How many more billionaires can we sustain before we collapse?

by Brian T. Lynch

The New York Times recently asked each of the Democratic primary candidates for President a series of identical questions. The last question on their list was, “Does anyone deserve to have a billion dollars?”

The trivial framing of that question bypassed the grave urgency for asking it in the first place. In a variant form of the question the Times was essentially asking, “Isn’t it OK to be a billionaire if you played by the rules and worked hard to earn it?”

The wording of the question pre-supposes that the laws and social rules in place, by which a person may accumulate a billion-dollars, are fair and open to anyone. It ignores whether inherited wealth is also deserved.  Most importantly, it treats wealth as if it is only a money count and not a measure of privilege and social power. By doing so, the question as it was posed ignored the essential problem that extreme private wealth is toxic to human society regardless of a person’s character or how they obtained it.

A more salient question would have been, “How many more billionaires can this human society sustain before it collapses?

In the 50,000-year history of human civilization, the concepts of private ownership and private wealth are recent developments. The full ramifications of these constructs on our social cohesion and collective welfare are still being revealed. The written history of civilizations offers no comfort. There are no examples of a happy, stable society where extremes of wealth inequality existed. The lessons of history seem to be that a suitable balance of power is required to sustain a healthy and stable society. Human populations simply cannot tolerate distributions of wealth/power that either force unnatural equality or permit unlimited extremes of private wealth.

There is no question that we crossed the Rubicon into a world where extreme wealth inequality is corrupting world governments and destroying the balance of nature. The questions we should be asking candidates for President and all our elected officials are, “What are your plans to rebalance the distribution of wealth and social power in America?”   And then the follow-up question, “What are you going to do to stabilize and rebalance the Earth’s damaged ecology?”

How many more billionaires can we sustain before we collapse?

by Brian T. Lynch

The New York Times recently asked each of the Democratic primary candidates for President a series of identical questions. The last question on their list was, “Does anyone deserve to have a billion dollars?”

The trivial framing of that question bypassed the grave urgency for asking it in the first place. In a variant form of the question the Times was essentially asking, “Isn’t it OK to be a billionaire if you played by the rules and worked hard to earn it?”

The wording of the question pre-supposes that the laws and social rules in place, by which a person may accumulate a billion-dollars, are fair and open to anyone. It ignores whether inherited wealth is also deserved.  Most importantly, it treats wealth as if it is only a money count and not a measure of privilege and social power. By doing so, the question as it was posed ignored the essential problem that extreme private wealth is toxic to human society regardless of a person’s character or how they obtained it.

A more salient question would have been, “How many more billionaires can this human society sustain before it collapses?

In the 50,000-year history of human civilization, the concepts of private ownership and private wealth are recent developments. The full ramifications of these constructs on our social cohesion and collective welfare are still being revealed. The written history of civilizations offers no comfort. There are no examples of a happy, stable society where extremes of wealth inequality existed. The lessons of history seem to be that a suitable balance of power is required to sustain a healthy and stable society. Human populations simply cannot tolerate distributions of wealth/power that either force unnatural equality or permit unlimited extremes of private wealth.

There is no question that we crossed the Rubicon into a world where extreme wealth inequality is corrupting world governments and destroying the balance of nature. The questions we should be asking candidates for President and all our elected officials are, “What are your plans to rebalance the distribution of wealth and social power in America?”   And then the follow-up question, “What are you going to do to stabilize and rebalance the Earth’s damaged ecology?”

Humanizing the Minimum Wage

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

A State Senator in New Jersey fears a $1 raise for the working poor in this state will be too much of a hardship for businesses if the economy slows down a little.

For some national context, New Jersey passed a minimum wage law last year that will boost the minimum to $15 per hour by the year 2024. After the initial jump this past January, the working poor will receive a one dollar per hour raise every January between now and January of 2024.

New Jersey is an expensive state in which to live. The northern half of the state is part of the New York City metropolis. The central sections of the state are within the Philadelphia metropolis. The latest Economic Policy Institute study estimates a family of two adults and two children in Morris County would need a combined income of $104,121 per year to live comfortably. That works out to $50 per hour, 40 hours per week for one breadwinner, or $25 per hour if both parents work full-time. It also means that a single mother making the current minimum wage of $8.85 per hour would have to work 25 hours per day, 9 days per week to live comfortably in Morris County.

