A Capital Idea Part 50: A Democratic Revolution
is what we need. Clearly, the two party system and the status quo has let the American people down and our government has been far from adequate. Of course, this post is about much more than economics, but it seems to me that it is the topic of economics where the American people have been most degraded, defiled and betrayed by their political system and their political leaders. Our political system's most basic problem is that it has enabled the wealthiest among us to take over the system, using their money, resulting in a downward spiral in which money and power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small group of wealthy and mostly politically conservative individuals.
Over the years, I have had numerous ideas about how to inject more democracy into our moribund remains of a democracy. This is the time for me to outline whatever such ideas I am able to recall. A fundamental principle of my vision of capital in the future is that it should be handled democratically, that is, by a society which allows as much decision making by the populace as is feasible or hopefully, possible. Thus, a democratic revolution, peacefully introducing changes to our political system which empower the public and enable them to create a better society is crucial to a future in which people think of and use resources as capital. Some of these changes might be doable in the next few years, given the correct political climate and public willpower. In fact, all of them might be, but I don't expect our democratic revolution to be so easy.
The first thing that probably needs to be done is to reverse the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court which gave corporations unlimited power to finance politicians and their agendas without any sort of disclosure. Actually, disclosure laws may come first, but it doesn't look likely in the next two years, at least, with Republicans having a majority in Congress at least until the next election. Once we are able to replace at least one of the 5 ultra conservative justices on the Supreme Court with a progressive, or at least somebody who inhabits the same reality as the rest of us, it should be possible to overturn Citizens United, and if Obama is re-elected, he should be able to replace at least one of the 5 miscreant judges. After undoing this damage that the Supreme Court has already done in the past two years, which is partially responsible for the Republican gains in November's election, we need to work on campaign finance reform. I have become convinced over these past several years that campaign finance reform is the single most necessary step toward making our nation a healthy democracy again. We must get corporate money out of politics! It is as simple as that. Publically financed elections are what we need. At the same time, we need to ban lobbyists! The entire lobby industry only serves to corrupt the political system, financially, a fact which it is clear that the majority of us are already aware. That being the case, it is remarkable that nothing has happened to slow down the lobbification of Washington. The public needs to demand of our politicians that this process stops, post haste.
The next step in my vision is political reform. In addition to having publicly financed elections, we need to loosen the stranglehold of "the two major political parties" on the system. There are several innovations which have already been used elsewhere that can accomplish this. One such change would be to have instant runoff voting, so that if a person's first choice is not among the top 2 finalists in an election, the person's second choice counts as her/his vote. This system, which is being used in many nations as well as in many local municipalities in the United States, with success, allows people to vote for candidates from other parties much more freely, having been granted the knowledge that their second choice will count if their first choice fails to make the runoff. Another kind of voting which is used in many nations is proportional representation. That is, if the Green Party for instance, gets 5% of the votes, then 5% of the representatives will be from the Green Party. Essentially, this amounts to people voting for party platforms rather than individual candidates in congressional elections. This method opens the way for various parties to find some representation in government. Furthermore, knowing that a vote for a "third party" will actually contribute to representatives of that party being elected to congress, will encourage people to vote for other parties instead of feeling that such is a "wasted vote." Also, when people consider the party platforms, they will probably be much more likely to vote for other parties than the Democratic or Republican parties which have dominated our system for so long. I suspect that a great many more people would vote for other parties, mostly progressive ones but also conservative ones, if the constraint of worrying that their votes were being wasted was removed. As an ancillary note, it seems that proportional voting is done with an understanding of who the actual representatives will be if their party gets a big enough percentage of the vote. Once other parties are established in our federal government, truly meaningful changes will come much more easily. Another idea, which is of the "why didn't I think of that before" category, is to extend the state ballot initiative to the national level. I first saw this mentioned by a member of the Thom Hartmann Community on a post there. I forgot the person's name, but I do thank you. We could use a national ballot initiative system to make changes that perhaps our politicians are too reticent to do themselves. For example, an initiative could be used to abolish the Federal Reserve, which is actually a private institution, and replace it with a national bank. This was suggested by the member of the Hartmann Community in the post mentioned above. Abolishing the Federal Reserve and establishing a national bank in its stead is another change which needs to be done, one with a more direct financial bearing. The money of the United States should belong to us, after all, not some private bank. Bankers have used "the Fed" to suit their own purposes for far too long.
The next step in my envisioned democratic revolution involves ensuring the integrity of our voting system, something which I and many others clearly, feel is sorely lacking in our current system. That is, it is far too easy for power hungry people to commit election fraud! There is strong circumstantial evidence that election fraud has been occuring fairly regularly, primarily by Republicans, yet no one has ever been held accountable for it, and our Repubican and corporate friendly media generally fails to report the evidence of fraud. One problem is the electronic voting machines, which makes votes potentially vanish into thin air, or even worse, makes votes for other candidates turn into votes for Republican candidates under the auspices of the Repubican run Diebold Company which manufactures the machines, and the Republican operatives which "tabulate" the votes in the most Republicanized way they dare to try. The use of these machines has already been scaled down in many areas, including where I live, but it needs to be stopped altogether. However, the fundamental problem I believe, is the method of secret ballots which our nation's founders decided upon. Although there are reasons for having secret ballots, which are essentially to avoid peer pressure while voting and to prevent people from being persecuted for how they voted, having secret ballots does not remedy these problems well, and in my opinion, these are not substantial problems in the first place, certainly not substantial enough to outweigh the damage done by the election fraud which secret voting permits. Also, the peace of mind resulting from knowing that one's votes are counted as they should be will more than outweigh the privacy issues regarding voting. My proposed solution to make election fraud no longer a feasible alternative for unscrupulous politicians and their operatives, while also guarding against peer pressure and persecution, is to give each voter a voter identification number. When a person votes, in this system, her/his ballot would come with a voter ID number, which could be, and in many cases likely would be, used by voting officials or investigators such as newspaper reporters, to verify that each voter's vote was properly counted. Aside from such counts, voters' responses would not be examined and under no circumstances would they be made public without the voter's permission. However, a voter could check how her/his votes were counted by request. The integrity of our voting system is central to democracy. Having a real democracy demands nothing less of us than to make the system invulnerable to deceit and fraud.
Except for the last idea, these ideas have been presented and used elsewhere. It is not my intention to present them as mine, but rather, to put them together in one place and present a vision for a peaceful, democratic revolution which will reshape our nation to manifest the true will of the people rather than the will of the rich. It is my belief that when this is done, a more progressive, peaceful nation with a measure of social harmony and shared prosperity we can only dream about under the restraints of the current system, will result.
January 2, 2011
A Capital Idea Part 49: Practicing Pragmatic Economics
Economics is a science, and as such, is meant to be useful in helping us understand how to make an economy work well. All science is meant to be pragmatic, and economics is no exception. Whether or not science is used in a pragmatic manner is another matter. In the case of economics, there seems to be a tragic and sad disconnection between the evidence regarding what works economically, and how politicians and economists use economics. Ordinary citizens may also exhibit the same misconceptions, but they most likely get these misconceptions from politicians, economists and the great propaganda machine known as network news. Not surprisingly, all of the economic misconceptions being propagated in high places are ones which favor the wealthy in their quest to maintain and advance their exalted positions in society, resulting in further increases in the disparities between the rich and the rest of us.
At the risk of being derivative and uncreative, I say it is high time we start the process of economic progressivism by simply applying what has demonstrably worked in the past, or is working in other nations. Thom Hartmann has recently written a book with much the same set of suggestions that I am making here, a book which is being serially published on Truthout.org (http://www.truth-out.org/). I just want to put these suggestions into a context of making changes which could lead to further progressive economic changes as suggested in this series. These are first steps that could be done now, as opposed to sometime in the undefined future. Actually, there is a question which frequently emerges among progressives: Will taking small steps forward lead to public satisfaction with the new status quo, and stunt the development of a true paradigm shift and the great changes that we dream of? This question is very relevant here. I have already made the argument that going back to the "good old days" of better economic policies will ultimately not be good enough, nor will it prevent a repeat of the recent history in which corporate forces have greatly increased in power. However, I believe on the other hand that progressive changes offer the best chance for further change, and the best chance for a peaceful, progressive economic revolution and paradigm shift. If we look at the recent economic history of the world. the United States appears to be an anomaly. In most nations, notably in Europe and in Asia, the development of relatively progressive economic policies, it seems to me, using a framework of democratic socialism, has largely led to more progressive changes as middle classes have grown in those nations and their economies have served the public relatively well. On the other hand, nations which have been dominated by economic authoritarianism, in which great disparities between the economic elite and the rest of the population exist, as in Mexico, have such beleagured populations that they seem to lack the education, knowledge, energy or strength to genuinely fight the existing system. It is those uppity middle-classers, such as myself, who really have the awareness of the situation and mental and physical alacrity to agitate vigorously for change. In fact, I am a perfect example of that, given that I am the youngest son of an M.D. who grew up in very comfortable circumstances, with worthy role models and excellent access to higher education. Given what I have seen transpire during my lifetime, it would be unconscionable of me not to do something to help fix the horrible problems I have seen conservative politics foist upon our once morally worthy nation, over the past few decades.
Now to summarize what should be done in the near future to rebuild the United States' middle class and finally decrease the wealth disparities and inequities among the citizens of our nation, here are some suggestions, with a large debt of thanks to Thom Hartmann.
1. Increase tax rates, especially on the economic upper crust. Our economy worked much better when tax rates were higher, and it is very clear from the evidence both here in the United States and elsewhere that higher, progressive tax rates work better, even if they are political poison. We need politicians with the gumption to raise tax rates for a change, especially on the rich!
2. Enforce the Sherman Antitrust Act to break up too-large-to-fail corporations, and enact effective and reasonable regulation of business.
3. Pass laws to ensure that civics courses and other means of politically educating our young people are part of their school curriculums.
4. If the federal government will not give us a public health system, let's do it at the state level. If that happens, federal action on enacting a public health care option for everyone cannot be far behind.
5. Build a green economy which creates great numbers of jobs and a better, more sustainable future. Now is the perfect time for that with the technological advances in the area of energy capture and usage that are taking place. At the same time, this approach will help us end our dependence upon foreign oil.
6. Insist that our politicians cut back on their military ambitions and spending, and greatly scale back our military which is in my opinion, the biggest single waste of government money and the biggest cause of our national budget deficit. If the politicians we have are unwilling to scale back our military, we need to find ones who are, and elect them.
7. Work diligently to see that the Citizens United Decision by the Supreme Court giving "personhood" to corporations, is reversed. If Obama is re-elected, he should be able to replace at least one conservative Supreme Court Justice, giving the Supreme Court the necessary votes to overturn the Citizens United decision. If a Republican is elected in 2012, our legal system will only get worse.
8. As consumers, we should utilize Credit Unions rather than traditional banks, support employee owned businesses (such as the Oregon-based supermarket Winco which I have been going to recently), go to Farmer's Markets if available, and support whenever possible, bottom-up, local economic and environmental movements.
In addition, whenever possible, let us educate ourselves and each other regarding what works economically. Let us pay attention to what unbiased economic science has to tell us from historical and international evidence, and use this information to help guide our economic policies. Most importantly, we must insist that our politicians do so, rather than expressing impractical and ultimately destructive economic opinions which they feel will help them get elected.
A Capital Idea Part 48: Democracy versus Plutocracy
The world has changed economically and politically from the one we study in history classes, in a fundamental way. We used to have a world of autocracies -- of monarchies, and might makes right -- but eventually, and inevitably, self-government by democracy began to take hold, and autocracy has been on a gradual decline ever since. However, autocracy has been replaced by a new force -- money! It is no longer might makes right. Rather, it is money makes right. While the people of the world have been celebrating their increased voting privileges and the spread of democracy, a stealthy takeover of the world by the ultra-rich has been spreading across the world like a parasite. This is becoming more and more apparent to people around the world as time goes by, but it is so gradual and insidious, most of us are only vaguely aware of it and don't know what to do about it if anything. A great many people are struggling even with the issue of whether to fight it or join it. However, for the most part, people are distracted by other concerns, and in the United States, at least, and other individualistic nations, inculcated to believe in the false dichotomy of the individual versus the government. The purpose of this post is to reframe the issue more clearly and accurately.
Plutocracy is a term that was used in a memo by Citibank executives a few years ago, to describe their stranglehold on society. Essentially it means a government run by large corporations which collude with each other and turn the great majority of citizens into basically indentured servants -- wage slaves, as the phrase goes. In the memo, Citibank complained about voting. The only obstacle to total corporate domination of not only the U.S. but the world, was the rule of one person, one vote! Of course, what we are basically talking about here is fascism. However, there are several other terms which you might hear which could be used interchangeably with the term plutocracy in this quickly evolving issue. Alternate terms include coporatocracy, oligarchy, corporate hegemony, and kleptocracy. There are also people who believe that really, really old money is asserting itself in determining current world events, referring to a group of 13 (supposedly) families called the Illuminati. I wrote about them earlier in this series, but am not really a fan of conspiracy theories, and I don't suppose it matters whether a family has been wealthy for hundreds of years, or only a few years. Either way, the problem is the influence of obscene amounts of wealth in contrast to the relative poverty of the general populace.
I wrote a post over a year ago in which I highlighted the false dichotomy between the individual and the government. This post is essentially a continuation and extension of that post ("The Immorality of Capitalism"). In a democracy, which seems to me the final, natural state of government among humans, the government is designed to represent the people. The government is not the opponent of the individual, but rather, the ally of all the individuals collectively in a properly functioning democracy. However, corporations are based on a monarchic model, in which the business owner acts as emperor of a corporate kingdom. Thus, a corporation will never represent the people of a society, but rather, seek to maximize the extraction of money from the people while simultaneously minimizing costs, so as to accrue the greatest possible profit to the corporation's "emperor." "Okay," economic conservatives argue, "but so what? Let corporations do their thing. They have nothing to do with government. It's the business owners' corporation and they can run it however they please, and they can also do whatever they please with their money. After all, that's the American Dream, right?" Wrong on all counts. Corporations have a great deal to do with government, as we are now seeing. In fact, the influence of our individualism is basically confined to our micro-environment, our personal living space, so to speak, where our individual decisions are of great import. However, in terms of the larger culture, we depend upon major institutions -- our government and/or our corporations to be exact. We must choose between government and corporations. When framed that way, the choice of representative government is far superior to greedy, monarchic non-representative corporations. The less the power of the government, the greater the power of big business. Thus, the issue is Democracy versus Plutocracy. The equation is that simple. There's a progressive meme that any person who isn't comatose can probably understand. We can have a Democracy, a Plutocracy, or something in-between, but as long as we operate under a system of worldwide financial capitalism, those are our only choices.
Before ending this post, I wish to address the issue of perceptions of Obama and his administration in relation to the Democracy versus Plutocracy issue. It seems to me that progressives fall into one of three categories in terms of how they view the Obama administration. None of the categories is particularly pleased with what is going on politically, but their perspectives differ and some have given up on Obama while others continue to support him. Hopefully, I won't be doing any mischaracterizations here, but the following represents my perspicacious perceptions.
Category 1: The Tweedledum and Tweedledeeists. These people argue that the war for control of our government and its direction has already been lost, and both "major parties" are essentially the same. Thus, it doesn't matter who the President is. We are "pee-ons" either way, a situation which won't change until society entirely collapses and allows for a paradigm shift and the building of an entirely new and more progressive society.
Category 2: The Throw Obama Under the Bus-ists. These people expected Obama's "Hope and Change" to quickly lead to major progressive changes. Thus, 2 years of observing the Obama administration compromise and capitulate to conservatives has been enough to convince them that Obama is a shameful, two-faced, faux progressive who lied his way to the Presidency by pretending to be a progressive. Meanwhile, they ignore evidence that Obama has been making, or attempting to make, numerous progressive policy steps, even though they have turned out to be mere baby steps, in the face of very rigid and powerful opposition. People who are ready to throw Obama under the bus believe that the President has great power to change government policy, which probably represents the Fundamental Attribution Error -- the tendency to ignore situational influences on a person's (even a President's) behavior. If Obama doesn't make America go progressive by being President, we had better get a new, more progressive President, post haste.
Sadly, both Category 1 and Category 2 are likely not to vote for Obama in 2012. People in Category 1 will either not vote, or vote for a progressive candidate who is destined to get a very small percentage of the votes, such as Ralph Nader. Some people in Category 2 will hold their noses and still vote for Obama in 2012, but some will stay home, and yet others will be so angry that they will vote for the Republican candidate to spite Obama, or to help bring about the necessary collapse of the Democratic party so that true progessives can take over.
Category 3: Obama Caught in a Tug of War between Democracy and Plutocracy. This is my perspective. It is difficult to imagine how difficult it is to be the President of the United States at this time. Obama took office under horrible circumstances -- circumstances created by policies dating back to the Reagan and both Bush administrations. These policies, with the naive support of the majority of American people, have essentially handed most power in America to big business, creating a Plutocracy that is more powerful than what is left of our Democracy. As a result, our military is vastly oversized and overfunded, social programs are undersized and underfunded, our government is underfunded and the rich are coddled, spoiled, and vastly undertaxed. Furthermore, as a relatively inexperienced, young President -- one who clearly has African roots at that -- Obama had a very poor choice of potential advisors to choose from. Basically, the large majority of candidates for positions in Obama's cabinet were people who still believe in crazy economic views which favor the wealthy, such as supply side economics, as well as in American exceptionalism and the "rightness" of American military hegemony. However compromised our democracy is, though, we still have one, and it has the power to defeat the Plutocracy. After all, it's still ultimately up to us and what we do with our votes that each person has the right to cast, and what we do through our voices and efforts.
I do believe Obama could have and should have chosen his cabinet better, by choosing some more progressive people, but his pool of potential candidates was poor. I also believe that he should have stood up more for the American people against the Republicans and their corporate interests, but clearly the power of the Plutocracy makes this extremely difficult for Obama to do except in incremental steps. Thirdly, I think that Obama never should have escalated the occupation of Afghanistan, or used drones to bomb suspected terrorists, etc. Apparently, Obama said he would do that during his campaign, while also withdrawing from Iraq, but frankly, I only remember hearing the part about withdrawing from Iraq, which received far more press coverage than the other part. Perhaps Obama has been capitulating too much to the United States "Militocracy" or Great American Killing Machine. However, it seems to me that Obama has been doing a good job overall of making initial steps in a progressive direction, in the face of great corporate, political and military opposition, and for that matter, it seems to me that the large majority of the American public are not ready yet for huge progressive changes, although someday -- hopefully soon -- they will be.
In my opinion, the best hope for the United States is to have a long series of increasingly progessive administrations, and avoid having any more highly conservative administrations such as Reagan's or the Bushs' in the future. As time goes on, under relatively progressive administrations, with as many committed progressives in Congress as possible, progress will inevitably occur, and in fact, accelerate over time. I do believe that eventually the Plutocracy can be defeated, through peaceful, Democratic revolution, much as the Plutocracy has grown almost unnoticed like an undiagnosed cancer. But for now, we need to first stop the bleeding from the wounds left by previous administrations. (Okay, I guess I am mixing metaphors a bit here, but I like both of them.) History will ultimately record the period from 1980 to 2008 in American politics as a time of crazy policies -- supply side economics, policies designed to coddle politicians' wealthy donors and their lobbyists, wars and occupations of choice, and a nation with less the 5% of the world's population creating an enormous debt owed to international banks by having a military budget so large that it represents almost half the world's military spending. All of these policies are linked to the rise of the Plutocracy. We as a people must continually oppose the Plutocracy and its horribly destructive, anti-democratic, anti-human, anti-environment policies, through democratic means until we achieve victory and create a permanent, true democracy.
A Capital Idea Part 47: An International Minimum and Maximum Wage
The topic of having an international minimum wage is something which I have never heard mentioned. The lack of attention paid to this issue is most illuminating, given that business people love to tout the "global economy," "global economic cooperation," and love to have international get-togethers to discuss how to better exploit their opportunities to become even richer -- mostly by exploiting the cheapest possible labor sources.
I see no reason why international governmental bodies such as the United Nations could not insist on every nation having a minimum wage. Better yet, the minimum wage should be constructed so as to be approximately equal worldwide. This gets complicated since exchange rates change, but the international minimum wage could be set once per year, for example, an innovation which I feel would help the people of the world tremendously. Even national minimum wages need to be adjusted from time to time, after all, due to inflation (although the adjustments are all too infrequent due to resistance in Congress).
Thom Hartmann is fond of talking about the need for tariffs by the U.S. on foreign goods in order to help the U.S. economy. I understand the need for that, and agree that the current one-way tariff system is untenable, yet, I have never felt comfortable with the idea of tariffs since it seems like penalizing people just for being foreigners, and contributes to international isolation and disharmony. I suggest here that having an international minimum wage would address the same issue that tariffs would but with greater benefits to workers around the world. Workers in other nations would no longer have to live in such great poverty as they do now, in indentured servitude-like conditions, assuming that the minimum wage is a reasonable one. Meanwhile, it would make the American work force much more competitive with the international work force, wage-wise, drawing great numbers (hopefully) of decent jobs to the United States once again. All of this would be done in a spirit of international cooperation, rather than the international economic competition and distrust which both tariff systems and unfettered free trade encourage.
Meanwhile, let us talk about the other end of the spectrum. Why not have an international maximum wage? I understand that essentially there used to be such things, at certain times in history, at least, before greedy international plutocrats managed to grab control of our economic system. The nature of a maximum wage would depend on the business, I suppose. It could be a maximum hourly wage, a maximum percentage of profits, or a maximum total amount, but in any case, it would be a way of ensuring that nobody skims too much fat of the top of the economic stew, since business owners and bankers skimming too much money from the rest of us is at the heart of our economic problems. Again, I foresee the U.N. overseeing this process, although to this point, the U.N. has largely been concerned, as far as I know, with mediating international conflicts. I believe that U.N. involvement, or involvement by similar groups, in international economic issues is vital to worldwide economic prosperity. We could talk about economic councils doing the same, but since they are run by the plutocrats, essentially, that would be like asking a Fox to guard a henhouse, as the proverbial saying goes.
As with this post, I have generally been concerned with the "big picture" in this series, as in reform of the international economy, and taking the long view, as in projects which will take many years to fully materialize. However, the United States is a huge and greatly influential part of the worldwide economic picture, and there are some things that we as Americans can push for which should prove to be crucial to economic reform here in the U.S., and also extremely helpful to economic reform abroad. These are "Why not?" ideas which have occured to myself as well as others, which I will discuss in upcoming posts, but first, I will discuss what I feel is the proper political framing of our current dilemma "Democracy versus Plutocracy" which affects the entire world, in my next post.
A Capital Idea Part 46: The Value of Everything
On my way to school this morning, I heard part of a talk by an author with a British accent named Raj Patel, who has written a book called "The Value of Nothing." (This was just after hearing one of, if not my favorite political inspiration songs "Resistance" by the British band Muse.) Hearing Raj Patel on KPFK was one of those auspicious events that sometimes happens, as I was just thinking of writing about essentially his topic today. I had also just recently heard of this author for the first time just a few days ago on a thread on the Thom Hartmann site. Later this morning, I looked up his book on the internet, and found Patel's site, with lots of descriptions and praise of the book, but no actual excerpts from the book. Thus, I will basically go ahead with my planned post, with a little assist from Raj Patel.
Patel was talking about how hamburgers are made during the portion of the talk that I heard. He mentioned how trees are cut down to make room for grass or crops to grow, which are used to feed the cows. He mentioned the resulting pollution, fouling streams for instance, and he mentioned the virtual slave labor used to harvest crops such as the tomatoes which are sliced and put on the hamburgers, a practice which continues even in the United States in places such as south Florida, according to Patel. In conclusion, he deduced that if we add up all of the costs of producing the hamburger, including ameliorating the environmental harm, paying the workers adequately, and the loss of potential from the destroyed habitat (to paraphrase Patel since I don't remember quite how he said it), the hamburger would cost about $200 instead of the $4 it actually costs consumers. This is part of a crazy economic system which fails to account for the true value of things, and consequently keeps the cost of popular items artificially low and affordable for the average consumer, he concluded. This is virtually the same point that I was intending to make today, and secondly, that businesses should be held accountable for the damages they do so that they will improve their practices and build environmentally friendly, sustainable, humanitarian practices.
Frankly, I have difficulty putting a monetary value on anything in principle, but in order for exchange to be done, such values must be placed on certain items. In my thinking, either everything has a monetary value (price), or nothing has a monetary value. Since there is no objective way of computing value (including Patel's example, although he is using the best available data about what things actually cost), and since there are some things which should not be subject to having a monetary value or perhaps any sort of value placed on, it seems to me that nothing has a true monetary value. Perhaps that is the reason for the title of Patel's book (but I am not sure since I didn't see the explanation of the title). The idea of placing monetary values on everything, including human beings and sex, is called commodification, which is part of the amorality of capitalism. However, for practical purposes, we need to engage in exchanges of goods and services, so we need to start somewhere by placing monetary values on certain goods and services (called commodities), while keeping others off limits from pricing.
Although I already gave away the main point of this post, let me be a little more explicit about it here. Businesses vary in terms of their various impacts, regardless of their profitability, something of which we all are implicitly aware. Costs to society resulting from the actions of a business are called "externalities." Businesses wish to keep these "externalities" external to themselves, so as to avoid paying any additional costs which would detract from their profits or perhaps even bankrupt them. Thus, the most successful business practice is for a business to, as has been described by others "privatize the profits, and socialize the costs." In other words, the optimal situation for a business is to keep all the profits while making the public pay any resulting costs such as damages caused by the business, or for the building of infrastructure such as roads used by the business. For the business owner, additionally, it is optimal to keep as much of the profits as possible, by paying the employees as little as possible, and paying as little in taxes as possible. This is essentially the dysfunctional situation with which we now find ourselves faced. The capitalistic business model, with all of its humongous flaws, has won the battle for supremacy in America and for the most part, around the world, for now.
Let us take a look at these externalities in some more depth. Some of these include:
1. Pollution abatement such as cleaning up environmental messes caused by businesses -- for example, the huge BP oil spill earlier this year;
2. Loss of habitat or land which might have better been used for some other purpose -- for example, loss of rain forest in Brazil for the cattle used to make hamburgers;
3. The use of inrastructure at public expense -- for example, the use of public roads, sewers, electrical lines, water lines, and so forth by a business;
4. Paying for medical care for people whose health is compromised by a business -- for example, paying for health care for lung cancer or emphysema caused by active or passive smoking;
5. Paying compensation to bereaved families of persons who have died due to the actions of a business -- for example, compensating families whose relatives have died of cancer due to pollutants caused by local industries;
6. Let me get subtle and psychological here. Let us think about reimbursing people for stress or psychological harm caused to employees or customers of a business due to unfair practices -- for example, employees at places such as Foxconn who are put under great stress, or female employees at Wal-Mart who are treated unfairly.
Now I know what you are thinking (I think), at least those of you who are skeptics and don't think we can (or should) change the system: "That's going to make everything cost a fortune. How can we (the average customers) afford that?" But that's more or less the point of this entire exercise. We are employing unsustainable economic practices, using an invalid economic model which let's businesses consistently get away with using policies that are destructive to society while benefitting the business. How can that be good for society? If we are to continue using money in its current form, and have private businesses sell their goods and services, they need to be made accountable. The cost of a product should not only be based on the profits which accrue to the business; they should be a cumulative cost based on everything affected by the business, including all externalities. This is the only way to ensure that businesses work for the greater good of society, rather than serving the business owners at the expense of the larger society. Unfortunately, the situation we now have is predominated by businesses which care nothing about, nor benefit society, but instead, do more net harm than good. It is possible to have businesses which have minimal externalities, or even external benefits to society rather than costs to society, and this is what we need businesses to aim for, in order to be successful in a new, socially responsible business model.
Now, the skeptics' next comment will be something like: "But how can businesses change? That's how they do business." The answer is that they can change and will have to change, even if we fail to move toward such enlightened economic policies. Businesses are essentially conservative, slothful entities with great inertia and great resistance to change, but change must come. Resources which many businesses profligately exploit in the pursuit of profit are shrinking to unsustainable levels, and habitat for our planet's life is being destroyed to the point where a massive extinction event is taking place, so that, even if we humans refuse to change our business practices, Mother Nature (or Gaia, if you prefer) will do that for us. It is much better that we make the necessary changes in business practices ourselves, before Gaia decides that she no longer needs this pseudo-intelligent, semi-important life form which calls itself Homo Sapiens. Let us show some true intelligence now. The world is waiting. This is the first step in my opinion, toward creating the resource based economy which I propose in this series of essays. Step Two will be described next time.
Here is the link to the description of the book "The Value of Nothing" on Raj Patel's website. I think it can be bought there, too, but it does cost something despite the theme of the book.
A Capital Idea Part 45: Costa Rica Shows the Way
Costa Rica was one of the nations which fared very well in my comparison of nations according to Hofstede's Five Cultural Dimensions. Of course, these dimensions leave out many important issues, such as form of government, human rights, real freedom, religious influences, crime rates, education, and standard of living, although these dimensions might relate to these issues. However, the dimensions may have some relationship to a nation's long-term potential. This was largely confirmed for me, in the case of Costa Rica, Taiwan, and Brazil (which is high on Long-Term Orientation), although Iran's favored status was rather puzzling.
Costa Rica first came to my attention while I was blogging about the psychological aspects of war. I did a comparison of military spending and violent crime rates, and found that by and large, higher military spending correlates with higher murder rates. While doing that analysis, I found that Costa Rica was the world's only nation without a military. This nation also has a very low murder rate. Hmm, I think I like Costa Rica. By the way, despite it's zero spending on national defense, Costa Rica has not been attacked by other nations. For me, with a few exceptions, national defense = national paranoia -- either that, or so-called "defense" is really offense, as it is in the case of the United States. Meanwhile, I began hearing great things about Costa Rica's beautiful, healthy environment, their protection of wildlands and natural resources. Again, Costa Rica, while admittedly a small nation with a modest population, appears to provide a fine example of what nations can and should be doing to build a better society with a sustainable economy. This impression was bolstered a few days ago, when I saw on English language show on the Japanese television station which featured 3 winners of some Japanese green economy prize. None of the winners was Costa Rican, but one of them was a American professor who won the prize for studying Costa Rica's way of combining environmental protection with a green economy. (Unfortunately, I forget the name of the prize or the name of the professor, but she works at one of the University of California campuses, I think.) She was talking about how Costa Rica's government had set aside large areas of wildlands, but was using these areas to help the economy through ecotourism, and even getting corporations to pitch in and help.
Thus, I have endeavored to look up some information about Costa Rica's governmental and economic progress in recent years. According to the first website on my list (http://www.world66.com/centralamericathecaribbean/costarica/economy) "Costa Rica's basically stable and progressive economy depends especially on tourism and the export of bananas, coffee and other agricultural products. Poverty has been substantially reduced over the past 15 years and a strong social safety net has been put in place." In regard to the protection of wildlands in Costa Rica: "Policies and investments in Costa Rica have triggered an expansion of protected areas and national parks, now covering over 25 per cent of the countrys total land area. Since this strategy was adopted there has been a boom in eco-tourism attracting over one million visitors a year and generating USD $5 million annually in entrance fees alone. Studies indicate that communities living in or near national parks have higher wages, employment rates and lower rates of poverty" (http://www.eco-business.com/news/2010/sep/20/ep-report-green-economy-can-reduce-poverty-and-hel/). Of course, eco-tourism is far from sufficient as a basis for a global economy. It depends on wealthy people from other nations being willing to travel to a beautiful place and spend lots of money there. However, Costa Rica also has a strong agricultural industry which having a healthy enviromment helps. Other industries in Costa Rica are mostly high-tech, such as electronics, computers and pharmaceuticals, none of which is particularly heinous in terms of pollution and environmental degradation. Costa Rica has a relatively well-educated population, with mandatory, universal education for nine grades, and a 96% literacy rate. According to Wikipedia, Costa Rica has one of the best economies in Latin America, and ranks fifth in the world in terms of environmental performance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Costa_Rica).
