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Fixing the flaws in today’s capitalism

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Econo-1964

One idea could be the introduction of: Wage Protection Import Tax, this could be implemented by estimating the hours of labor in a given import and multiplying those hours by the difference in each these nations’ minimum wages, if there is a negative amount, that would be the Wage Import Tax on that imported item; example: the equivalent of $10 minimum wage in nation “A,” $2 minimum wage in nation “B,” one hour of labor in manufacture of imported item, there would be a Minimum Wage Import Tax of $8 on that item charged by the importing nation “A” regardless of what the actual factory wage was, the motivation for using the old, bad tactic of the past in which nations would reduce their wages to the lowest possible level in order to create a competitive export advantage will now be somewhat lost. A new perspective of obtaining the best quality of living, with all the infrastructure and educational advantages that will in the long run come with such an economy. A higher standard of living/A higher minimum wage, will become the new goal in the way to compete in global trade.
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Nations at the lowest level of hourly minimum wages will begin to make greater gains as their respective governments raise minimum wages domestically to reduce the amount of, Wage Protection Import Tax, their nation would be charged by more developed nations, while some support for wages will be given to nations with higher wages. Although the differences in the minimum wages were not likely to be the true difference in wage costs of any given product, it will be helpful in sustaining some real wage support, while generating additional tax revenues in more advanced economies. This wage protection import tax will ultimately help increase the standard of living for people working for the lowest wages around the world, and offer some wage protection to higher wage earning nations.
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The same process could be created for pollution, governments that have good environmental policies/laws could tax the imports from governments that have bad environmental laws/policies, This would protect the good environmental policies of nations by not having good environmental policies an economic liability in trade, while motivating better environmental policies/laws of the nations that do not have good environmental policies/laws.
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Through: logical and rational, negotiated international trade and tariff policies the international community can change the trajectory of quality-of-life from, that of being harmed by trade, to that of being improved by trade. The current policy of, A race to the bottom, of economics and environmental policy where the lowest wages and worst economic policies give the greatest trade advantage can be changed to the opposite through tariffs on lower wages and bad environmental policies and consequently improve the lives of all.
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Although something like this could be started at the WTO it most likely won't happen there, ever. For it to happen it will probably take unilateral action by single nation. Then perhaps through leading by example, change in the international mindset on what tariffs are, and can be, will happen.

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Peace Love and Understanding

Universal Basic Income is just never going to be implemented, regardless of its merits.

We are moving in the exact opposite direction in terms of government benefits and services. We have been for decades.

The reason for that is the rich don't want to pay people money who aren't providing them anything in return. They also get to decide whether UBI happens or not as the ones increasingly controlling the political system as wealth concentrates.

If you're banking on that to save us maybe don't waste your time.

guest-aansooaa

Power of free competition to optimize performance (anyway partially theoretical) is destroyed by tax breaks to the rich, barriers on entry, licences and oligopolies. The flaw of language of 21. century liberalism is that distortion of free market is associated only with social spending, but it overlooks distortions helping the big business and the rich 0.1%

guest-aansooaa

Start with acceptance that the goal of the government is to make people richer, and capitalism is only a tool, not the goal nor the golden calf. The U.S. economy has been stagnating for two decades, because median wages did not grow. That the U.S. economy formally produced a lot of growth which was siphooned by the rich 0.1% is irrelevant. No sane man would accept that something which helps 0.1% of the supposed consumers is effective.

leonmen

Apart from corporate managers robbing the companies blind with their crazy salaries and bonuses and robbing the shareholders blind with their share options.
Apart from management's cronyism ensuring that knowing the right people is more important than knowing.
Apart from corrupt directors that are willing to rubber stamp pay rises for services rendered.
Apart from profiting on shares through insider knowledge.
Apart from all this capitalism is still better than communism where political appointees do all the same things but more 'efficiently'.

