Ownership Rights

It seems to me that rights of ownership should be balanced by responsibilities. I think the concept of having extended ownership rights has gotten out of hand. We now have the sanctity of ownership granted to the dead and to artificial constructs without morals or consciences such as corporations, trusts and mutual funds, which manage wealth for the idle rich through the single criterion of return-on-investment.

The moneyed class founded this country and, though they declared “…all men [but not women] are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…,” they not only retained their right to own other men [and women], they extended those rights to owning these person’s children and grandchildren, to having sex with or without these persons’ consent, to pass ownership of these persons to heirs and assigns and to prosecute any and all violations of these “rights” such as the “underground railroad.”

I keep hearing about the sanctity of ownership while, after the first or second generation, the ownership of inheritance is not the same as the ownership of having earned or built something oneself. Nor is the sanctity of ownership quite so compelling after one is dead and buried.

Like a lot of things, rich and powerful people concocted stories and customs to keep power in the control of their families. To do this, they built armies, nations, tributes, religions, “royalty,” and “nobility,” which wasn’t really noble but more ruthless and skillful at killing and taking.

Originally, ownership was merely physical possession or occupation. A hunter didn’t even have full ownership of his kill but was expected to share it with the tribe and, if he refused, might be forced to share it with the rest of the tribe or, at a minimum, be met by withering stares and social censure. Likewise, there wasn’t a pile of money in one tent and no food or clothing in the next. There was some disparity, but it wasn’t absolute or extreme. Rights were always balanced with responsibilities and duties. One earned rights and authority.

An owner’s posthumous right to give his wealth to whomever he or she wants is an unnecessary extension of ownership which seems less compelling, less God-given and far less effective in supporting “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” presumed to have been the right of all mankind. In the current social climate where inheritance is a frequent cause of distrust, intrigue and even murder, it is one of our predominantly harmful but cherished values. It sets sibling against sibling; it drives multiple-marriage families apart; and it makes marriages so distrustful that prenuptial agreements are now a common practice, using the law to limit the damage done by inheritance laws and customs.

Ownership “rights” often follow a tenuous path of questionable validity or morality. For instance, the “owners” of Alaska who “sold” it to the United States had a small settlement on the coast while native Alaskans had occupied it for millennia; the “owners” who sold the Louisiana Purchase to the United States had never set foot on (or paid a dime for) 99% of the land bought by the US government and sold or given to recent immigrants with no heed to the rights of native Americans; and the Pope parceled out South and Central America to two European monarchs who, in turn, divided large parcels of Native American farmland and ranch land to wealthy Europeans who, again, had never seen it and never paid anything for it. These erstwhile “owners” then forced the local population to accept their “land grant” deeds and continue to work the land while forfeiting both freedoms and ownership rights. And this inequity, this unfair allotment of rights and privileges has continued unabated for 500 years and continues to be perpetrated against people of native American or mixed heritage to this day!

Ownership is often determined by laws which benefit the people with enough money to hire good lawyers or make significant political contributions to influence elections, legislation and, a biased, lopsided interpretation of laws already skewed to favor the wealthy and influential.

When Baron Walter Rothschild loaned the British government massive amounts of money during the First World War, he was able to get that government to seize the laws and administration of Palestine and drastically bias them to favor Jews and to allow the unlimited immigration of Zionist Jews during the following 30 years until this racist immigrant population was able to seize control of the government themselves. Most of this takeover, starting with an 11 or 12% minority living peacefully with their neighbors for centuries and resulting in years of enmity, bloodshed and terrorism on both sides was caused by a dispute over ownership rights; over whether God gave the rights of ownership to this “Holy Land” to people because of whom their ancestors were; because of who were the “heirs” to Abraham’s worldly riches, supposedly deeded to them by holy writ. And, while Zionists made the desert bloom, they robbed water from the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea to do so, further exacerbating frictions between immigrants and the traditional people of the surrounding areas and creating a climate of incessant hostility and warfare.

I’ll say this again and again until it sinks in. The creation of Israel was and continues to be harmful to both Arab and Jew. Refugees from the pogroms in Russia before World War I and the Holocaust in Germany during World War II were sent to overpopulate the Middle East. But that wasn’t enough because the many military campaigns against the Third World by Russian and US troops during the Cold War and the War on Terror and the millions more affected by climate change have created so much turmoil that the countries that actually started this problem are now trying to shut their borders and are becoming violently nationalist and xenophobic.

In the practical world, ownership that can’t adapt to these new and drastic circumstances and slowly, respectfully, and peacefully correct these injustices and imbalances will force those dispossessed or displaced persons to dispossess or displace others, causing a chain reaction which makes the world less safe for everyone. The reason we have refugees at our southern border is precisely because this unjust and inequitable allocation of rights and privileges has been allowed to fester for the last 500 years

I do not favor dispossessing the wealthy of their money or taking over entire estates, but a gradual redress of general inequities in ownership as each generation passes off its massive wealth to the next. I favor reasonable estate taxes. This puts the money where it can be used to support the whole community rather than a few wealthy families. It allows the wealthy to retain enough to continue a lavish lifestyle without having so much wealth that the middle, working class shrinks and withers as we’re experiencing today.

By taking on the task of creating a safer, more equitable world, we must allow ownership to flow through the nation rather than pool in the luxuries and extravagant excesses of a minority faction. We can allow individual wealth while still meeting the needs of recent immigrants and ordinary citizens with vastly fewer perquisites and advantages. Like blood in the body, it must circulate and be renewed.

