Aug 4, 2018

I'm recycling here non-personal parts of a  letter to a life-long friend. He's recently retired as a philosophy professor and has just agreed to reactivate himself to teach a course in Western
civilization.  The first part is a comment on American schooling, sometimes referred to as "education."  The second answers a question he asked me, basically about how guys like Paul Manafort get so damned rich.

 For whatever it may be worth.


You're going to teach Western Civ?  Wow. Just like (a semi-goofy old college instructor of ours) :)

I agree it should be fun. The bonus will be a fresh and intimate glimpse of how well your k-12 schools are doing in creating culturally literate high school graduates before they decree them ready for college. I really look forward to hearing your take on that subject.

(Good morning, Class. I'd like to begin with a brief discussion of John Locke and his place in the Enlightenment. {You privately judge the number and intensity of dead-blank stares and adjust your pedagogical approach accordingly.}).


I wish I were more confident in the generality of my fellow citizens' propensity to follow and at least hazily understand the Manafort trial. I'm sure I crossed paths with him in the Reagan years, though I have no specific memory of it.  He would have been one of hundreds of young, smart, attractive, personable hustlers with democracy on his lips and and a lust for personal riches and power in his heart. He found his glory until he broke the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shall not get caught.

These guys follow a step-by-step process. Ingratiate yourself with politicians and their staff, beginning with the low (congressmen, e.g.) and proceeding to the high (senior senators, cabinet departments, White House aspirants, e.g.). Prove you can raise money and win elections for your clients, primarily by deft manipulation of public opinion.

At the maturity of your career you will have actual influence in the highest places. Ka-ching.  You may be involved in the movement of trillions (yes, "T") of dollars around the world. It's in trade deals, military aid, economic assistance laws and executive decisions. By diverting only the tiniest fractions of 1 per cent to yourself in fees and purported expenses, you are wallowing in millions of personal wealth.

Note that last week the prosecution alleged that Manafort garnered about $60 million from Ukraine lobbying deals. He's in trouble so far not for the actual work, but for income tax questions. (Personal belief: Sure he cheated. I'd  amazed if he didn't.) Now, a few-year  income of $60 million to most of us is a number beyond belief, but to governments and the "capitalist" firms who depend on them it is pocket change.

Consider a small example. I am making it up, but it is wholly realistic:  A  large Ukrainian ocean-shipping firm is seeking more favorable treatment in its use of ports and harbor facilities in the United States. The concessions hinge on decisions by U.S. federal agencies, perhaps the Department of Commerce. The company forecasts an extra $10 million annual income if it gets the breaks. To pay Manafort $2 million for trying to pressure Commerce and $5 million more as a success bonus could be quite a reasonable business decision. And that's just one comparatively minor deal.

It's a golden cess pool. It grows in parallel with the amount of money and power we -- little guys like you and me -- meekly cede to government.