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How Rich is Too Rich?  Has Sam gone off the deep end?
Posted: 26 August 2011 07:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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Hey Ray Man,

Absolutely agree with your points. Are you at all familiar with the writings of Joe Bageant? I’m almost finished Deer Hunting With Jesus, and I have to say as a non-American, it’s a shocking eye-opener. I always knew of America as a generally conservative country with higher rates of inequality compared to other Western countries, due to the over-whelming power of corporate elites, however Joe’s book illustrates a far worse picture than I couldn’t have ever imagined. This type of blatant exploitation and oppression does not exist here in Australia where I am from nor do I believe it exists anywhere else in the Western world, it’s mind-boggling to think a country who bangs on about “land of the free” and “individual liberties” is allowing this to happen, but like you said - both major political parties are pro-corporatist who simply have no real opposition and do not fear the people as they can simply “fix” the problem.

One other thing I want to mention, the political philosophies of Socialism or Libertarianism, for example, mean different things depending on where you are located. In America, it seems, Socialism means a system of state-sanctioned totalitarianism and Libertarianism means Anarcho-Capitalism. The rest of the world, however, holds Socialism as a system where workers are liberated to self-manage society with or without a state and Libertarianism is viewed as a traditional Leftist position that rejects any Social Darwinist pro-Capitalist ideology. In fact, both philosophies can be seen together at times.

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Posted: 26 August 2011 09:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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“Not to mention that the immense success of Communist China…”

>>>> Is this a bad joke?  Sheer lunacy!  Communist China has sacrificed the largest pile human corpses in recorded history, estimated at over 73 million since 1949 to the present!  On what planet can this be considered ‘success?’  A pretty morally bankrupt statement to put it mildly.  No single man should be sacrificed for the so-called ‘common good.’  This whole discussion boils down to ‘the ends justify the means no matter what rights or life are massacred in the process.  You’re not convincing me.  You’re not impressing me.

[ Edited: 26 August 2011 09:54 PM by mormovies]
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Posted: 27 August 2011 01:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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mormovies - 27 August 2011 01:52 AM

“Not to mention that the immense success of Communist China…”

>>>> Is this a bad joke?  Sheer lunacy!  Communist China has sacrificed the largest pile human corpses in recorded history, estimated at over 73 million since 1949 to the present!  On what planet can this be considered ‘success?’  A pretty morally bankrupt statement to put it mildly.  No single man should be sacrificed for the so-called ‘common good.’  This whole discussion boils down to ‘the ends justify the means no matter what rights or life are massacred in the process.  You’re not convincing me.  You’re not impressing me.

And the USA is doing WHAT with its poor?

We have the LARGEST PRISON Population on the planet. We have more people in prison than the entire rest of the Earth combined.

And, I am not referring to Moa’s rule, but that of the predecessors since Deng Xioupeng. Moa’s rule was a monstrous as was Stalins.

But… Modern China has outperformed all western nations combined.

I suggest that you go have a read of Richard McGregor’s book (as a start) The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers before making any more statements that reflect your ignorance of modern day China (seeing that you seem to have no idea of its progress since the 1980s, other than US/Western Propaganda.

My argument was NOt that they are a humane society (that doesn’t seem to be of any interest to people in the USA either: creating a humane society. They would rather create a totally selfish society where millions of people suffer unimaginable horrors, yet because those people are simply “Free” it is all OK), but that they are an Economically powerful and successful society.

They are a society that has almost as many millionaires as the population of theUSA.

They have less of a divide between the wealthy and the poor.

And, as Richard McGregor’s book points out (along with the UN watchdog on human rights) the People in China have NO INTEREST in “Western Freedoms.”

This calls into question the claim that capitalism is the only successful economic model.

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Posted: 27 August 2011 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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From the impassioned entries here it surely is obvious that posters are speaking from one or another deep belief system, as voluble and irrational as any religion. And surely that shows Sam’s progression through morality (and who owns it) to the economic belief system is almost inevitable.
Look at yourselves: artificial vs natural, communism is this and capitalism that.
Truly blogging invites uncensored torrents. But imagine us subscribers as referees of a receivership of GM or Nigeria. We are all rant, like Baptists and Muslims, belief systems clashing, every man a totalitarian (this is how I would do it).
So where do these belief systems and identities come from? Our tired fathers on the couch with a beer in front of Fox Aargh aargh. Heroes of free enterprise like Hollywood’s Pirates of the Carribean? Being displaced as the only child by a chain of demanding siblings?  Unless I do a bunch of work at it, my economic theory may never get past pocket money and the old man’s right to gamble and my simmering but repressed sense of personal injustice.
And “working at it”, if it is economics school, appears to be a bit like studying theology, absolutely untrustworthy, small amounts of science and large amounts of rant, lead by practitioners who fight for the lectern but seem to have never heard of the Hippocratic oath.
Pragma: Stieglitz or Geithner for secretary? OK, Stieglitz has a Nobel but Geithner is close to Wall St and a Bushie so he knows “how it goes”, never mind integrity seems to be a bit short.
The obscenity of the very rich is to our economic “culture” as the Vatican is to religion.
Since we appear unable to propound a national review any more rational than the Tea Party, one wonders where the subconscious inertia will lead us. We are too fractious for the cold logic of a French Revolution, or a Scandinavian deliberation and overhaul. Do the obscenely rich then sit pretty until we all dissolve in fury?
Well, howabout little steps for Civic Responsibility. Tax the bastards.
Maybe we don’t have to overthrow anything or reprogram our neighbors. Just tax people according to their wealth.
Doesn’t actually seem very novel, really.