State Senator Vin Gopal, a Democrat from Monmouth County, NJ, said the state minimum wage law was an “irresponsible bill” when it passed. He is sponsoring a bill that would suspend minimum wage hikes in the future if there are signs of an economic slowdown. He calls this, “a basic, common-sense precaution.”

Back when workers and business owners were neighbors, owners cared about what would happen to an employee’s family during economic downturns. They would make adjustments and only ask all of their workers to make a small temporary sacrifice if needed so that the business and workers could both survive.

In today’s callus corporate environments, workers are a commodity (labor) to be hired or fired as a way of fine-tuning profits. This jaded view of people is reflected in the pending NJ Senate bill, S3607, which would suspend future minimum wage increases when there are signs of a slowing economy.

This bill doesn’t ask every employee to sacrifice during hard times. It asks only the most vulnerable workers to take a hit for the company. And where is there any built-in expectation that businesses should make any temporary accommodations to their bottom line?

If a company is really so economically fragile that it can’t afford an extra $58 dollars a week for a low wage worker during a downturn, they should have an option to apply to the state for an economic bridge loan to cover the cost of the raise until the economy turns around. Increasing worker incomes during an economic downturn, after all, makes economic sense. It is what economists call an economic stimulus. It increases local spending which helps jumpstart the economy.

For businesses to shift the economic stress caused by the normal ups and downs of the business cycle onto the backs of the lowest-paid workers is repugnant to me.

Shadow Banking a Growing Threat to Global Financial Stability

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

A Caribean Island Resort
A new global financial regulatory agency, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), quietly emerged from the dust of the Great Recession of 2007. “The FSB’s creation came after the G20 Summit in London in April 2009.

Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, the board includes all G20 major economies. The FSB consists of 68-member institutions. It comprises several central banks, ministries of finance, and supervisory and regulatory authorities from 25 jurisdictions, as well as 10 international organizations and six Regional Consultative Groups (RCGs). It’s stated purpose seems to be, “… policy work to enhance the resilience of non-bank financial intermediation… [focusing] on those parts of non-bank financial intermediation that perform economic functions which may give rise to bank-like financial stability risks.”

In other words, global shadow banking and finance networks have grown so large and powerful that they pose a threat to the whole nation-based international banking and finance system.

The Financial Stability Board says they are responsible for:

· Preparing annual reports on the implementation of reforms and their effects

· Coordinating financial sector policies

· Conducting outreach activities [To WHOM?]

· Building resilient financial institutions

· Addressing SIFIs [Systemically Important Financial Institutions]

· Making the derivates market safer [Which was the epicenter of the financial collapse in 2007]

· Enhancing the resilience of non-bank financial intermediation [NBFI]

· Formulating additional policies on specific areas of the global financial market

· Preparing progress reports to the G20

.  Conducting peer reviews

· Analyzing the effects of reforms

So, this is an autonomous international agency reporting to the G20, yet it is independent of the G20 or any other democratically elected government authority. It analyzes and proposes and monitors non-government enforced regulations of cross-border financial interactions between traditional international banking institutions and the global shadow banking institutions. It exists to keep the global economy on an even keel, and it prepares reports. Here is their 2018 report on the health and extent of global, non-standard financial institutions.  Global Monitoring Report on Non-Bank Financial Intermediation 2018 

Have you ever heard of NBFI, “Non-Bank Financial Intermediation?”

I first came across this term looking for information about a high-end tourist destination, a small, self-governing island in the Caribean, one of many such places. In addition to high-end tourism, its economy is also dependent on offshore financial services. Among the financial services listed on the internet about the Island’s economy is the ‘financial intermediation sector. (The what, I ask? )

Section #4 of the FSB report explains that financial intermediation: “… focuses on those parts of non-bank financial intermediation where bank-like financial stability risks may arise. The narrow measure of non-bank financial intermediation, which reflects an activity-based “economic function” assessment of risks, grew by 8.5% to $51.6 trillion in 2017, at a slightly slower pace than 2011-16. The narrow measure of non-bank financial intermediation, which reflects an activity-based “economic function” assessment of risks, grew by 8.5% to $51.6 trillion in 2017, at a slightly slower pace than 2011-16.

