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In the not-so-old days I offered a seasonal essay to this newspaper, many of which you all published. I was flattered; my family was bemused; friends patted me on the back. It was all very flattering. But times and geography and age and health modify everything. And my own enthusiasm for showing off waned. I grow old, I grow old, I wear my trousers rolled. Eliot said something like that, and I think I know what he meant. Your opinion on this and that isn't really needed anymore. Was it ever?

But ego and outrage have a way of contradicting the obvious signals to keep my opinions to myself. And events of the world challenge the conventional wisdom to keep one's mouth shut. The bad and the good are there in abundance. So I risk once more shooting my mouth off.

First, that we are still required to listen to the maunderings of Donald Trump, the leader of the frat house of cruelty and outrageous contradictions. Second, that I have friends who will march into hell with him. Third, the ongoing slaughter of the innocents that rages across this country. Indiscriminate killing of the young and old for simply being there when the bell for mayhem and bloodshed clangs. I could go on, of course, but here's the awful truth. My outrage devolves into the very insensitivity and cruelty it purports to correct. Bad begets bad, unfortunately.

But then my betters, young and old, teach by example and some semblance of the good finds a way to prevail. Bell ringers ring, gift givers give, prisoner exchanges take place when you least expect them to occur. A phone call asking for forgiveness. A letter saying it really wasn't your fault. An idea to do good presented and built upon. Oh, not every day, of course, but often as not when you least expect the good news to be announced.

So my message this season of giving is that goodwill prevail. It couldn't be otherwise.

Season's greeting from this old and not-quite-decrepit believer in the good. Still and always. Trousers rolled, cane brandished and ready to march.

Charles Neerland, Minneapolis


Unmentioned solution: unions

In his column, D.J. Tice suggests that Scrooge did more to help the Cratchits when he gave Bob a raise on Dec. 26 than he did by buying them a turkey the day before ("Scrooge, Cratchit and the enigmas of inequality," Opinion Exchange, Dec. 18). Tice cites a study from the World Inequality Lab that demonstrates that raising wages ("pre-distribution") is more effective in fighting economic inequality than direct payments to the poor ("redistribution"). The study addresses the question, "Why is Europe more equal than the United States?"

The answer is that European countries have done a better job in "pre-distribution" — raising low-income wages — than the U.S., where our "redistribution" is, if anything, more generous than Europe's. Tice ends his essay by saying that dealing with income inequality is a "daunting" problem, and offers no solution.

I would submit that the solution has been staring us in the face for 150 years: Organize workers into strong unions that can bargain for fair wages, working conditions and benefits. In Denmark, Sweden and Finland, two-thirds of workers are unionized. In France and Austria, 98% of workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Our own history confirms the value of an organized workforce. In 1955, one-third of American workers were unionized, and the average CEO pay was about 20 times that of the average worker. Today, union density has fallen to around 10% (much lower in the private sector), and CEO pay is 361 times that of the average worker. Although we should not assume a direct cause and effect, the worst of this change has occurred since Ronald Reagan declared war on unions in 1981.

Since then, we have seen the greatest upward transfer of wealth in the history of the planet. Fortunately, we are seeing a resurgence of labor activism in workplaces ranging from big companies like Amazon to small local bookstores. Certainly, government has a role to play in fighting economic inequality: raising the minimum wage and restoring 1955 income tax rates. But it's really up to the workers to organize, and they are taking up the challenge. They are realizing the truth of a cartoon circulating on the internet: It says that workers should unionize, "because the chance of three ghosts visiting your boss to make him do the right thing are unreasonably slim."

Mark Bradley, Roseville


I commend much of Tice's recent review of a scholarly economic report from the World Inequality Lab. My reading of some of the report's conclusions, however, does not reinforce the broad "too much tax and transfer" implications I feel conservative pundits often extend to U.S. taxpayers. I think most of us could agree that higher wages ("pre-distribution" income) would likely have the best long-term impact in helping the less affluent. Should "redistribution" be strongly discounted, though, and are we being too generous now with the tax-and-transfer system in the U.S.? I hesitate to agree, and I question if the report actually supports this, particularly since its conclusions also note:

  • "On the contrary, redistribution appears to reduce inequality more in the U.S. than in Europe, despite the lower aggregate levels of taxes and transfers observed in the U.S."
  • "Given that the two regions have been exposed in a relatively similar way to technological change and globalization in the past decades, our results thus shed light on the importance of predistribution policies, such as access to education and healthcare or labor market regulations ... ."

Hmm? Redistribution reduces inequality more in the U.S. (Yay! Our progressive tax system helps.) And access to education and healthcare or labor market regulations may be important in pre-distribution policies. Interestingly, these conclusions aren't ideas being promoted by many conservatives I hear in this country. I credit Tice in that he doesn't obscure these conclusions. I really hope he is being earnest, though, in his last sentence — "Let's get started [addressing these factors], right after Christmas." Now, that would truly make many of us hopeful about the year(s) ahead.

Paul Gempler, Eagan


Christmas past at Hurrle Hall

Since no new memories will be made of the majestic landmark Hurrle Hall, which stood in Little Falls, Minn., for over 130 years, I will share some memories made several years ago. At that time, thanks to the gracious Sister Mary Blase, supervisor of the Clothes Review, a number of volunteers had the honor of viewing the interior of Hurrle Hall. Upon entering, they were immediately impressed by the beautiful hardwood floors and gorgeous, ornate woodwork. You normally don't see that in buildings today. Its unique interior was decorated in such a distinctive way that it easily remains in our memories. The volunteers appreciated a delicious noontime meal, as well as gifts, thanking them for their work.

On Christmas Day 2010, our family rented the dining area of Hurrle Hall for our annual Christmas party. People were astounded at how grand the building was and its beautiful condition. Colorful decorations on the historic tables and shelves projected a festive holiday atmosphere.

What a joyful experience it was to be able to use this venue at Christmas. It is unthinkable that this historical landmark was able to be needlessly demolished and is gone forever.

Lois Maciej, Little Falls, Minn.

The writer is a member of Friends of Hurrle Hall.


Not bad, though we've got options

As a member of the riffraff who got in and stayed, I support a recent letter writer's idea of a self-deprecating slogan for Minnesota (Readers Write, Dec. 18), such as, "So cold, it keeps the riffraff out."

However, our motto is as grandiose as anyone's: "L'Etoile du Nord," chosen by then-Gov. Henry Sibley in 1861, three years after we became a state. Of the 50 states, ours is the only motto in French. Shortly after first moving here in the 1970s, I read an article on possible motto replacements, among them "La Toilette du Nord." My favorite remains "East Dakota."

A native San Franciscan,

Mikel Clifford, St. Paul