LexHumana

The concept of UBI should be seriously pursued. In fiscal 2016, the federal government spent $3.9 trillion. That year, 24 percent of the budget, or $916 billion, paid for Social Security. Four health insurance programs — Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace subsidies — together accounted for 26 percent of the budget in 2016, or $1 trillion. About 9 percent of the federal budget in 2016, or $366 billion, supported social safety net programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship. In total, the federal government spent $2.282 trillion dollars on social welfare payments.
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Given a 2016 population of approximately 323 million, you could have taken all of that money and given every individual in America (man, woman, and child) a UBI of slightly more than $7,000 per year.

guest-aansooaa in reply to LexHumana

Several millions of people would die first year, because the UBI would not pay medical bills of the sick and social help of the weak. Therefore the population would shrink. Presumably UBI for the surviving Americans could be raised. In the following years, more people would die, and the UBI could be raised further, as this Brave UBI World is calculated. And what a practical test of Darwinian selection for the healthy population!

guest-aanssimj

TE and the readers failed to notice that American capitalism is no longer the only one. If the USA does not fix internal problems with lobbyism and so on within few years, East Asia will eat it alive.
For now, the most probable outcome is that American style of capitalism will never be fixed. The whole country will stagnate and sink below China. By 2030, The First World will be China, the Third World will be unreformed America dominated by children of today 0,01%, themselves as irrelevant as local kings and princes in Iraq or Nigeria.

guest-aanssimj

Problem of capitalism is that responses proposed are mere distractions. In short, poor get poorer, big corporations dominate markets further, government and media policing role gets weaker due to lobbyism, competition gets less free, but economists discuss topics largely omitting the core problems, if or outright irrealistic.
I consider UBI a prime example of irrealistic distraction. Casual familiarity with the topic 'cost of social spending of a country' shows that UBI cannot be high enough to live from, for taxes would have to be impossibly high. Nevertheless young people discuss the mirage that everybody might get UBI money falling from the sky.
UBI is a distraction, because it is proposed as a response to 'gig economy' companies like Uber not paying social contributions of employees. The wrong response is to force taxpayers to cover the gap (by UBI) and let internet companies pay less and less taxes. The solution is to force all companies to pay equal social security costs. Otherwise, you are as stupid as children looking for a magic UBI-tree which grows fruit made of coins.

Ed Zimmer in reply to guest-aanssimj

I too believe that the dominance of money in politics is a major problem. However, your discussion of UBI shows a misunderstanding of national economics (carried over from commodity-money days) that I believe you should re-think. Taxes do NOT fund national government programs. The role of national taxes is simply to reallocate income (which, because of this misunderstanding, it does very poorly.) The ONLY consequences of government spending are consumer inflation and adverse currency exchange - both of which can be easily managed. (I'm not arguing for or against UBI here - only realism.)

I'm not advocating manipulation of exchange rates - anything but. I am arguing that government spending CAN be a free lunch (within reasonable & manageable limits). Our fiscal and monetary policies are still mired in commodity-money days forcing our government into actions that are the polar opposite of what should be its primary purpose - providing for the welfare of its people. There is no ECONOMIC reason we should have poor healthcare or hungry, homeless citizens. "We can't afford it" is a total misunderstanding of economic reality grounded in our "no such thing as a free lunch - one can't win unless someone else loses" culture. What may constrain a household or business does NOT constrain a national government that controls its own currency. The federal government is NOT spending our taxes - the spending came first, the taxes second (and the primary purpose of those taxes is to fairly redistribute its citizens' net income - which they're clearly doing rather poorly).

guest-ojeliiw

A global anti-trust body to break up oligopolies (buying up inventions and thus suppressing innovation etc.)
Turning all infrastructure everywhere into publicly owned yet independent, sustainable non-profit organisations.
Drawing up legislation to prevent "national rent-seeking" (like cornering the market for rare-earths, Cobalt, steel and other key commodities for industrial production to monopolize car manufacturing).
And: More wellfare, higher pensions, less tax cuts (tax cuts don't stimulate the economy, they syphon money out of it).

guest-aanssimj in reply to guest-ojeliiw

Good thouhts: first, companies from within the market economy keep trying to distort the rules of the market to their favor.
Second: societal problems of 21. century capitalism are proximate: lack of welfare, too high tax cuts etc. Solving them may not be most effective by limiting solutions to ideology of liberalism (doing everything within the market forces etc.).

