Shakespeare on Republican tax "reform"

 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Coriolanus, William Shakespeare  
From Act 1: "The tale of the belly."  
First Citizen
We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians good.
What authority surfeits on would relieve us: if they
would yield us but the superfluity, while it were
wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely;
but they think we are too dear: the leanness that
afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an
inventory to particularise their abundance; our
sufferance is a gain to them Let us revenge this with
our pikes, ere we become rakes: for the gods know I
speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge....
I tell you, friends, most charitable care
Have the patricians of you. For your wants,
Your suffering in this dearth, you may as well
Strike at the heaven with your staves as lift them
Against the Roman state, whose course will on
The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs
Of more strong link asunder than can ever
Appear in your impediment. For the dearth,
The gods, not the patricians, make it, and
Your knees to them, not arms, must help. Alack,
You are transported by calamity
Thither where more attends you, and you slander
The helms o' the state, who care for you like fathers,
When you curse them as enemies.
First Citizen
Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us
yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses
crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to
support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act
established against the rich, and provide more
piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain
the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and
there's all the love they bear us.
Either you must
Confess yourselves wondrous malicious,
Or be accused of folly. I shall tell you
A pretty tale: it may be you have heard it;
But, since it serves my purpose, I will venture
To stale 't a little more.
First Citizen
Well, I'll hear it, sir: yet you must not think to
fob off our disgrace with a tale: but, an 't please
you, deliver.
There was a time when all the body's members
Rebell'd against the belly, thus accused it:
That only like a gulf it did remain
I' the midst o' the body, idle and unactive,
Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing
Like labour with the rest, where the other instruments
Did see and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel,
And, mutually participate, did minister
Unto the appetite and affection common
Of the whole body. The belly answer'd--
First Citizen

Well, sir, what answer made the belly?

Sir, I shall tell you. With a kind of smile,
Which ne'er came from the lungs, but even thus--
For, look you, I may make the belly smile
As well as speak--it tauntingly replied
To the discontented members, the mutinous parts
That envied his receipt; even so most fitly
As you malign our senators for that
They are not such as you.
First Citizen
Your belly's answer? What!
The kingly-crowned head, the vigilant eye,
The counsellor heart, the arm our soldier,
Our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter.
With other muniments and petty helps
In this our fabric, if that they--
What then?
'Fore me, this fellow speaks! What then? what then?
First Citizen
Should by the cormorant belly be restrain'd,
Who is the sink o' the body,--

Well, what then?

First Citizen
The former agents, if they did complain,
What could the belly answer?
I will tell you
If you'll bestow a small--of what you have little--
Patience awhile, you'll hear the belly's answer.
First Citizen

Ye're long about it.

Note me this, good friend;
Your most grave belly was deliberate,
Not rash like his accusers, and thus answer'd:
'True is it, my incorporate friends,' quoth he,
'That I receive the general food at first,
Which you do live upon; and fit it is,
Because I am the store-house and the shop
Of the whole body: but, if you do remember,
I send it through the rivers of your blood,
Even to the court, the heart, to the seat o' the brain;
And, through the cranks and offices of man,
The strongest nerves and small inferior veins
From me receive that natural competency
Whereby they live: and though that all at once,
You, my good friends,'--this says the belly, mark me,--
First Citizen

Ay, sir; well, well.

'Though all at once cannot
See what I do deliver out to each,
Yet I can make my audit up, that all
From me do back receive the flour of all,
And leave me but the bran.' What say you to't?
First Citizen

It was an answer: how apply you this?

The senators of Rome are this good belly,
And you the mutinous members; for examine
Their counsels and their cares, digest things rightly
Touching the weal o' the common, you shall find
No public benefit which you receive
But it proceeds or comes from them to you
And no way from yourselves. What do you think,
You, the great toe of this assembly?
First Citizen

I the great toe! why the great toe?

For that, being one o' the lowest, basest, poorest,
Of this most wise rebellion, thou go'st foremost:
Thou rascal, that art worst in blood to run,
Lead'st first to win some vantage.
But make you ready your stiff bats and clubs:
Rome and her rats are at the point of battle;
The one side must have bale.

Hail, noble Marcius!

Thanks. What's the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?
First Citizen

We have ever your good word.

