Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
February 8, 2019
Mr. President: When Thomas Piketty published his book "Capitalism in the
Twenty-First Century" five years ago, it was a sensation. He had analyzed historical
concentrations of wealth. Why do the rich get richer? Because the rates of return on
capital exceed the rates of economic growth, and the inevitable wealth inequality
leads to destabilization. Tax cuts favoring the wealthy can only worsen the situation.
In the President's SOTU address, he cited his tax cuts and economic growth. But that
rising tide as Professor Piketty showed has never lifted all boats. The percent owning
as much as the bottom half in the US continues to decline as it does in the world.
Hence Oxfam's shocking statistic that the top 26 billionaires own as much as the
world's poorest 50 percent -- that is 3.8 billion people.
President Trump has cut corporate taxes to the lowest in recent memory. Yes, there
is a stock market boom favoring the rich and an injection into the economy boosting
growth but what are the consequences? If the US is taxing companies at 10%, it
obliges poorer countries like Brazil or India or South Africa to lower corporate taxes
also to stay competitive. They are denied a more equitable tax policy even if they
want to -- some of course like the Modi government do not.
The result is increased inequality and poverty in the lesser developed countries.
Such destabilization has consequences as even a cursory reading of history informs
us. Professor Pikkety's simulations show that if the world follows the US inequality
trajectory, the poorest half will have by the 2040s to 2050s the purchasing power of
300 euros per month; following the European trajectory increases it to 1100 euros.
If the tone of the president's SOTU address was amicable and the content rosy, the
ramifications are not -- and have not been since Clinton's neoliberalism left most
without a voice. A country without beggars a few decades ago now swarms pitifully
with the destitute and homeless. And so the country elects a billionaire and he
behaves ... well, like a billionaire. Another billionaire, the Starbucks guy is planning a
run for president. Coffee at Starbucks is $5 while most of the world is living on less
than that per day.
Nothing in the SOTU address on climate change. Like the poor, it does not exist for
the president. You trip over the poor if you walk the streets and the evidence of
climate change is equally obvious. Such facts remain impervious to this president
who distrusts experts.
Meanwhile, Germany has issued a 336 page report produced by a 28-member coal
commission on how to phase out coal-fired power stations and reduce CO2 emissions
to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Does the US president have to live in la-la