Category Archives: Excerpts

February 13, 2014 post

What Phil Gramm and Mr. Krabs Have in Common

PhilGrammKRABS_EA_copy

The following post is adapted from the book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good.

 

Congressional Republicans and Democrats differ in a number of ways, but they are essentially united when it comes to uncritical acceptance of the ways of Wall Street. Whereas roughly 1 percent of Americans are millionaires (as of 2010), 50 percent of US representatives and senators are categorized as such. Phil Gramm, who retired from the Senate in 2002, was a card-carrying member of the millionaires’ club while serving on Capitol Hill. He most memorably was on record naming Wall Street “a holy place.” To be wealthy is not an indictment; but to imagine one’s wealth does not affect the way one votes, especially concerning issues involving personal financial interests, is naïve. As an old Russian proverb states, “When money talks, the truth is silent.”

My son and I went to see the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie when it came out in 2004. He was twelve years old; the movie had something for both generations, as the theater was evenly populated by kids and their parents. SpongeBob is the main character in one of the most popular animated cartoons of the first decade of the 2000s. The series features a number of lead characters (all sea creatures); a handful of Internet bloggers revel in the alleged representation of the seven deadly sins in seven recurring characters of the show. Restaurant owner Mr. Krabs (who is, yes, a crab) is especially fond of money, both its procurement and its retention. In the movie, Mr. Krabs decides to open a second restaurant adjacent to his original one. At its grand opening, he confesses his love for money with an interviewer, as he is asked what inspired him to duplicate his efforts. He answers the question instinctively with one word: “Money.”

Sometimes it’s a jolt that comes from a change of scenery – in this case a cartoon – that helps one to hear the truth loud and clear. The implied mocking of Mr. Krabs’s greed drew one of the largest laughs in the theater that day; even children are able to recognize that the inordinate love of money skews a person’s – or a crab’s – perspective.

Phil Gramm cosponsored the 1999 repeal (proudly signed into law by President Clinton) of the landmark Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act that had separated the activities of commercial banks and security firms. The repeal is now widely considered to be a primary culprit in the 2007-08 economic swoon. Gramm never anticipated the economic demise that he helped create. Let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with opening a second business or wanting to construct an environment where jobs and capital proliferate. But to be shrewd to the ways of greed is an elusive wisdom.

Gramm was blinded by his love for money – that which he has in common with Mr. Krabs.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que Bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!

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Borderlands

Thanks to Nathan Wicks for the guest blog post poem below. He participated in a 2016 January-term class, “Borderlands”, co-sponsored by the Lutheran Seminary of the Southwest and the Seminary of the Southwest. A group of twenty students – hailing from Texas, Alabama, Iowa, and various points in-between – interacted with Latino folks and the various flavors of Latino culture flourishing from Central Texas down to the Rio Grande Valley. The two seminaries share resources, space, and student experiences in Austin, Texas.

 

“At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes.” – From: Borderlands/La Frontera: La Nueva Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa (Aunt Lute, 1987).

 

BORDERLANDS

The “American Dream” is a history of lines
And who has the power to draw them.
The earth is just the earth, the lines are ours,
And the reason, be it theft or money or slavery or death,
Can be justified and erased in the history books in one generation.
“Our Land” is the history of facilitating
The travel of money from place to place.
“Our Land” is not defined by these lines, or this land,
But sold for cheap in the definition of “us”.
The “American Dream” is a dream of us, the U.S.,
And it looks like the detritus of plastic wrappers and shopping bags
Blowing across the landscape, washed into rivers,
A dream stuffed into our souls to muffle the terror growing in our hearts.
The land cries out, and the rivers swell, enraged at the injustice.
They are calling for judgement,
But it is for those upstream who never feel the punishment,
The ones already bearing the heaviest of burdens,
The real hope and disappointment
Of the “American Dream,” feel the pain.
They suffer for us, yet we walk in a fever dream,
Sleepless, unable to awaken and see ourselves downstream, face to face.

