Trickle down economics: beautiful and untrue

Reality is a uncomforting idea for folks, whether you’re a blue-collar plumber or a wolf on Wall Street. People have a lPve for ideas that are simple – easy to understand and pretty in diagram-format – that confirm what they desire with disregard for truth. I wanted to explain that idea in terms of economics, or better put, “economics”.

Simplicity for simplicity’s sake is one of those yearnings that unfortunately goes too far. Take the famous model, Kuznetz’s curve. Nobel Prize-winning economist Simon Kuznets began the first systematic study of inequality in the United States in the early 1950s. His monumental work traced income distribution from 1913 to 1948, and Kuznets noticed the hastening reduction in income inequality at the time. Compare this to the previous era before World War I (which started in 1914), when inequality was much greater. Since inequality was great during the early stages of American economic growth, and it decreased as the country industrialized, Kuznets announced the clear causation. Although skeptical at first, he declared that income per capita fit a neat little bell curve:

File:Kuznets curve.png

Though Simon Kuznets recognized his model was “too easy”, the overwhelming number of economists, wealthy businessman, and politicians embraced the idea that inequality would fix itself with no work on part of the elite. The model was simple and a perfect parabola, therefore it was considered true. Of course, factors such as two world wars and a Great Depression were by and large ignored in considering the Kuznets curve – because “complications” are steadily avoided by economists. It is confirmation with aesthetically pleasing graphs that drives American econo-politics to this day.

Simon Kuznets, however unintentionally, lit the spark for contemporary Reaganomics. Reviving Enlightenment era speculation, neoliberals stand in awe of Adam Smith’s “genius” for discovering what is so “simple but true”. Laissez-faire has become a way of life in its own, where economic freedom from government is tied to all other sorts of freedoms in the very American tradition of ethical militarism, theocratic pluralism, and multicultural patriotism. The philosophy where government nonintervention magically keeps the world running through the guiding fingers of the “invisible hand” was made commonsensical through bemusing associations with God and country. The comforting idea of having the “markets decide” isn’t an idea based on proof or analysis, but on its own enshrined romanticism. The economy runs itself because I believe it does, and I believe it does because it is beautiful like so. It works because it has to work, otherwise my own understanding is wrong – which, of course, it can’t be. It is so simple that it has to be true. America has always been this way, and God wants it to stay this way. Plus, a bell curve says so.

The bandwagonny libertarian mindset mimicked above is bloated with irrationality and self-confirmation. It may be true that with careful analysis and study supply side economics could be convincing. It may be true that smaller government and regressive taxes would result in equitable trickle down. It may be true that a more comprehensive conclusion to Kuznets’ data would hold similar principles. What is certain, however, is that by and large conservative proponents are bubbling in the centuries old mantra of government nonintervention not because of careful consideration, but because it’s a simple, beautiful, and “what-my-friends-in-college-said” idea. It helps to have God, country, and a bell curve on one’s side too.


Romance and Reality

Humans are beings of love. Whether it’s that girl who is nothing but perfect or that culture that can’t have negatives, our love exceeds our rationality, our search for beauty surpasses our nitpicking of errors. That is, of course, if the subject of our inquiry is what we idealize already. If it is a subject introduced from reality in the very beginning, then we are critical: with rationality and nitpicking. That irony, to be realistic with opposition and romantic with our own views drives the world.

When Karl Marx wrote Das Kommunistische Manifest, I find it difficult to believe how truthfully he thought of reality. It was as if he entirely disregarded human nature – the feelings of greed and the desire for dignity among people. Indeed, The Communist Manifesto was an honest work for the yearning of equality, but little did Marx and Engels indulge in self criticism. Their critique of capitalism was biting and grim, but their critique of themselves almost nonexistent.

On the other end, Adam Smith envisioned a world that could not exist; a world of true laissez-faire with the guiding hand of the market that drove Darwinian progress. He foresaw the problem monopolies would possess, but laissez-faire was a dogma for all else. He critiqued the opposition, but never himself. His reality was limited by his love for his idea.

