What is the IRS ‘scandal’ about?

An Almost-Final Word On The IRS’s Alleged Tea Party Targeting

This all goes back to the scrutiny the IRS gave to politically active “social welfare” organizations between 2010 and 2013. Conservatives allege that mainly Tea Party groups were targeted. The controversy led to a housecleaning at the top of the IRS — also, to a collapse in the agency’s already feeble attempts to enforce its existing rules on political activity by 501(c)(4) social welfare groups.

The numbers and budgets of politically active social welfare groups have soared since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, especially among conservatives. SuperPACs, which are also used by both sides, must disclose their donors, while 501(c)(4) groups have no disclosure requirement.

Facebook, the IRS, and the GOP’s Bullshit Feedback Loop

In reality, the IRS “scandal” was the unhappy byproduct of an agency being tasked with determining the validity of claims to non-profit status, but lacking the proper resources to do it or clear guidance on how. The fact that new Tea Party groups, many with dubious claim to non-profit status, had flooded the IRS with applications compounded the difficulty. The agency thus used watchwords like “tea party” and “progressive” to, in its words, triage the workload.

For the purposes of ginning up voters, that story is much less useful than one in which a liberal agency leader masterminded a sabotage campaign against patriotic conservatives trying to rescue the country from Obama. And so the IRS scandal was born.

Report On IRS Targeting Of Conservatives – No Christmas Pony For Darrell Issa

Now if both sides were doing it equally, it would be possible for the IRS to approach the matter in an even handed manner. As it turns out, unlike the remarkably similar activities of the Kriegsmarine U-boats in the Atlantic and the US Navy submarines in the Pacific, “dark money” is more of a conservative thing . According to Open Secrets in the 2010 election cycle conservative non-disclosure spending was $119.9 million and liberal non-disclosure spending was $10.7 million. In the 2012 election cycle it was $265.5 million conservative versus $33,6 million liberal. The gap starts closing in 2014 but remains wide with $192.8 million conservative and $54 million liberal.

That makes it impossible for IRS action or non-action to not have political effect. Now if we had really wise leaders, they would have gotten together and said that the country needs good tax administration and the Republicans would have agreed to ease up on pushing the envelope so much and the Democrats would not have pressed the IRS to worry so much about a matter that was not contributing to the tax gap. Probably too much to ask for. Instead we’ve got “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

New Records: IRS Targeted Progressive Groups More Extensively Than Tea Party

A series of IRS documents, provided to ThinkProgress under the Freedom of Information Act, appears to contradict the claims by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that only Tea Party organizations applying for tax-exempt status “received systematic scrutiny because of their political beliefs.” The 22 “Be On the Look Out” keywords lists, distributed to staff reviewing applications between August 12, 2010 and April 19, 2013, included more explicit references to progressive groups, ACORN successors, and medical marijuana organizations than to Tea Party entities.

Donna Brazile: No conspiracy here, IRS targeted liberals, too

In fact, a few months after the story of the report broke, new documents came to light showing more of the extent of scrutiny of progressive groups. At the time, Alex Seitz-Wald described the landscape this way.

But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; that many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line; that the IG’s report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans’ request; and that the White House was in no way involved in the targeting and didn’t even know about it until shortly before the public did.

Needless to say, especially disturbing is the idea that Issa conveyed to the IG his wish that the investigation focus on conservative groups to the exclusion of progressive ones. The IG later said that initial report was inaccurate, but he didn’t say what was inaccurate about it or offer any explanation of why his spokesperson would have said Issa told them to produce a one-sided report.

