Category Archives: financial crisis

Judges figure in this, too

Rich Man, Poor Man

This article is actually more than a little disturbing.

The author appears to be advancing the thesis that manning up and taking responsibility for your situation in life is the key to success, while the unsuccessful are inclined towards superstition and voodoo.

But there’s an unpleasant reality hiding underneath the condescending pep-talk:  you might just as easily, or more easily, come to the conclusion from reading the article that the rich are self-satisfied, oblivious to how fortunate they have been, and prone to blaming the poor for their poverty.

Are there people who are entirely self-made millionaires, who have made their fortunes with no breaks, no help along the way from anyone?

No.  A little humility is called for, not that you’d glean that from the article.

Are there, on the other hand, people who are impoverished entirely without error in either act or omission?  A pure victim of circumstance, as Curly used to say?

This one is a little easier for me to believe in this or that case, just based on anecdotal observation.  But for the most part, I’d say the answer to this question is “no” as well.

The disturbing thing is that on the moral, and maybe psychological level, the rich and the poor are exactly the same:  both are entirely ego driven.  The rich indulge their egos by imagining they have arrived at prosperity solely because of merit; the poor spare their egos by ascribing their poverty to the cruelty of fate, or the fates if you prefer.

Neither is anywhere near to being correct.

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Justice

It doesn’t seem to be a law of nature, but it is.

Justice is a hard virtue.  Unlike, say, prudence, which is softer. 

Justice requires that the good be rewarded and that every wrong be paid for. 

Assume for purposes of discussion that there is a God, in the traditional western sense.  Then also in the traditional western sense God must be not only just, but perfectly just.  Every wrong paid for down to the penny, in other words.

Scary thought, isn’t it?

But we’re not God, and we’re not perfect.  So consider this:  for us in the fallen world, mercy comes at the expense of justice, and vice versa.  We like mercy (for ourselves when we have wronged) and justice (for ourselves when we have been wronged).  We’re not God – again – in more ways than one.  Assuming there is such a thing.*

Someone was talking to me the other day about those who do not do their duty, but rather prefer comfort and ease.  Is that a problem?  If justice is a law of nature it certainly is, because if someone has it too easy then someone else must have it too hard, to the extent things are working at all.

I often point out that as much as I and other complain about this and that injustice and whatnot, it’s astonishing how much still goes right in our daily lives:   air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, relative safety for most of us.

With the exception of the first, we should – in justice, that is – regularly stop to consider that these things do not happen by themselves.  People – in most cases not us – perform tasks and work and make sacrifices so that these benefits come about.  And then we should be grateful for and to those people.  And then, if it seems that those people are not receiving their fair share and credit for the good they bring about for the benefit of others we should work ourselves to change that.

That’s an important job, too.  Don’t you think?

It’s not socialism to work for justice, unless you forget that justice is a virtue that exists only because individuals practice it.  The collective will be just only to the extent the individuals comprising it are likewise just.  This is a hard truth, like justice itself.  There are no shortcuts, there are no magical formulas, and anyone trying to sell you on something like that is a charlatan.  Or a socialist.

Of course, all that aside if there’s no such thing as justice I’m just talking nonsense.  But since just about everyone who has read this post knows exactly what I am talking about then it is not me talking nonsense, but rather those who say that there is no such thing as justice.

Which is not to say that we always know the just thing to do.  We’re not God, after all.  Assuming there is such a thing.

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*  This is a disclaimer we intend to use around here at Lawyers on Strike whenever the subject of God comes up, similar in function to the “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” meme from the Seinfeld days.

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Lunacy

Somehow, a new law has sailed through the legislature having as its only objective to increase the number of people sent to prison for relatively minor offenses.  To make felonies out of misdemeanors, in other words.

But maybe there’s a method to the madness. 

The “prison industrial complex” idea has always struck me as outrageous, in that it seems that it should be a fanciful rant dressed up as an argument; but at the same time disturbing, because it fits reality far better than I would like to think it possibly could:

As the prison population grows, a rising rate of incarceration feeds small and large businesses such as providers of furniture, transportation, food, clothes and medical services, construction and communication firms. Prison activists who buttress the notion of a prison industrial complex have argued that these parties have a great interest in the expansion of the prison system since their development and prosperity directly depends on the number of inmates. They liken the prison industrial complex to any industry that needs more and more raw materials, prisoners being the material.

