Wednesday, April 24, 2019


If you haven’t read the recent NY Times article about Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, and you worry about the future of democracy, you should take time to read the story.  Here’s a link: 

This is a horrifying reminder of the concentration of power and influence in our society and of how limited our expectation of morality and ethics in public life has become.   Participation in our political system is hugely expensive, and those who provide the needed funds are granted enormous access to, and achieve substantial influence with, those who make the rules. 

The Murdochs, able to offer both money and media, have extraordinary influence around the world.  In Australia, Fox newspapers and Sky News are major factors on the political scene and, according to the Times article, were an important reason Malcolm Turnbull lost his premiership to a right- wing successor.  In the UK, Murdoch newspapers influence many government decisions and were powerful voices for Brexit. The family has a strong relationship with prime minister Theresa May and on various occasions has sought to acquire full control of Sky TV.  In the US, I think it is logical to believe that Murdoch had more to do with Donald Trump becoming president than did Russian hackers, although there is no way to weigh the two. 

Since Trump became President, Fox has abandoned any notion of fairness in favor of operating as a propaganda machine.  And it’s a success, as measured by the fact that Fox watchers disagree with most other Americans on many important issues. Recently, Fox has moved to align the views of the New York Post – the President’s first read – with those of Fox News. Additionally, Murdoch’s son Lachlan, now chairman of Fox Corporation, has announced plans to launch a streaming service called Fox Nation, for those Fox viewers who are characterized as “super fans”.  There seems little chance that a person who watches Fox, reads the Post and uses the internet to watch Fox Nation will ever have a view different from that of Lachlan Murdoch!  

The complexities of our time are puzzling for all citizens and beyond the grasp of many.  Newspapers – digital and printed – curate the information they provide and can explain issues in depth, but often have a clear point of view.  Unhappily, more and more citizens seem unwilling to read either physical or digital newspapers and turn instead to social media sites and television for information.  Social media sites make no effort to correct posts for accuracy and television cares little for depth and often shapes content to comport with the opinions of its owners, as is very much the case with Fox.  The consequence of all this is that a badly informed public can be and is heavily influenced by both inaccurate information and partisan voices.  

I think the degree of control Fox now exercises over what we call “news” is inconsistent with sustaining democracy.  Unhappily, no legislative or regulatory solution seems imminent and it is likely that Fox and other advocacy sites will sustain and perhaps increase their collective influence unless we all do a far better job of filtering the “news” we see and hear. 

If that happens, democracy may well be at risk, since those who have power and influence will likely do all they can to sustain and enhance their holdings.  I am reminded of a quote from George Orwell’s “1984” in which Winston’s torturer has this to say about power: “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship”. 

 Benjamin Franklin famously responded to a question as to whether he and his colleagues had created a Monarchy or a Republic by saying “A Republic, if we can keep it”.

Doing so is up to us.      

Thursday, April 18, 2019


The New York Times editorialized this week that everyone’s Income Taxes should be public information.  I think it’s a great idea, and I hope the House will soon pass legislation requiring it.  The Senate will naturally defeat it but forcing Senators to vote for secrecy and against transparency is a great way to underscore their continuing hypocrisy about all things regarding taxes.

There are solid reasons for making information about income and taxes public.  For one, knowing more about what others make would give us all a better understanding of how severe income and wealth inequality has become. The Times reports that in Finland, where individual tax data is published annually, an analysis of the data is part of the political process of deciding how much inequality the country is willing to accept. Sounds like a first-rate plan!

More information about what others make would also have an impact on inequality itself.  Knowing what others make will enable the capable and aggressive to build a far better case for increased rewards than is possible without information on competitive earnings. Additionally, transparency would have a positive impact on compliance, since people are not likely to under-report either income or taxes when doing so amounts to a public admission of ineptitude.   And transparency would encourage compliance since most people want to be honest and would rather not suffer the social shaming associated with being caught  cheating.  

Making information about taxes public isn’t as radical an idea as you might think.  In the years following 1861, when Congress first imposed the tax to finance the Civil War, the government collected income and tax information by name, and until the early income tax laws were repealed in 1872, newspapers often published the information.  Income taxes reappeared following the adoption of the 16th Amendment in 1919 and in 1924, the government grew so concerned about tax fraud that it decided to make information about taxpayer income and taxes available for inspection. Predictably, wealthy taxpayers lobbied Congress to reverse the rule, and secrecy has prevailed since.  And again, the results have been predictable. 

These days, tax compliance is a joke.  Less than 10% of household help – whose employers are legally obligated to pay the employer portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes – are paid “on the books”.  Congress – for reasons that can only be based on cowardice and corruption – has consistently underfunded the IRS and as a result, the government loses an estimated $450 Billion owed but uncollected annually.  By closing our eyes to these enormous revenue losses, and by ignoring the adverse moral and ethical impact of non-compliance, we are seriously undermining our country.  For many years, paying every dollar due was regarded as a patriotic duty.  Unhappily, the chances of being audited are now so remote that people who pay their taxes are increasingly regarded as suckers rather than patriots. 

For decades, Americans have ridiculed the non-compliance of citizens of other countries. It’s time for all of us to reclaim the pride of patriotic compliance.  Tell your Representatives and Senators you expect them to encourage full tax compliance by fully funding the IRS, making clear that full compliance is expected from everyone and publishing tax information to prove its all happened.