Let us call this a romantic obsession. A romantic love for ideas and philosophies simply for the sake of love. Like the girl who has to be perfect, the ideology simply cannot be wrong. The ideology is whole, complete, and in its totality perfectly perfect and realistically realistic. The market will guide itself – because I believe it so. Equality will exist – because it must. Idealism and love, the two intertwined drove Marx and Smith alike into ideological frenzy and romantic adore.

When Martin Luther King marched on Washington singing “We Shall Overcome!”, was he disenchanted? Did he see the apathy of white liberals, or did he ignore it? Did he understand that marching could not do everything? That racism would continue, and that his own people would fuel it? And if not him, his followers? Were they so axiomatic to non violence that Black Power was lost to them? That Stokely Carmichael, perhaps, had something to offer?

And when Malcolm X followed the footsteps of Marcus Garvey – in racial separatism and African return – did Malcolm even look at reality? Could it really be that he ignored the realities of his very same people entirely? Moving back to Africa in droves, from a country they lived in for centuries, for a country that raised them and was their only home, could it really be done? And who would go? Idealism led to nothing.

Theodore Herzl did it. He called on Jews in Europe to Zionism in a back-to-Asia campaign. It worked, it succeeded, it created one of the freest and most powerful nation in the Middle East. His idealism in the 1890s, his romantic obsession with what few thought could happen led to a new reality. In ignoring reality, the Zionists changed it.

Marx did not succeed with egalitarianism – but his words sparked countless revolutions. His ideas brought aspirations and hope to workers, laborers, proles, whatever they are that came into being…sort of. The qualifier, perhaps, was what he ignored. Adam Smith was no different. His hands off government did not succeed, and capitalism always had institutions bearing a quite visible glove. But nevertheless governments formed with his book their Bible. Capitalism and Communism both came to being, but neither came to perfection.

Martin Luther King developed the society Americans have today, never achieving his dream but slowly nearing. Malcolm never saw the separatism once visioned (“separation, not segregation”), but he inspired generations of blacks – in the United States, in Ghana, in Kenya, in France. Their idealism fashioned change, their romance created realities.

Romance shapes our thinking and clots our judgement, all the while kindling desires and resolve for change. The anarchist fights for freedom because he believes it can happen. The soldier dies for freedom because he believes it has happened. Neither is right, neither is true, but neither would fight knowing that. And neither is true until it becomes so, until the anarchist achieves liberation or enough soldiers die abroad to change society at home. Idealism is by its nature unpractical and by its nature a disregard for reality, but only so long as it doesn’t succeed. Success, too, cannot fail till kingdom come. It can only succeed….when it does.

Romantic affairs with universalism or utilitarianism, with love or class warfare are illusions.  It is the Bismarckian realist that knows the game like it’s played, that can compromise and realpolitik his way to incremental change. But the Romantic idealist that knows how he wants the game, who cannot compromise and despises realpolitik, is the one who causes revolution. The realist knows his limits, while the idealist sees not his bounds. One is critical of himself, the other is critical of the Other. We incline to the latter, but we have a fair deal of the former.

Romanticism and realism, romance and reality, drive the world. Politics and revolution work hand in hand, incrementally and massively, making the changes that the changers want to see. The trick is balancing and seeing that game for what it is while seeing what it can be, playing the spectrum and dancing with the continuum: being self critical and employing both techniques liberally but with precision. To do that, one must do the exact same thing as doing it – the logic is circular. And that’s the wonderfully idealistic part about it.

Romance and Reality, you can never have one. Choose both and use wisely. Cast your cards and roll the die…onward!


The Internationale

A great song…just don’t agree with it!

Stand up, damned of the Earth
Stand up, prisoners of starvation
Reason thunders in its volcano
This is the eruption of the end.
Of the past let us make a clean slate
Enslaved masses, stand up, stand up.
The world is about to change its foundation
We are nothing, let us be all.
|: This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race.

