An Election-Season Epistle About Pyramids, Diamonds, Inheritance Taxes And A Close Election That Somehow Has Everybody Bored Stiff by David Brin : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Posted for your enjoyment/annoyance.

As originally seen at:


A note from Hemos: The following piece came to me as a personal letter from David Brin. David is a prominent scientist and author of best-selling novels like The Postman, who has shared entertaining and provocative views with us in the past.

His letter struck us as so biting and timely that we asked permission to post it before the whole Slashdot community, in order to provoke your rambunctious discussion. David graciously agreed, on condition that you all remember, it was written first of all as a private person sharing his "cranky political opinions" with a few friends.

"It goes over the top in a few places," he warned. "First draft expressions of outrage tend to be that way."

So as friends, let's not get too vexed with him. Above all David is interesting, as usual....


Hello all. Here's hoping that autumn 2000 finds you well as we continue our transition into a new century.

Has anyone noticed something interesting? The complete lack of any voices proclaiming that December 31, 2000 is the _real turn of the century? Odd huh? I haven't heard a single call to celebrate this formal milestone -- even as a simple excuse to have another party! You'd expect at least for some Society of Nit-Pickers & Pedants to do so..

Anyway, whenever it's time to bid adieu to the Summer Olympics and prepare for Halloween, you can be sure that we in the USA are also approaching another bizarre ritual - our quadrennial presidential elections.

As usual, there is the politics you see on the surface... and what's going on below. Issues that get little play in the press. Issues that are really driving the deep agenda of one party or the other.

I've noticed one of these. And it bothers me enough to provoke spending an evening to pen this letter, offering a comment or two, in case some of you are interested.


Something strange is going on in the States (for those of you who live outside and cannot feel it in the air.) Times are good and that tends to seep some passion out of the political contest. Also, nobody is particularly scared of the choices being offered. Or excited, for that matter.

True, almost everyone agrees that Al Gore has about twice the IQ of George W Bush, more experience and a much better idea what's going on. Some call him "overqualified the same way Spock was, to be captain of the Enterprise, and therefore unromantic, a rather unpalatable choice for those preferring the zing of human fallibility in their leaders.

(See the latest issue of Yahoo Internet Life Magazine for a fascinating interview that seems to support this view.)

But for those who worry about George W's paucity of intellect, do not fret. By nominating Richard Cheney as his running mate, Bush quite properly signalled that he is front man for a brain trust that has considerable experience and knowledge about the workings of policy and government. As they did under Ronald Reagan, these gray eminences will handle most decisions with utter seriousness. They are not scary madmen or boat-rockers.

Government will function either way. To a large degree (at least compared to past empires) it will leave us pretty much alone. Those of us in the middle class, that is.

Then why am I writing now? Clearly I care, and wish to influence your vote, speaking openly, as one citizen to another.


Well, for one thing, I utterly reject the silly platitude going around that says the republican and democratic parties are just the same. What hogwash!

On the left, some males swallow this romantic twaddle and go running off to Ralph Nader, seeing him as a Don Quixote-type, ignoring his programmatic vagueness, his oversimplifying demonization of markets and his many questionable personality traits. Very few women seem to have joined the Nader campaign. Maybe because they are more practical, knowing that the next president will appoint at least three Supreme Court justices. I've seen quite a few buttons saying "It's the Supreme Court, Stupid."

That issue, alone, should eliminate any thought of voting Republican this year.

But there is another, far more important reason. It has to do with a blatant attempt at social engineering that none of us should like or put up with. An effort to fundamentally alter a social contract that has done very well by America and the West for several generations.


Look at the difference between European and American societies. Both have changed considerably since World War II by becoming much less pyramidal and more "diamondlike".

Some of you may have heard me talk about this before. It's an obvious metaphor for our unique culture. Throughout history, almost every civilization had a social structure shaped like a pyramid, with a few at the top lording it over uneducated masses below. And it was in the best interest of those on top to make sure those masses stayed down. Social position was inherited. Above all, information flows were tightly controlled.

In sharp contrast, our contemporary social pattern is diamond-shaped. For the first time, the well off actually outnumber the poor, at least inside our national borders. The educated outnumber the uneducated, and those who see themselves as somewhat empowered make up a majority. For the first time, most people merely envy the rich and do not hate them, because each of us can daydream taking our own turn in the pointy upper half. And if not us, then perhaps our children. It's called "social mobility" and it never happened before - at least not on this scale.

Above all, we feel that society's elites are somewhat accountable - or at least they are limited in the degree that they can use their elevated position to wreak capricious and direct harm on us, unlike the impunity that cloaked aristocracies in pyramidal cultures of the past.

