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June 05, 2005

There's A Feeling Of Boredom/Of The Big Whoredom

Back in the middle ages, you could make a good living painting the portraits of kings, queens, princes, dukes, earls, etc. You painted their picture; they gave you money; and they stuck the portrait on their wall. Everybody was happy.

There was a catch, however. You could never, ever paint them as they actually were.

In reality, the kings and queens were pretty ugly. They had bad teeth, drooping jowls, and running syphilitic sores. If your painting reflected this, it would be your last commission. But if you painted them as they wanted to be—youthful, strong, beautiful—you would eat well to the day you keeled over. True, you had to be a complete and utter whore, but that's life.

Our present day kings and queens don't bother much with portraits painted on canvas. But the urge to be surrounded by beautiful reflections of themselves hasn't changed. So these days they mostly hire people to paint portraits of them with words.

I thought of this as I read an article by David Cay Johnston, the best reporter at the New York Times, about the ever-widening chasm between America's richest people and everyone else:

From 1950 to 1970, for example, for every additional dollar earned by the bottom 90 percent, those in the top 0.01 percent earned an additional $162, according to the Times analysis. From 1990 to 2002, for every extra dollar earned by those in the bottom 90 percent, each taxpayer at the top brought in an extra $18,000.

That's reality, and it's hideous. Even worse, it's in the New York Times, so our kings and queens might read it and begin to suspect they're not quite as lovely as they thought. Fortunately, our present day royalty have already paid someone to be on hand to paint a more appealing portrait:

"In this income data I see a snapshot of a very innovative society," said Tim Kane, an economist at the Heritage Foundation. "Lower taxes and lower marginal tax rates are leading to more growth. There's an explosion of wealth. We are so wealthy in a world that is profoundly poor."

Of course, this is gibberish. The only way it could make less sense is if Tim Kane had said "Hrabls xrrix Flu*&$#." But that doesn't matter, just as it didn't matter if the Baron of Richecourt was completely bald except for a lank brown fringe and you painted him with a flowing golden mane. What matters is reassuring the people who own you that they're beautiful. In this, Tim Kane excels.

(You should read David Kay Johnston's excellent book, Perfectly Legal.)

(Title reference here.)

Posted at June 5, 2005 07:45 AM | TrackBack

That pic looks like something I would see on a Monty Python medieval's so cool...

Posted by: En Ming Hee at June 5, 2005 10:24 AM

Actually, I'd say Kane's last sentence is bang on. Just don't tell the help there's any causality involved.

Posted by: mk at June 5, 2005 05:28 PM

I was so disturbed by that picture that I couldn't read the piece you wrote.
Please DON'T EVER print that picture again...Or send it to my home...Or text it to my phone...Or make me think about it all day and night...Again.

Posted by: Robert ToTeras at June 7, 2005 11:51 AM

"In this income data I see a snapshot of a very innovative society," said Tim Kane, an economist at the Heritage Foundation.

If only the Bourbons had set up a think tank, Marie Antoinette could have died a very beautiful 80 year old woman.

Posted by: Cal at June 7, 2005 08:54 PM

Inequality = Innovation

The court philosophers of the new regime are increasingly shameless.

Who is that "we" of which Kane speaks?

Posted by: Catherine Liu at June 9, 2005 07:47 AM