The mother load of information about Costa Rica, however, turns out to be from the U.S. Department of State (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2019.htm). The site includes a map of Costa Rica, which lies between Nicaragua to its north, and Panama to its south, in the isthmus (narrow) portion of Central America. It's population currently is at about 4.5 million persons, mostly of European descent, plus smaller percentages of people of mestizzo, indigenous, African and Chinese descent. Not surprisingly, most of the population is Catholic, about 75%, and Spanish is the most spoken language, but surprisingly, a form of English is the predominant language in some areas. The government of Costa Rica is a multiparty democracy with 4 major parties, unlike the 2 party system of the United States, and the current President is Laura Chinchilla (yes, a woman) of the National Liberation Party, who was inaugurated on May 8 of this year. Costa Rica's government seems relatively progressive, and is largely behind it's movement toward a greener economy. According to the State Department "Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a very strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 20-plus member cabinet. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. In April 2003, the Costa Rican Constitutional Court annulled a 1969 constitutional reform which had barred presidents from running for reelection. As a result, the law reverted back to the 1949 Constitution, which permits ex-presidents to run for reelection after they have been out of office for two presidential terms, or 8 years. Deputies may run for reelection after sitting out one term, or 4 years." Furthermore "Costa Rica has long emphasized the development of democracy and respect for human rights. The country's political system has steadily developed, maintaining democratic institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government succession. Several factors have contributed to this trend, including enlightened leadership, comparative prosperity, flexible class lines, educational opportunities that have created a stable middle class, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided military involvement in political affairs, unlike other countries in the region." Isn't that interesting that our own State Department attribributes much of Costa Rica's success to its lack of military? (I think they are referring to avoiding miltary coups and military domination of their government.) Why can't our State Department apply that to our own nation? Also, credit is given to Costa Rica's "enlightened leadership" which presumably is progressive, as well as to its educational system.
Finally, from the State Department come some more specific goods about Costa Rica's ecologically progressive economy. "The country is rich with renewable energy. It gets about 99% of all its electrical energy from clean sources, and it is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2021. Costa Rica has oil deposits off its Atlantic Coast, but the Pacheco administration (2002-2006) decided not to develop the deposits for environmental reasons. The Arias administration (2006-2010) reaffirmed this policy. The country's mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in electricity, but it is completely reliant on imports for liquid fuels. Costa Rica has the potential to become a major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution grid are realized. Its mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where some 90% of the population lives." Thus, Costa Rica is on the verge of becoming "carbon neutral" (whatever that means), and produces almost all of its electricity through hydroelectric plants, or other clean sources, perhaps solar energy. It still apparently depends on imported fossil fuels, but I am guessing that steps are being taken to convert to alternative fuels in Costa Rica, as Brazil has already done. The nation is also fortunate in having a mild climate which makes heating or cooling unnecessary.
Clearly, the steps Costa Rica has taken over the past couple of decades to become an environmentally friendly nation with a good standard of living have been positive ones and the nation has benefitted from them. Although these are mere baby steps in terms of what needs to be done in the long-term, they give us an example of what other nations can and should be doing to build better futures. If little Costa Rica can do it, surely a large and powerful nation such as the United States -- or the whole world for that matter -- can too. Actually, Costa Rica also may be an example of how it is easier for small nations -- or maybe states offering single payer health care, for instance, when Congress fails to agree on a plan to do such -- to take concerted action and make big changes, but there is no reason that large nations with greater resources could not accomplish the same things. Well, that's the end of my "book report" on Costa Rica. Now, I would love to go on vacation there and check it out for myself, but I can't afford to.
A Capital Idea Part 44: Re-meming Resources
I recently have come to realize that we have a problem with the language of resources. This is not surprising, since language is created to reflect existing memes. To me, memes -- in other words, the way we think about things and the type of language we use -- are crucially important. As progressives, we must build and promote truthful, progressive memes which will help all of us understand the world more accurately.
Looking at the terminology of business, there is a tendency to use the word "commodities," which implies that everything has a price, basically. Wheat is a commodity, and so is lard, for example, or whatever a person might want to buy, animal, vegetable or mineral. Our skills are another form of commodity in the eyes of the business world. In short, they have managed to turn everything into a commodity, including sex. We need to get away from thinking in terms of "commodities," clearly. Let us think, instead, of "resources," to put the real issue into clear focus. Resources are what we work with, in order to have an economy, and work (or effort or labor) is how we make use of it. A commodity is an artificial construct based on the artificial resource called money. Let us understand that real resources, not artificial ones, are what counts and what we need to be dealing with, not commodities. Also, the use of commodities in conjunction with the capitalist economic system which uses the concept of commodities, encourages a delusional and unrealistic model of limitless growth and resources. It would be much more appropriate to refer to "finite resources," and "limits of growth," (including human population growth) rather than such terms as the "Gross Domestic Product" which is supposed to be ever increasing, or "sustained economic growth." These terms are relics of a time when it seemed that resources were essentially limitless, and economic success was merely a matter of finding and exploiting them.
Another example we talk about is the "conservation of resources." The word "conservation" implies that we are trying to preserve something which is valuable, which is fine, but having resources is not only about preservation. Rather, it is also about building and recycling resources.
We build resources when people learn valuable skills and knowledge. These are human resources. Thus, education and learning are basically resource building processes. Furthermore, I would say that we build resources when we build infrastructure, because infrastructure is the set of resources which we need in order to use our human resources. However, we also build resources when we replant forests, create new habitat for plants and animals, or build spawning grounds for trout and salmon, for example, which are natural resources. The key to our sustainable future is in recycling, along with making use of sustainable energy sources such as solar energy. We also need to recycle resources; in fact, we need to recycle virtually everything in the long term. We recycle plastics, metal, aluminum, rubber, etc., but we need to recycle nutrients, too. That means everything, including human waste, which sewage experts have cleverly begun to turn into fertilizer. Of course, we also need to recycle water, as well. In fact, even desert communities can actually keep reusing the same water, essentially, with existing technologies. The water can even be stored and filtered underground which results in a good, clean water resource. I would even say that in a sense, education is a way of recycling as well as building new, human resources. Thus, instead of repeating the often-used phrase "conservation of resources," I propose that we should talk about "resource building," and "resource recycling," at least in addition to conservation of resources.
Finally, as implied above, we need to recognize and differentiate among various types of resources. I have mentioned human resources and natural resources as two basic categories of resource. Human resources can be divided into such categories as labor resources, skills resources, nurturant resources, spiritual resources, to name a few which have been mentioned earlier in this series. Natural resources can be subdivided into living resources, and nonliving resources. Living resources include animal resources (ones we eat, ones we have as pets, or ones we like to see, etc.), and plant resources (plant foods, flowers, trees, etc.). Nonliving resources include water resources, air resources (yes, that free stuff that we breath), mineral resources, and the environment itself, upon which all life depends. This topic somewhat summarizes and somewhat overlaps with some of my earlier posts, but the salient point here is that -- in order to work toward building a sustainable, resource based economy -- we need to make terms such as these or others as yet to be determined, part of our economic vernacular, rather than relying on the language of capitalism supporting economists to define our economic world.
A Capital Idea Part 43: What is the Ideal Culture?
Let me start by saying that I am thankful to be a Californian, where Democrats have now officially swept the statewide elections earlier this month with the announcment that Kamala Harris won the race for state Attorney General, and I am also thankful to have a supportive family, friends, pets and environment, in which I can speak my mind and try to make a least a little difference in helping society progress. Meanwhile, I am taking this opportunity to write another scintillating (to me at least) blog post before I get together with my lovely family for a Thanksgiving Feast of shrimp, mashed potatoes, broccoli, guavas or whatever we manage to whip up for a turkeyless, potluck style meal. There, I got the Thanksgiving stuff out of the way.
Having done that, I have been scoping out possible nations to which I could flee in the event of the total collapse of democracy and progress in the United States. Also, I have found Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions fascinating and important since I first read about them while editing my step-daughter Isabella's MBA Master's Thesis last year. That set me to wondering whether or not there are any ideal nations in terms of the five cultural dimensions.
To tell the truth, though, I am not a quitter, and plan to fight the good fight for progress as long as there is breath in me, which I plan to continue doing for a long time. Most likely, I will stick with my nation, but just in case...
Anyway, I haven't been on an airplane for a couple of years, and am not looking forward to being subject to the poking, prodding and groping, scanning, unclothed imaging, and radiating to which airplane passengers are now subjected. Given the choice, I would choose the scanning over the groping, but neither alternative is attractive. Speaking of unattractive, I am pretty sure that no one would be interested in seeing the exact dimensions of my body. Anyway, I am a bit tubby and quite unremarkable physcially, but I do see how men would be interested in the exact dimensions of an attractive female. But I digresss here...
The more important point is that even if we don't move to another, more ideal culture -- one which promotes a progressive economy and society -- an examination of various nations in terms of their cultural dimensions could be informative regarding how to make the one we are in, more ideal.
Let me review the 5 Cultural Dimensions and what I would consider culturally optimal, presented in the order that Hofstede presents them:
1. Power Distance versus Egalitarianism (distance between the people and the leaders) -- Power to the People! Clearly, the lower the power distance and the more egalitarian, the more democratic that society can be, and I definitely think we need democracy;
2. Individualism versus Collectivism-- I believe we need a "we society," not a "me society," and thus, we need to work toward collectivism, not so much individualism. Besides, I have know a lot of individuals from so-called collectivist societies, including my rather eccentric wife, and I have yet to meet a person who fails to be an individual or have a personality. As far as I can tell, the Borg have yet to take over any nation, and for better or worse, people cannot telepathically or electronically transmit their actual thoughts among each other to act as a single unit;
3. Masculinity versus Femininity -- As discussed last time, I feel that most societies are significantly skewed toward the masculine side, and we need a good dose of feminism (or the Feminine Principle) in order to balance things out, making the more feminine nations more optimal in my opinion;
4. Uncertainty Avoidance versus Tolerance of Uncertainty -- Nations which avoid uncertainty are likely to be fear motivated to the point of social paralysis. Only those nations which are tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty can move forward, so I believe that high tolerance of uncertainty is optimal;
5. Long-Term Orientation versus Short-Term Orientation -- I clearly think we need to plan and think about long-term progress, rather than being preoccupied by the immediacy of the crises of the moment.
I think it is important to point out that these cultural dimensions are not designed to necessarily be neutral, although cross cultural researchers generally avoid making value judgments. I, however, feel no such compunction to avoid making value judgments. To the contrary, I feel that understanding the advantages and disadvantages of different cultural orientations is extremely helpful in promoting cultural evolution, as is of course, figuring out what works best. Also, these cultural dimensions may correlate. The results given are simply the composite ratings by many individuals in each nation, so there is nothing to prevent one dimension from correlating with another.
There is a similar situation with regard to the Five Factor Model of Personality, by Personality Psychologists Costa and McCrae. They developed five personality dimensions which are widely recognized and used in research, and none of these are really neutral. They are Neuroticism versus Emotional Stability, Extraversion versus Introversion, Openness to Experience versus Rigidity, Agreeableness versus Disagreeableness, and Conscientiousness versus Irresponsibility. These personality dimensions are based on how people (not the psychologists who study personality, but the participants instead) actually classify personality. It might work on Facebook (or maybe not) to say, "Hello, my name is Robert. I am a neurotic, rigid, disagreeable, irresponsible, introvert and I want to be your friend," but in general, that doesn't go over well. We make value judgments all the time, even when getting to know another person informally, as we evaluate people's personalities.
Now, it is time to move on to the examination of actual nations in terms of the five cultural dimensions. I have taken out an actual sheet of paper, and I am "lefting" my results, using the data presented on the same website I linked to last time. I was afraid that perhaps the Power Distance dimension would eliminate virtually all asian nations, but such was not the case. Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan are all relatively democratic and low on power distance, along with the majority of English-speaking and European nations, and a few assorted others. I shouldn't be surprised about Taiwan in particular, because I know through my wife that government there is very democratic and accessible to the public, much more so than in the U.S. Moving onward to Collectivism, most of the Egalitarian nations were eliminated, leaving me with only 7 remaining nations: Costa Rica, Jamaica, Japan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Iran, and South Korea. Moving to the Femininity dimension, 5 of the 7 relatively egalitarian, collectivistic nations were also toward the feminine side, leaving my shrinking list of nations with Costa Rica, Pakistan, Taiwan, Iran, and South Korea. It's interesting that 2 of these nations are "middle eastern" Muslim dominated nations, 2 are east asian (and 2 of my favorite nations), and 1 central American. There are no English speaking or European nations left, mainly because they tend to be highly individualistic. The fourth Cultural Dimension, Uncertainty Avoidance, is said to be related to the search for the truth, to give a little more background. Those who are high in Uncertainty Avoidance think that there is one absolute truth and they have it, while Tolerance of Uncertainty is associated with actively searching for the truth. By the time I had finished examining this one, I was down to Iran. Yes, Iran, the ideal nation! Let's just hope that the Republicans don't regain the Presidency and Congress again and decide to attack Iran, which seems to be their next target, given that they already have Iran surrounded with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But wait a minute! My beloved Taiwan does reasonably well on this measure, or at least not too bad, coming in with a mid-range score on Tolerance of Ambiguity, so I guess it's Taiwan for me. Also, mainland China actually has a decidedly high score on Tolerance of Ambiguity, and of course, mainland China and Taiwan are both Chinese cultures and therefore should be similar on the cultural dimensions, aside from the effects of government on these dimensions. The fifth dimension (not to be confused with the Motown band), Long-Term Orientation, only has data for about half the nations that have data on the other dimensions. Also, some nations do not have any data at all. In any case, China has the highest Long-Term Orientation score. (Those five year plans appear to have paid off, and now it's been long enough that they are whooping our butts economically.) Taiwan has the third highest score on this dimension. Hong-Kong has the second highest, so this is definitely a Chinese trait. I know from personal experience, that Chinese people are the world's greatest savers of money if not resources, and endurers of hardship for the sake of long-term gain. By the way, Japan comes in fourth place on this dimension, and South Korea, in fifth place. After that, Brazil is in sixth place, which is interesting considering that this nation used to be a basket case -- probably the last place I would have wanted to live -- and while it still has lots of problems, it appears to have been improving steadily over the years so that it is now a fairly progressive nation and is doing relatively well as a society.
Thus, my conclusion, while possibly a wee bit biased, is that I married a woman from the most ideal nation I could have chosen -- Taiwan! I was surprised that some of the European nations such as the Scandanavian countries didn't do better, but they were sabotaged by their rampant lack of collectivistic action, although I would still consider Norway a good alternative should I see my home nation going down the drain. Meanwhile, I plan to continue to fight the good pacifist fight and the War of Love for progressivism and cultural progress here in the good old U.S. of A. Change is inevitable, even cultural change, so let's make it for the better, not the worse.
A Capital Idea Part 42: Our Problems are Rooted in Masculinity
In 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected, I wasn't thrilled with our dominant party choices for President, so I voted for a Democratic Congresswoman from Colorado that I liked named Patricia Schroder. I even got my mom to vote for her as well. Clinton, of course, wound up serving 8 years, with mixed results from my perspective, but the worst aspects of his policies continue to worsen and plague us now -- continuing the outsourcing of American jobs, continuing the corporatization of America, and more or less buying into American imperialism and militarism, although he did downsize the military in a time of relative peace and lack of occupation somewhat. I have to think that if a woman such as Pat Schroder had been our President -- a woman who represented feminine priorities and didn't feel obliged to act like a stereotypical man -- we would be much better off now.
I have long thought of femininity as superior to masculinity, and by extension, of females as the superior gender basically, although I am a male. Actually, I am okay with that, especially since from a psychological standpoint, despite being a heterosexual male who likes sports and who does not act like a "girly boy," I score pretty high on the femininity aspects of Sandra Bem's Androgyny Scale. Actually, I admit to having scored Feminine on the Androgyny Scale when I first went to college, which was embarassing in a way, but when I considered what that meant, not so much. Basically, that means I am a fine example of the modern male that feminists like to see -- sensitive to people's feelings, nurturant, emotionally in tune. (I guess that goes a long way in explaining why I became a Social Psychologist.) However, as is typical according to research on personality throughout the lifespan, I have become more androgynous psychologically over the years. I have developed my assertive, confident, proactive side, which are masculine characteristics, and it's a good thing that I have these traits as well.
Regardless of the merits of a masculine versus a feminine psychological approach to life, the world clearly operates under a system which is far too masculine as a whole. When alpha males and their masculine approach to life rule, as it does in most of the world, and feminine characteristics are effectively excluded from the economic and political systems by which societies are run, aggression, conflict, overcompetitiveness and huge economic disparities are created. Thus, I postulate in this post, that our economic and political institutions are in grave need of a huge dose of femininity. Despite seeing greater numbers of women in politics as well as female entrepreneurs, entertainers, and intellectuals, all of us -- male and female -- are still working within the confines of what is essentially a misogynist, masculine system. In fact, it seems to me that it is difficult for most female politicians and enterpreneurs to function without trying to act like men. Among prominant female individuals, only intellectuals such as professors seem relatively comfortable being their feminine selves, in my opinion. Female entertainers, for the most part, are compelled to be ultra-feminine sex symbols, on the other hand. (I think to myself at this point, perhaps this gives us insight regarding the reason that male celebrities can successfully become politicians, yet we never see female celebrities do the same.)
When considering this topic, I endeavored to check a list which ranks nations of the world in terms of femininity, as described by Industrial/Organizational Psychologist Geert Hofstede, thinking that it might give me some insight into the differences between feminine and masculine cultures, and hopefully, showed superior results for feminine cultures (http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/masculinity/) I have included a link to this list, but this issue is far too complex to be grasped by a simple ranking of nations by femininity. Actually, Hofstede postulated five different cultural dimensions. The other ones are Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Long-Term Orientation. Each nation has a different mix of these characteristics, much like a national personality, analogous to Costa and McRae's Five Factor Model of Personality. All of the data upon which these rankings are based are self-report, which means that they are subject to the personal response biases of the respondents and by extension, the culture. Also, being an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, Hofstede is interested primarily in consumer behavior, and thus may not define the dimensions the way that other people would. The rankings are further complicated by the fact that nations may evolve over the years culturally. Nonetheless, it is very evident from the list, that the more feminine nations grant women more equal status to that of men, have women who act like real women, in positions of power, have political systems largely based on democratic socialism, and are peaceful nations which never attack other nations. Furthermore, these are nations which seem to be doing rather well in enduring these difficult economic times worldwide and in maintaining a good standard of living for its citizens. According to studies done by IBM, the world's 12 most feminine cultures, in order from the most feminine to the 12th most feminine, are:
5. Costa Rica
12. South Korea
Cultural femininity as defined by Hofstede means a culture that includes that traits of modesty, caring and nurturance, while masculine cultures have traits which include assertiveness, materialism, self-centeredness, power, strength and individual achievments.
The world's most masculine nations include several which have been notable in the past century for starting major wars (Japan, Germany), have been known for imperialism (United Kingdom) or for having macho attitudes and high rates of violent crime (eg. Mexico). The United States is fairly high on Masculinity, but nowhere near the top, and of course is extremely high in military spending and international military involvement, plus suffers relatively high rates of violent crime. The world's 12 most masculine cultures, according to the IBM studies, are:
10. China (although Taiwan ranks closer to the feminine than masculine end of the scale)
12. United Kingdom
The larger issue here, though, is that of worldwide dominance of masculine traits, and the suppression of feminine traits from being built into our institutions in ways which would make them more compassionate, caring and better able to take care of citizens, provide a good overall standard of living and prevent international conflict, war or military occupations. The reframing of our economic and political systems which I previously suggested in this series, in terms of morality (especially the "feminine," caring, emotion-based approach to morality), and in terms of an ecosystem (i.e., "mother earth") are both essentially feminine approaches, for example, which would result in feminizing our world's culture in a good, necessary, and long overdue way. It's not just a matter of women learning to "play the game" that our system requires, so that they can enter into positions of power. What we really need is to feminize the system! Until then, the world's citizenry will continue to suffer the same sort of conflicts and inequities as it has in the past. The world is becoming not quite as masculinity oriented as it has been in the past, but the breakdown of the masculine hierarchy has been gradual, and limited. We cannot get to where we need to go, until we create a system which grants at least equal status to feminine concerns (from a psychological standpoint of nurturance, caring and emotion, for example) as our current system has always granted stereotypically masculine concerns.
A Capital Idea Part 41: The Economic End Game
What I am about to write, comes with a heavy heart for the sake of humanity, and I do not take it lightly.
Unbeknownst to the great masses of humanity, those in positions of economic power around the world have long been engaging in a real-life game of Monopoly. At first, there were many competitors, but over time, most of them have been, well, bought out by more sucessful competitors. I am not privy to what is really going on among these "billionnaires club" competitors, but that much I can say with confidence. It is my best guess that there are still several factions of ultra-rich competitors working the globe for financial advantages over the others. These may be regional, as in European, Asian, and North American billionnaires, or may be industrial moguls, media owners, and bankers competing with each other. However, whatever competition is going on among the billionnaires of the world, like an emperor's sons vying to be chosen the next emperor, they have been defining the rules of the game and furthermore, cooperating with each other in order to maintain and consolidate their collective wealth. That is why we keep seeing international "economic summits" in which many of the world's richest jet setters along with political leaders vow to engage in "economic cooperation" among nations. In order to ensure that everyone follows the rules of the game, political leaders must be brought into the fold. In short, we find ourselves in the later stages of a humongous, real-life game of Monopoly, on a scale that the world has never known before.
Of course, agitators -- people who have woken up to the reality of what is going on and are horrified by it -- such as myself are calling for an end to the game and a change of rules so that this can never happen again. However, so far, this is just a small but growing cry in the economic wilderness which is easily ignored by billionnaire owned media and anyone else who might be playing the game. They are too busy with each other to pay attention to "the little people" -- little as in, little money. Instead, they are concerned with profits and competition, in a seemingly endless cycle. This game of Monopoly has to be international, because the contestants go wherever the labor is cheapest and most slave-like. It has to be international, because they then sell their goods wherever people are most able or most likely to buy them. It is economic globalization on steroids -- exactly the wrong sort of globalization in a world where peoples are coming together, learning to like and depend upon each other, and wishing to form a cooperative world community. Instead, what we are getting is a maximization of exploitation -- exploitation of resources without regard for consequences, and exploitation of workers.
In the case of the United States, economic dominance of its elite class is tied to military dominance. This is the military-industrial complex which Eisenhower warned us about before he left office. Even though the public pays for the military, at great cost, the United States' far flung "armed" (weapons) "forces" (opposite of choice) seem to be warning the rest of the world of what might happen should they choose not to accede to the United States' wishes. Perhaps the implicit message here is "if you don't continue to provide us with cheap products, we just might attack you," or perhaps it is just a confirmation that "we" (the United States) is the biggest, strongest kid on the block, as a way to bolster the egos of billionnaires and politicians.
The ultimate questions here -- one to which I suspect little thought has truly been given by the competitors in this international game of Monopoly -- are how will the game end, and what will happen when the game is over? The nation with the greatest leverage in this game is not the United States, but China, which also has the world's largest population. If China's, or Europe's bankers, wish to have the United States and the rest of the world begging for crumbs, they can most likely do that. If they wish to influence politics so that there are banker and big business friendly leaders around the world, they can and have been doing that. Thus, it is my guess that if we don't put a stop to what is going on, China's and/or Europe's bankers, and maybe a few from the United States, will be the big winners in the international game of Monopoly. Once the Monopoly game is over, of course, the winner or winners will enjoy a true monopoly, as the point of the original board game's existence was to illustrate in the first place. However, despite meetings both public and private in which rich people discuss their plans for the world's future, I suspect that they are too wrapped up in their avariciousness and hedonism and endless competitive pursuit of the game, to seriously consider the implications of a true world monopoly, implications which are horrific, especially in light of the great progress of which humanity is capable. Basically, what we would face is the ultimate class society, an entire world of a small class of hereditary, financial elite and hordes of struggling, oppressed citizens whose strings are being pulled, so to speak, by the elite. This has happened before in particular cultures around the world, but never on such a global scale before, and developments -- technological, political, and social -- in the past have pulled those cultures out of their morass.
Do I really think this one-world monopoly scenario is going to happen? Not exactly. Do I think we will overcome this danger? Eventually, yes. Am I concerned that it will happen if we continue down the present economic/political road? Yes, if not exactly a one world monopoly, then something approximating it. Am I worried that we, the world's citizens will simply muddle through life and struggle under conditions of high stress, multiple jobs, not enough time, etc. to really understand what is going on or do enough to change it? Yes. In fact, I think I see that happening now, which is why it is so important for us to stand up for our economic rights as citizens and prevent any facsimile of such a world economy from becoming a long-term reality!
It has occurred to me, and perhaps to you, that it should be difficult for members of "the billionnaires club" to live with themselves, knowing the insidious, horrible effects they are having on the rest of humanity. I and others such as Thom Hartmann have offered an explanation of this in terms of personality disorders. However, when such behavior is passed from generation to generation unabated, it begs a different explanation. Most assuredly, not every relative of a super-greedy banker would also be so afflicted. A perverted version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs has come to my mind, one which is structured in such a way that it allows the ultra rich believer to justify the pursuit of further wealth and power, all the while being incubated in the safe, warm, snuggly, opulent comfort of a lifestyle which insulates the individual from the reality of the non-rich. Maslow's hierarchy has five needs, from bottom to top:
1. Physiological needs;
2. Safety needs;
3. Love and belongingness needs;
4. Esteem needs;
5 Self-Actualizaton needs.
Lower needs must be fulfilled before moving to higher needs. For the members of "the billionnaires club" who play this grand game of Monopoly, physiological needs relate to a lifestyle of luxury, safety needs to body guards, well-maintained private jets and the like, love and belongingness, to the safe cocoon of the family and friends who are fellow member of "the billionnaires club." However, the crucial levels to explain in this warped hierarchy are the two highest. Esteem needs among "the billionnaires club" I posit, are largely met by the accomplishment of acquisition of wealth, by buying out competitors, and so forth. Thus, esteem ties into the Monopoly game. Given the strange findings of researchers regarding self-esteem in some studies, such as prisoners having higher self-esteem than professionals, or self-esteem being most dependent upon physical appearance or positive feedback not tied to any particular accomplishment, this scenario seems very likely. People socialized to value wealth above all else, will most likely garner esteem through the acquisition of wealth, more than anything else. They may also have family lives, at least in some cases, that they can point to proudly, and many wealthy people actually are well-intentioned. They are simply living in a different reality from most of us, which warps their vision of the world around them.
The highest level, self-actualization, can also be tied to money and power, but in a warped way. To self-actualize is to reach one's potential as a person. Maslow meant that as a humanitarian, a prosocial person who contributes to the greater good of society. However, as the privileged have been inclined to do throughout history, people with great money and power in our now global economy can twist reality in such a way that they believe they are indeed working for the greater good of society. They are "creating jobs" after all, when they hire "the little people" and pay them their little salaries. What could contribute more to the greater good than that? In their minds, not much, although in my mind, they could do a great deal more, and they are not really creating jobs, but rather, responding to the need for some goods or services. It is people spending money which creates jobs. Also, there is a sense of entitlement which tends to pervade the ranks of the privileged. They may feel self-actualized simply because they are fulfilling their ordained roles as leaders of society. They may also feel self-actualized when they influence politics in ways which they, falsely, feel benefits the public as a whole. What greater cause in life can there be than to bring the wonders of "the free market" and unrestrained capitalism to the world? Once again, in their minds, not much, although in my mind they are being highly delusional and tragically destructive of human potential through their actions. Finally, becoming the best capitalist and "money maker" one can be, can give a false sense of self-actualization to the world's financial elite. Thus, a lifestyle and mindset of false esteem and false self-actualization may pervade and perpetuate the actions of the world's richest tycoons.
If the world's financial elite do have their way, eventually, their entire self-delusional world will collapse, and the world's ultra rich and political rulers will only be concerned about hanging onto their wealth and power, and make futile attempts to do so. Thus, ultimately, the game will end one way or another -- either in a tragic way, or a good way. It is incumbent upon us, the non-elite, in order to end the game in a truly good way, to assert our rights, and furthermore, to make the financial elites of the world understand and empathize with our reality, to the extent to which that is possible, so that we can avoid such a collapse and the destructive period of world history which would result -- a sort of humongous, worldwide class struggle. In short, we need to give the message that "the party is over" for these clowns at the top of our financial ladder, before that ladder topples over and falls on all of us. At the same time, we need to engage in serious reform of the world's economic system.
A Capital Idea Part 40: The Social Evolution of Greed
I am not an expert regarding this topic (not sure anyone is) but I will try my best here. Perhaps others can add useful information to this discussion.
During the majority of human evolution, the human population was relatively small and people lived in small groups of related individuals. In fact, during the height of the ice ages, when our ancestors were still confined to Africa, but the climate even there was far cooler than it is now, anthropologists believe that the pre-human population was reduced to a few hundred individuals (300 pairs I think was the statement). Thus, throughout most of our evolution, there was no opportunity for a person to attain widespread power and influence over many others. This has only happened since the advent of large, organized societies. Also, money had not been invented yet, although apparently barter and mutual gifts were common as forms of exchange between individuals and groups. However, there may have been a prehistorical equivalent to greed, in that certain people may have hoarded resources such as food or fuel such as firewood. Those who managed to do so would have had a better chance of survival than their peers who failed to do so. Thus, hoarding behavior, as an early form of greed, along with any potential genetic factor which increases such behavior, would presumably have been selected for evolutionarily in these times when survival was difficult for our ancestors.
Once agriculture was invented several thousand years ago, the human population began to expand greatly, also aided by a more liveable environment and other technological innovations. At this time, most peoples stopped being nomadic, settling down in specific locations and forming large scale societies, including cities. At this time, money and politics were invented. Consequently, it became possible for hoarding behavior to rise to a new level which exceeded simply having more than enough supplies to get through a tough winter or drought, and extended to outright greed which involved having more resources than a person could possibly use. Two interrelated forms of greed began to exist, in my view: monetary, and political. Monetary greed was similar in nature to its current form, but much smaller in scale and far less sophisticated. It appeared to involve either people who were in a position to regulate a limited and valued resource, or more directly, the people who put themselves in charge of the money itself. The greedier among us have alway tended to be attracted to politics as well, which allowed them to satisfy their desires for power, and through such power, wealth through the paying of taxes and fealties. It is important to point out that many politicians have noble motives and are not greedy people, but far too many politicians are greedy power grabbers. Emperorships also turned into lifelong adolescent sexual fantasies in some cultures, at least, with ridiculous numbers of "wives," mistresses or concubines who probably had little choice or lousy alternatives to being one of the king's women. My wife Eunice has often told me that the Chinese emperors of centuries past typically had 3,000 "wives," which is mind-boggling. Obviously, these kings did not have much time to get to know all of these "wives," and probably were never sexually intimate with many of them. Nonetheless, ordinary male workers in their compounds were turned into eunichs in order to prevent them from being sexually intimate with any of the king's 3,000 beautiful "brides." Another form of political greed was land greed, typified by wars of conquest to obtain more land and power.
As societies have evolved into modern times, the profligacies of greedy emperors have pretty much become a thing of the past, as democracy and democratic ideas have spread, and with the evolution of news media, such behavior has been revealed clearly to the public, shaming people in positions of political power into rejecting such behavior for the most part. However, in place of political gluttony, financial excesses have steadily increased over the past few centuries. Corporations began to form in the 1700s and 1800s in concert with the industrial revolution. However, there used to be strict limits on the power of corporations. For example, when the United States was founded, corporations were only allowed to exist for 50 years maximum, after which the government dissolved them. Certainly, our ancestors would have found the concept of corporate personhood as some sort of hyper-privileged, immortal being as endorsed by the current Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision, utterly ridiculous. However, as corporate wealth grew, along with its influence, the corporate elite managed to abolish the time limit on corporations.