(Harm done to the earth is another matter, we can discuss elsewhere.)

People who rage at "government bureaucrats" seldom stop to think how little those bureaucrats can actually do to harm you, compared to the impulsive power-abuses of aristocrats and oligarchs in nearly every past culture. And not too long ago! Forget Caesar and Louis XIV. Read Dickens, Jane Austin, Faulkner, Steinbeck! Hell, look at Myanmar and China today. It's like peering into a strange and desperately lopsided world -- the world that all our ancestors toiled in, friends. We are the ones living in an anomaly.

The social engineering that occurred since WWII -- through marvels like the GI Bill, the explosion of literacy and expanded state universities, etc. -- caused a peaceful revolution in human affairs that was unprecedented across all time. And unlike other revolutions, it happened without much violence or bitterness. This revolution benefited those below without tearing down those above. We ought to appreciate such a marvel; it's incomplete, by a large margin, but it's also quite unprecedented.

Our diamond-shaped social structure, with its implication that any of us may succeed next year, promotes a vibrant, can-do spirit that makes vigorous use of tools like mutual criticism and accountability. And note this symptom of health -- America has seen a burgeoning in the number of millionaires, but the vast majority of them made their own fortunes in the marketplace, through competitive delivery of goods and services.

Hey, that's what capitalism is supposed to be for, right? We can (and should) argue all day about how to help the poor. But at least their brightest sons and daughters already have a much better chance than the peasant kids did in the past. Every year, some of the best (or luckiest) make it all the way to the top. And countless sons of the rich find themselves having to earn it all over again.

*=> In Europe, by contrast, a majority of millionaires inherit their riches. Studies show that few of them seek to learn useful occupations or do anything dynamic with their fortunes. They do work hard at politics, striving to keep property and inheritance taxes low, while sticking the poor with high sales taxes. This way, they will be able to pass on their money, titles and life-style as entitlements to their lordly kids without impediment or inconvenience.


Don't get me wrong! I have every intention of getting into the upper brackets myself. I've already made some progress in that direction. And I plan to be sure that my children get some advantages from my success. But that's a far cry from entitling them to billions from goods and services they never did a thing to produce or provide to anyone. My success does not entitle them to a position in life that safeguards them from competition.

I lived in the U.K. when Margaret Thatcher succeeded in ramming through a bill ending all property taxes. The chief beneficiaries were 1,000 landed families who no longer had to worry about actually earning some money to keep their grand estates. The chief effect? An increase in the VAT paid by normal folks... oh, and many castles and manor houses stopped having open house days, since they no longer had to earn tourist dollars to pay the rates! Oh boy, now the art collections could go back to being "for our eyes only!"

Here in the States you see the same movement at work. Lots of "Simple Tax Plans" take advantage of citizens' (justified!) anger at tax code complexity, pandering to that anger by pushing a National Sales Tax, with the chief effect of shifting the burden of taxation from the top of the diamond to the bottom. And the underlying agenda of turning that diamond into a pyramid once again.

(An aside: I am working with a group developing ways to simplify the income tax code using a computer program that will find politically neutral simplifications, taking the whole issue out of politics. It's an exciting project, requiring fascinating algorithms, but more than we can get into here.)

*=> Now comes along George W. Bush with his grand plan to "cut taxes" in a manner that blatantly gives fully half of the benefits to the richest 1%. Delaying the payoff of our grandchildren's public debt for a decade, he'll use most of the budget surplus to achieve such wonders as completely repealing the inheritance tax.


Now there's a funny thing about the inheritance tax - it's effects are vastly greater than they seem at first sight. At the surface, it doesn't look like the government's biggest source of revenue. In fact, its chief effect over the years has been encouraging super-rich folks to create charitable foundations, in order to keep their money away from the IRS!

Get this -- in the USA, charitable giving by the rich is MORE THAN TEN TIMES as high as it is in Europe! Studies credit most of this difference to the inheritance tax, spurring the wealthy to use their money to buy fame and gratitude, rather than let Uncle Sam decide how it will be spent.

Yes it's kind of quirky and ironic. But there's a kind of beauty to it, leaving the super-rich free to choose WHICH charitable use their money will go to. That's a lot of pleasure and power to have while doing a lot of good. And the pleasure goes to the people who got rich by actually providing goods and services, not their spoiled kids. (Andrew Carnegie set aside a nice little fund to ensure his kids' comfort, then dedicated the bulk of his fortune to giving libraries to the poor, all over the world. He said -- "I'd rather leave my son a curse than the almighty dollar.")

Care to guess what'll happen to charitable giving if GWB gets his way?

