Symbolic Lies, $1

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Survival / Social Semantics /

There was an article the other day on CEO’s earning $1 a year. I laughed my head off as a late teen first reading GBS’ Devil’s Disciple: the Yank accused Brit General Burgoyne of being an imperial kleptocrat rapist for pay. General Burgoyne replies drily that if the Yank knew how much he paid for his commission, he think better of him. The poor wage earner, the unemployed, the deracinated, the wogs and chinks can’t understand any of this: why are people cutting each other’s throats to become CEOs, why are parents bankrupting themselves to send their kid to Yale, if the pay for an entire year is a mere fraction of the hourly wage of the lowest toilet licker.

First lesson: we live in a world in which nothing is as it seems. The physicist might try to be truthful about light, but you won’t catch an economist being honest about economics any more than you’ll find a priest honest or intelligent or informed about divinity.
I am frequently reminded of a favorite fact about Julius Caesar. Parading around Gaul Caesar borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from his patron Crassus. Crassus never expected a penny of it back. When Caesar became dictator, at zero salary, he repaid Crassus the first year! In cash I don’t doubt.

We could go on and on about those and other details, but I want to skip straight to my story about the sum of one dollar from my own business experience:

In 1978 I did a bunch of tax shelters, ninety of them to be exact. An Israeli, Misha, put me together with the Philadelphia lawyer who’d concocted the scam: I’d supply enough artists to design ninety images for sale; rich people who didn’t want to pay taxes would “invest” in the “plates” for printing these images, the investor would own the copyright, my company would distribute the “fine art” edition of the image, then other spinoffs and derivatives: and, if no profit was shown to the investor, the IRS was expected to forgive the taxes owed on the amount invested. In other words, some plumber in Teaneck pays the Philadelphia lawyer $40,000 for the copyright to some image I could buy from almost any artist for a few dollars, planning to sell it for a few dollars more. I was promised $1,000 per for my time and expertise.

tax shelter
thanx mischellewatkins

Actually, the Philadelphia lawyer thought I was getting $2,000 each, that’s what the Philadelphia paperwork said, but Misha’s paperwork promised $1,000, Misha keeping the other grand. pk got $90,000 for a few hours work strewed around over six months. Then the graphics were consigned to me, $4 million worth by my own estimate, and I’d keep 35% of whatever I sold them for. So: I got $90,000 up front, plus $4 million, of which $1,400,000 would remain mine if somehow I sold it all. At any point I could sell the spinoffs, essentially without limit.
If I sold none, I got the up front grand: x 90.

Never mind: the detail I want to tell is of the hours I spent in Misha’s office on Madison Avenue, signing the contracts. Every contract was addressed to the lawyer, saying, “I for the sum of $1” …
Supposedly the plumber paid the Philadelphia lawyer, not $40,000, but $1: as a notary.
Now: I don’t doubt that the plumber gave David $40,000, Some plumbers, dentists, etc. bought several editions, not to mention a few oil wells, a couple of movie rights … What I will bet with utter confidence is that not one $1 fee ever actually got paid. Everyone sat around in an office, swearing that $1 was changing hands: for notary fees, where not one single notary fee was ever actually paid.

The plantation owner’s forman asks the cotton chopper, “How much cotton did you chop.” The slave points to the bag on the wagon that he’d loaded. At the scale everyone can read exactly how much cotton is in the bag. You can call that a fact.
The slave doesn’t ask the foreman how much he gets for being foreman. The foreman doesn’t ask the owner how much he got for how much cotton from the factory in England. The candidate for governor does though, his hand out for a campaign contribution. The number the governor can actually read, actually trust, is whatever is written on the check to the party.

PS I got ten such images from my main artist. A couple of them were images I would have encouraged, but most of it was dreck she was slipping past my back.

Gail Bruce, Ballet Dancers, serigraph

Gail Bruce, Ballet Dancers, serigraph

More than one thing went wrong, there’d already been more than one thing wrong: neither of us ever recovered from the soup.
In our partnership she was supposed to listen to me, very carefully. Actually, she only listened to her husband: and he’d already pissed away the value of his prodigious income: in other tax shelters!

Social Semantics

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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