In recent years especially, corporations have gone international, and in short, the reach of greedy individuals has become global. They have learned to go wherever the labor is cheapest, even when originally and nominally from a nation which has minimum wage laws such as the United States. In essence, they have managed to eliminate the minimum wage law by going to places that don't have minimum wage laws. Meanwhile, many of them have moved their headquarters to places with lower corporate tax rates. Thus, they are able to make greater profits which they stow away in Swiss bank accounts and the like, or invest in stocks which they are in a position to manipulate. Meanwhile, the money handlers have turned into ultra-rich bankers, who use their influence to contort the entire world's economy to their own purposes. Even though these ultra-rich people are not normally politicians, there is an extremely strong political component to the international corporatism which has evolved in recent years. Corporate leaders and bankers have been busy forming organizations which promote their own selfish interests, at the expense of the public. They use these economic organizations, which have appealing, misleading names involving economic cooperation, to wield influence over political policies around the world, wherever they find willing participants such as politicians corrupted by money. The primary means through which corporations have been wielding political influence is the use of corporate lobbyists. However, with the Citizens United decision here in the U.S., the doors have been opened to corporations to more directly influence elections. Furthermore, wealthy individuals promote favored candidates and policies, and now, we are even seeing the entrance of some ultra rich persons into politics, as with Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman here in California. Fortunately, both of them are likely to lose, but I cannot guarantee that billionnaires will always lose political elections.
I do believe that the corporate and banking industry stranglehold on our money, and their growing stranglehold on politics, falls into the category of "be careful what you wish for." Much as conservatives got what they wished for when George W. Bush became President, which resulted in a disastrous Presidency and the subsequent election of Barack Obama, the more the influence of greed and money detract from our once strong democracy and the worldwide movement toward democracy, and degrade people's standard of living throughout the world, the more impetus and moral capital the public will possess, to enable us as a people to put an end to this situation, whatever it takes.
A Capital Idea Part 39: Avaricious Personality Disorder
The topic I wrote about last time is so important and relevant to me that I kept thinking about it after completing the previous post. To begin, I gave it a name; I decided to call it Avaricious Personality Disorder; personality disorders are found in persons who have a rigid, yet maladaptive personality -- one which results in harm to self and/or others. Yes, I think my designation may overlap with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Hoarding, and even Antisocial Personality Disorder, but I believe it deserves a label of its own.
When I was still in grade school (ninth grade, first year of high school I think), my anthropology teacher Mr. Eaton (one of my favorite teachers) had us play a game which demonstrated cooperation versus competition. I think it was one of those games in which both sides can benefit (finish with a positive point total) if they both cooperate. However, if one side cooperates and the other competes, the side which cooperates is penalized with a negative point total for that round, while the competing side wins even more points than it would have if both sides had cooperated. If both sides compete, they both net zero points, as I recall. Naturally, I decided to cooperate. However, the other team in the first round decided to compete, so the team which I led lost. I think there were several teams, so each team played every other team, something like 5 rounds in all. After the initial loss, I decided to continue cooperating to see what would happen. As it turns out, everybody else competed while my team continued to try to get them to cooperate. Thus, we wound up with a record deficit. Hmm, record deficit -- does this sound familiar? Mr. Eaton said he had never seen anything like that before. I think that experience helped teach me what an overly competitive society we have, especially among males -- even though it downgrades intellectual achievement. In fact, developmental psychologists who study psychosocial development say that in terms of Erik Erikson's stages of development, there is a tendency for most American men to become stuck in the stage called Industry versus Inferiority, which is marked by becoming competitive with one's peers, and is supposed to occur during the elementary school years. After the elementary school years are finished, the person is supposed to move on toward identity development, but apparently, this does not happen for many males, or else, after forming an identity, many males regress to the Industry versus Inferiority stage once again.
I think what we are seeing in American culture is an idealization of endless competition among peers, especially for males. This is a big part of the psychological substrate for Avaricious Personality Disorder. Also, the entire "greed is good," me society mindset which a competitive orientation encourages, provides additional psychological substrate for this disorder, as mentioned by Dhavid on the Thom Hartmann website. Accompanying the glorification of greed and selfishness, as exemplified by Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, Ron and Rand Paul, and other libertarians, is a degradation of true spiritual feelings among Americans, although most Americans claim to be religious or at least believe in a higher power. The emphasis on personal competition and achievement precludes making real, meaningful spiritual connections with our fellow human beings, among those who subscribe to this point of view. I think the same can be said of many "captains of industry" and finance, although they tend to want to use government for their own purposes, so they don't actually want to make government small (although they might say they do want small government). To many of them, who have Avaricious Personality Disorder, the pursuit of greater wealth and power is a grand game, with financial or political greatness coming to those who master the game and win it.
Not all people who have Avaricious Personality Disoder are rich; many such people are frustrated in their attempts to gain greatness through wealth and power. Some of the behaviors which may be seen in persons with Avaricious Personality Disorder include:
1. Addiction to materialism, necessitating excessive shopping and spending;
2. A tendency to go bankrupt or in debt through engaging in various ill-fated wealth-seeking schemes;
3. Engaging in avarice substitutes or correlates such as a series of marital infidelities, or infatuation with playing competitive sports or other games, or with professional sports.
There also may be additional signs of Avaricious Personality Disorder of which I have not yet thought.
The costs of avarice are enormous, both in financial loss and in human suffering. In fact, financially, I would say the current financial cost of avarice in the United States is somewhere between 13 and 14 trillion dollars and increasing daily, and the cost in human suffering is incalculable, but counts wars waged with unstated economic goals in mind, poverty, and lousy physical and mental health care, among its costs. The truly painful reality for me is that people much like those who "cheated" at the game in Mr. Eaton's class by taking advantage of cooperators are now running and ruining our society! And all this occurs, despite the well meaning attempts of cooperators such as myself, who get better grades but worse results in the rigged, business-oriented system which business owners and politicians of past generations have built and bestowed upon the present generation. It is a deteriorating situation if nothing is done to fix the problem; it gets a little worse every year as we slide down the money greased road to oblivion built by our financial overlords. I think the abuse of women and their domination by males throughout most of history in most cultures is similarly a result of the more egotistical males among us taking advantage of their cooperative nature.
For treating people with excessively avaricious personalities in the short term, cognitive therapies, humanistic therapies, and behavioral therapies are all indicated. I can imagine a new cadre of mental health specialists in Avaricious Personality Disorder who would jump at the chance to treat some of these people's problems, especially the rich ones who would have no trouble paying their fees, and in fact, paying their psychologists might do them some good.
However, the ultimate cure for avarice is to create a society in which such great accumulations of wealth as occur in modern society can no longer happen, nor can such extreme poverty as we currently see. Call me a dreamer, but I have always dreamed of such a world -- a world of cooperation, peace, love and understanding -- since before I was a 14 year old in Mr. Eaton's class learning about human evolution and how cooperation made our survival and development as a species possible. I believe the juxtaposition of this world that I and other dreamers dream of, with the psychopathological backsliding into feudalism which we are seeing happen in the world around us, with all of its resulting misery, and thwarting of human potential, is the best argument in favor of a total reworking of the world's entire economic system so that public ownership of our resources is the basis of a new, progressive economy.
A Capital Idea Part 38: Greed is a Psychological Disorder
One of the most difficult categories of psychological disorder to treat, are the personality disorders. One of the best known of the personality disorders is Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is a disorder of lack of conscience. People who have it tend to behave atrociously, manipulating others for their own benefit, without conscience, and often breaking the law in the process. It is easy to see how such a personality would lead to greedy behavior. However, there is another personality disorder which can easily be confused with Antisocial Personality Disorder, called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There are differences between the two disorders in terms of the world views of those who have them, their goals, and their life experiences. People who have Antisocial Personality have a world view that life is rotten and the world is corrupt, and a life history of a troubled family life, including most likely financial difficulties. They often wind up in jail, as conpersons, and in the worst cases, perhaps serial killers, and they live their lives with a lack of foresight, only focusing on getting through one day at a time. Those who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, on the other hand, view the "world as their oyster." They tend to be children of privilege, people who "were born with a golden spoon in their mouths." They think that life should be great for themselves, and is great for the most part, but should be a life of hardship for the unannointed masses. They make lots of ambitious plans, political and economic -- all of a greedy and power-grabbing or power-keeping nature. (If this description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder reminds you of many of our current politicians, it should.)
Of the two types of greed-producing disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the more dangerous one, because it leads to massive accumulation of resources, money, and power in the hands of a few unethical persons. While it is true that some people with Antisocial Personality Disorder end up becoming inordinately wealthy and/or powerful, it is far more common for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder to be born, or become that way. They are generally born of a social position which makes enormous wealth and power far more likely. Also, they are more forward looking, and likely to make plans and efforts toward the acquisition of wealth and power. Furthermore, they are in a position, unlike the typical antisocial person, to do so legally, through knowledge of and manipulation of the law. I believe that it is a massive takeover of the United States, and as much of the world as they possibly can, by a cadre of predominantly narcissistic, greedy people which we have seen evidenced during the past several decades, perhaps aided by some antisocial recruits. Some may argue that the world has always been dominated by narcissists, but I would say that this is not the case, and that opportunities for wealth and power grabs by the greedy have increased as the human population and our technological capabilities have increased.
To make things worse, according to Social Psychologist Roy Baumeister, narcissism is getting worse in the United States, and reaching epidemic proportions. (For a review of some relevant self-esteem research, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-esteem .) In my view, this is an outgrowth of our nation's military success and status as the world's greatest superpower. According to Baumeister, the emphasis on promoting self-esteem regardless of accomplishment, fosters narcissism. The thinking about self-esteem goes, having it makes us confident, feel good about ourselves, and thus, happy and motivated to accomplish much in life. However, as Baumeister has found, endlessly promoting self-esteem in children actually results in them having inflated self-concepts not supported by reality; thus, they come to live in a delusional fantasy land in which they are "stars" who all deserve to have spectacular success. In fact, as I have pointed out in a previous post on education, accomplished people, or people from cultures which emphasize effort and accomplishment such as in Asia, tend to have lower self-esteem than unaccomplished people, or those who come from cultures such as that of the United States which emphasize "natural" talent and ability over effort and accomplishment. In fact, research has found higher self-esteem among prison inmates than among those who have never been to prison! Obviously, there is something grossly wrong with this picture. It should be noted that unrealistically high levels of self-esteem which we are talking about in narcissists and others is pseudo-esteem, not true self-esteem, which comes from real accomplishments and genuine sources. Nonetheless, such people high in pseudo-esteem measure as having high self-esteem on common self-esteem questionnaires, which apparently cannot tell the difference.
Another psychological disorder which is related to greed is hoarding, which is when a person accumulates a massive amount of valued objects for which that person has no practical use. Hoarding is usually only associated with socially isolated people who never throw anything away, resulting in extremely cluttered and unsanitary living conditions. However, the most damaging form of hoarding is money hoarding, yet this is routinely done by those who can and desire to do so, and celebrated by society and in publications such as Forbes Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. The richest among us have far more money that they could possibly ever need, or even use, but to them it is a game in which the richest one is the "winner." If we are to even casually consider where all this money comes from, it is immediately apparent that it comes from people who are not rich, people such as the United States' shrinking middle class, and that the rich are simply draining resources built by the sweat of others.
As a consequence of the previous consideration of psychopathology, I propose here that greed itself is a form of irrational behavior which should be considered a psychological disorder when too extreme. Greed is irrational and maladaptive because it hoards resources which the hoarders neither need, can use, nor deserve. Greed is also irrational and ultimately maladaptive because it represents a self-delusional mindset typified by Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or possibly Antisocial Personality Disorder. However, greed differs from any of the previously mentioned disorders in that the pursuit of financial wealth takes on a life and a power of its own, a power which can take over, and in some cases, ruin, a person's life, but more importantly, can lead to the ruin and/or degradation of many innocent person's lives. Greed is also correlated with the need for power and influence over others, which leads to people being drawn to politics for the wrong reasons. Money also stacks the political odds in favor of the rich, as we are seeing play out in American politics now. Until we have a system which does not allow excessive wealth or poverty of any one individual, until we have a sytstem which does not allow the conflation of money and power, we will continue to have a corrupt political system which disproportionately draws from among the greedy and favors the greedy among us. Once we identify greed as a psychopathological behavior, and divest the political system of the greedy and the effects of greed, it will be as though we are waking up from a nightmare, to see a beautiful new day of social harmony and shared prosperity.
A Capital Idea Part 37: Lack of Government is Making America Uncompetitive
I hardly ever watch the show called Wealthtrack, the one hosted by Consuelo Mack, but a recent episode had an alternative energy specialist named Bill (not Ron or Rand) Paul on it, which interested me. Bill Paul was talking about how the United States was well behind other nations in building alternative fuel sources, which resulted from a lack of government initiative. Other nations are even afraid to invest in American alternative energy projects, because the government infrastructure and support are lacking. Meanwhile, the United States has missed out on a green jobs boom, at least for now. As a result, the United States has become economically much less competitive in the world. Of course, the alternative energy picture is in addition to the lack of economic regulation and the outsourcing of jobs which stripped our manufacturing base even before the alternative energy boom began.
Mr. Paul said some other interesting things as well. Regarding the development of solar energy, he said that it is rapidly improving. Smaller and more efficient solar energy sources are being developed rapidly. Thus, solar energy is not a good investment now, but should be within five years. That was quite a coincidence, because my wife owns a large parcel of land (158.1 acres) near Blythe, CA which a solar energy company recently offered to buy for what I thought was quite a lot of money, but my wife Eunice essentially turned them down because a couple of realtors she talked to said that solar energy people should want to buy it for much more than that within 5 years -- not that I put faith in the judgment of out-of-town realtors, but it all fits. For those who are not aware, the Obama administration, trying to reverse the lack of effort by previous administrations such as the oil tycoon administration of George W. Bush, is sponsoring various alternative energy projects including a major solar energy project near Blythe, which is in the Mojave Desert and blessed with highly abundant solar energy, shall we say. Thus, my wife's property is likely to be a part of this project (if she doesn't remain too hard-headed). Believe me, I would feel good about that, and it would give us a great sense of security to have the considerable amount of money from the sale of this land, but for now, we continue to muddle through with not a lot of money to spare and a very modest lifestyle.
Amazingly, Mr. Paul said that researchers were figuring out ways to put solar microchips into exterior house paint, which somehow could be used to transfer electricity to the wire grid. Exactly how that is supposed to occur, Mr. Paul did not say. If true, perhaps the solar plant in the Blythe area will be pretty much obsolete before it even starts producing energy, although Bill Paul did not indicate that. Apparently, we could still use lots of solar energy plants. Mr. Paul also talked about reworking the electrical wire grid which criss-crosses this nation. The electrical lines, phone lines, and so forth are creating redundancy and inefficiencies, so they should be combined and regulated with smart technology which can be used to keep a steady supply of energy flowing through the lines. Disruptions of electricity would become a thing of the past if that is done. It sounds like a job for SuperGovernment! Yes, here comes SuperGovernment to the rescue. Wait a minute -- SuperGovernment is being blown off course by a hurricane of Republican opposition by government hating conservatives. There goes SuperGovernment crashing and burning in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of D.C. My God, the inhumanity of it all! The sheer tragedy!
Well, you get the idea. We need, and are eminently capable of, having a SuperGovernment of our own here in the United States, one which will make us a leader once again in technological and economic progress, but a well funded, powerful minority of our population has managed to prevent that from taking place. Until we once again have a SuperGovernment (which arguably we had during from the 1930s until 1980 when Reagan became President), we will continue to be, as Manfred Max-Neef says, an underdeveloping nation -- a backwards developed nation, in other words, anti-intellectual, and a failure when it comes to developing its human and technological resources to its potential.
A Capital Idea Part 36: God Save the Little Chinese Girls
Another show I saw October 3 was a POV (point of view) show called China Blue. It was about a beautiful 17 year old Chinese girl named "Jasmine" who was working in a blue jeans factory. As I knew but this documentary vividly illustrates, working conditions in the factory were horrible, basically slavery with the exception that they were paid 6 cents per hour. That is correct, 6 cents per hour!
In the film, most of Jasmine's factory mates were even younger teenage girls than Jasmine, around 14 years of age. They apparently felt that they had no choice but to go to work and help out their families. The work consists of laboriously sewing pants, checking them, delinting them, etc. -- very tedious work. Moreover, they were asked to work typically from 8 in the morning until around midnight. They had to buy their own food, which basically they could only get from their commisary and was simple food such as rice bowls with a few pieces of vegetables mixed in. The only exception was the "midnight snack" which is provided for free when asked to work until midnight.
All the girls lived in a dormitory, basically crammed in like sardines, with something like 12 girls per toilet. They also could only go to the bathroom or take short breaks twice per day. This went on 7 days per week, year long, except for perhaps Chinese New Year holiday. Despite such abhorrent conditions, the factory owner claimed he had a "relaxed" style of management. An older woman who acted as supervisor watched over the teenage workers, critiquing their work, often very harshly.
Let me compare conditions for these factory workers with slavery:
1 Teenage factory workers living in a cramped dormitory much as slaves were crammed into little shacks;
2. Factory workers being paid almost nothing other than room and board much as slaves worked for room and board;
3. Working under draconian rule of factory owners and taskmasters much as slaves worked under threat of severe physical and psychological punishment.
Such treatment certainly reminds me of slavery. This documentary was filmed a couple of years ago, but there is no reason to think that anything has changed for the better for Chinese factory workers since that time.
As people who know me well are aware of, I have a soft spot for Chinese females. One could say they are my favorite demographic group, and I suspect that someday, Chinese women will "save the world" (much as Lafayette said that American would someday "save the world"), once they are granted an equal voice of their own. However, as much as I dearly want to save the Chinese girls from this horrible situation, this post has nothing to do with ethnicity or gender. This post has to do with the undervaluing of people and labor, male or female, wherever they occur in the world. Many Chinese factory workers are also men, by the way.
This is the flip side of the overvaluing of scarce resources, which was discussed in my previous post. Thus, this is the other part of my explanation of supply and demand to a child. Business owners benefit financially not only from making resources scarce, hoarding them and access to them, but also, by making labor hyper-plentiful, then devaluing it, which, in the process, devalues the laborers, and consigns them to a subservient, inferior, and in fact, downright miserable role in life. I have been fortunate in that I have never been subjected to such treatment, but having been blessed (if one can call it that) with abundant empathy, I feel deeply distressed over the plight of such poorly treated factory workers around the world.
Here is my children's explanation of the high supply of worker side of supply and demand economics:
"But daddy, why do they pay those girls so little?"
"Because they can get away with it"
"But daddy, why can they get away with it?"
"Because there are a bunch of young people who really, really need some money, and they are desperate enough to do the work."
"But daddy, why are they treated so badly?"
"Because that way, they can be kept working for the factory and think they don't deserve any better. It's what we call a vicious cycle, or a self-fulfilling prophecy"
The truth is, they deserve far better! Let us always work to give them a world in which all people have much better, are paid what they are worth and never have to suffer the undeserved degradation and devaluation of such involuntary servitude.
I tried to find a link to the documentary, but all I could find was a board with comments about it. Nonetheless, I think the comments of others people who saw this film may be of interest to many. The factory where the show was filmed was in Shaxi, China, which I think is in the southern part of mainland China, and was first shown September 27, 2008. The large majority of the comments are very sympathetic toward the workers, some from Chinese people living outside of China, some from foreigners. A few comments question the accuracy of the film. Many of the comments indicated guilt over buying cheap Chinese or other foreign products. I am glad I am such a horribly lousy consumer and such a wonderful cheapskate, but even I feel compelled to buy cheap foreign products oftentimes, which hurts me even though it is through no fault of my own. I do not have direct knowledge of conditions in Chinese factories, but my step-daughter, Isabella, worked for Foxconn here in SoCal for years as an accountant, then for a number of other Chinese companies, and in every case, she has been mistreated. She lost her most recent job a couple of weeks ago when the boss wanted her to move a bunch of heavy items, which she was not strong enough to do, so she was fired. It is my impression that Chinese bosses tend to be the toughest on their workers of any in the world, bar none, and that is from almost first hand experience having heard from Isabellla! (I would suggest that Isabella get her next job with an American company, start her own business, or become a teacher, which she is already doing some of for low pay but less stress and less chance of losing her job.)
Here is the link to the comments about China Blue: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/chinablue/talkback.html
If this film is indicative of the world's future under so-called "free trade" capitalism, God save us, every one!
A Capital Idea Part 35: Explaining Supply and Demand to a Child
Earlier today, I turned on the television, to find 3 separate shows with relevance to capitalism on public television, about each of which I plan to write a post. All 3 are good examples of cautionary tales about capitalism. I will start with the last one first.
I saw the last part of a show called Cuba: The Accidental Eden. According to this show, Cuba's ecology is one of the best in the world. It is relatively unspoiled, with lots of forests, swamps, and mountains with diverse populations of unique wildlife. Wait a minute! We are talking about that widely reviled bastion of communism, the place run by Fidel Castro and his brother, the neighbor that Americans, especially Floridians, love to hate. Yes, and in many respects, American attitudes toward Cuba have been wrong all these years. The United States and Cuba have 2 very different political systems and societies, so that what the United States and Cuba do well and poorly are entirely different things. Apparently, these differences are causing most Americans, especially conservatives, to scorn Cuba.
Actually, the first hint that Cuba is doing something right was on another public television show, which described how Cubans, once deprived of economic assistance from Russia, had learned to create lots of little wholesome, organic farms so that all Cubans have plenty of good food to eat, which, being communist, is distributed rather evenly among the population. In other words, an American is more likely to be going hungry than a Cuban, and Americans are likely to be fed unhealthy foods, anyway. The show I saw today, described how the Cuban government's policies are being used to protect their environment. or example, 22% of the land, and 25% of the coastlines are under government protection. There are also various laws in Cuba designed to protect the environment, wherever in Cuba, from abuses. As a result, Cuba has remained relatively pristine while industrialists in the United States have been clear-cutting, strip-mining, fracking, pouring industrial pollutants into the water, and whatever the hell else they want to do to America's public lands as well as corporately owned land, excepting protected lands in National Parks and Wilderness Areas, which constitute a tiny percentage of the United State's lands.
One of the most interestingly disturbing things about the show Cuba: The Accidental Eden can be perceived in the show's very title. During the show, the narrator and people being interviewed kept mentioning that when Cuba is "opened up" for Americans to visit and perhaps invest in, bad things could happen to the Cuban ecology (ecotourism being the exception). Tourists could come to new resorts built upon formerly wild lands, golf courses could be built where wildlife now makes its home, and industrialists could start abusing the Cuban environment for profit. Meanwhile, the show described how Cuba's policies had effectively protected their environment, yet somehow, the theme of the show was that Cuba had remained relatively unspoiled through sheer good fortune. I had to conclude that either the writers and producers of the show were idiots, or willfully ignorant of Cuba's successes due to their own political biases as Americans. It was abundantly clear to me that Cuba's avoidance of capitalism and its environmentally rapacious habits is the reason for Cuba's environmental success.
To be sure, Cuba has problems of its own. As mentioned earlier, being a very different system, there are things the Cuban government doesn't do well which the U.S. does, and vice versa. There was mention of how little biologists in Cuba are paid, only $25 per month. However, the very fact that a person can survive on $25 per month in Cuba is indicative of the distortion of value between currencies which exists in the world, however, a topic discussed earlier in this series. Perhaps it is better to get by on $25 per month in a pristine environment where the cost of living is low and nature provides most of what we need, than to get by on say, $2,000 per month where the cost of living is high and almost everything must be bought. Certainly, there is poverty in Cuba, although probably not as much as Americans might expect. The communist government under the Castro brothers operates as a dictatorship, quashing people's democratic desires and will to create their own jobs and lifestyles. The Cuban government has been Cuba's primary employer, in fact, but the Castro brothers recently announced that about 1/2 million government jobs will be converted to small, mom and pop type businesses, reflecting the reality of a shadow economy which has developed in Cuba, anyway. I am no fan of Cuba's totalitaran, distincly non-democratic government, but none of this discounts the successes which Cuba has had under government stewardship and with the work of its citizens.
When I first turned the television station to this show about Cuba, the focus was on some unique, beautiful snails which only live on Cuba, called "Painted Snails," because they almost literally look as though someone painted each one with a unique pattern of bright colors. One of the people being interviewed mentioned that many of these snails were being collected to put their shells on necklaces for tourists (only the U.S. has an embargo on Cuba), endangering them, and he was afraid that once Americans start going to Cuba for vacations, the snails could go extinct because of the demand for their pretty shells by the American tourists. It occured to me that this is a great example of what is wrong with the economic principle of supply and demand which is so touted by capitalists. Capitalists want to keep the supply under their own control, and limit it in order to make it as valuable as possible -- eventually leading not only to scarcity of valuable resources, but perhaps even total unavailability of these. After all, the scarcer something is, the more valuable it is, until finally, what little is remaining is grabbed and sequestered from the rest of society by the richest of the rich.
I could imagine using this example to explain supply and demand to a child. "Well, you see, the more people want the pretty Painted Snails, the more people go out into the forest and kill them and put their shells on a string. That way, they are more valuable, and the fewer Painted Snails there are left, the more valuable they become."
"But wait a minute," any reasonably intelligent kid says, "What happens when there aren't enough Painted Snails left for the people to buy?"
"That's when the richest of the rich people in the whole wide world buy the rest of them, until there are no more Painted Snails left, and people can only look at their shells on a string. That's capitalism for you. What a system, huh?"
"I don't think I want to be a capitalist" replies my perspicacious minded child friend.
"Nor do I."
I wonder how much the last Passenger Pigeon or Dodo Bird would have been "worth." How about the last ounce of gold to be dug out of the ground, or the last piece of real estate, or the last peace of mind?
Rather than relying on this ridiculous system of valuing life, objects and skills, we should develop people's skills, conserve nonliving resources, and nurture living ones. Otherwise, the things we need -- things which bring value to the lives of the people -- may be gone practically before we know it. We should learn from Cuba's example in treasuring our natural resources, rather than exploiting them. There is nothing to preclude the United States from continuing to do what it does well, as a technologically advanced democracy, while at the same time abolishing its longstanding policies of supporting environmentally exploitative industries.
A Capital Idea Part 34: A Most Unamerican Economist
On September 22, I heard the last part of a most interesting interview with a gentleman who had an unidentifiable accent. It turned out that he has the unusual name, Manfred Max-Neef, and is a progressive economist from Chile. There are a few progressive American economists whom I think are pretty good, such as Ravi Batra, and Paul Krugman, although I am not well versed regarding current economists. Another one, from Ireland I believe, that I like is Eamon Fingleton, who is mostly an expert regarding the Chinese economy. I have heard him several times on the Thom Hartmann show, as well as Ravi Batra. However, I have yet to hear Manfred Max-Neef on the Hartmann show, nor have I heard anything like his interview elsewhere. He was being interviewed by Amy Goodman, and I heard the interview on a southern California listener supported progressive station called Pacifica Radio. (I only discovered this radio station after buying a new car in February which actually has a good radio.) I suggested on the Thom Hartmann message board that Max-Neef be a guest on Thom's radio show, and clearly several other members were in favor of this, although I have yet to hear news of him being on Thom's show.
The link to the transcript of this interview is here: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/9/22/chilean_economist_manfred_max_neef_us
Following are some highlights of the interview. Regarding the stupidity of politicians and the public when it comes to economic decisions: "We are simply, dramatically stupid. We act systematically against the evidences we have. We know everything that should not be done. Theres nobody that doesnt know that. Particularly the big politicians know exactly what should not be done. Yet they do it. After what happened since October 2008, I mean, elementally, you would think what? That now theyre going to change. I mean, they see that the model is not working. The model is even poisonous, you know? Dramatically poisonous. And what is the result, and what happened in the last meeting of the European Union? They are more fundamentalist now than before. So, the only thing you know that you can be sure of, that the next crisis is coming, and it will be twice as much as this one. And for that one, there wont be enough money anymore. So that will be it. And that is the consequence of systematical human stupidity."
Max-Neef has the following to say regarding viewing the economy as a finite, ecological system: "First of all, we need cultured economists again, who know the history, where they come from, how the ideas originated, who did what, and so on and so on; second, an economics now that understands itself very clearly as a subsystem of a larger system that is finite, the biosphere, hence economic growth as an impossibility; and third, a system that understands that it cannot function without the seriousness of ecosystems. And economists know nothing about ecosystems. They dont know nothing about thermodynamics, you know, nothing about biodiversity or anything. I mean, they are totally ignorant in that respect. And I dont see what harm it would do, you know, to an economist to know that if the beasts would disappear, he would disappear as well, because there wouldnt be food anymore. But he doesnt know that, you know, that we depend absolutely from nature. But for these economists we have, nature is a subsystem of the economy. I mean, its absolutely crazy."
Most importantly, he describes his 5 principles of economics and the fundamental value of life: "The principles, you know, of an economics which should be are based in five postulates and one fundamental value principle.
One, the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.
Two, development is about people and not about objects.
Three, growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.
Four, no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.
Five, the economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.
And the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life."
I found the views of Manfred Max-Neef, in light of the economic ideas concerning capital which I have had or been exposed to over these past several months, while writing this Capital Idea series, of great interest. Here is an economist who says that our economic system needs fundamental changes, not just "tinkering around the edges" as Thom Hartmann would say. Also, we finally have an economist who rejects the infinite growth model of capitalism, and more importantly, views the economy as one would view an ecosystem, just as I have suggested and described. Most importantly, we have an economist who puts people first, says that the economy is here to serve the people, not the other way around (also meaning the public is not here to serve a few lucky ultrarich people); we need to grow as human beings in order to truely grow something of worth.
Before hearing this interview, as far as I knew, all economists, even the few relatively enlightened ones, seemed to be living inside a certain thought box in which only conventional views of money and capital were allowed. Now, I know that there is at least one well-known economist who developed many of the same views I have, prior to me. This man is a renowned economist, too. In 1981, he published a book entitled "Outside Looking In: Experiences in Barefoot Economics." In 1983, he won an award called the Right Livelihood Award, and he soon will have another book published which is entitled "Unmasking Economics."
I can only wish we could have such economists as Manfred Max-Neef in the United States. Under his tutelage, I predict a relatively bright economic future for the nation of Chile. With the entrenched politics and economically stupid thinking which dominates the United States, this nation will probably be among the last to adopt economically enlightened policies, it pains me to say. But hope always springs eternal. I plan to do my small part to bring more enlightened thinking, economically and otherwise, to the United States and wherever people are listening, and I look forward to integrating the economic ideas of Manfred Max-Neef with my own.
A Capital Idea Part 33: Why the "Good Old Days" Aren't Good Enough
There are many government actions which might improve our economic situation, such as enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act, raising taxes on the rich, doing a much better job of regulating industries and financial institutions, perhaps enacting tariffs on imports, and building an industrial base. All of these steps represent a return to the way our economy was during the period of sustained economic growth which occured in the U.S. during approximately the three decades lasting from the 1950s to the 1970s, the "good old days" in the minds of many. Granted, such reforms are proving difficult to enact at this time, with any reform at all meeting stiff conservative resistance, as conservative politicians seem hell-bent to make the rich even richer, the poor even poorer, and position themselves squarely among the few who are rich. Even some Democrats appear to have sold their souls to corporatism and its money. We find ourselves left with the following factions: The conservatives, who are staunch supporters of the rich, whether they admit it or not; The supporters of conventional economic reform who represent the middle road, and who appear to believe that taking the steps mentioned above -- enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act, raising taxes on the rich (or at least allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on the highest income brackets), re-regulating big business and financial institutions, maybe enacting tariffs on imports and creating more manufacturing -- will create a permanent, strong middle class and make everything economically well in America again; And the progressives who perceive the reality of our situation calls for more than a return to the economic policies of "the good old days," but rather, requires a fundamental shift in our economy which will allow us to prevent corporate dominance in the future. In this post, I plan to explain why the progressive position is the correct one.