Often, it happens that inherited wealth or notoriety subjects an individual to extreme forms of pressure while making the effects of pleasure far outweigh the subtle yearnings of the soul to help others which seem an essential part of being happy. The effects of unearned wealth, notoriety or power on the people who inherit isn’t often happiness even if lots of pleasure and luxury is involved. At some point, inherited wealth works against the happiness of both the heirs and the disinherited. Excess wealth isn’t necessarily in their best interests but time after time, I see inheritance and disinheritance permanently split families, especially families with late marriages and multiple marriages. The rights of a dead owner currently outweigh the needs of the living in our legal system. Our current system is ineffective in sustaining a fair and equitable society while supporting and maintaining past injustices generation after generation.

There are other inequities in our society caused by overextended ownership rights. Money buys immunity from responsibility and good citizenship. As we saw with O. J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, money can effectively buy a biased verdict, unbalancing the scales of justice which were never balanced anyway. The legal system strongly favors the wealthy and influential among us.

In today’s system, owners are often unaware of the abuses of morality and decency for which hands-on ownership would have held them accountable. And, if they are aware, they are immune from any social or ethical responsibilities and they don’t often have the power to change things if they become aware of abuses of customers, workers, the environment or the economy other than to sell their stock. Systems that once worked to protect public health have been corrupted or grossly understaffed by the steady application of massive funding and constant misinformation campaigns. The influence of money and the abuse of power is generally started by a few individuals hired by a consortium of highly-paid money managers tasked with making even more money for anonymous and unaware “owners.” The current opiate crisis is a case in point.

The three children of Sam Walton are among the ten wealthiest people in the world. They neither earn this money nor benefit substantially from getting it. Had they each received a mere 10% of their inheritance, they would still be extremely wealthy. As it is, this money sends jobs to China and makes ghost towns of many of the small and medium-sized towns it chooses to infect. When corporations get as large as Walmart, Lowe’s or Home Depot, they can dictate wages to their workers and costs to their suppliers while offering small discounts to their customers. The volume and the leverage of a virtual monopoly give their companies an overwhelmingly unfair advantage over small neighborhood stores, while killing off smaller local and national businesses in both manufacturing and retail. The internet will surely compound problems for small businesses because large firms with deep pockets will soon occupy all the first page slots in any search for products or services.

So, while ownership rights have ballooned out of control, the system doesn’t work as well as it used to when it was win-win in Japan, West Germany and the United States after World War II. And it doesn’t work as well for the uber-wealthy who inherit massive amounts of wealth without much control over it or responsibility for it, receiving such an advantage over common folk that they stay wealthy generation after generation whether or not they do anything at all to merit this advantage.

The overextended rights of ownership got a huge boost when Ronald Reagan supposedly made America great again, but they fueled the continuation of an immoral and often illegal foreign policy and a meltdown of common human decency at home. Profiteering became the new money sport while owners of stock that was grossly UNDER-regulated, flight controllers, union members, the state of California and many pension fund participants lost to make the already wealthy wealthier. It was this “less government” philosophy of Reagan and his followers which led to many disastrous decisions and, eventually, to the “too big to fail” theft of tax money by professional bankers and their clients, aided and abetted by the Senators and Congresspersons they paid handsomely to help elect.

In actuality, most lawmakers don’t create the specialized legislation for regulating an industry, but have it crafted for them by these same special interest groups which have tons of money to hire the specialized manpower to create the legislation which focuses on their areas of interest and biases it in favor of the funding organizations. This isn’t a well-known fact: political action committees have the money and manpower to craft legislation which is handed in secret to the legislators that introduce it as proposed law, so laws start out biased in favor of these well-funded representatives of an entire industry banded together for the sole purpose of biasing laws and elections in their own favor.

For example, a bill to regulate the sale of firearms in a state might be drafted by the National Rifle Association, which is funded primarily by US gun manufacturers. Then, this same political action committee lobbies it through committee and legislative vote. The loopholes aren’t there by accident.

The NRA donated $30,000,000.00 to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as large donations for pro-gun candidates and against anti-gun candidates. This generous spending, along with the united, loud and heart-felt voices of its members is rewarded by the steadfast loyalty of lawmakers and the President, even though it goes against the wishes and best interests of the majority of Americans. Being funded and run primarily by its corporate members, this industry has developed tools and tactics that effectively leverage their constituencies’ voices and political power by coordinating and concentrating efforts against any and all opponents to its agenda, which is the sale of more guns and the promotion of the thoroughly disproved idea that guns are an effective deterrent to crime and loss. Clearly, this industry is driving legislation which keeps the US far in the lead of violent deaths per capita among the industrialized nations. Their almost unlimited reserves dwarf resources most unaligned candidates can muster.

Add to this the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump where the heads of agencies were antagonistic to the missions of the organizations they ruled and also add a deliberate drop in budgets for these organizations and it becomes obvious why government regulation became ineffective. When legal enforcement does happen, the legal forces working to thwart regulation dwarf those the government can muster and enforcement is slow, painstaking, costly and often just a slap on the wrist.

When Hillary Clinton, as First Lady, was trying to make our healthcare system as good as that of other modern countries, the powerful lobby of US doctors, the American Medical Association, checkmated her at every turn and launched a brutal, massively funded campaign against her and her goal of affordable medical care for all Americans. Since then, entirely during my lifetime, a completely new “industry” grew up which sits in the middle between the government, hospitals, doctors, nurses, employers, employees and patients and siphons off money from all possible sources while parsimoniously doling out as little money as possible. NOW, the American Medical Association is dwarfed by this monstrous new parasite it helped create and doctors, nurses, patients and employers are all pawns in this game of Make More Money.

