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Friday, November 8, 2019


No sooner had I posted my last comment on the world than I clicked on HuffPost and read this much better expression of the same thought.  Oh well.


Dean said...

"Behind every great fortune is a great crime, and the ability to amass *billions* is never due to one genius idea or product, but to the ability to distort the political system in your favor."

That there is absolutely on the money.

s. wallerstein said...

Paul McCartney is worth 1.2 billion dollars and I don't see that he has distorted the political system in his favor or committed any great crimes. I'm perverse, I know.

s. wallerstein said...

Paul McCartney live singing Back in the USSR in Red Square. Complete with a very unsmiling Vladimir Putin.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

I guess Bloomberg figures if Warren or Sanders are nominated our god given right, no doubt enshrined in some article in the Constitution that I must have overlooked, to choose between two capitalists for president will be violated. Therefore he must run to re-establish the cosmic capitalist balance.

Dean said...

McCartney is certainly a sympathetic character. He's also perhaps an exception to the rule. And yet his wealth is not directly a function of a meritocratic calculus that would value exclusivley his musical talents.

"Back in the early 1980s, Mr. McCartney showed his friend a notebook full of songs he owned, by artists like Buddy Holly. The real money, Mr. McCartney suggested, was in music publishing, the side of the business that deals with the songwriting rights for big catalogs of songs."

He relied on a system rigged against musical artists and in favor of "the business."

Dean said...

I'll play my cards:

s. wallerstein said...

How about Bruce Springsteen? He's a good leftie like you and me. I just checked and he's worth 500 million dollars.

Dean said...

Well, Springsteen is among the anti-pantheon of so-called artists whose work I abhor. Don't get me started enumerating the roster. It's almost endless. I'll have to recuse myself, then, owing to deep, deep prejudice.

s. wallerstein said...

Ok. I checked out Dylan, but compared to Springsteen and McCartney, he's a loser, only 180 million dollars. I hope that you don't abhor Dylan because he's the only one I bother to listen to these days.

Dean said...

I like Dylan. (That sentence is embarrassing, condescending, and stupid, I know.) I'm aware of issues with plagiarism, like the Stones, and so forth, but of course being fairly boldly anti-copyright, I don't care!

My issue is with the cynical pretense that the acquisition of more money by itself is indisputably a sign of increased value in some non-qualitative sense. Setting aside the Sorites paradox, I wager we'd harm very few people by taxing their wealth above some sensible, prudent threshold (under which few of us reside).

But still, I think The Dils said it better: "I hate the rich."

Dean said...

Er, "non-quantitative sense"...up there^

s. wallerstein said...

Sure. In his interview with Elucidations or with professor Dan Kaufman, Professor Leiter sets a fairly generous threshold. 5 or 10 million dollars, I don't recall which and above that figure, the money goes for social purposes. I agree, no problem.

I can't say that I hate all the rich, although some of them are fairly detestable as are some of the poor and some of the middle classes.

I hate the blind rich, the rich who are blind to the suffering of the poor, the rich who are blind to how they got rich, and especially the rich who blindly believe that having money making them somehow ontologically superior to the rest of us. However, lots of fairly worthy people are or were rich: Marcel Proust, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Fidel Castro, Friedrich Engels, etc.

Today I visited some friends who have a live-in house maid, still common among Chileans who can afford to pay. Friends with progressive attitudes, progressive child-raising practices, who talk progressive politics all day while the maid stands there silently like a piece of furniture. I kept smiling at her and she smiled back. I hope that she didn't think that my smiles had a sexual content (not that she was ugly): I was smiling at her to make her feel less left-out, to make her see that I was aware of her situation. I kissed her on the cheek when I left which is a sign of equality; something Chileans do with women of their own class. But as far as I can see, no one else there treated her as another more than a human home appliance.

Dean said...

The poet Frederick Seidel is perhaps an example of a redeemable wealthy person, though I doubt he has billions. He inherited his wealth from the family coal business. Inasmuch as poetry is about anything at all, his poems in part exhibit his reflections on the lavish lifestyle of travel, fine dining, and high-end motorcycle racing his wealth affords him. His poems ooze disdain and a kind of equal opportunity condescension. Reading them, one wonders where, if at all, the misogyny turns ironic. Most of the poems are formally simple, and they often sport childlike moments of rhyme, like the gratuitous repetition of nursery rhymes. I suspect Seidel is not one of those you-either-love-him-or-hate-him artists for anybody who approaches his work openly. I admire it both because and despite the fact that I find it unsettling (sometimes cringe-worthy) and yet amusing.

Ludwig Richter said...

On the subject of money, perhaps here is some news you can use:

On Seattle's city council races, Amazon spent $1.5 million in a brazen effort to reshape the council. The reason it did this was because the council had the temerity to propose a "head tax" on large corporations in Seattle. The number of homeless people in Seattle is obscene when one considers the enormous amount of wealth sloshing around the city. The thinking on the council was that Amazon and other companies are responsible for the booming high home prices that have, in part, made housing unaffordable for so many people. The council ultimately backed off its proposed "head tax," but Amazon decided that wasn't good enough.

