Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘rich and poor’

The value of a reputation

I strongly appreciate the importance of a reputation for probity.

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands.

So many vague accusations and suspicions can float around in everyday life where the best basis for judgement is to appeal to prior probability. But this goes too far:

Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrong-doing.

Mossack Fonseca has just mislaid 11 million documents that show its complicity in a vast web of tax evasion through secret accounts in Panama. Even to say that it has operated legally would be stretching credulity. To say that it has been “beyond reproach”… well, I suppose it’s technically true, since no one knew enough about them to reproach them. Similarly a master burglar, when finally caught with his home full of stolen jewels and cash, could say, “This is an outrage. No one has ever cast such aspersions on my good name.”

Long-running non-dom com

UK residents who can claim that their real long-term home is somewhere else — perhaps in their family suite in Monaco, or they plan to be buried in the Cayman Islands — are termed “non-domiciled”, and spared the indignity of paying UK tax on their worldwide income. This includes people who were born and lived their whole lives in this country, if their father was foreign (or himself non-domiciled). This last is particularly galling to the ordinary taxpayer.

Now Labour has vowed to do away with the whole farce, leaving the Tories spluttering about the cost to the economy of driving away wealthy job-creators. What’s fascinating is to see Conservatives suddenly arguing that foreigners are making useful contributions to Britain, even if they are benefit cheats tax avoiders. Sure, some wealthy foreigners are probably making a positive contribution to the UK economy, while others are primarily competing with local people for scarce housing. In that they are a lot like non-wealthy foreigners, if we replace “housing” with “jobs”: some make a net positive economic contribution, some don’t.

But no one is suggesting that we really need to make sure that we retain any loopholes that allow impecunious immigrants to claim benefits in ways that seem contrary to any intended purpose or basic civic morality, because otherwise they might leave.

Why are the one percent only 1%?

Have the years of unremitting oppression cut short their lifespans and suppressed their fertility? Is it because they’ve been hunted nearly to extinction?

These are questions that naturally come to mind in reading the novel genre, pioneered by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, of billionaire lamentations, the most recent of which is this cri de coeur of trust fund Croesus and libertarian political manipulator Charles Koch, with the title “I’m Fighting to Restore a Free Society”. He accuses his opponents, the nameless beasts called “Collectivists”, of acting like “20th century despots” by engaging in “character assassination”, which, as we all know, is exactly the sort of thing that 20th century despots were famous for, except for the “character” part. But character assassination is almost exactly the same as assassination, except without the bombs and stuff, and except for the fact that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish from “criticism”, which people might think a natural part of a “Free Society”. But, in case you’re not sure of how perfidious are these Collectivists who “discredit and intimidate”, Koch informs us that this approach is one that “Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century”, which pretty much settles the issue, as far as I’m concerned.

Sure, it seems natural to look at the increasing concentration of wealth in the US (and not just in the US) and see a tiny oligarchy enriching itself at the expense of the rest of us. But you could look at the same numbers and see an oppressed and shrinking minority of wealth producers, slowly evaporating like a brackish pool in the sun, with its salt (wealth) concentration rising as it shrinks.

Where some of us see an opulent gated community, the reality (Charles Koch tells us) is just a gilded concentration camp. Where his character gets assassinated EVERY DAY. (True story.)

Renters are horrible, evil people, says the NY Times

In many parts of the US the financial crisis has led to more houses being rented rather than bought by the people who want to live in them, according to an article in today’s NY Times, titled “As Renters Move In and Neighborhoods Change, Homeowners Grumble”.

Now, this might seem like a good thing, given how many families and overextended themselves financially to invest in real estate. But if you think that, you are forgetting renters are a bunch of thieves and drug dealers and all around no-goodniks. Why are they occupying single-family homes among nice Americans? Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

The Times reporter Shaila Dawan visited a neighbourhood of Memphis, TN called Hillshire.

On a recent evening, parents pushed strollers and lawn mowers droned, children played on a tire swing and in one driveway, a longtime resident and his grandson tinkered with the fat tire of a slick red drag racer.

But there was a seedy underside. Jimmy Fumich, a homeowner and air-conditioner repairman, said he had been in court that day as a witness in an animal cruelty case against a neighbor, a renter, who had left a dog chained to a stop sign in the heat. She was already in trouble, he said, for breaking into an empty house on the block. Mr. Fumich… mentioned a couple of meth houses and one that had been used as a brothel. All were rentals.

A renter mistreated an animal. Others ran a brothel (in a rented house). Or did they just have too many visitors? Mr. Fumich complains further that the renters don’t join the neighbourhood watch.

It almost seems irrelevant when the article adds, parenthetically, that “Police department records show that major crime in the area, which does not include drug offenses, has actually gone down.”

But it’s not just the homeowners who hate the renters. The renters hate themselves:

In a small cul-de-sac near Hillshire… Rusby Amador cooked dinner for her three sons while waiting for her husband, a tile layer, to get home. One son was hosing off the walkway of their rented home. Two prodigious Boston ferns hung in the entry, and at the curb a colorful ceramic urn sat atop the mailbox.

“When the people buy a house, the people’s more nice,” Ms. Amador said. “Renters, they don’t care about neighbors. We don’t know who’s going to move in. We worry all the time because we don’t know. I have children.”

So, neighbours are good, but new neighbours are instruments of the devil. Unless you know who is going to move in which, in my experience, is not usual.

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