Friday, April 25, 2014

The Piketty Factor: "Capital in the 21st Century" - The right book for the "Right" Time?

Economist Thomas Piketty's book, "Capital in the 21st Century" is already causing a stir in media, political and economic circles for its analysis on the negative impact of extreme capital accumulation on growth. In essence, he posits that, for the many, inheritance will matter more, much more, than individual merit and hard work. That is, the increase in wealth in capital will prove inversely proportional to the increase in employment and related growth needed for the expansion of the overall economy, not only for the expansion of those at the very highest levels. The Paris School of Economics professor's book is dense, theoretical and scholarly, but references a great deal of data and research. It provides a more academic foundation to the more anecdotal and intuitive sense that, while things are proceeding very, Very, VERY, VERY well for some, for many others, things are not going well at all in the present, and the prospects for the future, especially for succeeding generations, either the young or those on fixed incomes or facing retirement, are not looking promising at all. Since the last decades of the 20th century, and into the 21st, the hegemony of the Right-based ideology of an anti-government free market corporate society, as we move into this era of advanced capitalism, denied the importance of equality and true opportunity for all segments of society in favor of a trickle down theory. Following the 2008 economic collapse, despite the marginal increases in financial regulation, the resurgent stock market was accompanied by sluggish employment. Where economic growth occurred, it was for those who already held a lot of wealth. For those who did not hold capital, specifically for salaried employees and wage workers, growth has languished, or worse.

Whether he is "on the money" or not, a fresh view is needed and that may be what "Capital in the 21st Century" can provide. The book, and much of the writing surrounding the debate of his book and ideas, will no doubt become required reading in New York's City Hall, where Mayor Bill deBlasio has made the issue of inequality a central issue in his recent election campaign and, hopefully, his administration. It also needs to be discussed in the White House where President Obama has recently cited the issue as well.
--Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

What follows is Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn's Piketty Primer:

Thomas Piketty's Book "Capital in the 21st Century" (Harvard University Press) - excerpt here
Excerpt of the excerpt: "In a way, we are in the same position at the beginning of the twenty-first century as our forebears were in the early nineteenth century: we are witnessing impressive changes in economies around the world, and it is very difficult to know how extensive they will turn out to be or what the global distribution of wealth, both within and between countries, will look like several decades from now. The economists of the nineteenth century deserve immense credit for placing the distributional question at the heart of economic analysis and for seeking to study long-term trends. Their answers were not always satisfactory, but at least they were asking the right questions. There is no fundamental reason why we should believe that growth is automatically balanced. It is long since past the time when we should have put the question of inequality back at the center of economic analysis and begun asking questions first raised in the nineteenth century. For far too long, economists have neglected the distribution of wealth, partly because of [economist] Kuznets’s optimistic conclusions [about the inevitable historical decline of inequality, but which was not based on empirical research] and partly because of the profession’s undue enthusiasm for simplistic mathematical models based on so-called representative agents. If the question of inequality is again to become central, we must begin by gathering as extensive as possible a set of historical data for the purpose of understanding past and present trends. For it is by patiently establishing facts and patterns and then comparing different countries that we can hope to identify the mechanisms at work and gain a clearer idea of the future."

Stephen Erlanger in the NY Times: Taking on Adam Smith (and Karl Marx) here
Excerpt: "The last part of the book presents Mr. Piketty’s policy ideas. He favors a progressive global tax on real wealth (minus debt), with the proceeds not handed to inefficient governments but redistributed to those with less capital. “We just want a way to share the tax burden that is fair and practical,” he said.

"Net wealth is a better indicator of ability to pay than income alone, he said. “All I’m proposing is to reduce the property tax on half or three-quarters of the population who have very little wealth,” he said."

John Cassidy in the The New Yorker Inequality by the Numbers: Thomas Piketty's Inequality Story in Six Charts here

John Cassidy in the New Yorker: Is Surging Inequality Endemic to Capitalism? here

Moyers and Company - Perspectives on Piketty here
National Review: Technology will save us. Dean Baker: Provides valuable insights. American Prospect: deTocqueville 2.0. More.

Pascal-Emanuel Gobry in Forbes: The Conservative Case for Thomas Piketty here
Excerpt: "But on his proposals on inequality, I think this quote aptly sums up his project–which happens to be one I share: ”my point is not at all to destroy wealth. My point is to increase wealth mobility and to increase access to wealth.”

Time Magazine on Why Thomas Piketty is Freaking Out the Super-Wealthy here
Excerpt here:

"Piketty’s 15 years of painstaking data collection—he poured over centuries worth of tax records in places like France, the U.S., Germany, Japan and the U.K—provides clear proof that in lieu of major events like World Wars or government interventions like the New Deal, the rich take a greater and greater share of the world’s economic pie. That’s because the gains on capital (meaning, investments) outpace those on GDP. Result: people with lots of investments take a bigger chunk of the world’s wealth, relative to everyone else, with every passing year. The only time that really changes is when the rich lose a bundle (as they often do in times of global conflict) or growth gets jump started via rebuilding (as it sometimes does after wars).
This is particularly true in times of slow growth like what we’ve seen over the last few years. I’ve written any number of columns and blogs about how quantitative easing has buoyed the stock market, but not really provided the kind of kick that we needed to boost wage growth in the real economy, because it mostly benefits people who hold stocks–that’s the wealthiest 25 % of us. Meanwhile, consumption and wage growth remain stagnant. And as Piketty’s book makes so uncomfortably clear, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. No wonder I saw an advertisement for a storage company on the subway the other day that read, “The French aristocracy didn’t see it coming, either.”