New Documents Show the IRS Targeted ‘Progressive’ and ‘Tea Party’ Groups for Extra Scrutiny

Arguably, ThinkProgress’s report implies, the IRS focused on giving extra scrutiny to groups on the left longer than it did to groups on the right, Issa’s colleagues across the aisle on the Oversight Committee have long noted that Issa has yet to produce evidence supporting his repeated claims that the IRS was acting as part of an anti-GOP political conspiracy. These documents, which ThinkProgress notes were also produced for “investigating congressional committees,” are certainly not that evidence. Here’s a list of some of the groups that show up on the full BOLO watch lists (viewable here):

  • “Progressive” groups, especially those with words like “blue” in the name
  • “Tea Party” groups
  • Not exclusively educational “medical marijuana” groups
  • Groups believed to be “successors to ACORN”
  • “Open source software” organizations
  • “Green energy” organizations
  • “Occupied territory” advocacy organizations

On the “emerging” section on one of the distributed lists, the BOLO lists contains this downright bipartisan warning:

Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, Social economic reform/movement

Anyway, Issa already has a response to that non-specific language. The political watch list language was “changed to broader ‘political advocacy organizations,’” he wrote in a committee report, adding that he believes “the IRS still intended to identify and single out Tea Party applications for scrutiny.” Even though it looks like progressive groups may have ended up on the watch list before the Tea Party started popping up.

Senate Report Confirms That Republicans Lied About The IRS Only Targeting Conservatives

A newly released report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations confirms that both liberal and conservatives groups received the same bad treatment and were targeted by the IRS. In short, Republicans lied about the IRS only targeting conservatives.

The Executive Summary section of the report put the Republican IRS conspiracy down for the count,

The Subcommittee investigation has reached many of the same conclusions as the TIGTA audit of the 501(c)(4) application process. The Subcommittee investigation found that the IRS used inappropriate screening criteria when it flagged for increased scrutiny applications based upon the applicants’ names or political views rather than direct evidence of their involvement with campaign activities. The Subcommittee investigation also found significant program mismanagement, including years-long delays in processing 501(c)(4) applications; inappropriate, intrusive, and burdensome questioning of groups; and poor communication and coordination between IRS officials in Washington and Cincinnati. At the same time, like TIGTA, the Subcommittee investigation found no evidence of IRS political bias in selecting 501(c)(4) applications for heightened review, as distinguished from using poor judgment in crafting the selection criteria. Based on investigative work that went beyond what TIGTA examined, the Subcommittee investigation also determined that the same problems affected IRS review of 501(c)(4) applications filed by liberal groups.

In addition, the Subcommittee investigation found that, by focusing exclusively on how the IRS handled 501(c)(4) applications filed by conservative groups and excluding any comparative data on applications filed by liberal groups, the TIGTA audit produced distorted audit results that continue to be misinterpreted. The TIGTA audit engagement letter stated that the audit’s “overall objective” was to examine the “consistency” of IRS actions in identifying and reviewing 501(c)(4) applications, including whether “conservative groups” experienced “inconsistent treatment.” Instead, the audit focused solely on IRS treatment of conservative groups, and omitted any mention of other groups. For example, while the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for using “Tea Party,” “9/12,” and “Patriot” to identify applications filed by conservative groups, it left out that the IRS also used “Progressive,” “ACORN,” “Emerge,” and “Occupy” to identify applications filed by liberal groups. While the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for subjecting conservative groups to delays, burdensome questions, and mismanagement, it failed to disclose that the IRS subjected liberal groups to the same treatment. The result was that when the TIGTA audit report presented data showing conservative groups were treated inappropriately, it was interpreted to mean conservative groups were handled differently and less favorably than liberal groups, when in fact, both groups experienced the same mistreatment. By excluding any analysis of how liberal groups were handled and failing to provide critical context for its findings, the TIGTA audit inaccurately and unfairly damaged public confidence in the impartiality of the IRS.

