Notes from the desk of peace activist Polly Mann (b. Nov. 19, 1919)

‘Capitalism in the 21st century’

Years ago, I read a glowing review of Thomas Piketty’s book “Capitalism in the 21st Century” and I tried to read it. I read about a fourth of the first chapter and gave up. Now he’s written a new book, but I know better than to try to read it. However, it sounds great and I found an encapsulation in an article from In These Times so you can appreciate my interest. Here it goes.
Following are the five proposals to reverse extreme concentration of wealth and enable a new era of participatory socialism.
1) TAX INCOME. In the 1950s, 90 percent of top tax rates on the highest incomes prevented runaway executive pay. We must return to that, with high taxes of up to 90 percent, not just on salaries but on all income, including capital gains, dividends and rents.
2) TAX WEALTH. We tax wealth today—the property tax—but it’s a “flat” tax averaging 1 percent on only one kind of wealth. To restrain the largest fortunes that are now growing at up to 10 percent a year, we must make the annual property tax “progressive” too. That means higher rates for those with larger holdings, and it means taxing wealth in all its forms, not just land and buildings.
3) TAX INHERITANCE. Invent an app or star in a movie that makes you a fortune? Good for you. But no just society can let that result in opulence for all time among your descendants. We must return to the 80 percent tax rates we had in the ’50s and ’60s on the biggest inheritances.
4) GIVE WORKERS A SAY. It’s unjust when those who own have all the say and those who labor have none but the smallest firms; workers should elect half the board members as they do in the largest firms in Germany today.
5) CAPITAL FOR ALL. Ever heard of land reform—redistributing large estates to smallholders who’d work the land? Proceeds from the wealth and inheritance taxes could be used in another way—to give a universal capital endowment of $140,000 to every citizen when they turn 25.
There’s no way, of course, that all these proposals could occur simultaneously, but it should be possible to start—possibly with giving workers a say and having worker representation on the board. It definitely is something we should be thinking and talking about.

THE SAME MAN: George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) and Evelyn A. Waugh

Both were from what Orwell called “the British lower-upper middle class” and their era was that of the Spanish Civil War and they are both important historical figures. They each left accounts of their survival in the English private school system, called “public schools” there. It’s a harsh portrait of the helpless and continual sadism and snobbery of which they were victims. Blair at a later age confronted the bully who was attacking him. As for Waugh, he was always brash and ready to fight.
The world they lived in after the war was changing. Orwell became a zealot for justice and Waugh came to know how objectification, sensuality and aimlessness distort one’s humanity. The Catholic peace advocate Dorothy Day once had a four-hour meal with Evelyn Waugh during which they debated whether the poor or the rich had the best of it in the world.
There are nine chapters in the book, alternating from Orwell to Waugh and back again. Dorothy Day recognized these two writers first and foremost as workers, laboring with their hands, putting many hours into their craft. For her, anything of goodness, beauty and truth were the fruits of God-given vocations. Although the two men died over 50 years ago, their place in history is assured.

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