Since 2011, the Cayman Islands, China, Ireland, and Luxembourg together have accounted for over two-thirds of the dollar value increase. The narrow measure represents 14% of total global financial assets. Key components include:

· Collective investment vehicles (CIVs)

· Non-bank financial entities engaging in loan provision that is dependent on short-term funding

· Market intermediaries that depend on short-term funding or secured funding

· Securitisation-based credit intermediation

Section 2 provides an overview of, “Other Financial Intermediaries” (OFIs) aggregate, which includes all financial institutions that are not central banks, banks, insurance corporations, pension funds, public financial institutions or financial auxiliaries. These alt-financial entities grew by 7.6% in 2017. OFIs’ growth exceeded that of banks, insurance corporations, and pension funds. With $116.6 trillion, OFI assets represent 30.5% of total global financial assets, the largest share on record.”

These invisible, unaccountable entities are apparently a go-to source for loans by the global banks and nation-based financial institutions. In November 2010, the FSB defined shadow banking as “credit intermediation involving entities and activities (fully or partly) outside of the regular banking system”

Then, On 22 October 2018, the FSB announced its decision to replace the term “shadow banking” with the term “non-bank financial intermediation,” a less sinister sounding accommodation.

So, what is really going on here? 

It seems that billionaires, oligarchs, and their self-dealing minions are growing an alternate financial network that is fully or partially outside of national boundaries. It is certainly outside the direct control of the traditional international banking and finance systems. Traditional international bank institutions appear to be both fearful of, and increasingly dependent on this dark money network the reach of nations. The FSB says, “Non-bank financing provides a valuable alternative to bank financing for many firms and households, fostering competition in the supply of financing and supporting economic activity.”
Competition indeed. The OFTs alone account for close to a third of all the world’s financial wealth. This appears to be a socially malignant private treasury of wealth with no direct productive value. It is accessible only to wealthy corporations and the very rich. The capital gains of this private wealth cannot be taxed for the benefit of any global society.

This whole development may be more than a financial risk to the global economy. It may be a burgeoning threat to the sovereignty of nations and the sanctity of self-governing democracies everywhere. It is a development worthy of our attention and vigilance.

Read the full FSB report here:https://www.fsb.org/wp-content/uploads/P040219.pdf

The Rise of a Disloyal Opposition

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

It isn’t too radical to say that the Republican Party establishment is no longer compatible with the democratic ideals on which our republic was founded. If that shocks you or disturbs you, you are in good company. This isn’t how most of us picture things. For well over a hundred years politicians in both parties have been unquestioningly loyal to democratic principles, to this republic, the Constitution, and the rule of law. This truth is the source of the phrase “the loyal opposition.” Members of the “other side” were always opponents, not enemies.

But politics isn’t static, of course. It evolves, and our understanding of how governments and society have changed must change as well. This is difficult because most changes unfold very slowly. We keep up by taking the occasional mental snap-shots of the surroundings, but the tendency to hold on to these images is strong as we struggle to manage our busy lives. We reconcile our views of events from day to day until one day some event or a crisis comes along that scrambles how we pictured things. We are living in one of those times.

Tracing the details of how our politics changed is too broad a topic. Seeing one essential feature, the decline of majority rule in government, is the point here. To help do that, the rise of the Christian-right in politics provides a helpful starting point. To be clear, these trends and changes impact every aspect of our politics, including the growing tensions now on display in the Democratic primary. But the impact is most obvious in the GOP as the majority of us struggle to understand the Republican response to the current impeachment inquiry.