Amazon, joined by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, spent enormous amounts of money on seven candidates running for the seven seats up for election this year. In District 6, Amazon and the Chamber spent over $1 million alone to support Heidi Wills and defeat Dan Strauss. Of the seven races, Amazon candidates lost five. In District 6, Amazon supported the more progressive candidate (go figure), Debora Juarez, who won handily. In District 4, Democratic Socialist Shaun Scott trails the Amazon candidate by 5 points--arguably Amazon's only true win. The other five seats went to the progressives. The most dramatic win of the election was the uncompromising, true-red Socialist Alternative candidate, Kshama Sawant.

A peculiarity of Washington politics is that with its all-mail ballots, a large number of ballots are mailed in at the last moment, and the results on election night are always partial. For some reason, progressive voters tend to vote late. I'm not sure why; maybe they're just busier than everyone else. In any case, on election night, Kshama Sawant was down 9 points, and some news organizations were already writing her political obituary. By Friday night, most ballots had been counted, and Sawant has now surged to a likely insurmountable lead of 1500 votes. One of the two council members who never compromised on the "head tax" (the other is not up for election), Sawant defeated her corporate rival with her signature ground game.

Here is the Seattle Times' take on the election:

And here is an article from Seattle's alternative paper:


s. wallerstein said...


This conversation interests me because it forces me to reflect on why I like people and why I approve of them, which of course do not always coincide.

I can't imagine not liking or even not approving of someone because they have a lot of money. I don't approve of people who make money screwing consumers or destroying the environment and although I probably wouldn't like them personally, I'm not sure that I would dislike them either. I don't necessarily dislike people who do things I disapprove of. As for people who inherited their wealth or earned it as pop stars, movie stars or sports stars, I might not feel comfortable around them if they have a jet set or country club lifestyle, but that does not mean that I dislike them or disapprove of them. In general, I like people or feel certain friendship for people with whom I can have honest and intelligent conversations, and that implies that they don't try to rationalize where their wealth comes from. That someone has a lifestyle that I don't feel comfortable around does not at all mean that I dislike them or disapprove of them: my personal lifestyle choices are mine, I don't see myself as a example for humanity or a light unto the world.

Dean said...

I share your interest for similar reasons. A few weeks ago while riding the bus home from work I was sitting next to two young ladies carrying on a friendly, ordinary conversation. At one point something prompted one of them to announce, perhaps tongue in cheek, "I hate people." The other one replied, "I love people." They glanced at me, so I interjected, "I agree with both of you." And I do. On the one hand, I am a committed misanthrope, while on the other I feel an essential kinship with all people...even Donald Trump! But if I were the sort of person who tallied debits and credits against individuals to measure my approval of them, wealth would land squarely on the debit side. Hence, even though I don't consciously make tallies of that sort, it's easy for me to proclaim a general disapproval of the rich qua rich. Call it a prejudice. It's also a safe, somewhat cowardly way to be judgmental, because of course present company can always be excepted.

I think perhaps I do equate disapproval of lifestyle with dislike. There aren't many lifestyles of which I tend to disapprove, but conspicuous consumption is probably a feature of some of them.

s. wallerstein said...

Conspicuous consumption: I would be delighted if all the clothing, shoes, furniture, home appliances, etc., which I have, would last the rest of my life (I'm 73) and would never have to be bothered again to shop for anything besides books and food. Oh yes, at 73 I have to buy various medicines.

I can't see hanging out with or being friends with someone who is actively into shopping, although most everyone is more into shopping than I am and I accept that in others.

I guess that you can argue that buying more than is absolutely necessary damages the environment and that's true, but in my case, I don't shop because I hate shopping (except for books) and the stuff about protecting the environment is a conscious rationalization that I added post hoc. Similarly, I'm a vegetarian and have been one for over 20 years now, but I've never much liked meat and so I was delighted to have a socially acceptable rationalization (animal rights) for not eating it.

I'm enough of a sophist myself (and always have been one) that I distrust my moral judgments because they often are just rationalizations of different tastes and prejudices.

Dean said...

Again, I'm with you. Live by principles, die by principles!

Shopping per se isn't conspicuous consumption, I suppose. It's the offer to "take my new Tesla for a spin, eh?" that irritates me, the assumption that I care or should care.

ES said...

Ludwig gave away all his money ;)

s. wallerstein said...


Cars irritate me too. I don't own one and I even failed driver education in high school.
However, I don't see my irritations as being moral issues. If they were, I'd be more moralistic than John Calvin.

s. wallerstein said...


I believe that Ludwig gave most, not all, of his money away. He travels a lot (which isn't free) and he rents cottages in Ireland, etc., which isn't free either. For most of his life he has no visible means of support, so I suppose that he still has some of the family loot.