And of course America is something else entirely,
A land stays put wherever lines may be drawn,
An U.S. dream of identity doesn’t change the face of the land,
And we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.
A dream is not a denial or escape from reality,
It is the place communicating to its people,
It is the Spirit speaking plainly about the Kingdom.
And those who are seeking first the Kingdom,
What will be given to them?

We came here to look at a river.
We, narcissistic, delusionally dreaming,
Came to see ourselves in this river,
And all we see are shadows.
But why am I struck blind at the sight?
When the invisible is seen there is a glaring darkness,
A shaded shape glimpsed in outline in front of a bright light.
What does your reflection look like, Narcissus?
Is it what you expected?
As your eyes adjust you will look up and see,
It is far more beautiful and full of life than
You ever thought you could be again.

Yes, this American Dream is still a shallow grave,
This is still no Promised Land.
It is an escape from violence through violence into violence.
But in which dream is the Spirit growing?
Thorny, gnarled unfurling, vibrant color in the desert places,
The richest Earth in the “American Dream,”
A threshold of epiphanies, a thin place in between places.
And what are they dreaming about here, in the Borderlands?
Is someone standing here
Broadcasting the corn far across the land,
The seeds of another Kingdom?

And here we are, gathered at the river,
Seeing this place where everyday life goes on
While something is seeking a mending of the breach,
This open wound borne in the bodies of many who have crossed it,
Baptized into something else entirely.
There are people who come together here
And cast a very different line
Across, towards each other.
It is not as grandiose as that other line,
But it is more real; nearly invisible,
Tiny, but tangible and full of hope,
And they are hungry and trying to catch some fish.
I see them reaching towards each other,
Throwing out little lines of longing,
Yearnings for wholeness, prayers of a normal life,
Seeking nourishment for their human need,
Sustenance from the life of this river
As people have done for centuries,
A life to which this river has drawn people
As a point of communion.
They are fed.
Their bodies bear this mark of knowing,
The dream of a New Creation.
The body of Christ is alive and well here,
The Spirit is flourishing on the food of this Tierra.

 

 

nathan wicks

Nathan Wicks (pictured) is a student at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Nathan, a former farmer deeply concerned about ecological issues, wrote this poem after making the 1,400 mile trek from Dubuque, Iowa to the Texas Rio Grande Valley.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que Bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!

 

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Austin is #1! . . . in Economic Segregation

john yancey

University of Texas professor John Yancey’s depiction – broken tile mosaic – of old East Austin, “Rhapsody,” located just east of I-35 in downtown Austin.

Austin, Texas – self-proclaimed live music capital of the world, home of the Longhorns and SXSW – is the most economically segregated large metro area in the United States, according to a new report from the Martin Prosperity Institute. Three other Texas cities/metro areas joined Austin in the top ten ranking: San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth. Economic segregation means someone at or below the poverty line doesn’t live in the vicinity of someone making $200,000/yr. or more. These two persons might live in the same city, but they live miles apart, literally and figuratively. Austin is #1 – the wealthy increasingly wall themselves off from their poorer city-mates, making for a hard-set segregation of economic classes, not unlike the racial segregation of generations past.

As a matter of fact, Austin’s economic segregation is distinctly based upon the racial divisions of years past. Interstate 35 – running from Laredo to Duluth – splits Austin right down its middle. Generally, the west side is mostly white and well-off and the east side is not. In the 1880s, Austin had a reputation for being a refuge city for freed slaves – a rarity for the South. At this time, African-Americans lived in various geographic pockets all over town. In 1928, Austin created “Negro districts” (in part, ostensibly) to facilitate access to city parks and schools for African-Americans. Austin’s African-American population at this time was just under 20 percent of its total. The 1920s, like the current era, was a time of economic segregation when the gap between America’s wealthiest and poorest increased significantly. During the Depression, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a New Deal-inspired agency created to help struggling homeowners with mortgages, sanctioned the infamous red-lined districts of many American cities, essentially quarantining “the threat of infiltration of foreign-born, negro, or lower grade population” from more desirable parts of cities. By the 1940s, Austin was racially segregated with blacks and Hispanics living east of downtown. The 1962 completed construction of I-35, walling off the east side toward the west with a 100-foot wide concrete canyon, sealed the deal.

