Capital Ideas 2011

December 31

A Capital Idea Part 100: Will 2012 be a Year of Paradigm Shift?

Since my political predictions in the past have turned out to be quite accurate, though usually unwritten, I thought I would write my inutitive feelings about what is in store for the world politically in the coming year and in some cases, years. Actually, I have a special reason for making predictions this year, because my gut feeling is that we are at the cusp of a tangible paradigm shift worldwide, something which will shape humanity's future.

The basic paradigm shift I am referring to is one from a more business, oligarchy-oriented approach to government, to a more people-oriented approach to government -- in other words, a populist, progressive worldwide revolution, an extension of the Occupy Wall Street movement which has already begun. Perhaps I am being too optimistic, but to me, all the signs are there -- the "Arab Spring," OWS, and extremely dissatisfied and volatile electorates, whom I have noticed worldwide have tended to vote whomever is in office, out of office. Where there were liberals, conservatives were voted into office, and where there were conservatives, liberals were voted into office. I noticed this trend over and over again throughout the year, although I don't have an encyclopedic memory for all of the elections around the world. Nonetheless, anybody could google it, and find that people voted for regime change at a much higher rate than usual. I feel that this represents an early, naive stage of populist revolt at the democratic level. Over time, people on the whole, will realize that only progressive politics will take them where they need to go. California where I live, is ahead of the curve, and has already been through this process and concluded that conservatism has nothing worthwhile to offer, only further degradation of our condition. The rest of the United States will come along in the coming years, I believe, as will the rest of the world for the most part.

In the preceding days, I read a couple of things which also indicate to me that observant people are sensing a paradigm shift. Valley Life Today is a local magazine delivered to my mailbox for free, which seems to focus on education in Moreno Valley. In an interview, Dr. Gregory Gray, the Chancellor of the Riverside Community College District (the one I teach for) says "We are not in the midst of a crisis. We are attending a wake!" He then argues for more local control of community colleges, and says that community colleges are in the process of putting "the old system to rest." What is replacing "the old system?" Estate gifts, donations with no strings attached from wealthy businessowners -- Moreno Valley College was just given a 5 acre parcel of land valued at $5.3 million -- and perhaps increased local sales taxes. Frankly, this talk by Dr. Gray about "public-private" partnerships makes me nervous, and seems far too much like the insidious influence of big business that the California Teachers Association has been decrying, with good reason. However, Gray is talking about kindly donations with no ulterior motives, or local businesses partnering with the colleges. The larger point is that we are seeing a localization of the community college economy.

Even more to the point, I picked up a local Japanese American free magazine when I took my step-daughter Isabella and her friend Wendy to a Japanese restaurant a few days ago, and found some interesting comments in an editorial by Masato Ochi, an author and television producer in Japan. In his words: "Japan last year was probably the darkest year in all 46 years of my life. Expressing it in one word, it was the darkness in downward spiral of defeat called Wazawai (catastrophe)." Next, he describes the situation in Japan including Japanese peoples' reluctance to change, and notes the ending of the Mayan calender on December 23, 2012 as well as the major political changes likely to occur. Then he goes on to say: "I believe the highlight of 2012 in Japan is, if Japan realizes the world's paradigm shift and has enough courage to change and develop." Okay, that is where I got the idea for today's post, I admit. I think that the term "paradigm shift" is a good way to put what is happening in this "Fourth Turning" period of revolution.

When Obama was elected in 2008, it was a turning point, no doubt. However, it only set the stage for later change, moreso than causing instant change. This lack of instant change is what has gotten many progressives so upset. Instead, Obama has been a firm believer in compromise, even with uncompromising foes, and has wound up capitulating far too often to the other side. However, I would argue that this was to some extent made necessary by the political realities of the time. In due time, the shackles will come off. I believe that Obama will be re-elected in 2012, bucking the trend seen in so many nations, and -- having experienced four years of horrible, callous obstructionism by Republicans -- will give them less credence in his second term, and focus more on the will of the people and helping the average citizen. I think it will be a pretty good election for progressives around the United States in general, as well, and a bad one for conservatives, with the failure of the "Tea Party" movement and the growing success of the OWS movement becoming increasingly evident. In Taiwan, my wife's homeland, Ma Ying-Jeoh is up for re-election soon. According to Eunice, he has been a very good President and it looks like he will be re-elected, also bucking the general trend. I don't know very much about him, but he seems to be an empathetic, democratic socialist type, which I believe is mainly where world politics is heading. With Taiwan's extensive and intensive experience regarding the development of a more democratic society in the face of opposition from mainland China, Taiwan is ahead of the curve in terms of democracy just as California is. In North Korea, I expect that young Kim Jong-Un will turn out to be a very different type of leader than his father or grandfather were, or his elders want him to be. I think Kim Jong-Un will want to modernize and open up to the outside world, creating a power struggle between his side and the existing power structure which will want him to be their puppet. Perhaps the people of North Korea will actually find some courage and strength to stand up for their rights, at long last.