There are no supreme saviours
Neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune.
Producers, let us save ourselves,
Decree the common salvation.
So that the thief expires,
So that the spirit be pulled from its prison,
Let us fan our forge ourselves
Strike the iron while it is hot.
|: This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race.

The State oppresses and the law cheats.
Tax bleeds the unfortunate.
No duty is imposed on the rich;
The rights of the poor is an empty phrase.
Enough languishing in custody!
Equality wants other laws:
No rights without duties, she says,
Equally, no duties without rights.
|: This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race.

Hideous in their apotheosis
The kings of the mine and of the rail.
Have they ever done anything other
Than steal work?
Inside the safeboxes of the gang,
What work had created melted.
By ordering that they give it back,
The people want only their due.
|: This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race.

The kings made us drunk with fumes,
Peace among us, war to the tyrants!
Let the armies go on strike,
Stocks in the air, and break ranks.
If they insist, these cannibals
On making heroes of us,
They will know soon that our bullets
Are for our own generals.
|: This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race.

Workers, peasants, we are
The great party of labourers.
The earth belongs only to men;
The idle will go to reside elsewhere.
How much of our flesh have they consumed?
But if these ravens, these vultures
Disappear one of these days,
The sun will shine forever.
|: This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race.

The Great Balancing Act of the First Amendment

I find that the media is misrepresenting the Town of Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court Case in subtle ways, ignoring the pragmatism of the principles upheld. The subject of this article is to evaluate the Supreme Court’s decision, along with the dissents from the actual opinions published by the court, not from what the media purports.

You can find the Supreme Court’s official and constitutionally authoritative summary and ruling of the case here. I will refer to it continually, and do recommend reading – it’s easy to understand.

Before continuing, let’s have a lesson on the First Amendment. When I refer to what is constitutional, I do not claim higher authority on constitutional law than the very best: the Supreme Court justices. I am merely stating what I find better in line with the ethical spirit of the First Amendment and the separation of Church and State. There are two components of the First Amendment to be discussed:

  • Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no lawrespectingan establishment of religion…
    • No government body can prefer one religion over the other.
  • Free Exercise Clause:        …or prohibiting the free exercisethereof”
    • Likewise, no government body can prevent the exercise of religion.

The two components of the First Amendment above form the Religion Clause, which is a balancing act of its two aspects. On the one hand, government cannot impose a particular religious belief on citizens. But government also cannot prevent the exercise of religion by citizens. The two come in conflict in a number of unexpected ways which will be covered throughout.  For example, when dealing with citizens in government: the government member cannot impose his/her religious beliefs but is also free to to exercise their religion in government.

In the delicate relationship between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, we must be clear what this entails in Jefferson’s separation of Church and State. As a society, we emphasize that religion cannot influence government on an institutional scale. We forget this also means government cannot influence religion on that scale. Stephen L. Carter, a Yale Law Professor and once intern to Justice Thurgood Marshall, in his book A Culture of Disbelief, warns that  “the American idea is threatened when religious power mixes too intimately with political power…[but] the greater threat comes when the Church is no longer kept merely separate but is forced into a position of utter marginality.” To summarize, government members have every right to bring their religion into government via the Free Exercise Clause, but are not allowed to impose their religion institutionally via the Establishment Clause.


On to Greece v. Galloway. In brief, the Town of Greece, New York, had monthly town hall meetings that began with a religious invocation. “From the time Greece established its prayer practice in 1999 until litigation loomed nine years later, all of its monthly chaplains were Christian clergy” (Kagan 69). After a brief spell to avoid litigation with a Jewish, Wiccan, and Bahai invocation, the Town of Greece returned to using solely Catholic and Protestant prayer service. The Supreme Court has ruled  “that no violation of the Constitution has been shown” (The Court 5), and I will critique their reasoning below.