Austin has the distinction of being the only city in the country with double-digit population growth in the first decade of the 2000s to experience a decrease in African-American population. Gentrification happens, yes; but it’s deeply ironic that many of Austin’s black residents are now being forced out of an area of town that their ancestors were forced into. Furthermore, Austin maintains its “#1 ranking” of economic segregation even as some of its economically disadvantaged residents leave to live beyond its city limits. African-American population in the United States has been stable for years at 12 percent; additionally, 3 percent of Americans self-identify as bi- or multi-racial (President Obama, Tiger Woods, Beyoncé Knowles). Austin’s black population is now only 8 percent of its total (70,000 of 885,000).

What’s the rub? Extreme economic segregation, just like racial segregation, denigrates the overall health and well-being of a community. This blog consistently trumpets two related and unfortunate current realities of American life: the cultural and geographic clustering of folks in the same socio-economic class, and the disconnect between those who are well-off economically and those who are not.

In the months since my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good has been published, I’ve had many good conversations with individuals and groups on important topics such as poverty, economic inequality, and social mobility – all covered in JaLBM. I frequently ask fellow well-off Americans the following: Do you actually know anyone who lives in poverty? Oftentimes, the honest answer is “no.” There’s a lot of partisan bickering in today’s America about the social problems – many related to poverty – that confront us. What’s not easy in today’s America is to actually have a relationship on equal terms with someone in a different socio-economic class. And because of that, our society consists of many who, lacking insight into another’s plight, are quick to judge the others that they simply don’t know. Just read (for as long as you can take it) the “Comments” portion on articles of newspaper websites dealing with the above mentioned topics.

Working together for a shared common good is a hard task. It takes a commitment to making relationships (especially with those who are “different”), compassion, and smarts. It also understands that present and future realities are related to past ones. Austin’s childhood poverty rate is close to 30 percent – not good. It’s over 50 percent for African-American and Latino children – even worse. “Their” problem? Not a chance – it’s a community issue that needs communal response, resolve, and interaction from those who live in Rosewood Courts to those residing on the thirty-first floor (from where one can see into East Austin) of the new and swanky high rise, The 555.

 

Click here for link describing in detail John Yancey’s strong and beautiful mosaic “Rhapsody.”

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America’s True Religion

(It’s been a year since Cadillac – spot on – defined America’s dominant religion. Let’s revisit this classic.)

The Cadillac commercial many saw during the February 2014 Winter Olympic Games coverage precisely embodies America’s true religion: the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism. Check it out below.

Theologian Paul Tillich broadened the definition of religion when he described it as “ultimate concern.” The actor in the commercial, Neal McDonough, strikingly articulates America’s dominant religion step-by-step. “We’re crazy, driven, hard-working believers.” And then he tells us what we believe in, while striding aside the $75,000 four-wheeled object of adulation: “It’s pretty simple. You work hard, you create own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible.”

Don’t get me wrong – on the surface, commerce/materialism/consumerism is not a bad religion, or ultimate concern. It’s fed, clothed, housed, employed, and provided for millions of Americans (and many others) and served the common good for a number of generations. Work, a vital component of the religion, enables our survival at the most basic level. But when it goes to excess – hours worked, inordinate material and consumerist pursuits – the religion becomes idolatrous. McDonough’s character becomes a type of high priest enticing us to a counterfeit promised land found via “just a little bit more.” Americans began to work more and more hours in the late 1970s, reversing a long-standing trend of declining number of hours worked. Whereas America has been historically associated with the opportunity to work, the country now seems to be associated with the domination of work (for those who can find it).