Radio talk show host Karl Wolfson comments that whenever somebody expresses a desire to return to the ways of times past, he cannot help but wonder what year the person wants to return to. He defies anyone to really pick out an ideal year, or even one that we as a people would choose over the present. The world and humanity continues to evolve. In terms of our economy more specifically, the nature of our capitalistic economic system will not allow a long term (as in over many generations and hundreds or thousands of years) period of economic enlightenment and prosperity. The system itself encourages feudalism, as it is based on a feudal system in the first place; it allows a few people to get inordinately rich at the expense of the rest of the population, leaving most of us to suffer in quiet, or sometimes not so quiet, desperation. You may ask: "What about these economic reforms you mentioned?" These are definitely good developments, when they occur, and help build a strong middle class. However, it is my contention that they will only work temporarily unless something is done to prevent another corporate takeover of our economy.
I forget the name of the authors, but Thom Hartmann has mentioned several times on his show, a book which describes an 80 year economic cycle, henceforth called the cycle of greed by myself. (I think the book has 2 authors.) At first, I was skeptical of this claim, but as I have studied the world's economic situation in regard to capitalism more, I have concluded that they are essentially correct. The cycleof greed includes a depression or bad repression -- as we are experiencing now -- followed by the most distressing part, a major war, then a period of prosperity and a strong middle class. Here is the explanation for this cycle in terms of capitalism. The depression period happens when greed takes over, corporations at the present time, but in times past, maybe kings and lords. They hoard too much wealth, leaving little for the rest of the population, as we are experiencing now. Because people lack much money, demand for goods and services plummets, and everyone including the ultrawealthy wind up suffering, sometimes winding up in jail, if not with their heads on the end of sticks. The period which ends this situation is a period of upheaval, with possible civil war occuring (thus the jail time or heads on sticks for the less fortunate among the ultrawealthy), and if not civil war, war between nations being likely as nations vie for resources. The period of prosperity which follows that is when progressive forces in society predominate, creating more enlightened economic policies such as those of the 1950s to 1970s in the U.S. This is because either the progressives have won the civil war, or politicians feel obliged to help the people who have helped the politicians in their wars or political struggles; otherwise, the nation's leaders will face further upheavals and possible removal from office as the public demands reforms such as they did of FDR during the Great Depression.
Let me examine the history of the rise of conservative politics in the United States over the past several decades. In his early days as a political activist, Ronald Reagan used to be a Democrat -- he even made advertisements supporting Democratic political candidates. This was in the 1950s, I believe. Sometime during the 1950s, however, Reagan sold his soul to the politically conservative, greedier elements in society. I suspect that he was basically power-hungry, and being a conservative allowed him a better chance to access power in two ways. One way was that he could have the corporate sponsorship as a conservative Republican that he could not have as a progressive. The other way is that he could create simplistic messages ("government is bad, taxes are bad, you deserve to keep all your wealth and do with it what you want, rich people create jobs, we can make you rich") appealing to people's greed which would convince a large enough portion of the population to vote for him so that he could win elections. This strategy obviously worked for Reagan, as he was first elected Governor of California in the 1960s, then Preisident in 1980 -- although a dirty trick involving Americans held hostage in Iran also helped him steal that election. Many conservatives still idolize Reagan, in fact, despite the great damage his policies caused to American society and the world at large.
It is my concern that the major financial interests, especially those represented by the greediest among us, will ultimately find themselves another Reagan type to woo and bamboozle voters into voting against their own economic interests again, and put corporations in charge of society again. With the electorate's typically short memory, this faction is likely to be successful again, unless we create a system in which this is not possible or in which the public is well-enough informed and educated that they will not fall for such tricks anymore. Dirty political tricks are another tactic of the ultrawealthy. Thus, if not enough people can be convinced to vote for their candidate based on the issues, they will try to find another way to convince voters to, or resort to downright election fraud. Of course, the insidious part of the whole plan is that, even with conventional economic reforms, there will be periodic downturns in the economy (though not depressions) which political conservatives can point to, as well as our slow rate of economic growth, say only 1% per year. ("Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?" "Here we go again.") Then they can say we need to unleash the forces of the free market which have been inhibited by all this "excessive" regulation, to see some "real growth." The worst thing about it is that once that happens, measures of economic growth in the beginning will go up (before they ultimately go down), justifying the whole endeavor and creating lots of fans of conservative politics and "free market" economics, although all the growth will go to the rich basically. After that, it will truly be "here we go again." We ultimately need to break this 80 year cycle of greed, or we will never have a truly good and just economy, in my opinion, even during the periods of relative prosperity.
Obviously, I am thinking really long term here, but it needs to be done. Conventional reforms of the type which have been deconstructed by political conservatives over these past 3 decades, are well and good, and will help to a significant degree in the short term, but not really in the long term if nothing is done to break the cycle of greed. I think conventional economic reforms may be a first step in doing so, but only if a populist movement keeps pushing the reforms forward into territory never seen before. If enough people realize that the "good old days" are not good enough, the momentum built by reforms may continue in a peaceful way until the economic power structure is finally broken -- after all that is what we are really talking about here. Additional reforms which may help to permanently break the existing economic power structure are as described in this series, including a resource based economy (or at least enough of one to eliminate poverty), buidling a green, sustainable economy based on an ecological model, and encoding a moral basis for the economy into law and practice. It is true that bad things can happen with money, no matter what its form, but I believe it can be made especially difficult and also, the public can be given knowlege and power to help safeguard against that. Thus, the proper socialization and education of citizens regarding the true nature of the economy is also crucial to preventing this cycle of greed from ever recurring again.
There will also be some additonal suggestions to be described in future posts. We must not let greed win!
A Capital Idea Part 32: Turning Vicious Cycles into Positive Feedback Loops
We are currently in a state of negative feedback loops in our society. At its base, these loops are economic, but they affect people in all aspects of life. The concentration of wealth through over-reliance on private capitalism and the under-regulation of capitalism, creates a series of vicious cycles. Money allows people to acquire more money; more money allows people access to power; access to power allows people to fix the rules of the game to favor those with the most money. Thus, the entire system winds up being fixed. The poverty or relative lack of financial security of the majority, no matter how worthy or hardworking they are, results in a plethora of problems -- stress, anxiety, depression, health problems, inability to pay for education, increased crime rates (at least financial crime). Meanwhile, health care costs and costs of education are skyrocketing, making health care and education more and more difficult for the average American family to afford. The less health care and education people available to people, the more psychological stress people experience, and the less able people are to climb out of their condition through education. This is the negative feedback loop situation which has been present for many years in nations controlled by right-wing politicians, nations such as Mexico and other relatively impoverished nations which essentially are living under a fedual system. If we allow conservative forces to take long-term control of the United States, and fail to change the course of our history, the United States will resemble a third world nation such as Mexico, but with a huge debt, a huge military, and engaged in perpetual war and occupations of other nations in order to prove our superiority to fearful, conservative minds.
The ecological economic model that I propose, I believe, will create positive feedback loops where we currently see negative ones. The first positive feedback loop results from the ensurance of human rights. People who are well fed, have decent health care, universal access to as much free education as they desire, will have far less stress than they currently have, better mental health, better knowledge, better and more productive jobs through education, and far less motive for crime or conflict, and greater freedom. People who are so endowed with a healthy social environment will be better able in turn to socialize their children to be productive citizens, and will exude more positive emotions, in a positive feedback loop which will continue through the generations. Who wouldn't want a world like that? Well, almost everyone would, but perhaps narcissistic people with loads of money and power might be the excepton. They are the enemies of human progress and evolution, or perhaps more correctly, the tendency for money to corrupt people is the enemy of human progress and evolution. Also, most people have difficulty envisioning a world unlike the one they live in and grew up in. People tend to be afraid of change, and accept what exists. However, change is inevitable, and usually, is here before we know it. We can make that change be a positive one, or allow ourselves to be cognitive misers who apathetically allow humanity to slip into a feudal state while fancying ourselves a fair, free and affluent people whose state of grace and democratic progress will continue forever.
The second positive feedback loop involves scientific progress and natural resources. The current economic model condones the wanton use and waste of resources without regard to environmental consequences. Whatever can be done to acquire more money is good, according the the capitalist model. If nonrenewable resources can be used to become rich, than they should be, capitalists say. Thus, nonrenewable resources such as oil and coal are being used in an orgy of consumption, even as their use warms our planet, causes pollution, and these resources become more and more difficult to obtain. If industrialists who run non-green businesses had to pay for all of the damage they cause, they probably would all go out of business. Instead, they have managed to manipulate the system so that they get the lion's share of the profits, which externalizing the costs to the public and a government which they villify as socialist and too large. With my model -- the green, government regulated, non-corporate or small worker-owned business model -- technological development will be accelerated, and environmentally sustainable practices such as recycling virtually everything will become the norm. This is not only a good development; it is a necessary one, before we run out of resources, before most human habitations literally wind up underwater due to rising sea levels, and before the manmade ecological crisis which we have started makes our planet hostile to human life due to pollution and lack of ecodiversity. The better we are able to maintain a healthy ecosystem and environment, the better our standard of living and level of human happiness will be. The better our living conditions due to living in a healthy world with a good environment, the better able people will be to pursue their interests and live productive, fulfilling lives which benefit the world. The better people are able to live such lives, the greater their opportunities to find more ways to preserve and protect the environment, or even to improve the environment. This is the second positive feedback loop.
Of course, the success of one nation in creating a better lifestyle and living environment for its people will likely spread to other nations as the worldwide political environment evolves. I look forward to living in a world of positive feedback loops finally.
A Capital Idea Part 31: Keeping Corporatism out of our Educational System
I recently received my copy of the monthly magazine, California Educator. There were several interesting articles in it. One was about why we need to elect Jerry Brown as Governor rather than Meg Whitman. I clearly agree with that assessment; the last thing we need is a billionnaire Republican CEO with no political experience who rarely even voted in the past, running California as though it was a corporation. The other two articles were about the effects upon education of people like Meg Whitman, that is, political influence by powerful, rich corporate executives. The gist of both articles was that since conservative politicians starting with Ronald Reagan started drying up public funding for education, a vicious cycle has been formed in which public education, and private for that matter, lacks enough funding to do its job properly. As a result, tuition and fees for higher education continue to increase at alarming rates in order to pay the salaries of professors and other employees of higher education, but also, in order to fill the budget deficit, both grade schools and colleges are turning to corporations for financial support, since the corporations have most of our money now. In doing so, the schools do get support, but it comes with strings attached, which strings are requirements to advance the corporate agenda in the classroom, such as "No Child Left Behind" style testing criteria, competition among teachers to have the best performing classes, and the teaching of the philosophical and economic underpinnings of corporatism in our schools. Thus, lack of funding creates financial dependence upon corporations among schools, and corporations use that opportunity to advance corporatism, which in turn, results in further lack of public educational funding; it's all a vicious cycle -- one that we must break out of before we are all sucked into.
The titles of the articles about corporate influence on education are "Funding with Strings Attached" and "Beware of Corporations Bearing Gifts" both by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin. Additonally, there are articles with no authorship attribution (editorials?) entitled "Oakland Schools Suffer from Half-Baked Reforms," "Sacramento Schools under Corporate Control," and "In LAUSD Corporate Foundations Wield Enormous Power." The article about Oakland says that the so-called school reforms are mostly charter schools funded by corporations. The Walton family of Wal-Mart fame and wealth is the biggest funder there. The main corporate controller in Sacramento is Bill Gates, who funded the creation of some smaller high schools, with good intentions apparently, but they have underachieved because small schools cannot offer as broad a curriculum nor as many advanced classes as a large one, and Gates has stopped funding these schools, thinking he only needed to get them started and that they would take care of the rest, leaving their staffs gasping for money like fish out of water gasping for air. Gates is also a big funder along with real estate magnate Eli Broad, of the LAUSD, where a plethora of privately funded charter schools have opened up which according to United Teachers Los Angeles is creating a two-tiered system of haves and have nots, because children with special needs, and children of low income parents and immigrant parents rarely have the opportunity to go to charter schools. When a charter school does have a problem with a student, moreover, that student is sent back to a public school. (By the way, I think that Jerry Brown will win the election, although I am somewhat puzzled that he is even eligible to run for Governor, since he has already served two terms as Governor of California. I guess that was before there were term limits.)
What these articles illustrate is an erosion of public ownership of our educational system, exactly the opposite of what we need. Rather, we need as much public ownership of education, our political system, our land, and its resources, as possible. The skills and abilities of an individual are a part of the person, and thus, belong to that person to the extent that the person is the source of these; however, a person's skills and talents are in large part dependent upon education, infrastructure and the help of others, so that all of us owe most of our success to human society. We must create laws which make individuals pay the debts they owe for their success back to society. These debts to society are called taxes. There is another article in the same issue of California Educator, also by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin, in favor of Proposition 24, a Proposition which would close three corporate tax loopholes and ensure that corporations pay their fair share of California's taxes. This is also a laudable goal and proposition, although in a resource-based economy, making rich people pay their fair share of taxes would not even be an issue. Government would be allocated its fair share of resources as would each citizen, as democratically determined by the citizenry. There might still be disputes about how much government or different people deserve (disputes which impartial mediators could work to resolve), but it surely would be more fair than the all-but-missing-in-action system of resource allocation that we have now.
In any case, we must recognize the fact that it is education which lays the groundwork for a productive, progressive economy, and a healthy economic ecosystem. Education creates skills and develops abilities which become human resources. Without human resources, there is no use for natural resources, living or non-living. The foundations of a good, diverse economy are in a good educational system which offers diverse topics and imparts as much important knowledge and as many important, adaptive skills as it can, and advances the cause of future scientific gains. Now, we are suffering the economic consequences of letting our educational system erode, and letting corporations influence the agenda of even public educaton. It seems to me that if the public insists upon public ownership of our school system, using whatever means are democratically available to us, and insists that our schools be well-funded publicly, even the corporations and the anti-tax conservatives will have to comply.
Note: I just realized that I wrote about much the same topic, although in a different way, August 19 in part 26 of this series which was entitled "Building True Economic Infrastructure." In particular, I have added much information in today's post about the current dilemma of education in America, information which previously was unavailable to me and which came from the latest issue of California Educator magazine which is published by the California Teachers Association. It was the newest issue of this magazine which in fact inspired me to write today's post. Anyway, today's post can be considered a continuation of the previous one, and the importance of this topic is such that it is difficult to overstate.
For my next post, I plan to describe in more detail the positive feedback loops mentioned in my economic ecosystem model, a topic about which I am sure I have not previously written.
A Capital Idea Part 30: A League of Native Nations
Last time, I mentioned that a small tribe with little land such as the Owens Valley Paiutes would have trouble being self-sufficient without a source of revenue such as the casino. That is a sad fact for many tribes in the United States, especially since their land is usually the worst land in the area, which the Euro-settlers did not want -- land lacking in resources (and also because I am really not a fan of gambling). However, I did look at some Paiute websites after writing the previous post, which revealed some interesting facts.
For one thing, there are some very strong intertribal associations. Cooperation among the tribes is normal, as might be expected. Another fascinating finding is that the Owens Valley Paiutes have a program which includes some elements of what I had envisioned in my intellectual -- but hopefully practical ultimately -- exercise. It emphasizes compassion, sharing, making sure that children do not grow up in poverty, encouraging two parent families, and so forth, and provides aid to families with income under a certain level, while at the same time, requiring the person to do something productive, either attending school, working and so forth (http://www.ovcdc.com/index.html). Considering the emphasis on reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies and on encouraging two-parent families, I have the impression that single motherhood is a major problem among the Paiutes, by the way.
I also found out that there are several distinct bands of Paiutes, which have close relations. The saddest finding was that originally, the Paiute reservation in the Owens Valley was to be 67,000 acres, but was reduced to something between 800 and 900 acres in the early 1900s when Los Angeles decided to make a land grab because the big shots there felt they needed the water from the Owens River. Exactly why needing water would necessitate owning so much land escapes me, as does the fact that Los Angeles channelized its streams with cement so that when it rains, the water runs into the ocean rather than being saved. Clearly, making the best use of local water sources is a much better solution to a water deficit than importing water from 200 miles away through a desert, where much of the water surely evaporates. (In fact, prior to human intervention, the Owens River ended in Owens Lake, a salty lake with no outlet, from which any excess water evaporated.) Of course, the breaking of treaties and land grabbing whenever some Native American land became valuable was a common theme in pioneer days, so most tribes live on reservations that not only are on lousy land, but there is relatively little of it.
Given the cooperative associations which have developed among Native American nations -- I refuse to use the word "Indian" since that was a result of Christopher Columbus mistakenly thinking he was in India -- the logical next step would be resource sharing among Native American tribes. From what I know, although admittedly my knowledge of native tribes and their interrelations is limited, most relations among the tribes involves cultural events, not so much resource sharing. Perhaps there is some sort of financial aid occuring between wealthier tribes and poorer tribes; I am not sure. (Any input about that would be welcome.) However, extensive resource sharing has not happened as yet. Perhaps our many reservations are so poor in resources and so small that they are not of much use in producing the resources needed to attain self-sufficiency. However, resource sharing certainly could help. One problem is that the reservations are so widespread, but if we can go to department stores full of foreign products, there is no reason that different tribes shouldn't be able to transport goods, or people with needed skills to do some work for that matter.
For example, tribes could barter goods, or even make gifts of them. Were there an excess of Salmon in the Northwest, and an excess of Corn in the Southwest, for example, they could be traded among tribes (not among individuals who buy them, but tribes for equitable allocation as needed). If there were plenty of Salmon in the Northwest, but not enough Corn in the Southwest, on the other hand, Northwestern tribes could make a gift of Salmon to Southwestern tribes, hopefully a favor to be returned at a later time. A formalized system of resource sharing, not necessarily involving the exchange of money, although buying items at reasonable prices would be a possibility, could develop much in line with my resource-based economic model. Eventually, as the benefits of the system become apparent, other people would want to join it.
Unfortunately, I suspect that as with public-based health care, the United States may be the last place in the world to adopt a resource-based economy, or a hybrid economy for that matter which is equal parts resource-based and monetary, as proposed more or less in my previous post and also described by my friend Poor Richard of Poor Richard's Almanac (http://almanac2010.wordpress.com/). More likely, smaller nations with relatively progressive governments will move in this direction first. Only when the United States is pretty much a shadow of its formerly great self -- a nation with a super-strong military, a weak economy and an even weaker democracy in which the choice of voters is limited to choosing between 2 behaviorally straight-jacketed political parties -- do I foresee the needed changes happening. Some of us would say that we have already reached that point, although I still am optimistic that progressive politics will eventually prevail and put an end to the miserable political situation we find ourselves in.
A Capital Idea Part 29: Share the Land
A little known fact outside of so-called Indian reservations is that each tribe is considered an independent nation -- well, a semi-independent nation with its own government. I was recently reminded of this fact when returning with my wife Eunice from a fishing trip to the Mammoth area in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. There is a place called the Paiute Palace just north of Bishop, CA, in the Owens Valley on the east side of the mountains. As might be expected, it has a casino. It also has a gas station, restaurant and souvenir sales. Eunice figured that the casino would come along with a buffet, the way they do in Las Vegas, so she wanted to eat at the buffet. When we got there, we walked through a distressingly smoky casino to find that there was no buffet, but there was TuKaNovie Restaurant. I am sure that TuKaNovie means something good in the Paiute language, but I was unable to find out what in the description of the restaurant on the menu.
In any case, the restaurant had mainstream American table fare for relatively inexpensive prices. The lunch special cost $4.99. When we got the bill, we were surprised to see that there was no tax, although we shouldn't have been surprised. The tribe sets its own prices and taxes, and apparently, the people who administer the tribe's financial affairs feel that there is no need to charge tax. They get plenty of money to work with by the use of their "one armed bandits" to which hapless visitors donate large sums of money. Fortunately, as my wife and I discussed, neither of us really likes gambling, and neither of us is prone to addiction. As Eunice said, if I was into gambling, she would have to dump me, but fortunately we are blissfully compatible (well, for the most part, and our commitment to the relationship takes care of the rest). Out of curiosity, I did put one dollar in a poker machine, won three dollars on my first hand with 3 of a kind (which is the minimum hand it takes to win anything there), then proceeded to lose 4 times in a row until my dollar was gone.
Even before receiving the bill, I had an epiphany, since I was thinking in my "spare time" about my capital ideas. The menu mentioned that the Paiute tribe has about 2,000 members, on a small patch (or patches) of land in the Owens Valley. If nothing else, it's a beautiful location, but my epiphany was that a small tribe such as this might make an ideal situation for initiating a resource-based economy, or at least trying out some of my ideas. The lack of taxes only reinforced my feeling about the tribal economic situation. Native Americans prior to their semi-assimilation into Euro-culture, never used money very much, although they may have had certain items which were treated as money. It may be an idealistic view of Native Americans, but more or less true that they had a "green" lifestyle, cooperated as a group, at least among a given tribe, and usually between tribes as well, and shared the land, their resources and so forth. They also had forms of local democracy, in which group decisions were made. Of course, I am generalizing here, and don't know much about the particulars of the Paiute tribe, but I am fairly certain that resource sharing and democratic decision making would agree with the Paiute people. They probably already do share the earnings from their casino, although most of the employees working on the reservation are Paiute, including the lovely waitresses at TukaNovie Restaurant. (I also noticed that our waitress was a lefty.)
Obviously, the tribe members would still have to use money in transactions with non-tribe members, but within the tribe, resource sharing could be the norm. I could see the social contract described in my previous post, including all of the rights and obligations included therein, being applied to the Paiute tribe, or any modest sized tribe, with relative ease, as long as resources were adequate. My feeling is that with the casino acting as a "cash cow" for the Paiute tribe, that should not be a problem. Furthermore, there is a hospital in Bishop and plenty of modern amenities in the area. Every tribe member could receive that to which they have legal (according to tribal law) right, without having to pay. After all, they make their own rules as long as it is a tribal matter. The money for this could come from their casino and other work done by tribal members, money which could be pooled for such uses. In addition, workers on the reservation, whether tribe members or not, could receive some salary, which could be used to buy goods or services outside the reservation. As in the social contract outlined in the previous post, every able post-educational tribe member would be expected to engage in productive activities for a certain minimum amount of time per week, so they would have some U.S. dollars to work with, in addition to the free goods, services and education for all. No one person would be exorbitantly rich, but every person would have a good standard of living. The extreme disparities in wealth which are seen in American culture would not happen in the resource-sharing tribe.
Over time, since the Paiute tribe has a relatively small patch of land, perhaps the tribe could pool their money to purchase more land, which could be used for farming, for instance, to make the tribe more self-sufficient. (Self-sufficiency is one problem with this test case since the Paiutes have limited land and natural resources available, making self-sufficiency from a natural resource perspective unlikely.) The Owens Valley has plenty of good farmland, although Los Angeles stole most of the water from the Owens River long ago for its own use. If water sources and/or the appropriate crops could be found, the valley could be a great farming area. It also contains considerable ranchland with cattle, sheep, and horses. Perhaps other natural resources, such as mineral ones, could be found on their land, and utilized in a non-destructive, environmentally friendly way. Of course, since the Owens Valley is a major vacation spot, and on the way to other vacation spots for many people, it is also a great place for tourism. With these resources available, the Paiutes should be able to all live a good, healthy lifestyle and standard of living. All it takes is sharing the wealth.
By the way, I got the title of this post from a song. Last year, when Eunice and I were on our way to my brother's house in South Lake Tahoe, we heard a song called "Share the Land" on the radio. The song is from a Canadian group called Guess Who which was popular in the 1960s, one of my favorite groups when I was a kid, and this song was one of my favorite songs on one of the first albums that I bought. There seems to be a Native American theme in this song, so it fits perfectly here. Since I hadn't heard the song in many years, it seemed a propitious circumstance, and I thought it would be of use to me somehow. Perhaps you remember this song, too. Of course, what it really means is "share the wealth."
A Capital Idea Part 28: The Highest Common Denominator
A social contract is a contract between a person or people, and society. As I understand it, a social contract may be a legal contract, or an informal one. As mentioned last time, the social contract represents the second highest stage of Kohlberg's theory of moral development, the best known model on that topic. However, I argued that perhaps the social contract should be considered the highest level of moral development, and furthermore, it should be considered as playing an integral role in an enlightened economy.
A social contract spells out peoples' rights and obligations. In terms of buidling a thriving economy for all, with economic justice for all, and equality of treatment for all, it means the following.
1. Adequate, healthy food for all;
2. Adequate housing for all;
3. Equal access to adequate health care for all;
4. Equal treatment for all under the law;
5. Equal chance for productive, fulfilling employment for all;
6. Choice of educational opportunities and career for all;
7. Fair compensation for all productive activities, including the right to acquire goods or services of ones choice and according to one's interests;
8. An equal chance to live a peaceful, harmonious life and be treated well by one's fellow citizens;
9. The right to vote on any issue impacting the economy or the wellbeing of the populace.
I am sure that this list could use some revision and probably some additions, but it catches the main points of an economic social contract's rights.
Obligations are as follows:
1. Being a citizen in good standing i.e., not a person who habitually offends the rights of others;
2. Pursuing productive activities of one sort or another according to age, ability and circumstances, for example, at least 16 hours per week working or nurturing life (but more is welcome) including childrearing for post-educational adults, or at least 16 hours per week studying for children over the age of 5 and adults still pursuing an education;
3. Treating fellow citizens with respect and allowing them to pursue their interests, ideas and beliefs as long as they do not cause harm to others;
4. Not hording resources beyond what is reasonable for one person or what is needed. (Obviously, this would include all the rich people of our current society who horde wealth while others around them become impoverished.)
What happens to a citizen who fails to maintain good standing in society? This is a question to which I have not fully worked out an answer yet, but here are some ideas. The most obvious idea would be to put such persons in jail, although this might be extreme for minor offenses such as showing disrespect for fellow citizens. Jail would be reserved for persons such as violent offenders. There, the prisoners would be housed and fed, but not granted other rights while in jail, as citizens in good standing are. Another idea would be to use shame to shape for the better, the behavior of those who fail to uphold their obligations; shame is a powerful emotion which is used to good effect in many cultures, especially collective cultures such as in Asia. A third idea would be to use other punishments instead of jail or shame. For example, people who behave offensively and fail to fulfill their obligations may be asked to forego certain privileges. They might be denied the right to hobbies, entertainments, or favorite foods for a period of time, for example.
What the economy comes down to is the issue of ownership of resources. Rich people claim they have earned a huge slice of the resource pie, which is ludicrous. What person is really so valuable to society that he or she deserves billions of dollars in compensation? Clearly, the answer is no one. The economic model under which we have been operating, postulates individual ownership of that which is really a joint venture, and uses an artificial form of capital, money, opening the way for certain individuals to lay claim upon ludicrously enormous stores of resources. The economic system which I am proposing is one in which democracy and realism rules, not autocracy and self-delusion as seen in the financial system. Ownership of our resources should be public, because we all must share them and we all contribute to them. The allocation of our resources should also be an open and transparent process which is decided upon publicly. People will be allowed to vote and make adjustments in how resources are allocated. Some resources will be spent toward taking care of basic human needs and nurturing those too young or disabled to care for themselves. Other resources will be allocated for the sake of human development, helping people with their creative, intellectual and pleasurable pursuits, as long as these pursuits do not violate the rights of others. Thus, people will find themselves in a society that is both more productive than in the past, and one in which people are freer to pursue their own interests. Yes, I know that there still must be people to do some jobs that "nobody wants" such as cleaning toilets, litter boxes and bedpans, or digging holes in 100 degree heat, but this is something that people should be willing to spend 16 hours per week doing in order to enjoy the great privileges afforded them the rest of the time, and surprisingly, menial chores can take on a rewarding tone if done of free will and with the recognition that something useful is being done. (I should know, having done enough menial work of my own despite having a Ph.D.)
This system, therefore, will be highly democratic. Yes, it is also socialist, but we are meant to be social creatures. People of a certain mindset have managed to make socialism a dirty word in the minds of many, equating it with failed communist societies. This system will be much farther from communism, actually, than the monopolistic capitalism that now has been foisted upon us, which largely resembles communism except that big business dictates the terms of people's lives instead of centralized government!
Making a social contract the centerpiece of our economic system is the best way I know of to take the moral high road to an enlightened economy, and also, the best way to rid ourselves of our dependence upon money and all the problems that money's inequities create. Let us find our highest common denominator together as a people, and use it to guide us.
A Capital Idea Part 27: The Moral Basis of an Economy
I have written before about the low level of moral reasoning promoted by capitalism. In terms of Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development, business operates at the lowest level of morality, the preconventional level at which only consequences matter, AKA "The law of the jungle," or "the ends justifies the means." The consequences are monetary, of course, so it is money acquisition that matters, not the good of the public in a capitalistic system. As time goes on, it has become more and more clear to discerning minds that we desperately need an economic system which puts the good of the public first. The economy should serve the people, not the other way around. This is the proper moral basis for an economy.
If we continue the application of Kohlberg's theory to the economy, we see that the next level is called the conventional level of morality, in which social conformity, desire for harmony, and compliance with the law are what matters. This is a vast improvement over the preconventional level, and is how most adults operate in their personal lives. However, the business climate encourages preconventional morality, pulling otherwise reasonably moral-acting business people in the direction of unethicality by taking advantage of customers and other business people. I believe that the unethical business climate found at least at the higher levels of business -- executives at large corporations with large salaries -- has a carry over effect into their personal lives. Thus, many of them slide into an opulent life of debauchery, infidelity and deceit.
Were we able to make the primary function of business one of creating a harmonious and lawful, well-regulated one, that would be a vast improvement over what we have. This is essentially what people who are calling for better regulation of business are asking for, in terms of morality, and we definitely need to head in this direction. However, there is a higher level of morality, the postconventional, which in my opinion, is the ultimate destination of the social evolution of economies. At the postconventional level, one stage (stage 5) is one in which moral judgements are based upon a social contract. Essentially, morality comes down to promoting the greatest good at this stage. In doing so, the social contract details each person's and society's rights and obligations, and how to fulfill these. This is the "we society" approach as opposed to the "me society" approach. This is how we should be thinking in terms of the economy. After all, the initials of the United States are US, not ME!
The highest stage according to Kohlberg, is called Universal Ethical Principles, which is when a person acts according to an enlightened personal conscience which places universal ethical principles above all else. Since it is the highest stage of Kohlberg's theory, one would expect this to be the best stage to build an economy around. However, I believe this is not the case for a variety of reasons, although a similar approach incorporating stages 5 and 6 of Kohlberg's theory is optimal. The biggest problem with Kolhberg's sixth stage is that he probably got it wrong; the Social Contract stage should most likely be the highest. Kohlberg's approach is a cognitive one, as well as one which focuses on the individual, and both of these biases are evident in his choice of Universal Ethical Principles as the highest stage. Certainly a more collectivist culture would consider it a bit strange that an obstinate person with his/her own idiosyncratic ethical principles would rank morally ahead of somebody who is trying promote the greatest good by balancing people's needs and rights. Another problem is that it is gender biased. Although I am a male, I am of the opinion that females as a whole have a better approach to morality. There is an alternative theory of morality which takes the feminine perspective, by psychologist Carol Gilligan. Her theory is an emotion-based one, in which the highest level is called "The Morality of Nonviolence." In other words, people's love of and compassion for, each other, the world, and themselves is the ultimate basis of morality. A logical consequence of this thinking is that we should operate according to a social contract.
I do believe that there are universal ethical principles, but these need to be agreed upon in some sort of consensus building process in order to form the basis of an economy. After all, an economy is a social process. Thus, it should be based on a social contract, but one which details people's human rights and attempts to ensure them.
Next time, I will attempt to describe what a social contract which acts as the basis for an economy would look like.