The political rise of the Christian-right at the end of the Twentieth-century is not in dispute. Of the primary reasons for this shift, their views on legal abortion predominate. The standard means of resolving religious differences involves evangelizing until the majority viewpoint of citizens are swayed. In the 1980s the religious right came to realize that anti-abortion sentiment may never predominate in a modern, pluralistic democracy. That inability to convince the majority to willingly outlaw abortion is what brought the Christian-right into politics. They sought, and still seek to legislate what they cannot attain through indoctrination or persuasion.

But politics and power have a corrupting influence on religion. After gaining political influence and even after gaining positions as elected officials, the Christian-right was still unable to pass their unpopular legislation within a system based on majority rule. They would eventually compromise certain Christian and democratic values to join a coalition of other minority interests and fringe political groups under the umbrella of the GOP. Secular pluralism would come to be seen by fundamentalist Christians as American society’s moral decay, and government by majority rule would come to symbolize evil in the eyes of some fundamentalist Christians.

These same hard lessons about majority rule also frustrated the economic caste of America’s wealthiest elites. In the corporate world where decision making is proportional to one’s ownership share (or wealth). One person-one vote was a significant barrier to enacting laws and policies that the industrial elite favored because they are so few in number.

But money is power. The Barrons of industry resorted to buying government influence in order to reshape state and federal rules so they could buy even more influence over time. They corrupted politicians with campaign cash and perks. This is particularly true in the Republican Party where the industrial elite focused most of their attention. Now the Republicans in Congress routinely pass and implement policies favorable to the rich regardless of how unpopular or harmful to the general population.

As stated above, this transition is a feature in both political parties, but it is especially evident in the GOP where frustration with majority rule has passed the tipping point.

Frustration with majority rule has become a unifying feature that transformed the GOP into an odd coalition of minority and fringe interest groups united by their desire to overcome the majority in order to achieve their unpopular agendas. The rise of Donald Trump and his corrupt, authoritarian style of leadership has accelerated this transition.

Just as the Christian-right has had to make some unchristian compromises, so have the industrial elites and every other minority or fringe interest group within the Republican coalition. In the process, the GOP has morphed into an anti-democratic movement that will do whatever it takes towards a totalitarian rule. This coalition of disgruntled minority interest groups will even propagate Russian disinformation talking points if it excites their base and wins over their support.

The GOP is no longer faithful to democratic principles or even the rule of law. We have lost the consent of the minority to majority rule. Political opponents are cast as political enemies in an all-out battle for Unitarian control. The opposition is no longer loyal.

Understanding the truth is the first step in identifying ways to save our republican form of government.

———————————————————-

Further Reading:

Coup d’état – The Revolution Has Been Televised for Years

The Rise of a Disloyal Opposition

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

It isn’t too radical to say that the Republican Party establishment is no longer compatible with the democratic ideals on which our republic was founded. If that shocks you or disturbs you, you are in good company. This isn’t how most of us picture things. For well over a hundred years politicians in both parties have been unquestioningly loyal to democratic principles, to this republic, the Constitution, and the rule of law. This truth is the source of the phrase “the loyal opposition.” Members of the “other side” were always opponents, not enemies.

But politics isn’t static, of course. It evolves, and our understanding of how governments and society have changed must change as well. This is difficult because most changes unfold very slowly. We keep up by taking the occasional mental snap-shots of the surroundings, but the tendency to hold on to these images is strong as we struggle to manage our busy lives. We reconcile our views of events from day to day until one day some event or a crisis comes along that scrambles how we pictured things. We are living in one of those times.

Tracing the details of how our politics changed is too broad a topic. Seeing one essential feature, the decline of majority rule in government is the point here. To help do that, the rise of the Christian-right in politics provides a helpful starting point. To be clear, these trends and changes impact every aspect of our politics, including the growing tensions now on display in the Democratic primary. But the impact is most obvious in the GOP as the majority of us struggle to understand the Republican response to the current impeachment inquiry.

The political rise of the Christian-right at the end of the Twentieth-century is not in dispute. Of the primary reasons for this shift, their views on legal abortion predominate. The standard means of resolving religious differences involves evangelizing until the majority viewpoint of citizens are swayed. In the 1980s the religious right came to realize that anti-abortion sentiment may never predominate in a modern, pluralistic democracy. That inability to convince the majority to willingly outlaw abortion is what brought the Christian-right into politics. They sought, and still seek to legislate what they cannot attain through indoctrination or persuasion.

