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Truthdigger of the Week: Joseph Stiglitz

Posted on Apr 8, 2011

This week we tip our hat to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who once helped calculate the true cost of the Iraq War, and more recently has been calling attention to the radical redistribution of wealth from middle- and working-class Americans to the richest among us.

Stiglitz writes in his new Vanity Fair article titled “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” that, in terms of income inequality, the U.S. now ranks up there with Russia and Iran, while Europe has become the new land of opportunity. Thus he gives the lie to the time-honored myth of the American meritocracy, which seems to come in handy whenever the powerful elite want to justify their vastly disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth.

Stiglitz’s careful and forceful refutation of the so-called “marginal-productivity theory,” or the idea that higher incomes are somehow directly correlated with “higher productivity and a greater contribution to society,” as he puts it, deserves to be restated in full here:

It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

These words may seem too harsh for Vanity Fair’s readership, but whatever compelled the editors that be to slip this piece into their glossy magazine between its society pages and Ralph Lauren ads, we’ll take it. Our own editor in chief, Robert Scheer, made Stiglitz’s exposé the centerpiece of his column last week, aptly titled “The Peasants Need Pitchforks.” We find the econo-whiz a worthy recipient of our top weekly honor for this sentence alone, not to mention the rest: “But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way.” Boom.


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Check out Stiglitz’s illuminating discussion about America’s growing economic rift on “Democracy Now!” here.

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By DHFabian, April 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm Link to this comment

The middle class has always suffered from myopia.  After all the money was taken out of basic aid for our poor, didn’t you know that it would be necessary to take from the middle? That’s where the money is. We dumped our poor, draining out those funds, but government continues to need tax dollars to protect the massive annual tax cuts for the rich WHILE maintaining war(s)—a very difficult thing to do! Fewer people are paying taxes because so much of the corporate tax cuts have gone into exporting our jobs, leaving much of the former middle class far too poor to owe taxes. It’s a problem.  The only way to maintain war while protecting the rich is to now drain whatever is left of the middle class.

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By SteveL, April 12, 2011 at 11:18 pm Link to this comment

“Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” Hope he did not copy write that.  I plan to wear
it out.

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By Night-Gaunt, April 12, 2011 at 10:46 pm Link to this comment

It starts by saying they are “feeloaders” as if it was a fact. As factual as those “welfare queens” that really didn’t exist in the 1980’s. It slides down a slippery slope from there.

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By rico, suave, April 12, 2011 at 8:26 pm Link to this comment


How does obsessing about OPM assign “blame” for anything, including the economic downturn?

I don’t “blame” the freeloader/recipient class of anything but being freeloaders and recipients. The first group are leaches who need to get off their asses and quit being slaves of the government, the second group may or may not need or deserve our help. If they do, I’m all for helping, if not…

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By Night-Gaunt, April 12, 2011 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment

I stand corrected. Millions of people are obsessing about “other peoples’ money”, eg, socialists, redistributionists and the freeloader/recipient class generally.

Don’t you understand what you are saying Rico? That’s the same language I see when they talk about the poor and those who are lucky enough to get some support. To criminalize them in fact.

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By MB, April 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I truly appreciate Joseph Stiglitz and all the other econ wonks who have been speaking directly to the public through their blogs, media appearances, books, and articles. There’s a lengthy list of them. It’s very very helpful to hear distinguished experts speak so clearly about such important complexities that can so easily spin the public right round.

This from Robert Scheer is another statement of
truth worth repeating:
If it had been revealed that Jeffrey Immelt once hired an undocumented nanny, or defaulted on his mortgage, he would be forced to resign as head of President Barack Obama’s “Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.” But the fact that General Electric, where Immelt is CEO, didn’t pay taxes on its $14.5 billion profit last year—and indeed is asking for a $3.2 billion tax rebate—has not produced a word of criticism from the president, who in January praised Immelt as a business leader who “understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy.”