So IRS Didn’t ‘Target Conservative Groups,’ After All

It turns out that the IRS really was just doing its job — scrutinizing all kinds of groups applying for special tax status, not “targeting conservatives” as has been widely reported. Of course anti-government scandal-mongers are trying to make this sound bad, saying this means the “targeting” was “broader” than first thought. That’s like saying people are “targeted” to pay their taxes on April 15. Anyway the “scandal’s” purpose was achieved: the IRS is going to give corporate-funded political groups a pass now and let them “self-certify” that they aren’t breaking the rules. […]

But the truth doesn’t matter. The fact that there was no “targeting of conservative groups” doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t get their way. Even though the whole “ACORN scandal” turned out to just be a lie, Congress defunded ACORN anyway. Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod were both fired after right-wing media launched smear and lie campaigns. And this time the administration immediately caved to the right and fired the head of the IRS. This of course amplified the right’s “targeted conservatives” accusations and whipped the media into a full-blown scandal frenzy.

And the clincher: the IRS has issued new rules, offering corporate-funded political groups a “fast track” to getting their special tax status.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy explains, in IRS Offers Fast-Track for Advocacy Groups Awaiting Tax Exemptions. All they have to do is self-certify that they won’t break the rules, and Bob’s your uncle.

Organizations that have applied to the IRS for status as social-welfare groups but have faced inordinate delays because of the political scrutiny that engulfed the tax agency in controversy now have recourse: They can win tax-exempt status within two weeks if they pledge not to devote more than 40 percent of their time and money to partisan activities.

The IRS announced the streamlined process on Monday as part of its 83-page report, shown below, on how the agency is overhauling its process for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status. By setting the 40-percent marker, the organization for the first time was explicit about how much advocacy is acceptable for a group that has 501(c)(4) status.

So they win.

House Republicans pretend IRS ‘scandal’ still exists

Just so we’re clear, these House Republicans still haven’t uncovered any evidence of official wrongdoing, and they didn’t accuse Koskinen of having any role in “targeting” anyone. Rather, the GOP lawmakers are convinced Koskinen hasn’t done enough to help them find evidence to substantiate allegations that fell apart two years ago.

Or put another way, they want to fire the IRS guy who replaced the other IRS guy who was fired over a “scandal” that never really existed in the first place.

There is, of course, no reason to believe Koskinen’s job is in jeopardy, which is probably why House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) raised the prospect of holding the IRS commissioner in contempt of Congress, because, well, why not? It’s been months since House Republicans held an Obama administration official in contempt of Congress, they’re arguably overdue.

Fox News’ phony scandal: The truth about the fictional “plot” to suppress conservatives

Absent campaign-finance law, and with a deadlocked Federal Election Commission incapable of acting, the IRS was the last defense against opaque and unrestricted political money. Yet as Republicans in Congress blocked efforts to address campaign-finance transparency, nonprofits were inundating the IRS with applications for tax-exempt status, many for social-welfare groups. And media outlets were focused on “Tea Party” groups forming around the country.

Against this backdrop, one IRS case manager in the Los Angeles office forwarded an application to the agency’s Cincinnati office for review, expressing concern that the organization applying for nonprofit status was not being established for social-welfare purposes, but instead for political campaign activity. The Cincinnati office, which oversees nonprofit applications, agreed to review the case.

That questionable applicant was a Tea Party group, whose application triggered the reviewer’s concern over its involvement with direct campaign activity relating to specific candidates.

As applications stacked up, the IRS identified areas with potential for abuse, and began to flag applications that followed a similar format, issuing a “BOLO” (Be On the Lookout) alert for new applications with similar features or organizations with similar names.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, the IRS continued to wrestle with how it should handle these organizations in general (and Tea Party applications in particular), while the agency faced mounting pressure from House and Senate investigative committees concerning tax-exempt organizations and donor identities. Tea Party applications were particularly problematic, because the term “Tea Party” was identified with groups backing specific candidates or opposing the policies of the Obama administration.

Such activities are not covered by the “primary purpose” rule applicable to social-welfare groups, which restricts tax exemption (and freedom from disclosure requirements) to organizations that “operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.”