Many industries have a revolving door where they get their own people into top positions in regulating agencies of government and, through massive campaign contributions, get their lobby to infuse political campaigns with massive donations and then strong-arm the legislator they got elected to sponsor legislation that favors their industry over the needs of their constituency. This has been going on for some time, but the Citizens United decision and its acceptance of overwhelming political influence by corporations put this practice into high gear.

The State Department, its foreign service engine and US foreign policy is working primarily to promote the interests of these soulless, conscienceless profit-monsters. We now fight wars, not to create justice in the world as we claim but to make more money for those anonymous investors and their one ethic, their one goal, their singular purpose: make more profit.

Our armed forces have stayed far longer than necessary in Japan and Germany (see pie chart for 2012, which doesn’t seem to include Naval forces and troops in the US and its territories). We went to war in Vietnam, not to create democracy, not to help the Vietnamese people, but to further the careers of high-level military officers and to make a killing for the many corporations who feed at the trough of lucrative government contracts and purchase orders.

We sent a half million people and their supplies into Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield and Desert Storm not because Kuwait is a bastion of liberty and equality, not because they are even a legitimate country, but because Halliburton needed a boost in profits, the military needed a boost in public support for their stagnating careers and their massive war machine and the President needed a boost in popularity – and, yes, because we like the cheap crude that Kuwait was stealing for us by slant-drilling under Iraq and stealing their oil reserves while Iraq was embargoed by the United States.

Likewise, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were irresponsible, disproportionate, misdirected responses to a small-scale attack on the US carried out by a few well-educated, moderate Muslim men mostly from the allied countries of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

And we are currently blockading North Korea and paying to keep 28,500 armed and dangerous troops in South Korea and more 200 miles offshore in a colonial war that has been ongoing for 65 years and counting. Our current demands of North Korea: divest yourselves of nuclear weapons or we’ll isolate you from the rest of the world. The United States, the country to have first invented, created and USED atomic weapons against civilians maintains its right to bully and threaten others with their massive arsenal of civilization-destroying megaweapons while becoming incensed at this small country’s audacity to stand up to our bullying and say “No.”

Yes, Kim Jong-Un is a brutal dictator. So are some of our closest allies1! Again, our supposed, unfair, “rights” haven’t been balanced by fair rules or commensurate obligations.

The closest we came to downsizing government was on Ronald Reagan’s watch and what he did to keep the economy going was to ramp up the war machine. His “trickle-down” ended up trickling out to places like Indonesia, China and India, leaving several industries and a number of major cities high and dry. His deregulation, as previously stated, led to disastrous abuses in several areas. His “star wars” space initiative came to nothing but spent billions and his meddling in foreign affairs ramped the DoD budget off the charts and, combining this with gigantic tax cuts for the rich, the national debt skyrocketed!

Trump’s Presidency is something of a repeat of this fiasco, again “making America Great Again” by strong-arming smaller countries, by lowering the taxes on the wealthy 1% and by using the government almost exclusively to support the moneyed interests in this country. Profits are soaring while wages, salaries and actual employment rates stagnate. To be “unemployed” statistically, you must be actively looking for work, so those people who have given up or retired early are no longer counted, which completely misrepresents the situation.

When we tried win-win solutions to these problems, they worked. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted public works projects which competed with private utilities, when Harry S. Truman empowered labor and spent tax money to build up our former enemies, everybody prospered! The United States, Japan and Germany built thriving economies and massive and impressive infrastructures. And they developed robust, creative, thriving middle classes as well as huge advances in science and technology!

Then the managers of this enormous wealth and prosperity in the US, in their never-ending quest to advance rates of short-term profit, got Ronald Reagan elected President. Almost immediately, wages stopped growing, unions lost influence and power, the already wealthy got wealthier and our jobs flew out of our country to places without constraints on wages, pollution or safety. Numerous schemes to defraud investors and consumers were begun and quickly grew to such a magnitude as to bankrupt California, leave many thousands without savings or retirement and eventually cause the “too-big-to-fail” taxpayer bailout of dishonest and greedy Wall Street bankers.

So, I submit that ownership rights have now been extended to include massive, unearned and unwarranted protection from persecution for fraud and losses from mismanagement and to effectively run elections and political power to suit themselves unhindered by the needs and best interests of the majority.

Excessive wealth has perverted our laws, both their creation and their unequal enforcement and prosecution. It’s perverted our elections. Worst of all, wealth has had an almost free hand at perverting the information we get and the understanding that goes with it.

I take a practical view to this problem. I see where the absolute right of inheritance without high taxation has already taken us and where it is leading. Out of our control, wealth is concentrating in the hands of a shrinking minority which is quickly amassing a biased and profit-motivated control of the entire economy and its news outlets, its laws and law enforcement. This ownership is no longer in direct control of much of what it owns. This ownership doesn’t directly “earn” its wealth any more but is considered “entitled” to it through inheritance. This ownership is becoming increasingly international and increasingly concentrated. And, as we saw in the last national election, the massive power of economic control is the new battlefield between various factions of amalgamated wealthy people with Chinese and Russian bankers and power brokers buying up significant portions of foreign economies.

And, as throughout history, the people hired by these wealthy factions are in control of what we think, how we vote and the laws our representatives in government create and prosecute. Their schemes to maximize profit have had us involved in almost continuous warfare or preparation for war for most of human history.

I’m looking at where this is headed and what it means to BOTH the wealthy and the poor in this and other countries.