We are entering a period when some estimate that fifteen trillion dollars will shift hands between generations. For those in the middle class, this may be the only sizable dollop of cash they'll ever see, since most of their current savings are tied up in their homes... and the Inheritance tax won't touch a penny of it. But about a third of that fifteen trillion dollars is set to flow to a few thousand people who never produced a thing to earn it. Fortunately a large portion will also go into charitable foundations, taking on a myriad bold tasks that simply don't appear on the radar screens of either government or corporate planners. Fascinating projects, chosen by real innovators. That is, if things stay the way they are.

THAT is why the effort to revoke the Inheritance Tax is so frantic and urgent right now. It is why the bosses of the GOP have made it their number one priority. A trillion or two, taken away from bold foundations and slipped into the pockets of new lords. What a cool agenda!


Oh, don't talk to me about "family businesses & family farms". That's been debunked, big time. The effect of the inheritance tax on small and mid-sized family business is virtually nil today. Nil. Moreover, Clinton & Gore have shown willingness to push upward the exemption from a million dollars to two million. Hell, make it five! TEN! That's a heap of equity to pass on. The kids should be able to do a lot with it, even if they must reconsolidate a bit

That's still a far cry from letting a small cadre of lazy preppies scoop in billions without paying a penny of it to the nation that protects them, pays for the research, protects them, educates their workers, protects them, keeps the poor from rioting, protects them, maintains labor peace, protects them, enforces contracts, protects them, invests in saving the environment we all share and then protects the rich some more, in ten thousand more ways than they would ever willingly acknowledge.

It's ungrateful, churlish and just plain nuts.

No, I am not preaching class warfare... though that is exactly what you will get eventually, if the pyramid is restored.

A lot of people are upset because the fraction of our economy controlled by the top 5% is rising, higher and more rapidly than at any time in 3 generations. I'm a bit less concerned by that, so long as the diamond remains healthy. So long as most of the millionaires in each generation still have to earn it and their kids still go to college with our kids. In that case they'll keep intermarrying with us, instead of thinking themselves a different species.

...which is exactly how the rich always thought of themselves in other cultures/times/places. As a different species, justifying their status with absurd racial notions or self-serving ideas about divine authority.


(Okay, not all of the rich! Not today.
(It depends on which kind of wealth eggs you on -- RELATIVE wealth or ABSOLUTE wealth.

(Take those who want to be rich in order to have lots of fun and cool stuff. These folks don't compare themselves to those below them. They don't begrudge if others get rich too. In fact, the more the merrier! Let's all get so rich together that everybody vacations on terraformed Mars! Ski Olympus Mons! Ain't it awful how crowded Europa is getting these days?

(Others need to feel rich-er than the masses. It's the "er" suffix in richer that gives their life zest and meaning. The relative comparison to others. They would feel happier being in the top 1% of a poor society - with shabby servants to scream at - than being at the mere 90th percentile in a fabulously wealthy nation of equal citizens.

(I'll bet you know both types, admit it! This personality factor makes a big difference in which political movements each wealthy person donates money to, even if they buy similar cars and belong to the same clubs.)


People, it's time to say no-thanks to those wanting to bring back the old social pyramid. The diamond deserves our loyalty.

But alas, the diamond ain't stable, ladies and gents. The natural human tendency is for those with power to want more power.

I accept the productive value of capitalism, when the market is a vibrant place for fair competition of goods & services. But if accumulations of wealth pass a certain point, capitalism will die and feudalism will replace it, as happened every other time there was a brief renaissance of competitive opportunity in human affairs. Seriously, name a bright era when that did not happen, shutting down opportunities and progress for centuries at a stretch.

Anyone who wants the pyramid back is your political enemy, folks. Not just the enemy of us but an enemy of his own children. Just ask the innocent young baronets who lost their heads during the French Revolution. THEY didn't rape the serfs, but they paid a stiff price for their grandparents' arrogant, insatiable greed. Alas, those yearning for pyramids are too stupid to grasp how wealth is really made, or what happened to the pinnacle classes in every other culture, when the people below got fed up. They are too stupid to realize that the diamond is their own best friend.


Oooh, Brin is really starting to go over the top now!

Oh, all right.

Maybe the social diamond won't fall apart overnight if George W. Bush becomes president. Maybe he'll be balanced by a Democratic Congress. Maybe we'll be fine. There are lots of other factors involved than which figurehead occupies the White House.

Still, his blatant campaign to give a few trillion dollars to those who need it least bothers me deeply. Especially the raging avarice and ingratitude of it. People who have thrived immensely under the protection/support/subsidy of a great nation don't want to help pay to keep that nation prospering and growing, or to help poor kids rise up high enough to compete with them on an even playing field.

They want to be lords. OUR lords. And we shouldn't let them. Merely as rich as Croesus, that's all they should get to be. Getting to be rich as Scrooge McDuck should be enough for anybody.