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Posted: 28 August 2011 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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From the impassioned entries here it surely is obvious that posters are speaking from one or another deep belief system, as voluble and irrational as any religion.

>> How is it that anytime someone criticizes with this discussion or the ideas proposed, they write it off as ‘dogmatic’ or ‘irrational’ like religion.  Notice, I have not even offered a solution of any kind.  I’m questioning the common, knee-jerk solution of others.  And guess what, the very ones calling the others ‘dogmatic’ just happen to come up with the very same exact solution- “Tax the bastards.”  Wow, what startling genius.  It must taken a lot a thought to come up with that one.  That’s exactly the TRIED & UNTRUE solution that’s been enacted here and everywhere with dire results.  What if it’s actually part of the problem?  I don’t understand how questioning and going against the grain is somehow based on faith and irrationality?

Unless we understand basic human nature, as it is in reality, we can’t possibly resolve our problems.  It’s a fact that when you just taxing the ‘bastards’ they don’t lie down, become docile and willing hand it over!  They actually resist and remove their money from the economic pool and shelter it offshore so it can’t be taxed.  Again, confiscating all U.S. wealth at gunpoint (which is what it will take) will not solve the problem.

Again, Sam, whether we agree with him on every point or not, has all of our respect here because he questions and challenges the so-called common knowledge with a strong basis in science.  Solving our current economic crisis will require a solution much more radical, scientific and also ethical, than what’s been proposed here.

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Posted: 28 August 2011 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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mormovies,  It may be true that you will only pay increased taxes at gunpoint, but I seriously doubt that applies to most people.  US tax rates are at a historical low since world war two.  It makes perfect sense to return to near post ww II tax rates to take care of this crisis.  As far as moving their money off-shore, that can be addressed by confiscating the immoveable assets of people who do that and barring them from returning to the US.  If they’re not willing to pay their fair share to maintain a liveable society, they are not entitled to enjoy its benefits.

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Posted: 28 August 2011 11:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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mormovies - 28 August 2011 02:46 PM

...

Again, Sam, whether we agree with him on every point or not, has all of our respect here because he questions and challenges the so-called common knowledge with a strong basis in science.  Solving our current economic crisis will require a solution much more radical, scientific and also ethical, than what’s been proposed here.

Agreed, but what would be unethical about holding the primary culprits behind this crisis responsible for helping to restore the US economy?  The banking and insurance CEOs who have still been paying themselves millions in bonuses from government bailout money should have all their assets confiscated and should be put in jail as the traitors to the US that they are.

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Posted: 28 August 2011 03:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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Fair question.  The ethical thing to do is identify the individuals responsible for bucking the system.  I don’t believe in accusing a whole economic class or racial group.  I also think our own government is guilty as well.  A simpler, fairer tax code (with zero loopholes) might be a good place to start?

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Posted: 28 August 2011 04:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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hey Wormwood,
thanks for the feedback! I’ve never been to Australia, but it looks pretty cool.
yeah, I’m familiar with Joe Bageant… did you know he died recently? too bad he wasn’t more widely read, because there really aren’t enough writers who have a broad perspective on class like he did. I think I returned Deer Hunting With Jesus to the library without finishing it. much of it struck pretty close to home for me. his background was a bit more southern redneck, mine is more blue-collar super-christian, but they’re pretty much overlapping cultures. I live in a nice area in southern California now, but I grew up in a tiny rural town in Indiana, and that book reminds me of how Dad used to say “you kids don’t know how good you got it” back in the 1960s & early 70s, when everybody, from modestly wealthy to outright poor, thought of themselves as “middle class”. I feel like going back to tell my (now) conservative friends “you don’t know how bad you got it!” the recession has hit the midwest and south particularly hard, yet people continue to vote against their interests. take it from a Real American, we’re freakin’ crazy over here!
I appreciate your comments about political labels too. when I was reading a lot of Chomsky, years ago, I found it interesting that he called himself a Libertarian Socialist, which is not terribly controversial in most parts of the world. but here, those two words are at nearly opposite poles. the American media and political culture decided years ago that Americans are too dim to process anything much beyond “liberal” and “conservative”... so that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. which would be fine for the average Joe Sixpack who doesn’t give a flying flurk about politics anyway, except that they’ve gone and perverted those two words beyond recognition. it’s pretty difficult to have a rational discussion with somebody who thinks climate change is a hoax and Barack Obama is a Marxist! but that sort of thing is surprisingly common now.
oh, and speaking of climate change and Marxists ;^) didn’t the Aussie Green Party make a fairly big step into your political scene in the past year or so? I don’t remember the particulars, but I’m a registered Green, myself, and we love hearing about Greens in other countries making some kind of difference. over here, the Greens are somewhere between marginal and outright obscure. oh well…