The government of Cuba was considered “bad” by the US, not because it was any worse than its US-sponsored predecessor, but because they impounded US economic holdings there; because they changed the economy from the control of the wealthy to serving the average person. Fidel Castro was a dictator, just like Fulgencio Batista, but he closed the brothels, used the media for education, stopped the exploitation of the workforce in his country for massive profits to foreign interests and, in general, made a genuine effort to make his government support the population of his island country rather than foreign investors and wealthy descendants of the original warlords who seized control of both land and laws from local and rightful owners 500 years earlier. The economic difficulties faced by Cuba were primarily due to the embargo rather than other economic or political factors.

If we continue on our current path of unlimited concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands, the outcome is fairly obvious. Most homes won’t be owned by the people living in them. Most workers will be extremely lucky to just have any job, let alone the ability to support a family. Any major illness in a family will almost immediately transfer the family’s wealth and savings to the small, international group of owners. Any loss of employment, such as the economy no longer needing any drivers, will be catastrophic to many families and lead to similar rounds of foreclosures and forfeitures. As in grocery, fast food, hardware, steel, oil and gas industries, only the largest, most aggressive, international and allied businesses will survive.

The quality of life for ALL OF US will deteriorate. In the end, it could easily end up as in the fictional Hunger Games, with the idle rich owning just about everything and idle poor owning almost nothing and a shrinking and marginalized working class lucky just to have a job.

We need a solution that will work for BOTH the wealthy and the poor as well as restore pride, prestige and integrity to people who work for a living.

Bill and Melissa Gates and their Billionaire Club have acknowledged the situation already: that they don’t need and can’t use half the money their ownership has “earned.” I also see another problem: the economy cannot continue to grow if the workforce shrinks and capital emigrates to China, India, Indonesia and other Third World venues. Billionaire Club members have instituted an inheritance limit on themselves because their heirs don’t need (and can’t effectively use) the money they already have and there are so many other people struggling to keep heads above water. They also see the need to keep money flowing in the economy for their wealthy lifestyle to remain enjoyable rather than presiding over the financial ruin of their consumers and economic clients.

I inherited several hundred thousand dollars myself. I still enjoy the benefits of my maternal grandfather’s hard work and business acumen, but we heirs didn’t earn any of it; nor did we merit it more than his customers and employees who, at least, had a hand in creating this wealth.

On the other side of this issue is my youngest half-brother who inherited an extremely valuable house on the ocean front in Southern California and struggles to maintain it and pay the taxes on it. He lives in the least desirable of the four units it was divided into and rents out the other three. This is wealth that IS earned and hands-on, with direct responsibilities for its safety, upkeep and management.

Somewhere between divesting this hard-working man and his work-injured wife of their home and amassing vast fortunes while killing and displacing millions of foreigners and taking away needed homes and employments from families in times of hardship for the sake of a bit more unneeded profit, there is a point where ownership rights become foolishly impractical.

I saw how my older brother amassed considerable wealth by hard work, talent and frugality. But I also see the unfair playing field between the haves and the have-nots. If high school was not only a right but a duty of all U.S. children fifty years ago when it was enough education, why shouldn’t a merit-based higher education now also be available to all serious students if it is an increasingly necessary prerequisite to a decent job? California already has a low-cost junior college system that accepts all high school graduates but flunks out all but the most dedicated students. This at least provides a path not completely biased by parental money.

Affordable college education will benefit our entire society and reward the earnest student without the burden of a massive debt or a second mortgage on their parent’s house.

Most of all, we must balance rights with needs and benefits with obligations. Our one-sided system has been around for a long time and always seems to create win-lose scenarios that regularly turn into lose-lose conflicts. Isn’t a win-win compromise in everyone’s long-term best interests?

And how will we pay for all this? Who benefits from the 40,000 US troops in Germany? Who benefits or could possibly benefit from the Polaris nuclear missiles spread throughout the seven seas, ready at a moment’s notice to drop massive death and destruction on our own world? Who is now benefiting from the 50,000 US troops in Japan or the 28,500 on a hair trigger in South Korea waiting expectantly to start a full-scale nuclear war? What benefit derives from our micromanagement of other countries, our bullying of other economies such as Cuba, North Korea, Libya, Iran and Syria where we disapprove of their government and so seek to force them into submission by isolating them economically and threatening and/or attacking them militarily?

And what about the ownership rights derived from despicable acts of the past? Of a more equal balance between hard-working people of all economic brackets? Do we let the crimes of the distant and not-so-distant past dictate our descendants’ fate where it is worse for everyone?

Proxies for the wealthy give us information biased in favor of their clients in exchange for enormous salaries by controlling the media. None of this was, is, or will be fair, equitable or win-win.

So let’s look at ownership rights without the biases of past laws and customs. Let’s see ownership rights looking at abuses of the past and present and looking to the future. Let’s change our point of view for a few minutes and see what it reveals.

In Latin America, by and large, there are the white descendants of the European conquerors, European immigrants ,and “land grant” recipients; there are the darker-skinned workers whose ancestors used to own it all before it was taken from them by force, by disease and by unfair laws and unequal administration of the law; and there are the mixed middle class, a relatively small group of administrators, police and lower-level clergy who keep it all running. The work is done predominantly by the lower class while profit and praise all go to wealthy “owners.”

My maternal grandfather belonged to the Masons and the country club, drove a new Cadillac every year and hung out with the “good old boys” who owned most of Pasadena. He worked his way into owning his own business and a medium-sized construction firm. My grandmother got it all when he died and their four daughters, only one of whom participated in his business, inherited it when she died. Eventually, the remaining equity in his estate fell into the laps of his four grandchildren who had done nothing to deserve this windfall except be born into the right family. His workers, aside from my aunt, got nothing. His customers got nothing although they had far more to do with his success than any of us grandchildren.