Oh, pity their poor offspring, who must graduate from Andover or some other prep school knowing that now they have to go to university alongside the bright scions of accountants and teachers and laborers!

Oh no, they may actually feel a need to study something useful in school, in case their measly inheritance ever gets frittered away. Their mere ninety million dollars instead of tens of billions.

Worst of all, they have to suffer and watch as Dad's fortune goes to some prissy goody foundation to cure cancer, or to some university to buy buildings named after him and Mom.

"What an outrage! That money's MINE, you hear? Do you have any idea how little ninety million dollars can buy, these days?"


This is the GOP's absolute top agenda item - they say so themselves - and we should reject it resoundingly. Send the Republicans back to the drawing board.

If Bill Clinton and Al Gore can see the light about welfare reform and budget balancing, then Dick Cheney can bloody well go back to the brain trust and report that the GOP needs some fresh ideas. And, please, some fresh blood while you're at it.

There are fresh ideas out there! * Ideas about how markets can be used to help stimulate and promote sustainable occupancy of the planet without putting all our faith in bureaucrats or the almighty dollar. Ideas about how markets can be made more vibrant than ever, spurring innovation while helping forge a diamond that floats ever higher, carrying everybody on Earth upward with it.

Go away this time, Dick. Give poor George W. a nice cushy job somewhere in the oil biz and bring us someone else in 2004. Somebody with brains... and proposals that make sense.



* For those of you who are libertarians, see the next issue of LIBERTY magazine for an article about ideas like these. Ideas about freedom and "reduced government" that are worth campaigning for and that aren't about helping foster an old-fashioned inherited aristocracy in America. When you think about how many interesting things Cheney & co. could be talking about - like ending the Drug War - you'll wind up holding your nose and voting for Gore.

For those of you on the left who are actually thinking of voting Nader... gadzooks, do you know anything about that person? A gadfly needs personality traits that would be calamitous in a President. Learn more about him, for Gaia's sake. Then think about Global Warming, the Supreme Court and the Internet. You'll hold your nose and vote for Gore.

Me, I ain't holding nothing when I vote for him. He's a geek, but a smart/nice one. We've done worse. Most of the time, in fact. A lot worse.

-- Maxwell (, October 18, 2000


Bravo! This is the truth folks!

-- It's the Truth (, October 18, 2000.

This gentleman is absolutely correct about the insidiouos effect of repealing the inheritance tax. The purpose is to prevent concentration and consolidation of wealth and power across multiple generations.

Under the current system, the offspring of the wealthy, however numerous, need not ever work a day in their lives, provided they settle for a less than grandiose lifestyle. They may not live like dukes and princes on their parents's money unless they roll up their sleeves and do some work to repair the family fortune.

Also, under the current system, the super-rich never opt to pay the tax anyway. Instead, they create charitable foundations. The tax is just the motivator. The foundations are the end result. BTW, a lot of their kids end up on the foundation boards and get to share control over how the money is spent. They just can't spend it on themselves.

>> [Nader, as a] gadfly needs personality traits that would be calamitous in a President. Learn more about him, for Gaia's sake. Then think about Global Warming, the Supreme Court and the Internet. <<

Nader's personality is irrelevant to me. I will be voting for his positions on policy. The fact that Nader will not wield power negates the personality issue for me. I see him as a stepping stone toward getting the debate over the issues back on track and halting the erosion of elections into nothing but lies masking a power grab. By ruinning, Nader is still operating as a gadfly and he is well suited to the part.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, October 18, 2000.

Thanks, Maxwell. I hadn't known this guy wrote the Postman, since I only saw the movie, but I like his style, agree with him on 75% of what he said, and the man DOES have an impressive biography.

-- Anita (, October 18, 2000.


I consider myself a libertarian. How you can think that confiscatory inheritance taxes are consistent with liberty is beyond comprehension. How you think that Al Gore is consistent with liberty is equally beyond comprehension.

Maybe you are confusing the libertarians with the socialists.

Brian McLaughlin,

"The purpose is to prevent concentration and consolidation of wealth and power across multiple generations".

The socialist "take from the rich, give to the poor" ideology is best left for some other nation, not the United States of America. The government's job is not to redistribute wealth. The government's job is to protect liberty.

I am delighted that you are voting for Nader. It will be one less vote for Gore.

-- J (Y2J@home.comm), October 18, 2000.


The book is MUCH better than the movie, IMHO. :-)

-- Maxwell (, October 18, 2000.