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Posted: 29 August 2011 01:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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Australian reader here.

I gotta say, the severity and intensity of the backlash against this blog post seems almost like a pre-conditioned response from some people.

I do like the fact that you’ve referenced the Gini coefficient, as I feel that relative wealth is far more important and relevant than absolute wealth.
I do like the fact that you have a history of sharing your views, despite how they conflict with the views of others.  “It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people” - Giordano Bruno

I really don’t understand the backlash at all. It seems like a perfectly normal, logical and fair deduction to say that in a given society, those with the most to lose, should be the ones to invest the most, in the security and continuation of that society. It’s very much a self serving interest.

Beyond a certain point of wealth, money takes on a completely different form. As was mentioned in an earlier post, a lot of it is about power. Beyond a certain point, your accumulated wealth has nothing whatsoever to do with what you can buy…rather it is like a score in a video game, a status symbol, a trophy. At these levels of wealth… what’s important isn’t how much you have… but how much you have RELATIVE to other people, as it is used as a measure of success.

Other issues I have with some of the proposed ideas ( one off taxes etc ) is that of liquidity. With some of these ultra rich people who are “worth” 50 billion dollars….  how much of that 50 billion is actually liquid funds… and how much of it is ownership of productive assets? I’m not entirely convinced some of these type suggestions are well informed or practically grounded. While I can appreciate the sentiment, I feel the practicality of such statements are a little far fetched and impractical.

However, the underlying theme, that the rich SHOULD be taxed more than the poor, just sounds like common sense. From my perspective, I think both earning AND spending should be taxed. And I do believe in a sliding tax scale ( the more you earn, the higher the RATE of tax is that you should pay ). Same with spending, with basic items such as food and clothing having a very low tax component, whereas entertainment and luxury items should incur a much higher tax component.

The more you have, the more you have to lose, and the more you should be expected to contribute to the community to prevent communal loss. I just think that changes in taxation need to be done gradually, and in a manner that will effect absolute wealth of individuals, without greatly or rapidly altering people’s relative wealth.


Sam, you are not scum, “How rich is too rich?” prompted me to subscribe. Keep up the independent thought and writing please.

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Posted: 29 August 2011 03:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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Prepare to be called a “Communist” and a “Socialist” as well as just “insane,” EvoV.

Not to mention the expected “You are advocating stealing from people.”

In this situation, it is an unfortunate fact that many Atheists in the USA score rather high on the Autism Spectrum (As did Ayn Rand), and thus tend to lack empathy and compassion (and view them as weaknesses).

What is strange is that I know how they feel. I happen to score pretty high on that spectrum myself, but seeing as I work with AI, I have seen plenty of models dealing with population and economics that show catastrophic results in failing to treat the poor with compassion, and even more catastrophic results from allowing too much economic power to be centered in too few hands (Too few people alive today have any idea of what a monopoly can do to a society).

Most of these people have a huge failure of imagination when it comes to the violence that can be birthed into a society where a significant percentage of the population feels that they have just been cast off to die by those who are fortunate enough to be born into a situation where they can feed themselves.

As Sam Harris pointed out, often wealth is NOT a product of hard work, but simply a matter of having been lucky enough to have been born into a situation where one is even capable of achieving any sort of wealth.

Despite what many of these people think, simply “working hard” doesn’t do it any more. And, being born into poverty, or even worse, having fallen into poverty are sure fire means of never seeing an opportunity to rise out of that poverty in one’s life (or, again, if one lost their wealth due to economic misfortune, health, or other situation - such as being defrauded).