For the purpose of clarity, here are the opinions published by the Court:

  • Majority opinion (The Court, Justice Alito, and Justice Kennedy): these opinions believe that sectarian prayers in a government assembly are constitutional in principle, “so long as the practice over time is not exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief” (The Court 19). These opinions do not believe that the Town of Greece’s invocations were doing any of those things,  and is thus constitutional. These opinions have no problem with the town “acknowledging the central place that
    religion plays” in their lives (Kennedy 27).
  • Dissent opinion (Justice Breyer, Justice Kagan): these opinions believe that sectarian prayers in a government assembly are unconstitutional in principle. These opinions do believe that the Town of Greece’s invocations were sectarian, and are thus unconstitutional. These opinions do agree with the majority that Americans “are a religious people” and “prayer draws some warrant from tradition in a town hall” (Kagan 73)

What we see clear in both opinions is the idea that opening prayer is an acceptable part of any government body, and does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Members of government and the public, both of which are citizens of the United States, have the right to Free Exercise which includes public prayer. The question at hand is whether or not public prayer, following the Free Exercise Clause, can be sectarian and still not “prefer one religion over the other” via the Establishment Clause.

Following the majority opinion, in principle I do not think that sectarian prayer necessarily exploits, proselytizes, or disparages faiths or beliefs and thus is constitutional. Rather, it reaffirms that Americans “are a religious people”. The reasoning is as so: “mature adults… [are] presumably not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure” (Kennedy 22-23). A prayer that calls on the name of Jesus is simply accommodating for those who recognize the divinity of Jesus, who have the right to Free Exercise of their religion in public forum, and who may be more readily prepared to govern when in a spiritual state of consciousness that is satisfactory to them. Likewise, for a public audience such as one in the town hall with Christians will likely feel more comfortable and assured of the government’s responsibility to religious accommodation should their religion be specifically invoked. It will likely not, when used selectively, influence the religious practices of others in a room such as to violate the First Amendment.

When a governing body promotes the same sectarian language or prayers repeatedly however – from the same sects or religion – it is without a doubt in violation of the Establishment Clause. This was the case of the Town of Greece, which for nine years straight, on a monthly basis, used only prayer invocations from Catholics and Protestants. The majority opinion seems to beat around the bush and simply ignore the fact that this cannot possibly be anything but the promotion of one religion over all others. It is unconstitutional, and as one can read for oneself, the arguments the majority opinion fall flat on their feet when reading the dissents. It is excluding those that do not adhere to the values of those prayers and equates those values to the values of civic participation in Greece, New York.

For that reason, sectarian prayers should not always be of the same sect or religion over and over again. Justice Kagan, who dissents, writes: “when one month a clergy member refers to Jesus, and the next to Allah or Jehovah…the government does not identify itself with one religion or align itself with that faith’s citizens, and the effect of even sectarian prayer is transformed” (Kagan 19). Here, I agree with the dissent that sectarian prayer is alright so long as the prayer is not exclusively of one sect or religion.

Some may argue that sectarian language should be banned altogether in exchange for inclusive prayer. There is indeed a significant difference in inclusivity from a prayer that calls for shared ethical values or a commitment to the divine than the Lord’s prayer, a Jewish chanting of Sh’ma and V’ahavta, or a Muslim Adhan (Kagan 59-60). That is certainly true and all opinions published agree on the preferableness of inclusive language. However, it comes with an incredible danger for the court to specify exactly what is inclusive and what is not, as well as difficult to justify constitutionally. By banning certain religious invocations and allowing others government would “prevent the excerise of religion’ in the way adherents (who are citizens) would have it, undoubtedly violating the Free Exercise Clause. It would also “prefer one religion over the other” in terms of prayer, clearly against the Establishment Clause. Ironically, totally mandated inclusivity that is specified by the Court would violate the Religious Clause of the First Amendment more then anything else.