In September 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) wrote to then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, asking him to conduct a survey of major 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) organizations involved in political campaign activity to see whether they were in compliance with the “primary purpose” rule. He also requested that the IRS look at whether the organizations “were acting as conduits for major donors advancing their own private interests regarding legislation or political campaigns.”

In 2012, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) made a formal request for the IRS to produce specific information on the activity of several high-profile organizations, including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the liberal group Priorities USA, Americans for Prosperity, and Patriot Majority USA. As dark money spending increased in 2012, Levin pressed harder, criticizing the IRS decision to interpret the word “exclusively” to promote social welfare as “more than 50 percent” of the organization’s activity. He wanted to know how many tax exemptions had been audited to see if organizations engaged in excessive political activity.

After the 2012 elections, the IRS found itself caught between mounting pressure from Congressional Democrats and from groups receiving information requests from the IRS but no letters approving their tax-exempt status. The agency was requesting that applicants provide all donors’ names and addresses (presumably to satisfy the Baucus inquiry), sparking outrage among conservative groups asked for that information.

UNBRIDLED FREEDOM

At the same time, Congressional Republicans began to hear from big donors who were concerned about the loss of anonymity—and the tax deductions that some of the nonprofits provided. And from “grass roots” groups impatient with the IRS.

One of these groups was KSP/True the Vote, a Texas-based voter-integrity organization originally known as the King Street Patriots—one of the nonprofit applicants selected by the IRS for closer scrutiny, based upon its application and media reports in 2010 in which KSP/True the Vote activists were accused of intimidating voters at the polls.

In 2010, acting under the name King Street Patriots, conservative Texas activist Catherine Engelbrecht accused a voter-registration group, Houston Votes, of being “the New Black Panthers office” in Texas. Claiming to have found thousands of fraudulent voter registrations in the Houston area, Engelbrecht appeared on Fox News, accusing Houston Votes of massive voter fraud. The King Street Patriots also produced a video that warned: “Our elections are being manipulated by the RADICAL LEFT.” Backed by an ominous soundtrack, the video also included a doctored image of an African American holding a sign that read: “I only got to vote once.”

Ironically, one documented case of voter fraud surfaced in Texas in 2010 when County Commissioner candidate Bruce Fleming, who had been endorsed by Engelbrecht, was found to have cast votes in Pennsylvania and Texas in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections, boasting that he “had the chance to vote twice against Barack Obama.”

Indeed, KSP/True the Vote’s literature established that they were operating for campaign purposes, as evidenced by a self-published “Legislative Agenda for Texas” in 2011 and their lobbying for stricter voter-ID laws. The state Democratic Party sued, and in 2011 a Texas court ruled that the King Street Patriots was a PAC and not a nonprofit group. The group was ordered to reveal its donors and pay Houston Votes a substantial settlement.

Despite the court ruling and extensive news coverage, when news broke on May 9, 2013, that the IRS may have singled out conservative groups for scrutiny, Engelbrecht was prepared. On May 21, KSP/True the Vote filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS for targeting them. The suit was dismissed in late 2014.

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Mechanical Spider Legs and Progressive Reform

Did you see this article about FDR?

Report: White House Officials Deliberately Hid FDR’s Mechanical Spider Legs From Public

It does explain a lot. I always wondered why public photos of him never showed his legs.

On a happier note, here are some thoughts about the coming future, when mechanical spider legs will no longer need to be attached to humans.

‘Rise of the Robots’ and ‘Shadow Work’

One of the jobs that hasn’t been mechanized yet is that of torturer. But with Poland being held accountable, let’s hope it won’t be a growing job sector.

With US Accountability MIA, Poland to Make Payout for Torture of CIA

That article points out how the US government officials aren’t being held accountable for their own actions. That isn’t just true internationally, but also nationally. The US government isn’t accountable to American voters anymore than it is accountable to international courts.

