A Jennifer Bartlett comic formerly owned by Bernie Madoff…
(via Lot | Sotheby’s)
A Jennifer Bartlett comic formerly owned by Bernie Madoff…
The White House hosts “next generation” philanthropists about to step into billions.
Yes, what you see above is an actual headline from the New York Times Style Section. And the article it links to stands as the latest illustration of the Style Section’s core competence: Fellating the rich. Skillfully, lovingly, and, above all, persistently. And fellating even — no: especially — rich people who can boast no claim to distinction other than having money. Or, in the case of this particular article, having sprung from the loins of people who have money.
Which gets to a broader point. You might think, if you are but a casual reader of the New York Times Style Section, that what the Times permits to be published, in pages made up mostly of ads for zillion dollar cocktail dresses and shoes and watches and handbags and eyeshadow, is just fluff. And that the Style Section is just a re-badged Society Page that has no ideology and serves no purpose other than to gather in ad revenue and run wedding announcements.
Oh, you would be soooooooooooooo wrong. For the New York Times Style Section is in fact in the business of relentlessly pushing a single idea. An idea that the Times already has sacrificed approximately 1/3rd of the planet’s boreal forest to advance. The idea is simply this: That rich people are good.
And this is why the Style Section is lavishing precious column inches today on an article which, let’s face it, is really about a White House effort to con a bunch of impressionable brats into throwing some of their current or soon-to-be zillions at causes that the White House cannot get the government to fund from the public fisc. And why does the White House need to shake the begging bowl? Because (1) we have an economy built to spectacularly enrich a few — aka, the parents of the kids featured in the Style Section’s article — and allow the rest either to just stay afloat or sink beneath the waves. And (2) we do not collect remotely enough money in taxes from the ultra-wealthy class our economic policies have birthed to deal with the many many dysfunctions caused in large part by the very same economic policies.
One way to deal with this would be to have a real inheritance tax. Think for a moment about what it means to inherit a billion dollars. According to some research I did for this post, a billion dollars is a thousand million dollars. Which means that the government could easily take $950 million of a billion-dollar estate and still leave the heirs with more money than any person or small group of people could reasonably need or even use in their lifetimes.
And so why don’t we do that? It’s not like there’s any real value to allowing people to become billionaires by inheritance. Rather, it creates a class of idle rich people. Or, even worse, idle rich people with ideas.
These people engage in philanthropy. Which sounds like a good thing, and, in modest measure, is. But we cannot rely on philanthropy as our principal approach to tackling poverty, education gaps, disease, or any other significant social problem. In part because philanthropical efforts are piecemeal and small (even collectively). Which is why philanthropy didn’t wipe out widespread poverty among the elderly — Social Security did. But it’s more than that. Philanthropy is also sort of random. Your favorite uncle died of some rare and awful disease? Give $100MM to your alma mater to study it! It may be that the money would be better spent researching the cause of some other disease that kills a lot of people. And it may be that there are a lot of places better situated than your alma mater to do the research. But it’s your money, so it’s your call.
Also, a lot of philanthropy goes to things that mostly rich people like. Like opera. And elite universities. Especially those. The true measure of a good tax system would be that it reduces charitable contributions to Harvard by at least 97%. Harvard has an endowment of $32 billion. It does not need anyone’s money.
Sorry to keep at this point, but why do we allow rich people to take tax deductions for money they heedlessly fling onto the top of Harvard’s enormous pile? And more broadly, why do we tolerate such a loose rule about charitable deductions generally? Rich people can give up to 50% of their AGI and deduct it. These people get a huge tax benefit. But for the 70% of Americans who don’t itemize deductions, there is no tax benefit whatsoever from charitable contributions. And there is a cost to all of us. The government needs to collect a certain amount of money to pay our soldiers (and take care of them when they are hurt doing our bidding), keep our interstate highways and airports open, send checks to ensure that old people are not reduced to eating cat food, and maybe even provide some healthcare and nutrition services so that poor kids can go to school well-fed and without a toothache.
If you think even for a moment about the logic of this situation, you’ll realize that allowing a rich dude to deduct from his taxes the amount he gives to Harvard means that some poor schmoe — and by “poor” I mean poorer than the guy who got the tax deduction — has to pay more in taxes than he otherwise would if the government’s going to be able to do its job. Or, alternatively, we could borrow more money from the Chinese.
The Style Section isn’t interested in any of this complexity. The message of the story is simple: Rich people are good! Philanthropy is something to be celebrated, full stop. Never mind that these kids are getting an early taste of what their wealth will bring them throughout their lives — access to and influence over supposedly democratic government. And never mind that there is something weird and degrading about a society where we create this class of 0.01%ers that has ever less in common with regular Americans, and we then rely on them to take care of us. As far as the Style Section is concerned, the influence, the inequality, the icky interplay of politics and dynastic wealth — all good!
But if you want one fact that distills how the difficulties that great wealth create are absolutely invisible to the Style Section, consider this: The reporter here, Jamie Johnson, isn’t really a reporter at all. He’s one of the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, and was at the White House meeting as an invited guest.
Just got the request for the next two 4Panels, which means if nothing else, I’ll at least be making 2 comics in the next couple months.
Dem Atlas, “Charlie Brown”. A song to listen to this afternoon.
DEAR MEN IN COMICS:
THE COST FOR WOMEN IN COMICS OF DOING BUSINESS IS TOO HIGH.
You need to help lower the price of women doing business in comics and in comics fandom to only the hard work. Not the hard work plus ducking threats online and off of violence, dodging groping, inappropriate…
I’ve read a lot online about sexism in comics over the past years, and sometimes I get stuck at “what can I do.” And I guess it comes down to “call it out” and “make it unacceptable.” Which also requires awareness: notice the sexism both externally and internally. In other words, it’s not just “those guys” out there that cause problems, it can also be ingrained cultural norms that we have accepted as part of ourselves, even for those of us who like to think we are beyond it.
Aidan Koch has a show up, which you probably can’t go to unless you live wherever it is, but there are photos at the link and a catalog for sale and artwork at a decent price. Some nice pieces available (I grabbed up one for myself).
Stoked about the great article onm y work in C-Ville Weeky (via The abundant, accessible art of Warren CragheadC-Ville Weekly)
Some great Craggy quotes in there.
Shoot - Oliver East
Also if you are at MoCCA this weekend, you might be able to find work by me at the Grindstone/L.Nichols table (she might have a few MadInkBeard issues) or at the C’est Bon Kultur table (I’m in v.19 of their anthology).