"That’s one of Piketty’s biggest messages–inequality will slowly but surely undermine the population’s faith in the system. He doesn’t believe, as Marx did, that capitalism would simply burn itself out over time. In fact, he says that the more perfect and advanced markets become (at least, in economic terms), the better they work and the more fully they serve the rich. But he does believe that rising inequality leads to a less perfect union, and a likelihood of major social unrest that mirrors the sort that his native France went through in the late 1700s. Indeed, the subsequent detailed collection of wealth data in the form of elaborate income and tax records made France a particularly rich data collection ground for his book. (Bureaucracy is good for something!)

"My feeling about this book is similar to that of New York Times’ columnist Paul Krugman. It’s going to be remembered as the economic tome of our era. Basically, Piketty has finally put to death, with data, the fallacies of trickle down economics and the Laffer curve, as well as the increasingly fantastical notion that we can all just bootstrap our way to the Forbes 400 list. It’s telling and important that Piketty credits his work to the fact that he didn’t forge his economic career in the States, as so many top thinkers do, because he was put off by the profession’s obsession with unrealistic mathematical models, which blossomed in the 1980s to the exclusion of almost all other ideas and disciplines, and the false ideologies that they were used to justify. “The truth is that economics should ever have sought to divorce itself from the other social sciences and can only advance in conjunction with them,” he argues.
Indeed, had more top economists followed the lead of other social scientists and ditched their black box models in favor of spending time in the field—meaning on Main Street, where trickle down theory hasn’t ever really worked—they might have come to the same conclusions that Piketty has. We can only hope that the politicians crafting today’s economic programs will take this book to heart>"

Piketty: "Income Equality "Completely Useless" here
Excerpt: "If you'd like to live in Downton Abbey, the good news is that our economy has entered a second Gilded Age of opulence and elegance.

The bad news is that you'll likely end up among the vast majority stuck sweating in the kitchen.

In a new book, Thomas Piketty, the French economist who helped popularize the notion of a privileged 1 percent, sounds a grim warning: The U.S. economy has begun to decay into the aristocratic Europe of the 19th century. Hard work will matter less, inherited wealth more. The fortunes of the few will unsettle the foundations of democracy.

The research Piketty showcases in his book, "Capital in the 21st Century," has set the economics field ablaze. Supporters cite his work as proof that the wealth gap must be narrowed. Critics dismiss him as a left-wing ideologue."

Paul Krugman in the NY Times on "The Piketty Panic" -- unable to refute, the right resorts to name calling. Column here
Excerpt: "The really striking thing about the debate so far is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack to Mr. Piketty’s thesis. Instead, the response has been all about name-calling — in particular, claims that Mr. Piketty is a Marxist, and so is anyone who considers inequality of income and wealth an important issue."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Love for Sale: John Tuturro's Fading Gigalo

John Tuturro's Fading Gigalo, somewhat ill-named but surprisingly rich in nuance for what sounded like a run of the mill sex farce.. Woody Allen had a very substantial if familiar role and the presence of the satmars at the center of a love story was surprising and interesting in a warm improbable tale. Sharon Stone and Sofia Vegaris were the names necessary to propel that aspect of the gigalo subplot but it was Vanessa Paradis who was the essential and conflicted love interest and Liev Shreiber as a Satmar shomrim who , along with a subdued but very affecting Tuturro, drove the tale with their touching and satisfying performances. Somehow it all worked throughout. 
 A grown up New York (and Brooklyn) indie fairy tale that is well worth seeing.

--Anthony Napoli
Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

Anti-Semitism Amidst the Chaos in Ukraine

A flier distributed outside of a synagogue in East Ukraine ordered Jews to register and provide proof of property ownership; local officials deny responsibility.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ai Weiwei: According to What? Comes to Brooklyn Museum

Springtime at the Brooklyn Museum is an event in itself with the opening of the first major New York area retrospective if the work of artist Ai Weiwei. Major retrospectives have been shown at the Tate Modern in the UK, at Corcoran in D.C. In the US, and at Mori Art Museum In Tokyo and now he's in NYC. A great exhibition including the major rebar work which a curator indicated is expanded from the piece shown in DC. Also S.A.C.R.E.D., dioramas recounting the artist's arrest and incarceration, which appeared in the VeniceBiennial. 

The museum is the focal point of an amazing amount of first amendment energy as well with Witness: Art and CivilRights  in the Sixties, another powerful collection of art and photos highlighting the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

Rounding out this energetic season is "Submerged Motherlands" by artist Swoon (Caledonia Dance Curry) addressing climate change. Swoon engages with climate change in the installation as a response to the catastrophic Hurricane Sandy that struck the Atlantic Coast in 2012, and Doggerland, a landmass that once connected Great Britain and Europe and that was destroyed by a tsunami 8,000 years ago.A towering tree and post apocalyptic sea craft dominate this fascinating exhibit.