Leland Stanford made millions off “building” the Western half of the transcontinental railroad but the actual work, difficult and perilous, was done by poorly paid recent immigrants who were trying to feed their families in an alien land where they didn’t know the language or the customs. The families of the many men who gave their lives in this endeavor got nothing while Stanford won the California governorship, took European vacations and lived in opulence.

Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not saying all-or-nothing; I’m saying “more balanced.”

The subsistence farmers of Vietnam fell under the laws and taxation of China when she invaded their country two centuries ago. Due to the lack of money, they couldn’t pay the taxes on the land that had been in their family for centuries and it fell into the hands of enterprising city people who bought up this land cheaply when it was confiscated for back taxes and sold on the open market. The major reason communism and socialism were popular in Vietnam was simple: it fixed the problem of most farmers working land owned by others who had never set foot on it let alone done the backbreaking work needed to sustain it.

More than a million of the middle class in Iraq had to leave everything behind to survive the US occupation. As in most wars, it fell into greedy, selfish hands and will not be relinquished any time soon. So, if and when these middle class, well-schooled progressive Arabs return to their native country, they will again start with nothing but their educations and their work ethic. If several generations have passed, all their advantages will have been lost by then.

The descendants of Middle Age monarchs still live in luxury while the descendants of peasants (who work far harder than their wealthy counterparts) toil just to survive. The wealthy made the laws, have their own house of the British Parliament and have lawyers and money to ensure their continuing upper hand over workers and subjects. When King Henry VIII gave most of Ireland to his loyal Protestant followers, a 600-year economic imbalance was created and sustained by law and military force.

If you look a little deeper into the rights of ownership, a large portion of it would have to be attributed to wars, to manipulation of laws and legislation and to dark and greedy inequities which, while legal, weren’t moral, ethical or balanced.

All along, our laws have been “to the victor go the spoils,” win-lose at best. The idea of finding solutions that are in the long-term best interests of everyone never seems to gain any traction. The basic concept of our legal system is adversarial, competitive and punitive rather than mediatory and restorative and it influences everything we think and do.

I know what I’m proposing isn’t aligned with our present laws, customs or belief systems. It is seen in the worst light possible. Due to massive bias in our education and media, it doesn’t, at first blush, seem anything but diabolical, yet the idea works wherever it is tried DESPITE concentrated, dedicated efforts to isolate and destroy any and all attempts at fair and equitable methods to distribute goods and services while rewarding hard work, innovation and initiative.

When I project the inequities in our laws and customs concerning ownership into the future, I see highly paid proxies for the wealthy writing the laws for the benefit of the small group of wealthy people while using the government and the good hearts of ordinary people to try and keep the rest of our society fed, clothed and housed.

This situation, while it seems “normal” to us, isn’t. It’s divisive, disruptive, abusive and totally unnecessary. Wealthy people who don’t work for their wealth (or at least hard enough to merit many millions of dollars a year) can be granted advantages without giving them all the benefits that derive from a productive modern economy. There has to be a healthy middle ground.

So far, the Billionaires’ Club agrees with me and sets the bar at half to the haves and half to the have-nots. Shouldn’t we consider this voluntary relinquishment as an admission of the inequities involved and the absurdity of our current system? The two wealthiest men in the history of the world amassed their fortunes by ignoring accountants, giving out “free” software, and by advertising and selling on the internet.

If excessive ownership rights have been the burr in the saddle of capitalism; if excessive wealth doesn’t actually benefit the excessively wealthy; if we want to address the problems of excessive poverty in the world; what might we do about it without rewarding idleness and greed at the other end of the income range?

I urge you to think in practical rather than traditional terms. What will work for the vast majority of us? What will allow a person to ensure a good life for his or her children without concentrating wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands and, ultimately, without the overwhelming bias of most societies in their laws and the administration of their laws.

In the past, large estates were taxed at a fairly high rate which lowered the windfall to heirs without taking it all away from them. But today, there is constant pressure to abandon these customs which served to gradually level the playing field between wealthy and poor families over generations.

In the European Union, about which we hear surprisingly little, it seems like they’ve surpassed our “great experiment in democracy” and are finding win-win ways between people of vastly different backgrounds to give everyone a chance at a better life without rules, customs and wars moving money into wealthy pockets rather than circulating as the lifeblood of a community, country or world.

The European Union seems to have surpassed the United States in lowering the effects of nationalism and thereby increasing peace, security and congeniality in their part of world as well as generally providing universal health care at a far more affordable cost and, in general, promoting a far more healthy and congenial life style. The flies in the ointment seem to be terrorism (Which we now know was caused, rather than cured, by US troops overseas) and, in reaction, Brexit and France’s neo-nationalism along with Greece and their blasé work ethic.

In a few of the United States of America, they are trying a German approach toward their prison population which is significantly reducing recidivism rates: rehabilitation rather than punishment. They hire high-priced social workers and therapists rather than tough, no-nonsense guards and provide a humane environment, which seeks to lead the prison population into sync with the rest of their society and provide training in both social skills and technical skills to succeed in it. And, lo and behold, the thing WORKS!! It’s cheaper. Crime rates drop. And, again, the population is no longer divided in their loyalties, which is one deep but unseen motivation for crime in the first place.

In all other modern countries in the world, there is effective gun control and significantly less violent deaths … everywhere. The safest place in the world seems to be Japan, which has banned new gun ownership and is gradually confiscating all guns from every estate – another effective change in ownership rights. In London, which has, for the last century about the same population (and the same type of population) as New York City, there was far less violent crime than its sister city in the United States. The difference between the two seems to be that London police aren’t all armed with deadly weapons and so the threat of violence is lessened in almost all apprehensions and, thus the immediate threat to criminals is lessened, making it safer for everyone – including cops and innocent bystanders.

