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Sunday, October 30, 2011

"It Doesn’t Get Any More Immoral Than This"

Yesterday, Ross Douthat argued that "higher taxes on America’s richest 1 percent" won't solve the problems with government. Thomas Friedman explains why that's wrong, and why a more equitable distribution of income is essential to stripping the ability of those at the top to control government:

Did You Hear the One About the Bankers?, by Thomas Friedman, Commentary, NY Times: Citigroup is lucky that Muammar el-Qaddafi was killed when he was. The Libyan leader’s death diverted attention from a lethal article involving Citigroup... The news was that Citigroup had to pay a $285 million fine to settle a case in which, with one hand, Citibank sold a package of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting customers — securities that it knew were likely to go bust — and, with the other hand, shorted the same securities — that is, bet millions of dollars that they would go bust.
It doesn’t get any more immoral than this. ...
This gets to the core of why all the anti-Wall Street groups around the globe are resonating. I was in Tahrir Square in Cairo for the fall of Hosni Mubarak... When I talked to Egyptians, it was clear that what animated their protest, first and foremost, was ... a quest for “justice.” Many Egyptians were convinced that they lived in a deeply unjust society where the game had been rigged by the Mubarak family and its crony capitalists. Egypt shows what happens when a country adopts free-market capitalism without developing real rule of law and institutions.
But, then, what happened to us? Our financial industry has grown so large and rich it has corrupted our real institutions through political donations. As Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, bluntly said in a 2009 radio interview, despite having caused this crisis, these same financial firms “are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they, frankly, own the place.”
Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from Opensecrets.org calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010, which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street. ...
U.S. congressmen should have to dress like Nascar drivers and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms that they’re taking money from. The public needs to know.
Capitalism and free markets are the best engines for generating growth and relieving poverty — provided they are balanced with meaningful transparency, regulation and oversight. We lost that balance in the last decade. If we don’t get it back..., the cry for justice could turn ugly. ...

To what extent is fear of inflation, fear of deficits, and other fears holding up more government help for struggling, unemployed households the result of the powerful interests who control Congress standing in the way? My answer, as ought to be clear from recent columns (here, here, and here), is that the imbalance in political power that comes with such a large degree of inequality is a large factor in the government's tepid response to the unemployment crisis.

    Posted by on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 09:36 AM in Economics, Financial System, Income Distribution, Taxes | Permalink  Comments (73)


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