 

The new “law” is counter to the explicit national trend – that is, on the surface we appear to be looking for ways to reduce prison populations, which every reasonable person believes have gotten out of hand – but consistent with an entrenched group of interests that frequently find favor with political institutions because of superior organization and tightly focused goals.

This so-called law is Exhibit “A” in the prison-industrial complex scenario, then.  A healthy press would be all over this, finding out who was lobbying for it and who the interested parties are.  But never mind.  We have the press we have, 1st amendment or no.

Ugh.

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Moreland Commission And The Individual Conscience

I was raised Catholic and one thing I have never understood is the antipathy so many seem to have to the practice of confession.  We’re all sinners, right?  So what do we do about that?

One frequent accusation has to do with the “hypocrisy” of it all:  you confess your sins, receive “absolution” and go right out and commit sins all over again.  Rinse and repeat.  What a bunch of hypocrites Catholics are.

Hypocrisy may be the tribute vice pays to virtue, but applying the concept here at all is just an intellectually pedestrian category error, misunderstanding things completely.  Every time you make a confession you must promise to “sin no more” and yet you know that’s not going to happen, and indeed that reality is formally acknowledged because you’re also required to keep going to confession.  This isn’t so much hypocrisy as it is inconsistency.  Or maybe incoherence.

But is it?  Is it really?

Metaphysics 101:  to exist is to be in the process of becoming.  Plain language:  you’re never quite there, always on the way, at best.  But then if you don’t have a destination in mind you’re not even on the way, because you don’t know where you’re going.  Talk about incoherent.

So, you’ve got to have a destination to be on your way in the first place, and you have to accept that as long as you exist you’ll never reach your destination.  The practice of confession captures this – well – perfectly.

The examination of conscience is, moreover, a fascinating exercise.  There are mortal sins.  Venial sins.  Seven deadly sins.  And while we’re on the subject of sin lists, let’s not forget the sins against the Holy Spirit, which are unforgivable, and of particular relevance to this discussion, the fact that two of these unforgivable sins are:  a) presuming salvation; and b) despairing of salvation.   (For bonus points:  why are those two sins “particularly relevant” to this discussion?  Answer in the comments section to receive your just reward in the form of fulsome praise from your hosts here at Lawyers on Strike.)

And those are just some of your own sins.  There are also nine ways of being an accessory to someone else’s sin.  That’s right:  vicarious liability is rare in the law, but in Catholicism it’s a daily companion.

Now, why do I bring this up in connection with the Moreland Commission fiasco?  Well, consider the nine ways you can fall into someone else’s sin:

I. By counsel
II. By command
III. By consent
IV. By provocation
V. By praise or flattery
VI. By concealment
VII. By partaking
VIII. By silence
IX. By defense of the ill done

Now, forget confession for a minute.  Just focus on the nine ways and the examination of conscience entailed by that.  Isn’t it obvious that a political class that regularly examined their consciences with respect to the nine ways would have a hard time degenerating into the cesspool of political corruption that is Albany, New York?

So here’s the problem.  The political class in Albany doesn’t know anything about the nine ways – probably never even heard of them – and neither does did the Moreland Commission.

Don’t get me wrong:  like the poor, political corruption will always be with us.  But the regular examination of conscience, and particularly an examination inspired by the nine ways, would hold it in check. 

The United States Attorney, Preet Bharara, doesn’t stand a chance by comparison.  He’ll find a couple of people to prosecute.  And he’ll have a tough time winning convictions, not because there aren’t a lot of guilty people, but because that’s just the way it is.

Maybe the juries are right.  Prosecuting and convicting doesn’t do much good.  Something deeper is involved.  Much deeper. 

A lot of people have talked about changing the culture of corruption in Albany.  As suggestions go, I submit you could do worse than encouraging examination of consciences and confession.  In any case, it’s the only suggestion we at Lawyers on Strike have.

