Planet13 - 1:24 pm on May 26, 2012 (gmt 0)
I don't think confusing the concept of "paid links" with the concept of paid for "page rank" is beneficial to the debate.
Google has been pretty clear that they are against links that manipulate page rank, whether paid for or not. They have also been clear that they are fine with purchased links that are nofollowed, thus negating any page rank value.
While I agree that google's results seem to be increasingly irrelevant to the subjects for which I search - and often the relevant sites that are at the top of the serps seem to be indulging in spam to maintain their place - I truly believe that google is TRYING to bring the best results to their users in order to increase / defend market share from the likes of bing, ddg, facebook, pintrest, groupon, yelp, and all the other social / search related sites and apps.