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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – April 13, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Angel’s Rest, Columbia River Gorge, OR – 2019 photo by Thenervouspoops

(Sunday cartoons will be published on Monday, as Wrongo and Ms. Right are visiting a granddaughter in Buffalo NY)

Busy week at the Mansion of Wrong, as Wrongo prepared the Wrong family taxes for presentation to the Swamp on Monday.

His town responsibilities led to interviewing three interns for a part-time (paid) construction accounting position at the Department of Public Works. All three were accounting majors at Western Connecticut State University, and all were smart, articulate and working in multiple jobs while attending college full-time.

Those students made Wrongo feel hopeful about the next generation. That maybe America will avoid being consumed in the dumpster fire that the previous generations are leaving them.

Possibly lost in the news about Assange and William Barr was this from CNN, who reported on the bizarre words by former Pope Benedict XVI. He “retired” just before the current Pope, Francis II was elevated. Benedict wrote an essay on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church that was published this week in a German magazine for priests. In the article, Benedict claims that the sexual abuse of children by priests was caused in part by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the church’s moral teaching:

“Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68…was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate…Benedict says that this mentality also affected bishops and Catholic seminaries and caused, the extensive collapse of the next generation of priests….here were — not only in the United States of America — individual bishops who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to bring about a kind of new, modern Catholicity….In various seminaries homosexual cliques were established… which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries.”

His Awfulness. Benedict blames clerical pedophilia on the swinging sixties. He blames pedophilia on homosexuality.

It’s too bad the Catholic Church didn’t have a guy who is completely and unquestioningly in charge, like some sort of a “Super Bishop” who could have told everyone what to do. Someone who could have put a stop to all the child raping. Yes, that would have been Benedict, or those who came before him, or after.

The sexual revolution wasn’t about raping kids. What kind of moral failure is it on the part of the Catholic Church for the former Pope to say: “But they were doing it too!” Coming from an institution that prides itself on being the arbiter of morality, this is an historic failure.

There are tons of records of priestly pedophilia that predate the 1960’s, including plenty of cases of churchly cover-ups. Why is this retired guy entitled to speak about anything?

Enough! It’s time for our Saturday Soothing! Let’s start by checking out Vancouver, BC’s Notch Coffee’s flagship coffee, Sumatra Boru Batak (C$18.00/340 grams). Expect notes of Baker’s Chocolate, dried mango and tobacco, says the brewer.

Now, contemplate all of your to-be-done yard work while you sip this coffee and listen to “Simple Gifts” from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” played in 1962 by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein. You’ll remember the melody, and maybe, you will think of the simple gifts that are missing from your life today:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Religious Right Praying Justice Ginsburg Dies

The Daily Escape:

Winter, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, CA – photo via wallpaper studio

 This week Right Wing Watch, who follow America’s least attractive thinkers so that we don’t have to, had a column about how Evangelical Christians are circling around Ruth Bader Ginsburg like vultures. The article included this tweet from anti-abortion and anti-gay activist Matt Barber:

We know that RBG just had cancerous tumors removed from her lungs. Yet, what has been made public so far is that RBG was given a clean bill of health, and is expected to make a full recovery. That diagnosis seems to be a big disappointment to many on the Christian Right.

They were extremely happy with Donald Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch. They weren’t so thrilled with Brett Kavanaugh, preferring Amy Coney Barrett, who they saw as totally committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. And they want more. In addition to overturning Roe v. Wade, they want prayers back in schools, and they want same-sex marriage abolished.

Things get interesting when you consider just how much Evangelicals truly, deeply hate RBG:

  • In October, pastor Rodney Howard-Brown, who has prayed over Trump in the Oval Office, guest-hosted The Alex Jones Show on Infowars, where he said that Ginsburg should be shot for treason.
  • Lou Engle, a dominionist organizer of stadium-sized prayer rallies, urged Americans to engage in three days of fasting and prayer over the Supreme Court. Earlier, he led prayers asking God to “sweep away the judges” who support the right to abortion.
  • A few weeks ago, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles re-distributed a 1993 Phyllis Schlafly attack on Ginsburg’s feminist philosophy.
  • Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver has argued that Congress should have impeached justices who supported Roe v. Wade and Obergefell vs. Hodges (the case that legalized same-sex marriage). (BTW, Liberty Counsel opposed the Senate’s bill that would outlaw lynching in the US because the bill extends the right not to be lynched to gays and transgender people.)
  • Earlier this month, former Trump campaign adviser Frank Amedia insisted that Chief Justice John Roberts has not proven to be sufficiently reliable to the Religious Right. That means God has to remove more justices so that Trump can fill Roberts’s seat with another justice whose “values and morality” reflect a “kingdom enlightenment as to what is required by God to change the law of this land now.”
  • Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow John Malcolm told the Daily Caller that Trump would be under pressure to replace Ginsburg with a woman, and named Amy Coney Barrett as a preferred successor.

You may not believe that God spends much time thinking about who sits on the Supreme Court, but these people are deadly serious. They think God is a “family values” Republican. They believe that they know who God wants on the Supreme Court.

America needs to look very closely at any group that argues for followers of a specific religion as a test of who is worthy to sit on the Supreme Court, or who should head our government.

Praying for the death of RBG ought to repugnant to all Americans, but sadly, it isn’t particularly surprising that some “Christians” exhibit such callous inhumanity. They, and their kind of thinking, should be repudiated by all Christians.

There’s some consolation in the fact that RBG has worked to make America a more fair and equitable place. She has made that her life’s calling.

Contrast that to these phony Christians who are working to make America a one-party political entity that follows Jesus Christ.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Christmas Eve, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Christmas in Karachi, Pakistan: Who needs reindeer when you have camels? Dawn, the English language newspaper had pictures of people celebrating Christmas this week in Karachi. Revelers decorate Christmas trees and churches all over the city for the occasion. This procession is on Karachi’s main street, and is part of the celebrations by the Christian community (which many local Muslims join, apparently for the fun of it).

This Pakistani scene may give you some hope, or you may just see it as an exception to the rule that people of different religions must always be at each other’s throats.

But, it’s Christmas Eve, and Wrongo chooses to be hopeful. Here’s his wish for peace on earth and good will to all.

Let’s try waking up to a better day, and a better year in 2019. To help you wake up, listen to Jack Johnson singing “Someday at Christmas” written by Ron Miller and Bryan Wells and performed on Johnson’s “This Warm December – A Brushfire Holiday Vol 1” in 2008:

Lyrics:

Someday at Christmas, men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like boys play with toys
One warm December, our hearts will see
A world where men are free

And some day at Christmas, there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found out what life is really worth
Then there will be peace on earth

Someday all of our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you or for me
But someday at Christmas time

And someday at Christmas, there’ll be no tears
All men are equal and no men have fears
One shining moment my heart ran away
From the world that we live in today

And someday at Christmas, men will not fail
Take hope because your love will prevail
Someday in a new world that we can only start
With hope in every heart

And someday all of our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you or for me
But someday at Christmas time

Well, there will be peace on earth
I said there will be peace on earth

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 19, 2018

Everyone in the media is talking about John Brennan, who lost his security clearance this week. On the Trump side of the ledger, Brennan is an enemy of the people. On the other side, he’s America’s hero for talking truth to power.

Wrongo won’t shed any tears for Brennan.

Let’s go back in time: When Barack Obama became president, he tried to make Brennan Director of the CIA. But even Democrats in Congress were opposed to that, because, while serving under GW Bush, Brennan enabled the rendition of terror suspects to countries where they could be tortured. So, Obama made him Deputy National Security Advisor, where he created and managed Obama’s “drone kill” list.

After Obama’s reelection, Brennan was named CIA director. In that role, he ordered the CIA to spy on the Senate Intelligence Committee that was at the time, investigating CIA torture. While under oath, he lied to Congress, denying it. When it was proven that the CIA did in fact spy on Congress, he had to apologize. At the time, a WaPo editorial said: Obama should fire John Brennan, but nobody remembers any of this today.

Brennan is a hot, steaming pile of CIA shit. But, since he recognized the threat that Trump represents, suddenly we should make him America’s sweetheart? Brennan will have a long career, now that Trump has elevated him to be his foil. We shouldn’t allow Brennan to be the face of the resistance to Trump. Brennan’s a corrupt and terribly flawed messenger.