Study: Congress literally doesn’t care what you think

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change. – The Boston Globe

A major reason for this is big money. The US government has big money (funding a big military—and increasingly militarized police—along with helping to fund a big defense industry) and, of course, American politicians are beholden to big money (including from that defense industry), a cozy corporatist collusion. Besides indirect bribes (beyond just campaign money) and unofficial kickbacks (via no-bid contracts and below-market-value of natural resources from public lands), there are also direct subsidies to corporations and banks.

US taxpayers subsidising world’s biggest fossil fuel companies

U.S. Taxpayers Subsidizing World’s Biggest Fossil Fuel Companies

Why Should Taxpayers Give Big Banks $83 Billion a Year?

Top Banking Analyst: Subsidies to Giant Banks Exceed $780 Billion Dollars Per YEAR

Big Banks Have Raked In $102 Billion In Subsidies Since 2009: Report

A related aspect is that of the climate change debate. People are always arguing over who is getting funded how much and who is doing the funding. Interestingly, many of the same big energy sources that fund political campaigning also fund the opponents of the scientific consensus, from funding think tanks to funding scientists. No matter how much money climatology researchers get, they can’t use that money for lobbying and campaign donations, as does big energy.

Accusations that climate science is money-driven reveal ignorance of how science is done

Not just the Koch brothers: New study reveals funders behind the climate change denial effort

Graphs of Science Funding

It’s obviously a complex issue, but one has to wonder what are the end results of all that money. Even the money that goes to research, is the issue really a lack of enough data to know we have a problem to deal with? I doubt it.

Big money corruption is a non-partisan issue, not that you’d realize that from the mainstream media. It has been a central concern of both the Tea Party and the Occupiers. In general, it has been a growing concern of all Americans. A movement is forming and those involved, individually and collectively, are demanding to be taken seriously. In some cases, concerned citizens are going to extremes in their attempt to get heard.

Can the Gyrocopter Gang Start a Political Reform Movement?

Much of the organizing is grassroots and the changes are starting at the local level. Just recently, the county I live in issued a resolution and so joined the ranks of a growing number of local governments across the country, in both red and blue areas.

County supervisors call for Constitutional amendment – The Daily Iowan

Now, we just need a president who is even half the man FDR was and apparently he himself was already half machine. Maybe having mechanical spider legs gives someone the courage to face down the fascists and oligarchs in order to demand progressive reform.

Earthbound Capitalism and the Frontiers of Space

I was debating with a guy from more on the right end of the spectrum.

I personally know him and so it is a different kind of debate than I typically engage in while online. Knowing a person allows for a more civil interaction. It also helps that we can agree on many things. We are both principled defenders of our preferred political visions, and surprisingly those visions come close together. Beginning from two different points, we both wouldn’t mind our society ending up in the same place, the world of Star Trek: Next Generation.

As often is the case, we were debating the problems of society and how we move toward a better society. It actually began with the issue of campaign finance reform, but expanded more generally to big money in politics and the related issues of plutocracy.

He is more of a libertarian type. In line with that worldview, he has more hope for a technological salvation to be found in the future and in outer space. He sees the main obstacle of the Star Trek society is our presently being stuck on earth. To be free of earth, means to him to be free of all the problems of earth. In the freedom of space, there will be freedom to explore and innovate, freedom from prying big government and social oppression. A near endless supply of planets to be terraformed and settled by every social visionary or economic entrepreneur.

I’m a fan of technology in general. For example, I’m a big fan of written text, bound books, and the printing press. Such technologies have transformed civilization, in many ways for the good. I wouldn’t want to live in an alternative reality where these technologies had been successfully suppressed and the society itself accordingly oppressed. Even so, I can’t quite get on board with what what seems to me to be a near blind faith in technological salvation. Technology is just as likely to lead to more oppression than less, as technology simply opens up new possibilities, but doesn’t morally limit any possibility of its use and implementation.

As I said to this other guy,

Even with your vision of an ideal society beyond Earth, how do we get there? And how do we prevent re-creating in space yet more oppression and victimization, yet more plutocracy and corporatocracy? If we don’t solve our problems on Earth, what will stop us from spreading our problems like a disease throughout the galaxy?

