an obession with first principles

Money and Politics

Posted: Monday Mar 28th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Politics | View Comments

Jeffrey Sachs from Harvard was saying that the United States is turning into a plutocracy. And this is a feeling you get throughout the world, that the politicians are not powerful and the power is in the hands of a few strong players in the business sector. Do you feel that way?

“We are still a democracy, but we have moved in my lifetime towards a plutocracy. We do not have a plutocracy, I want to emphasize that, but the distribution of wealth and the influence of wealth have moved in that direction.

“If you look at the 1992 top-400 tax returns in the United States, the average income for those 400 people was $45 million per person. The last available figures show $340 million per person – that is eight for one in a period when the average worker went no place.

“The average tax rate for the top 400 went from 28% down to 16.6% during the same period, so we have had a system where as people have gotten richer and richer, they have been favored by taxation and have gotten richer to a greater degree. To my mind that is a bad trend, and it will probably get corrected in time. The rich have more influence in politics than they did 50 years ago.”
Warren Buffet


Responsibility

Posted: Monday Mar 28th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News | View Comments

So who’s to blame for the financial crisis?

“The American people, including banks, Congress, the administration, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the media – they all subscribed to the idea that residential housing could not collapse …. The idea that a $22-trillion asset class in an economy that is only worth in aggregate maybe $55-60 trillion, which for two-thirds of people with their own homes was their major asset, and in many cases they borrowed very significant funds against something that would plunge in value – this was something that we all participated in.

“It was a collective delusion, that once adopted, spread through all kinds of institutions and instruments of finance so that the interdependence of these items, once the delusion became exposed, once it became apparent that the emperor had no clothes, swept through the economy with the impact and the speed of a tsunami. All kinds of things happened that you wouldn’t have thought possible because of this huge interdependence in markets.”

You didn’t mention the rating agencies.

“It includes them – there were a few people out there shoring up subprime, but basically it includes everybody.”
Warren Buffet


Healthcare – Wow

Posted: Friday Mar 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, In the News, Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coördination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.
Atul Gawande, The New Yorker

This entire piece is incredibly well done. I encourage you to read all 8 pages of it. This is also how editorials will continue to make money: by writing this well.


Law and Deuteronomy

Posted: Monday Mar 7th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Blasphemy, In the News, Politics | View Comments

I find it incredibly laughable that any modern person considers either the formative or contemporary laws of the United States of America to be in any way similar to those found in Deuteronomy. Whatever rhetoric might persuade about a country being the new Israel and the civic documents its stone tablets looking at the actual documents you better immediately see a giant disconnect. Looking at contemporary ideas of justice and law:

The disparity between Deuteronomy’s commandments and those that one might extract from their policies could scarcely be more stark. The new right-wing bible reads, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of America, so be sure to extract every dollar from your operations so that you don’t end up as one again.” Christopher B. Hays

But if one actually looks at Deuteronomy:

But the warnings to the whole nation are similarly stern: The people are told to “put these words of mine in your heart and soul… and teach them to your children… so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land.” If not, “curses will come upon you,” and the rest of ch. 28 graphically describes them. Essentially, the Bible advocates that Israel must embrace a moral sustainability akin to the ecological sustainability to that we moderns think more about. ibid.

There is certainly no morality left in either politics nor economics. There is no construction of a shared civilization or culture, let alone a shared space. Everything today is about “me and mine.”

America has some serious problems; a recent study of developed nations by the International Monetary Fund ranked America near the bottom in income inequality, food security, life expectancy at birth, and level of incarcerated population; all of which reflect the scandalous lot of the poor. Yet the reaction to the recent economic crises from many quarters has been to slash the safety net that keeps such inequalities from being even worse.

Many in politics who clutch onto the good book are seriously endangering their fellow Americans as well as many fellow Christians. But they don’t actually care, so long as their tax bracket doesn’t change. Utter disgrace.


Remembering Rev. Gomes

Posted: Wednesday Mar 2nd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News | View Comments

Don’t misunderstand me — I don’t despise patriotism — but there is no salvation in love of country. There is salvation only in love of Jesus Christ, and if you confuse the two, the greatest defeat will have been achieved. first sermon post 9/11

On Feb 28th Reverend of Harvard’s Memorial Church, Professor Peter Gomes passed away. We have all lost something. I will always remember the few times I have seen him speak at his introductions to the Noble Lectures.