While Trump and Truth both contain 5 letters of the alphabet, they have never met:

A cartoon from the past reminds us that the priest pedophilia never ends:

After all, you can’t molest the unborn:

Who says Trump can’t unite America?

These two richly deserve being each other’s enemy:

Aretha meets St. Pete:

 

Losing Aretha unifies the country for a few days:

 

 

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Why Say “Passed” or “Passed Away”, Instead of “Died”?

The Daily Escape:

Meditation Maze, Chartres Cathedral, France – photo via @archpics

So much talk about the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Several news reports said one or the other of them had “passed”, not that they had died.

Wrongo finds either construction “passed” or “passed away”, jarring. People are born, they live, and then they die. They don’t pass away. Does this change in usage, which seems to be relatively modern, have something to do with how difficult we find it to handle death?  Many people on TV, and most people under 40, tend to favor saying “passed away”.

In Greek mythology, the river Styx was the boundary between life and death, so the dead were referred to as “passing over to the other side”. Styx was a feature in the afterworld, and the ferryman Charon often was described as having transported the souls of the newly dead across the river into the underworld. Christians, believing in an afterlife, use the term to indicate that the deceased has “passed” into the afterlife.

Its best use seems to be by people who do not believe death is final.

Today, many of us try to soften the blow, saying “passed away” to tell the bad news to someone who hasn’t yet heard about the death. Possibly, saying it is seen as a more gentle way of saying the person has died.

William Bradshaw, a Yale Divinity graduate, did an informal study of the usage:

During the first 50 years or so of my life, the term I always heard or read was “died.” But now, more often than not, I hear and read: so and so “passed” or “passed away.” Several questions come to mind: Exactly when did the change in terminology occur, what was the reason for the change, is it helpful for the family of the deceased, and what are the theological implications of using “passed away” or “passed” instead of “died”? I decided to explore the matter.

He interviewed funeral directors, and most of them said the usage had changed in the last 25 years. He also examined funeral notices over time:

The change was gradual, and did not occur at the same time among all funeral homes or newspapers. But by the early 1980s “passed away” was the norm for all obituaries used by funeral homes, while obituaries and stories in newspapers still tended to use “died”…

Bradshaw says that other terms used occasionally are “deceased,” “expired,” “departed this life,” and for children, “went to live with God” or “went to live with the angels.” “Passed” is heard primarily in conversations, and is seldom used in print, except occasionally in novels.

Bradshaw expands on “passed/passed away”:

I noted to myself that we never say, “Jesus passed away on the cross” or that “Jesus passed to save us from our sins.” Christian funeral services almost always include this famous saying of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (Gospel of John 11:25-26) In any of the modern versions of the Bible that use updated English, I have never read: “I am the resurrection and the life: although he passed, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never pass away.”

But, if you have ever had someone close to you die, you know that feeling of disbelief, the hope that what has happened isn’t true. It is easy to understand the magical thinking, that if we just don’t give in to it, the death won’t be real.

And while Wrongo dislikes it, using “passed away” is eminently understandable on a personal level.

But, when you’re dead, you’re dead. Saying someone passed away really doesn’t help to soften the blow.

Another time, we’ll talk about when “killed” should be used instead of “died”.

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Saturday Soother – May 5, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Rua Nova do Carvalho, Lisbon Portugal – 2016 photo by Brotherside. Formerly a part of the red light district, but when the street was painted pink in 2011, it quickly became the epicenter of a vibrant party scene.

In a week with a Hawaiian volcano’s eruption, Bibi’s nuclear song-and-dance, and Rudy’s confessions on Fox that Trump had indirectly paid hush money to Stormy, you may have missed the report that the fired House Chaplain is back at work. The WaPo reported:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) reversed course Thursday and agreed to keep the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy on as House chaplain after an extraordinary showdown that included the priest alleging anti-Catholic bias among Ryan’s staff.

Ryan defended his original decision and continued to question whether Conroy was delivering sufficient “pastoral services” to the entire House. “I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House,” Ryan said.

That is how it ended. His return started when Rev. Pat Conroy rescinded his resignation in a letter to Ryan. Conroy wrote:

While you never spoke with me in person, nor did you send me any correspondence, on Friday, April 13, 2018 your Chief of Staff, Jonathon Burks, came to me and informed me that you were asking for my letter of resignation. I inquired as to whether or not it was ‘for cause,’ and Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like, ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.’

