Nov 182019

Do you pay taxes?

I bet you do unless you are unemployed. Basically, in order to avoid paying taxes, you have to be very well-to-do. Of course, you could try good old-fashioned tax evasion and risk getting caught. But you’d better be sufficiently well-healed to employ a battery of lawyers to protect you in court. My experience is that the less well-off you are, the greater is your risk of getting caught pilfering a can of beans, let alone witholding tax.

Do you like paying taxes? Most people don’t. But look on the bright side: If the well-to-do pay their fair share of taxes (which, more often than not, they don’t) they pay an awful lot more than you.

Let’s say you make USD 3000 per month and pay a 30% tax, which leaves you with USD 2100. Not very much, I grant you, considering all the expenses we have these days: the rent, health insurance, car insurance, pet insurance, dentistry, child care, halloween costumes, weddings… ?

But your boss is making – say – USD 30,000. If he pays his 30% tax, he’ll have an annual income after tax of 351,000. Not bad, I’d say. More importantly, though, his annual contribution to the common good will have been USD 9000. That’s something to be proud of!

Have you ever met a person who was in some way seriously incapacitated, yet who nevertheless managed to help others? I put to you that when we meet such people, most of us feel – if nothing else – respect.

Incapacitated people are exempted from having to live up to peer pressure. They are not expected to own, let alone pilot their own pin-striped jet planes or serve 19th century cognac. That is probably the only advantage the incapacitated have over the rest of us, who tend to scramble like mad to impress one another with profligacy.

Recently, a former president of Peru, Alan Garcia, shot himself when the police came to arrest him. He is believed to have tucked away a lot of illegally acquired money in trusts that the prosecutors won’t get at. You see, trusts have recently turned into a particularly interesting financial instrument for tax evaders and other criminals. If you read this article from the Guardian, you may end up conceding that the extent of callousness knows no limit in the upper echelons of finance. You will see that what the article explains started long before the current US presidency, so don’t blame Trump.

Some authors have romanticised the “poor”, claiming they too are exempted, claiming that they are better than the rest of us. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Or rather I doubt it.

Is the human species even worth the effort of trying to save it from the iminent climate collapse? Can we at all imagine the possibility that social standing might someday not be measured by what we consume, but by what we contribute to the common good?

What I do know, though, is that for hundreds of years, fiction – of which I have read a lot – has tended to make heroes of those who sacrifice social standing and personal wealth to serve the common good. Even in real life, there are such people! Edward Snowden appears to be one of them. With his brains and self-discipline, he could have become fabulously rich.

His deeply moving book, Permanent Record, is not fiction. I don’t know what to call it. An autobiography? Written by somebody who is barely 30 years old? No, I prefer to call it an account. To what extent can one believe his account about why he acted as he did? On the other hand, why else would he have taken such an apparently hopeless risk, which yielded him, personally, nothing but the sterility of exile.

After all I have seen and read during my lifetime, I deeply distrust the species to which I belong, with its Bolsonaros, Trumps, Bushes, Netanyahus fake news, exploitation of miners and anyone who is destitute and hungry. For decades I have witnessed, albeit only on the screen, the killing and maiming of demonstrators demanding elemental human rights. Throughout history, not least the first decades of this century, there has been so much cruelty – just think of the Yemen war and Sudan – so much callousness – the suppression of the Palestinians, the Rohingiuans, the Uighurs, the desperate refugees banging on the doors of USA and Europe…

Would I have bought a pin-striped jet plane if I could have afforded it. No!

Castle in the Air, 1928 - M.C. Escher
Copied from:

But would I, had I had the means, have bought a gorgeous mansion surrounded by a park – my park – by the sea? I honestly don’t know. I would have been a different person, wouldn’t I? Fortunately, I am spared the temptation. So maybe the poor are better.

At any rate, as long as there still are people like Edward Snowden around, it would be a great pity if the human species should go down the drain.

Having thus reached the conclusion that mankind is still worth saving (because you know that no matter how many species perish, the planet will survive and new species will evolve, but humans may not be among them) I recommend not only one, but two good reads:

Edward Snowden – Permanent Record – to maintain your faith in the human species

Naomi Klein – On Fire – which explains in a very companionable way HOW we can save the human species. For those of you who fear that Naomi Klein is a firebrand, you can listen to the book for free before you buy it.