You’re welcome.

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Moreland Commission

There’s a pretty major flap going on, considering it’s an election year, over a temporary “independent” commission appointed by Governor Cuomo, supposedly to “root out” corruption in the State’s capital.  The commission was headed up by Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick.  The commission was disbanded – some say “abruptly”, others say because it was “mission accomplished” – a month or so ago.

Last week the New York Times published a very detailed piece more or less chronicling gross interference with the independent (not) commission by the governor’s men.  This prompted a ringing defense of the commission and its independence (not) by Chairman Fitzpatrick in the form of a three page letter dated July 28th, which you can find here.

First, I encourage you to read Fitzpatrick’s letter.  Whatever its merits otherwise, it is typical DA bluster, long on rhetoric, short on specifics, and completely devoid of anything resembling reasoning.  It’s a screed from someone who seems to think that all he need do to dispose of accusations of corruption is to call them “absurd”.  Not one fact chronicled in the New York Times piece is even specifically denied, let alone refuted.

There’s a lot to say about all this, but not now.  In the meantime, it’s worth noting that some people whose opinions I respect believe this whole flap is orchestrated by the Clinton camp to damage Cuomo, a political rival for the 2016 presidential nomination.  And that may well be.  Multiple levels of perfidy and skullduggery are standard procedure in the political cesspool known as New York State.

But we’ll comment later on some larger aspects of all this, endeavoring to wed the macro to the micro, one of our favorite tasks over here at Lawyers on Strike.  We sometimes do a good job of that, and we sometimes don’t, but we do make the effort.

To be continued.

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Bluffing

It’s one of those planted stories that you have to get used to when you live in a planned economy.  Which we do.  Our pretenses to “capitalism” notwithstanding.

The Chairman of the St. Louis Fed comes out with a prediction that interest rates will begin to rise early next year, much sooner than anyone else at the Fed has been predicting.

I don’t see how this is possible without destroying the banking system, because the banking system is already holding, as “assets”, so much low interest debt – mostly USG bonds – and rising interest rates will virtually wipe out the value of those assets.

Yet the perpetually low interest rate environment has unarguably depressed the economy, sort of the opposite of what it’s supposed to do but this is a common feature of modern economics:  upside-down results followed by lots of head scratching.

This may all be feigned, of course.  It seems to me that the (probably unconscious, or semi-conscious) purpose of the central bank is to prop up the banking system for the benefit of the financial and government sectors, even if it does depress the real economy.

So, you know, Japan

At the same time, one wonders if the Fed might just be able to pull it off.  We are, after all, in uncharted territory.  Japan doesn’t have the “world’s reserve currency” or, say, the world’s greatest nuclear arsenal.

I’m open to other ideas on all this.  Don’t seem to be many out there, though.

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Wealth Distribution In The USA

This little study is pretty revealing, on a number of levels.

Speaking for myself,  you know, I’m not a wealth redistributionist.  If that’s a word.

Not as a matter of politics, anyway.

On the other hand, I thoroughly approve of, and have brought about on a number of occasions, wealth redistribution on an individual level, to remedy an individual injustice of some kind.   In a successful personal injury lawsuit, for example, money is taken from an insurance company and paid to an injured person to compensate for the injury.  In other situations you might have an employee wronged in some way by an employer and the employer pays to compensate.  Or you might have a breach of contract where the breacher is ordered to compensate the other party. 

In fact as you might have just gleaned, one of the primary functions of any justice system is to transfer wealth – from the wrongdoers to the wronged.

Now, you don’t necessarily have an imbalance of wealth in the social sense (and if you didn’t read the linked article, it contains proof that wealth in the United States is extremely imbalanced) solely, or even primarily, because the justice system is failing.  Or even at all.  There could be other reasons.

But it’s also true to say that an extreme imbalance in wealth distribution is consistent with a failing justice system.  I am not the only one who thinks so.  It would be legitimate to suspect, then, that a justice system is failing when there is an extreme imbalance of wealth.  The conclusion that the justice system is failing is made more likely if there are other indicators that the justice system has problems.  Do we have other indications of that in the US?

Are you f***ing kidding me?

 

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