A Capital Idea Part 26: Building True Economic Infrastructure
Where a good economy all begins is with economic infrastructure. By economic infrastructure, I mean education, a sense of civics, a sense of nurturance, and a moral grounding which emphasizes social responsibility -- the intellectual infrastructure behind the building of physical infrastructure and a solid economy responsive to the needs of the public. This is the infrastructure found in people's minds, a reservoir of valuable human resources.
I would argue that these are the most important factors in creating a productive economy which promotes well-being and self-actualization among citizens. In spite of this, we rarely if ever hear about the economic infrastructure when discussing our economy. How often have you turned on a television station only to see corporate bobbleheads blabbering incoherently about the vicissitudes of the stock market, much like sports reporters filling in time with endless sportsbabble? How often have we opened a newspaper or internet homepage to see the "bad news" or the "good news" about the stock market, depending upon whether rich people added or withdrew money from "The Stock Market" that particular day?
Perhaps we have heard the latest news about the unemployment rate. It's all about "jobs creation" -- that's it! The more jobs, the better; it doesn't matter what kind of job to the financial elite, politicians or political pundits we see on television. All that matters is how many jobs there are and the "unemployment rate." Do you want fries with that McDonald's burger flipping job, or not? What would really help is if you could supersize your job. Never mind that the unemployment rate statisics have been manipulated to make the official numbers artificially low. The media and politicians can show that the economy is "okay" or at least, "moving in the right direction" by citing jobs creation statistics and unemployment statistics. Nothing is said about how much the workers are being paid.
What we really should be talking about is how well people are being educated so that they can work productively, and we can have a diverse, robust economy where people work at many different types of productive jobs in a way that allows us to share the wealth as a society. If the high school graduation rate goes up, that is good economic news. If the college graduation rate also goes up, that is even better economic news. If the rate at which people acquire advanced degrees goes up, that is great economic news. When the cost of higher education rises, as it has been disproportionately for many years, that is bad economic news. That is something we should be looking at and addressing. We should make higher education free for all, in fact, as it is in some nations! That is one of the best things we could do for the economy. Grade school education is still free, fortunately, at least for the time being, but if the corporate oligarchs have their way, it probably won't be for long. Even as it is, parents in many school districts feel compelled to pay for better books, computers, facilities etc. for their children's PUBLIC schools, as reported in the documentary series "Left Behind" which detailed the fall of California's public school system since Reagan began to deconstruct it when he was governor of California.
We should also be looking at what we teach young citizens in order to promote good economic values. The culture of money has lost its way morally, promoting an "ends justifies the means" attitude among entrepreneurs, and rewarding greed and bad behavior. We need to ensure that students take civics courses in grade school, as well as having other lessons which promote a sense of mutual responsibility; I think courses in philosophy and ethics should also be made mandatory. Even a mandatory program of public service of one kind or another for adolescents or young adults should be considered. Many nations already do this, and seem to have more nurturing, harmonious societies as a result. The bottom line is that social responsibility can be socialized into young people, so that is what must be done.
The financial hegemonists don't want these things to happen. In my opinion, they want an ignorant public which can be herded like sheep or turned into obedient little worker bees. Let me be perfectly clear about this: they are the enemies of humanity. What is good for humanity as a whole is bad for the super-rich, unless they are realistic enough and have enough conscience that their actions result in a deep sense of guilt. Some super-rich people or their children are cognizant enough of the pernicioius effects of financial inequity that they no longer wish to be part of the problem, but the norm among them is that they are superior and justified in their actions. They even tend to have a sense that they are benefitting the public, by "providing jobs" (albeit overly low paying and oppressive), etc. much the way that early explorers and immigrants from more technologically advanced societies thought that enslaving and oppressing other peoples they discovered and forcing their bizarre religious beliefs upon them was somehow doing them a favor. Narcissism prevails among those with more money than they know what to do with.
The public needs to take back our society. It is OUR education system, and OUR economy, not the property of the ultra-rich. We must assert our rights and educate our children well so that our economy can serve the public once again, and not the other way around. One way to start doing that is by electing politicians who understand that the economy needs to serve the public, not the super-rich, and to insist that they insitute the necessary policies. Another is to contact our news sources and insist that they talk about the real economic issues, or boycot them and go to news sources which do cover the real issues. Finally, we can start from the ground up by building educational systems at the local level which promote a "we society" rather than a "me society."
A Capital Idea Part 25: The Economic Ecosystem
My friend Robindell from the Thom Hartmann site, suggested that she had an idea for a story in which a group of scientists build their own self-sufficient community, a community where resources are allocated by the entire community by democratic consent, without the use of money. This wonderful lifestyle then spreads throughout the world, until money is no longer used. This scenario in my view is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Thom Hartmann often says that a communal lifestyle based on the sharing of resources is the norm in smaller societies of up to maybe 150 people or so (such as primitive cultures, ironically), and works very well. That a group of scientists could achieve a wonderful, self-sufficient lifestyle would be expected, given adquate resources. Convincing the rest of the world would be a wee bit harder, though, given the obstacles to be faced in making such great changes.
In future posts, I will discuss other ways in which positive changes can come to our economic system, but for now, I wish to describe what a resource-based economy might look like to me. If I knew how to create a model with circles and arrows on my Dreamweaver program, I would do that now, but I don't so I will describe the model I have hand-drawn on paper. (My Fireworks or other graphics programs might be able to do it, but working with text is awkward with these programs, I have found.)
A Resource-Based Economic Model:
The entire self-contained system is called the Economic Ecosystem. (There would be a circle surrounding the entire system.)
1. Processes within this economic ecosystem would start with Human Resources. Important human resources would include labor, skills, education, nurturance, moral and spiritual resources, and so forth;
2. Next, human resources, most directly labor and skills -- although labor and skills are dependent upon the other human resources which is where the entire ecosystem REALLY starts (education, for example) -- are applied to Natural Resources in environmentally sustainable ways;
3. This results in Useful Products which can be used to fulfill people's material needs;
4. The Allocation Process (what we call "the market" or "going shopping" in our financially capitalistic system) is regulated by democratic government and law so that all citizens achieve a decent standard of living. The government provides the Economic Climate, included in which is a set of basic human rights, not only the ones spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, but also, rights to a decent diet, housing, health care, and education -- all the necessities required for a person to live a healthy life and pursue personal interests and activities which lead to both personal fulfillment and contributing to society. This is according to the moral basis of a rational, enlightened economy. People will have input regarding the function of government, but these basic principles will be irrevocable.
People will vote on a wide variety of issues, using modern technology such as the internet, in a secure fashion. For example, each person may have a voter ID (although a person's actual votes won't routinely be made public), which can be used to verify the accuracy of a vote; it's time to do away with the secret ballot system we have, which creates far too much temptation to commit voting fraud for some power-hungry persons to resist. Additionally, government will have a variety of other functions as it does now, such as public safety, although the potential for crime or the ultimate crime of war will be much reduced in this society, in my opinion. It is of utmost importance to note that this system may be socialist, but is the complete opposite of communism, at least as practiced to date in our world! It is a far more democratic society that I envision, not a less democratic one than we currently find ourselves living in.
In addition to allocating goods according to our fundamental human rights, people's wants will play a role in what they choose to use just as it does when people with money go shopping and choose what they like. Furthermore, people will be rewarded for their efforts, either materially or through social rewards such as praise and awards. Adults will choose careers and have jobs much as they do now. Those capable of working, once finished with their educations, will be required to work a certain amount for a certain number of years, in order to enjoy the benefits and security of the Resource-Based Economy. Since there will be plenty to do and enjoyable jobs to suit the likes of virtually anyone, it would be the rare person who would refuse to work; people like to be productive and contribute in general -- it is a matter of finding suitable endeavors for each individual. Also, keep in mind that "work" would include rasing children, teaching, doing philosophical or spiritual work, etc., not just being "worker bees" producing material goods. Any person who did nothing of worth even with all of these possibilities available, would most likely be a criminal, which would be rare.
5. The nurturing of our well-being through the ensurance of human rights as spelled out above, plus the ability to choose desired products for a useful like, and the encouragement of reward, will reinforce all kinds of human resources and allow them to grow, in a sort of positive feedback loop;
6. A second positive feedback loop from the allocation process to the availability of natural resources will take place through environmental regulation, recycling, and so forth. This is the last element in my model.
I am sure that there are many improvements and refinements to this model which can be made, as this is only a preliminary model. It is probably similar to what is advocated by the good people at The Venus Project, but in viewing their materials, I saw nothing like this model. I did not see anything specific about human resources or human rights, for example, and Jacques Fresco seemed to think that his system would make government obsolete, something with which I totally disagree.
I am also sure that the average citizen at this point would most likely consider me to be a "whacko," but I strongly feel the complete opposite is the case. It is throngs of ignorant people who believe in such ideas as "trickle down economics," "too big to fail," a "let's take care of the rich and they will take care of the rest of us" attitude, and the financial capital concept of neverending growth of wealth for the winners in life's humongous game of monopoly, whom I posit are the real whackos. I am fully convinced of my sanity and consider myself to be among the most rational persons I have ever met -- and I think I know myself pretty well, to say the least. Despite this, I do hear frequent complaints about what a, let me put it as, "eccentric" person I am, mostly from my wife, who if anything, is even more eccentric than I am, bless her heart. Moreover, my sense of self and self-esteem is too solid and grounded in good conscience to really be adversely affected by critics whom I find are generally rooted in their own biases; otherwise, I never would have undertaken this project. My model also owes much to the seminal work of Edward Bellamy on overcoming our addiction to money, plus my fellow "whacko" (but really the opposite) friends such as Tim O'Donnell, "Poor Richard," "Robindell," "Dissident Priest" (Jerry), and hopefully some others to be added in the future.
Next time, I plan to write about the building of human resource infrastructure through education, nurturance and so forth.
A Capital Idea Part 24: The Economy is an Ecology
Economists have been operating under the wrong model ever since there have been economists. The invention of money has created something which has no parallel in the natural world. The problem with that, is that we are part of the natural world. Sometimes, I think that if humankind manages to wipe itself out, there will be computers still operating, calculating people's money, like something out of a Twilight Zone episode. "Sorry Mr. Smith, your bank account is now empty. Congratulations, Mr. Jones, you are now a millionnaire!" We have made something with no natural limits, to represent limited quantities in the real world. There is no limit to how rich a person can become. It is grow, grow, grow, neverending growth of money in a finite world. Of course, this is nonsense.
Recently, I made the case that capitalism is antidiversity. Monocultures are a bad thing, whether it is in an ecology, or an economy. I have an ecological model in mind which represents what happens with unregulated financial capitalism. Suppose we have a petri dish (or an aquarium), to which we add copious amounts of nutrients and throw in some pond water that is rife with unicellular organisms. At first, the organisms will grow dramatically, with various kinds of the little creatures thriving. Life will florish in this little bowl for awhile, but before long, conditions will favor one or two types of organism over all others, to the point that soon, there will probably be no other lifeforms left in the petri dish. Perhaps one form of algae, one form of protozoa will remain, as these monocultures take over. Eventually, toxins produced by these organisms, for which there is no method of decomposition, will kill what life remains. Of course, the first stage, in which various organisms thrive, represents the early days of capitalism, in which a diversity of small businesses florish. This is the stage which so-called "free market capitalists" fall in love with, and despite all the evidence in the world to the contrary, think will last forever even unattended. The second stage of capitalism is the one in which a few corporations essentially take over and dominate the market, owing to their being especially well-suited to the existing environment. We have gone through this stage across most of the world over the past few decades. The third stage of capitalism is when the presense of monocultures becomes toxic, changing their own environment in unhealthy ways, resulting in their own demise unless bailed out by the removal of toxins ("toxic assets") and an influx of nutrients (money) by an external entity (government). This is exactly what we have been going through over the past couple of years.
In spite of all the evidence in the world that an economy is really a form of ecology, economists and the broader public remain commited to the notion that the economy is a separate entity, not subject to the rules which govern an ecological system. Where does this separation of the economy from the limitations and regulation of a real ecology come from? One source is sheer greed. People who aspire to achieve boundless riches do not want to think of limitations and regulations. Another source of false belief is the notion that humans are completely separate from the natural world, a belief which is promulgated by the religious convictions of many. Finally, traditions and generations of operating under the same set of economic belief have made this system the only one that people know; and, if people are told the same thing over and over, or introduced to it gradually, most people will believe whatever they are told. Wherever it comes from, convention has resulted in people accepting the economy as operating under its own principles such as supply and demand, regardless of other factors in the larger ecology of our human environment. Natural ecosystems work by having fantastic regulation built into them. If and when the regulatory mechanisms of an ecosystem break down, the ecosystem has a crisis. Thus, ecosystems need diversity and regulation. In fact, diversity is necessary in order for a well-regulated ecosystem to be possible. The same is true of an economy.
What are the implications of viewing an economy as an ecosystem? The most obvious one is that an economy cannot function well without very thorough regulation. This is what people who talk of reintroducing regulatory processes to our economy are trying to dot, but even these efforts fall far short of what they should be, and meet vehement resistance by free-marketers. In order for small businesses to thrive, and not be dominated by the large, international ones, we need good regulation of business as well as consumer and environmental protection -- we need government to play its proper regulatory role as well as its role as an employer of people for vital functions. However, no matter how the acquisition of money through business is regulated, money still is the equivalent of empty calories in our economic ecosystem. It is like sacharrin -- artificial sugar -- or food coloring which makes things look good without adding any nutrition. Money is an artificial substance, an arbitrary attribution of value which can be used to claim real resources.
It seems to me that the ultimate answer to the problem of how to make an economy as diverse and full of life as an ecosystem, is to consider resources, including both natural (both living and inorganic) and specifically human resources, as discussed earlier in this series, as the true forms of capital which need to be used and balanced in order to satisfy people's needs and drives for fulfillment. The real food which makes society grow and evolve is not money, but our many and abundant natural and human resources.
A Capital Idea Part 23: Fighting Plutonomy One Vote at a Time
Money can buy a great deal of power and political influence, but it does have its limits. There are some things that no amount of money can overcome, such as people's hearts and minds, and the democratic voting process.
It has been revealed that Citigroup (the corporation which owns my one and only credit card along with millions and millions of others) had meetings in 2005 and 2006, in which they discussed the belief that the rich, including Citigroup owners, had sucessfully enacted a coup putting the rich and powerful in control of much of the world (i.e., the places where most of the rich people were from), creating what the reports called "a plutonomy."
The following definition of a plutonomy is from my friend and
fellow blogger Poor Richard's Almanac: "A plutonomy is a system in which
economic growth is both powered by and consumed by the rich. In other words,
a plutonomy is a society of the rich, for the rich, and by the rich" (http://almanac2010.wordpress.com/).
In part, the memo reads: We [Citigroup] posit that:
The world is dividing into two blocs the plutonomies, where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few, and the rest.
We project that the plutonomies (the U.S., UK, and Canada) will likely see even more income inequality
The second part ot the report goes on to detail threats to
the growing world plutonomy:
"Our whole plutonomy thesis is based on the idea that
the rich will keep getting richer. This thesis is not without its risks. For
example, a policy error leading to asset deflation, would likely
damage plutonomy. Furthermore, the rising wealth gap between the rich and poor
will probably at some point lead to a political backlash. Whilst the rich are
getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political
enfrachisement remains as was one person, one vote (in the plutonomies).
At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit
share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising
wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation on the rich (or
indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect
indigenous laborers, in a push-back on globalization either anti-immigration,
or protectionism. We dont see this happening yet, though there are signs
of rising political tensions. However we are keeping a close eye on developments."
In other words, the plutocrats view one-person, one-vote democracy as its greatest threat. Yes, you saw that correctly -- DEMOCRACY is the biggest threat to the new world order of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich! These people are antidemocracy, and pro-hegemony of the rich. What we need is more democracy, the more democracy, the better. By using our right to vote, and resisting the propaganda of the rich, we can fight the plutocracy one vote at a time. Related to the ability of democracy to counteract social control attempts by the rich, the internet creates further opportunities for people to communicate and relate to each other democratically. I can envision people using the internet as a tool of democracy in the future, perhaps even voting via internet if secure internet connections with individual IDs can be created and given each voter. People could vote on all sorts of issues in this case, as easily as turning on their computers and punching a few buttons. Other related threats mentioned include political backlash by labor and unions, through higher taxation on the rich and on corporations, and resistance against corporate globalization involving actions such as tariffs and/or protection of non-immigrant laborers, preventing corporations from employing extremely cheap foreign labor.
At its core, the equation is simple: The more corporatism, the less democracy; the more democracy, the less corporatism. Thus, the solution to the growing problem of "plutonomy" creating corporate control over society, is democracy. I doubt anyone other than the tiny fraction of the electorate who happen to be corporate executives, votes to put Wal-Mart in charge of our government and lives. I am not saying that undoing excessive corporate influence will be easy; the power of large corporations and their money is enormous. I am not saying that it will be quick, either; but I am saying that it can be done, and I believe eventually it will be done. We need to use our power as the electorate to control corporate influence, and do all the things that the Citigroup executives fear the public will do. This is the optimistic humanist in me talking, but eventually, I believe that even they will come to an understanding that they should do what is best for social evolution and yield to the will of the people. Ultimately, our goal as a people should be to create the most egalitarian, democratic society possible, in which every person's rights are equally guaranteed. Even though our political system of democracy is well conceived, it failed to put an end to autocratic economic practices. Our capitalistic economic system is a continuation of the system of social control created by kings, lords, noblemen, and feudal landowners, and equality is its enemy. We must find it within ourselves to make democracy prevail over economic autocracy once and for all. We need to make democracy and the guaranteeing of human rights the basis of our economic system, not its enemy.
A Capital Idea Part 22: Capitalism is Sucking Us Dry
Before I move on to write about alternatives to capitalism, or how to regulate it, I have at least one more post about the evils of capitalism.
In 1897, Author Edward Bellamy wrote "The Parable of the Water Tank" http://www.ricenpeas.com/docs/water%20parable.html. In it, he describes how a small band of capitalists can hold an entire society hostage by controlling everybody's access to water. This is essentially how the most effective capitalists at acquiring wealth behave. According to the parable, "The Capitalists" found the sources of all the water in a relatively dry land (such as a desert fed by mountain streams) and built walls around each one, so that they had a monopoly over the water supply. "The People" were assigned various jobs relating to adding water to the well. Each person would sell his or her water to The Capitalists for 1 penny per bucket to add to the "Water Tank," and buy water back from the Water Tank for 2 pennies per bucket. Eventually, the water completely filled the Capitalists' tank to the point of overflowing, so The Capitalists asked people to stop bringing water. When this happened, The People ran out of money to buy the water, creating a financial crisis, even as The Capitalists were living like kings with their own private lakes, etc. At that point, The Capitalists hired "Soothsayers" and "False Prophets" (economists and government officials) who tried to explain to the Capitalists using various voodoo economic nonsense, why they kept having crises, without blaming them. Eventually, The Capitalists would use up enough water that they would need more again, at which point The People would start bringing water again and the crisis would officially be over, although The People still suffered under conditions of oppression and poverty, and the cycle of being paid for bringing water, and not being paid because the tank was full, would repeat over and over again. Eventually, people called "Agitators" (skeptics of the system) emerged, who explained to The People what was wrong with the entire system ("The Market"), leading to a popular revolt against The Capitalists in which The People decided to create a collective and share their water as a common resource, and lived happily ever after.
The Parable of the Water Tank has similarities to the situation we are facing now. However, in order to reflect actual economic realities more closely, I would suggest making the following additions to The Parable of the Water Tank:
Even in a simple agrarian society, there would have to be people who grow food. With the water, the people could provide for their personal needs and also have enough water, if they could afford to pay for it, to grow and sell fruit and vegetables, or grow livestock and sell meat, milk and cheese. However, selling largely among themselves, or growing for themselves, they would be essentially be subsistence farmers, one bad crop away from destitution or even starvation. Meanwhile, the capitalists act with utter disregard for the long term health of the land and ecosystem, opting for the expedient at every choice point, resulting in pollution, degradation of the land and water quality, and the profligate use of nonrenewable resources. The ultimate resolution of the situation might be that the people elect relatively enlightened, progressive leaders and legislators eventually who have compassion and the public's welfare in mind. The new leaders appoint like minded judges to their highest court, who declare that corporations are indeed not super-privileged people, and the capitalists have been in violation of the constitution by hording all of their water. Thus, the capitalists will be forced to relinquish their big water pipes that were sucking the entire society dry, and flee to their own private island with their ill-gotten wealth and Swiss Bank accounts, assuming that they manage to escape the angry public or the clutching jaws of jail. Yes, in a very real sense, rampant capitalism is sucking us dry.
The fact is, that capitalists profit the most when they can restrict the public's accesss to some neccesary product or service, and make each person pay for it. Because of this, anything which is addictive makes an ideal product.
Examples of ideal products include:
1. Addictive drugs (alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine, for example);
2. Pharmeceuticals which doctors require their patients to take;
3. Sexually oriented products such as pornography for those who are addicted to it;
4. Gambling (Native American Casinos, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or lotteries, for example);
5. Even addictive foods such as chocolate;
6. Any sort of potentially addictive entertainment for which people must pay such as movies or sporting events.
Few of these products, it seems to me, truly benefit the buyers by bestowing health or happiness upon them. In fact, addictive, nonprescription drugs are often quite detrimental to both physical and psychological wellbeing, and essentially take advantage of some humans' nature which makes them susceptible to drug addiction. The same can be said for sexually oriented products, gambling, and unhealthy foods. Only prescription drugs among this category, arguably accrues a benefit to the recipient, and even that is over-hyped.
Another category of potentially even more ideal products, but more difficult for capitalists to control, include those necessary for survival, such as:
1. Water, as in The Parable of the Water Tank example;
2. Food, if there is only one source from which one can obtain it;
3. Oxygen (That's never been done but some psychopathological capitalists would make us pay for it if they could.);
4. Having a place to live, although many people have gone homeless in these past few years. Even more have lost their homes, only to find themselves becoming renters of wealthier persons property, common phenomenon in my neighborhood over the past two years.
These are things that people really need, so they are more likely to be subject to government regulation to ensure people's access, but only to a degree.
A third category are products which are necessary to maintain a cutural lifestyle. In the United States, these include:
4. Utilities such as electricity and natural gas.
For farmers, fertilizer and perhaps pesticides and seeds or seedlings would be another such example.
These are some of the elements necessary for building "The American Dream." Far too many Americans have woken up from the dream only to find that their real lives are actually a nightmare.
As if these products upon which people depend isn't enough, there is also a psychological process which creates dependence on having an abundance of goods -- consumerism. People become addicts to shopping itself, and a lifestyle which requires many products to maintain a certain standard of living. Thus, one way or another, as long as business owners can find a way to make people depend upon their products, they will do so. Shopping can be addictive, too. The idea of shopping addiction might be the object of incredulity and scorn, but believe me, it is a serious problem. I have a family member who is a shopping addict, and it is driving several family members to the "poorhouse" (another concept produced by capitalism).
The principle mechanism by which products are promoted and addictions are formed, is advertising. The recognition of this fact has resulted in restricting advertising for liquor and tobacco products. I say it is high time to ban all partisan advertising by companies for their own products! Instead, we can have consumer groups test and rate products, as Consumer Reports has been doing for many years, or have customers discuss products as they do on Angie's list.
The larger point of this post is that capitalism does not serve society well because rather than serving the public, capitalism is serving itself. The most effective way for capitalism to serve itself is to create lifelong customers who faithfully buy the product no matter what it costs, and the best way to create these lifelong customers is to make them addicted to the product, or depend upon the product for their very survival or continuance of their lifestyle. This is what corporations are in the business of doing, not serving the public. Any benefits which accrue to the public are purely incidental, and far too uncommon. As it is, the public serves the economy, when it should be the other way around; the economy should serve the public. We need to create an economy which does serve the public. One way this can be sort of accomplished, with the continuance of many of capitalism's flaws, is through major regulation of the existing capitalist system, attempting to ensure that corporations serve the public good. Our government is currently making baby steps in this direction, such as the new law regulating financial institutions and the creation of a consumer protection agency. This is a good development, but I am afraid that it will not be nearly enough. The other, more complete way to resolve the problems inherent to financial capitalism, is create an economy that is not based on money capital.
Another important caution about capitalism is that it promotes psychopathological behavior by the wealthiest and most powerful among us. Most of the richest among us have either inherited their wealth from ancestors who took advantage of their fellow human beings, or themselves became rich by taking advantage of their fellow human beings. A few of the ultrarich have been big winners in the lottery of capitalism, by being in the right place at the right time with the proper skills and product -- Bill Gates, for example. People such as Gates are the exception, however. Most of us would be overwhelmed by guilt, the most toxic of emotions, if we knew we had become rich by robbing the less rich. There are several ways in which the rich justify their position. One is narcissism, which is a form of psychopathology in which a person feels above the law and superior to others, and thus, entitled to far more than other people. It is elitism, plain and simple. This is what leads to psychopathological and criminal-like (but likely legalized by the system which they control) behavior. However, people like to think of themselves as truly good, deserving, productive citizens. Thus, I believe that most of the uber-rich find ways to elevate their status by exagerrating their accomplishments. This can be done through sheer self-delusion. The undeserving rich think they are helping the world and the economy by hiring people, stimulating the economy, etc. Some of these things may in fact be true, but they ignore the fact that their actions keep the vast majority of the population in a submissive position of relative poverty, if not actual poverty. A third method for accomplishing the self-justification of the wealthy is through insulating themselves from reality -- essentially, not realizing the plight of the ordinary citizen by metaphorically sticking their heads in the sand while "living it up" in a millionnaire lifestyle. Basically, this is a form of denial. The most adaptive way of dealing with excessive wealth is probably the rarest -- the idea of Noblesse Oblige, the idea that the wealthy have a moral obligation to serve the public, be grateful for their wealth and give back to society. There are a few possible current examples of Noblesse Oblige. The Kennedy family is probably the best example of this that I can think of, and perhaps Bill Gates, although his monopolistic business practices have gotten him in trouble, and the patriarch of the Kennedy family should have been in trouble for his bootleg business even if he managed to avoid legal problems. Other examples of ultra-rich persons who seem to have a sense of Noblesse Oblige include Warren Buffet and George Soros, but if we have to depend upon the ultra-rich for charity, or to enact reforms, we as a people are in great trouble.
Finally, capitalism creates great discrepancies between the wealthy and the rest of the population. In turn, this creates a sense of unfairness, which has been shown to create misery and frustration among the population, even when the society is fairly affluent as a whole. When Reagan became President, according to statistics cited by Thom Hartmann, CEOs averaged salaries which were 26 times that of their workers. Now, the salaries of CEOs average 300 times that of their workers. This is clearly a result of a relative lack of economic regulation, and too much capitalism. We must create the fairest possible society, one which ensures that people's efforts are rewarded with a decent standard of living, and which ensures the basic rights of each person as an equal partner in society.
Next time, I will begin discussing how these changes which must happen if we are to survive and thrive as a species, can happen.
A Capital Idea part 21: Capitalism is Antidiversity
What do guitars and golf clubs, gas and brake pedals, and scissors have in common? By and large, they are all made for right-handed people's use. Even though music is a right hemisphere function and lefties tend to have better than average musical ability according to researchers, I seldom see any musician other than Paul McCartney play a left-handed guitar. It's probably too expensive and troublesome for the guitar manufacturers to make 10% or perhaps more of their guitars left-handed. The same applies to golf clubs. How many left-handed professional golf players are there, aside from Phil Mickelson? Fishing reels are another example. All of them are built for righties, although most of them can be reversed by unscrewing the bolt that holds on the handle on the right side and putting it on the left side of the reel. As a lefty, I buy reversible reels and immediately turn them into lefty reels. However, some fishing reels cannot be reversed to become lefty reels. I accidentally bought one of those a few years ago, which now sits in our garage waiting to be given away to a right-handed person. I guess it's too troublesome for fishing reel manufacturers to make reels for lefties, although most of the manufacturers have the hang of making reversible ones. There are ambidextrous scissors, but they are not common and probably more expensive than the usual righty ones. The most glaring example in my opinion, of a manufacturing bias in terms of handedness, is the gas and brake pedals on cars. Well, they are really more about footedness than handedness, but left-handed people are usually left-footed also, as well as left eyed, as I am. The pedals must be operated with the right foot. I have to wonder whether that makes driving less safe for lefties. I know that there was research around the 1980s which indicated that lefties were more likely than righties to die in car accidents. Arguably, the placement of the various knobs to the right of the driver could also be a sign of handedness bias.
What does all of this have to do with capitalism, aside from being a lefty's idiosyncratic way of looking at manufacturing bias? The simple answer is that these are examples of how capitalism is antidiversity. Whomever can manufacture the most product for the least money is likely to win the real-life monopoly game that corporations play. How do corporations cut down costs while churning out as much product as possible? Aside from firing employees and replacing them with machines, corporations can standardize their equipment so that all of the product is made exactly the same way -- as in guitars, golf clubs, fishing reels, scissors and even car pedals, all built for right handers only. Beyond handedness, their are standardized clothing sizes, with relatively few options in terms of shirt sizes, for instance. Cars, furniture, appliances, toys, paper, pens, pencils, whatever, are all made in standardized ways to suit the greatest number of people. People who don't fit the mold have to buy special equipment, perhaps even going to specialized stores and buying more expensive products.
Beyond the standardization of manufacturing products, capitalism is also antidiversity through its inevitable gravitation toward monopolies. Over time, there are fewer and fewer corporations who own more and more of the economy. Of course, each corporation does things a certain way, and has stores with a given brand name which are all designed the same way. Last Friday, on Eunice's birthday, she decided to go to that "Mexican sandwich restaurant near Costco" called Portillo's Hot Dogs or something like that. It is in a sort of large, rectangular building, but I figured, since I had never heard of such a chain before, and since there are so many people of Hispanic origin living in Moreno Valley, that some Mr. Portillo who lived in town had decided to open a restaurant. I even have a Ms. Portillo in my summer session class currently, so it could have been her family. Such was not the case, however. It turns out that Portillo's is a chain restaurant from Illinois, which has just recently begun to expand outside of Illinois. Since it was relatively inexpensive, with relatively good food, and surprisingly good business for Moreno Valley which is a lousy place to do business in general except for bottom of the line bargain places, I anticipate that this chain will enjoy continued success. In a few years, there will probably be Portillo's restaurants all over the U.S. Once they conquer the U.S. market, of course, they will expand internationally. The larger point is that there are hardly any mom and pop, one-of-a-kind businesses anymore around here. We have a major shopping area which has opened up not far from where we live, with many new stores, and some older ones, but virtually all of them are large, national chain stores, with no other options. I think the same is true all over the United States. It is antidiversity, pro-monopoly, too-big-to-fail business. This is not good for society. I think we should have a law in the United States as India does, preventing chain stores from occuring. In India, each store must be one-of-a-kind, which helps their middle class tremendously, creating diversity and opportunities for its citizens. I have not heard anything about India's economy being in a tailspin, probably because their economy is doing well throughout this period of economic crisis for the more monopolistic nations.
An argument could be made that democracy itself encourages a similar "tyranny of the majority" as does capitalism. This is true to an extent; however, there is one huge mitigating factor which helps to keep the majority from acting tyanically in democracies. That is, democracies make constitutions and laws which assert the rights of the minority. Since almost everyone has family members or good friends who are members of one sort of minority or another, even if its only having a lefty in the family (for example, mine has 3 brothers who are all lefties, 2 foreign born Asian wives, Eurasian, Chinese, mestizo and Black children, a teenage nephew of mine who seems to be gay, plus people of a variety of religious/spiritual beliefs and non beliefs), it is difficult for citizens to encode any sort of discrimination into law, except under the most extreme of circumstances. There was a time when slavery was legal, a time when Chinese were not allowed to migrate to the United States, and during WWII, a time when Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in concentration camps, but we wound up being so embarrassed by these immoral actions, that Americans (most of us, at least) have become determined to never do such things again, and have written more and more protections for minorities into the Constitution and into law. Also, American society itself has become more diverse in various ways. In contrast, capitalistic corporations have no compulsion to "do the right thing." They are governed by profit, which means that they are motivated to do things the easiest, cheapest way, resulting largely in a lack of accomodation to the diversity of the human species. They do not make laws preventing discrimination against minority shopping populations. Any such laws which exist were made through democratic legislative processes.