If we don’t solve our problems on earth, I don’t see why we will do so in space or on some other planet. Maybe we should first prove that we aren’t complete self-destructive fuck-ups before we go venturing off into the great unknown. Just my opinion.

He spoke of space as a frontier where people could escape oppression and could opt-out from the dominant social order. And let a million flowers bloom. He used the example of Jefferson’s vision of the early American frontier, to help explain the vision of what we could hope for on the frontier of space.

I responded that, 

I do like the idea of a frontier where opting out is possible. But frontiers don’t tend to last long or always work out well for all involved.

North America was once a frontier that was created through genocide. And after genocide, it was long before Americans set about creating a new empire. I fear like the American founders, good intentions aren’t always good enough. Jefferson is a great example, as he helped set the foundations for American empire in many ways more than maybe any of the other founders.

A million new experiments in the vastness of space would be an interesting opportunity for humanity. But if those experiments simply are variations of what we’ve already been doing, we will simply create ever new forms of oppression, dysfunction, etc. A wealthy individual who terraforms their own planet will likely just become another tyrant of that planet and any other planets he gains control of. Many a tyrant began their career as private citizens.

Space could just end up another Wild West with the equivalent gunfighters, robbers, cattle rustlers, railroad tycoons, oil barons, and privatized goons like the Pinkertons. What ended the violence and social disorder on the frontier in the US was centralized government, after killing off and rounding up all the free-spirited types and other troublemakers. These frontier people who didn’t fit the government’s plan were put in nooses, in prisons, and on reservations.

What is important to keep in mind is those who wanted big government most were the big business types. The wealthy elite wanted law and order, wanted the Native American’s land, wanted to get rid of the land squatters who settled the frontier.

Before Lincoln was a politician, he was a lawyer who worked for the railroads, which were as big business as they came back then. Lincoln’s job was to find legal ways to kick people off their lands so that the railroads could be built. Many people living on the frontier didn’t have legal rights to their lands or their legal rights weren’t clear, as paper work wasn’t always kept well and property lines were at times vague. Before big gov, the Great Emancipator began his vision of progress by working for big biz.

A large part of the Civil War was a fight about the Northern vision of an industrial economy ruled by big biz, big factories, and big railroads. Many Southerners were wary of this capitalist vision and for good reason. Much of the Southern rhetoric was a criticism of wage labor just being another form of slave labor, but for white men. And they were right to make these criticisms, as the hardworking farmer who could support his own family would be destroyed by big biz agriculture. The American Dream of being able to own and to make a living on one’s own land would become a thing of the past.

The events of the frontier and the events of the Civil War were intertwined. Many of the Confederate veterans headed West to escape this vision of collusion between big gov and big biz. The famous gunfighters and train robbers were often Confederate veterans and Southerners in general. They lost the war, but they went on fighting for their vision of independence. The frontier ultimately isn’t an escape from empire, but simply the outer edge of empire. Frontiers as we’ve known them in this society have been products of empire, locations of the clashes and violence of empires.

The same old frontier drama is likely to play out all over again on the frontiers of space. It is a very old story that seems to never end. I just wonder sometime if an alternative is possible. Might it be possible for us to escape this repeating pattern and create an entirely new society? That is the vision of Star Trek: Next Generation. It offers the hope that we might one day end this millennia-long tragedy.

In a joking way, he offered this quote: 

“What makes wage slaves? Wages!”–Groucho Marx

I responded more seriously:

Actually, what makes both chattel slavery and wage slavery is the slavery part. I have no particular principled argument against either chattel or wages. Nor against wealth as property and capital.

For example, capital is basically just fungible wealth, which means it can be easily moved, transferred, and reinvested. Every society, even communist societies, include capital as part of their daily functioning.