Great job, Mr. Burks! Did you know that there have been exactly two Catholics as House Chaplain?

Fr. Conroy continued:

At that point, I thought that I had little choice but to resign, as my assumption was that you had the absolute prerogative and authority to end my term as House chaplain.

This was mostly about the tin ear that some Republicans have when it comes to social issues. One House member, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), who is also a Baptist pastor, apparently said that the next House chaplain needed to have a family.

That would rule out anyone who, like Fr. Conroy, had taken a vow of celibacy. Why do some people continually use their religion to bludgeon others?

Democrats and a few Republicans have said they believed that Speaker Ryan was facing pressure from evangelicals within the GOP conference to find a chaplain whose politics more closely aligned with theirs, but for now, this little “holy war” in the House is over. Maybe the next House Chaplain should be a Zen warrior priest who roams the halls, hitting Congress critters with his sword, you know, in a pastoral manner.

Spring has sprung with a vengeance in the Northeast. Today, Wrongo has battled a love sick bird that is trying to build a nest above the kitchen door at the Mansion of Wrong. The determined bird tried three times before finally bowing to Wrongo’s will.

It’s Saturday, and we need to downshift, to turn our focus from all that is wrong with the world, to all that’s right. To help you make the change, start by brewing a cup of Taiwan roaster Kakalove Café’s Mandheling Onan Ganjang sourced from the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra ($18.50/16 oz.). The roaster says it is deeply sweet with vibrant acidity, and a syrupy mouthfeel.

Now, sit outside, take in the nature surrounding you, and listen to Sierra Boggess singing “The Lusty Month of May” from Camelot. It is performed live in 2012 at the BBC Proms:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 19, 2017

The week was dominated by two stories, the Republican tax cut efforts; and the variations on the sexual harassment theme by men in positions of power.

Let’s talk about sexual predation by men. We shouldn’t be pushing all predators to the front of the same firing squad. Without diminishing or excusing what any of these scumbag politicians have done (Al Franken, Bill Clinton) pedophiles are in a detestable class all by themselves. We are now in the middle of a teachable moment, where publicizing how badly men have treated women in our society might bring about real behavioral change. This is solely due to those many, if not most, women who are saying that they aren’t going to take it anymore. This tsunami of accusations and personal testimony will bring down some of the worst of the predators. In this case, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The GOP wrote the bill. Now, we’ll see who votes for it:

The elephant will always protect his best constituents:

Using the Pot/Kettle meme brings risk:

Mitch has selective beliefs when women tell their truth:

The sexual predator issue focuses the thinking of Republicans:

Trump chose Jeff Sessions for Attorney General in part because Alabama would be a lock to elect another Republican. We’ll see in 3 weeks if that works out as planned.

Bonus Republican hypocrisy: Do these people ever hear themselves?

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Trump’s “Religious Freedom” Executive Order

The Daily Escape:

Cinco de Mayo parade in Puebla Mexico, where Mexico defeated France in 1862

Happy Cinco de Mayo! At the Mansion of Wrong, its ahi ceviche with mango, jalapeno, cilantro, ancho chili, lime juice and tequila in toasted won-ton wrappers. And Don Julio Anejo to wash it down. Not bad.

But among yesterday’s depressing news regarding the House passage of the Obamacare Repeal and (not) Replace, was the Orange Overlord signing yet another Executive Order (EO) touted by the Trump administration to protect “Religious Liberty”:

 

The EO directs the IRS not to enforce the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment is a part of the tax code that forbids 501(c)(3) organizations (including churches) from participating “directly or indirectly” in political campaigns.

Churches have historically been free to discuss and promote any issue or idea. So, they can address things like civil rights, reproductive rights, police violence, or the sanctity of law and order. They can also urge people to get out and vote on Election Day.

In other words, they can push and prod about all kinds of civic issues and engagement, in order to get their members to cast their votes.

The red line for the Johnson Amendment is actually endorsing a candidate. Churches can give a sermon about the evils of abortion, and let the attendees connect the dots to a candidate, but it’s a violation of the Johnson Amendment for the church to connect the dots directly, and tell the members to vote for a specific candidate or party.

