Honoring Estelle And Manny Margolis

It’s a standard school assignment:  Interview someone, then write about it.  The idea is to develop interviewing skills, learn history from someone who lived it — and then connect what you learned with the world.

I can’t imagine anyone carrying out that assignment better than Jonah Newman.  The 17-year-old son of Staples graduate Abby Margolis was asked — by his American Protest Literature teacher in California — to find people who had been politically active.

He did not have to look far.  His grandparents — longtime Westporters Estelle and Manny Margolis — define the term.

Here’s part of what Jonah wrote:

As far back as I can remember, Emanuel and Estelle Margolis — my maternal grandparents — have been a part of my life.  Every year my parents, my brothers and I join the rest of the Margolis clan at my grandparents’ home in Westport, Connecticut to celebrate Passover.

Emanuel "Manny" Margolis

The house occupies a special place in my heart — like its own timeless world it remains the same every year, as comfortingly consistent as the presence of the two people who have lived there for five decades.  Perhaps it is because I have known my grandparents for my whole life that until recently, I had rarely thought about their rich backgrounds as political activists.  I discovered that my grandparents, who participated in many of the key social and political movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, are the very definition of living history.

Emanuel Margolis and Estelle Thompson (“Papa” and “Buba” respectively) were both born in New York City in 1926.  Papa, whose father and stepfather were both rabbis, came from a conservative Jewish family.  He was highly academic, and attended University of North Carolina, Harvard graduate school and Yale Law School.

When he was only 18 years old, Papa fought in Germany during World War II. He was wounded in the knee at the Battle of the Bulge.  He returned to college after the war thanks the G.I. Bill, and it was at UNC that he began his career as a political activist.

Buba was also raised in an Orthodox Jewish home.  Her family was hit hard by the Great Depression; her father often had trouble finding jobs and making ends meet.  She was artistic, participating in arts, theater, and music programs at school.

She never went to college but was admitted to the graduate School of Architecture at Yale and graduated in 1955. Her drawing talent was strong, and as a young woman she made a living out of art and architecture. Her political activism began when she was an adolescent and continued throughout her life.

Papa’s experiences in Germany changed his perspective about the world and catalyzed his transformation into a political activist upon his return to the United States. Because of his religious Jewish background, he had never thought about becoming an activist; he had been assured God would make the world better.

“World War II dispelled myths about my life,” he says. “Previously, there had been no reason for me to be involved in political activity because I believed in the power of God to solve the problems of the world.” His view of life was shattered by the reality of war.

He remembers seeing a Reader’s Digest article that said “there are no atheists in foxholes,” and calling it nonsense.  The war had “changed [him] from a religious believer to an atheist.”

With the dissolution of his belief in God came a “great yearning for activism and political activity.” “I now believed,” Papa says, “that the world needed changing, and we could change the world.”

Returning to UNC after the war, Papa found a much greater social awareness at the school.  He began writing for the school newspaper about current issues, and joined several activist organizations on campus.  At one point, Papa and other veterans used the organizational skills they developed in the military to protect a group of desegregationist bus riders from a mob armed with baseball bats and 2-by-4s.

Becoming an attorney after college in many ways inhibited his activism, since the profession demands exclusive and objective devotion to the law. However, Papa notes, “a lawyer can play a very important part in helping ensure the protection of rights.”

He continued fighting for his political beliefs, specifically human rights.  He repeatedly argued in support of Constitutional principles, in particular the First Amendment.  He even defended the Ku Klux Klan’s right to march publicly, contending that it was expression of free speech. After the U.S. became involved in the Vietnam War, Papa helped young people who had been arrested while protesting the war argue their cases in court, again invoking the First Amendment.

From his marriage to Buba in 1959 until the present day, Papa has persisted in his political activism.  He is a regular columnist for the Connecticut Law Tribune, often writing about political or human rights issues. He has been a dedicated participant in anti-war protests, from Vietnam until Iraq and Afghanistan, with his wife and family.

He believes that the reason so many people support war is because they do not understand it. Having fought in a war himself, Papa firmly believes that “war is a monstrosity” that wreaks emotional damage on all involved, including those on the home front. About the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Papa asserts that “even the GI’s do not know their mission…they haven’t the foggiest idea about what they’re trying to accomplish…We’re spending trillions on wars that have no foreseeable ends.”  Though he is 84 years old, Papa’s continued activism supports the principle that humans can indeed “change the world.”