Many of them are also too ignorant to understand how close the USA is right now to a Civil War, and just what the consequences of that war would be, nor do they understand the forces driving society to that kind of violence…

But… These are all the risks one plays with in the USA for promoting secularism, as the USA does not have a fit enough education system to have allowed a large enough population of mainstream citizens to understand the importance of secularism, and instead this argument has devolved, in the USA, into an Atheists vs Theists situation, where most of the atheists tend to be high on the Autism Spectrum, and most of the Theists tend to be Evangelicals.

This has resulted in both ends of this spectrum abandoning the poor and the people whose lives are most at stake.

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Posted: 29 August 2011 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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Yes, I’m aware of Joe’s unfortunate passing. Sadly, the announcement of his death was when I discovered him. The radio program I was listening to, hosted by an ex Communist (who by the way did a very good talk at the Global Atheist Convention here in Melbourne), did the honourary airing an old interview Joe did on his Australian tour. After listening I felt compelled to purchase one of the guy’s books!

Fortunately, Australia was one of the lucky countries who escaped the full horrors of the GFC that most of the world has become victim to. There was a few job losses here and there, but it quickly re-gained it self possibly due to our economic relationship with China (they buy a lot of our resources). Who knows though how long it will last and whether or not we will be able to escape the next financial crash.

LOL We have climate change deniers here too, apparently Australia and America are the only two developed countries where this type of delusion has crept into mainstream politics. Thanks to the efforts of our billion dollar coal industry and the Conservatives (Australian Liberal Party - similar to the Republican party) they have lobbied a misinformation campaign regarding the subject. Yes it is true the Greens, of whom I am a member and voter of, are the 3rd biggest party here with increasing support. Our last election produced not enough seats for the Labour Party (supposedly for the workers but reality tells a different story - very much like the Democrats) to form Government in its own right so they required the support of some Independents and one Green (who was the first ever Green to be voted into the House of Representatives) which they received to form a minority-led Government. It was this outcome that allowed the Greens to have more influence over policy, for example, the implementation of a carbon tax and funding to go towards renewable energy - amongst other things!

Our two major parties are pretty much the same to your two major parties, both are for the interests of business. However, our Prime Minister is an open atheist who isn’t married (she has a boyfriend) and the only people who make a fuss are the right-wing Christians but nobody really takes any notice. What gets me though is she still panders to the religious vote by being extra-polite/verging on condescending towards believers and maintains the Marriage Act between a man and a woman will not change due to Australia’s “Christian heritage”. She also is continuing with a school chaplaincy program created by a previous Government, which basically gives a free pass for community volunteers to preach Jesus to kids and if parents don’t want their kid participating, they have to “opt out”. There is a current court battle going on attempting to shut down the program on the basis that it violates the Constitution regarding separation of church and state. Fingers crossed!

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Posted: 29 August 2011 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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Ah libertarians.  Can’t live with them, can’t watch them starve to death or be eaten by a pack of wild dogs in a fully unregulated market economy. 

Sam, you’ll be glad you got rid of these delusional folk.  They believe in the magic of the ‘invisible hand’ the same way that their socially conservative brethren believe in a sky daddy.  Over at Reddit we are discussing this right now and the leaps of logic they are using to justify everything from a flat tax to the analogy of all taxation is slavery is like they were playing mad libs with religious screeds. 

Unfortunately with New atheism you get a lot of these kooks, not sure why; but, I would wager dollars to donuts that before you jolted these followers of yours by going against their belief system that many followed you like religious folks follow preachers they like.  The conservative brain is hard wired for faith and we are discovering that the financial catastrophe could of been avoided if we put less of these self-proclaimed Austrian school of economic savants in charge of things. 

Question: How is belief in ‘natural rights’ and the ‘invisible hand’ any different from belief in the ten commandments and the holy spirit?

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Posted: 29 August 2011 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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Why is belief in government and big brother less than mystical and religious?  I would claim anyone on this thread is dogmatic and mystical if they THINK they have the answer and if they THINK the answer is simple and needs less than a few seconds to come up with.

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Posted: 29 August 2011 12:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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mormovies - 29 August 2011 03:57 PM

Why is belief in government and big brother less than mystical and religious?  I would claim anyone on this thread is dogmatic and mystical if they THINK they have the answer and if they THINK the answer is simple and needs less than a few seconds to come up with.

I don’t think I have the answer.  People like libertarians, communists, Christians do. 

What I think, is that I like living in an Open Society ( K. Popper ) and I enjoy having a Jeffersonian democracy that fosters pluralism in most matters, allowing us to muddle through adversities as a society by having a big table and long discussions. 

Libertarians are anti-democratic because they approach the ‘problem of democracy’ with the realization that the vast majority of people do not want to live in a libertarian society so the only way to stop the “mobs” is to prevent them from enacting constitutional change to get to rid of the libertarian society by denying any process to create a social contract in the first place.

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