Reid1605 in reply to guest-ojeliiw

Yes, what we need is an omnipotent, pervasive government that will distribute money based on votes. What could possibly go wrong?
The very simple fact is that your standard of living is based on your comparative productivity and competitiveness. Government only distorts the natural behavior of people. 10% of the people on Earth are incapable of sustaining themselves and this excludes children and the aged, refugees, etc. You must take care of them or let them suffer their fate. Everyone cannot live in the top half standard of living regardless of what liberals say. The world has always been segregated economically and always will be.

guest-aansooaa in reply to Reid1605

The very simple fact is that the current government is already pervasive and distributes money to the rich, based on lobbyism. What could possibly go wrong?
The rest of your letter is just worthless slogans of a 20. century capitalist who is out of place in 21. century.

nearmsp in reply to guest-ojeliiw

As per liberal thought all earned income is owned by the state. It is the largess of the state to give some of it back as "tax cuts". Any company pulling out of the average pack needs to be reigned in and broken up. Any country that tries to strategically sell rare metals or rare earth minerals needs to be hog tied and not permitted to do this. The liberal utopia of a world government will never eventuate. If it does, it will a scaled up model of Cuba. Everyone is equally poor and at the mercy of the government to "give" the population money.

ashbird

Very very nice delineation of the 3 key issues. Clean and clear. Really really nicely done. Thank you so very much, C. W. The is one of TE's best moments, IMHO (though I think the charts are somewhat redundant since the words already said the same).
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Let's hope the "fix', whatever it is, is not another "Proletariat Revolution", this time consisting not of folks working with the sickle all their lives and barely or not at all got enough to eat, but folks who are simply angry because they can't stand anyone who has something they don't, be it $, education, skills, or talents, fervently singing The Internationale while happily shooting dead all the Romanov's, with AR-15 no less. Only to turn on each other when all the Romanov's are shot and they morphed into various "successors-in-interest" instead.
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Personally I think there will never be 100% equality. The reason is not Capitalism. The reason is there is no way realistically to collapse the Gaussian Curve.
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The poor shall always be with us, as will the willfully ignorant, perhaps not through faults of their own, but because the Maker simply does not make every baby who emerges from the birth canal the SAME. So in the lifespan each person is given to live, he/she does not have the same to work with. Each can only do the best with what he/she has got.
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I don't know what fixes there could be. I know what fixes there can't be. The "Can't be" are: (1) The Final Solution; (2) Whining, whining, whining. I don't know what whining accomplishes.
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ashbird in reply to ashbird

Oh, forgot to say it is essential, if the goal is to build a just world, for the "have's" to look out for and look after the "havenot's". This is a Marxian concept. The concept, ironically, is the very reason why folks, the same folks who can't stand any one who has more than they do in anything whatsoever ($, education, talent, skills, even old-fashion ethical and moral values), call Pope Francis a Marxist, a Communist, a Progressive, Liberal, Leftist. Is that not odd??

If wealth distribution was roughly in line with the Gaussian Curve, we would not have a problem here. You'd still have rich people and poor people. That in and of itself is not the problem.

The actual distribution of wealth in the world today does not REMOTELY mirror a normal distribution. It is extremely skewed, well beyond any kind of genetic variance.

The real cause of this is that private property is theft, it is an artifice of human design that does not exist in nature, and those who the law says "own" that property effectively own those who do not own it and get to set whatever terms of existence for them they like. Usually NOT REMOTELY in the interests of the person who does not own as much.

"At what time in the history of human civilization have the "have's" ever looked out for or looked after the "have-not's"?"
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Don't be too pessimistic. Countries around the world have admitted refugees from war-torn places, and even billionaires have donated to causes that they don't personally benefit from.
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As a system, it is insufficient to rely solely on the willingness of the haves to look after the have-nots, though. That does guarantee that we will always have the poor with us. I much prefer a universal basic income, even if that means I have to pay tax to finance it. I am much more willing to sacrifice something for the needy when I know that all who are similarly rich as I am, do the same.

The question here is not "has a billionaire ever donated to a cause." Certainly they have. I would argue that in terms of projecting favorably to the masses they do benefit from this personally, however.

The real question is what did they do to get the billions to donate? Was what they did to acquire that degree of wealth actually in the interests of the have-nots or was it at their expense?