May 082019

Janet doesn’t want to have children because she cannot bear the thought of the future she imagines would await them. Her mother angrily tells her not to be “so silly!” though she cannot explain what’s so silly about her daughter’s well-founded fears.

The fifteen-year-old in the house next door is playing truant today, to go and join an enormous congregation of school children demonstrating to “save the climate”. His parents wring their hands, but what can they do other than threaten to cancel his next allowance. They don’t do that, though, because in their hearts, they are a little proud of him.

Many of us have started apologising on reflex, in a general sort of way and to nobody in particular, every time we book a plane ticket or eat meat. Are we genuinely contrite or are we just paying lip service (in a general sort of way and to nobody in particular)? I do think many of us eat a little less meat, but I very much doubt we fly less, on the whole. I certainly don’t. For 22 years, I could not afford to fly at all. Now that I finally can, I do. And yes, I wish I could go by train, but travelling by train for days across Europe with a dog is an almost superhuman, not to mention super-canine, affair.

Some progress is being made: Many uses of plastic will soon be banned, and it is true that annual CO2 emission from my country has not risen since 1990. As a matter of fact, it is almost exactly what it was then, 8.4 tonnes.

Meanwhile, half my country is up in arms because of the recent dramatic rise in the cost of driving a car (road tolls, tax on petrol, etc.). And yes, it IS UNFAIR that people who cannot afford to live in the metropolis have to spend their savings to get to work every day. In the end, they – and all of us – will be the ones to pay the cost of climate change and the socio-economic effects of it. Compared to that price, road tolls and costly fuel will be Sunday School.

Critics say we must stop raising spectres from the graves, stop being so apocalyptic. We have no right, they insist, to ruin people’s peace of mind. Children must be allowed to have faith in the future, they say; do not fill them with fear, they say.

Alas, many children, those whose parents are farmers, do not need to be told. Their parents wrung their hands last summer, helplessly monitoring scorched fields and slaughtering livestock for lack of water and fodder. The year before last, fields were inundated; houses and cattle were carried away by flash floods. Already this year, my country’s fruit harvest is lost due to climate anomalies. Am I being apocalyptic? Am I ruining anybody’s sleep but my own by observing and narrating what I actually see with my own eyes?

Meanwhile: Business as usual. We are going full blast. There are opportunities to be made the most of. Let the morrow take care of itself.

In some other countries, where social cohesion is scant due to poverty and oppression, they solve citizens’ malaise differently : fascistoid parties and even governments are cropping up everywhere, promising to bring back, by hook or by crook, the “good-old-days”, when youngsters and wives and employees did as they were told and kissed the hands that whipped them. In such countries, you will probably be too busy trying to avoid getting whipped (or put in jail) to worry about the climate.

Not so here, not yet. Here, we (excepting the very few who are taught in institutions run by religious fanatics – more often than not, Evangelical or Saudi-funded Whahabi) have a deep respect for science. After all, laboratories are on the verge of being able to create atoms and brain cells. But science has not been harnessed to save us from the effects of exponential climate change. (Please note the word “exponential”. This word is not a mere adjective; it is tantamount to a curse.) Science can only tell us that exponential climate change will be inevitable and catastrophic unless we turn the ship around in time, as it were.

Turning the ship around in time would mean obstructing “business as usual” so seriously that the powers-that-be refuse to even contemplate the idea. Who would allow them to stay in power if they did?

So, in my Democratic country, while we still mostly resist the lure of fascist rhetoric, we – voters – are definitely not resisting the lure of neoconservative rhetoric:

  • The market will adapt to the “green” shift.
  • Technology will solve the problem.
  • The problem is that Africans have too many babies.
  • We cannot entirely rule out that this is not caused only by mankind.
  • The effects will not be all that serious.

I add, for the record, what many members of the public say:

  • You can’t fight it, it’ll all go to hell anyway. Let’s just enjoy while we can.
  • That bloody “green” political correctness…!