My final point for this post is that we should think of society in terms of an ecological analogy. Any ecologist will tell you that diversity is good for an ecosystem. That is why the current, human-caused extinction event in which we are losing a great many species is not only a tragedy on a spiritual level, but also, a dangerous thing for the immediate geological future of the world. Diversity in an ecosystem makes it stronger and well, more lively. Diverse ecosystems are better able to adapt to change, favoring certain traits as conditions change, and producing adaptive mutations which lead to new species. Ecosystems which lack diversity are vulnerable to ecological disaster. The same applies to human cultures. The "too-big-to-fail" phenomenon with large banks and corporations is emblematic of this problem. We have become a very vulnerable society -- vulnerable to financial and social collapse and chaos -- because as a society we have gone way too far down the road of capitalistic monopolization. Too many people either work for or depend upon too few businesses, despite the advent of new technologies over the years. We are paying for this poor choice now. This choice was not really made or widely backed by the public, in my opinion, but was a choice made largely by rich people and their politicians with relatively little consent by the public except for the natural tendency to buy the cheapest products, and the fact that many people have been fooled into voting for this ideology through exposure to their propaganda. The way to prevent it from happening again is to use democracy to create laws -- hopefully Constitutional ones -- which regulate and reduce the role of capitalism for the sake of the public good, so that corporatism cannot run amok ever again. In fact, the less capitalistic society becomes, the better it will allow for human needs and human diversity, in my opinion.
A Capital Idea Part 20: The News Media Been has Bought and Paid for
When I was a child, we used to watch the evening news. Walter Cronkite, or Dan Rather, would report the news matter of factly. At the end of the show, Walter Cronkite would say "and that's the way it is" in his trustworthy way. As far as I can tell, that is the way it was. News was news. The fictional character Lou Grant played by Ed Asner, as well as Mary Tyler Moore who played Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore show, were honest arbiters of the most important news.
Somehow, those days went out the window. In the intervening years, I came to realize how easily biased the news could be. The choice of what to cover on the news is one means of biasing the news, and how it is covered is another way. Apparently, news corporations realized that too, during this same time frame. Wealthy Australian conservative Rupert Murdoch bought the FOX station and turned it into Fascists On Xanax, or Faux News, as some have called it -- a mouthpiece for conservative thinking. Other stations have appeared to cave in to conservative pressures as well. My hometown's newspaper, the Press Enterprise of Riverside, CA, had consistently conservative editorials, and slyly had a somewhat greater number of conservative columnists than liberal ones, although not disproportionately enough to be obvious. One of the so-called liberal ones was Thomas Friedman. Give me a break! He was supposedly a liberal, award winning columnist, but whenever I read his commentaries, he was promoting unregulated international capitalism or cheerleading for the invasion of Iraq. In 2004, when the Press Enterprise recommended that we vote to re-elect Bush, I promptly cancelled my newspaper subscription. Now, I get my political news from the internet, the Thom Hartmann show ("where smart people get their news") and other progressive radio shows, and my friends on Facebook and the Thom Hartmann site. I don't read newspapers anymore, although I know they are struggling financially. Part of the problem is due to the advent of internet, but partly it is there own fault for slipping into a state of dishonesty as they pretend to be fair, but actually are corporate mouthpieces.
I still watch news shows on television sometimes, but not as much as I used to. Actually, an auspicious event happened about a year ago, when we were forced to go to digital television signals from analog ones. When that happened, we got a bunch of new public stations, many of them foreign language, including several Chinese ones that Eunice likes to watch, plus several stations which have more open minded reporting such as the Bill Moyers show which has recently been replaced by "Need to Know" or Jim Lehrer's newshour. At the same time, our television became unable to get the FOX station. Meanwhile, the signal from KCAL which emanates from Los Angeles and has mostly news, became very unreliable. So much for the great digital signals we were promised! But that's okay with me, considering that the stations which were added were mostly good ones, while the stations we could no longer receive because they were broadcasting from distant Los Angeles were ones I had problems with such as FOX, and the evangelical Christian station. We have never had cable television here because I don't want to spend an extra monthly fee to get a bunch of extra stations most of which we don't even want, and the ones we do like, would probably only serve as additional distractions from our purposeful, productive activities. I would rather let my wife Eunice use the money to fund charities, such as sponsoring poor children -- I think we sponsor 4 of them currently -- donating to research on diseases, and also donating to public television stations. Today is Eunice's birthday, and she already put several donation letters in our mailbox. Instead of receiving on her birthday, she is giving. Good on my beautiful wife!
The bigger issue is that the mainstream private media is largely owned by a few small corporations, which are basically looking after their own financial interests. As such, they tend to have a conservative bias, no matter how much conservative talkers whine about the so-called "liberal media bias." Most of these corporations are owned by conservatives, who hire people who will not defy them or suggest anything contrary to their interests. If they do, they will be subject to immediately losing their jobs. Since these are private corporations presenting what they claim to be the news, they engender an inherent conflict of interest. How can a private entity which is being run like an empire with its owner as king, be a fair arbiter of the news? The simple answer is that this is not possible. There are many progressives I am sure working for these people, as well as many conservatives, but anything contrary to the corporate bottom line is untouchable. The corporate media bias arguably may be the single biggest factor behind the corporate takeover of America, and basically, this is a conservative bias -- a fascist bias urging the merger of corporate and state interests, and the development of modern feudalism as they pull the wool over the eyes of the public, so to speak.
Note also that the revenue of these corporations is also corporate, in the form of advertising. Thus, the corporations which present us with their version of the world and attempt to make it ours, are simultaneously supporting the consolidation and internationalization of big business as we watch competing businesses be swallowed up in a wave of corporate monopolization. The sad fact is that advertising works, giving those with the money to use them, an unfair advantage over others. This insidious effect of advertising is another aspect of corporatization which needs to be abolished, to be replaced by consumer report and Angies' List type organizations which represent public interests rather than corporate interests. The news which we see or read from privately owned businesses will never be critical of their corporate sponsors, but rather, will promote them!
In summary, we need to get rid of this entire system of privately owned so-called "news," both its corporate sponsorships and inherently biased news itself. Also, we need to require that commentary is labelled as commentary, cheerleading as cheerleading, and real news as real news. We, the public, need to own our own news. Publicly sponsored media can serve this purpose, as it already does but only in a small degree. Only when the news as a whole comes to represent the public interest and "need to know" (the name of the show which replaced Bill Moyers show), will we be able to see the world as it is, rather than the warped view of the world presented to us by the corporate media.
A Capital Idea Part 19: Has the "Free Market" Been Bought and Paid for?
Tomorrow I have an appointment with my opthalmologist. I need to go because I have glaucoma. While there, I plan to ask my sympathetic doctor for a couple of sample bottles of my glaucoma eyedrops, which cost over $70 for a 5 milliliter bottle. I also plan to purchase another pair of eyeglasses, which will probably cost me at least a couple hundred dollars, since the only pair I have are bifocals and they are not easy on the eyes with all the adjustments one has to make. All of this is after our so-called health care reform, which was really a health care insurance coverage expansion bill, and does nothing else to make affordable health care a right or even slightly reduce health care insurance rates for the average customer. By the way, the company that makes my eyedrops is Bausch and Lomb, which is a German corporation, I believe. These eyedrops are far cheaper in Germany, I am sure! As far as I am concerned, the market system should be called the "pay an arm and a leg market," not the "free market."
But tales of eyedrops and glasses is only the lower, consumer end of a humongous story -- one involving multinational megacorporations and the richest, most influential families in the world. I have found out that there are several exclusive organizations which include many of the ultra-rich and prominant politicians among their members, whose purpose is to exert influence on political policies around the world. These are in addition to the more out-front organizations such as the World Trade Organization, ASEAN, NATO, and so forth. These are more behind the scenes, invitation-only organizations which receive almost no publicity.
Among these organizations are The Council on Foreign Relations, The Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderberger Group. There is clearly a lot of conspiratorial thinking regarding powerful groups such as these. A rather out-of-date website about The Council on Foreign Relations describes a variety of conspiracies by this group, and 13 rich and influential bloodlines collectively known as The Illuminati, including the Rockefellers and Kennedys in the U.S., the Onassis family from Greece, th Li family of mainland China, and mother of all Illuminati, the Rothschild Family of Great Britain, which the site claims controls half of the world's wealth. http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/bloodlines/rothschild.htm While reading this material for a few minutes, for example, I "discovered" that the Rothschilds are Satanists, that Abraham Lincoln was an illegitimate child fathered by a Rothschild family member, and that he had several illegitimate children himself with members of elite families. According to this account, Lincoln knew he was a member of The Illuminati, but was strong-willed enough to resist their Satanist agenda. This isn't exactly the quaint history of Abraham Lincoln that I learned about as a child. After a few minutes, I had been exposed to enough of this conspiratorial nonsense. I felt like telling the author of this article, Fritz Springmeier, come on, dude, Abraham Lincoln grew up dirt poor! Illuminati, indeed! Well, I am not one for supporting wild conspiracy theories, but I do think that there are people, and families who exert way too much worldwide influence.
Thus, I have been attempting to glean what reliable information I can about the influence of these organizations.The best site I found that describes their influence, in my opinion, is one about the Bilderberger Group. At least, it states the situation in a way that I agree with. http://www.bilderberggroup.net/ To quote this site:
"When such rich and powerful people meet up in secret, with military intelligence managing their security, with hardly a whisper escaping of what goes on inside, people are right to be suspicious. But the true power of Bilderberg comes from the fact that participants are in a bubble, sealed off from reality and the devastating implications on the ground of the black-science economic solutions on the table.
No, it's not a 'conspiracy'. The world's leading financiers and foreign policy strategists don't get together at Bilderberg to draw up their 'secret plans for the future'. It's subtler than that. These meetings create an artificial 'consensus' in an attempt to spellbind visiting politicians and and other men of influence. Blair has fallen for this hook, line and sinker. It's about reinforcing - often to the very people who are on the edge of condemning Globalisation - the illusion that Globalisation is 'good', 'popular' and that it's inevitable.
Bilderberg is an extremely influential lobbying group. That's not to say though that the organisers don't have a hidden agenda, they do, namely acumulation of wealth and power into their own hands whilst explaining to the participants that globalisation is for the good of all. It is also a very good forum for 'interviewing' potential future political figures such as Clinton (1991) and Blair (1993). [see above for more on this]
The ideology put forward at the Bilderberg conferences is that what's good for banking and big business is good for the mere mortals of the world. Silently banished are the critical voices, those that might point out that debt is spiralling out of control, that wealth is being sucked away from ordinary people and into the hands of the faceless corporate institutions, that millions are dying as a direct result of the global heavyweight Rockefeller/Rothschild economic strategies.
When looking at one of the (partially reliable) participant lists it should be remembered that quite a number of participants are invited in an attempt to get them on-board the globalisation project. These are carefully selected people of influence, who have been openly critical of globalisation. Examples are Jonathan Porritt (Bilderberg 1999) and Will Hutton (Bilderberg 1997) but there are many others. Most of these kinds of participants are happy to speak about the conference afterwards, and may even be refreshingly critical.
The Bilderberg organisers are accepted by those 'in the know' as the prophets of Capitalism." Actually, the content on this site was so well-written that I could have simply quoted the entire thing, but that might have been excessive. You get the idea. The site does go on to explain that the Bilderbergers are an immoral group of power hungry individuals who have in mind controlling as much as possible of the world's wealth, and furthermore, it claims that they want the peoples of the world to abandon their own moral principles, making it easier for the Bilderbergers to advance their agenda. It also mentions that the organizers of the Bilderberg Group include people named Rothschild, Rockefeller, and Kissinger. Basically, these people are living inside the bubble of uber-wealth, and neither understand nor empathize with the lives of the masses of citizenry who are not so fortunate as to be uber-rich. Their ambition, combined with their lack of understanding of the real world, produces a pernicious effect in which the capitalist system allows those with money to gain access to power which creates even greater wealth for the already rich, in a vicious cycle. In the process of power acquisition, the ultra-rich manage to gain control of the vast majority of the media, so-called news shows and radio talk shows. After all, madia controls the message. Many prominent members of U.S. government have been members of the Bilderberg Group, including Presidents Gerald Ford, and Bill Clinton.
The Trilateral Commission has the admirable stated goal of increasing cooperation among the United States, Europe, and Japan. In recent years, it has also included more representatives of ASEAN nations. However, it was founded by David Rockefeller, and is all about international economic hegemony. Membership is by invitation only, and of course, only the most prominent leaders of industry and government are invited to join it. Among its current and former members are former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, along with many other prominant members of U.S. government.
The Council on Foreign Relations also includes many prominent business leaders and politicians. This creates a potentially insidious groupthink-type situation in which a relatively few well-connected people (4,300 around the world, actually) have a vastly disproportionate voice regarding the direction that international relations take. Compared to The Bilderberg Group or the Trilateral Commission, however, The Council on Foreign Relations has a pretty diverse membership including scholars and journalists, so it is possible for an academic or journalistic expert on foreign relations to work up to membership in this group, but I suspect that only those with relatively conventional views regarding foreign relations are accepted for membership. Their site did ask me to complete a survey about where I get news about international relations and what I thought of their site, which was surprising and encouraging. http://www.cfr.org/about/membership/
Fortunately for the public, we at least have the internet,
with web neutrality, a place where people can exchange information without having
it be controlled by big business. Let us keep it that way. I have a feeling
that the ultrarich have bought and paid for the so-called free-market system
in which all of us are compelled to participate. At least the non-commercial
portion of the internet is not bought and paid for.
A Capital Idea Part 18: We're Not as Rich as we Think we are
The case of monetary exchange rates is a case for which I think it is instructive to examine other nations. We are all aware that in most parts of the world, average income is far below what it is in the United States, yet for the most part, people in these places survive comfortably. How is this possible, given that incomes in other nations, for example, $2000 per year, are far less than what is needed in the United States just to pay for necessities such as food, much less utilities, rent, mortgages or property taxes, or any other needs?
It is my contention that monetary exchange rates are skewed in such a way that Americans appear to be richer than they are. Perhaps you have heard that an American can immigrate to certain other countries and live the high life as a rich person. This is true, because the currency of the United States has far more buying power in other nations, for the most part. For example, one hundred U.S. dollars may buy one hundred dollars of a foriegn nation's currency. However, since the foreign currency is undervalued compared to the United States' currency, that one hundred foreign dollars can buy much more in that foreign nation than one hundred dollars could buy in the United States. This is yet another example of the arbitrariness of money as a tool of exchange. This situation also encourages one-way trade between nations, with the United States on the receiving end and the other nation on the selling end, resulting in massive trade deficits for the United States. When Americans pay one hundred dollars for a product from this generic foreign nation, it has much greater purchasing power when it gets to the foreign nation than it did in the U.S. On the other hand, when foreigners pay $100 in their "cheap" currency for an American product, it does not buy very much in the United States. In other words, the prices of goods in the United States are inflated as a whole.
The basic reason for this is that the people of the United States have become addicted to consumption of goods. We have been inculcated to expect a high standard of living, as "the world's richest/greatest nation." Thus, anything less feels like poverty to most Americans -- after all, we have to keep up with the Joneses. I never took an economics course, but it doesn't take an economist to figure out that the high rate of demand for goods by Americans leads to higher prices. Thus, even thrifty Americans become victims to the free spenders among us, being compelled to pay artificially high prices. Add to this our huge and growing budget deficit, our credit card debts, and homes for which people owe more than the house is worth, and we are clearly living on borrowed time. The current pessimistic political climate and attitudes of the American public reflect that many Americans are waking up to these uncomfortable facts and realizing that we are far poorer than we appear to be. However, our lifestyle continues to be one of living beyond our means, for the most part, and using resources irresponsibly, including non-renewable ones.
My wife "Eunice" (Zun-Liang) is from Taiwan, and we are planning to go there in mid to late August. I did go there in 1990, and I can confirm that there are many low-income Taiwanese-Chinese, but few of them go hungry or live in abject poverty. My wife told me that her family used to have its own farm, including fish and freshwater crab ponds. They would often give the food to others in the neighborhood, or have them work on the farm for the food. Everybody shared their resources. That is pretty much the way life still is in Taiwan, at least in rural areas. Thus, in addition to the skewed monetary exchange rate, community lifestyles which encourage self-sufficiency and the sharing of resources make life more comfortable for all and prevent extreme poverty and hunger. This is a common theme in traditional cultures around the world. Places where people live under horrible conditions of poverty, it seems to me, are places where traditional lifestyles which have evolved over long periods of time to the benefit of the society as a whole, have been disrupted, and people don't have land or waters available to provide for their subsistence needs -- places such as the makeshift communities on the outskirts of South American cities, or places where ethnic or religious conflict has wreaked havoc, such as some areas of Africa. In places such as these, people are starving to death literally, but not in peaceful, stable communities. I also have a sister-in-law, Rosalie, who is from a remote part of the southern Phillipines. She and my brother were talking about the Phillipines when we were visiting their house in South Lake Tahoe. Rosalie was describing how they lived in big houses there, had lots of good food to eat, a beautiful (if somewhat rainy and warm) environment, and a nice community. This is despite the fact that this area is officially an impoverished area according to world financial standards. My brother and Rosalie said that one can go out and pick fruit in the forest, or grow it on one's property, catch fish in the nearby ocean or freshwater, or buy whatever one needs for relatively low prices. Furthermore, my brother said he would ideally like to spend his winter on his wife's island, and summers at Tahoe, but his year-around job working for the California State Water Quality Control Board prevents that from happening. It hardly sounds like the Phillipines is a miserable place of poverty to me, except perhaps around overgrown cities such as Manilla, or where Muslim insurgents are in conflict with the Phillipine government. Although it does have some problems and isn't exactly paradise, it seems like a good place to live, to me. I think such is the case around much of the world. By the way, both my wife Eunice and my sister-in-law Rosalie say that the United States has been quite a disappointment to them, compared to its reputation which they heard about before coming here. Eunice says that if not for me, she would go back to Taiwan; I also think Rosalie stays in the U.S. to be with my brother and their kids.
A final consideration regarding monetary exchange rates is that perhaps the biased exchange rates have been intentionally created or supported by politicians. Why? Since it benefits American politicians to point to their constituents' lifestyles and show that they have lots of goodies to play with, the encouragement of consumerism is something which is attractive to politicians. Let's keep our people supplied with lots and lots of "cheap" (but not really by international standards) stuff. By having exchange rates which encourage the importation of goods, and since the manufacturing base in the United States has collapsed, we can maintain this situation, but only as long as our money lasts and foreign factory workers continue to be horribly underpaid. Someday soon, if it has not already happened, America will wake up and find that it is closer to being a third world nation, economically, than the world's richest one, and it will remain that way until we drastically change the structure of our culture.
p.s. Our goal should not be to be the world's richest nation, but rather, to help create the best sustainable lifestyle and environment for everyone around the world, one which facilitates people's personal growth, but the point of this post is the Americans are living beyond their means, and I believe, heading toward a major economic collapse in the relatively near future if we don't change our economic structure to help the public and to be more realistic.
A Capital Idea Part 17: The Family that Wants to Start Armageddon
Imagine that there was a political conspiracy underfoot. Imagine that a shadowy group operating in Wahshington, D.C. had plans for world domination. Further imagine that this organization had tremendous political influence, but kept its membership and other records secret. Now, imagine that this group is an ultra-conservative, ultra-Christian group, whose purpose is to bring about the prophesied end of the world, including the battle of Armageddon and return of Jesus by influencing politics.
Actually, you don't need to use your imagination. Such an organization does exist and is well-documented, even though it attempts to keep much of its activity secret. This organization is known as "The Family," (also known as The Fellowship and The International Foundation) and was founded by an evangelical Christian who immigrated to Seattle from Norway. His name was Abraham Vereide, and he said that God had appeared to him in a vision in 1935, telling him that God wanted him to ignore the poor and the suffering, because they were too powerless to bring about the so-called kingdom of God. Instead, he said, God wanted him to help evangelicals take control of government and help bring about the events prophesied in the Bible. Vereide also viewed unions as the enemy, because they wanted to give more power to commoners and thereby delay the takeover of government by those with the wherewithall to bring about Armageddon.
To quote Lindsey Beyerstein from the website "Worse than Fascists:"
"Through personal relationships and small group encounters, Vereide united captains of industry and politicians as a Biblical bulwark against the increasing power of organized labor.
In the late 1940s, the Family helped roll back key pro-labor provisions of the New Deal. Later, the Family did its part for the Cold War by cultivating anti-communist strongmen around the world, including repressive leaders like Suharto of Indonesia and Jonas Savimbi of Angola.
The roster of current and former Family members includes senators, congressmen, Fortune 500 CEOs, generals and at least one Supreme Court justice. The Family does not publish membership lists, and its members are sworn to secrecy, so a full accounting is impossible.
Sen. Hillary Clinton has been involved with the Family since 1993 when, as first lady, she joined a White House prayer circle for political wives. Clinton has also sought spiritual counseling from the current head of the Family, Doug Coe. Sharlet argues that Clinton's longtime association with the Family has helped her forge working relationships with powerful religious conservatives such as Family member and anti-abortion crusader Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.
The Family nurtures the next generation of prayer warriors in suburban dormitories. Sharlet spent nearly a month living at Ivanwald, a dormitory in Virginia where sons of the Family are sent to immerse themselves in Jesus and clean the toilets of congressmen and senators.
The Family also runs a house on C Street in Washington, D.C. The C Street Center has housed a number of federal legislators, including Sen. John Ensign of Nevada. Residents allege that the center is just a cheap place to live, but as an Ivanwald brother, Sharlet saw firsthand that the center is a religious community. As far as the IRS is concerned, the C Street Center is a church." (http://www.alternet.org/rights/87665/)
The Sharlet mentioned in the quote is journalist Jeff Sharlet, who infiltrated "The Family" undercover a few years ago, and emerged to write a book about the organization called "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power." This organization covets and reveres power, however it is attained. To quote a review of Sharlet's book "Citing Hitler, Lenin, and Mao as leadership models, the Family's current leader, Doug Coe, declares, 'We work with power where we can, build new power where we can't.'" Citing Hitler, Lenin, and Mao as leadership models, the Family's current leader, Doug Coe, declares, "We work with power where we can, build new power where we can't." http://www.powells.com/biblio/9780060559793?&PID=32513
If you were wondering how our nation has come to increasingly resemble a fascist state, now you know, it is not only big business that is to blame; it is also "The Family" and those politicians who are influenced by "The Family." Although we do not know the exact leadership hierarchy of "The Family" from public records, it is known that many prominant politicians are members of this organization. Politicians associated with "The Family" who have had sex scandels in recent years include Senator John Ensign (R-Nev), Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and Representative Charles Pickering (R-Miss), who lived at The Family's headquarters in Washington, D.C., called "The C Street House." Several members of Congress have also accepted trips to foreign nations which were paid for by The Family. Accroding to Sandhya Bathjia in "Travelling with The Family," included in this group are "Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who also lives at the C Street house, and Republican Reps. Frank Wolf (Va.), Joe Pitts (Pa.) and John Carter (Texas). Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) each also accepted one trip from the foundation. Both Senators have lived at the C Street house." http://blog.au.org/2010/06/28/traveling-with-%E2%80%98the-family%E2%80%99-secretive-evangelical-group-bankrolled-overseas-trips-for-members-of-congress-newspaper-says/
Notice that almost everyone involved in The Family is Republican, but a few Democrats are involved, too, most shockingly to me, Hillary Clinton. That makes me really glad that she did not win the Democratic Party's nomination in 2008. As for detailing the leadership of The Family, aside from its nominal leader, Doug Coe, much secrecy seems to be involved. It is suspected that the Bush and Rockefeller families are at the heart of The Family.
I am not generally into conspiracy theories, perhaps because of my exposure to psychology and in particular, paranoid schizophrenics who regularly invent conspiracy theories out of thin air, as well as my exposure to various other, competing and improbable conspiracy ideas. However, there comes a time to recognize that there may be true conspiracies to gain power and promote a particular agenda. Last time, I wrote about a de facto conspiracy, something which I think is all too common. In the case I wrote about last time, people with a shared world view -- believing in free-market capitalism for the individual -- with no actual conspiratorial communication, have helped effect a conspiracy of omission, through their inaction driven by the belief that the system does not need regulation. This de facto conspiracy has greatly contributed to the rise of corporate hegemony and corresponding corporate influence on government in the Untied States and around the world.
Today, I have discussed a true conspiracy which would have disastrous consequences if successful. What pains me the most, is that this conspiracy has been somewhat successful. I think this group needs to be exposed and have the light of day shed upon its operations, as much as possible! The more people know about this organization, the more the public as a whole will oppose it and those who are a part of it. Like all such conspiracies, I believe The Family is ultimately doomed to fail (because the prophecies they predict, in the case of The Family, will never happen), and the instrument which will bring it down is the voice of the public -- the sooner, the better.
A Capital Idea Part 16: Conspiracy by Consensus
Today's topic regards not so much an actual conspiracy, as a de facto one that applies to what one might call "average everyday millionaires." Next time, I will discuss what may be an actual conspiracy involving certain weathy families in the United States, but for now, I will discuss cognitive laziness and sheeplike behavior which create a troubling status quo which is difficult to fix.
The root of the problem may be in so-called "free-market capitalism" once again, or as I call it, "lazy unfair capitalism." Social and Health Psychologist Shelley Taylor has called people "cognitive misers" based on research regarding peoples' use of cognitive effort or lack thereof. That is, people tend to do the least amount of thinking that they need to get by. Heuristics (cognitive shortcuts) are relied upon as much as possible, even when it results in predictable errors. Actually, a Cognitive Psychologist named Kahnemann won the Nobel Prize in Economics a few years ago by showing that people use heuristics when investing in the stock market. Over reliance on older, established ways of doing things has also frrequently been demonstrated in Psychology research. There are a number of related terms used by Psychologists such as top-down processing, functional fixedness, or confirmation bias -- all of which lead to errors in thinking.
Thus, it comes as no surprise to find that the dominant economic system used in the United States, if not the world now, involves not active involvement in the regulation, but rather, as little regulation as possible. The rationale for deregulation or a lack of economic regulation is that somehow, the economy is supposed to take care of itself. The "free-market" will find an optimal equilibrium according to the apologists for our current economic woes, and everyone will be paid what he or she is "worth." According to the social Darwinists who believe this, it is only natural that a few economic elite will capture most of the world's resources to create their own personal playground of the world's economy. The rest of the population is to remain in relative poverty feeding on economic handouts given them by the rich, or perhaps even starving to death unless taken pity upon by some wealthy person. Of course, members of the economic elite will not say this publicly, and many conservatives do not believe this, preferring instead to believe that somehow, the "free-market" will eventually make everyone wealthy, except for laggards and freeloaders who refuse to work. Never mind that we are all born as freeloaders.
How convenient it is that the people who run the system believe that the system will run itself! That frees them to concentrate on making money, and using that money to create more money, rather than worry about regulating each other! While the ideas presented this essay are certainly not novel, its major point is that the most convenient possible conspiracy by consensus has developed, in which those who run the machinery of the economy tend to view it as some sort of infallible, perpetual motion machine which will continue to run to the benefit of humanity ad infinitum without maintenance. After all, these people created this "machine" and as leaders of the world economy, they must really "know" what they are doing, just as BP's executives must have thought until their big oil pipe broke and they didn't know how to fix it, and still don't. I realize that I may be engaging in a bit of hyperbole here, and not all of the United States' and certainly not all of the world's, economic elite prescribe to the unregulated free-market ideology, but this certainly is the direction that the world, led by the United States, has been going over the past few decades.
If a person happens to run a lucrative business and enjoys considerable wealth, why not "go with the flow." After all, if it's not broken, why fix it? Of course, the belief that the system is not broken is a result of being one of its prime beneficiaries. For generations of people living in poverty, the system has never worked. But being out of the power loop, the majority of us have only very limited power to change the system, by perhaps electing politicians who want to change the system, and by complaining and insisting upon change. Meanwhile, those with the money to do so, work to shape the public's attitude so that they will not elect such politicians, and manipulate the system so that if such politicians are elected, it will be difficult for them to enact change. We are seeing this process play out in Washington politics now. Thus, the conspiracy by consensus and the inertia it creates, continues for the time being, but that may change soon. Once people, even wealthy ones, realize en masse that an unregulated economic system will inevitably lead to disaster, the consensus will break down, and real reform will be possible. I believe that we are currently in the process of seeing the public begin to reject the "free market" economic model. Once the economically average citizen rejects the "free market" model, and once its inadequacies become apparent to even the wealthy, they will eventually be forced to accept economic regulation.
A Capital Idea Part 15: My Money Lessons Through the Years
Since I wrote a brief history of money last time, it makes sense that my personal history with money should follow.
The first lesson I remember learning about money is the adage "Money is the root of all evil." I am not sure where I heard that, but it stuck with me. I think I heard it in elementary school, perhaps from my second grade teacher, Mrs. McPhail. She and I were very fond of each other, and I got lessons such as that from her when we weren't singing peace songs such as "Kumbaya" or "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream," or protesting the Vietnam War at my public school in Riverside, CA, while soldiers headed to war in Vietnam from nearby March Air Force Base, and many never returned, including my friend Pat's father.
I may have gotten that lesson from my parents, as well, who were always very good at showing us kids a strong sense of conscience and solid morals mostly by example without any religious training whatsoever. (As far as I know, the first time I went inside a church was when I went to my eldest cousin's wedding when I was a freshman in high school.) In either case, I was imbued with a sense of skepticism regarding money, and a cautious approach to money. I also have, not a disdain for money itself, but a disdain for avarice and a sense that "making money" is not what it seems and not what life is about for me. Like anyone, I would like to have lots of money, but it is what one does with one's life that is really important; how we earn money trumps how much we have. My feelings about money might have been different had I grown up wanting in it. By the time I was born, my father was a practicing radiologist working in the main group of radiologists to be found in Riverside. Money was never an issue for us while growing up, but the interesting thing is that, despite having money available and living a comfortable lifestyle, none of us 3 children had any inclination to spend much of it. Ironically, my eldest brother grew up to marry a woman who is a spending addict, which has caused him great financial difficulties. The second brother and I both use a thrifty lifestyle to get by, and have wives who are not big spenders. I have noticed that girls tend to want to spend more than boys, so that may have been a factor, but also, the rampant consumerism of American culture drives most Americans, male of female, to be addicted to a relatively lavish lifestyle and the spending which that requires. Maybe we just don't have the "spending gene" in my family. In any case, we need to break our dependence on spending to buy an American dream which we cannot afford. Perhaps the current financial crisis will accomplish this.
I did have positive lessons about money while growing up, too. As implied in the previous paragraph, my brothers and I learned that managing money carefully and controlling one's spending is a good thing. One needs a certain amount of money to get by financially, but the better one controls spending, the less money one needs and the better off one will be in the long run. Saving money is a good thing, a lesson that too few Americans have learned. I learned to think of saving money as a type of investment in the future. Meanwhile, I saw my parents saving money for their kids, so that hopefully we would never be wanting for money. That was their way of investing in the future. As a consequence, I have never felt in danger of poverty, even though I am a lousy money earner. But perhaps the reason I am a lousy money earner is because the acquisition of large amounts of money has never been a priority for me.
