Bush proposed it five years ago, seems about to rear its foul head again….Why is privatizing (it) such a turkey? Because retirees shouldn’t have to depend on the market’s vagaries survival money…. even if you manage to invest well, interest rates (may) be low when you retire. Social Security isn’t meant to be a gambling program.”
TAXING LAND AND NOT PEOPLE re-emerges as a subject for discussion, usually when enough people think that the economy is tilted in favor of money monopolists, and especially towards land owners who are ripping them off. The last time land reform gained serious attention in America, was under the aegis of Henry George (1839-97), a journalist and publisher who lost an allegedly fraudulent vote for mayor of New York just before he died. But his theories — categorized as Georgism — still gain support among free-thinkers today, among them Denis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, and the late William Buckley.
George’s theory, in brief, was that the value of land, by whoever (and however) it was acquired, goes up all the time, even without any effort by its owners, and this alone is one of the main causes of poverty among people who pay increasing rent. His best-selling book (3m copies sold), Progress and Poverty (1879) is a treatise on inequality, the cyclic nature of industrial economies, and possible remedies for this situation.
In some places, Britain for one, Georgism has never entirely died, mainly due to the fact that 69% of the land is owned by 0.6% of the population, the top ten landlords owning more than a million acres and the Royal estates occupying another three-quarters of a million .“An extreme concentration of wealth,” declares Vince Cable, the government’s Business Secretary.
Half a century ago, the manifesto of Britain’s Labor Party promised to work for “land nationalization” (the main reason why rich elites are so scared of “socialism”) but the idea has pretty much lain dormant until recently. “Yet the question of who owns Britain, how the land came to be owned, and what it means for the rest of us has never been answered adequately,” says the New Statesman, which blames “the secretive network of 6,000 aristocratic families and their relatives.”
One current voice is that of the Labor Land Campaign’s Dave Wetzel who told the magazine that an annual land tax would not only provide a new and fairer sort of income but would encourage owners of empty buildings and empty land to put their properties to good use. “There was a time,” says the NS, “when land reform was a convulsive political issue. It should be so again.”
IS SOCIALISM SCARY? Well, it is to many Americans who have been brainwashed into believing that it’s the next worst thing to communism. But “an economic and political theory advocating public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources” is not itself inherently threatening. What usually happens is that, like most ”isms,” it often turns into a mechanism that is exploited for gaining power by a group that then doesn’t want to let go. But, ideally, if and when socialism actually works, it offers a fairer deal to a large number of people without taking advantage of them the way that capitalism allegedly does.
Anyway, Inc. magazine decided to send a writer to Norway to check out what life was like in a socialist state and he came back with a surprisingly reassuring report (February issue) which is definitely worth reading for anybody seriously interested in this subject. Obviously, it’s a country in which taxes are high, but in return, Norway takes care of its people with an all-encompassing health plan and generous social benefits. “The three things that Americans worry about — education, retirement, and medical expenses — are things Norwegians don’t worry about,” is one quote from the story, and another is even more significant: “Norwegians don’t think about taxes the way we do. They tend to see taxes as a purchase: an exchange of cash for services.”
STARS ACTING AS ASSHOLES is the subject of David Walters’ essay in Details which says the idea began with Larry David who pioneered “the actor as himself” approach. “Even though you assume Larry is an exaggerated character,” says Episodes co-creator Jeffrey Klarik, “there’s a part of you that thinks, ‘I bet that’s who he is.’” When the cameras start rolling, everyone on Jersey Shore, for example, turns into “an irredeemable jackass” and similarly, Extras fans also know Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe as “a sex-obsessed, condom-snapping creep.” Walters writes that reality television has made everyone aware that ‘being yourself’ is a performance. “Dozens of actors are willing to play obnoxious, narcissistic, or criminal versions of themselves these days. They see it as a savvy career move.”
HEROES AND VILLAINS is what Newsmax decided to celebrate as it summarized the past year and apart from some predictable choices such as Steve Jobs (“a tyrannical focus on product esthetics”), Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (for their teamwork in Haiti ), Michelle Obama (“one of the most admired women in the world”), Arizona governor Jan Brewer (“for championing integrity on the border”) and Sheriff Joe Arpaio (“for enforcing the law with no reservations”) there are some surprises. Washington DC’s Michelle Rhee is honored as a “passionate educator,” Lance Orton ( “for his ‘See something, Say something’ campaign”). the Children’s Scholarship Fund’s Daria Romio (“scholarships to 110,000 low-income kids”) and the Rev. Franklin Graham (“a major force driving the debate over terrorism and religious education”). The Villains include BP’s Tony Hayward, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (“a Hitler wannabe”), and Kim Jong Il (“a legacy of destruction and despair”).