That is where I disagree with the dissent, which seems to call for strict impositions of inclusivity on chaplains in public prayer services. Justice Alito’s majority opinion, section II from page 32 to 35, masterfully explains that point. Justice Brewer is right in that Courts should require that government bodies recommend inclusive prayer services, but they should not be mandated for a number of complications Alito addresses:

Not only is there no historical support for the proposition that only generic prayer is allowed, but as our country has become more diverse, composing a prayer that is acceptable to all members of the community who hold religious beliefs has become harder and harder. It was one thing to compose a prayer that is acceptable to both Christians and Jews; it is much harder to compose a prayer that is also acceptable to followers of Eastern religions that are now well represented in this country. Many local clergy may find the project daunting, if not impossible, and some may feel that they cannot in good faith deliver such a vague prayer. In addition, if a town attempts to go beyond simply recommending that a guest chaplain deliver a prayer that is broadly acceptable to all members of a particular community (and the groups represented in different communities will vary), the town will inevitably encounter sensitive problems. Must a town screen and, if necessary, edit prayers before they are given? If prescreening is not required, must the town review prayers after they are delivered in order to determine if they were sufficiently generic? And if a guest chaplain crosses the line, what must the town do? Must the chaplain be corrected on the spot? Must the town strike this chaplain (and perhaps his or her house of worship) from the approved list?

Justice Breyer does correctly note the House of Representative’s recommendation for inclusivity, and I do think Justice Alito would agree that these would be suitable for the Town of Greece as requirements for a prayer service. Unfortunately, for political reasons, the sake of simplicity, or my assessment being wrong, these recommendations were foolishly not recommended:

“The guest chaplain should keep in mind that the House of Representatives is comprised of Members of many different faith traditions.

“The length of the prayer should not exceed 150 words.
“The prayer must be free from personal political views or partisan politics, from sectarian controversies, and from any intimations pertaining to foreign or domestic policy” (Breyer 55).


To conclude, I find that sectarian prayer in government bodies to be perfectly Constitutional and in no way violating the separation of Church and State, as a result of the delicate balance between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. However, these sectarian prayers cannot all be from the same religion at all times, and inclusive prayers should be recommended by the Courts and by government bodies, while not mandated or specified by government bodies. The majority is right to argue against mandated and specified inclusion, and the dissent is right to declare the Town of Greece’s religious prayer services unconstitutional for praying in the same religion. In the plural society America is, religion for better or for worse has its role in public discourse, and we must be willing to accept that.



Note: I did not discuss the Court’s use of Marsh v. Chambers, the tradition of prayer service as a historic reality, the municipal technicalities of Greece’s selection of clergymen, or the the role of religion in a plural society because I think that has been thoroughly discussed on the internet. For that end, I commend Justice Kagan’s use of Marsh v. Chambers, the entire court’s use of the tradition of prayer service, the dissent’s criticism of Greece’s selection process, and I’m a bit more muddled on the role of religion in plural society. I definitely disagree with Justice Kagan on that point, and somewhat agree with the majority – however, I think American civil religion is rightly withering into a myth.

I also did not discuss the implications of the Town of Greece v. Galloway, but to be flat honest the Court for the most part reaffirmed Marsh and very little has changed. It is useful to analyze what it should have been, rather than the status quo that been preserved, however, and that is what I have done.

Fascists for Europe

Don’t call a Gpysy a Gypsy

File:Francisco Iturrino Two Gypsies.jpg


The Wikipedia article on the Romani.

Divorcing religion and knowledge

There is a pervasive ignorance in our intelligentsia that I find so deeply troubling and insulting. We have divorced, in mind and heart, religion from knowledge. In doing so, we are denying our own simple common sense – that Christianity has to do with the Enlightenment, that Islam has to do with terrorism, that Daoism has to do with Chinese farming. We have ignored the very essence and foundation of so many human beings in the world, turning a blind eye to that which troubles and challenges us.

To anyone who claims to know American politics and has never opened a Bible: you do not know American politics.