We do work hard (only South Koreans and Australians work more hours than Americans), but the American economic mobility that used to be the benchmark for the rest of the world has significantly eroded away. The philosophy of work hard and advance applies to an increasingly smaller group of Americans than it used to. Our high priest of materialism disparages that “other countries take August off.” Does he not know that time away from work has been assiduously fought for over the decades since the Industrial era brought its blessings and curses? A bit more than a century ago Andrew Carnegie’s steelworkers worked twelve hour days, seven days a week. The upside of that? They helped build the nation that later spawned characters like McDonough’s that imply poor people have no one to blame but themselves, lazy and uninspired.

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good further details America’s true religion and calls for a counter movement based in economic democracy. The book is available through this website, and wherever books are sold. The following excerpt is from chapter 5:

Work is a great opportunity in the United States. We’re thankful for it even as it saps our energy and youthfulness. But, does work always deliver on its promise to take care of us? Whom does our work benefit – ourselves and our community, or are we unwittingly part of some larger design where our contributions are parasitically annexed for someone else’s gain? Is the pace we keep with our work one that gives freedom or creates bondage? Increasingly, our rates of consumption with their propensity toward excesses speak of bondage – exorbitantly so. Americans have 1.3 billion credit cards (four for every man, woman, and child) while our savings rate continues to plummet to nearly net zero.

All rights reserved. Blue Ocotillo Publishing, May 2014.

Just a Little Bit More is available on Amazon for slightly less than $75k.

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Black Friday Eve – I mean, Thanksgiving

The hallmark shopping day that is called Black Friday threatens to subsume the previous day, still known as Thanksgiving. Perhaps Thanksgiving needs to be put on some type of endangered holiday list. The following excerpt from Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good describes the dominant culture in the US since the early 1980s: the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism. It’s like a religion in the sense that it is of “ultimate importance.” It’s been a good religion providing food, clothing, shelter and employment for many, but when it goes too far (as exemplified below), this religion breaks bad and damages societal common good.

 

Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2011, was the day that a number of big American retailers—Kohl’s, Target, Best Buy, and Walmart—extended the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, with a prelude. Their doors would open at 10 p.m. Thursday night and stay open through Friday.* The big, bloating turkey and trimmings meal that begets tiredness be damned; employees would need to report to work early Thanksgiving evening to prepare for the onslaught of shoppers.

That evening at a Walmart in Los Angeles, a woman doused fellow shoppers with pepper spray in order to get her hands on one of a few discounted Xbox video-game players available. The woman was accused of “competitive shopping,” using the spray to gain preferred access to merchandise in various parts of the store. She left after making her purchases; twenty people were eventually treated for minor injuries from the pepper spray. A Los Angeles police lieutenant described the melee as “customer versus customer shopping rage.” That same evening in six additional states other retailers witnessed similar violence.

Research shows that the same area in the brain is stimulated and rewarded when the following tasks are involved: making money, having sex, getting a good deal, and using cocaine. Dopamine receptors in the primitive brain light up when one “scores”—financially, sexually, or chemically. In one study, laboratory rats, when wired to receive electrical stimuli in the dopamine centers of their brains, opted to continually press a lever facilitating the stimulus—this “hit” eventually became more important than all other activities, including eating and drinking: death by dopamine. We humans are infinitely wiser than rats, but the options that titillate our lizard brain dopamine centers are more expansive as well. Thankfully, Black Friday Eve—rather, Thanksgiving—comes only once a year.

*Malls are following the trend to open their doors on Thanksgiving for shoppers, cooperating with the big retailers to essentially annex the holiday for commercial purposes. Chapter 5 of Just a Little Bit More further explores the role of malls in what I call America’s mythic religion.

 All rights reserved by T. Carlos Anderson and Blue Ocotillo Publishing, 2014.

Click here to purchase Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Paperback, $14.95. You will be redirected to the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website. JaLBM, admittedly, is not as much fun as an Xbox, but the lessons therein might inspire an Xbox-loving reader to consider ventures beyond the world of virtuality.

Click here if you prefer to purchase paperback from Amazon. Ebook available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

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The Fueling of Inequality

The following is an excerpt from Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website. This excerpt comes from chapter 7 – “Inequality is Regression.”

