The Heckler's Veto at School
How Beacon Editors Plan Their Vacations

Monday Media Roundup: Billionaires and democracy, cancer and stoicism, ethics and ethicists

In Salon, an excerpt of Billionaires' Ball looks at how economic inequality is bad for democracy:

A private equity manager receiving, say, $600 million as a capital gain would pay $90 million in tax. If the same income were treated as income from salary, it would be taxed at 35 percent (and also be subject to a 2.9 percent payroll tax), bringing the private equity manager’s tax bill to $227.4 million — almost $140 million more.

The ostensible purpose of the lower capital gains rate is to compensate investors for the risk they take in investing their capital. But private equity and fund managers aren’t investing their own capital. They’re investing other people’s capital. They’re simply money managers. By claiming capital gains treatment, they are passing off regular income as capital gains, simply to save themselves taxes.

The fund managers insist that their compensation is still very risky; while some deals may lead to huge profits, others prove disastrous. True. But risk is hardly confined to fund managers. And at lower income levels, the risks are far larger. Indeed, in the last 30 years, vast swaths of the economy could be designated as risky for those needing to earn a living. The sort of stable, lifelong jobs that were common a generation ago have been largely replaced by contract or part-time work, with little or no security. A layoff can mean the loss of the family home or health benefits, or even destitution — far more serious plights than anything likely to befall a hedge fund manager. (For that matter, no one ever seems to argue for special low tax rates for the real risk-takers among us — miners, oil-rig workers, acrobats, firemen, window washers working on tall buildings.) [Read more]

At Obit, Suzanne Strempek Shea looks back at her not-ready-for-a-Lifetime-movie battle with cancer (which she wrote about in her book Songs from a Lead-Lined Room). 

As a patient, I didn’t look movie-of-the-week spectacular. I didn’t grit my teeth with determination. I wasn’t funny. I didn’t try. I neglected my husband and my friends. I wasn’t ethereal or telegenic, or anything I would have predicted. Who, after all, imagines such a state ahead of time? There are no books titled This Is How to Act When You Get Sick, no six-weeks-for-$25 course on the correct steps that make us look good as we dance, so admirably, through our big challenges. 
My normal upbeat manner would have had me guessing that if I ever got whacked by life, I’d not only look good in my hospital bed and gown, I’d genuinely feel good, too. And I’d try to cheer others as well, reassuring them that I’d be fine. I’d share inspirational passages, set records in learning how to talk or walk or resume whatever ability I’d lost. “That’s just how I am,” I’d tell those who asked my secret, who maybe wanted to write a bestseller on my impressive demeanor. “I never once got angry about being sick,” I’d assure them. “I never once asked why this happened.”
But I did. I filled with fury, asking Why? again and again. I loved my 41-year-old life and I had a righteous lucky-American incredulity about something altering it even in the least. I’d always been more than blessed in the areas of loved ones, work, geography, and, yes, health, so I guess I was spoiled. Or maybe I was just a normal person who didn’t see – or welcome – a need for any of that to change. I came to understand the quickly parodied “Why? Why?” that Nancy Kerrigan wailed on the air after her Tonya-Harding-hired clubbing. When you were headed down your regular old path and suddenly everything turns, “Why?” is what you ask. [Read more]

At the Scientific American, a review of White Coat, Black Hat that looks at the tricky problem of being an ethical ethicist. 

Elliott pushes us to examine whether the dangers that may lurk when the private-sector interests are willing to put up money for your ethical insight. Have they made a point of asking for your take primarily because your paper-trail of prior ethical argumentation lines us really well with what they would like an ethicist to say to give them cover to do what they already want to do — not because it’s ethical, necessarily, but because it’s profitable or otherwise convenient? You may think your ethical stances are stable because they are well-reasoned (or maybe even right). But how can you be sure that the stability of your stance is not influenced by the size of your consultation paycheck? How can you tell that you have actually been solicited for an honest ethical assessment — one that, potentially, could be at odds with what the corporation soliciting it wants to hear? If you tell that corporation that a certain course of action would be unethical, do you have any power to prevent them from pursuing that course of action? Do you have an incentive to tell the corporation what it wants to hear, not just to pick up your consulting fee, but to keep a seat at the table where you might hope to have a chance of nudging its behavior in a more ethical direction, even if only incrementally? [Read more]