Countries around the world have admitted refugees when they can benefit from their labor, certainly. When they cannot benefit from that labor, they have traditionally eschewed immigrants.

guest-onwjwmo

I think one of central faults of capitalism is the creation of the corporate legal entity. I fails to see as individuals how we can outdo an immortal legal entity which has no moral compass. An immortal amoral corporate with only a profit motive and unlimited appetite will ultimately disbenefit society. If capitalism is to be reformed we must find a more sustainable model of business that is part of society not trying to consume it.

guest-aanssimj in reply to guest-onwjwmo

Indeed. Corporations require much stronger oversight than humans currently give them. The reason is that corporation lacks safety checks which God built into humans. Humans have morality, and fear physical punishment, jail or, ultimately, physical destruction. Corporations don't have morality and don't fear punishment: they cannot be put to jail, and after bankrupcy they just spring up under a different name. The economy system is built over human-human relations and will be abused by corporations until the whole economy collapses.

sgtccs in reply to guest-aanssimj

If you think corporations work this way then I am pretty sure you haven't worked in a corporation before.

While I do think there's a need for radical change in corporate governance, especially in the field of industrial organization and to be more precise, oligopoly regulations. Going the other way and say companies shouldn't exist is pretty stupid.. Given the awesome track record they have in innovation and in improving people's for the last 200 years.

Going to the extremes is what got us in this problems firsts.

guest-onwjwmo in reply to sgtccs

Yes i have worked in a corporation just to be clear. I do realise the benefit of organised labor and how it adds to human productivity, that is no the point i am trying to make. What i suggest to you is that the current form in which corporates exist as immortal legal entities gives the manager a veil detachment. Each ceo has a couple of years to make his millions and after that he is gone, do you really think that given that kind of a position senior management will make every decision as if they are fathers, brothers ,mothers and sisters? Just like communism or socialism, the idea pure concept of a corporate has its benefits but we must ask ourselves how greed, avarice and politics plays into it.

My second point is that in the battle between individual and corporates and wage against capital, corporates have the higher legal ground. Take for example the concept of debt, as a corporate it can access debt in perpetuity so corporates being what they are do so (they just renew short term debt indefinitely to be clear). Can you as an individual access debt in perpetuity? This might seem to be of little value to you but consider in times of crisis when banks are refusing debt to individuals and giving lending huge sums to corporates( highly rated ) who do you think ends up buying all the cheap assets at fire sale prices. Corporates benefit from this tiled economic landscape and will do so at the expense of families and individuals. Just to be clear i am not ranting about this because i lost my house in 2008, its merely the observation of a retired banker who saw it happening in real time in my career.

guest-onwjwmo in reply to sgtccs

Yes i have worked in a corporation just to be clear. I do realise the benefit of organised labor and how it adds to human productivity, that is no the point i am trying to make. What i suggest to you is that the current form in which corporates exist as immortal legal entities gives the manager a veil detachment. Each ceo has a couple of years to make his millions and after that he is gone, do you really think that given that kind of a position senior management will make every decision as if they are fathers, brothers ,mothers and sisters? Just like communism or socialism, the idea pure concept of a corporate has its benefits but we must ask ourselves how greed, avarice and politics plays into it.

My second point is that in the battle between individual and corporates and wage against capital, corporates have the higher legal ground. Take for example the concept of debt, as a corporate it can access debt in perpetuity so corporates being what they are do so (they just renew short term debt indefinitely to be clear). Can you as an individual access debt in perpetuity? This might seem to be of little value to you but consider in times of crisis when banks are refusing debt to individuals and giving lending huge sums to corporates( highly rated ) who do you think ends up buying all the cheap assets at fire sale prices. Corporates benefit from this tiled economic landscape and will do so at the expense of families and individuals. Just to be clear i am not ranting about this because i lost my house in 2008, its merely the observation of a retired banker who saw it happening in real time in my career.

Ismael Beltrán

All critical issues. As to competition, States and society as a whole, must preserve independent competition authorities in other to tackle firms with enormous market power. International organizations should encourage and help developing countries to strengthen institutions that protect free and competitive markets. Additionally, and with respect to trade, true independent competition authorities can be more effective in defending free trade. In fact, competition and markets, as more neutral abstractions, are easier to defend and less prone to be captured.