What he artfully neglects to say (among a ton of other things) is that the wealthy never pay much taxes anyway. It goes far beyond setting up charities. There are all sorts of trusts and generation skipping trusts that can be devised. The wealthy on both sides of the political aisle can take advantage of this. When was the last time any of the Kennedys had to work?

The problem is that you need a lot of wealth (10s of millions, 100s would be better) for these schemes to really work. If you are moderately wealthy and have several children the money tends to go rather quickly. There was some study I read several years ago that claimed that the wealth of most people was gone in three generations. The parents made it, the kids lived off of it and the grandkids spent it.

The last time the inheritance tax came up for a vote it was supported by a large number of Democrats as well as Republicans in the House. The reason is that in Calif. (among other places) it is quite easy to have a house worth $400 to 500K. The present Inheritance tax kicks in at $675,000 and it really hasnt kept pace with inflation as well as the growing economy. It quickly takes up to 55%+ of the money. Remember that this is money that has already been taxed when it was first earned.

Right now very few people pay the tax. Most of the truly wealthy get around it and most of the rest dont have enough. But more and more people will find themselves (or to be more accurate find their parents estates) paying it, and paying large amounts.

-- The Engineer (, October 18, 2000.

>> The present Inheritance tax kicks in at $675,000 and it really hasnt kept pace with inflation as well as the growing economy. <<

As Brin said, there is a big difference between moving the threshold up to $2 million or even to $10 million, and abolishing the tax altogether. I'd have no big problem kicking the threshold up to the point where it becomes a modern-dollar equivalent to what $675,000 was worth when that threshold was first set.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, October 18, 2000.

I agree completely with that, Brian, and Gore stated that the figure wasn't set in stone last night.

-- Anita (, October 18, 2000.


By ruinning, Nader is still operating as a gadfly

Was that a mistake, a mental slip or a statement of belief. :^)

Just wondered.

Best wishes,,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (, October 18, 2000.

The books in Brin's "uplift" series are good reads. I think there are 6 or 7 of these by now.

-- Flint (, October 18, 2000.

J, you seem to speak of liberty as a value that can be made available in unrestricted form to everyone. But it can't. If my liberty were unlimited, it would infringe upon your own.

Concentration of wealth beyond a critical mass becomes a threat to the liberty of those outside that wealth. I agree that government's job isn't to redistribute wealth, but nor is it to encourage the concentration of wealth (and yet behold all the recent mergers and acquisitions).

-- David L (, October 18, 2000.

Wealth. What is it? Is it a fixed pile of "stuff" that one group can corner at the expense of another group? If a commodity, such as gold, is the measure of wealth, then wealth is a fixed quantity and the economy is a zero-sum game. The policy of a just society in such an economy would be to "fairly" distribute the fixed amount of "stuff".

But modern economies are not zero-sum. Wealth is not a pile of gold in King Midas' counting room. Wealth is created. Created by ideas. We have wealth today that was not imagined even ten years ago. The just economic policy of a modern state is to provide an environment that encourages creation of new wealth, not to redistribute old wealth.

Yes, there will always be a perception problem. At any given time, some folks will feel poor relative to other folks. This is ironic because in absolute terms, today's poor are richer than the richest kings of yore.

-- (Paracelsus@Pb.Au), October 19, 2000.

>> Was that a mistake, a mental slip or a statement of belief. :^) <<

"Ruinning". Yup. I cringed when I saw that. I wondered how many would catch it. Just a finger slip when typing. Look at "U" and "I" on your keyboard and all will bcome clear. Unlike my writing at work, I just bang this stuff out and toss it into the Out basket.

If you are a committed Democrat rooting for Gore to clean Bush's clock, Nader would seem like a spoiler. But that is only if you believe that Gore somehow "owns" my vote because I am a liberal. He doesn't.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, October 19, 2000.

David L,

You are right, in that, the only limit on a person's liberty should be another person's liberty.

You wrote, "Concentration of wealth beyond a critical mass becomes a threat to the liberty of those outside that wealth".

The capability to potentially violate someone else's liberty is a far cry from actually violating someone else's liberty. Just because someone has become extraordinarily rich, it does not follow that they will use that wealth to violate someone else's liberties. To claim otherwise is akin to saying that because I own a car, I will run you over with it.

To take the rich person's wealth from him violates his liberty, just as surely as taking my car from me would violate my liberty. As such, inheritance taxes are clearly wrong.

-- J (Y2J@home.comm), October 19, 2000.

"To claim otherwise is akin to saying that because I own a car, I will run you over with it."

No, that's not what is being said here. He's saying the potential exists, just as the potential exists for you to run over someone with your car; which is why there are laws in place to try to prevent such a thing from happening.

