Joseph Bernt

Joseph Bernt

The Cannon Beach Library has no changes to report this week about library services. Limited browsing continues on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., and residents of Cannon Beach and Arch Cape may still call or email the library to reserve books and arrange door-side pickup appointments between noon and 4 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Last weekend, I took advantage of access to the library and found a copy of Kurt Andersen’s latest analysis of economic conditions in America: “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America, A Recent History.”

As my review below of the latest book by the snarky founding editor of Spy magazine suggests, those rural and working-class Americans Hillary Clinton tagged as “the Deplorables” had reason to complain about their falling economic and social status in the New Economy.

Prior to President Richard Nixon nominating Lewis Powell in 1971 to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, the future justice had chaired the Richmond School Board when Virginia was resisting court-mandated school integration in the late 1950s.

From 1964 to 1971 Powell served on the Philip Morris board of directors and also represented the Tobacco Institute and several tobacco companies in many legal cases. In 1971 he wrote a confidential memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that outlined a strategy for undermining the growing regulatory state in the 1970s and 1980s, personified by Ralph Nader, a young activist lawyer focused on environmental and industrial safety issues.

The “Powell Memorandum” attracted Nixon’s interest in appointing Powell to the Supreme Court and, in the 1970s and 1980s, captured the attention of wealthy ultra-conservative heirs of the robber barons, particularly Richard Mellon Scaife (banking, oil, mining) and Charles and David Koch (petrochemicals, pulp and paper, pipelines, finance, ranching).

Powell emphasized the importance of business creating a conservative intellectual counterculture by seriously financing such think tanks as the sleepy Hoover Institution at Stanford and the Heritage Foundation, Business Roundtable, American Enterprise Institute and Cato Institute in Washington D.C.

These think tanks supported conservative scholars and graduate students at top private and flagship public universities, brought like-minded researchers together for conferences, subsidized publications and introduced conservative scholars with like-minded legislators and matched graduates to staff positions in state and federal offices.

Of special interest to this counterculture is the creation of law and economics programs at major law schools, programs focused more on politics than law. This new field was based on ideas crafted by Robert Bork and his libertarian colleagues at the University of Chicago to make economic efficiency and constitutional originalism determinative in deciding cases.

Both approaches to the law limit what values can be applied in decisions. Moral, social and humanistic values do not lend themselves to the mathematical precision of economic equations. Similarly, the founders’ definition of constitutional language stopped in 1787, perhaps eliminating meanings developed during the past 233 years.

The 1980s saw more than 70 law and economics programs established, many of them supported by funding from the Olin Foundation in 1982, the year of John Olin’s death.

In “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America,” Kurt Andersen tracks the influence of a small group of industrialists and their erosion of the all-boats-rise economy that had supported American life from the end of the Second World War to about 1980 and the election of Ronald Reagan.

Based on his extensive research, Andersen convinced this reader that life in the United States in the past 40 years has devolved from what it had been during the 35 years between the end of WWII and 1980.

Let me share some of Andersen’s observations.

Television arrived in Portland in 1952, seven years after the end of the war in the Pacific, and the programming was free. I now pay slightly under $201 a month for mid-grade programming from Spectrum.

In 1980, income above $700,000 was taxed at 70 percent by the federal government; today it would be taxed at 33 percent.

Today the tax rate on dividend income is 22 percent rather than the normal tax rate of 37 percent.

Profits from selling stocks generally are taxed at 20 percent now, about half the rate applied in 1970.

Before 1980, all American incomes rose at the same pace as the overall economy. Since 1980, though, only people with incomes between $180,000 and $450,000 have experienced this. People with incomes above $450,000 (the top 1 percent) received incomes greater than overall economic growth.

Since 1980, the incomes of the top 1 percent have nearly tripled.

Since 1980, no matter what the metric, the wealthiest Americans have seen their incomes and wealth rise and their tax rates decline more than has been the case for less fortunate Americans.

Let me polish off this column with a few announcements of upcoming virtual library events.

On Wednesday, January 13, at 7 p.m., Elaine Trucke, director of the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum, will present “Let’s Talk Haystack Rock: Tales of Haystack Rock.” Hear some crazy stories via FacebookLive@friendsofhaystackrock. Sponsored by Friends of Haystack Rock.

On Wednesday, January 20, members of Cannon Beach Reads will meet via Zoom at 7 p.m. and each member will read and discuss a favorite poem. I plan to read a tribute by Ho Chi Minh I recently discovered in an antiwar memoir I was reading for a research project I’ve been chasing this past year.

On Saturday, January 23, at 2 p.m., local author Jennifer Greer will discuss “A Desperate Place,” her debut crime thriller, set in Medford. Sponsored by the NW Authors Series.


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