In the late 1980s, Sen. Jesse Helms attacked the National Endowment for the Arts. Estelle Margolis responded with this painting.

Throughout her life, Buba has employed several diverse methods — including picketing, art and hands-on involvement — and has drawn from her innate empathy to protest war, discrimination and economic inequality.

Her career as an activist began much earlier than Papa’s.  At 12 she picketed outside Alexander’s Department Store in the Bronx in an attempt to get people to boycott Japanese silk after the Japanese invaded Manchuria.

Over many years since then, the anti-war message has been consistently important.  She says: “It overwhelms me with the thought of the devastating damage that has been done…What sense are we making out of the policy that keeps throwing young kids to their deaths?”

Buba’s sympathy may stem from her maternal instincts (she has 5 children and 10 grandchildren), and shows the simple human compassion that motivates her continued struggle against war.  She was active in her criticism of the Vietnam War during the 1960’s and 70’s, and has protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 2005, Buba has helped lead a weekly vigil on a Westport bridge to protest the war in Iraq. Her signs at these present-day rallies say what they have said for decades: “Support The Troops, Bring Them Home.”

One of Buba’s natural skills has proved to be a lifelong tool for her activism. “I’ve been very lucky all my life because I know how to draw,” she says. Lucky is an understatement; in the late 1940’s Buba worked as an assistant to  legendary artist Ben Shahn. In 1946, Buba and Shahn worked on an enormous collection of political leaflets and posters to support Democratic candidates across the country. “We created a leaflet for every single candidate,” she recalls.

But there are risks to political activism. In 1947, when she taught union organizing to black and white students at the desegregated Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, angry vigilantes drove by, shouting and shooting at the building.

Even the government was an occasional threat.  Buba says the FBI planted spies in the meetings of activist organizations at the school.

In 1970, Buba and a group of women protesting the Vietnam War by picketing in the middle of a busy street were almost run over by an angry truck driver. The women were arrested for obstructing traffic, but Papa used his legal skills to keep them out of prison.

Driven by her human empathy and making full use of her artistic talents, Buba continues to be a potent voice of protest. Although both she and Papa believe the world needs changing, they also believe that the world is inherently beautiful.

Papa and Buba fervently believe America and the world are fundamentally good.  We just need to fight to keep them that way.

92 responses to “Honoring Estelle And Manny Margolis

  1. The Dude Abides

    A very fine testimonial and some very fine writing by a 17 year old. Remarkable. I couldn’t help to wonder whether certain commentators here would label the Margolis as promulgating “bigoted opinions” and “divisiveness” among the public. Thanks to many individuals like the Margolis, Westport has always been and will continue to be a hotbed of intellectual exchange and activisim. Kudos to the family who must be very proud of the patriach/matriach and their granddaughter.

  2. I guess a Purple Heart soldier who served has [like everybody else] a right to his opinions, however misguided. But disgracing the flag shows flagrant disrespect for a national symbol. These two seem more like angry contrairians looking for an outlet for their inner unhappiness. The bridge protest is another way of screaming “LOOK AT ME,” without contemplating the effect on our troops in the field. The world would be more “inherently beautiful” if these two would express their opinions beautifully. Yes, excellent writing… honor… NO.”

  3. I’m with the Veteran on this one…
    even the Dude hinted at the obvious [promulgating “bigoted opinions” and “divisiveness” among the public]. Too bad war made him an atheist. Most soldiers go the other way.

  4. I’d surely like to know in which war/conflict/police action “Veteran” and/or Tom Feeley participated. Apparently “Veteran” has no respect for the First Amendment and Mr. Feeley none for Atheists. Mr. Feeley has the ability to divine (is that the correct word?) what makes soldiers “go the other way” regarding religious beliefs. “Veteran” is probably still angry at those who had the audacity, the temerity to stand against the Vietnam War and to oppose the invasion of Iraq. Rather than realizing that our troops appreciate those who protest and demonstrate to remove them from harm’s way and bring them home, he cannot see the forest for the tress.

    Estelle and Manny (whom I have never met) are Noble Americans who should be cherished not castigated. Westport is proud that they are our neighbors.