But this week (it’s only Tuesday), I think it’s Jeffrey Sachs publicizing “the People’s Budget”:

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about the People’s Budget.

JEFFREY SACHS: The People’s Budget is a proposal of the leadership of 80 members of Congress, which is called the Progressive Caucus. I was so happy—

AMY GOODMAN: The largest caucus in Congress.

JEFFREY SACHS: I was so happy to see it when I saw it for the first time last week as it was being unveiled. I said, “Thank God. Something coming from Washington that makes sense,” because they, too, have been crowded out. The White House has played a game, basically. If the far right is holding the agenda, the White House says, “We’ll be one step towards the center of the far right.” But that means giving concession after concession after concession. What Obama is trying to do is to look reasonable, to look a little bit more reasonable than the extreme right. But to do so, he’s just compromising, compromising on core principles.

Then, finally comes the Congressional Progressive Caucus and says, “Stop it. Let’s do what the people really want.” This is the wonderful thing about America. Sometimes you feel so frustrated: “What’s going on in this country?” as if everybody’s a Tea Partier. It’s not true. The broad majority of the public has very reasonable, very mainstream and compassionate views. They say, “Don’t slash for the poor. No, let’s start making the rich pay their due.” That’s what the public says, the large majority. Who’s listening? Or who’s hearing them? The media keeps them out, by and large. And the White House and the Congress are dominated by the lobbies and by the concern about raising campaign funds. After all, President Obama is trying to raise a billion dollars for his 2012 election. Where is he going to get that? On Wall Street. Are they telling him, “Raise the taxes”? Unfortunately not.

See also:

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By Sole Prop, April 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment

The reason I subscribe to Vanity Fair is indeed their
habit of running one political piece of interest almost
every issue, the Stiglitz piece falling well within
that category. I similarly subscribe to Rolling Stone
for its political coverage (for which it’s gotten quite
a bit of press lately). Stiglitz and Krugman are worth
reading wherever you may find them. Ralph Lauren ads?
Less interest there.

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By prisnersdilema, April 12, 2011 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

Because the American economy, has no foundation, it’s always going to be a bubble
economy. And unless American corporations or someone else decides to bring back
jobs from, China, India, Mexico, Indonesia, or elsewhere, it’s likely to remain that way for
the next 40 to 50 years, while working people continue to slide toward third world status.

What has taken the place of those factories we used to have, are complex financial
instruments, that are like castles in the air. That’s what wall street uses to create wealth
for itself. But the imaginary money created by wall street Relies on something thats real. 
The debts of Americans, it’s that debt leveraged to the stratosphere that keeps the
economy, going and provides the incentive to create millions of debt slaves.

And that is also wall streets vulnerable point. For without its debtor class there would be
no wealth for them to play with. Therefore if Americans, refused to go into debt, stopped
writing checks, paid cash, got rid of credit credit cards, took out no loans, we would
deprive Wall Street of the money it needs to control our government.

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By GoyToy, April 12, 2011 at 9:46 am Link to this comment

“We” have no one to blame but ourselves. We have the vote, it’s time to get off our butts and exercise that right in an intelligent manner. Ninety-nine votes from “ordinary” people trumps one vote from an elite.

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By rico, suave, April 12, 2011 at 8:14 am Link to this comment


Where in the world do you read from me that I blame poor people for the economic downturn, or that I DON’T blame rich Wall Streeters?

Please cite a word or phrase anywhere from me, in context or out, where I do that. I merely asked a bunch of questions. And I merely, opined that shooting a thousand fats cats, and taking all their money would solve NOTHING, even as a cautionary tale for would-be fat cats. All it would do is make the recipient class feel good for a while.

If you think that sentiment assigns blame to the poor or excuses the rich from blame, it is totally unintended.

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By Markos, April 11, 2011 at 11:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Its not other peoples money.  Its money they legislated for themselves weaseling out of their fare share for decades.