Aside from these elections, I believe that populist revolts around the world will continue to accelerate, including the continuation and extension of OWS. I don't believe that we will see very many big, immediate changes in the coming year as a result of such populism, but it will be setting the stage for much bigger changes to come. Such revolts will occur both in the more autocratic nations, where "freedom" from oppressive governments will be the call, and in ostensible democracies, where something to the effect of "freedom from the financial oligarchs" will be the cry of the Occupiers. Leaders will change in many nations, and regimes will topple, but it will mostly be a time of regrouping (much as this winter is for OWS) and trying to answer the question "where do we go from here." Expect much larger changes in political structure in the decade or so to come after 2012. When we look back upon 2012, it will be as a pivotal year in terms of paradigm shift, preceding the realization of the radical changes which will follow, I expect.

A general point about change is that we tend not to notice it while it happens. We think that the world is fairly stable, and for most of us, the changes we would like to see either are not happening as far as we can tell, or do not happen "fast enough." In reality, however, the rate of change in human society, as well as in our environment, has accelerated drastically. This is a natural consequence of the creation of a global, technological society. Changes that happen in one part of the world, are quickly transmitted to other parts of the world, whether those changes be technological, economic, political, educational, cultural or whatever. Modern culture acts as a catalyst to enact change. A well-connected populace, cannot help but direct that change, whatever opposition it may encounter.

As a caller to a progressive talk show (hosted by Nicole Sandler, I think) said a few days ago, "What do we do when the Monopoly game is over? We toss the pieces back in the box and play a different game." We are getting to that point in terms of the world economy as well. The people of the world are getting ready to toss the pieces of the world's financial monopoly back into the box -- or the trash. The next game that the people decide to play, will be not one of competition, but one of global cooperation -- a game in which everybody is a winner, and in which the public as a whole is the main beneficiary, I expect. The coming years will see, I think, calls for either an extension of the United Nations to create a global economic framework, or the creation of a new body to do the same. This will be a populist, progressive-style framework, not the economic cooperative councils that we have heard about, which consist of rich people plotting their eventual conquering of the world and winning their game of "Monopoly." This will be the real thing, with documents such as a global economic constitution or bill of rights. At the same time, there will be economic reforms at the national, regional and local levels around the world. The year 2012, I expect, will be the year when all of this change begins -- a year of paradigm shift.

Of course, I could be wrong -- the changes I predict could occur even faster than I expect, or not at all. I never predicted that I would reach 100 "Capital Ideas" posts. By the way, I think I am probably nearing the end of this series, finally. Thus, here is another prediction for 2012: I will finish my Capital Ideas series (at least for the time being) and yet, at the same time, we will begin to see more of the ideas discussed in this series, actually be implemented, or steps being taken toward their implementation.

December 26

A Capital Idea Part 99: The United Fiefdom of Vespucci

Once upon a time (yeah, right) in a land far, far away -- it surely couldn't be anywhere near here, right? -- there was a place called the United Fiefdom of Vespucci. Fancying themselves to be enlightened Lords, the Lords of Vespucci held elections every four years just before Christmas, sort of a Christmas present for the entire fiefdom. However, only the Lords were rich enough to run for public office, so the only choices to run the government, for all of the serfs and vassals of Vespucci were from among the small number of Lords of Vespucci. As a consequence, the 99% of the population who were serfs and vassals, did not have true representation in their government, and the government's policies were essentially run by the Lords of Vespucci, who designed them in such a way as to keep the serfs and vassals poor, and the Lords of Vespucci, rich, pampered and powerful. After all, in the view of many Lords of Vespuccci, the Lord of Lords had given them Vespucci and placed them through the holy inheritance of the lucky sperm club, in positions of wealth and power. In reality, the wealthy ancestors of the Lords of Vespucci and their loyal advisors, who comprised the 1%, had achieved their positions largely through greed. These were the kids who refused to share their toys, and many of them grew up to be prototypical cases of Antisocial Personality Disorder and/or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (not to mention Avaricious Personality Disorder). To be sure, some of them had achieved their positions through skill and talent, and some of the 1% were truly good people, but far too many were pathologically self-centered.