I don't know if I agree with an inheritance tax anyway. I have a real problem with taxing money that's already been taxed. Now taxing the dividends, etc. derived from that already-taxed money.....I have no problem with that whatsoever. But I don't understand enough about the law(s) or the issue(s) involved to comment any further than that.

-- Patricia (, October 19, 2000.

J, I see that my answer was Sphinxian (as usual). My concern is with the degree of political clout that is made possible by concentrated wealth. That clout can (and often does) result in laws or regulations that directly or indirectly penalize the rest of us.

Here's an example. In NJ, if your vehicle is damaged to the point of being declared "totaled," the motorist is prohibited by state law from simply having the vehicle repaired and paying the uncovered costs himself or herself. Instead, the motorist must first truck the vehicle to Trenton for some kind of recertification procedure. (I don't know the details because my own vehicle wasn't quite "totaled." Also, I am assuming that this process is still in place, many years after I became acquainted with it.)

This strikes me as infringement of liberty, as it denies someone the ability to spend his or her own money on something that appears perfectly legitimate. The beneficiaries of this law would appear to be car dealerships.

The obvious remedy would be to lobby for repeal of or change to this law, but I just don't think that's realistic, for the issue would be perceived as too trivial. (I deliberately chose a trivial example to illustrate the difficulty in overturning it.)

Inhibiting the concentration of wealth is a way to try to limit the ability of the powerful to trod over the rights of the rest of us.

-- David L (, October 19, 2000.

Oregon: Bush 44%, Gore 40%, Nader 7%, Riley Research finds...

Brian, came across this letter in the October 23 issue of the New Republic, and thought you might find it interesting.

To the editors:

I was glad to see, at last, the phenomenon of the Nader voters addressed and dealt with as a poitical consequence. Paul Berman is correct in stating that, even if Al Gore wins the election, a 3 to 5 percent vote for Ralph Nader may deny the vice president a clear mandate to present a progressive agenda as president. In the worst case, it could even result in the election of George W. Bush, which would mean there would be no progressive agenda at all in America for years to come.

Berman took me back to the painful memory of my first vote, in 1968, when I wrote in Eugene McCarthy's name for president rather than vote for Hubert Humphrey. Since Humphrey ended up losing by only about half a percentage point, I, and a lot of other disgruntled McCarthy and Robert Kennedy supporters, helped elect Richard Nixon, the only politician in America who had the mad tenacity to keep the Vietnam War going for another six years. That, the conservative Supreme Court still with us today, Watergate, and the general poisoning of American politics weigh heavily on those of us who stubbornly held on to our grudges and refused to grit our teeth and support Humphrey. The Naderites should think long and hard about this lesson before casting their votes this year.

Doug Weiskoff Cincinnati, Ohio

-- Celia Thaxter (, October 19, 2000.


Reread what I posted. I acknowledge that the "potential" is what is being discussed, that is why my analogy of owning a car is applicable. As a car owner, I have the "potential" to use it to harm others, just like great wealth has the "potential" to be used to harm others. Therefore, confiscating wealth through inheritance taxes so that said wealth is not used to harm others is akin to taking a person's car so that it is not used to run over others.

As far as your comment about laws being in place to try and prevent such things from happening, the laws punish you AFTER you use your car to harm someone, not BEFORE you you use your car to harm someone. Inheritance taxes punish you (by confiscating your wealth) BEFORE you harm someone, under the theory that you MAY in the future harm someone because you're able. There are already laws in place to punish someone if they use their wealth to harm others, and that is how it should be.

David L,

The Constitution does not guarantee perfection in government, but it is the best framework that we have to follow. The answer to bad legislation is a return to government that follows the Constitution, not more bad legislation that, in trying to right some perceived wrong, tramples on the liberties of others.

-- J (Y2J@home.comm), October 19, 2000.


No doubt the writer of this letter was sincere. But he makes several interesting assumptions. One is that Al Gore has, or would pursue, a "progressive agenda". I would not describe it as such. Although Bush's positions will invariably serve the wealthy and the Fortune 500, and Gore's will spread a larger share of benefits among the middle class, that is not enough of a distinction to describe Gore's agenda as "progressive".

Al Gore's administration would be shaped entirely by the Congress. If the American voters present Gore with a Republican Congress, he will be hounded by constant allegations of scandal, and will spend all his time conserving his political capital, in much the same way as Clinton.

Clinton won handily against Dole. So, in your estimation, how did Cinton's "clear mandate to present a progressive agenda as president" play out in real life? Clinton may have won the battle of personal approval numbers, but he only looked "progressive" when he vetoed the worst of the Republican bills that came to his desk. The Republicans took advantage of this to write and pass bills that "rewarded" their right wing while accomplishing nothing more than solidifying their base's hatred of Clinton.

