the visible hand

it is the theory which decides what can be observed – einstein

Enough is Enough

Posted by ecoshift on July 24, 2007

Wow. It’s gotten to the point that investment analysts are recognizing that both Bubba and Joe 6pack are completely tapped out… come ‘on Bubba Joe you jus’ gotta keep spending… and the market’s off 226 points today.

PIMCO Bonds – Investment Outlook
Bill Gross – August 2007

Enough is Enough

Wealth has always gravitated towards those that take risk with other people’s money but especially so when taxes are low. The rich are different – but they are not necessarily society’s paragons. It is in fact society’s wind and its current willingness to nurture the rich that fills their sails.

What farce, then, to give credence to current debate as to whether private equity and hedge fund managers will be properly incented if Congress moves to raise their taxes up to levels paid by the majority of America’s middle class. What pretense to assert, as did Kenneth Griffin, recipient last year of more than $1 billion in compensation as manager of the Citadel Investment Group, that “the (current) income distribution has to stand. If the tax became too high, as a matter of principle I would not be working this hard.” Right. In the same breath he tells, Louis Uchitelle of The New York Times that the get-rich crowd “soon discover that wealth is not a particularly satisfying outcome.” The team at Citadel, he claims, “loves the problems they work on and the challenges inherent to their business.” Oh what a delicate/tangled web we weave sir.

Far better to admit, as has Warren Buffett, that the tax rates of the wealthiest Americans average nearly 15% while those of their salaried and therefore less incented assistants just outside their offices are nearly twice that. Far better to recognize, as does Chart 1, that only twice before during the last century has such a high percentage of national income (5%) gone to the top .01% of American families. Far better to understand, to quote Buffett, that “society should place an initial emphasis on abundance but then should continuously strive to redistribute the abundance more equitably.”

Buffett’s comments basically frame the debate: when is enough, enough? Granted, American style capitalism has fostered and encouraged innovation and globalization which are the fundamental building blocks of wealth. That is the abundance that Buffett speaks to – the creation of enough. But when the fruits of society’s labor become maldistributed, when the rich get richer and the middle and lower classes struggle to keep their heads above water as is clearly the case today, then the system ultimately breaks down; boats do not rise equally with the tide; the center cannot hold.

Of course the wealthy fire back in cloying self-justification, stressing their charitable and philanthropic pursuits, suggesting that they can more efficiently redistribute wealth than can the society that provided the basis for their riches in the first place. Perhaps. But with exceptions (and plaudits) for the Gates and Buffetts of the mega-rich, the inefficiencies of wealth redistribution by the Forbes 400 mega-rich and their wannabes are perhaps as egregious and wasteful as any government agency, if not more. Trust funds for the kids, inheritances for the grandkids, multiple vacation homes, private planes, multi-million dollar birthday bashes and ego-rich donations to local art museums and concert halls are but a few of the ways that rich people waste money … When millions of people are dying from AIDS and malaria in Africa, it is hard to justify the umpteenth society gala held for the benefit of a performing arts center or an art museum. A thirty million dollar gift for a concert hall is not philanthropy, it is a Napoleonic coronation.

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