He that will give good words to thee will flatter
Beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs,
That like nor peace nor war? the one affrights you,
The other makes you proud. He that trusts to you,
Where he should find you lions, finds you hares;
Where foxes, geese: you are no surer, no,
Than is the coal of fire upon the ice,
Or hailstone in the sun. Your virtue is
To make him worthy whose offence subdues him
And curse that justice did it.
Who deserves greatness
Deserves your hate; and your affections are
A sick man's appetite, who desires most that
Which would increase his evil. He that depends
Upon your favours swims with fins of lead
And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust Ye?
With every minute you do change a mind,
And call him noble that was now your hate,
Him vile that was your garland. What's the matter,
That in these several places of the city
You cry against the noble senate, who,
Under the gods, keep you in awe, which else
Would feed on one another? What's their seeking?
For corn at their own rates; whereof, they say,
The city is well stored.
Hang 'em! They say!
They'll sit by the fire, and presume to know
What's done i' the Capitol; who's like to rise,
Who thrives and who declines; side factions
and give out
Conjectural marriages; making parties strong
And feebling such as stand not in their liking
Below their cobbled shoes. They say there's
grain enough!
Would the nobility lay aside their ruth,
And let me use my sword, I'll make a quarry
With thousands of these quarter'd slaves, as high
As I could pick my lance.
Nay, these are almost thoroughly persuaded;
For though abundantly they lack discretion,
Yet are they passing cowardly. But, I beseech you,
What says the other troop?
They are dissolved: hang 'em!
They said they were an-hungry; sigh'd forth proverbs,
That hunger broke stone walls, that dogs must eat,
That meat was made for mouths, that the gods sent not
Corn for the rich men only: with these shreds
They vented their complainings; which being answer'd,
And a petition granted them, a strange one--
To break the heart of generosity,
And make bold power look pale--they threw their caps
As they would hang them on the horns o' the moon,
Shouting their emulation.

What is granted them?
Five tribunes to defend their vulgar wisdoms,
Of their own choice: one's Junius Brutus,
Sicinius Velutus, and I know not--'Sdeath!
The rabble should have first unroof'd the city,
Ere so prevail'd with me: it will in time
Win upon power and throw forth greater themes
For insurrection's arguing.

This is strange.

Go, get you home, you fragments!



Washington Post

The most depressing graphic for members of Congress

By Ezra Klein
The Huffington Post secured this slide from a PowerPoint presentation to incoming freshmen by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The slide supposedly lays out the optimum schedule for a new member of Congress. It's depressing: (copy of insert made by eds.)
The Model Daily Schedule -- DC 
4 hours       Call Time
1-2 hours    Constituent Visits
2 hours       Committee/Floor
1 hour        Strategic Outreach (Breakfasts, Meet and                   Greets, Press)
1 hour       Recharge Time
"Call time" is not time spent calling your family, or think tank experts, or ordinary constituents. It's time spent calling donors. Strategic outreach is, of course, also time you can spend with donors, and if your constituent visits include constituents who are donors, then all the better!
When we worry about money in politics, we tend to worry about a system that's akin to bribery. That happens, but it's rarer then you might think. Typically, politicians raise money from interests they're already relatively aligned with. Money brings the legislator and his benefactor closer into alignment, and it certainly helps concentrate a politician's attention on issues they might otherwise have ignored, but it's uncommon for a sack of cash to flip a vote outright.
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What we don't worry about enough is the way the hunt for money saps another precious resource: time. A few months back, I sat down with former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd, who marveled at the sums that were spent in his state's 2010 Senate race. "I don’t know how you do it," he said. "I would have no idea how to raise that kind of money in a campaign. And that’s new to me. I don’t know what that’s meant in terms of people’s ability then to concentrate on their jobs."
Politics is a complicated business, and learning how to do it well takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. You need to spend time learning about issues that you never even considered, much less studied. You need to spend time building relationships with your colleagues. You need to spend time meeting with your constituents and hearing their concerns. You need to spend time shuttling back and forth from your district. You need to spend time preparing for, and attending, committee hearings. You need to spend time searching for outside experts whose advice you trust. And you also, of course, need to spend enough time with your family and your old friends that you don't completely lose touch with your humanity.
All that would be enough to fill a completely empty schedule. But all that's impossible if you're spending four hours dialing for dollars each day and another hour or two attending fundraising breakfasts and lunches. The fact is that fundraising is squeezing everything else out. During a recent interview, Sen. Tom Harkin reminisced about the glory days of the Senate dining room. “I can remember going down there to lunches with Biden and Fritz Hollings and Ted Stevens and all these people," he told me. "We’d go down there and have lunch together and talk and joke. We had a camaraderie. We don’t even have the dining room anymore, they closed it up. Because no one would go there anymore."
I asked Harkin why his colleagues stopped going. A big part of the reason, he said, was fundraising. "Starting sometime in the '90s, certainly by the end of the 2000s, you’d go down there, and there’d be one or two people there. Then pretty soon nobody’d go, and they just shut it down. And why is that? Well, we’re not here on Mondays. Tuesday is the party caucuses. Thursday’s the policy lunch, and Friday you’re out of here. So that only leaves Wednesday. And what are people doing Wednesday? They’re out raising money. Everybody’s at a fundraiser. I mean, so there is no time any longer for these lunches that we used to have."
Time, they say, is money, and it's as true in politics as it is anywhere else. But if you spend all your time raising money, you don't spend it learning policy or getting to know your colleagues or listening to your constituents.
But let's not pretend the politicians are blameless victims here. Though every politician complains about the burdens of fundraising — like "putting bamboo shoots under my fingernails," Rep. John Larson told the Huffington Post — Congress could, if it wanted, move to a system of real public financing for elections. They don't, and the reason is simple: The money chase makes life miserable for incumbents, but it also makes it likelier that they remain incumbents. After all, your challengers aren't spending four hours a day, every day, raising money almost two years before the next election. If you're an incumbent, then the present system of campaign finance gives you an advantage. Even as it makes you worse at your job, it makes you better at keeping it.
The blog of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Richard Posner: "The Real Corruption Is the Ownershi of Congress by the Rich"