But politics and power have a corrupting influence on religion. After gaining political influence and even after gaining positions as elected officials, the Christian-right was still unable to pass their unpopular legislation within a system based on majority rule. They would eventually compromise certain Christian and democratic values to join a coalition of other minority interests and fringe political groups under the umbrella of the GOP. Secular pluralism would come to be seen by fundamentalist Christians as American society’s moral decay, and government by majority rule would come to symbolize evil in the eyes of some fundamentalist Christians.

These same hard lessons about majority rule also frustrated the economic caste of America’s wealthiest elites. In the corporate world where decision making is proportional to one’s ownership share (or wealth). One person-one vote was a significant barrier to enacting laws and policies that the industrial elite favored because they are so few in number.

But money is power. The Barrons of industry resorted to buying government influence in order to reshape state and federal rules so they could buy even more influence over time. They corrupted politicians with campaign cash and perks. This is particularly true in the Republican Party where the industrial elite focused most of their attention. Now the Republicans in Congress routinely pass and implement policies favorable to the rich regardless of how unpopular or harmful to the general population.

As stated above, this transition is a feature in both political parties, but it is especially evident in the GOP where frustration with majority rule has passed the tipping point.

Frustration with majority rule has become a unifying feature that transformed the GOP into an odd coalition of minority and fringe interest groups united by their desire to overcome the majority in order to achieve their unpopular agendas. The rise of Donald Trump and his corrupt, authoritarian style of leadership has accelerated this transition.

Just as the Christian-right has had to make some unchristian compromises, so have the industrial elites and every other minority or fringe interest group within the Republican coalition. In the process, the GOP has morphed into an anti-democratic movement that will do whatever it takes towards a totalitarian rule. This coalition of disgruntled minority interest groups will even propagate Russian disinformation talking points if it excites their base and wins over their support.

The GOP is no longer faithful to democratic principles or even the rule of law. We have lost the consent of the minority to majority rule. Political opponents are cast as political enemies in an all-out battle for Unitarian control. The opposition is no longer loyal.

Understanding the truth is the first step in identifying ways to save our republican form of government.

———————————————————-

Further Reading:

Coup d’état – The Revolution Has Been Televised for Years

Both the Economy and Society Benefit When Poor Families Have More to Spend

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Enhancing the human dignity of employment is an obvious, self-evident social benefit of raising minimum wages. It is both empowering and ennobling when breadwinners are able to provide for the needs of their family on their own, without government or extended family supports. This is reason enough to enact a living wage law. The minimum fair exchange for a full-weeks work ought to be a self-sufficient minimum wage. The burden for this minimum standard of living should rightly be on employers and not on the taxpayers who currently help support full-time low wage earners.

Corporations and business owners enjoy the benefits of government-subsidized labor and don’t want to give it up. Most of their arguments opposing higher wage standards rely on business-friendly economists whose academic theories and scholarly studies plum the detrimental impacts on businesses from higher labor costs. It is current practice to treat workers as a labor commodity separate from workers and their families as consumers and social beings with basic human needs. It is also current practice to take a business view of the economy without consideration of the broader context of the overall social economy within which commerce operates. All this results in flawed and biased arguments against self-sufficient minimum wages.

The overall beneficial impacts of increasing the purchasing power among poor families are rarely studied. Now a major new study has found that the ripple effects when direct, substantial cash assistance is given to poor families have, “… large positive spillovers on non-recipient households and firms, and minimal price inflation. The researchers in this large-scale experiment in Kenya estimated that a direct cash payment of $1,000 US dollars to poor families within randomly selected communities resulted in a local fiscal multiplier of 2.6 times within the local communities.