To anyone who claims to know Middle Eastern history and has never opened a Qur’an: you do not know the Middle East.

To anyone who claims to know Chinese culture and has never opened a Dao De Jing: you do not know Chinese culture.


Many in intellectual circles in the West, frightfully, know more about Grendel then about Goliath, or about Candide more then the Bible. Too, they know more Egyptian, Roman, Greek, or Babylonian mythology then about Hinduism, Islam, or Sikhism. And then they claim to not be ignorant. They claim to stand for pluralism. They claim to stand for liberalism. They claim to be knowledgeable about the world. Too, they claim to not discriminate against Islam and to stand “with the Muslims” on this subject or that. Too, they claim to be enlightened for the knowledge Hinduism isn’t exactly polytheistic.

This is not about proselytizing or engaging in mysticism (or worse yet, spirituality!). This is about the common human decency to understand your fellow man and the world around you.


Learn about the world, since you’re already stuck living in it.



Here’s what I said to a friend of mine once:

I have emotional trouble with people who have no desire to learn who I am and where I come from, and then claim to be friends.

That would be almost all of them. And it keeps me up at night.


Where Do You Comment?

When should people respond and not respond to virtual messages? Perhaps it depends on the medium: Facebook tells one when the message is read, while text messaging doesn’t. It seems rather impolite, in my book, to say “goodnight” over Facebook to which the person addressed does not respond.

Now, Lesley’s post has nothing to do with that except the word “Facebook”. But it’s a good article indeed.

The Accidental Theologist

I guess you’d call this a meta post.

Whenever I write something here on The Accidental Theologist, I click the Facebook button at the bottom and — voilà! — it appears as a linked post on my Facebook page. And thus on the walls of Facebook friends.

This is kind of magical, but here’s what’s puzzling me:  Over the past year or two, the Facebook link has been getting far more comments than the blog itself.  Often, the conversation I’m hoping for happens ‘there’ rather than where I’m writing right now, which is ‘here’ (all use of ‘here’ and ‘there’ being absurd, of course, in cyberspace).

This is fine by me.  Any way it happens is good.  But in my tech-dumb kind of way, I’m trying to figure out the why of it — the dynamics of it, both tech and human.  Here’s six possibilities, which may or may…

View original post 361 more words


I had a high school teacher who once explained why the Dao de Jing was dumb. On top of violating every religious freedom act there probably ever was, I don’t think he actually read it. Not like I have: but I don’t call it dumb. Instead, I call it “interesting”.

I suggested a book to someone once who, after skipping to one of the later chapters called the book dumb within three minutes of skimming. I’m not entirely sure how you can blanket a book as dumb in three minutes. Or maybe I’m not intelligent enough.

Another time, I suggested someone actually educate himself by reading the Bible (even if just a snippet). On top of blanketing all scriptures as “dumb and boring” (keep in mind he had never read at that point any non-Indian prayer-text scripture), he read the first page of Genesis and called the Bible dumb.  He didn’t read anymore: there are far more important things to do in life then learn from dissenting views.

I confess to the same. I started reading the introduction to Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design and called it dumb in the first few sentences. He said (I quote), “philosophy is dead”. I think that statement is dumb, but is the book? Or maybe I’m the dumb one. No, I can’t be. If I were, my ego would be hurt.

Some people call human evolution dumb because their “great grandfather wasn’t a monkey”. That’s a pretty dumb reason. Why that mentality? Because they think they’re right and wouldn’t want to have it otherwise. After all, it’d hurt their ego.

Think about political science. Why is Samuel Huntington dumb? Because I don’t like what he has to say and frankly don’t want to learn what he has to say. Why is Francis Fukuyama dumb? Same reason .

Read about the world, think about the world, and don’t call anything dumb until you learn about it. If you do otherwise, you’re pretty dumb.

“Don’t believe …

“Don’t believe everything you think.” —  The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation

My thoughts on El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.