Rockford the 1st

Modern Western Capitalism and consequently classsic Liberalism is broken in three main ways. It is corrupt and unaccountable to a lawful and just Democratic society, it is losing its social value to society as a whole, and it is destroying social fabrics cultures and communities, not creating nor nourishing them.
Firstly it has become unaccountable. Capital can move fast and into different jurisdictions quickly. This makes it very difficult to manage by ANY government in a healthy way. Companies threaten to leave and politicians lose their minds and essentially bribe them with tax cuts to stay and maintain those dwindling jobs. Related to this it has become corrupt to its very core. 2008 and onwards has revealed a very dirty and stacked system that favors the rich and connected. It is not a little unfair that billions to trillions of unpunished white collar crime and outright fraud and embezzlement takes place in London, New York and Hong Kong. There is no meaningful legal, (and consequently no moral) accountability in finance anymore. LIBOR scandal? It’s a joke. Financial regulators in London and America are toothless and politically punched in the face if they actually do their job and go after Financial criminals. All to entice foreign investment and exorbitant fees and try and maintain that elusive capital in your jurisdiction. Tax cuts further undermine the ability of the state to regulate properly. A race to the bottom with competing jurisdictions. How low can we go?
The second problem is the social value. What is the social value of a profit? Why are economic and social value separated ? We are taught that the market generates wealth which generate jobs which creates consumers which generate wealth and on the cycle goes. This is good and valuable for society, but that is simply no longer true. Maybe 200 years ago, but now Jobs are being eliminated not created. Wealth is being concentrated not dispersed. Wages are stagnant or dropping in most OECD countries. Automation is just getting started on wiping out millions of jobs. (Wait til AI hits. ) UBI won’t fix this although it is an interesting idea, nor will “ job training” , nor will some perverse faith that the jobs of the future will just magically appear. People need work of social value. They need to feed their families. Profits are no longer providing the value they were supposed to. Profits no longer provide hope for future investment in communities, but fear of where that capital will flee to next.
Third, we have a situation where capitalism is eating and destroying democratic societies, not nourishing them as we like to think. The US and the U.K. are a case in point. The US has the best “democracy” money can buy. Campaign finance reform is way over due. Gerrymandered districts are a mockery of fair representation. No wonder Trump was elected! You are only free in America if you can afford to be.

I applaud TE for trying to get this discussion going.
For about a decade now TE has touched on some of this, but dramatically failed to see how deep the rot has set. How so many have lost faith in the promise of Liberal economic and social institutions because they are not delivering jobs, health or happiness. They are delivering insecurity, stress, cynicism and a deep fear of the future for our families, communities, nations and the planet as a whole. Im sure there are many commenters on here that are not suprised that youth have so little condifidence in the current capital system. The hard facts are that they will work harder, for less and less. They know it. And for what ? I look forward to this discussion.

jDZ4PNgjTi

PL&U Said: "The only people with the power to fix any of capitalism's flaws have zero interest in doing so because they are the beneficiaries of its flaws. "
I respectfully submit that the ROOT cause of today's problems is that in the USA, the UK, Australia and similar is that our parliaments have been captured by just two major political parties.
With 90 percent of electorates "safe" for one or other of these parties, the hierarchies of which decide who will be offered for election in those seats (as rewards for long and faithful service TO THE PARTY), the voters no longer have any way of effectively breaking this stranglehold on our (no longer) representative democracy. Ray Bricknell, Brisbane, Australia.

Peace Love and Understanding

The only people with the power to fix any of capitalism's flaws have zero interest in doing so because they are the beneficiaries of its flaws. We keep talking about these issues like we just need to figure out what is wrong and come up with rational, practical solutions that we can just sell the Goldman Sachs of the world on because it makes so much gosh darn SENSE!

And this view is supremely naive. I have seen what these people have been willing to do so far. You saw what Wells Fargo did. What Volkswagen did. What Monsanto does. You've seen the wave of monopolistic mergers and the purchase of Supreme Court justices.

They are not partners in good faith and cannot be treated as such. They must be criminally prosecuted for wrongdoing like everyone else and SCREW the shareholders if they lose money over it! It was in YOUR fiduciary interest that they took those criminal actions and it is right for the shareholders to pay the cost. If you don't want to lose money from criminal wrongdoing by corporate entities I guess you as a shareholder had better make sure the company you invest in is on the up and up.