In addition to measured improvements in the welfare of the children and families who received an infusion of cash, the experiment reinforced the relationship between income and increased consumption to the benefits of both businesses and the families who did not receive cash payments. Here is an excerpt from the study:

“A large-scale cash transfer program in rural Kenya led to sharp increases in the consumption expenditures of treated households, and extensive broader effects on the local economy, including large revenue gains for local firms (that line up in magnitude with household consumption gains), as well as similar increases in consumption expenditures for untreated and treated households approximately a year and a half after the initial transfers. Local firms do not show meaningful increases in investment, and there is minimal local price inflation, with quite precisely estimated effects of far less than 1% on average across a wide range of goods.” [snip]… The consumption expenditures of untreated households and firms rise substantially in areas receiving large cash transfers…”

The infusion of cash payments to poor families in the study did not come from employers, and the economy of Kenya is very different than the economy here in the US. Directly extrapolating the results isn’t possible. Nevertheless, these findings are hopeful. The high fiscal multiplier stimulus effect on local businesses from increased consumption by poor families appear to mirrored results found here within states and municipalities that have raised minimum wage standards. While the burden of cash transfers from higher minimum wages is on businesses, the literature I’ve seen so far suggests there is still a positive fiscal multiplier within the business community coupled with little increase in unemployment and negligible increases in inflation.

A broader look at the spillover effects of increased base wages might show similarly positive results for the business economy and those workers who are already self-sufficient wage earners. Future studies of communities where the wage base is improved should also look at the wellbeing and overall welfare of children living in low wage households as well as the social wellbeing of the wage earners themselves.

_____________________________________

Further Reading

Debunking the Myth That It’s Your Fault You’re Poorhttps://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2015/09/debunking-myth-that-its-your-fault.html

Myth Busting Data RE: Minimum Wage Increaseshttps://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2012/09/myth-busting-data-re-minimum-wage.html

Making the Case for a Living Wage  https://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2012/07/making-case-for-living-wage.html

NPR –

Researchers Find A Remarkable Ripple Effect When You Give Cash To Poor Families

 https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/12/02/781152563/researchers-find-a-remarkable-ripple-effect-when-you-give-cash-to-poor-families

Wealth Inequality has Always Been Un-American

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

In an Intelligencer article entitled, “AOC Thinks Concentrated Wealth Is Incompatible with Democracy. So Did Our Founders,” Eric Levitz writes, “ [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez’s second argument against the existence of billionaires — that concentrated wealth is incompatible with genuine democracy — was something close to conventional wisdom among the founders. Levitz goes on to write:

“The notion that political freedom has a material basis did not originate with Karl Marx and the creed of Communism; it was a core idea of the 17th-century British political theorist James Harrington, and his formulation of classical republicanism. A man who does not own the means of his own reproduction can never exercise political freedom, Harrington argued, because “the man that cannot live upon his own must be servant.” Likewise, the man of immense wealth — whose fortune consigns great masses of men to servitude — is inevitably a kind of tyrant. After all, ‘where there is inequality of estates, there must be inequality of power, and where there is inequality of power, there can be no commonwealth.’”

Having seen the ravages of extreme property-based wealth inequality in England, Thomas Jefferson was concerned that measures needed to be taken to prevent such inequality in America. Among his ideas, he wrote:

“Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.”

The vast concentrations of private wealth we see today is incomparable with a democratic society – and our founding fathers knew it. Regardless of if they were for or against democracy as a form of government, there was agreement that this nation needed to guard against the extreme accumulation of property in the hands of a few.

While Jefferson and the founding fathers understood this, they nevertheless adopted a Constitution which only permitted a flat tax (Art. 1, Sec. 9, 4th paragraph). It wasn’t until the Sixteenth Amendment was adopted in 1913 that the idea of a progressive income tax became possible.

The progressive income tax of 1913, as it was originally designed, did exactly what Thomas Jefferson had suggested. It was not intended that wage earners would be taxed at all. The bottom tax bracket began with incomes over $100,000 in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars and many higher marginal tax brackets climbed upwards from there. The one reason most wage earners ended up paying income taxes is that the 1913 law was not indexed to inflation. Just like the alternative minimum tax today, the progressive income tax crept down the income scale over time as wages were adjusted upward for inflation and productivity growth.