In California, they have a thing called a “homestead,” which is a primary residence of longstanding from which its occupants cannot be removed.

Bill Gates got to where he is due to brilliance and hard work. BUT, he also ruthlessly exploited – and Microsoft continues to exploit – defects in the capitalist system.

I was the liaison between Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and Xerox’s Los Angeles Development Center, which was assigned the creation of a working personal computer before Microsoft or Apple rose to dominate the software market. I was in a unique position to see all this unfolding and to understand the ugly underside of this American “success story – including the inability of established companies to manage software development using traditional accounting practices and short-term-profit business models.

Xerox Corporation developed, refined and had in internal use: the internet (called the ethernet), the mouse (surprisingly little changed from its initial conception), icons, what-you-see-is-what-you-get and the basic concepts of structured programming which are the nuts and bolts of Microsoft’s phenomenal success. Gates signed and then violated agreements with Xerox to see all this.

Xerox, being a business run by professionals with the task of maximizing growth and short-term profit, had accountants that valued all virtual assets, all programs not in a packaged, salable form, at zero dollars and zero cents. They had been carrying these unvalued non-assets around for years with no end in sight, the end being a bullet-proof, reliable, salable product of hardware and software packaged together and sold at an affordable price, just like their extremely reliable copiers.

What Microsoft did was uncouple hardware and software and provide a working, somewhat reliable, but grossly inefficient operating system and free but limited introductory versions of its other software at a cheap price to each and every hardware manufacturer and then use this as a platform for “upgrades” and “enhancements” and other software tools and they could then use the operating system functions to prefer their products to others and to actively steer sales to their firm while “upgrading” (almost forcibly) their operating system until it became slower and slower until new hardware (with his new “enhanced” operating system) was required.

And what has fueled Microsoft’s continuing success is both the economies of scale (almost all software costs are in developing and maintaining it, so the more sales you have, the more money you can devote to “improving” it. What also fuels ongoing sales is the massive INefficiency of Microsoft products and their “free” upgrades which has the side effect of spurring the sale of new, more powerful hardware which then automatically has a new operating system and utilities. It is inefficiency and monopolistic business practices that has made Bill Gates a billionaire, using the ideas, hard work and ingenuity of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, whose creative core went on to help create the Apple MacIntosh.

The real idea people weren’t the big winners. The innovation that was most rewarded was in the business model and accounting, not the technology itself. This same inefficient, ad-intensive model is now found in all the big internet successes like Google, Amazon, Yahoo and Facebook. The real cost of “free” is what led to the two wealthiest people in the world (both from Silicon Valley) in a single generation. Rather than good internet at a fair price which is what happened with utilities such as electric companies, land telephones, water companies, magnet schools and the internet in other modern countries, we get gouged with the highest prices for the world’s most costly and inefficient internet and cell phone service even though the US developed almost all the technology!

Internet and cell phone service would cost us less than a tenth of what it does if provided by utility companies or the government itself as in many other modern countries. Furthermore, it wouldn’t have to carry annoying advertisements which slow everyone and everything down. It should be part of the infrastructure like roads and bridges, but privatizing it has made it both inefficient, strongly biased and horribly expensive if you want to rid yourself of the ubiquitous ads. The Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation is conscience money. They know what they did to the rest of us to make their billions.

I think we need more government, but government responsive to the needs of ordinary people rather than soulless corporations out to squeeze every dollar out of us any way they can, including ongoing colonial wars, misleading advertising, political bribery, monopolistic business practices, gutting regulating agencies, unbalancing the legal system and using the media to make it look like government is the source of our problems rather than seeing the underlying cause: the excessive, almost unlimited greed of unregulated, dehumanized corporate capitalism. How else could a con man like Donald Trump be the hero of the working class in middle America while stealing them blind? At least one reason you can’t see his tax returns is that he made money for himself with his companies’ six bankruptcies. The legal system as well as most government has been a shill for the wealthy for centuries. It’s just gotten more sophisticated in how the con works.

Let us compare for profit virtual international monopolies with regulated industries of the past and present.

The water company, if unregulated, could claim water shortages and charge thousands of dollars a month for water in the desert. The gas company could align itself as equal to electric heating and charge “what the market will bear.” Our electric bill could climb to the skies and keep climbing. As soon as we privatized our mail, it went from 3 cents a letter in my youth to close to a half dollar today!

By deregulating – or underregulating – drugs, people are being held for ransom by gigantic increases in certain drugs necessary for their survival, thank you Ronald Reagan. It isn’t because they are generic, it’s because the market is fixed and the companies can make more money that way.

The housing market isn’t driven by demand so much as by speculation – the perception that real estate will make you wealthy if you can buy cheap, make a few cosmetic alterations and sell for a huge profit.

Hell, look at the massive number of lotteries and indian reservation gambling places! That’s a victimless scam, isn’t it? It’s a sure way for government OR private individuals to get regular people to donate massive amounts of money to their own superfund.

So back in the old days when phones were regulated, they were a useful tool for talking long-distance. In my youth they were relatively inexpensive and served their purpose well. When cell phones and the internet came into being, they were privatized and unregulated, so now we have scams and advertisements we can’t get rid of. If you live in the U.S., you pay more and get less than anywhere else PLUS you get incessant and agonizingly irritating advertisements all day long!!

If there is profit to be made, trust some group of money managers to find a way to make a ton of money for their mutual funds or shareholders or anonymous owners who, above all else, want MORE MONEY! That’s why they invested! To be rich. And if they’re rich, they want to be the richest SOB around. Then they decide to spend what used to be YOUR money on “philanthropy.”