Capitalism isn’t simply capital, but a particular kind of capital, a particular social order and class system revolving around capital, a particular emphasize and prioritizing of capital, and hence an economy and society centered around those who own, control, and influence the movements of capital (i.e., the capitalists).

In a capitalist society, everything is centered on and organized according to capital. The capitalists are those who run society. This is obvious to see with our society in how most politicians are people who have worked in or for big biz, big banks, investment firms, etc. It is easy for a lawyer to go from working for a corporation to working as a politician. American politics has become famous for its revolving door between big biz and big gov, and regulatory capture has become commonplace.

Those with the capital in the US aren’t just those with the wealth, but those with the power. It is a capitalist class of businessmen, CEOs, lobbyists, investors, government contractors, advisers, and the many people who move back and forth between the public and private spheres.

Capitalism isn’t the same thing as a free market. A society could have a free market capitalism, not that such a thing has yet existed in the world to any great extent, but it could in theory. However, capitalism as we’ve known it has never been all that close to an actual functioning free market. On the other hand, an actual functioning free market could be and maybe would more likely be centered on something other than capital.

There are many aspects of an economy that are necessary for it functioning well, specifically in terms of a free market. There is social ‘capital’, there are communities, there is land, there is labor, etc. Many people who have criticized capitalism do so not because it is a free market, but because as we’ve seen so far it isn’t a free market or not as free as its rhetoric claims. Yes, capitalism is relatively more free than oppressive economic systems of the past, but that is a very low bar to reach.

You asked me what my hang up is with wealth. I have no such hang up. My issue is with a limited understanding of wealth. There is a lot more to wealth than just capital. In fact, capital is the smallest part of wealth. The most tangible and fundamental forms of wealth are those that can’t be defined as capital, as fungible wealth.

I then added a thought about how capitalism relates to Star Trek:

Star Trek is a good alternative to capitalism. There are some capitalist markets for mostly non-essential goods. If you want some rare object or an original art piece, there are unofficial markets for such goods. But most of the economy has evolved past the need of capital as an intervening form of wealth.

Technology has become so abundant that the scarcity principle behind capitalism is nearly obsolete. No one is ever in need of any basic need, even if they do no work at all, for so much of traditional labor is also nearly obsolete.

Since capital is almost meaningless in such an economic system, the guiding principle of the economy has more to do with human capital and social capital, not capital as fungible wealth, not as we recognize it anyway. It is communities of people and social/political organizations that have primary values. It is knowledge and experience, not capital, that is the greatest personal wealth an individual can gain.

People work not out of need, but out of curiosity and aspiration, simply to live up to their potential and seeking the betterment of society. It is a much more optimistic vision of humanity than is found in contemporary capitalism that sees monetary reward as the only incentive to make people not be lazy.

As I always find interesting, he fundamentally agrees with me, even though technically we are coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum. I think it is the fact that at a more fundamental level we are both classical liberals.

However, our differences did show up in the worry he noted, which was that class warfare would derail and postpone the progress toward a better future. From his point of view, we have to be more tolerant of the failings of capitalism because capitalism is the only pathway to what is beyond capitalism. If we short-circuit capitalism in trying to fix the problems of capitalism, we will create even bigger problems.

From my perspective, I can’t help but repeating what many on the left have said. Many have argued that the capitalist class started the class warfare and they are winning it. The question we on the left always worry about is how do we stop the abuse of this class war of the plutocrats against the rest of us. Only those winning the class war care about continuing it, and most people in the world today, including those on the left, are on the losing end. If those on the right wish for the class war to end, they’d need to speak to the ruling elites in charge of the charade. Or else they can join us on the left and make sure it ends.

The problem is that our society was built on class war. There hasn’t been a moment in the history of the United States when a class war wasn’t a dominant force. It isn’t yet clear that we are even capable of envisioning a realistic and compelling alternative or have the capacity of making the needed changes. But to envision an alternative, we have to first acknowledge and understand the present reality.