Trump’s EO removes that red line. It will let churches give full endorsements so they can tell their congregants that God wants them to vote for Candidate X, and if they fail to do so, He will be angry and the baby Jesus will cry.

Trump’s EO leaves the decision whether to enforce the Johnson Amendment in the hands of the IRS. That means the IRS could pick and choose which institutions to penalize, and it might be your church, and not your neighbor’s.

In February, Trump promised to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment. But, presidents can’t “destroy” laws with EOs; that takes an act of Congress. Republicans may try repealing the Johnson amendment as part of their tax reform package.

Nancy LeTourneau thinks that:

The executive order the president will sign today isn’t really so much about “religious freedom,” as it is being framed by Trump and the religious right. This is actually designed to further erode one of the remaining restrictions on campaign finance.

LeTourneau points to the “indirect” efforts by Franklin Graham to elect Trump last fall, and offers him as an example: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

To the extent that the IRS ignores this statute, Graham will be able to accept tax-free donations to Samaritan’s Purse [Franklin Graham is president] (or another non-profit he might set up) that will go towards endorsing and advocating for the political candidates of their choice. That will likely make Franklin Graham a major player on par with the Super PACs in American politics.

LeTourneau thinks the EO has little to do with “Religious Freedom”, but instead opens a path for professional evangelists like Franklin Graham to become king-makers in our politics.

This turns “no taxation without representation” into “representation without taxation”, a Republican wet dream that could undermine whatever remains of our campaign finance regulations. Where is the lack of religious freedom here? Churches don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status, and they could then say (or do) anything they want.

They just would have to pay taxes like everyone else.

OK, here’s some music for Cinco: Here is “Oye Como Va” by Santana. It was written by Tito Puente in 1963, and popularized by Santana in 1970 on his album Abraxas:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Rethinking Religion’s Place in Our Politics

The Daily Escape:

(Photo by Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart has an article called “Breaking Faith” that references polling conducted in February by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Beinart makes a few interesting points about religion and politics that are at odds with conventional thinking about its role.

He points out that over the past decade, there has been a dramatic shift in religious affiliation in the US:

Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God. But the share that rejected any religious affiliation was growing fast, rising from 6% in 1992 to 22% in 2014. Among Millennials, the figure was 35%.

Beinart shows that the conventional thinking − that this new secularism would end the culture wars and bring about a more tolerant politics – was wrong. More from Beinart:

Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization. But it’s also making America’s partisan clashes more brutal…As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.

This had huge ramifications in the 2016 presidential election. PRRI reports that the percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990, and that this shift helped Trump win the GOP nomination. Even though commentators had a hard time reconciling Trump’s apparent ignorance of Christianity and his history of pro-choice and pro-gay-rights statements with his support from evangelicals, the polls showed it had little effect:

A Pew Research Center poll last March found that Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.

Beinart reports that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful. Since the early 1970s, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And that was a big part of Trump’s support. According to PRRI:

White Republicans who seldom or never attend religious services are 19 points less likely than white Republicans who attend at least once a week to say that the American dream “still holds true.”

And secularization created political differences on the left too:

In 1990, according to PRRI, slightly more than half of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. Today the proportion is 73%. And if conservative non-attenders fueled Trump’s revolt inside the GOP, liberal non-attenders fueled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency against Hillary Clinton: While white Democrats who went to religious services at least once a week backed Clinton by 26 points, according to an April 2016 PRRI survey, white Democrats who rarely attended services backed Sanders by 13 points.

Beinart point out that the trend is also true among Blacks, where the Black Lives Matter movement exists outside of the influence of Black churches:

African Americans under the age of 30 are three times as likely to eschew a religious affiliation as African Americans over 50. This shift is crucial to understanding Black Lives Matter, a Millennial-led protest movement whose activists often take a jaundiced view of established African American religious leaders.

Beinart speaks about Chris Hayes’s book Twilight of the Elites, in which Hayes divides American politics between “institutionalists,” who believe in preserving and adapting the political and economic system, and “insurrectionists,” who believe it’s rotten to the core:

The 2016 election represents an extraordinary shift in power from the former to the latter. The loss of manufacturing jobs has made Americans more insurrectionist. So have the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and a black president’s inability to stop the police from killing unarmed African Americans. And so has disengagement from organized religion.