There are two other basic lessons about money which I learned later on, which are integrated into this series on capital. One is that money attracts the wrong type of people (as does political power all too often). That has been made all too clear by recent financial events in the world. Whoever created the adage "Money is the root of all evil" might not have been 100% correct, but was certainly more correct than not. Another related fact, which as a person who diligently believes in creating a fair world, greatly bothers me, is that pay rates, or rather, rates of money acquisition, have little to do with a person's contributions. The system is horribly broken and patently unfair. While growing up, I knew that my father was smart, well -educated, and helped people recover from injuries and health problems. It only seemed fair that he was well-paid. However, when I was 14 years old, he switched from practicing radiology, to working for the California State Department of Health. His new job was as a Medi-Cal Consultant, allocating Medi-Cal money to pay for the health care of poor people. My father's main reasons for changing jobs were the threat of lawsuits as a doctor, and the general stress and strange hours of being a doctor. This switch in jobs affected my attitude toward money in several ways. One is that people can change careers, and aren't always as happy as they seem in their jobs. I thought the change of jobs was a good thing, and I was proud of my father for making the switch. It eased my father's tensions, although it paid less than his previous job. Another fact which was brought to my attention was the problem of lawsuits and how it affects doctors. Just yesterday, I saw an internet article which cited a study which found that the main reason for doctors overtesting their patients was the fear of lawsuits. It is doctors versus lawyers, lawyers versus doctors -- dueling professions vying for money and power -- and in the process, medical costs are enormously inflated and medical care is compromised. I consequently learned that money is a very powerful force, which does not work the way it is supposed to; that is, rather than working for the public good, the role of money is to serve the whims of its owners. Finally, I realized that personal happiness is more important than pay; my father chose a job that did not pay as well because he felt he would be happier helping poor people, and not having to worry about lawsuits from people who hold doctors to impossibly high standards. My father was being compassionate in his desire to help poor people, which made me realize that by implication, he must have felt that they did not deserve to be poor, but rather were victims of a badly flawed system.
The final basic lesson which I am still in the process of learning, is that money is an entirely artificial social construct, and may ultimately, be unecessary and may be extinguished, to be replaced by a much more just and productive system. I learned the term "social construct" during my first year of graduate school, and it was not long before I connected that term to money. In fact, I think that money is one of the best examples of a social construct. I have also learned that many societies, albeit primitive ones, get along just fine without money. However, it occurs to me that a money-free culture is not only a function of a culture's primitiveness, but could also be an indicator of a culture's progress. New technology and new ways of thinking should eventually replace old ways of thinking about wealth and worth. Various forms of capital -- real capital -- can be the basis of a new economy, and the implementation of new technologies can create a better economy for all, an economy of the people, by the people, and for the people. What we have now, is an economy -- and government -- of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
A Capital Idea Part 14: Money's Long, Strange Trip Through History
The Birth of Barter
So Thor the caveman wanted to give his cavewife, Thorazine, who drove him crazy with love, a decoration befitting her beauty. It so happened that his neighbor, Ugh, was an expert at finding and shaping "Magic Stones" into beautiful Objects D'Art. Thus, Thor offrered Ugh one of his cattle in exchange for a beautiful piece of Jade for his wife, a request to which Ugh assented. Now, Ugh not only had pretty stones, but also, enough beef to feed his sexy wife, Viagra, and their little Ughs and Ughlettes for quite awhile, and Thorazine had a beautiful decorative gift stone from Thor to show off to her friends and family. (Meanwhile, I seem to have a bumper crop of "corn" going here.)
This fictionalized scenario represents an early form of barter, which preceded the use of objects as actual money. Since we have no records of how barter developed, researchers do not have a very good idea regarding when it began, but it was clearly before the invention of writing. Barter differs from money in that it is a direct exchange of goods between individuals. In barter, there is no keeping of accounts in order to horde representations of perceived value, as is done with money. Barter is still commonly done between individuals. In some cultures, a sort of exchange of gifts, which can be viewed as a type of barter, is still the primary means of exchange. Even in our modern culture, of course, there is a tradition of exchange of gifts. My wife always feels obligated, for instance, to bring gifts to relatives when she sees them. But far more important than this, barter may in a sense be the lifeblood of relationships, except that in relationships, it is the exchange of favors which is normally bartered, rather than goods. Studies of cats and dogs show that even they have a sense of fairness which requires them, as social animals, to take turns and share resources with their companions. Thus, the origin of barter or its more primitive predecessors may be hidden in the mists of time which characterize our distant evolutionary past.
The Birth of Money
According to A Comparative Chronology of Money, by Roy and Glyn Davies, the first form of money was probably cattle, around 9000 BC. According to them, catlle were still used as money in the mid-1900s in some places. The concept of cattle as money seems pretty strange, since they are themselves a valuable resource, but the reasoning behind considering them money is that cattle were essentially used like money, as placeholders representing accumulated worth. Obviously, cattle make a very imperfect form of money. If one's cattle catch an infectious disease and a resulting epidemic kills most of them, I suppose this is the equivalent of a "stock" market crash, as in "livestock" market crash, in this case.
Thus, if Thor had an impressive collection of cattle, and used these to confer high status upon himself, amongst his tribemembers, he was using cattle as money, according to Roy and Glyn Davies. Eventually, people figured out more compact, lighter, inanimate items than cattle to use as placeholders for value. Various forms of livestock, grains, and agricultural implements were stored as money for quite some time, ranging from about 3000 BC to 2000 BC. Around this time, writing was invented. According to the Davies, the motivation behind the development of writing was in order to keep track of peoples' money. Clearly, the development of writing as a tool facilitated keeping track of money, but given its importance and plethora of uses, I have to question the idea that writing was invented for accounting purposes. In any case, banking was invented during this same period.
Eventually, valuable metals such as gold or silver replaced agricultural items as money, thus accounting for the nefarious "gold fever" which seems to have characterized much of humanity's early explorations and subsequent gold-finding expeditions which continue to the present day.
Since nuggets of gold aren't exactly something that people can expect to find lying on the ground everyday, it was only a matter of time until people figured out that we should use something much more common and with little or no intrinsic value as money, and give that value according to its use as money. The first known example of that is the use of Cowrie shells as money by the Chinese around 1200 BC. The Chinese character for money is based on a pictogram of a Cowrie shell, in fact. Since that time, Cowrie shells were used as money in many different cultures, as recently as the mid-1900s in Africa. By 687 BC, however, the Lydians in Greece were using metal coins as money. We know that because in 687 BC, a fellow named Herodotus complained about the gross commercialism of the Lydians and their coin money. Coins were also invented in China around the same time, although the date is uncertain. Eventually, of course, the use of coin money became widespread, along with the crass commercialism of the Lydians. Metal coins had the advantage, from a government standpoint, of being human-made, with official government approval, nice little pictures of their leaders, and written descriptions of their value, but they still tended to include rather precious metals, such as silver mixed with other metals. I suspect that historically, people tended to get miffed if their coins looked too "cheap," and not shiny and pretty enough.
Fast forwarding to the development of paper money, which is obviously of even less intrinsic value than metal coins, once again, China led the charge forward. The first mention of paper money is from 806-821 AD when the Chinese emperor Hien Tsung decided to take the plunge into paper moneyhood since they were running out of the copper with which they had been making coins. No wonder other nations (especially the U.S.) now owe the Chinese so much money; the Chinese have had more practice at using it than other people. Meanwhile, the other early leader in coinage, Greece, lagged behind in paper money use, and their money supply just recently crashed. Could there be a connection here? Considering current money usage practices, I could not find any reference to the first use of credit cards or electronic money transfers, but clearly, modern technology has made the use of physical money or coins uneccessary in the past 100 years or so. Obviously, our bank accounts are meta-locations somewhere in virtual reality, with no physical representation and no actual money. They are not big (size depending upon one's wealth) piggie banks full of pennies.
Even though money apparently originated around 9000 BC, it has not always been used since that time. At least one prominant culture of the past got by without money at all. The Incas in South America managed to build a complex and powerful society without any money at all, but their culture was rigidly hierarchical and I believe involved slave labor. Additonally, around 3000-2000 BC, the pyramids were built based upon slave labor, without money. Slave labor continued to be used, bypassing the use of money to pay workers, with legal protection well into the 1800s, as we are all aware of. However, what most of us may not be aware of is that virtual slavery continues, with millions of unpaid workers around the world being illegally forced to do their jobs. This is truly a shameful phenomenon of the modern world!
Why Did People Bother to Invent Money in the First Place?
Although I have touched upon the topic of the reasons behind money's invention previously, it bears some further explication here. According to Wikipedia, barter including the exchange of wanted goods, or gifts, worked fine as long as both parties involved had the wanted goods in stock. The problem occured when one party did not currently have the product in stock, but presumably would later on. For example, a farmer might want to acquire a cow from a rancher, and the rancher might want the farmer's apples, but if apples are out of season, it would not be possible for the farmer to supply the rancher with tasty, nutritious apples, and thus prevent the rancher from getting scurvy or some such disease resulting from lack of vitimins. However, if the farmer and his family could sell their apples while in season, they could accumulate money which could be saved for the slack season (winter presumably) when they had no crops to sell. Meanwhile, the rancher could preserve the apples from last year's crop and eat them during the winter in order to stay healthy. (As an aside, farmers still depend upon seasonal, highly variable income, which makes farming a pretty perilous profession. Many farmers go out of business, and their farms wind up being bought by richer farmers who build megafarms. One of my own great grandfathers actually became rich by buying failed farms of his neighbors in North Dakota around the late 1800s to early 1900s, and this process of farm consolidation still continues.)
In any case, money is far more flexible in its uses than bartering and/or gift exchange. In a populous society, with diverse forms of labor, if we are to continue to "keep score" and track each person's claims of wealth, we need some method of doing so without regard to the nature of the individual's contributions, to be used to buy whatever goods or services the individual wishes to, without regard to their nature. Money has the flexibility of use in order to accomplish this. However, the fundamental problem of economic fairness has never been resolved, since basically no objective way has been devised to equate people's worth. Rather, a person's financial worth has been left to a messy plethora of circumstances, ultimately dominated by the decisions of those individuals who find themselves in the position to set the prices of goods and services.
A Capital Idea Part 13: Force, Law, Religion, Culture and Money
In this post, I wish to further explicate how money is used to exploit people and the environment. People who wish to exert power over others throughout history have found ways to do so. For example, men have typically found ways to exert control over women, both inside and outside of marriage, using law, religion or brute force. Slavery historically began usually with military conquest, and was followed by threat of further violence to keep slaves working for free. Wars historically have represented attempts of one people to exert control over another. So does the use of military forces against one's own people. There is a reason why they are called "military forces" after all. They are not called "military persuaders," or "military reasoners," although we all would be better off if they were persuaders and reasoners rather than people who use violence or the threat of violence to get their way. Police also have the potential to exploit people through the use of force if they are corrupt, something which happens all too often around the world.
Where do the law and money fit into all of this? Well, what may have started with brute force, winds up with law and money. The so-called "civilized" way of exploiting people is through the fascistic combination of law and money. That is largely what we are seeing now in the world, at least in places where brute force does not prevail. The Supreme Court"s Citizen's United decision is just the latest in a long series of steps legalizing of the use of money to allow those with more of it to exert control over those with less. Through the reification of money, our entire political system has been organized in such a way that money can be used as a tool for the exploitation of others -- through lobbying, advertisements, too-big-to-fail bailouts, and laws which favor big business, for example.
Throughout history, law has been used as an excuse for the exploitation of people, when applicable. I am not by any means saying that exploitation is the purpose of law, but rather, that the law is imperfect and represents the biases of the people who make it, just as, no matter how vehemently Supreme Court candidates claim that they will arbitrate the interpretation of the Constitution in a completely unbiased way, we all know that just is not the case. That is why every Supreme Court nominee undergoes political scrutiny regarding his or her politics. If they were completely unbiased, their political views theoretically would not matter one iota, a fact which I have always found to be very telling about human nature, or at least how most people respond when put in a position of authority. (I happen to believe that some Justices, such as David Souter and John Paul Stephens, both of whom were nominated by Republican Presidents, were relatively unbiased in their rulings and thus being centrists were considered "liberals" while members of the Supreme Court, an opinion which the evidence seems to support. Thus, some people are much better at avoiding the application of their personal biases than others.) Slavery was written into the U.S. Constitution, and supported by law until the practice of slavery was ended. How did this become the case? Culture, biased religious interpretations, and tradition had something to do with it, but so did money. "Money talks," the saying goes. Wealthy politicians, political donations, advertisements, and so forth, all played a role in propping up the legal status of slavery. These days, slavery may be gone, but the role of money in society is larger than ever.
Money is simply a tool through which those with power exert their will, without resorting to force. Money is rationed to employees, or the public, and used to create a legal system which perpetuates or even increases the disparities between the wealthy and the rest of us. The seriousness of the current situation is why we desperately need to disconnect big business and its money from the political process. For that matter, we must also downsize big business, both to increase competition among businesses, and to decrease the power of big business.
The larger point of this post is that we must build a civil society. I believe in democracy and the rule of law, not a law which provides excuses for abuses, but rational, compassionate law which helps all of us live happier, more productive lives. In so doing, we must not allow those who wish to exploit their fellow human beings, or abuse our planet, to have their way. The best way to do that is through the application of reasonable laws, and through the use of good, responsive democratic government. In turn, the best way to have good laws and government is to get the financial influence of wealthy individuals out of government, so that we can truly have a government of the people, for the people, and by the people, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln.
A Capital Idea Part 12: Money as a Tool for Exploiting Others
I will begin discussing the history of money now. Before I get more deeply into the topic, and do the requisite research, I wish to discuss the issue of ruling versus servant classes, and the role of money in this phenomenon.
Most of us tend to assume that such days are over, at least in "advanced" societies such as the U.S. Actually, in recent years, with the destruction of the middle class through deregulation and handing the keys of the empire, as it were, to big business, the distinction between ruling and servant classes has actually been increasing in recent years, especially in the United States.
The history of the United States as described in grade school is very idealistic. European immigrants crossed the Atlantic Ocean to escape oppression and find a new land with great opportunities. Here, they are said to have found "freedom" and therefore created a society that advanced freedom. That makes Euro-Americans the world leaders in freedom -- enjoying it and spreading it -- according to the euphemized version of history that we get in grade school. In fact, if one examines the history of money in the North American continent, American history largely represents a chance for ambitious members of the servant class to become members of the monied, ruling class. This is true not only of the United States, but of all the nations in both North and South America, where people of European descent came with little money, but were able to use the leverage of superior technology to climb from the lower parts of an old money tree to the top of a new one. In doing so, native peoples were enslaved, and when they were found unwilling to work as slaves, new slaves were imported from Africa. Much of the wealth of the Americas in its early days was built by slave labor. Thus, early Americans most likely did much more to destroy freedom than to create it. If they did create freedom, it was mainly for those who were able to climb to the top of a new financial order.
However, it was not only slaves that the new inhabitants of the Americas found to exploit. Clearly, it was natural resources, as well. Anything valuable -- foods, minerals, fur, lumber, et cetera -- were soon exploited in order to build wealth for the new inhabitants. Having abundant natural resources, the technology to exploit them, and the opportunity for the average European-American to do so, is probably what is most responsible for the economic rise of the United States over the past serveral centuries. Nations to the south of the United States had resources, too, but more limited technologies and fewer citizens given the opportunity to exploit those resources. Thus, those nations have lagged behind the United States economically. Now, however, the age of easily exploitable resources is coming to an end. Coal and oil are being burned up at an alarming rate, with no ability to replenish them, minerals are being depleted, forests disappearing, fish stocks dwindling, and so forth. As a result, we must depend upon further scientific progress, not the availability of readily exploitable resources, to provide for the future.
In any case, the exploitation of peoples, and the exploitation of natural resources, are intertwined. Society's elite previously used slave labor to exploit available resources. Now, society's elite use corporate and political influence in order to exploit the labor of a great many workers, people who are all too often "wage slaves" while not being slaves in name. Often the modern form of exploitation still involves the use of precious natural resources, although not necessarily.
It would be interesting to find out to what degree immigrating to North America facilitated people's rise from serf class to owner class, and to what degree wealth accumulated by the early settlers who became part of the new owner class, has continued through the generations to the present day. I do know that many of the early members of North America's financial elite came from backgrounds of poverty, but I think that most immigrants to North America and their families, remained relatively poor, finding themselves part of a new worker class. Let's face it; there is only room for a small percentage of wealthy people in a winner-take-all, capitalist society. Regarding the second question, there are many variables which change the wealth of families over generations, and the relative economic mobility which our culture used to engender (and supposedly still does, but that is a falsehood), ensured that the financial status of various families tended to change substantially over the generations, but not completely. It is my impression that there is a substantial class of wealthy families found largely in the northeastern U.S., which helps explain the relative concentration of wealth in that part of the nation. Most of these families have handed down wealth to their descendants for hundreds of years. I believe that there are even a few families such as that in California, where I live.
I once had a conversation with my best friend in graduate school, in which I mentioned that perhaps Euro-Americans such as us, still benefit from the slave labor of the past. I told him that I suspected the descendants of slaves still suffered economically from their poor start in American history, but even more importantly, psychologically, thus making it difficult for them to enjoy the type of prosperity found in Euro-Americans. Meanwhile, Euro-Americans still tend to enjoy the cumulative effects of generations of educational, social and economic advantages afforded them. My friend, Steve, looked at me as though he had come to a sudden realization, and he said something like "Gosh, I had never thought of it that way before." (Note that even Barack Obama, our first "Black President," is not a descendant of slaves, but rather the child of a Kenyan father and an Anglo-American mother.) Despite most peoples' lack of conscious recognition of such realities, numerous examples of entire populations which are unable to overcome prior exploitation are to be found around the world, if one only looks.
It is the use of money which makes this possible. Money probably made empires possible, with kings passing their power and wealth to their heirs, and money still makes financial empires possible, whether or not the wealthiest people rule their realms as kings. The corporate model is based on the idea of building an empire. A successful corporation is like an empire, ruled by its owner. Thus, in this distortion of reality, the owner/king/queen gets to accumulate the lion's share of wealth, while doling out crumbs of small money to employees. It is a ruling class and servant class system. Now that the keys to the empire have politically been handed to the financial elite, this system has become stronger than it has been since at least before the Civil War, here in the United States. The rich have become richer, the rest of us, poorer, and upward mobility, actually more difficult than before, though not impossible. Perhaps we have reached the limits of our money-as-capital system, and our resource situation, to create new wealth. I say it is time to trash the financial empire! Let us look at new ways of creating true wealth from which we can all benefit, ways which involve non-monetary forms of capital, and the egalitarian use of and expansion of scientific knowledge.
Next time, I will have more about the history of money.
I finally finished finals and grading chores, which have prevented me from doing blog posts for awhile. Soon, Eunice and I should be going on a vacation, but I will report on that when we return.
A Capital Idea Part 11: Nurturant Capital
Carl Jung wrote about what he called "archetypes" as part of humanity's collective unconscious. The most important archetype, Jung felt, was the mother archetype -- that is, the archetype of the nurturer. While I am not particularly an advocate of Jung's theory, I do agree that the prototype of the nurturing mother is an extremely important image to all humans. Yet, we treat mothering as something done out of love, for zero pay, as though it is of no use to our economy or to put it more directly, society's well- being.
I have to ask why that is the case, and suggest that we should consider nurturant capital, of all kinds, as a true form of capital. As with education, we would be lost without nurturing parents. A Lord of the Flies scenario suggests itself. The Lord of the Flies is a book about a bunch of British schoolboys from a ritzy private school, who are marooned on an island with no adult supervision. In the end, they basically wind up killing each other. While this is a work of fiction, and the reality would probably not be that bad, it may not be far from the truth, either. The deserters of the HMS Bounty found their way to Pitcairn Island, with their Tahitian wives or girlfriends, but when discovered a few years later, only one of the deserters was still alive, and he would not talk about what had happened to the others. (There were still several of the Tahitian women and a number of children they had with the deserters, whose descendants still occupy Pitcairn Island to this day, but only one of the original men remained.) In any case, as helpless as we are as infants, none of us would have survived more than a few days without being taken care of. All of us literally owe our lives to nurturers, whomever they may have been!
Thus, nurturance -- the sharing of resources with those less able to gather their own -- could be considered the most important source of capital of all! Clearly, this is antithetical to the philosophy of financial capitalism, which is about collecting capital and using it to gain more capital, not for sharing, but for oneself. Rich people may share their wealth, but that is usually more out of a sense of pity, guilt, gratitude, or even a need to glorify themselves -- something called egoism -- than as a necessary condition of living and being a responsible member of society. In other words, any charity by the wealthy means going above and beyond the call of duty. Rather than viewing nurturance this way, which I feel is toxic to society, I propose that we celebrate it and imbue it with true value, not just lip service. This issue is much like the situation with education in the sense that society would disintegrate without it, yet it is easily taken for granted and devalued.
Moving beyond the mothering concept, nurturance also includes: fathering, mentoring, coaching, foster parenting, taking care of pets, other animals, yards or other plants, environmentalism which contributes to the well-being of our planet -- in short, any actions which contribute to the well being of other life and our planet. Of course, there are mothers' days, fathers' days, awards for parents, and tax breaks for parents, but these are small recognition compared to the worth of peoples' nurturing efforts. Perhaps the smile on a child's face, or the affection of a grateful pet, is all the reward that one needs, but there must be a better way to treat the nurturers of the world fairly and give them the support and recognition that they deserve -- perhaps a parenting stipend, for example. However, in an economy based upon non-financial capital, it would be much easier to grant individuals their human rights, which includes the right to be properly nurtured and cared for by one's elders. This is far from being the case in the world that I know.
In conclusion, let me state that love is the greatest capital of all. I plan to do my next post or several posts in this series about the history and concept of money.
A Capital Idea Part 10: Well-Being as Capital
Presumably, the entire idea of capital is to create more well-being -- health, happiness and security. Capital represents resources which can be used to create more resources, which leads to more well-being. In that sense, this post gets to the heart of the matter.
Abundant evidence from psychological research indicates that happiness makes people more productive. Conversely, being productive makes people more happy. In terms of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, generativity is essentially the second highest goal people have in life, with integrity being the ultimate goal. In terms of humanistic theory as proposed by Carl Rogers as well as Abraham Maslow, the goal of personal development is self-actualization, which can be conceived as being the ultimate in well-being. Psychological research which touches on this topic is generally in agreement that the consequences of true well-being (health, the desire to be generative, self-actualization) are good in terms of productivity. (This is in contrast to the disingenuous self-esteem, narcissism and false sense of entitlement which is so prevalent in our capitalist society, especially among the rich.)
The amount of productive work lost to depression, anxiety disorders, and the self-medication of drug abuse is enormous. Were we able to significantly reduce these problems, our workforce would be much more productive. Unfortunately, our winner-take-all social and political system, and fast-paced, you-can-and-should-have-it-all mindset, makes it inevitable that a large proportion of our population will continue to struggle with such problems until our system changes. Similarly, the cost of health problems in terms of lost productivity is enormous as well. Yet, even though the United States has the latest available medical technology, our for-profit health care system ensures that the majority of our population (including myself) will continue to find adequate health care extraordinarily expensive, thus shunning the system to the point that it is inevitable that the health of the average American will suffer and be worse than that of people in other nations, whose politicians long ago understood, unlike our stupid leaders who are blinded by capitalistic greed, that health care is a right which benefits society in terms of health, happiness and economic productivity. Despite the recent health care bill's passage, we for now will continue to suffer under a for-profit health care system, and the cost of health insurance for people such as myself is likely to continue to increase.
To go one step further, well-being is itself a form of capital. Our health is a resource which, used productively, can be used to ensure further health and happiness. Similarly, happiness is a resource which, used wisely, can lead to future happiness and the spreading of happiness to others. True happiness (in contrast to the false happiness of narcissistically based egotism) is self-replicating in a sense, like a form of life, a virus that produces good. What could be a better form of capital than that? Some people have even proposed using a happiness index rather than indices of economic prosperity to measure the success of a society. The leader of one nation (I forget which, but I think it was in Asia) suggested using just such a happiness index. I wholeheartedly agree with this approach.
The happiness of being productive, healthy, doing good, and spreading happiness to others is the true measure of a society's well-being and success. Societies in which conflict prevails are doomed to being unproductive until they figure out how to get along with each other and create a happier society, and those in which oppression prevails will continue to thwart human potential and productivity until the oppression ends. It is not about business, capitalism, building factories, etc. It is about cooperation and developing and using our understanding to create a better society. The better we do this, the better future we create. Now, that is true capital. After all, what could represent the concept of capital better than something which creates a beneficial, happy, productive, progressive future? I say it is high time that we, as a society, recognize the reality of well-being as true capital.
A Capital Idea Part 9: Spiritual Capital
Today, I propose an even more unconventional form of capital -- spiritual capital. This is related to moral capital, but not the same. By spiritual capital, I refer to our human spirit, and our quest for spiritual understanding. (Other animals may have a spirit as well.) The basic fact of our common humanity, as sentient, spiritual beings, gives us certain human rights, including a right to our share of vital resources available to other humans as well. Meanwhile, the individual's quest for spiritual understanding merits respect. People should have a right to and chance to engage in their spiritual endeavors as they see fit.
The importance of spiritual capital in practical terms is that it forms the basis of a sense of ethics, a sense of human rights. Spiritual capital is not limited to the religious, or even those who believe in a higher power. Even atheists enjoy a sense of spiritual capital when they try to prevent suffering. Agnostics, in fact, may be the most active in terms of undergoing a spiritual journey. Agnostics are more open-minded than people who adhere to a religion, and ask the larger spiritual questions, although people with specific religious beliefs also have important spiritual questions.
To put the issue into perspective, if we were machines, with no feeling, desires or spirit, there would be no need to be concerned about how we treat each other. People could be put into factories and worked to death, to be replaced by new ones, without any moral compunction. In fact, this is pretty much the case in many factories around the world, and used to be the case in the U.S. as well, until a populist workers' rights movements put a stop to child labor and horrible factory working conditions. Recently, I have been reading about the suicides and death by exhaustion of Foxxconn workers in China. Foxxconn is a Chinese computer company, that my stepdaughter used to work for here in the U.S. as an accountant. She always complained that they made her work overtime without pay, and on holidays, and generally overworked and mistreated their employees. Apparently, she wasn't exagerrating. The way Foxxconn's factory employees in China are treated is, clearly, much worse than what Isabella experienced. Of course, Foxxconn is only an example of a corporation not respecting its employees' human -- in other words, spiritual -- rights.
The point of this post is not to elevate the status of people who make a life of the pursuit of spiritual activities. Rather, we all have a certain level of spiritual capital. People who place their lives' focus on spirituality, however, do deserve respect for their spirituality and strong sense of ethics. We all, as persons of conscience, should be allowed to pursue our own forms of spirituality. It may be said that perhaps I should be writing about emotional capital. I will deal with that in a separate post, but compared with human happiness, spiritual capital recognizes us as part of a larger reality, not a self-contained one. Matter/energy is neither created nor destroyed in the universe. We are part of something eternal. We must always pursue the most ethical possible lifestyle keeing in mind our oneness as part of a larger reality, and the timelessness of this reality.
People who abuse the human rights of others, and deny their spiritual desires, including big businesses which behave in such ways, are spiritual offenders. They degrade and use the spiritual capital of their workers, and even their customers, in the pursuit of profit. Thus, I say, spiritual capital is real, and deserves to be considered as such. This is the best way to create a truly ethical society.
A Capital Idea Part 8: Is it Possible to have a Corruption-Free Society?
This is a corollary of the moral capital post from two days ago.
Corruption degrades any moral capital that a society has. Currently, we in the United States are in a state of massive corruption at a financial level, corruption which has invaded our political system, eroding its moral capital. Furthermore, this state of corruption has been spreading around the world in recent years with the advent of huge international corporations. Some degree of corruption has seemingly been the norm historically, but much worse at some times than others.
This begs the question: Can we somehow build a corruption-free society, one in which fairness prevails? For that matter, can an incorruptible society be built? I do not have any ready answers for these questions, but feel I must do my best to address them. In order to emphasize the importance of this matter, let me point out that a sense of fairness is extremely important to people's psychological well-being. The more people feel that society is set up in a biased way, which unfairly favors some over others, the more downtrodden and exploited they feel, and thus, the more angry and miserable. We are seeing this phenomenon at present, in the form of anger directed at banks, financial institutions, big business (most of all, oil companies), insurance companies, and government. Anger lead to demands for change, which can result in denial and further repression by the powers that be, constructive progress, or violent revolution. We as a people -- people of the entire world, in fact -- must insist that the course of constructive progess be the one taken. This is a crucial role of the public in the use of moral capital. It is the public's use of its own moral capital, to insist that government be a place of moral capital.
Encouraging politicians to behave in a moral way can help reduce government corruption, but it is not likely to eliminate government corruption. Similarly, attempts to regulate the financial industries and other businesses to prevent abuses is not likely to prevent all abuses, but certainly such attempts will help. Theoretically, if society is somehow purged of all corruptible persons, and regulations are extremely thorough and efficient at preventing or punishing abuses, the regulatory process could result in a corruption-free society. This is, however, extremely unlikely.
It seems to me that as long as financial capital and financial capitalism exists, which by its nature encourages excesses under the delusion of never-ending gain, society will be strapped with unfairness and corruption to some degree, sometimes more, sometimes less. An objective program to create fair wages and prices for services and products could be a great help, but there still would be people who might be tempted to and actually find ways to cheat the system, and it would still be possible for financial monopolies to form. The inevitable conclusion that this line of thinking leads me to, is that if we are to ultimately have a corruption-free (or nearly so) or better yet, an incorruptible (or nearly so) society, is to base its economy on other forms of capital rather than financial capital.
Capital represents resources, which clearly are needed in order to sustain an economy. It seems to me that the most straightforward way to run an economy other than through financial capital, is through resource capital, as promoted by The Venus Project. As discussed previously, this presumes having abundant resources of whatever nature is needed, and the means of equitably distributing these resources. There are also the problems of incentives for work and having a sense of fairness when all people are legally entitled to their share of the resources regardless of their contributions or lack thereof. Personally, I think that all of these issues can be addressed in a resource-based economy. In addition to a resource-based economy, however, I believe that in order to create the fairest, happiest and most progressive possible society, we should formally integrate other forms of capital into the economic system. For example, as morally conscientious beings, we should recognize the rights of all persons to a certain share of the available resources, and we should encourage and reward the good conscience of other members of society. In terms of work capital or intellectual capital, we should find ways to reward people's contributions, fairly and without creating inordinate wealth or monopolies. Similarly, with other forms of capital not yet discussed, such as spiritual capital, we need to find ways of using the economic system to appreciate people's spiritual wisdom. The best approach to creating a non-corrupt society is a balanced, integrated one involving all forms of capital. Perhaps some form of money may even play a role in such an integrated economic approach. So-called "token economies" are a popular way of shaping the behavior of institutionalized people.
If you think the idea of an economy not based on money seems like a lousy idea, consider the following: When monopolies are no longer possible, financial corruption in the forms we are currently seeing, will neither be possible. When there is no money to steal, there will be no robbers. Without money, there would be no rich lobbyists or corporate influence on government. True democracy would be much more possible without money doing the talking. When people are no longer stressed over finances, there will be less impetus for domestic abuse, and less psychopathology. I cannot say that such a society would be completely without conflict or crime, but the preconditions leading to conflict and crime would be much diminished. Also, cultures with economies based on non-financial forms of capital would be freer than current ones to promote the prosocial socialization of its children. Government and society itself act as role models. Current role models are woefully inadequate and corrupt. Once corruption diminishes, creating a society of morally grounded, well-socialized individuals will become much easier.
And consider this: Throughout much of human history, people got by without money. Money is a relatively recent invention, and in reality, an artificial form of capital. People used to live in small, subsistence-oriented bands. Now, we live in large acquisition-oriented cultures. Perhaps the age of money we are currently going through is a stage in human evolution. Money has been of some use since its inception, but its time of usefulness may be on the verge of ending. I see no reason why members of modern societies cannot live together like family, without the undue influence of money, in an economy based upon truer forms of capital.