Up until World War II the top marginal income tax rate was over 90%. It was set that high to help prevent the unchecked accumulation of private wealth for the sake of maintaining a functioning democracy. President John Kennedy scaled back the top tax bracket to 70%, but it was Ronald Reagan who destroyed the whole purpose of the progressive taxes by cutting the top rate to less than it is now. At the same time, he adjusted the bottom rate to increase income taxes paid by lowest-paid workers. These changes, along with a law to tax capital gains at 1/2 the rate of wage income, set-in-motion one of the main conditions that would result in the creation of today’s billionaire class.

The other changes that allowed for the current unchecked accumulation of vast amounts of private wealth were the rise in the mid-1970s of organized capital in the form of political associations and PACS, (Political Action Committees) bent on killing unions and electing pro-business politicians. To this end the practice of sharing growth in the hourly gross domestic product (GDP) with workers in the form of productivity wages ended. Since then the US economy has nearly tripled but nearly all of that new wealth has gone to the wealthiest owners of capital. Wage growth, adjusted for inflation, has been nearly flat since 1975.

The irony here is that if productivity wages had been allowed to keep pace with America’s growing wealth (hourly GDP), the average family of four today would be making over $100,000 per year, the point beyond which they might have had to start paying income taxes if the original 1913 progressive tax law had been indexed to inflation.

On September 19th Donald Trump Declared himself to be Our Dictator

Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 10.25.20 AMOn the morning of September 19, 2019, history will note, President Donald J. Trump officially declared himself to be this country’s first authoritarian dictator. On that day he announced to the world, in a court filing, that he was assuming unlimited criminal immunity to act within or outside the law. He also declared that anyone who works for him on his behalf is also above the law and cannot be investigated, charged or convicted of any crimes as long as he is in office. By logical extension, if no violation of the law can apply to him while in office, then no election can remove him from office and no Congress can remove him by impeachment or check his powers in any way.

This isn’t how the first draft of history read that day. Trump’s dramatic claims received relatively little notice. They came in a court filing and were so outrageous and incredible that no one took it seriously. The headlines on that Thursday read like some variation of this one from the New York Law Journal:

“Trump Sues Manhattan DA Vance in Federal Court in Wake of Tax Subpoenas”

In the wake of the Mueller investigation, with its assortment of indictments, trials, and convictions of Trump associates, there were over a dozen less noticed criminal investigations spun off to be conducted in other states by other prosecutors. It was a court filing in one of these lesser-known investigations that the President announced his sweeping declarations.

On October 7, 2019, District Judge Victor Marrero, of the Southern District of New York, summed up the President’s claim in an introduction to his ruling rejecting Trump’s claim. Judge Marrero’s ruling reads in part:

“The President asserts an extraordinary claim in the dispute now before this Court. He contends that… under the United States Constitution, the person who serves as President, while in office, enjoys absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind. Consider the reach of the President’s argument. [As] the Court reads it, presidential immunity would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceedings, including investigations, grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, indictment, prosecution, arrest, trial conviction, and incarceration. That constitutional protection presumably would encompass any conduct, at any time, in any forum whether federal or state, and whether the President acted alone or in concert with other individuals. Hence, according to this categorical doctrine as presented in this proceeding, the constitutional dimensions of the presidential shield from judicial process are virtually limitless: Until the President leaves office… [this includes crimes committed in*] his official capacity, but also to ones arising from his private affairs, financial transactions, and all other conduct undertaken by him as an ordinary citizen both during and before his tenure in office.”
“Moreover, on this theory the President’s special dispensation from the criminal law’s purview and judicial inquiry would embrace not only the behavior and activities of the President himself, but also extend derivatively so as to potentially immunize the misconduct of any other person, business affiliate associate, or relative who may have collaborated with the President in committing purportedly unlawful acts, and whose offenses ordinarily would warrant criminal investigation and prosecution of all involved.”

The judge concluded his introduction with these words:

“Because this finds aspects of such a [Presidential] doctrine repugnant to the nation’ s governmental structure and constitutional values, and for the reasons further stated below it ABSTAINS from adjudicating this dispute and DISMISSES the President’ s suit.”

