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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Wealth as a Societal Value in the E.U. and U.S.: The Case of Financial Reform

The E.U. and U.S differ markedly in the degree to which the interests of big business are etched in the respective societies and polities. That is to say, the difference goes beyond the question of the relative influences of the lobbyists. I contend that the relative proclivity societally in favor of business in the U.S. tilts the political playing-field excessively in the direction of the financial interests at the expense of the public good, which I take to be well represented generally by a full, equally-weighted spectrum of views. I further contend that influence is easier for financial-sector lobbyists in the United States than in the European  Union because the societal values in the former lean more in their favor. By analogy,  it is easier to run downhill than even on a flat surface.

The full essay is at "Wealth as a Societal Value."

On the Influence of Wall Street in Congress: The Proposal to Distinguish Financial and Commercial Derivatives

In the process whereby financial reform legislation made its way through Congress after the financial crisis of 2008, the U.S. House and Senate had different approaches concerning who would be required to go through a clearing house to buy or sell derivative securities. According to Michael Masters, "The clearing house would stand in the middle of the transaction and guarantee both sides of the trade. If one counterparty to the transaction fails, then the central counterparty absorbs those losses, protecting the system as a whole from collapse."  Masters claims that "Wall Street firms hate this idea because their prodigious profits will dwindle when derivatives are traded in the light of day, letting their counter-parties see the true costs. So Wall Street is pushing hard to exempt as many transactions as possible."  Given the culpability of Wall Street in the financial crisis, they were in no position to "push hard." That they did nonetheless is a telling sign of the underlying character, or lack thereof, "on the street."  Furthermore, that the representatives and senators were listening to them ought to cause the voters some concern.  Yet because of the reality of the banks' muscle on the hill, the power of the banks to exploit any loopholes in the final legislation should have been salient as the legislation made its way through Congress. This can be seen in whether to favor the House or Senate version.

The full essay is at "Wall Street's Influence in Congress."

Westboro Church's Anti-Gay and John Galliano's Anti-Semitic Opinions: The U.S. and E.U. Contrasted

The First Amendment protects free speech in the U.S. even if it is as hurtful as signs at a Marine funeral proclaiming "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 2, 2011. The Westboro Baptist Church celebrated the death of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Iraq with signs such as "God Hates You," along with anti-gay messages at his funeral in Maryland in 2006. The late Marine's father sought damages for emotional distress. An appellate court had reversed the $5 million award granted by a district court, and the U.S. Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court's decision.  The Wall Street Journal notes that "Chief Justice Roberts nodded to the wrenching set of facts in the case, writing that 'the applicable legal term— 'emotional distress'—fails to capture fully the anguish Westboro's choice added to Mr. Snyder's already incalculable grief.'"  Crucially, however, the justices of the majority opinion would not fall to the temptation of acting on the emotion that naturally follows hearing of such harm.

Interestingly, on the same day as the American high court's decision, the designer John Galliano was being fired by Dior's CEO and investigated by the French police (for inciting racial hatred with anti-Semitic statement, which is illegal in at least the French and German states of the EU) for having made anti-Semitic insults to a couple with whom he was arguing late at night in a trendy bar (cafe) in Paris. There, the emotions got the best of both the designer and those who reacted to the video posted of his comments (albeit showing only a part of the argument). Perhaps a grieving father at his son's funeral reading signs that thank God for dead American soldiers can be likened to a Jewish couple at a bar hearing that they are lucky their grandparents or parents were not exterminated by the Nazis. It is difficult for the rest of us to know how either feels, or how to compare the pain.

In any case, that any human being would want to hurt another so much is truly a sad commentary on our species that otherwise vaunts itself as being in the image of God. Perhaps the question is what kind of God is being envisioned here. A vengeance is mine, sayth the Lord sort, which Nietzsche condemns in his writings as already discredited on account of having such a sordid divine attribute as vengeance?  The deed is done, according to Nietzsche.  So too, the pain has already been inflicted on the grieving parents and the Jewish couple.  The rest is merely mopping up. 

I contend that the impulsive reaction in Europe to the fashion designer's drunken anti-Semitic slurs is inferior to the majority opinion of the American court in the Westboro case because the tolerance of reason is more in keeping with a free society than is vengeance or retribution against a disliked opinion. 

The full essay is at "Anti-Gay and Anti-Semetic Statements."