A Capital Idea Part 7: Moral Capital
We have probably all heard the term "moral authority" on occasion. I submit here that there is such a thing as moral capital, which may be more important ultimately than financial capital, and which, neglecting as it seems to be in our nation currently, leads to disaster.
The United States used to have a sense of moral authority. We were the nation which led the world in democracy, and rode our white horses to the rescue of besieged nations around the world. However, our international corporations, our leaders, and their militaristic supporters have been unable to restrain themselves from building an empire, have not been able to prevent themselves from supporting dictators who support the United States' government, and have failed to stop themselves from becoming the world's bully, feared and despised around much of the world. I guess this is just another example of the "top dog" phenomenon, or maybe a "big pig" phenomenon. People who want power, all too often want power for power's sake. They wallow in it like pigs in the mud, no matter how they got there, and they cannot prevent themselves from abusing their power. The old saying "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" comes to mind.
What are we to do about the erosion of the United States' moral authority? One thing we can do is to elect leaders who are not interested in world hegemony, who are uncorruptible and retain a sense of moral authority, if such candidates can be found. Barack Obama may be such a leader, and has given the world much hope, but so far, this remains more of a hope than a reality. Another thing we can do is to encourage the United States to work in a cooperative and egalitarian or even altruistic manner with other nations, rather than an authoritarian, militaristic manner. We need to build good will again, and respect other nations and their governments within reasonable limits. We need to build schools, roads, and all types of infrastructure, not guns, bombs, warplanes and warships. Third, we need to strenthen a sense of moral authority within the United States. We have reached a point where the financial bilking of the public is being rewarded with huge bailouts, and have long since reached the point where misanthropic behavior by celebrities is largely excused or denied by the media most of the public. The rapists of America -- as in those who are raping our great nation -- are hiding in plain sight, under the cover of public self-delusion.
Sigmund Freud had only 19 patients during his career as an early psychiatrist in Vienna, Austria, circa 1900, and the vast majority of them eventually revealed to Freud how they had been molested as children. However, upon presenting his theory that sexual molestation was a major cause of psychological disorder, he was disbelieved and discounted by his colleagues. Afterward, Freud decided that no molestations of his patients had actually occured. Instead, he postulated that such reports were childhood fantasies about one's opposite sex parent, an idea which became a cornerstone of Freud's theory of psychosexual development. As a result, Freud's radically different and sexy theory became wildly popular, despite its appalling inadequacies, and set back the search for truth in psychology and the treatment of victims of child abuse, by something like 100 years. Yet here we are, in the year 2010, still in a state of moral denial for the most part, regarding the behavior of our nation and its more prominant inhabitants. We have learned to take the mistreatment of women and children, and minorities of all kinds -- those less able to defend themselves -- more seriously than in the past, especially among those of us who are aware of these problems and their consequences, but far too many Americans still harbor biases which lead to the unfair treatment and victimization of blameless people. If the people of the United States wish to be world leaders, it must be in a moral sense -- as a shining example of what humanity is capable of -- not in a "top dog" use-of-force sense.
Finally, we owe it to ourselves to be persons of good conscience. Moral capital exists on both societal and personal levels. How is personal morality rewarded? For one, people of moral integrity reward themselves through having a clear conscience regarding their actions and decisions. According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, the final stage of personality development, in late adulthood, involves the quest for a sense of integrity. Psychologically healthy people have moral integrity, but psychologically unhealthy people do not. Furthermore, abundant evidence by modern psychologists shows that having a clear conscience is indeed good for people, both in terms of psychological and physical health. On the other hand, there is nothing worse for a person than living under siege from one's own conscience. Secondly, moral behavior is usually rewarded by other people, especially by those who know and love us the best. Successful marriages and parent/child relations are based largely on the integrity of the marriage partners and of the parents, respectively. The kindness of strangers or acquaintances, even, tends to represent a sort of reciprocity. People tend to respond in kind to others who introduce themselves in a friendly, trustworthy way, as a person with integrity. There is a strong and good tradition of valuing reciprocity and prosocial behavior, found widely among religions and philosophical traditions of the world. This helps create a better world and happier lives for all of us, and especially, for those of us who practice peace, love understanding, and kindness as a matter of course.
A Capital Idea Part 6: Ideas as Capital
Ideas are what really changes the world, for better or ill, but mostly for better, since good ideas have a self-perpetuating property. Ideas are a real form of capital, of inestimable worth in many cases. In this category, I am including artwork, creative projects, and scientific inventions -- which includes the overlapping intellectual and scientific capital categories in my list of capital's forms.
There are two sides to ideas as capital, in my thinking. One is that the people who come up with useful ideas such as good books or inventions, should be well-paid, and in fact, the best paid members of society. All too often, it is entrepreneurial capitalists using the ideas of others who become rich by exploiting these ideas, while their originators languish in relative poverty. However, the idea of intellectual "property" is truly a dubious one. It has reached ludicrous proportions in the case of corporations trying to copyright genes, for example. The fact is, every idea, every possible invention, is basically a discovery of what is already there, not a creation of its finder. Furthermore, those who make these discoveries are only able to do so because of the cooperative work of many people. Ideas do not happen in a vacuum. Thus, ultimately, ideas should belong to the public.
How do we appropriately reward peoples' creative products while also recognizing their role as part of humanity's common wealth? One way is recognition of a person's achievements, as in Nobel Prizes, or the so-called "genius awards," to use some extreme examples. However, very few of us can enjoy such recognition. There should be more awards and forms of recognition. Another way to reward good ideas is of course, financial. Copyrights, profits from sales, and residuals can be used to reward people for their good ideas. However, instead of being in perpetuity to the heirs of the person, sales profits and residuals could expire when the person dies, and subsequently, become the collective property of the public, as it should be and as Thom Hartmann has suggested.
For me, the point of this exercise is that, intellectual capital is an extremely important entity whose economic role merits careful consideration. In order to have a progressive society -- that is, one that strives toward progress as well as it can -- we need to have a policy relating to intellectual capital which allows it to do the most possible good. This means, not making intellectual capital the exclusive, or even the primary, domain of private enterprise. In the system we have now, intellectual capital does seem to be primarily under the control of private enterprise, although there are some exceptions. We need to change cases of public ownership of intellectual property from being the exception to being the rule!
This is a complex topic, balancing individual rights and needs with societal rights and needs. We cannot pretend that the situation is anything but that. We all want, need, and deserve to be recognized for our accomplishments. I believe that can be done using awards, rewards and pay, while still recognizing the role of the larger society in allowing a person to have the ideas or inventions in the first place, and allowing the good results to be used for the benefit of society without making everyone who uses them pay fealties, making one or a few people (think Bill Gates) rediculously rich while draining the wallets of those who provided the social infrastructure which made the idea possible in the first place. Here is an idea that I just had: I propose that we create a repository of ideas, inventions and creative products which represent humanity's common wealth -- intellectual capital which can never again be exploited as private property for personal gain.
A Capital Idea Part 5: Valuing our Work
Traditional business is run autocratically. The owners set the price of their employees' salaries and the price of the goods or services produced by the business, except that they cannot pay them less than the minimum wage in nations that have a minimum wage. Employees can unionize, at least in some places, to negotiate better wages, or negotiate individually, but still, the business owner is in charge of setting prices. This situation creates an inherent bias in favor of the business owner, such that the owner winds up far richer than any employee, a fact which can be justified by the business owner's special status, even when some employees may actually contribute more than the owner toward the success of the business. Business friendly law and government policies which give tax breaks and benefits to businesses, and reduce the regulation of businesses, exacerbate this situation. Every time I do my taxes, I am astounded -- actually, disgusted may be a better word for it -- when I see on my H & R Taxcut program how far government leans toward the side of business to give them tax breaks. It is businesses which rake in the money which can most afford to pay taxes, yet somehow, conservatives have somehow convinced politicians through the use of lobbyists that giving tax breaks to the rich is good for our economy, by stimulating business activity among the financial elite. Meanwhile, businesses are giving their employees end-of-year bonuses, many billions of dollar worth of them, while our nation and others flounder in debt. I have never had a bonus in my life, and never expect to. In fact, much of the productive work that I have done has never been paid at all. The most maddening thing about the economy that we find ourselves in, is the blatant and extreme unfairness of the system which was created by others. I want to work toward re-creating a system which is more fair for all, reforms which I believe would have tremendous benefits of all kinds -- not only economic benefits, but also psychological and social benefits which will enhance the cultural evolution of humankind.
I wrote in my blog before about reforming our pay structure to create greater economic fairness. To summarize, I suggested that we have a government committee which, with input from citizens, determines fair prices for the efforts of workers in various industries. At times, citizens might even vote on the value of various services, making this a very democratic process, but for the most part, a group of impartial experts would determine as objectively as possible, how to value the various efforts of workers. This is the valuing of our efforts and talents which was mentioned (in 2 places) in my list of types of capital in part 1 of this series. Whenever possible, people should be paid according to the value of the actual effort put forth by the person in producing something or doing something of value. If this is not feasible, a value should be placed on the product itself. For example, imported goods from foreign countries would have a certain value for each product. With this system, businesses could no longer determine the prices of their products; the prices would be set for them, and the businesses would be out of the empire-building business. In addition to the reform of salaries as described above, businesses would not be able to use their money as leverage to increase their share of the market through advertising, as before. Rather than advertising, there would be a variety of consumer and government groups which objectively evaluate products and produce reports featuring the characteristics, merits and problems with each product, as Consumer Reports -- which helped Eunice and myself select a Honda Fit to be our new car -- does now. These reports would be widely available, so that no consumer need be ignorant of a product's merits or lack thereof prior to purchasing something, nor would any consumer be subjected to dishonest or indirect feel-good -- so-called preipheral route processing -- messages which present products as desirable even when they offer nothing of value to the consumer. What advertising is allowed, would have to meet strict, objective standards of honesty and relevance to the product. Also outlawed would be the lobbyist profession. Businesses would not be allowed to use their money to leverage greater influence through lobbies, either. At the same time, regulatory practices which have been used in the past would be reinstituted, such as breaking up corporations which become too large, using the Sherman Antitrust Act.
I feel this system would actually encourage competition, not hinder it. Businesses which produce a better product more efficiently, while still paying their workers the required salaries, would be able to sell more of their product, so that some businesses would do better than others. Some would go out of business, while new businesses would start up from time to time. Businesses would not be allowed to use their money as leverage to create more wealth, power and political influence, as they currently do; thus, the success of a business would be more purely based on its effectiveness in producing something of value, while still treating its employees fairly. Value added taxes would be another option to consider in this revamped salary system.
Finally, as I proposed in a previous post, we should eliminate the stock market. As I see it, the stock market serves no purpose of value, and in fact, is only a counterproductive gambling exercise on a massive scale. It adds to the instability, and unfairness of our economic system, while in all likelihood reducing productivity, and employs a great many individuals unproductively. The same holds true of the various other forms of economic gambling such as the derivatives market. We would still have banks, but they would be ones which perform traditional services of value such as providing loans and savings accounts. The Federal Reserve should be replaced by a government entity which regulates our money supply, and the use of credit unions, co-ops or other non-profit banks should be encouraged by government policy.
You might wonder what all the out-of-work advertisers, lobbyists, stock market traders and financial specialists would do in this reformed, democratic-business (as opposed to empire-business) economy. Their background would make them well-suited as salespeople, or perhaps business owners, which would still be needed. In fact, with the great improvement in the economy likely to result from these reforms, we will need more salespeople and business owners than before. These people would not have the opportunity to get as rich as before, but at least they would be paid a fair, living wage as would the rest of the workers who participate in the economy.
All of this presupposes the continuation of reliance on a monetary system. As discussed in the previous two posts, my inclination is to hope that society eventually evolves to the point where it uses a Star Trek-like, system of incentives which value people's contributions, and confirmation of human rights which need not involve money -- but one must walk before one can run. These changes work with our monetary system in ways which are feasible, which can really be done in the relatively near future (say, a few decades at the most) if we have the political will as a people, and can set the stage for further societal evolution. The system I described may seem complex, but actually, while indeed it is complex, the legal infrastucture for much of it is already in place, and it would probably be less complex than the convoluted system that has sprouted up around us over the years (just take a look, for instance, at how complex our tax code is), like a garden full of economic weeds. I say it is time to pull those weeds, and let a democratic business model designed to create economic fairness and well-being, bloom.
A Capital Idea Part 4: The Venus Project
It has a sort of other worldly sound to it -- Venus, the planet -- and a sexy connotation -- Venus, the Greek Goddess of Love. It advocates a world without money, like the utopian Star Trek vision of the future which has always appealed to me. Actually, though, The Venus Project is named after a town in Florida where the project's headquarters is. Perhaps founder Jacques Fresco picked Venus, Florida to be the headquarters of this culmination of his life's work, because he likes the name. I really don't know. With global warming threatening to significantly raise sea levels, I wouldn't pick Florida to be the base for any long-term project, but Jacques Fresco did. In any case, The Venus Project is a serious attempt to present and put into action ideas which its proponents feel can transform the world to be a vastly better place.
The main idea of The Venus Project, which I was introduced to me by my friend Dissident Priest, and encouraged to explore by another friend, Tim ODonnell, is that we should go to a resource-based economy. Furthermore, Fresco asserts that there are abundant resources available to give all people a great standard of living, sustainably and indefinitely. The only obstacles to this great standard of living, Fresco asserts, are the implementation of the necessary technology, and the proper distribution of the resources. If this is reflected in my previous post, that is intentional. Yes, I am by and large an advocate of The Venus Project and its approach. But do I accept its ideology without reservation? No, I find Fresco's utopian vision of the future too neat and flawless, much like that of Karl Marx, or for that matter, Fresco's inspiration Edward Bellamy and his futuristic books about a world in which public capital prevails. It is all too easy to convince oneself that a certain course of action will solve all of our problems without creating new ones.
Nonetheless, on Monday, I joined The Venus Project as a member and signed up for its newsletter. (I have not received any yet.) Among the immediate goals of the project are:
"Jacque Fresco, futurist, inventor, industrial designer and founder of The Venus Project and his associate Roxanne Meadows have completed the construction of a 25-acre research center in Venus, Florida to help present the proposals of The Venus Project. Videos, pamphlets, and a recently published book, The Best That Money Can't Buy: Beyond Politics, Poverty, and War, have been created to help raise awareness about this project and its many proposals.
Phase Two includes the production of a full-length feature film that will depict how a world embracing the proposals advanced by The Venus Project would work. This film would provide a positive vision of a peaceful society in which all human beings form a global family on planet Earth. A civilization in which all people are engaged in the pursuit of a better understanding of the world they share. This film has been designed to be an entertaining and educational experience for both adults and children."
To test its designs and proposals The Venus Project is working towards putting its ideals into practice by the construction of an experimental research city. Blueprints for most of the initial technologies and buildings have begun. Fund-raising efforts are currently under way to help support the construction of this first experimental city. This new experimental research city would be devoted to working towards the aims and goals of The Venus Project, which are:
1. Realizing the declaration of the world's resources as being the common heritage of all people.
2. Transcending the artificial boundaries that currently and arbitrarily separate people.
3. Replacing money-based nationalistic economies with a resource-based world economy.
4. Assisting in stabilizing the worlds population through education and voluntary birth control.
5. Reclaiming and restoring the natural environment to the best of our ability.
6. Redesigning cities, transportation systems, agricultural industries, and industrial plants so that they are energy efficient, clean, and able to conveniently serve the needs of all people.
7. Gradually outgrowing corporate entities and governments, (local, national, or supra- national) as means of social management.
8. Sharing and applying new technologies for the benefit of all nations.
9. Developing and using clean renewable energy sources.
10. Manufacturing the highest quality products for the benefit of the worlds people.
11. Requiring environmental impact studies prior to construction of any mega projects.
12. Encouraging the widest range of creativity and incentive toward constructive endeavour.
13. Outgrowing nationalism, bigotry, and prejudice through education.
14. Eliminating elitism, technical or otherwise.
15. Arriving at methodologies by careful research rather than random opinions.
16. Enhancing communication in schools so that our language is relevant to the physical conditions of the world.
17. Providing not only the necessities of life, but also offering challenges that stimulate the mind while emphasizing individuality rather than uniformity.
18. Finally, preparing people intellectually and emotionally for the changes and challenges that lie ahead.
After the research experimental city is built, a theme park is also planned that will both entertain and inform visitors about the possibilities for humane and environmentally friendly life-styles planned by The Venus Project. It will feature intelligent houses; high-efficiency, non polluting transportation systems; advanced computer technology; and a number of other innovations that can add value to the lives of all people - in a very short period of time.
No one can actually predict the future. We can only extrapolate on present information and trends. Population growth, technological change, worldwide environmental conditions, and available resources are the primary criteria for future projections.
There is no single philosophy or point of view whether religious, political, scientific, or ideological, that someone would not take issue with. We feel certain, however, that the only aspects of The Venus Project that may appear threatening are those which others project onto it.
The Venus Project is neither Utopian nor Orwellian, nor does it reflect the dreams of impractical idealists. Instead, it presents attainable goals requiring only the intelligent application of what we already know. The only limitations are those which we impose upon ourselves" (The Venus Project Aims and Proposals).
In addition to the above, I understand that The Venus Project has produced two movies "Zeitgiest movie and Zeitgeist movie addendum" (PHASE TWO?) and a free book. There is also a long, explanatory essay by Jacques Fresco on The Venus Project's website. Here are some relevant quotes from the essay (The Future and Beyond, by Jacques Fresco). Regarding the issue of motivation in a system in which everyone is provided with their basic needs:
"MOTIVATION, INCENTIVE & CREATIVITY
It is claimed that the so-called free-enterprise system creates incentive. This may be true, but it also perpetuates greed, embezzlement, corruption, crime, stress, economic hardship, and insecurity. In addition, the argument that the monetary system and competition generate incentive does not always hold true. Most of our major developments in science and technology have been the result of the efforts of very few individuals working independently and often against great opposition. Such contributors as Goddard, Galileo, Darwin, Tesla, Edison, and Einstein were individuals who were genuinely concerned with solving problems and improving processes rather than with mere financial gain. Actually, very often there is much mistrust in those whose incentive is entirely motivated by monetary gain, this can be said for lawyers, businessmen, salesman and those in just about any field.
Some may question that if the basic necessities are accessible to all people, what will motivate them? This is tantamount to saying that children reared in affluent environments, in which their parents provide all the necessary food, clothing, shelter, nutrition, and extensive education, will demonstrate a lack of incentive or initiative. There is no evidence to support this fallacious assumption. There is overwhelming evidence to support the facts that malnutrition, lack of employment, low wages, poor health, lack of direction, lack of education, homelessness, little or no reinforcement for one's efforts, poor role models, poverty, and a bleak prospect for the future do create monumental individual and social problems, and significantly reduce an individuals drive to achieve. The aim of a resource based economy is to encourage and develop a new incentive system, one no longer directed toward the shallow and self-centered goals of wealth, property, and power. These new incentives would encourage people to pursue different goals, such as self-fulfillment and creativity, the elimination of scarcity, the protection of the environment, and the alleviation of suffering in their fellow human beings."
I am largely in agreement with this statement, but find it to be vague. Also, people do respond to incentives. They do not have to be financial ones, but rewards, as well as the fostering of intrinsic motivation, are crucial to the individual's role in creating achievements. We must recognize, though, as Fresco understands, that our achievements are dependent upon the contributions of others and the social infrastructure which makes such contributions possible.
Regarding communism, which seems to be very similar to what The Venus Project is advocating:
"Many years ago an attempt was made in the U. S. to understand a social and economic system different from our own. A film called "The March of Time" had this to say about Soviet Communism: "We believe that the American free-enterprise system will function better than the collective system. However, we wish you the best of luck on your new and unusual social experiment." The failure of communism to provide for human needs and to enrich the lives of its citizens is not unlike our own failures. Both failure and success are inherent in the on-going experiment that is social evolution. In all established social systems it is necessary to devise different approaches to improve the workings of the system."
Rather than endorsing a particular political system, Fresco's approach is an apolitical one-world approach. The approach seems to be all about economics. The only reference to politics that I can find is the following listed among the aims and goals of the project:
"6. Evolving towards a cybernated society that can gradually outgrow the need for all political local, national, and supra-national governments as a means of social management."
It seems that Fresco sees no need for politics in the future, an idea which I must remain skeptical of, to say the least. At the very least, we need people to regulate the distribution of resources, and people to make important decisions or execute the will of the public. This essay is very long, so what I have presented here are just a few small excerpts from it.
How I see my role in processing the information from The Venus Project is to critique it without rejecting it. Rather, I would like to use my perspective to interact with, add to and modify the ideas presented in The Venus Project, to create a more feasible direction for future societal evolution, one that avoids likely pitfalls of the system proposed by The Venus Project's creators. I suggest anyone else who reads this essay or sees The Venus Project material to do the same. As it currently exists, The Venus Project may seem pretty much a "pie in the sky," dreamy utopian vision of the future, but we need this type of vision as a starting point to create a better world. Better visions have a way of leading to better realities.
A Capital Idea Part 3: Resources as Capital
I have often wondered how people can "own" land, or the seas for that matter, among other things. Apparently many other people have had the same thought. Native Americans thought that the concept of land ownership was ludicrous, when European settlers came to this land and claimed the land for their own. Given the current popularity of Native American land-sharing ideology among Euro-Americans, their idea seems to be catching on. Despite this trend, our capitalistic system is fueling an opposing trend, in which even genes are seen by some as property which can be copywrited. As another example, in fact, naturally occuring substances have long been usurped by pharmaceutical companies, as their property to be used for their own profit.
It is true that European settlers took over this land and have dominated this continent, using a capitalistic economic system, but basically, the immigrants employed an exploitative system -- exploitative of both people and natural resources -- to create an ultimately unsustainable economy, sort of a huge, long-term bubble economy. So far, the resources upon which it relies -- and the cheap labor -- have not run out, but our resources are much degraded, as is our natural environment. The phrase, "penny wise and pound foolish" comes to mind.
We need to adopt the idea that our true wealth lies in our renewable, natural resources. This wealth, like land, cannot truly be owned, but rather, is part of our "commonwealth," a word the founders of this nation were fond of using. We must share the land, share the resources, share our knowledge, and recognize that our accomplishments depend upon the contributions of others. I have written about creating a "green" economy before. Here, I submit that having a "green" economy means recognizing the value of our shared resources. Furthermore, it means recognizing the importance of developing sustainable resources. The fact that we continue to have available natural resources to drive our economy, though nonrenewable ones such as coal and oil are dwindling, and even renewable ones such as timber are at far lower levels than what the early European settlers found, shows that this planet contains enormous resources and potential resources. But these resources are not limitless, and their use has enormous consequences, such as global warming, and the "sixth extinction" which, tragically, is causing many species to go extinct due to human activities.
The main difference between the traditional Native American approach, and the modern renewable resource approach, is the use of science as a tool for creating a sustainable approach to the economy, with a good standard of living for all. Scientific research can tell us the limits of our resources, but more importantly, can be used to create more efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly ways of using the resources that we have. For example, solar energy capture technology is being deployed more and more frequently around the world, although not nearly as much as it should. Changes for the better are happening, but at a very slow pace, distressingly, probably at a slower pace than negative consequences of our traditional practices are piling up. In other words, we are "tinkering around the edges" of the problem, trying to increase recycling and the use of sustainable forms of energy, for example, but still not stemming the tide of environmental degradation which our ancestors set into motion. There seems to be an innate fear of change, at least in enough people to make true change difficult.
We should not be afraid of change. The only way to correct the errors of the past, is to be fearless in embracing that which can improve our world. If we continue to rely upon old technologies, such as the profligate use of coal and oil, eventually our entire society will collapse. I think the recognition of that is motivating most of us to modify our behavior in minor ways, but unless faced with the spector of social collapse, most people are unwilling to deploy the best available technologies, or even political or economic systems. It seems so much easier and comfortable to stick with the familiar and known. But even the so-called "familiar and known" has a way of degrading into counterproductive and unpredictable, and lead to people clinging to "sacred" or "honored" traditions based on false premises. What we really need is a paradigm shift in our thinking, to overcome the inertia of tradition and established practices, an inertia which prevents us from seeing our resources as the precious gifts of the earth that they really are.
A Capital Idea Part 2: We Are All in This Together, Economically
"Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money." ~ Cree Indian Proverb. (From Thom Hartmann via David Walker)
The fundamental problem with the idea of financial capital, to summarize capital in its various forms, is that it is conceptualized as being private in nature. It is something that someone owns, supposedly through merit, and uses at one's own discretion. The concept of money is an outgrowth of the concept of wealth as conceptualized by emperors, wealthy noblemen and industrialists. Theoretically, every individual has his or her own store of private capital, but in fact, it is a way of concentrating resources and power in the name of certain individuals. Some people, including children and the infirm, are unable to participate in the capitalistic economic system. The great majority participate as workers rather than owners, but are at a tremendous disadvantage in this system compared to owners, or those who work with the capital for a living. Thus, merit becomes disconnected from outcomes.
A book called Looking Backward was written in the year 1887 by a man named Edward Bellamy. While I have only read an excerpt from this book, I understand it was a fantasy about a man named West who suddenly was transported to the year 2000. When he got there, it turned out that everyone in society basically worked as a team, and instead of money, used what Bellamy termed, "public capital." Apparently, Bellamy was motivated by his observations of poverty in the late 1800s, and the insidious role of corporate wealth and power in creating and perpetuating social disparities among peoples. Unfortunately, Bellamy died only a few years later (from tuberculosis, I think), although he did produce a follow-up book to Looking Backward. Nonetheless, Looking Backward was the second most widely read book in the United States in the 1800s, quite an accomplishment. The system Bellamy described was not communism, but actually predates the communist movement in the world. Similar to the concept of communism as envisioned by Karl Marx, however, Bellamy's book was a utopian vision of a world in which private corporatism and the exploitation of labor was a thing of the past, and people progressed through shared efforts and pooled resources, the "public capital" from which a person could draw what was needed. As far as I can tell, the main substantive difference between Bellamy's vision and Marx's vision, was that Bellamy advocated the continuance of a democratic framework of government, while Marx advocated a strong but philanthropic central government which fairly allocates resources, and whose members rise to power through merit of works rather than through democratic means (or perhaps Marx failed to discuss how people were supposed to reach responsible positions in government. If I seem uncertain here, it is because I am indeed uncertain and could use some information from people who have studied Looking Backward and communism in more detail than I have.) Clearly, Bellamy's approach was appealing to a great many Americans, while communism had less appeal to Americans.
The concept of public capital is central to my discussion of different types of capital and their proper use. "Me" capital promotes a "me" society, while "we" capital promotes a "we" society. Regarding public capital, there are several questions which need to be addressed:
How can we incorporate the various types of capital into a system of public capital? Should there be both public and private capital? If so, how should the two be integrated? How can we use a system of public capital to create an enlightened society in which people are free to pursue their interests, and true democracy thrives, as Bellamy envisioned, and how do we avoid the pitfalls of totalitarianism that have plagued communism?
Although I admittedly am pretty much flying without a steering wheel at this time, at least my landing place is clear in my sight, and I plan to address these questions in future essays. The various types of true capital -- for example resource, human, intellectual, scientific, moral, spiritual, well-being, work, health, and social capital -- all can be conceptualized as having a public as well as a private aspect. Our current system is stuck on the idea that only the private aspect counts, except perhaps when reliance on the private aspect of wealth is unfeasible. I think it should be the other way around; we should concern ourselves with the public nature of capital, except when it is unfeasible to do so and such wealth can only be viewed from a private perspective. After all, our accomplishments are dependent upon our shared wealth, not our individual wealth. To think otherwise is delusional. All of our efforts depend on our common ground, our common infrastucture, our pooled resources. We are all in this together. The economy is no different in this way from anything else.
A Capital Idea Part 1
It has occured to me that the idea of financial capital has been used in the wrong way all along. This feeling has been reinforced by conversations with a number of my like-minded friends. According to my Random House Webster's Dictionary, relevant definitions of capital include: "The wealth, as in money or property, owned or used in business," and "pertaining to financial capital." The economic system based upon capital is known as capitalism, which my dictionary defines as "An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned." I critiqued the use of capitalism as a basis for an economy in "The Immorality of Capitalism" a few months ago. My moral critique of capitalism has its basis in academic psychology, which shows that capitalism compels people to act at the lowest levels of morality. Basically, the pursuit of profit trumps all other concerns in capitalism, at least if it is not restrained in some way. Thus "might makes right" according to a capitalistic system, and whatever increases profits is morally justified. To use yet another platitude in the most appropriate possible manner, "The ends justifies the means." Capitalism is a system that encourages businesspeople to "rip off" their customers if they can get away with it. As a result, business people typically operate on the lowest of the six stages of moral development described by Lawrence Kohlberg, a stage in which any outcome favorable to oneself is considered morally good, which normally applies only to young children, yet, shows a resurgence among wealthy businesspeople in adulthood due to the perverted economic system we suffer under called capitalism.
As a result, the question that has occured to me is, how can we build a society with a more morally enlightened economic system? Not only would a morally enlightened economic system be far fairer, but it would also be more productive, because people would treat each other better within this system (which is the basis of morality in the first place), and be better rewarded for their efforts. Even more, since financial capitalism is basically an undemocratic system, we could build a more truly cemocratic society by changing our economic system. A related question is, what would be the basis for such an economic system? In order to build a more enlightened society, with a morally enlightened economic system, we must rethink its basis. An answer which I can only take partial credit for, although it occured to me independently, is that there are different types of capital, not only financial capital. After having this idea, I discovered that some other authors have already written to some extent about certain types of capital other than financial (but not nearly as extensively as I plan to).
What follows is a non-exhaustive list of types of capital:
1. Financial capital (the current basis of our economic system and probably the only one that has really been actually fully utilized)
2. Resource capital (the valuing of our shared resources, in which a healthy environment is a wealthier one, as the basis of wealth)
3. Human capital (the valuing of our talents and skills -- which innately belong to the individual and cannot be owned by others -- as our actual wealth)
4. Intellectual capital (the valuing of ideas as the key to progress and as the basis for true wealth)
5. Scientific capital (the valuing of scientific knowledge and its application as the basis of true understanding and wealth)
6. Moral capital (the valuing of moral character and the nurturing of moral character as the basis for a happy, just and truly wealthy society)
7. Spiritual capital (the valuing of spiritual well-being and the quest for spiritual enlightenment as the basis of true wealth)
8. Well-being capital (the valuing of psychological happiness and well-being as the truest indictor of the health and wealth of a society)
9. Work capital (the valuing of actual work as the true basis of an economy, a bottom up approach which precludes people sitting around collecting money do to their exalted position in society)
10. Human health capital (the valuing of our health as prerequisite to any form of true happiness or wealth)
I thought of all 10 of these possiblities in about 10 minutes; there may be more to come. In any case, it is my plan to explore the possibilities for making these the basis for an economy, or at least, incorporating them into our economic system to make a more enlightened, balanced, and improved system. It is important to keep in mind that these types of capital are not mutually exclusive. The best possible economic system may well involve some combination of all of these. But at the very least, the time is long past due that we begin to recognize the reality and importance of these various sorts of wealth. It is also important to realize that some of these types of capital may already have a functional role in our economy. However, their roles need to be expanded and explicitly acknowledged. It is not just about money, which is essentially a human-constructed abstraction of the concept of value, whose acceptance as the basis of wealth means: Accepting all the inequities of making inappropriate comparisons of value, and; accepting all of the human fallibilities built into our monetary system, and; accepting a nondemocratic, autocratic system which has as its goal the creation of monopolies while hypocritically claiming to endorse competition, and; accepting that human beings have dominion over all life and all resources on earth, justifying the abuse of other lifeforms and our environment.
A truly healthy and sustainable economy means recognizing and appreciating the true bases of our wealth, and using a scientific approach to create a more enlightened, happy, compassionate, fair and environmentally friendly society.