There's your solution, or at least one of them.

Geoff Cannon in reply to Ed Zimmer

It's naive to think that western kleptocracy can be reformed by way of reason, good will, and voting. The greedy and powerful will continue to accumulate wealth until a critical mass of ordinary people realize that the system is utterly rigged against them. Then there will be a great deal of revolutionary bloodshed and tribalism, which may or may not lead to something better for the survivors.

Who said anything about giving up?

I was merely observing that capitalism as we understand it today (at least in the United States) is beyond the capacity of sensible reformers to fix from within because the people elevated to the heights of power where the mechanisms of the state might be used to correct the inequities of that system are also the least likely to use those mechanisms to correct the injustices that allowed them to first grasp and hold those reigns of power which they personally benefit from.

Which suggests that some sort of revolution or collapse will be necessary to extricate those barriers to solution from power before improvements to the system can be implemented. Although often what comes after the revolution is even worse, admittedly. It all turns on how badly corrupted the revolutionaries values and ideals have been in the process of overthrow.

I agree with your view of the current politicial system - but I see two tenable possibilites short of revolution. One is the judiciary. There are still apolitical heads there. If we could get the money out of politics, eg, by eliminating political contributions of any kind and limiting campaigning to a Wordpress-like blog where politicians could post their positions and contrast them with their competitors, we might have a chance at more rational politicians.
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But the better approach is to educate the public that the national government does not have the constraints of households and state/local governments - that taxes are not required to fund national government programs - that national debt is an unnecessary illusion benefiting only the US wealthy and foreign governments - that the only constraints on national government spending (to provide full pubic welfare) are consumer inflation (which can be controlled with even minimally competent management) and currency exchange (which government spending improves). Then the public can demand of national government everything they have every right to and cannot be put off with fake arguments carried over from commodity-money days. And every statement I've made in this paragraph, I'm prepared to defend.

But the judiciary is the body most responsible for the money being poured into politics today. Remember Citizens United? Remember all of these cases to constrain union membership? Remember how the justices have undermined the ability for citizens to bring class action lawsuits against corporate entities? Virtually every real threat to the oligarchy the justices have been systematically undermining because they are not really independent.

The judiciary is not apolitical. It never has been. The impartiality of the law is a myth. Justices are appointed by elected politicians who are largely purchased by moneyed interests. Those politicians appoint judges who will apply a version of legal interpretation most favorable to their political interests such that it eliminates the essential character of law as an impartial body.

I also strongly suspect that many of the justices appointed to the court presently are directly corrupted by moneyed interests based on the way they have applied the law to favor corporate welfare contrary to the interests of our nation.

Educating the public has never worked without control over the means to educate. Who controls the means to educate effectively? The same one who controls the means to produce and thus controls the state.

Citizens United was 8 years ago and if I remember correctly ended in a 5-4 decision. Enough has changed in the past 8 years (internet effects & increase of wealth inequality) that I suspect a better case could be made - but not being a lawyer, that's much more a feeling than understanding. And education today is not limited to schools and formal media. I'm trying to educate in these Comments. If I can convince a few naysayers here (& a couple of TE's journalists), we might have fighting chance (before revolution at least - not so sure about before collapse - a financial collapse MAY be what's needed to bring our understanding of economics into this century.)

Citizens United ended in a 5-4 decision because 5 justices were appointed by Republican presidents and 4 justices were appointed by Democratic presidents. And that is exactly how that decision came down.

It is not about the quality of argument one brings to the Supreme Court. It is about how the justices want to interpret the law to deliver patronage to their particular causes. You could make whatever "case" you want to Roberts, Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy they think corporate patronage is a good thing, they were selected for the exact reason that they think it is a good thing, and they will come up with whatever legal pretext they need to deliver that patronage through our judicial system.

Peace Love and Understanding

We've been talking about these issues for decades. And for at least the last ten years here on the Economist. In that time the rich have only gotten richer and seized ever greater control over the political processes and government of the United States.

Does it even matter if we have a quorum when money can buy the government and an ever-growing proportion of that is concentrating in the hands of a few people?

At some point you have to wonder if it even matters who is right or if it is might that makes right.