Let me introduce a name here: Naomi Klein, a very smart lady who has been writing words of warning for years and whose critique is very sharp indeed, and very prophetic. In one of her recent articles (I cannot understand how she finds the patience to continue explaining, so nicely, what we refuse to understand) which I urge you to take a look at, you will see, at least indirectly, that Naomi Klein has little faith in the market as a problem solver.

NOT because you and I don’t care, but because you and I have to pay the rent, and we have to pay for petrol, child care, etc. Every year we have to pay. WE had no say in the decisions made back in 1988. WE had no idea then. And even now, in 2019, we hope that it will all turn out all right. At any rate, most of us can’t really afford more expensive petrol.

For my part, I am very confused, too. I don’t at all doubt the effects of climate change. I understand implicitly the effects of greenhouse gasses. I have understood that ever since I read Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos in 1980.

But I don’t see how our so-called “democratic” states can convince voters to elect “green” politicians who will make their lives very much worse than they are. I don’t see how this can be done unless the state is totalitarian and I definitely don’t want a totalitarian state.

Dear Naomi Klein, please figure it out.

Aug 032014

Hvorfor tar pelshvalen sånn på vei, spør du kanskje. Vi har sommer og fint vær, ikke sant? Vi lever godt, ikke sant? Vi må være takknemlige for at vi har det så godt, ikke sant?

Greit, vi må være takknemlige for at vi ikke bor for eksempel i Syria, helt klart, eller i USA (hvor noen av oss sikkert kunne hatt det fint, mens de fleste av oss ville hatt det vesentlig verre) eller på Island, i Hellas eller Irland, for ikke snakke om Spania, hvor livet for en stor andel av befolkningen er blitt veldig mye verre enn for ti år siden. I 2013 emigrerte gjennomsnittlig 250 personer per dag fra Irland, for å ta et eksempel.

Det er mange grunner til å være takknemlig, men nettopp derfor er det grunn til å advare mot å sove i timen. Ett av dem er mange makroøkonomers bekymringer for velferdssamfunnets fremtid. Jeg skal ikke gå nærmere inn på dette nå. I stedet vil jeg kommentere en bok fra 2007 som plutselig er blitt relevant for oss nordmenn. Det dreier seg om the Shock Doctrine av Naomi Klein.

The Shock Doctrine er en analyse av hvordan kriser (f.eks. naturkatastrofer og krig) brukes til å innføre upopulære tiltak som vil stimulere deler av økonomien og gi deler av maktapparatet større kontroll. Utgangspunktet til Klein var nok hvordan angrepet på tvillingtårnene ga anledning til BÅDE å innskrenke en rekke borgerlige rettigheter OG til å gi en innsprøyting til det Joseph Stiglitz (nobelprisvinner i økonomi) kaller markedsfundamentalisme. Stiglitz har en viss sympati for Kleins synspunkter, selv om han nok ikke følger henne hele veien. Han var jo tross alt økonomisk rådgiver for Bill Clinton.

Naomi Klein går mye lenger i å hudflette etablissementet enn etablerte økonomer kan tillate seg. Bare uttrykket “predatory capitalism” (rovdyrkapitalisme) er en stor kamel for økonomer som ønsker å leve av sitt yrke og som derfor trenger å beholde en jobb. Etablerte økonomer vil gjerne at vi skal tro at fornuften seirer til slutt, og at det som er fornuftig er det de fleste av oss (dvs. markedet) vil. Bak begrepet rovdyrkapitalisme ligger en annen forståelse av tingenes tilstand som jeg ikke skal våge meg inn på. I stedet henviser jeg altså til Shock Doctrine, hvor forfatteren mer enn antyder at katastrofer gjerne ønskes velkommen av kyniske entreprenører.

Forfatteren bruker uttrykket “de-paterning”: I kjølvannet av en katastrofe, et angrep eller en reell eller innbilt trussel blir våre tankesett (patterns) gjerne satt ut av spill. Det overordnede er med ett blitt å komme seg i sikkerhet og å sikre familien, nesten uansett hva det måtte koste. Dette kan kyniske manipulatorer utnytte ved å så spirene til nye tankesett.