President Jimmy Carter’s infamous “malaise” speech of July 1979 called Americans to self-discipline, sacrifice, and conservation. OPEC was driving up the price of oil, the Iranian Revolution was cresting, Russia would soon invade Afghanistan, and American confidence was waning. Carter never used the word malaise in the speech, but the description stuck, and critics claimed that Democratic defeatism was televised, watched by more than one hundred million Americans. This was a watershed moment for American politics of the last four decades. Ronald Reagan—treating conservation and material sacrifice like the plague—defeated Carter handily in the following year’s election. Since that time, Reagan’s summons has obliterated Carter’s: not one leading national politician has been brave enough (or foolish enough, politically) to question the ongoing sustainability of our lifestyle and to ask for limits on consumption.

                After more than thirty years of growing social and economic inequality, Carter’s speech, revisited, reveals certain insights more apropos of a social critic or philosopher than a president. “Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.” Meaning, Carter intimated, isn’t sold at the mall.

                Carter’s speech was initially well received; Americans flooded the White House with approving phone calls and letters. But the tide turned quickly, and the newly elected Reagan contrasted his bold optimism with the supposed somber pessimism of his predecessor. Carter, however, was not announcing or advocating American demise. The speech has turned out to be a prophetic decree of daring that called the nation to self-examination. Its message harkened to the egalitarian spirit that helped forge American society. But the proclamation has been widely ignored. More than thirty years of unexamined commitment to unlimitedness, as if it’s the only way forward, begs critique. British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett call for America and other wealthy nations to move away from the idea “in which people regard maximizing personal gains as a laudable aim in life.”*

 

Slightly more than one hundred years have passed since sales of gasoline became dominant among crude oil’s many derivatives. Gasoline, along with diesel and jet fuels, make up more than 75 percent of the typical refinery yield for a barrel of oil in today’s world. A by-product of twenty million years of marine biomass chemical transformation caused by underground heat and pressure, petroleum is a flammable substance that is essentially converted solar energy. All fossil fuels are stored solar energy. Plants use sunlight to grow and thrive, animals eat plants, and their fortuitous decay brought about the coal, natural gas, and petroleum that have fueled our modern industrial life for two hundred years . It won’t last forever. Joseph Tainter and Tad Patzek (authors of Drilling Down) say we’re living off “the geological equivalent of an endowment from a long-dead ancestor . . . a subsidy that allows us to support levels of complexity that otherwise we could not afford.”** In a sense, the way we live now (the wealthiest 20 percent of the world’s population consumes the majority of the world’s energy) is a heightened aberration of history, a radical departure from what has been the norm for nearly all of human history. We can’t and won’t go back to what used to be, but we can teach our children a truth that is widely overlooked in our modern world: high-gain energy (relatively easily attained and highly productive) is precious and rare, and it behooves our respect and right use for the common good. It is highly unlikely that this aberration will be ongoing. Just like a lucky run at the poker table, all good things do come to an end.

                The first chapter of this book covered  Rockefeller’s permission, which allowed for disparities of wealth previously unknown in the history of the world. We can now say that these disparities were made possible because of oil and other fossil fuels—their discovery and commercialization. The potential energy formed over millions of years in and by the earth has been unleashed over the past two centuries: it fueled the first and second industrial eras, forged the advances of Darby, supplied Edison and Ford with the power to innovate, made Carnegie the king of steel, produced Rockefeller’s titanic wealth, and provided the foundation for the incredible advances of the middle and latter parts of the twentieth century. On the other side of the ledger, however, the energy unleashed has also fueled economic  inequality, which has increased significantly in the last one hundred years, bringing along its accompanying social ills. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said it so well: progress in better and in worse.

*Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, Bloomsbury Press (2009), 253.

**Joseph Tainter and Tadeusz Patzek, Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma, Springer (2012), 188-89.

From Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, Blue Ocotillo Publishing (2014), pages 160-61, 162. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt from Chapter 6 on Rockefeller, Gates, Philanthropy, and Taxes

The following is an excerpt from the book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, available now at http://www.blueocotillo.com.