Asher Schechter

In a keynote interview during the Stigler Center’s conference on concentration in America, Judge Posner said: “You are not going to have people competing with the Koch brothers.” On antitrust, Posner said: “Antitrust is dead, isn’t it?”
“The real corruption is the ownership of Congress by the rich,” said Judge Richard A. Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, one of the most prominent legal scholars of the last five decades, during a keynote interview today at the Stigler Center’s conference on concentration in America. 
Posner is one of the most influential antitrust scholars of the last 50 years, and one of America’s most prominent legal minds. During a conversation with University of Chicago Booth School of Business professor Luigi Zingales [one of the editors of this blog], Posner harshly criticized the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, declared antitrust “dead,” and described the American judicial system as “very crappy” and “not well-designed to get good people.”
On the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, Posner said: “If you become a member of Congress, you’ll get a card from the head of your party that you will spend five hours [each] afternoon talking to donors. That’s not the only time you spend with donors—they’ll take you to dinner, cocktails—but these five hours are important. The message is clear: You are a slave to the donors. They own you. That’s [the] real corruption, the ownership of Congress by the rich.”
Later, remarking on the logic behind Citizens United, Posner said: “The Supreme Court says there’s no such thing as spending too much money to support a political candidate, because your money is actually speech—that’s all nonsense.”
The interview began with a review of Posner’s vast experience in government and antitrust, since he started clerking for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan in 1962. Posner elaborated on the changes antitrust in the U.S. has gone through in the past three decades: “When I became a judge in 1981, I thought I had a lot of interesting antitrust cases, and I did—for about three years. And then they started to dry up. By the 2000s, there were virtually no antitrust cases left.”
Posner then spoke about the legal battle between Apple and Motorola that took place between 2010 and 2012, in which Apple claimed that Android phones were a “rip off” of the iPhone and Motorola claimed Apple had infringed on its patents. Posner dismissed the case “with prejudice.” “That was my last antitrust case, probably forever,” said Posner, before he shocked the audience by remarking: “Antitrust is dead, isn’t it? That was my impression.”
Later, Posner discussed antitrust criticisms against digital platforms like Google. “I was surprised to read that there are criticisms being made against Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. That’s blasphemy. Those are the three best companies in the world. Who’s concerned about whether they had monopolies?”
The Stigler conference brought together dozens of economists and legal scholars, along with academics from other disciplines, journalists, and public intellectuals to discuss the rise in concentration in the U.S. Posner did not share the concerns expressed by many of the conference’s attendees. “I’m very comfortable with the modern American giant companies,” he said. “Maybe there are real, lurking, serious antitrust problems, but they don’t come to my court.”
If there’s a concern about concentration in a certain industry, said Posner, “the Justice Department will have a conversation with the companies and persuade them to modify their actions slightly, and that’s the end of it.”
“There’s a reason they don’t come to your court,” said Zingales, who noted that there might be the lack of antitrust enforcement and regulatory capture. In response, Posner said that “there certainly is a problem with capture of regulatory agencies. I think the best example of that is not the Justice Department, but the Securities and Exchange Commission. There’s a particular career pattern: You go to work for a financial firm in Wall Street, and you do well, and then you go to work for the SEC, you get a good job there, and then you go back to Wall Street, where you get a better job. The fear is that in order to have a sure path to returning to Wall Street, you better not be too ferocious as a regulator.”
“There are other situations where working for regulatory agencies is just a stage in your career, but you have to be careful to not be too aggressive as a regulator,” he added. “I don’t have a sense that this happens with the Justice Department. I think prosecutors are expected to be aggressive. Aggressiveness is valued by the private sector, and when they’re tired of being prosecutors they’re hired to be tigers for the other side.”
Zingales asked if the FTC’s choice not to pursue an antitrust case against Google in 2013, despite the conclusion of its staff that Google had used anticompetitive tactics, can’t be explained as regulatory capture. “At the end of the day, they decided not to do anything, at least not in the United States—in the European Commission they arrived at a different conclusion. Is it just because it’s easier to enforce antitrust on somebody else’s company, or is it because Google has captured the U.S. environment, and not the European one?” Zingales asked. 