Jeg tror det har like lite for seg å idyllisere våre egne økonomiske og politiske ledere som å demonisere islamister. Jeg er temmelig sikker på at i hvert fall Arbeiderparti-ledelsen er fullt klar over at Israels mål ikke er “fred” men herredømme over et større landområde enn det som på kartet kalles Israel. Når dette ikke åpent gis til kjenne, så er det av taktiske grunner som ikke nødvendigvis er synlige for allmennheten. Sikkert er det i alle fall at situasjonen i Palestina ikke er blitt bedre med årene. Jeg tror ikke det skyldes hverken dumskap eller uvitenhet fra våre myndigheters side.

Norge har i praksis støttet Israel i tykt og tynt, vel vitende at Israel systematisk har avlet, nørt opp under og stadig vedlikeholdt et grenseløst hat blant palestinere og deres muslimske venner.  Israel og dets allierte har systematisk lært palestinere og deres sympatisører at folkerett og FN-resolusjoner er for kakepynt å regne. Å skape så stor grunn til hat og så stor avmakt i forhold til internasjonale institusjoner må kunne kalles stimulering av terrorisme. At Norge har bidratt til en nedskrivning av folkeretten og til å danne grobunn for terrorisme er svært beklagelig. Men det skyldes neppe uvitenhet.

For å si det med andre ord: Når norske myndigheter går ut med trommer og fanfarer for å varsle befolkningen om en mildt sagt vag trussel, så finner jeg dem ikke troverdige.

Vi er blitt oppdratt til å verne om borgerrettigheter. Nå skal vi omprogrammeres. I USA er de allerede blitt omprogrammert til å tåle overvåkingen de er underlagt i henhold til alle tiltakene som ble innført med den såkalte Patriot Act. Nå har vi nordmenn skjønt at også vi blir overvåket, i hvert fall av NSA om ikke av våre egne. Dette må vi lære å tåle, heter det.

Jeg siterer høyesterettsdommer Ketil Lund:

Det nødvendige politiske grunnlaget er basert på befolkningens frykt og dens tillit til den liberale rettsstat de har vokst opp i. Frykten drives opp gjennom symbiosen mellom overvåkingsinteressene, politikere og media som villig kolporterer trusselvurderinger i angstdrivende oppslag som, slik vi nå har sett, blant annet selges ut under politikerros som tillitsskapende åpenhet (Klassekampen)

Om vi aksepterer det, vil det bli enda vanskeligere å avsløre og spre kunnskap om de taktiske grunnene til at myndighetene handler som de gjør, selv når det etter alle solemerker ikke er i Norges interesse. Det er åpenbart i noens interessse, men det skal ikke graves for mye om det.

I det tidligere Øst-Europa, ville Naomi Klein ikke ha fått lov til å utgi så systemkritiske bøker som No Logo og Shock Doctrine, det er sant. Vesten har funnet ut at man har råd til å tolerere henne. Hennes kritiske røst er tross alt som en vanndråpe i det store mediehavet og det er lett å marginalisere henne. Se for eksempel på omtalen av Sjokkdoktrinen i Wikipedia – den norske Wikipedia. Der omtales den positive omtale om boka i én setning etterfulgt av 8 avsnitt om negativ kritikk.

Naomi Klein trenger ikke jobb. Hun klarer å leve av bøkene hun skriver og av å holde foredrag. Men det er det relativt få som kan. De fleste er lærere eller forskere eller kanskje bare hobby-samfunnsvitere, og det de nesten alle har til felles er at de trenger en jobb. Det skal veldig lite til før ansatte lærer å passe seg for ikke å si sin mening, før man venner seg til å yde selvsensur i en blogg. Det er vanskelig å bevise at man ikke fikk det stipendiet eller den jobben fordi man hadde de og de synspunkter, men når overvåkingen ikke er åpen og kontrollerbar, er den heller ikke ettersporbar.

Det som bekymrer meg aller mest er faktisk nettopp at det er så stille i kjølvannet av “terrorkrisen”. Jeg ventet faktisk at media ville forlange svar. Dette har jo kostet flesk. Hvor er alle spørsmålene?