INSIDER TRADING is illegal for the average person, it being deemed that having advance knowledge before other people of whether stocks are going to rise or fall yields an unfair edge in the market. But apparently, the law doesn’t apply to members of Congress. Newsmax writes that staffers and legislators routinely attend high-level, closed-door meetings providing such information and that senators acting on such information beat the market by 12% a year, double what even corporate insiders are able to achieve. After all, these crooks just make the laws: why should they have to observe them?
“I see Kanye (West) as a fellow artist…but I don’t think it’s about feeling persecuted. It doesn’t matter if you’re President Barack Obama or Bono or the Pope — there’s someone out there who wants to fuck you and someone who wants to kill you.”
BIG THINKERS CAN BE such morons. Take, for example, Aaron Clauset, 31, who studies what’s been termed “the physics of terrorism.” Here’s one of Aaron’s brilliant discoveries as reported by Miller-McCune magazine.
‘Terrorist attacks happen less often in the developed world, but when they do happen they’re often bigger than in the developing world. That was striking. We have no explanations for why that was the case.’ (Really? Think about it, Mr. Obvious)…”Because terrorists aim for high-density targets, ‘the bombs are attracted to where the people are,’ he explains. “Clauset finds this model intellectually satisfying” the magazine adds.
Duh. Do research institutes actually pay for this kind of vacuous nonsense? Clauset, who’s an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, is apparently “searching for universal patterns hidden in human conflicts” with a view to being able to predict future attacks. This is clearly ridiculous in the first place because terrorists don’t match their plans to some kind of mythical earth cycle. Miller-McCune’s story tends to agree with this, quoting Rand Corporation scientist Walter L. Perry: “The groups that do these terrorist attacks are loose cannons. There’s no two alike and it’s all very localized and depends on local grievances. Inevitably,” he says, “such long-term modeling assumes that the past is prologue to the future — and that’s a big assumption.”
THE WILCOCK WEB: If most giant corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes because Congress is bribed by lobbyists, surely disabling, or at least curbing, the lobbyists should be the first priority?….After establishing offices in half a dozen cities and offering free sample subscriptions to thousands of Americans, China Daily has now opened eight offices in Europe where, from London, it is distributing the paper to 27 countries ….Banks are indignantly denying that they knew about Bernie Madoff being a conman. They weren’t collaborating fraudsters, they claim, just stupid and incompetent…Banks are legalized criminals….….Because the lifting capacity of helicopters is limited to about 20 tons, the new Skylifter topped with a discus-shaped canopy can handle seven times that weight….And, in its Technology section, the Economist reports two more inventions: “liquid armor,” capable of deflecting bullets, and a ship capable of blowing enough bubbles under the hull to increase its speed over the water….“Sometimes the best question you can ask on TV,” says Piers Morgan, “is ‘Why did you do that?’”…. Relentlessly determined to stay on the wrong side of history by ruling for the haves against the have-nots, the Supremes are merely echoing their 19th-century racist past as indicated by the new book, Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903….….….Costing less than $50,000 to finance, a chocolate company is among the most profitable businesses to start, claims the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, with 80% of such becoming profitable…. But cocoa production is becoming so unprofitable for growers, that the Coca Research Association’s Tony Liss predicts that by 2030 chocolate will become as rare and expensive as caviar….….Harvard biomedical engineer David Edwards has produced a lipstick-sized sniffer through which powdered vitamins have a faster route into the bloodstream…. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research…. An interesting list to see would be that of people who support the death penalty but oppose abortion….Westin hotels are offering the loan of running shoes to guests who find them too bulky to bring in their bags….At a speedy two pages per second, the Ion Book Saver will transfer any book into an e-format… “An ignorant person,” said Will Rogers, “is one who doesn’t know what you have just found out”…. Missionaries are expected to be among the major buyers of the Maverick car that can fly (Subaru engine, collapsible, powered parachute). It costs $84,000… “Be content to seem what you really are.” — Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180AD)