To me the core issue in politics today is recapturing the non-voters and reversing the trend to smaller turnouts. Diminishing voter turnout is the life blood of the Republican party. If you look at the messages they have been pushing out there all through the Gringrich era, they are all designed to alienate voters from their government. I cottoned onto this in the mid-80's. It's come to the point where only about 50% of the eligible voters vote in Presidential elections, and even fewer in "off" years.

Much as I hate to say it, Al Gore is not a candidate calculated to energize the alienated masses. As far as the garden-variety non-voter is concerned, Gore will say anything or do anything to get elected. He will make promises he can't keep. Raise hopes he can't fullfill. Cut deals with anyone in an expensive enough suit. Twist the truth into the most convenient shape. And ignore the needs and wants of the vast majority while constantly telling them he is their best friend. Meanwhile, he'll pocket millions at fancy fundraising dinners and smile warmly and shake each contributor's hand and they will know he is their best friend.

And who can blame them? They are more or less right.

For me, the first step is to step away, but not step into the apathy of the non-voter, but take a step toward building up a better alternative. I will not settle one more time. Even if you shake Bush under my nose as a threat. This is just an extension of the blame game played in Washington DC.

The Democrats, especially at the level of national politics, act like I don't matter. They abandoned me before I decided to abandon them.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, October 19, 2000.


If it weren't so close, I'd be voting for Nader, although I don't agree with all of his policies. Still, he is more in line with what I envision for America than Gore. But the race is so tight that I cannot justify voting for Nader. The letter I posted above well states the reasons why. It's a thoughtful letter, a rueful letter, a letter to ponder. It's not about "blame," but about thinking this thing through and really seeing the consequences. That statistic I quoted above about Oregon swinging right is in fact giving the national electoral lead to Bush -- at least for now.

My strategy is to wait here on the West Coast to watch results as they stream in from the East Coast. If one or the other candidate has a clear lock on the election on the national level, I will vote for Nader before the polls close. Same with the state poll -- if it looks like Gore has a clear win here, I'll vote Nader in the evening.

I found this today in the paper and it echoed my strategy:

"There are a lot of people who remain concerned about Ralph taking away votes," said Theresa Amato, Nader's campaign manager. "We're saying that first, we believe everybody has to earn his vote, and that no candidate is simply entitled to the vote."

But an organization calling itself "Greens for Gore" is advising undecided Green Party members living in swing states to wait until near the end of Election Day before voting. "If the last minute exit or public opinion polls in your state show Gore or Bush clearly projected to win, then vote Nader. If it is too close or undecided at that point, then vote for Al Gore," the group's Web site says. ...

I think that's a responsible tactic. It's not a question of blaming anyone for their vote. It's a question of contributing -- no matter how genuine, enthusiastic or heartfelt your commitment to Nader -- to electing one of the most incompetent candidates in the history of the presidency, and one who clearly stands for the wealthy at the expense of the common good. I don't want a Supreme Court littered with right- wing justices. I don't want choice for women overturned. I don't want the estate tax revoked. I don't want Social Security gutted.

I want a person in office who will steward the economy responsibly and who will at least makes some fight for the social justice issues I still care about. Gore may not be as progressive as I'd like, but he does advocate social justice causes and reforms. He is also willing to stand behind the McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform bill. It's not everything, but it's enough.

As for Clinton, there's an intensive retrospective about his tenure in this week's New Yorker. Although Clinton did not achieve anything near his potential, he did manage to achieve quite a lot for the toiling poor of this country through carefully targeted and hard- fought incremental Congressional gains, more so than I had previously thought. I highly recommend the article for a balanced look at Clinton's accomplishments.

-- Celia Thaxter (, October 19, 2000.

No, J, those are not the laws I was talking about. I meant things like "pedestrians have the right of way" and stop signs and traffic lights and such. I did not mean laws AFTER the fact, but I realize that wasn't clear without examples.

Personally, I think the (incredibly) wealthy are, in many instances, going to cause "harm" no matter what; as was noted previously in this thread, they will always find ways to skirt the laws, as they have always done.

Yes, just as some motorists do.

-- Patricia (, October 19, 2000.

I wish I'd read this thread before posting my latest pearl, which really doesnt add anything to this fine discussion.

-- Peter Errington (, October 19, 2000.

Celia, your own letter was head and shoulders above the one you quoted at first. I agree that your tactic of waiting until late in the day to vote is a responsible one. Oregon has vote-by-mail rather than voting in polling places. This makes it more difficult to hold a ballot until the last moment. But I will consider using your tactic myself.

If it looks like a Humphrey-Nixon or Kennedy-Nixon squeaker and Oregon's 7 electoral college votes could spell the difference, I may consider voting for Gore, ruefully, bitterly, scornfully, but perhaps necessarily.