Yes, government has been a shill for big business and the wealthy from the start, but it doesn’t have to be and democratic socialist governments all over the globe are proving the point. If we hadn’t boycotted Castro, he would have made Cuba a rousing success. He used TV for education rather than profit. He enabled the small farmers to actually make a decent living rather than make wealthy descendants of European ancestry or American entrepreneurs more wealthy. And, yes, he exported fighters to destabilize Africa just as we did, but maybe if we had been a bit more cooperative, he would have had other choices. He was popular because he cared about ordinary people; something missing in for-profit societies.

Certainly the European Union has had some recent problems which stem from the massive damage our for-profit wars in the Middle East caused to each and every society in the region, regardless of their progressive, democratic or autocratic leanings, but they have been a shining example of mutually beneficial policies, of cooperation rather than competition, of win-win rather than win-lose which often turns into lose-lose as in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and (if we continue our bullying of Iran and North Korea) the nuclear war that’s in the offing for us all.

Reasonable profit is a good thing. Excessive profit unbalances everything and quickly moves money AND power into fewer and fewer hands, which (in the roaring 20’s) led to a completely unbalanced system where too few people had the money to keep the economy going.

It is in EVERYONE’s best long-term interests to keep money flowing throughout our international economy and the way FDR did it, the way most of his successors (liberal AND conservative) did it was government spending! When Ronald Reagan gave money to his wealthy backers, however, they didn’t invest in the US economy. They used the money to buy their own stock and so raise stock prices (inflation = things being worth more money without any value added) or to invest overseas (draining the local economy). When the too-big-to-fail banks selling worthless securities were bailed out with tax money, they took our bailout and gave it to themselves in big dividends rather than bolstering the economy. If the government had taken over these banks (as they were supposed to), that might not have happened.

So, are we to have a “Hunger Games” economy where there are idle rich and idle poor and a few of us wage slaves keeping the machines working?

Or can we find a way to stem the tide of excessive wealth, excessive privilege and excessive poverty and find a way to make the age of automation work for us all? If we reverted back to the words of John F. Kennedy and asked what we could do for our country (or, much better, for our world) rather than what it could do for us, maybe we could ALL benefit!

I say that the rights of excessive ownership are the product of greed, whether personal or systemic. I see their roots buried in war, theft, violence and dehumanized conditions. I may “own” the land my house sits on, but I believe that it is stolen property several times over. If you go back in time, ownership derives from a legal system that is corrupt and heavily weighted toward the wealthy. As I pointed out earlier, the fundamental “right” to “own” land derives from acts of war and manipulations of law and power. In another system, it could very well be illegal to own anything but what you physically possess and use daily. The rest might rightfully be collectively owned and used for the common good.

I say that the rights of ownership decrease when one dies, that a principal residence or a family business can be wholly inherited, but a billion-dollar inheritance creates idle wealthy and idle poor and pools the wealth in select parts of the economy which stagnate and rot. Whether this is legal or ethical, it is practical! The dead and the heirs have little use for massive windfalls. It makes sense that a decent portion of it be re-purposed for the common good.

Let’s spread it around in elementary, high school, junior college, college and university education so that we don’t send out the next generation either too poor to be well-educated or too indebted to follow their passion. THIS WILL help us all in the long run – even the wealthy from whom it was {taxed|stolen|expropriated}.

And let’s disempower the Congress and the President from making war. Let’s force them to spend our money on things that contribute to the common good rather than making more money for people with too much money and too little common sense. Let’s remove the “red button” from the “football” and forget about bullying other countries to make them give up Weapons of Mass Destruction. Instead of an attitude of greed, let’s find an attitude of mutual cooperation – or at least mutual survival!

It is clear that the nature of power in the world has changed and that bullying “lesser” nations no longer reaps the benefits of “empire” that it once received. It is clear that the United States virtual empire does NOT benefit the average person in the United States, the British Empire benefits only a few of its wealthy citizens, the Russian empire has turned into an example of the worst of capitalism and the Chinese empire has finally realized that the Third World War is economic and not military and are investing in foreign money and international infrastructure.

The U.S. government has amassed a huge military that steals our money and finds ways to brutalize and destabilize our society and the societies it invades and infects. It spends MASSIVE amounts of tax dollars overseas where it is laundered and turned into profit.

If I had a choice between what we have now and shutting down the government almost completely, I might be tempted (in the short run) to shut it down; but I think a number of societies have evolved a better system which benefits the majority rather than just the wealthy. I think we could do that if we weren’t so afraid of labels and categories and oversimplifications.

Communism wasn’t socialism. Both Russian and Chinese communism quickly and easily morphed into Capitalism with some elements of socialism. Before that, they were dictatorships pretending to represent the people they governed. Is our system so different?

Our government has always represented the wealthy. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson needed slaves to maintain Mount Vernon and Montecello. They knew slavery was wrong, but they did not give up their privilege or their ownership of other people (including, in Jefferson’s case, his consort and some of his own children).

Custom, tradition, and laws notwithstanding, I believe that the people who work at and support the growth of a business should be rewarded for its successes and blamed for its failures as much as, if not more than, someone on the sidelines or in the crowd doing nothing but holding the title of “owner.”

Now that we can all live in luxury, now that machines are doing most of the backbreaking work, it may be time to change our thinking. We live in a world that now is massively interconnected, interdependent, and highly mobile. We need to look at it with fresh eyes and new understanding. The past need not force us to reject ideas that might help create a paradise rather then “Hunger Games,” “Mad Max” scenarios, or “Death Star” coercion. The U.S. has doubled down again and again on force, coercion, and bullying other, weaker nations and has profited tremendously at their expense.