The Trump Administration immediately appealed.

President Trump’s immunity doctrine stemmed from a criminal investigation to see if Trump’s non-profit organization falsified business records.

In summary, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. is a District Attorney in New York. He empaneled a grand jury to probe whether the Trump Organization falsified business records related to money paid to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal prior to the 2016 Presidential Election to keep them quiet about his sexual relationships with them. These were payoffs funneled through Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Some of these payments were by checks made out to Cohen from the Trump Organization, a non-profit entity registered in New York. These payments were categorized as legal fees on the books of this non-profit.

Paying to keep damaging information from the public during an election is a violation of campaign finance laws. Using money donated to a non-profit organization for personal use is also a violation of the law, as is falsifying business records to cover up such misdeeds.

The grand jury investigating the business records of the Trump Organization requires documents, tax records and the cooperation of Mazars USA, the accounting firm hired by the Organization. Trump sent a letter to Mazars USA and forbade the company from releasing his tax records. The jury subpoenaed the company to release the last eight years of Donald Trump’s tax returns. That’s when Trump made his move on unlimited Executive power.

How this constitutional crisis resolves is critical to our republic. By elevating William Barr to Attorney General, Trump, and the Republicans have removed any chance that the Barr-lead Justice Department will ever challenge any illegality committed by the President or his administration. By ramming through two ultra-partisan Supreme Court Justices, and by seating so many highly partisan judges to the federal bench, Trump and the Republicans are betting that all legal challenges to both Congressional oversights, or judicial challenges to Trump’s limitless criminal immunity doctrine, will ultimately fail. The complicity of Congressional Republicans in installing this all-powerful authoritarian government should now be obvious. Articles of impeachment should still be aggressively pursued, but it is no longer a given that an impeachment conviction in the Senate would remove Trump from office. Under his unlimited criminal immunity doctrine, it isn’t even certain that he will honor Presidential election results, or even allow future elections.

Here is where I believe we stand. If the courts don’t uphold the rule of law, all hope for the republic is lost. If the courts do uphold the rule of law after House impeachment and Senate conviction, then it will be up to some combination of the President’s willing capitulation, law enforcement, the U.S. military or massive national citizen protests to assure that Donald Trump leaves office. If the Senate won’t convict Trump of impeachable offenses, it is up to the voters to set the stage for the same options mentioned above. If Donald Trump is reelected, however, it will probably be too late to save our Republic from dictatorial rule.

The Unasked Question

The New York Times recently asked each of the Democratic primary candidates for President a series of identical questions. The last question on their list was, “Does anyone deserve to have a billion dollars?”

The trivial framing of that question bypassed the grave urgency for asking it in the first place. In a variant form of the question, the Times was essentially asking, “Isn’t it OK to be a billionaire if you played by the rules and worked hard to earn it?”

The wording of the question pre-supposes that the laws and social rules in place, by which a person may accumulate a billion-dollars, are fair and open to anyone. It ignores whether inherited wealth is also deserved.  Most importantly, it treats wealth as if it is only a money count and not a measure of privilege and social power. By doing so, the question as it was posed ignored the essential problem that extreme private wealth is toxic to human society regardless of a person’s character or how they obtained it.

A more salient question would have been, “How many more billionaires can this human society sustain before it collapses?

In the 50,000-year history of human civilization, the concepts of private ownership and private wealth are recent developments. The full ramifications of these constructs on our social cohesion and collective welfare are still being revealed. The written history of civilizations offers no comfort. There are no examples of a happy, stable society where extremes of wealth inequality existed. The lessons of history seem to be that a suitable balance of power is required to sustain a healthy and stable society. Human populations simply cannot tolerate distributions of wealth/power that either force unnatural equality or permit unlimited extremes of private wealth.

There is no question that we crossed the Rubicon into a world where extreme wealth inequality is corrupting world governments and destroying the balance of nature. The questions we should be asking candidates for President and all our elected officials are, “What are your plans to rebalance the distribution of wealth and social power in America?”   And then the follow-up question, “What are you going to do to stabilize and rebalance the Earth’s damaged ecology?”