Winner-take-all elections are hell.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, October 19, 2000.


Stop signs, traffic lights, and such for cars in our analogy are similar to bribery laws for great wealth. They lay out the specifics of what we can't do because of the inherent risk to others' liberties. For example, the risk of someone losing their life is very high if a driver drives 90 miles per hour down a residential street. Likewise, the risk of someone losing one or more of their liberties is high if the very wealthy are allowed to bribe judges.

Traffic laws spell out how you can use your vehicle so as not to unduly risk the liberties of others, as bribery laws spell out how you can use your wealth so as not to unduly risk the liberties of others.

Inheritance taxes are designed to confiscate a person's wealth, not to protect others' liberties by defining the use of that wealth. In our analogy, this is not equivalent to traffic laws, this is equivalent to taking someone's vehicle.

-- J (Y2J@home.comm), October 19, 2000.

J, what exactly are you arguing here? Did I not, in my first post, say I was against money being taxed that had already been taxed (e.g., inheritance taxes)? Why do you feel you have to explain a concept to me that I've already explained?

I just don't get it (<--- irony alert [g]).

-- Patricia (, October 19, 2000.

off? Grrr.

-- Patricia (, October 19, 2000.


-- Patricia (, October 19, 2000.


In your first post, you quoted me, and then said, "No, that's not what is being said here". You then proceeded to basically agree with my analogy.

In my next post, I then tried to elaborate my position, as your post had caused me to be confused as to whether you disagreed or agreed with me.

In your next post, you said, "No, J, those are not the laws I was talking about", and then proceeded to give examples of traffic laws. Thus, it became apparent to me that you had missed my point, and so I tried to elaborate even further through illustration.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the situation.

-- J (Y2J@home.comm), October 19, 2000.

Inheritance taxes have burdened far too many ordinary families in the USA for far too long. If the "soak the rich" socialists feel a need to maintain a tax on assets already FULLY taxed then state it for that which it truly is...but let's increase the exemption so that the "family farm" (or small business, nice home, etc.) don't get confiscated by the cruelest tax of all.

I voted against Bush in 92. I have retched in agony in watching that vile creature desecrate almost all American traditions in the People's House. His sidekick is a stiff, wooden fool who has consistently had trouble telling the truth - just like his 'boss'. The only difference is that Big Al lies when there's no apparent reason to do so.

I will vote AGAINST Mr. Gore - we don't need another 4 or 8 years of continuous lying straight-faced into the camera, thank you. And I will vote for the person I feel will most likely clean his clock. (Then I'll head again for the vomitorium). What's wrong with this picture?

-- DontLiketheChoices (, October 19, 2000.

re the Patricia and J discussion:

What about the laws that require car owners to carry insurance as a counterpart to inheritance taxes?


-- dandelion (golden@pleurisy.plant), October 20, 2000.

>> I will vote for the person I feel will most likely clean his clock. (Then I'll head again for the vomitorium). What's wrong with this picture? <<


You are choosing voluntarily to make your voting a negative act. Then you are wondering why you have negative feelings about it. This is called a disconnect.

Figure it out. The only way to make voting positive is to vote for a candidate you agree with, whoever that may be, and not against a candidate you hate. Don't for a moment think that politicians don't recognize that the power of fear is strong enough to overcome your judgement. They are using that against you. Revolt!

-- Brian McLaughlin (, October 20, 2000.


I'm glad you're open to a pragmatic approach. A common American trend stresses personal conviction at the expense of the big picture. While conviction is important, I think supporting the common good, however one best determines that good, ought to trump simple personal preference. The seductive allure of staunch individualism strikes me as a purely libertarian and hence short-sighted "ideal" if the health and financial security of the collective public is jeopardized, as would certainly happen under the Republicans.

I first got the idea of voting for Nader late in the day from a friend who told me this was her plan. This surprised me, as I assumed she would simply vote Democratic. She is even a little suspicious of multi-party structures, as she thinks they might weaken the traditional strength of the national union. But here was a middle- school Democrat thinking of voting Nader if the die is early clearly cast in the two-party matchup.

Another "radical centrist" had moved toward the progressive future.


-- Celia Thaxter (, October 20, 2000.

Hello dandelion,
So I guess the alternative model to mandatory liability insurance for drivers, would be for people (whether drivers, pedestrians, homeowners or whatever) who wanted protection for their bodies or belongings, to voluntarily purchase insurance as appropriate. Actually, I'm not sure what would be wrong with that.

Celia, it's a pleasure to read your posts.

-- David L (, October 20, 2000.

Celiac disease is a tragic condition.

-- (, October 20, 2000.

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