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By Night-Gaunt, April 11, 2011 at 6:29 pm Link to this comment

Congratulations Gerard for being so on the ball at 97. Should I live so long and retain my intelligence at that age. I am a disabled person brought upon by illness. I can still get around but I am weaker by far and get an SSID check every month. Just barely makes it too. Lucky I’m not healthy or I would be homeless considering how bad the economy has been since 2001. But my family has helped me to survive and I am grateful for that. I would rather be healthy even with the added burden of being a one in five to be able to get a job or 5 people for every job minimum (or lower) paying offered these days.

I consider it a well thought out plan to destroy the middle class and remove all aspects of the New Deal and its counterparts by the certain number of the rich and very rich. I think the top 10% who own 50% of the wealth here, alone, should also be counted because I don’t think millionaires will be hurt quite as much as you or I when they finish that crash of the economy. Then blame our gov’t and SS, Medicare and Medicaid and want them eliminated—-for financial reasons of course. Thought they may just privatize SS, Medicare and Medicaid which would destroy them anyway.

Just reading Rico Suave‘s reply is enough to show us in microcosm their mind set to the rest of us. To him and those like him the poorer you are the more you are to blame regardless of the economic crisis we have or the fact that the richest have not only caused it but reap great rewards for their perfidity.

We need an Eisenhower and raise the tax rate on the wealthy back to 91% then we will all prosper. Yes I said all of us not just the rich and super rich who has been redistributing the wealth from us to them over the past 31 years.

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By John Dean, April 11, 2011 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Do you think your taxes will go down, or your welfare checks will get bigger, or your kid’s teacher more competent, or college tuition go down, or air and water get cleaner, or the polar ice caps stop melting, or abortions get easier to come by, or national parks get prettier, or gays be able to marry?

No. All you’ll have is a thousand dead fat white guys and a wonderful sense of revenge satisfied.

Then keep doing it until all of the above begin to happen. There are many more than a thousand perpetrators to the crimes above and nothing will change without their elimination.

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By rico, suave, April 11, 2011 at 10:40 am Link to this comment


I stand corrected. Millions of people are obsessing about “other peoples’ money”, eg, socialists, redistributionists and the freeloader/recipient class generally.

Do you really think all those fat white guys spend their days figuring out how to take money from poor people? Really?

Do you own stocks or bonds? If the value of those things goes up, do you really, really think some other person got robbed to make that happen?

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By gerard, April 11, 2011 at 1:16 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous:  Thank you for the fine tribute. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.  I want you to know, however, that most of the time, seeing what I see now, I feel I wasted a lot of time to accomplish little or nothing.

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By chip, April 10, 2011 at 9:10 pm Link to this comment

Yeah, Shultz was cool until “health care” passed.
Then he acted like it was great.
After having folks like Kucinich on his show.
Same with the daily show and Colbert.

They suddenly loved the crap they had told us sucked.

Ratigan had a republican, a democrat and a third person on a couple of weeks ago. He was saying the way we treated Bradly Manning was really screwed up.
Not one would agree with him. A few days later PJ’s comment got him fired.

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By Shenonymous, April 10, 2011 at 8:06 pm Link to this comment

Yes, Dylan Ratigan is an articulate advocate for the people!  So is
Ed Schultz.  I wish either or both would run for Congress. 

I don’t believe it is envy either.  It is warranted resentment that
they can work hard their whole life and have nothing to show for
it because the corporatocratic-driven economy has depleted
whatever extra they may ever have had.  I am not among this population as I am a semi-retired academic and am still gainfully
employed and will have a decent and livable retirement and medical
plan when I finally retire.  I have no personal indignation but I do have
sympathy and compassion for those who do.  I know a few of these

These disaffected have been laid off and at 50+ years old and having
had the only job they ever had for 20 or so years it is very difficult to
find another job.  Their retirement amounts to practically nothing. 
They will be in dire straights if the Republicans have their way with
permanent tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate world up the wazoo.