The grim conclusion is that secularization may be dividing us more than we realize. Beinart closes with:

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

The corollary seems to be that religious affiliation brings at the very least, some appreciation of community and civility to our culture.

But, the increasing distrust in institutions in America continues to grow. If it’s big and rules-based, people are less interested than ever in participating, and that includes churches.

Now, let’s hear a song for Zeus’ sake! Here is REM with: “Losing My Religion” from their 1991 album, “Out of Time”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Is Taxing Robots a Solution to Fewer Jobs?

The Daily Escape:

(Slot canyon with dust devil – photo by Angiolo Manetti)

Yesterday, the Dutch voted in an election pitting mainstream parties against Geert Wilders, a hard-right, anti-Islam nationalist whose popularity is seen as a threat to politics-as-usual across Europe, and possibly, as an existential threat to the EU.

Wilders, who wants to “de-Islamicize” the Netherlands and pull out of the EU, has little chance of governing, as all of the mainstream parties have already said they won’t work with him. Given Holland’s complicated form of proportional representation, up to 15 parties could win seats in parliament, and none are expected to win even 20% of the vote. OTOH, polls show that four in 10 of the Netherlands’ 13 million eligible voters were undecided a day before voting, and there is just 5 percentage points separating the top four parties, so Wilders could surprise everyone.

As Wrongo writes this, the Dutch election results are not known, but PBS NewsHour coverage on Tuesday surfaced a thought about taxing robots. PBS correspondent Malcolm Brabant was interviewing workers in Rotterdam:

Niek Stam claims to be the country’s most militant labor union organizer. He says the working class feel insecure about their prospects because of relentless automation and a constant drive to be competitive. The union is campaigning for robots to be taxed.

Brabant then interviewed a worker:

Robots do not buy cars. Neither do they shop for groceries, which leads to a fundamental question: Who’s going to buy all these products when up to 40% of present jobs vanish?

This isn’t an entirely new idea. Silvia Merler, blogging at Bruegel, says:

In a recent interview, Bill Gates discussed the option of a tax on robots. He argued that if today human workers’ income is taxed, and then a robot comes in to do the same thing, it seems logical to think that we would tax the robot at a similar level. While the form of such taxation is not entirely clear, Gates suggested that some of it could come from the profits that are generated by the labor-saving efficiency…and some could come directly in some type of a robot tax.

The main argument against taxing robots is made by corporations and some economists (Larry Summers), who argue that it impedes innovation. Stagnating productivity in rich countries, combined with falling business investment, suggests that adoption of new technology is currently too slow rather than too fast, and taxing new technology could exacerbate the slowdown.

It can be argued that robots are property, and property is already taxed by local governments via the property tax. It might be possible to create an additional value-added tax for robots, since an income tax wouldn’t work, as most robots are not capable of producing income by themselves.

Noah Smith at Bloomberg argues that the problem with Gates’ basic proposal is that it is very hard to tell the difference between new technology that complements human work, and new technology that replaces them. Shorter Noah Smith: Taxation is so hard!

Why are Western economies stagnant? Why has wage growth lagged GDP growth? Automation is certainly a key factor, but rather than point the finger at the corporations who continually benefit from government tax policies, let’s just assign blame to an object, a strawbot, if you will. That way, we won’t look too carefully at the real problem: The continuing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations.

Automation isn’t the issue, tax laws that allow economic treason by corporations in their home countries are the issue.

Why is nationalism on the march across the globe? Because fed-up workers see it as possibly the only answer to the neoliberal order that is destroying the middle class in Western democracies.

Let’s find a way to tax robots. Something has to offset Trump’s tax breaks for the rich.

Now, a musical moment. Did you know that “pre-St. Patrick’s Day” was a thing? Apparently, some dedicated celebrators prepare for the day itself by raising hell for up to a week beforehand. With that in mind, here is some pre-St. Pat’s Irish music, with Ed Sheeran singing “Nancy Mulligan” a love song about his grandparent’s marriage during WWII, against the wishes of her parents, and despite their Catholic/Protestant differences:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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