Bill Gates, born in Seattle, is the modern-day Rockefeller: ruthless in business, rich beyond compare, and one of the greatest philanthropists the world has known. Like Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, his company also has been accused of monopolizing practices. Both Rockefeller and Gates, their genius and drive indisputable, exhibited business acumen that bested the competition again and again. The comparisons are striking; Rockefeller excelled at buying or squeezing out smaller competitors while Gates excelled at bringing smaller players along for the ride (with the gargantuan Microsoft), only to dispose of them once their particular code was incorporated into existing Microsoft codes and then tweaked (or outright purchased). Enough of a change in a computer code—too bad Gates couldn’t have advised George Harrison when the Chiffons weren’t so fine with “My Sweet Lord”—and infringement was a nonissue, especially with Microsoft lawyers so suitably financed. And as Rockefeller wasn’t a participant in the beginnings of oil refining, neither was Gates the progenitor of the operating systems (generically referred to as OS or DOS) that serve as the backbone of small computer software systems. Gates has the computer giant IBM to thank for a lot of the success that came his way. IBM, working together with Gates and Microsoft in the early 1980s on its new product—the personal computer—was still focused primarily on business computing, which it saw as its main livelihood. Deciding that personal computers were lightweight, IBM let Gates and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen keep the rights to MS-DOS, the operating system on IBM’s new PC, the 5150. A decade later, as personal computer sales exceeded all expectations, IBM and Microsoft split ways. Microsoft’s Windows 3.0 would eclipse IBM’s OS/2; and because of Gate’s business model of incorporating and conquering,* Microsoft became one of the world’s most valuable companies and Gates the world’s richest person. Gates, a whiz at writing computer code, didn’t write MS-DOS; he bought its progenitor version from Tim Paterson, a computer genius himself, who borrowed heavily from another precursor version written by another Seattle computer whiz, Gary Kildall. Gates is brilliant, but he’s not as self-made as is typically assumed.

Gates’s father, William Gates Sr., a retired lawyer, is not someone who is taken in by the fiction of the self-made man. In the spirit of egalitarianism, he has been a tireless spokesperson for progressive taxation of the rich, those who have the incomparable ability to pay. In 2001, following George W. Bush’s inauguration, tax reform was given high priority by the new administration. The estate tax, or “death tax,” was one of their reduction targets; in the post–World War II era its highest rate was consistently held at 77 percent. During the Reagan years it was reduced to 55 percent, and the Bush administration desired to reduce it further, if not to fully repeal it. In the spring of 2001, Gates Sr., with an opinion piece in the Washington Post, became a vocal opponent of tax reductions for the rich; two years later he also coauthored the book Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes. Gates argues that the estate tax helped America maintain the egalitarian spirit that differentiated its founding from aristocratic Europe. During the height of the Gilded Age, eighteen states of the Union adopted inheritance taxes—Andrew Carnegie (not surprisingly) was one of many wealthy supporters of the new laws. Estate taxes, according to Gates, serve “as a practical, democratic restraint on massive concentrated wealth and power.” Repeal of the estate tax “would widen the growing gap in economic and political influence between the wealthy and the rest of America.” As of this writing in 2013, the United States yet employs a tax on the right to transfer property at death.

Gates Jr. has become the most generous philanthropist in the history of the world—Rockefeller and Carnegie would be impressed. Gates and investment magnate Warren Buffet joined forces to create The Giving Pledge: “an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.” As of 2013, more than 110 individuals or families have joined the pledge to give at least 50 percent of their fortunes away. Others making the pledge include Sandy and Joan Weill, David Rockefeller, and Michael and Lori Milken. No member of the Walton family has yet to sign on.

 

* Author Harold Evans says, “Hundreds of small innovative companies have died in Microsoft’s bear hug.” Harold Evans, They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine, Little Brown (2004), 418. Rockefeller and Sam Walton would be proud.

 

Above excerpt from Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, Blue Ocotillo Publishing (2014), 130-31. All rights reserved.

 

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Just a Little Bit More – The Book – Now Available!