A trio of "must see" exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum.
--Anthony Napoli
Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Reconstructing the Universe": Italian Futurism's Paradoxes and New Ideas

"Boxes of love is preserved" is a collection of short stories by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti , originally published in 1927 by the "Art publishing Faun" of Rome . The book, with cover and friezes by Carlo Petrucci and illustrations by Ivo Pannaggi . It's cover seems to lead to the 
Commercial styling and ironies of pop art
especially by Andy Warhol later in the 20th century.
‘Before the Parachute Opens (Prima che si apra il paracadute)’, by Tullio Crali

Italian Futurism: 1909-1944 Reconstructing the Universe at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum gives an exhaustive multimedia look at the roots, development and context of this uniquely creative - and politically unsettled- art movement of early 20th century Italy. Founded by F.T. Marinetti and resulting from the meeting of the Italian avant garde with theFrench  cubists, the movement theorized, proselytized, fabricated, and generally explored the cultural and existential possibilities of the new century, declaring independence from the past and -doldier becoming intertwined with Mussolini and the Fascist movement. 
As an example of the Futurist fascination with action  and danger, Marinetti's "Zang Tumb Tumb" a book recalling the October 1912 battle of Adrianopolis (Turkey) in which he participated as a Futurist-soldier uses "words in freedom" to create a sort of typographic tone poem that exhibits the Futurist  love  of "vitalistic dynamism"--- and war. 

The exhibit explores the ideas, ideology and paradoxes of the movement that formerly ended with the death of its founder,Marinetti, in 1944.  An interesting, richly detailed and in-depth exhibit. Through September 1.

--Anthony Napoli
Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

Flatbush Spring: Snow Fields and Japanese Cherry Tree Buds

Photos from Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"They Quit Before They Started Their Search" - Wicked Gravity by the Jim Carroll Band

My high school alma mater, Bishop Ford, Brooklyn, NY is closing. A sigh and a deep breath and the news prompts memory and a plunge back into the music of the Jim Carroll Band. Carroll, in his music, poetry, and novel "The Basketball Diaries" explored the bohemia outside of his white ethnic Catholic upbringing, a constant struggle for alternative, literary and artistic Catholic youth. Carroll's fame was more fleeting but his cultural collisions still have resonance, and, fortunately for him, he managed to survive his rebellion and brushes with art and vision.

RIP Bishop Ford HS 2014. (Carroll died in 2009)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Coda to the Coda: The Federal Government and The Ranchers

Alright then:

UPDATE: Sheriff Announces Bureau of Land Management Will Cease Operation against rancher Clive Bundy over grazing land dispute. 

Checkout the tone of this item from
Info Wars on the conflict. Despite the withdrawal of federal authorities this conflict is likely  over yet.

Coda: Sacred and Profane: Religious freedom and the Waco Disaster

Reflections on reading James Tabor's  and Eugene Gallagher's Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America asks the question why Waco became demonized as a later version of Jonestown when the authors present evidence, including testimony of surviving and former members, that suggests there was no overt "brainwashing" or coercion. The authors further discuss the demonization and intolerance in American society and media toward non-traditional religious groups, pointing out that America itself was colonized by many off shoot-groups seeking religious freedom.

However the authors striving for its own objective and evidentiary review takes its own profound leap of faith when they observe that the focus on the group's possession of an extensive firearms cache is inextricably -- and unfairly to the authors- linked to its unorthodox beliefs. While suspicion of illegal activities may say something about the perpetrators, they write, it should not cast an unfavorable light on the entire group or their beliefs. Controversy surrounds whether some of the weapons held were illegally altered. The cult label also is held to scrutiny as an unfair characterization. 

There are many, many religious groups that function outside of the mainstream. In NYC alone small churches quasi-or un-affiliated abound. There are many Orthodox Jewish groups that exist completely separate from - yet interact with - their surrounding community. I think the isolation of American millennial groups, and their rejection of established laws and societal values, will continue to exist. However I think it will always remain the possession of weapons which bring the groups into direct conflict - from the view point of a power relationship -- with the Secular authorities and will be the key factor and challenge that leads government forces to neutralize and eliminate what is viewed as an armed threat to its authority. 

Nevertheless as Malcolm Gladwell observed in his recent New Yorker essay, and as James Tabor showed as he attempted to work with the Davidian Group and the federal authorities in resolving  the standoff at the time, it is essential for the government to have a more comprehensive and objective view and understanding of the religious and even anti-government groups before acting. Clearly as we see in the current issue over grazing rights in Nevada cults are not always limited to religion and must be understood in their extremism or unorthodoxy before blood - especially that of innocents - is shed.

--Anthony Napoli
Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

Friday, April 4, 2014

Remembering Uncle Rocco

A kind and generous heart and loving father and grandfather. Retired FDNY and WW2 US Navy veteran. Rest in Peace.

Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo