Relevant to what’s happening today.


This post is about three empirically based theories of national decline.  It’s written as a freestanding essay.  Some readers may want to know, however, that it’s also Part II of a two-part project to help me better understand the root causes of the United States’ growing social and political instability.

Part I (312) explored the Gilded Age, which is the closest parallel to the present.  In addition, I wrote a shorter bridge essay (319) that provides some useful historical information on the U.S. tax code and takes a critical look at the narrative, embedded in the legal profession’s code of ethics, that lawyers have special roles and responsibilities in the preservation of constitutional democracy and the rule of law.

As noted in Part I and the bridge, I am using these essays to “build a sturdier, more informed, and more realistic intellectual frame — i.e., something that can be fully squared with the present day.” This is a difficult topic that requires a lot of work. Yet, in our present environment, and speaking only for myself, I’ve concluded that it would be unethical, immoral, and decadent to focus on other “more practical” projects.  Further, I suspect a subset of readers shares my sense of alarm.  Hence, I’m sharing my work.
Continue Reading Three empirically based theories of national decline (book review) (321)

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Apolitical technicians working in an ahistorical profession.  What are the odds of a happy ending?


The graphic above summarizes the U.S. top marginal income tax rate from 1913 (the year the 16th Amendment was ratified by the states) to 2021.  One clear takeaway is that for the vast bulk of the 20th century, the wealthy paid much higher taxes.

As the graphic suggests, however, that changed with the election of Ronald Reagan, whose inaugural address launched an ideological revolution with a simple and memorable message: “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”  Reagan Inaugural Address (Jan 21, 1981). Thus, with the public’s consent, top marginal tax rates were slashed throughout the 1980s.  At the 1988 Republican Convention, George H.W. Bush (Reagan’s VP) spoke the words, “read my lips: no new taxes,” which helped him defeat Michael Dukakis in the general election. See Lily Rothman, “The Story Behind George H.W. Bush’s Famous ‘Read My Lips, No New Taxes’ Promise,” Time, Dec 1, 2018.  Yet, the political mood of the late 1980s was also strongly anti-deficit. In 1990, when Congress enacted pay-as-you-go rules for federal budgeting, Bush, who was saddled with a massive Saving & Loan bailout, agreed to increase the top marginal rate from 28% to 31% — an act that arguably ended his political career.  See Howard Gleckman, “Reading President Bush’s Lips,” Tax Policy Center, Dec 5, 2018.

Since the early 1990s, much of the electorate has enjoyed the political stability and relative economic prosperity of the “End of History” era, which is a reference to Francis Fukuyama’s famous 1989 essay and 1992 book
Continue Reading The end of the “End of History” era (319)

The main residence of Veraton, Paul Cravath’s country estate, circa 1907. Source: “Veraton,” Old Long Island, Oct. 31, 2011.

Creating a baseline to measure the wealth, and building turmoil, of the current Gilded Age.


It is hard to imagine a more stark and tangible manifestation of the original Gilded Age than the large estates built along the Long Island Sound in the region that would later become known as the Gold Coast.  Yet, you may be surprised that such opulence was not limited to robber barons or captains of industry.  In fact, some of the very best real estate was owned by their lawyers.

Above is a photo of the main residence of Paul Cravath’s Veraton estate, which was built in 1905.  Shortly after completion, the lavish property was profiled in Town & Country magazine, which noted that Veraton “consists of over 600 acres of lawn, gardens, woodland, farmlands and paddocks. … The residence and outlying buildings are so placed that every advantage of beauty and utility has been obtained.”  See “One of Long Island’s Stateliest Homes,” Town & Country (Nov. 30, 1907) at 12.
Continue Reading The original Gilded Age lawyers (312)

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The legal profession appears to be on autopilot.


This post is for legal market analysts who are looking for updated and reliable data on the current legal services market. Collectively, its eight graphics reveal several themes that ought to give us pause, as we (the legal profession) may not have unlimited runaway to focus on strategies related to income and profit.

Most of the underlying data come from the Economic Census, which is a detailed ongoing survey of US businesses conducted every five years (years ending in 2 and 7) by the US Census Bureau.  Because of the size and scope of the data collection effort (it’s a census, not a sampling), it takes the full five-year cycle to complete the analysis and release the findings. The final—and in my view, the most interesting—installments were published last fall.
Continue Reading Eight updated graphics on the US legal services market (285)