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is now available through the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website, http://www.blueocotillo.com. Go to the website and click on the “Purchase Book” category, and then click on the book cover icon.

The first 100 books will be sold at the discounted price of $13.87. Type in “first100” in the Promo Code on the billing info page.  As of May 5, the first 100 have been sold and distributed. The sale continues at the Blue Ocotillo website.

 

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“Let’s All Make Lots of $$$”

The following is an excerpt from the book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, to be published May 1, 2014. This excerpt comes from chapter 6 – “Excess.”

The plane neared its destination; we looked out the window with excitement. Halfway expecting to see tumbleweeds and brown stretches of barren land, we saw green terrain and trees—lots of trees. My wife and I, both from the Land of Lincoln, were flying to Houston for my first interview at a church; it was 1990 and neither of us had been to Texas before. We were pleasantly surprised by what we saw out the plane window. The particular Texas stereotype that we brought with us, constructed of sagebrush and desert, was crushed by reality. Houston was lush and—as we would find out later—got its fair share of rain. Over the plane’s intercom, the friendly Continental Airlines flight attendant, complete with Texas twang, informed us of the local time and temperature. What we heard next, however, from our hospitable hostess shockingly showed us that not all our Texas stereotypes would be poleaxed: “Y’all have fun in Houston and hope y’all make lots of money!” My wife and I looked at each other with mouths agape, our faces betraying abject disbelief over what we had just heard. Did she really just say that? Our Upper-Midwest sensibilities took a direct hit; we wondered, what awaited us in this land of big profits and tall talk?

Truth be told, that jarring introduction to Texas more than twenty years ago didn’t scare us away. We love it in Texas—and for many reasons: the people, the mix of cultures and traditions, the food, the opportunities. Texas is unique historically; a big part of that history is commercial boldness. When we came to Houston in the early 1990s, low crude oil prices had made parts of the city go bust. Earlier, when the rest of the country suffered economically because of the Middle East oil embargo, Houston boomed. High oil prices were and are good for Houston; the romance of the energy business is reflected in its sprawling urban geography and lack of zoning laws. Houston, in the words of Enron chroniclers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, was “wide open to opportunity and worshipful of money.”* Houston hasn’t changed. In 2011 Forbes named Houston the fastest growing millionaire city in America. The reason? It’s still oil and gas.

*Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, Penguin (2003), 1.

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, Blue Ocotillo Publishing (2014), 132. All rights reserved. Paperback edition available at http://www.blueocotillo.com.

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Just a Little Bit More book – Foreword

Peter L. Steinke, author of Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach has written the foreword for Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good.

 

Writing on behalf of the common good, the author asks how the American economy can benefit all, not a few. As currently structured, it can’t. T. Carlos Anderson argues for an egalitarian approach to fiscal matters.

Deftly, he sets the historical scene of how the economy took the form of religion. Money is the new god, actually, the old god in new design. For a god is that in which you put your trust. By tracing the development of the economy from the land of opportunity to the summum bonum, the reader gets a perspective as to why we are in the present quagmire.

The new religion comes with priests and bishops known as bankers and investors. The free market evangelists boast of the invisible hand that guides the system. There are even rogue angels like Bernie Madoff and other Ponzi schemers. With money as god, financial worth determines worthiness. Money is no longer “the root of all evil” but the essence of the good life. Excess is the sign of cosmic blessing.

Years ago, psychologist Erich Fromm noted that “greed is a bottomless pit,” an apt image for hell. Greed “exhausts the person in an endless attempt to satisfy need,” but Fromm contends that the need is insatiable, leading to addictive behavior and the selling of one’s soul.

Anderson knows that money talks, but it is a one way conversant. He wants economic democracy to be the new standard to define a system that has lost a sense of proportion.

The reader will benefit immensely in seeing how we have shaped the system we are part of and what can lead to a new way of doing economics that embraces the common good.

 

From the foreword of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, Blue Ocotillo Publishing (2014). All rights reserved. Paperback edition available May 1 from this website.

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