It is misanthropic to talk about taking lives over the economy.  It
would be more painful and just deserts anyway to hit them in their

I curtsey to you gerard at 97 years old!  You are alert and wise which
means you have been a thoughtful human being the many years the
earth has been privileged and fortunate that you graced this land.

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By Dale Headley, April 10, 2011 at 7:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Let’s get this straight: the Republican Party, for the last 120 years has been
about one thing, and one thing only - advocating for the rich.  And if that happens
to disadvantage the poor and middle class, the weak and elderly, the racial,
ethnic, and religious minorities, then so be it.  Too bad, but the rich must be
coddled and enriched at all costs. 
    The real villains are the American people themselves, who credulously allow
themselves to fall for the phony, failed, duplicitous economic arguments from the
far right.  If a majority of Americans REALLY believe that giving more money to the
rich will result in a “trickle down” of the resources to them, then they deserve to
reap what they sow: parched earth.  In short, the Republicans are going all out to
destroy the middle class and return America to the days when the wealth
aristocracy and corporate kleptocracy exploited and nearly destroyed the
American economy.  This time they may succeed, if they haven’t already.

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By gerard, April 10, 2011 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment

rico:  The millions of people who are “obcessing about money” these days are not doing so out of envy, and you must know that. In fact, I’ve known thousands of ordinary people over my 97 years and maybe two or three of them “envied” the top elite thieves we have in charge now—the “fat white guys” as you put it.
  If people have envied any degree of wealth at all, it has been the wealth that used to enable the upper middles to have paid vacations, a couple cars that run when you turn on the starters and four good tires all at the same time.  And the kids can get a college education when they grow up.  And the water heater works and when you get too old to work you are sure to have someplace to live and some food to eat. 
  All this either has changed or is changing for the worse for millions of people, and you know that too. It’s not envy, it’s fear of the future that haunts the vast majority of the once-middle class, not to mention the really poor people.  Why do you misrepresent?
  In addition I might add another question, since we’re on the subject:  Why do you talk about taking 1000 or so rich guys out and shooting them?  Practically nobody among these commenters is seriously suggesting such nonsense. You can do better—and still get the kind of response that you seem to be wanting.

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By chip, April 10, 2011 at 6:17 pm Link to this comment

Good choice.

There is a dude named Dylan Ratigan on msnbc at three in the afternoon that does a pretty good show.

Surly they will send him down “Donahue” road shortly.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, April 10, 2011 at 5:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is One funny story Hirsh tells about Stiglitz in his book CAPITAL OFFENSE which I have to tell here.
Like many brilliant men Stiglitz tends to be a little absent minded at times.  So someone - I don’t remember who it was - telephoned Stiglitz early one morning and after saying their hello’s Stiglitz said, “I’m sorry, did I wake you up?”  The guy on the other end was confused for a few seconds and then said, “Joe, I called you!”

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, April 10, 2011 at 5:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

CAPITAL OFFENSE, How Washington’s Wise Men Turned America’s Future Over to Wall Street, by Michael Hirsh, 2010 has a great chapter on Joseph Stiglitz.  It is one of the best books on the causes and aftermath of the crash of 2008 imo. 
Why did Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and others in the Clinton and Bush administrations do what they did?
This book can give you the answers.

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By gerard, April 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment

Stiglitz has another, longer article in AlJazeeraEnglish, April 6, “Gambling with the Planet” in which he likens nuclear plant risks to capitalism’s economic risks.  Not a very exact comparison, but anyhow worth reading. And it’s worldwide distribution.  However:
  Again there is no mention of any general or specific recommendations for change.  or is there any explanation of the “rationale” for continuing to permit incipient disasters.  Unlike the economic crash, nobody benefited from Fukushima, so far as I know. The two are not analogous, though capitalism is the villain in both calamities.
  So—what to do about capitalism???  When is some economist going to indicate the path forward?  Take-over doesn’t seem to be so smart—unless there is some general idea of how to bring about improvements.
And not just a tweek here and a tweek there, but a
fundamental reformation—perhaps beginning at a deeper level than just the head.