Dean said...

s. wallerstein,

It isn't that cars irritate me, though of course they do. It's the assumption, due to the high price tag or momentary cultural allure of the car, that I do or ought to care about it, and the ensuing behavior directed at me, that become a moral issue. Let me think this through using an example of something I value, say, the poetry of Frederick Seidel (if you prefer, pick another poet: Dickinson, Ashbery, Keats...). I've just purchased and read his latest book. (Lo! He has a new book from last year of which I've been unaware, Peaches Goes It Alone. Must acquire.) I invite you to borrow and read the book, my assumption being either that you also enjoy poetry or that even if you don't particularly like it, this will be a good gateway to its appreciation. The invitation itself is a gesture of generosity, hence a moral action, as with the invitation to take a shiny new expensive car for a spin. But what other motives might I have for (as they say these days) "signaling" the fact not only that I read, but in fact understand and admire Seidel's work? I don't really need to answer that question, do I? It's the same motive that prompts me to talk about poetry and my deep appreciation of it in this very public forum. It's my meager way of flaunting some modicum of cultural capital. Not having read the book, I nevertheless suspect Bourdieu has something to say about this phenomenon in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. See? There I go again! Cutting to the chase, I suppose irritation does trigger a kind of moral defensiveness in me. If you invite me to test-drive your Tesla, I resent your assumption that I share your gauche, materialistic values; but if you offer to lend me Peaches Goes It Alone, I respect the judgment underlying that assumption. The Tesla stands for your material wealth, the book for your learning and refined taste. Complicating this is the likelihood that the former, wealth, facilitates the latter, education, but that aside, my response is critical ("I hate the rich.") when the assumption concerns a source of irritation, not so when it doesn't.

s. wallerstein said...

I used to read a lot of poetry, don't read much now and where I live, I'm unlikely to run into Seidel's book.

However, I understand your point. If you talk to me about Bourdieu, I'm flattered that you recognize that I'm the kind of person who has read or at least read about Bourdieu. I'm flattered because my self-image is of an intellectual, of someone who knows who Dickinson, Ashbery and Keats are, etc.

On the other hand, if someone talks to me about cars or about vacationing in a resort (I wouldn't go to a resort), it would irritate me because I don't want to be mistaken for the kind of person who is interested in cars or who vacations in resorts. But that doesn't seem to be a moral issue at all. It has to do with my self-image and with someone understandably not understanding how I see myself. Why should someone who hasn't the slightest idea who Pierre Bourdieu is know that I have read Pierre Bourdieu?

I'm a strange kind of person. I gather that you are too. That's neither bad nor good in moral terms, but when you're strange or weird or queer (in the original sense of the word), most people simply are not going to understand you. Most people get their information from the mainstream media, from talking to other non-queer people, etc, and that doesn't seem bad to me. It's a lot for a weird or queer person to expect others in general to understand them. A weird or queer person should be happy if he or she is fortunate enough that he or she finds a few people here and there over the years who make an effort to understand him or her.

Dean said...

I will likely have more to say about this, but for now I'll simply reply that while I accept that I'm a strange/weird/queer person (but so are we all in various ways, aren't we?), I am not irritated merely because somebody mistakes me for the kind of person who is interested in cars or resorts. I'm irritated because there is a tacit expectation that I ought to be interested in them. Cars and tourism are good for the economy, which produces more leisure time. Cars facilitate mobility. Tourism encourages new experiences. I sense an implication that we all have an obligation to promote these sorts of things, despite their expense and inconvenience to the individual, because their net effect is good, on average, for everybody. (Ignore externalities like pollution, etc.) It's a perverse kind of network effect.

s. wallerstein said...


We'll all supposed to think and talk about stuff which reinforce and reproduce the dominant order of things, to be sure. However, the people who I run into day to day who ask me how I'll celebrate Christmas are not doing so because they want to stimulate economic growth through the upsurge in retail sales during the holiday season. They're well-intentioned people who say what "everyone" says and talk about what "everyone" talks about. At age 17 I'd probably have subjected them to a counter-sermon about how the Christmas holiday is just a scam to get people to buy junk that they don't need and which pollutes the environment, but I haven't done that for a long time and probably will never go back to that.

I'm happy if I can get survive the day without being lynched by the normal people around me. Let me quote Bob Dylan (It's all right, ma):

If my thought dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
But it's all right, ma.
It's life and life only.

Dean said...

Way upthread here, s. wallerstein, you declared that these days you only bother to listen to Dylan. I could thrive on his catalog alone, but not with the complete satisfaction I'd enjoy from, say, Bach's. For that matter, I could live with just one recording of Bach: Tragicomedia's excerpts from the Anna Magdalena Notebook. Every time I play it, once or twice a year, I am in awe of it. But do you know the work of the late Jimmy Lafave, who often covered Dylan tunes by way of tribute to the master? I've loved Lafave for some time, heard him live a few times, even shook his hand not two years before he died. He was the real deal, and I miss him to this day. If I had to recommend a place to start with his recordings, I'd point you to the Trail series of bootleg-like compilations of live, outtake, and radio performances. Variable recording quality, but pure Lafave.

s. wallerstein said...


Thanks for the listening recommendation and for the great conversation!

Dean said...

Likewise, thank you!