But, entirely in my lifetime, this behavior no longer succeeds in creating the submissive response it used to get throughout all the rest of history. The Vietnamese people, having been colonized by several empires over two centuries, refused to submit (just as we “Americans” would repulse a foreign invasion) and were steadfast in their opposition to all foreign-backed puppet governments. They repulsed a Communist Chinese invasion as well. Afghanistan fought the Soviet Union before they fought our invasion. And our invasions have turned the entire Middle East into a quagmire of violence and counter-violence with people, like ants from a disturbed anthill, spreading the unrest far and wide.

I hold international corporate capitalism responsible for this. I hold the United States and Russia responsible for much of it and, if nationalism is also to blame, unsupervised, unlimited corporate capitalism isn’t the cure it pretends to be.

Some proposed ideas

Homesteading laws might support human rights in all states so that a person who has owned, lived in and maintained a single principal residence for at least five years cannot be removed from it even if ownership passes to another person. There should be protections from fraudulent use of this to prevent freeloading, but it should protect a resident from homelessness in an economic downturn, natural disaster, sudden illness in the family, or falling for the enticements to spend well past ones income.

Any person’s single personal primary residence, no matter how lavish, might be excluded from estate or inheritance taxes. The first $500,000 of value or equity (inflation-adjusted) of any individual’s inheritance (not counting their primary residence) might also be so excluded. Above excluded amounts, progressively higher rates of inheritance taxes could be imposed, using this money solely for the benefit of the population at large. After a billion dollars (inflation adjusted) per individual, the rates might even be 100%. Furthermore, ways around these rules must be carefully blocked.

If an enterprise is deemed not beneficial to the society as a whole, then inheritance taxes should not be used to support it in any way. This shall not be construed as prohibiting projects beneficial to a particular community provided that there are similar or comparable projects in adjacent communities. In general, taxes should most benefit the general population in areas where it is levied.

Foreign wars and foreign-based US troops must not be allowed off US soil unless under control of the United Nations, and an international navy should patrol all international waters, not competing “superpowers.” This will require a much more robust and powerful international government which is responsible, not to national governments but, similar to the United States, to the people of the world. The first order of business for this international government, aside from patrolling international waters and supervising cease-fire zones between hostile governments, would be to turn all atomic weaponry to safe, useful and nondestructive purposes in support of the Third World, which has taken the brunt of our military squabbles for the last 500 years. The second order of business should be saving what habitats we can that have been threatened by climate change. This should be our Third World War – against the effects of climate change or to relocate and resettle those environments we cannot save.

Corporations, funds, trusts and other such vehicles might no longer allow loopholes around estate and inheritance taxes with the exception of a single-purpose family-run business where, as with homesteading, the heirs are actively employed running it full time. The other exception might be when an heir is unable to care for himself or herself and funds necessary for the well-being of said heir exceed the stipulated amount.

All land-grant inheritances might be divided into shares where half goes proportionally to people who worked five or more years on the enterprise and half to heirs. In the case where an heir also worked on the land, both shares could apply. In successive generations, inheritances might proceed along these lines until there is parity between the people who have worked the land and the people descended from the original “owners.”

Corporations should be prohibited from any and all political activities, including lobbying, campaigning or writing legislation. There should be strict separation between regulators and the industries they regulate and we must do our utmost to equalize the two sides of referendums, legislative debate, legislation and adjudication and to mediate differences where possible.

Corporations must be held to account for their actions and, when it is found that they abused customers or the environment, they should be sanctioned until the injury is offset.

Churches should be taxed as businesses. Since they seem to add little in the way of substantive products and services, particularly to the rest of their community, there seems good reason for them to pay their fair share in the community that supports them. If they are, in truth, a nonprofit organization which adds support to the entire community, then treat them as a nonprofit organization rather than an untouchable sacred cow.

An Internet business might be treated as opening a small outlet within the community of each individual customer and subject to all laws and taxation of that community. The US government shall provide and maintain the necessary infrastructure for this, including enforcement, penalties and sales tax collection.

All of this will require us to look at each other with fresh eyesight; to create new paradigms, new strategies, new alliances, and new attitudes. If it were easy, we’d have done it long ago.

We were on track during the four years that Jimmy Carter served the cause of peace as our President. Then the forces of power, profit, persuasion and grandiosity brought us back to wars, deceit, and bullying smaller, weaker nations while profiteering off the gullibility of the average American.

We haven’t been fighting for peace or freedom or democracy in the Middle East. NATO originated as a consortium of colonizing countries, England and the British Empire being a prime example. Our troops have been fighting for profit all along. (see War is a Racket.) What we’re creating is instability, hatred, resentment, and suffering on both sides for the sake of profit for the single segment of the world’s population that has the least need for more money and power.

Isn’t that alone enough reason to seek alternatives to this lose-lose scenario? Isn’t it time we tried sharing resources and including other people and other cultures in reaping the advantages of our successes? Now that most of us are wealthy beyond our ancestors’ wildest dreams, can’t we find ways to help rather than harm others?

And, fellow Americans, isn’t it time to stop pretending? We’re still learning to share. The lessons started on the kindergarten playgrounds need to find traction in the aspirations of our “Great Society.” And, when the costs of winning wars overbalance the savings in losing wars, why do we fight to win when losing is more advantageous?

And when will we recognize the obvious fact that life today is the result of a vast collaboration which encompasses the entire globe? When will our laws catch up to the reality: We’re All in this Together.

©David N. Dodson, April, 2019, Phoenix, AZ

Categories Miscellaneous

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