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By Shenonymous, April 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm Link to this comment

Stiglitz has no interest in running for political office.  But out of his
responsible conscience, he should speak out more often and to the
American public.  To hell with talking to the rich and corporate
America.  They are deaf when it comes to parting with their money
unless there is another dollar in it for them.  So we have to wrench
it from them in redistribution taxes which is what would put this
economy back into fiscal balance and save our entitlement programs
that saves the asses of millions of Americans.  We know, they know
it, and they are quite anxious about it which is why they are putting
so much of their money into Teabaggers aka Republicans thwarting
any effort to “redistribute it” because that redistribution will be law
for a long time and equalize the economy of 99% of Americans.

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By tussah, April 10, 2011 at 12:46 pm Link to this comment

Ardee, there is indeed hope in the common ground that can be found within our disparate citizenry…all we have to do is talk to one another.

...amazing what can be discovered during a day on a wonderful river…

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By glider, April 10, 2011 at 11:40 am Link to this comment

Rico, the answer is yes, linking bad outcomes for the perpetrators to their bad activity will help all those points in the future if only by getting us going in the right direction.  Instead we have perpetuated a moral hazard with these types and institutionalized bailouts to CEOs of failure.

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By rico, suave, April 10, 2011 at 10:58 am Link to this comment

“The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses.”

How many people are we talking about exactly? Let’s say it’s a thousand fat white guys. Now, let’s take all of them out and shoot them, and send all of their money to China to pay off a big chunk of the national debt. What direct effect would that have on your personal life and prospects?

Do you think your taxes will go down, or your welfare checks will get bigger, or your kid’s teacher more competent, or college tuition go down, or air and water get cleaner, or the polar ice caps stop melting, or abortions get easier to come by, or national parks get prettier, or gays be able to marry?

No. All you’ll have is a thousand dead fat white guys and a wonderful sense of revenge satisfied.

You people obsess about money just as much as you claim the 1% do. It’s all envy.

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By mrfreeze, April 10, 2011 at 10:43 am Link to this comment

Ardee, “fishing with the enemy.” Sounds like a good name for a movie. And the tagline will read: “when labourers and pensioners swim with the fishes!”

I don’t know how you could possibly spend time with that scum. It’s bad enough we must listen 24/7 to right wing, plutocratic propaganda.

By the way, were those “private sector” fish?

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By Steven Earl Salmony, April 10, 2011 at 10:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In search of science leading to the restoration of balance and sustainability…

Would professionals with appropriate expertise please examine the extant science regarding human population dynamics and human overpopulation of Earth? How can this knowledge be used to move the human community from the dangerous and patently unsustainable ‘trajectory’ it is on now to sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises?

—–Original Message—–
Sir John Sulston, Chair
People and the Planet Working Group
UK Royal Society
March 31, 2011

Dear Sir John Sulston:

Your recent comments regarding the review of research on the human population and its impact on the planet we inhabit by a high level panel of experts give rise to hope for the future of children everywhere. Thanks for all you, the Planet and the People Working Group and the UK Royal Society are doing to protect biodiversity from massive extirpation, the environment from irreversible degradation and the Earth from wanton dissipation of its finite resources by the human species. I am especially appreciative for two quotes from you,

…… “we’ve got to make sure that population is recognized… as a multiplier of many others. We’ve got to make sure that population really does peak out when we hope it will.”

…….”what we want to do is to see the issue of population in the open, dispassionately discussed…. and then we’ll see where it goes.”