    • Estelle and Manny are entitled to express their opinions, as are those who disagree with them. I have noticed though that those who “oppose” wars tend to be selective when indicating just which wars they oppose. Why not include WW I, WW II, and Korea? If opposition to war is principled, shouldn’t all wars be condemned?

    • ” Maggie’s Drawers” 🙂

  5. How arrogant and presumptuous of Mr. Margolis to say that “…so many people support the war because they don’t understand it.” If that’s your belief – you’re entitled. But lose the categorical. And what about folks who also actually fought/fight in wars who do understand it (or at least believe that they do)? Does Mr. Margolis dismiss them as well?

  6. Mr. Feeley indicated no disrespect for atheists, only that there were not many in foxholes. As for Manny disrespecting the flag, as Vet asserts, I may be a poor reader but I saw no evidence that he did so. Through the decades there have been many like Manny and Estelle who have let their voices be heard in Westport regarding world affairs. Good for them. Had more Americans listened to those voices there would have been no Vietnam War, no needless invasion of Iraq. They helped spearhead the civil rights movement and strove to protect the innocent — and the guilty, such as the Klan — and to help the innocent protect themselves. They stood for a way of life, as the Vet says, that entitles all to a voice. There’s nothing more American than that. Are they contrarians? Maybe, but there are many safer ways to demonstrate one’s contrarian nature and to gain attention than to do what they did, often putting their lives on the line. I’m not an atheist, nor, thanks to lifelong blindness in my left eye, a veteran, but my dad, a four-decade Westporter, was both. He was an atheist before enlisting in the US Army in 1941 and remained one after he was mustered out in 1945. In between was a nearly 4-year stint as a platoon commander with the 101st Airborne that included a Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, eight battle stars, including Normandy, Holland, the Bulge and southern Germany — and many a night spent in a frigid foxhole in sub-zero weather on the outskirts of a beseiged railhead town in Belgium called Bastogne. Still an atheist, but we never knew why. It was his business. Yet, although raised Protestant in northern NH, he accompanied his Catholic family to Christmas and Easter masses at Assumption and drilled my sisters and me on our Catechism lessons. He took his reasons for his atheism to his grave and never spent a second of his life trying to convince anyone else to agree with him. During his war, he also helped liberate a concentration camp in Germany, an experience that seared him for life more than all the combat combined. This was one soldier/atheist who knew who he was fighting and what he was fighting for.

  7. We are proud of Manny & Estelle — our family and our role models.
    Keep on shinin’ the light, guys, and ignore the noise.

    –Wendy & David

  8. Great writing for a 17 year old. The grandfather’s body of work is something to be proud of.

    Disgracing The American Flag and showing it off w/a smile is just disrespectful; she has a right to be so, but it’s immature at best, totally in poor taste and is not art.

    Turning back the clock, would these 2 have protested US war efforts during WWII as well? Or were the objects of WWI and WWII not worth fighting for? Or were the freedoms of those people worth fighting for but the freedoms of the people being fought for today less worthy of US investment?

  9. The flag with profanity was a tad too much for me but freedom of speech has no limits in my mind. This country was founded on dissent and Westport is home to many of such nature. It is one reason why it is so interesting to live here.

  10. American Protest Literature? Look out Mural Painting……

  11. nobody here has expressed intolerance just an opinion that this form of dissent is not high art…it’s not even good graffiti. Aside from merits of the ‘art’, given her background, her ‘f you’ to the USA runs about as deep as upper middle class suburban boys letting their pants slip below their hips in partnership with beltless members of the prison population.

  12. War is not the answer. War has never been the answer. Those who take a strong stance against today’s wars express outrage about specific illegal, undeclared wars (we’re in three [3] of them right now as we sound off from the comfort of our living rooms/home offices.) Three illegal, undeclared wars which we lied our way into. Three illegal, undeclared wars and we’re STILL being lied to. Three illegal, undeclared wars in which young American men and women and countless innocent civilians continue to die.
    It is as criminal to remain silent in the face of such barbarism as it is to commit it.

    • So if wars were legal and declared you would not object to them? It seems that you are confusing morality and legality. War is wrong even if it is both declared and legal. You cannot alter its immorality by making war either legal or declared or both.

      • The Dude Abides

        I think you are haggling over words. Few would argue that World War II was justified following the Japanese attack and the evils of Hitler. However, one could certainly question Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and now Afganistan. Simply put, wars (as we know them) don’t work anymore. We have a 800 billion dollar a year military budget that can not defeat an enemy that doesn’t own an airplane. We need not worry about the legality, morality or even the justification but we do need to redefine how we fight these wars.

        • The difference between “moral” and “legal” is significant; it is at the heart of any discussion of the legitimacy of the regime. There are those who think that WW II was not justified or morally acceptible. We do not know how to fight wars because we have not adjusted to a new reality. The guys who run the war machine are fighting the last three wars, and the guys who run the guys who run the war machine haven’t a clue. We should just bring the troops home from everywhere.

  13. You tell them, sister! The big whale of a military deficit guzzler is running on all cyclinders. The cost of the Iraq War could have given every American health care. Not to mention the countless loss of lives, destroyed famlies and psychological damage to those who serve. Time to stop the madness!

  14. It’s not that that act of war doesn’t work, because it does. Winning a war, works. Given a multi-national conflict of interests, it’s in a country’s best interests to win a war, economically, politically, socially, culturally, etc. Without the act of war, the act of diplomacy doesn’t work.

    When you complain about the cost of war, that isn’t a complaint about the act of war, that’s a complaint about those in charge or the legislation in charge of purchasing equipment and services leading to purchases at extraordinary prices. Instead of complaining about the act of war on this basis complain about the legislation that dictates the processes by which those goods and services are purchased; for example, there are studies out there that show that doing so would shave hundreds of millions off of that $800B.

    • The Dude Abides

      Actually they have found that “beefing up” the state department may be a more effective means to avoid war than the intelligence agencies present in many of these countries of turmoil. The military runs the dysfunctional Congress. The tail wags the dog there. Ike was right. Your argument is without merit(s).

      • If you are going to cite Ike, you should at least mention that in that same speech he warned against godless communism. So how much Ike can you stand?

        • The Dude Abides

          Communism WAS godless. Still like Ike. The ole joke
          that you wind up an Ike doll and it does nothing for 8 years.
          Perhaps you prefer President Petraus?

  15. Eric Buchroeder

    You can disagree with “Buba” and “Papa” Margolis but you can’t deny the sincerity and consistency of their beliefs. As a teenager growing up in Westport ’65-’71 I remember the many causes of the time that they championed which at that time I did not support and today regret that my summary judgement back then was that they were “limousine liberals”. I could not have been more mistaken. After 40 years and in particular this narrative I can only respect them and find myself in agreement with many of the positions they have taken. I have matured and they have remained consistent in their deeply felt (and acted upon) values. I wish them continued wisdom, passion for their causes and long life. And I appreciate and honor Mr. Margolis’s service to our country in World War II.

  16. This is a really useful link to keep around for those moments when reality dims.


    • The real cost is not registered in dollars, but in lives. BTW the source isn’t the best, and the focus should be on the humanity, not the dollars. If you focus on the economics, then your objection is subject to an ROI analysis as was suggested above. If your objection has a moral basis, then you object to all wars and no such ROI analyis carries any weight. Do you object all wars?

  17. The Dude Abides

    How do you determine when you “win” a war??? When countries have a democratic government and get the Jerry Springer show on DirecTV?? I concur on the loss of lives as being a barometer and that is why I am advocating a new fighting machine: CIA drones and air attacks combined with death squads. But you can not overlook the monetary expense either. 3 trillion for Iraq could have developed some pretty advanced solar energy technology instead of maintaining our addiction to oil.

    • Solar energy is a bigger waste of money. It will not be cost effective in anyone’s lifetime except maybe for heating your pool. I’ll just take my share of the cost of these wars back in dollars, and then I’ll decide how to spend it. If we really wanted to end our dependence on foreign oil or “addiction” to oil, we would have done so. It is clear that we do not. As to your foreign policy, nice thoughts but first you need the approval of eleven Congressional committees, the UN, the guy who runs Wikileaks, the ACLU, Greenpeace, the two Angry Mom’s, and your aunt Tillie. The Kennedy boys tried running foreign policy that way and look what it got them; the man said something about chickens coming home to roost. BTW the real price of oil has declined since 1980. It’s cheap, maybe that’s why the world uses so much of it.

      • The Dude Abides

        Agreed. We need to increase the price to about 10 bucks a gallon (although with subsidies it is really about 15$ now). I am told by a “reliable source” (Deep Mind) that the CIA was conducting kills squads here and abroad until Barrack told them to stop. With the Bay of Pigs, it was the centralization of the intelligence agencies that failed. The opposite with 911. Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s “What the Dog Saw.” Good read.

        • No, we should let the market determine the price. Having the government raise the price just produces an inefficient allocation of scarce resources which in turn lowers output and raises its costs. To the rich who live in Westport, that might not be a significant setback, but if you live at the subsistance level it is. Wht not raise the price of sugar too? Oh wait, we tried that, and the cost of stuff made from sugar went up, and the manufacturing of stuff made from sugar went overseas. Same model for oil. Letting some GS 12 or drunken congressperson set the price of oil is definitely not a good idea.

          • The Dude Abides

            Then we need to drop the subsidies to oil/gas companies. And sugar is too expensive, corn and fructose syrup are cheaper. Just watched a documentary that implied that solar is the answer. Uranium will run out in ten years, wind is a joke as is corn for ethanol but solar is unlimited and cheap. What say you?
            And what is with that NRA Christmas card? Have you gone Charlton Heston on me??

          • Yes, drop the subsidies, to GM while you’re at it, and all the VC firms that have invested in alternative energy and have nothing to show for it, and everyone else bellied up to the public trough. Solar energy is not price competitive. As to the unranium supply, we can easily make more, ask the French. We have enough oil, coal, and natural gas right here in the US to meet our energy needs for as far as the eye can see. I am fond of at least nine of the ten amendments.

        • Once upon a time, I did some bidness with a Cuban exile who was there. He did not have much good to say about the Kennedy boys.

    • So killing the other guy is morally defensible, buy when your guys die it is not. Why not just nuke the other guy like Harry did? Using your metrics, it might be cost effective in both dollars and the lives of the “good” guys.

      • The Dude Abides

        Or we could just buy off the bad guys and those who don’t take it, kill them. I believe they call that the “Surge.”

  18. OK, you two.
    Get a room.

    • How about an answer to the question whether or not all war is wrong, or are we to conclude that the only wars that are wrong are those you deem to be such?

  19. The Dude Abides

    The Westporter is full of New Yorkers.

  20. If all war is immoral then it makes no sense to try to justify them on legal or moral grounds. But we still have to fight them. So in the words of Bill Russell, “we might as well win.” Had we dropped a dozen or so nukes on Afghanistan in October of 2001 I have no doubt that OBL, or his noggin, would have been delivered with a bow tied around it in about ten seconds. We must remember that developing and using weapons of mass destruction is our core competency and our failure to embrace this in the name of “morality” is at the heart of all our military failures (and they have all been failures) since 1945.

    • The Dude Abides

      Nice. Quote from Big Bad Bill too. Pretty broad generalization in that if we don’t use the bomb, we don’t win. Perhaps true but definitely scary. I prefer my death squads and drone attacks. As to the open-ended question, all wars are no good, either morally or legally.

      • I didn’t mean to imply that the only way to win was to use the bomb, rather that the only way to win is to stop trying to use morality or legality to define the rules of engagement, and in the words of Al Davis, “Just win, baby.” If the purpose is to root out and punish criminals/terrorists then drones and death squads fit the task- think Israel vs. Munich terrorists. Nations who harbor terrorists might require something louder.

  21. The Dude Abides

    Well certainly your Oakland Raider (no pun intended) theology was the philosophy of the many in the military during Vietnam. I think it is inevitable that we remain in the torments of war. I believe it is only two years in this country’s history that we have NOT been at war. Sort of sad but a reality. With a movement to non-proliferation, I still maintain that a new avenue of military force needs to be implemented. But agree that “not winning is only for losers.” (Coach P)

  22. i applaud estelle’s painting . . . cause i lived through the jesse years here in north carolina.

    • Jesse saw the NEA as a special interest group competing for swill at the public trough, and the more the NEA got, the less there was for his favorite special interest groups, and Jesse was not far off the mark. The NEA benefits from threats of violence or acts of violence aimed at the American people; tax collection. Jesse’s special interest groups were no different. (Farm subsidies anyone?) The NEA, NPR, and PBS are all special interest groups that benefit from the collection of taxes with the implied or actual use of force. Now, those who are special interest groups almost never see themselves as such , but that is simply a lack of self-knowledge.

  23. The Dude Abides

    Actually Senator “NO”‘s big opposition came with the NEA when they supported Robert Maplethrope, a gay artist. He was a homophobic and a bigot who opposed any form of integration. His wallet was firmly enhanced by big tobacco, his snort deely emerged in money and hate.

    • Those observations may be true, but they don’t change the substance of the matter. The NEA is a special interest group just as big tobacco is or was. They are both bellied up to the public trough and rely on money taken from others for their existence. Although I don’t think big tobacco is getting the swill it once did. The NEA is still at the trough. Neither group adds to the overall welfare of the average citizen.

    • Thank you Dude, you took the words right outta my mouth.

  24. The Dude Abides

    If you exclude all those who are at the “trough” or “take” from the government, it leaves very few including most of business. I am not sure I comprehend your view of government? Are you advocating no such spending by the government unless it benefits “the overall welfare of the average citizen”???

    • I am advocatiing Pareto Optimality and that government supply only public goods. The NEA is not a public good. If you want a definition of a public good, you can find it in Samuelson’s “Economics”, sixth addition or later. In short, for something to be a public good, there must be no rivalry in consumption; your ability to consume it is not diminished by mine. While for political reasons the government might not be able to restrict itself to supplying only public goods now that there are so many bellied up to the public trough, perhaps it could try to eliminate just one or two of the thousands of foolish programs funded by the taxpayer and see if the world spins off its axis.

      • The Arts are a Public Good — you may read any political agenda you care to in the mission of the NEA, PBS, and NPR. This country narrows its views more and more every day and its becoming devoid of appreciating anything but endeavors that appear Economically Beneficial. Citizens such as yourself will only be happy when schools teach nothing Math, Technical Writing, and Business Science (think gas, coal, and petroleum exploration).

        Jesse did his damndest to convince people that the arts are dangerous and a waste of public money — especially art on the edge of the mainstream. He instilled paranoia.

        A country that pushes aside support for things not considered Economically Viable is devoid of humanity.

        • A society that wastes scarce resources to fund special interests is devoid of humanity. The NEA is not a public good, no matter its political agenda. Please read Samuelson’s definition, or Friedman’s if you prefer (they are the same). The NEA is bellied up to the public trough just as is every other special interest. You may prefer the work of the NEA to that of other special interest groups, but then, every special interest group has a constituency. The narrow view is that of those who refuse to see the NEA for what it is; a special interest.

  25. excuse the omission above “teach nothing *but* Math, . . .”

  26. Paul A. Samuelson is usually credited as the first economist to develop the theory of public goods. In his classic 1954 paper The Pure Theory of Public Expenditure,[2] he defined a public good, or as he called it in the paper a “collective consumption good”, as follows:

    …[goods] which all enjoy in common in the sense that each individual’s consumption of such a good leads to no subtractions from any other individual’s consumption of that good…

    This is the property that has become known as Non-rivalry. In addition a pure public good exhibits a second property called Non-excludability: that is, it is impossible to exclude any individuals from consuming the good.

    • this just makes my head spin . . . really? So this guy Samuelson back in 1954 expected that there were actually some things that EVERY citizen would perceive as beneficial? And that only things agreed upon by Everyone should be supported by the government. That if Citizen A doesn’t care for something Citizen B cares for, that is grounds for non-support. He seems to have not accounted for Subjectivity . . . which I would say is a direct result of Freedom.

      • btw Wikipedia does an excellent job explaining Non-rivalry — I’m especially enjoying the entry on Market Failure and the Free Rider Problem.

        its a nice streamlined economic utopia Samuelson was aiming for, but its pure economic science . . . i get it, despite being blond.

        and so, i remain of the mind that the Arts are a Public Good.

      • The guy Samuelson won a Nobel Prize in economics. He taught at MIT for decades. He wrote of the most used economic texts over the last five decades. The NEA is not a public good. You may like it, but then Jesse liked tobacco price supports paid for at taxpayer expense. Almost every welfare recipient thinks that her/his check is deserved. We all cannot be at the public trough; the numbers don’t add up.

      • BTW Samuelson said nothing of “beneficial.” That would be your twist. Some public goods might not be “beneficial.” The important concept is “rivalry in consumption.”

  27. The Dude Abides

    Considering that nearly 3/4 of our government spending goes for either entitlements or the military, I would dare say that the NEA and others you depict as being “at the trough” are merely getting a tiny taste from the water fountain.

    • A billion here a billion there and before you know it….

    • btw Dude, its right to have mentioned the Military, as they fall under the definition of the Free Rider Problem with Samuelson’s economic theory — i think it can also be described as Carte blanche.

  28. The Dude Abides

    What is the annual budget to NEA? Shannon???

    • Dude — hardly a billion — its 2009 budget was 155 million and the President requested $163 million for 2010.

      Anonymous — i am indeed impressed by Samuelson, he was obviously a giant among men, working for JFK, Johnson, Clinton — his accolades are practically impervious, but I wonder what his take on what a Public Good might equal. Without reading further on him, I wonder if he exposed himself politically and named what he thought equalled a Public Good? The more I read of the definition of a Public Good, the more convinced I became that the Arts meet the criteria.

      I think it is easy though to subject his theory to your political agenda, Anonymous — you have very strong ideas on who should get money and who shouldn’t and Samuelson’s theories back you up somewhat — when I read that he worked for JFK, Johnson, and Clinton and not Nixon or Reagan or Bush, my theory that he was of the mind that the Arts are a public good seemed even more plausible.

      Estelle and Manny understood that idea implicitly — so maybe I should revise my theory — the Humanities are a Public Good.

      • I don’t want any special interest to get money. My argument is about economic policy and the general welfare, not political favoritism.

  29. The Dude Abides

    Drop in the bucket. A big bucket granted but I would rather focus on the inflated military ATM rather than some poor starving artists. Speaking of which, back to work.

    • exactly — the military as i said above is a Free Rider.

      i think i have to get back to my bookkeeping now, which might be a Public Good, i’m not sure, i’ll have to think about it, but at least i am not rivaling anyone else’s consumption by doing it, so that’s a relief!

      • argh — no Dude, i’m wrong — the Military is not a Free Rider — those who do not pay taxes are the Free Riders . . . apparently this problem can be remedied by conscription; if you can’t pay taxes, pay your own fair share of things in the country, then we Draft yer butt.

        BUT the Military receives far too large a share of the funding and it can do so by simply being the Military — its political agenda is to Protect, so it can never be questioned. Whereas Sesame Street’s political agenda is murky at best, and so scrutiny can be forcefully applied.

        Okay, now I’m getting back to work, because this Rivalry for Public Good is making my head hurt, and I am certain i am infuriating Anonymous with my twist on the whole serious idea of making sure that all is fair in public funding and layabouts and artists don’t get easy handouts.

        • Dude — when i said : if you can’t pay taxes, pay your own fair share of things in the country, then we Draft yer butt — I was being Sarcastic in answer to the theory that conscription is a remedy. I would never advocate such a policy.

    • The old size doesn’t matter argument. I don’t think so. The fact remains that the NEA is not a public good. Every congressperson argues that their earmark is only a drop in the buck. Virtually major entitlement is not a public good; so feel free to cut as much as you wish. BTW defense is a public good. I think in one article Samuelson uses it as example of a public good.

  30. The Dude Abides

    Shannon brings up a good point about tax evaders as the number who don’t even file is amazing. I agree with the “earmark sydrome.” We need another Proxmire. But what is the “public good????” Some would argue that 800 billion for the military is not necessarily for such good while entitlements, by design at least, is for such a goal.

    • National defence conforms to the definition of a public good. Samuelson and Friedman defined it as such. The fact that national defense is a public good does not mean the we should spend $800 billion. Entitlements are designed to be wealth transfers. They are not public goods. Entitlement spending makes some better off and some worse off, by design.

      • Wealth Transfers? Eee gad! Let’s not go down that road. I got on this thread to advocate for the Arts and Humanities, and somehow this gets bogged down in the current selfish tirade of folks who don’t want their money to go to layabouts — the government is not a Good for only those who can pay, the government is there to serve all of us. Oh Estelle and Manny, help me out here!

        I gotta go blog now . . .

