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Monday, June 27, 2011

Is the deficit a sideshow? (2)

I have had two substantive comments by email about my blog entry on the deficit and the structure of the US economy.  Both concern the environmental aspects of economic development.  That wasn’t where I was focused when I wrote about the deficit, but I agree strongly with both.  I might quibble with Paul’s views on rich people and their donations.  Certainly Andrew Carnegie did and Bill Gates is doing wonderful things with their money, and I am grateful to the Mellon family for the National Gallery building and their donations to the collection.  I have a somewhat negative view of foundations in general, because I suspect that the main objective of many of them is to preserve capital and maintain generous remuneration for their executives.  I haven’t decided how I feel about the power play by three major foundations to gobble up the Barnes Foundation collection.  Seeing it in situ was an amazing experience.  That will no longer be possible.  As for the Borgia’s and the Medici, their motivations seem to have been mostly self-adulation and concern about their souls, the latter for good reason.

Subject: Re: Is the deficit a sideshow?

It's interesting you say that "we have come to expect more from life, including good health. The cost of providing this to ourselves continues to spiral upward. "

I have become a died-in-the -wool environmentalist-Gaia supporter, and all I can say is that "we have come to expect more from life at the expense of nature and life itself" which can only motivate further the downward spiral towards extinction that we are also on. If I had any grandchildren and loved them, I would be totally worried about their future. Helpless might be a more appropriate word.

David A
Subject: Re: Is the deficit a sideshow?

I agree with you on some major points -- the deficit problem's solution must involve tax increases, and the U.S. income distribution is skewed excessively. However, there are some aspects you seem not to have taken into account.

Adequate supply of goods and services is the issue, not the distribution of wealth. World GDP currently is around $60 trillion, world population around 7 billion, so spreading it around evenly would provide somewhat less than $9,000 per capita -- not enough to sustain, say, 2005 U. S. standard of middle class living. (Increasing world GDP to support worldwide the U. S. standard of living would be environmentally disastrous, if not impossible.) How would you set the boundaries of redistribution? To U. S. citizens? Plus legal residents? Plus illegals? The Western hemisphere? On what justification?
With regard to wealth, I would argue that it is important to have a (limited?) number of very wealthy people whose disposition of their wealth is not subject to political constraints -- Carnegie (libraries, Carnegie institutions), Rockefeller (foundation), Gates (world medical support) -- seem to me to have been more effective in applying the money than U. S. and UN institutions. Also, I think that kings, Renaissance popes, and more recent robber barons have done a far better job than democratic governments in supporting the arts; the Borgias and their ilk made it possible for us to see the works of, e.g., Michelangelo, while the NEA backed Mapplethorpe. (I have no cultural objections to Piss Christ, but do not think that was a suitable use of tax money.)
Paul G

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