Inasmuch as you and an esteemed group of professionals with appropriate expertise are examining scientific evidence regarding the unbridled increase of absolute global human population numbers, please note there is research that has been summarily dismissed by many too many of our colleagues regarding human population dynamics and human overpopulation which I would like to bring to your attention. For the past ten years I have been unsuccessfully attempting to draw attention to certain evidence that to date remains both unchallenged and ignored by virtually every top-rank professional. They appear unable to refute the evidence and simultaneously unwilling to believe it. Their unexpected conspiracy of silence has served to conceal certain research by David Pimentel and Russell Hopfenberg. How else can it be that so many established professionals with adequate expertise act as if they are willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute in the face of scientific evidence of human population dynamics and human overpopulation? The conscious denial of what could somehow be real about the growth of the human population in our time is not doing anything that can be construed as somehow right and good for future human wellbeing and environmental health, I suppose. It appears as if we could be witnesses to the most colossal failure of intellectual honesty, moral courage and nerve in human history.

Peer-reviewed professional publications, letters to the editor, slideshow presentations et cetera can be found at the following link,

Thank you for attending to this request for careful, skillful and rigorous scrutiny of research from two outstanding scientists. Please know I am holding onto a ray of hope that the research of Hopfenberg and Pimentel is fundamentally flawed; that human population dynamics is different from, not essentially similar to, the population dynamics of other species; and that human population numbers are not primarily a function of an available supply of food necessary for human existence. That would be the best news.

Sometime soon, I trust, many scientists will speak up with regard to apparently unforeseen and unfortunately unwelcome science of human population dynamics and human overpopulation the way people in huge numbers in the Mid-East are calling out for democracy now.

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By ardee, April 10, 2011 at 9:46 am Link to this comment

Yet we find, time and again, people venting their angst upon unions, teachers, hard working family folks instead of the real culprits.

Yesterday I spent the day on the Feather River, amidst a spring arrival of striped bass that was exceptional in the quantity and quality of the fish. Six of us caught ,and released, over one hundred of these fish ( honest we did!).

The reason I note this is that two of the six were farmers, one an industrial artist and another an executive for a very large construction company. During our wait for our turn at the launch ramp the conversation turned to the economy and “how the pensions and unions were to blame”. My fishing buddy immediately turned and walked away, not wanting to start the day with hostility.

I said simply, we all of us, left and right, love this country and want the best for it. To blame working class folks when General Electric, for one, made six billion in profits and paid not a red cent in taxes seems to me to be wrong. To my shock I got head nods and one affirmative statement from these folks.

The industrial artist laughingly said that we two should go to Washington and change things together! We then proceeded to have one of the very best days fishing I have ever experienced and ,at days end, parted with hand shakes and friendly hopes that we meet again with this fishing guide and do it again.

There is hope, I refuse to believe otherwise.

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By madisolation, April 10, 2011 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

Stiglitz should announce that he will challenge Obama in 2012. So should others who understand what damage those in Washington have wrought. These forthright thinkers need to find the courage to get on the political stage and come to the aid of their country.

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By TDoff, April 10, 2011 at 12:31 am Link to this comment

If Mr. Stiglitz is such a great economist, and understands the current US economic predicament of the 99% who are serfs, why hasn’t he recommended the obvious solution, the way to overcome the vast disparity between the serfs and the greedy gluttons?

What if the 99% quit paying taxes? This would drop the federal government’s total tax income to approximately zero, rendering it non-credit-worthy and therefore non-functional.

To overcome the apparent problem of non-payment of taxes being illegal, all the serfs have to do to make their tax rebellion legal, is incorporate themselves, preferably as non-profit, religious corporations, so they would have no tax liability.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

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By berniem, April 9, 2011 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment

No matter how you “cut it”, eventually all that wealth and presumed power is as nothing to a bunch of peasants with a guillotine!

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By gerard, April 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm Link to this comment

I’ve made this point before, and I’ll make it again:
  Please Mr. Stiglitz and other economists with qualifications and clout, please speak your message to the elites with whom you at least occasionally have lunch, or a glass of wine at the Met.  The elites are the ones who need to be reached with this message. We know it in our gut already!
  Ask them just how they are going to benefit when the world falls apart, and what are they thinking about anyway as they do nothing to reconcile a very explosive situation?  We commoners need to know where their heads are at because they aren’t making sense. If Stiglitz won’t ask them, and tell us, we are all pretty much goners.

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