“What was the worst thing Google had done?” asked Posner.
“They diverted searches toward a business they owned directly,” replied Zingales.
“I guess that’s bad,” said Posner.
Zingales then mentioned the close relationship between Google and the Obama administration—the well-documented revolving door between the two, the rare access provided by the Obama White House to Google executives. “If you are concerned about regulatory capture, this seems to be a source of concern,” said Zingales. “Even if it’s not necessarily a present danger to consumers, it could be a future danger,” he added.
“Google is extraordinary,” Posner replied. “Maybe they are playing fast and loose, but I don’t feel it has a serious problem.”
Despite his concerns that Congress is “owned by the rich,” Posner said that he sees this as “remote from antitrust concerns.”
“Why?” asked Zingales. “Gary Becker developed a model of lobbying that was based on competition in lobbying. I agree with you that the system is very corrupt. It is also true that if there is some industrial fragmentation, at least there is some competition between the people who own you, and competition is better than monopoly—even in that case. If you have just one big player, and you talk for five hours with only one person, you are going to have only one view of the world. To me, that seems much more problematic.”
“You’re not going to have people competing with the Koch Brothers. They have too much money. They own a great many Republican officials,” replied Posner. 
At this point, Zingales pressed: “My concern is that concentration, even if it leads to competitive prices for some miracles, is worrisome from a political point of view. Clearly, in the early days of antitrust there wasn’t a good understanding of economics and too much intervention, but now my concern is: Has the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction? Are we only concerned about seeing low prices, and not about other things like capture or having members of the House of Representatives owned by one large company?”
Posner disagreed, laying the blame on the Supreme Court and on what he described as America’s “very bad” judicial system. “The Supreme Court made it complicated by saying political donations are a form of free speech. There isn’t anything the government can do [about it] now.”
“In a sense, this is endogenous,” said Zingales. “The reason why the Supreme Court decided on Citizens United the way it did is because there’s been a dramatic ideological shift in the direction of whatever is good for business is good for America, including money is free speech.”
In response, Posner replied: “No, I don’t agree with that at all.”
“We have a very crappy judicial system. That’s the the long and short of it. And that contaminates much of government,” said Posner. “In England, judges up to the level of the Supreme Court are appointed by commissions which are composed of judges and professors, not politicians or Parliament. Our federal courts are instead appointed by politicians and the president, and confirmed by the Senate. Those politicians do not care about quality, beyond a very low minimum. They care about other things: tokens, political and religious leanings. So you end up with mediocre courts that are highly politicized. And that’s what we have now in the Supreme Court: extremely reactionary Supreme Court justices, appointed by Bush mainly.”
Near the end of the event, Posner was asked by a conference attendee if he had read anything that influenced his favorable opinion of Google. “No,” Posner said, and added that he frequently uses Google searches in his judicial work. “I am often dissatisfied with the way in which the lawyers present a case to us, “he said. “They often don’t tell us the things that we really need to know. If it’s a medical case, they don’t tell us about the nature of the disease and the optimal treatments for it. If it’s a business case, we’ve had cases about workers complaining about harassment by their supervisors where they didn’t even tell us what the business is and what these workers do. So I very frequently Google cases, law firms, individuals in the litigation. I just find that an invaluable source.”
This, said Posner, puts him at odds with fellow judges who feel that by using online search engines he is undermining the adversary system. “I am criticized by other judges for doing this, on the ground that it’s inconsistent with the adversary system,” he added. “The theory of our judicial system is that the lawyers pick all the witnesses and make all the arguments, and the judge is just an arbitrator, basically. I find that very unsatisfactory, because I don’t trust the lawyers.”
Further reading:
How Many Newt Gingrich’s Are There in Washington? Much More Than You Might Think
Donald Trump’s Economic Policies: Pro-Business, Not Pro-Market
Disclaimer: The ProMarket blog is dedicated to discussing how competition tends to be subverted by special interests. The posts represent the opinions of their writers, not those of the University of Chicago, the Booth School of Business, or its faculty. For more information, please visit ProMarket Blog Policy
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