    • Dude — i want to clarify though, i was not advocating conscription for tax evaders or others who don’t pay taxes — there are plenty of people who lawfully don’t pay taxes and some hard liners believe that conscription should remedy the “rivaling”. Conscription based on economic class is wrong, wrong, wrong. I find the whole idea of balancing Goods & Services doled out to the public idealistic at best and discriminatory at worst.

      Ugg — I think that we could spend years debating what is a Public Good, its not as clear cut as Anonymous wants it to be.

      • Yes it is. It is difficult for those bellied up to the public trough to realize that they are receiving wealth transfers, OPM.The NEA is dependent of wealth transfers for its existence. Every recipient of a wealth transfer considers himself/herself worthy and the poor taxpayer as sort an ATM machine. Now that you’ve tried to grapple with public goods maybe you should spend some time on Pareto Optimality; see above. The government should not engage in activities that make some worse off while making others better off; wealth transfers.

  31. a) the margolis’s are doing something right if their life inspires this many comments… and they are doing plenty right indeed;


    b) is anyone surprised that their grandson is taking a class called “american protest literature?” and that high school has GOT to be in san francisco.

  32. The Dude Abides

    Good point Tommy, Papa and Buba would be proud. I wonder if they have such a course at Staples??? Are protests limited to California only?? They couldn’t even legalize mary jane. Mormons. It seems the only protestors these days are the Tea Partiers. Your good point on tax evasion, Shannon, was lost on me in further elaboration. But I do believe a national sales tax would be far more effective in creating revenue and affect all of us. Still trying to get a grasp on your concept of government spending or for that matter, government in general Anonymous. Are those on Social Security going to the public trough?? Medicare? Not sure where the wealth transfer begins and the compassion for the elderly and less fortunate begins????

    • If you take from A and give to B, that’s a wealth transfer. Social Security is a Ponzi scheme as well as a wealth transfer. It is actuarially unsound and if it were a private pension fund the sponsors would be in jail. The current plan is far from what FDR proposed in 1935. Compassion? If we had compassion for the elderly we would not have confiscated large percentages of their income during the 40 years they were working, and then perhaps they would have enough wealth to support themselves in retirement. Social Security benefits have been cut and in all liklihood will be cut further. You can’t rely on the government for support in your old age and you can’t rely on the government to deliver adequate healthcare. The reality is you are on your own. BTW Sweden is privatizing its retirement system.

    • Hey Dude, the reason my further elaboration was lost on you was you misunderstood my original post. I never intended to infer anything about tax evaders. I was being completely sarcastic about the idea of conscription as a remedy to the Free Rider problem.

      Personally, I don’t think there is a Free Rider problem, which brings me to the term Wealth Transfers — one man’s Wealth Transfer is another man’s charity and heartfelt practice of lifting up those who are in need . . . I believe we are all in this together, it’s not every man for himself.

      Dude, i hope you realize a national sales tax would be a regressive and ill-gotten revenue.

      Anonymous, the NEA is not a special interest group, it was created by an act of Congress in 1965 to support arts education and the work of artists (painters, dancers, musicians, photographers, sculptors, actors, film makers, etc). There is no question in my mind that it is a necessary service to our country that deserves public funding, warts and all.

      Thanks, its been interesting, I’m going back into my cave on the far left.

      Happy New Year!

      • Charity is a virtue, it cannot be compelled. Taking money from one person to support your favorite project is not an act of charity. Spending OPN is not an act of charity. It does not matter that the NEA was established by congress, it is still a special interest that receives taxpayer monies. As I have mentioned above, every special interest has its constituencies. The NEA is no different.

      • The Dude Abides

        What do you mean regressive? It would hit the drug lords who now don’t pay any taxes on their deals. Instead, they would have to pay a federal tax on their shiny new Mercedes with rims. The tax code now is some 9,000 pages and overly complicated with the only beneficiary the vast array of accountants who have prospered since the Enron fiasco.

  33. The Dude Abides

    You are a ray of sunshine, there anonymous. With my house up on stilts, I can now plan to work another 20 years. Best for 2011.

  34. hallie stevens

    I remember in 4th grade Cathy and Abby explaining to me why their mother was arrested on the bridge. It changed my world view (although I wouldn’t have said it that way at the time)… I had no understanding or experience with people expressing opinions in that way. It was an important lesson.