Over time, there were many small uprisings among the vassals and serfs of Vespucci. However, these were always put down by the brute force of hired militia -- oops, I mean police -- and failed to spread given that communications were rather poor in those olden days. Eventually, some genius serfs invented the internet and cell phones, however, which turned out to be a game changer. In the next rebellion, the serfs and vassals communicated amongst themselves extensively, and the 99%ers Occupy Lords' Boulevard movement grew to massive proportions. Yet, as had happened every time before, their movement was squelched by force. Armies of hired militia -- oops, I mean police -- moved in to tear down the Occupiers impromtu encampments. Furthermore, the Occupiers were blamed for their own movement. The news of the day described them as a bunch of dirty (because they had no means of bathing themselves), ignorant (because only rudimentary education was available to serfs and vassals) socialist (as though something is wrong with that), commie (no way -- democracy is not communism), miscreants (the Lords should look in the mirror if they want to see a miscreant) troublemakers (as though it wasn't the Lords of Vespucci who had created the troubles of the serfs and vassals). How dare these "little people" try to upset "the natural order of things" and upset the wonderful "gravy train" of wealth in The United Fiefdom of Vespucci's supposedly enlightened society! In fact, many local governments decided to sue the "Occupiers" after their forced removal, adding insult to injury. This happened even in some of the more sympathetic cities. The media, through its well-financed and coordinated propagandistic actions directed by the Lords of Vespucci, even managed to get 99%ers -- in addition to being recruited to put down the protests for pay -- to blame each other at times for their problems.

However, ultimately, this morally grounded movement for economic fairness, opportunity and true government representation, was too powerful to fail. The serfs and vassals managed to cooperate, using the power of their high-tech communication tools, and decided to select and vote for progressive-minded candidates from amongst themselves in the next election. After all, voting was the one great tool for promoting change which was granted to them. There were two political parties in The United Fiefdom of Vespucci, the Lords' Party -- which was beyond hope of reform -- and the Politicians' Party -- which had some truly civic minded representatives but was mostly lacking in moral fortitude and as in love with money and power as was the Lords' Party. Thus, the serfs and vassals decided to run their chosen candidates primarily as progressive, civic minded candidates who wanted to advance the public good by creating a more fair and representative government which wasn't run by money. Since they lacked access to "The Mainstream Media," the candidates from among the 99%ers had a hands-on campaign approach, attending local events at which they gave campaign speeches and recruited campaign workers. After all, the 99%ers knew that they would win hands down if they collaborated and voted for candidates from among their number. When the election came that Christmastime, the serfs and vassals candidates were swept into office. This was their Christmas gift to the world. Some of the more sympathetic Lords were also re-elected, but the entire composition of the government was transformed by that election. They proceeded to change campaign finance and election laws to no longer favor the rich, opting to use public financing instead. They outlawed lobbying, and prosecuted the worst offenders among the Lords, who were given long jail terms. They also enhanced the education system to make a good higher education widely available and inexpensive for all, and began the withdrawal of their empire-making soldiers from foreign lands. And these steps were just starters in a new, more enlightened United Fiefdom of Vespucci, as the momentum of the peaceful revolution continued and further reforms followed. The gig was definitely up for the Lords of Vespucci. Ironically, the transformation of society which occured, not only benefitted the 99%ers, but also benefitted the 1%ers ultimately, as quality of life as a whole improved, crime rates decreased, and everybody had a society they could be proud of. Furthermore, the democratic transormation of the United Fiefdom of Vespucci allowed people to become better, more evolved and enlightened people as a whole, including the families of the former Lords and their loyal advisors. And thus happily ends my story of The United Fiefdom of Vespucci.

I seem to recall a story often told at Christmastime, about a man who lived about 2,000 years ago, who advocated peace, love and understanding, but at the young age of 33, was branded as a troublemaker, blamed for problems he did not create and was tortured and crucified. That he was -- and still is -- believed to be God by his followers, does nothing to change the tragedy of his story, nor of the untold stories of countless others who suffered and died for the sins of others. As my mother says "That's too bad about Jesus being crucified and all that." Maybe, a tragedy is just a tragedy; lives are wasted sometimes. But if we are wise, we can learn from their tragic stories, and use what we have learned to transform the world for the better.

I have been reminded in recent days, of how the innocent are still being blamed by those with more money and more power, for their own problems, as well as their peskiness in upsetting the gravy train of wealth that the 1% enjoys. On the local news a few days ago, there was a report that Occupy Los Angeles is being sued (or a lawsuit is under consideration) for $2 million dollars due to the mess and damage that their encampment reportedly caused. If anything, the city of Los Angeles should be suing the people that the Occupiers are protesting against, people such as the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, et cetera -- people who fight against our democracy tooth and nail in order to keep their elite positions. Yesterday, I was reminded again of this phenomenon of victim derogation, as I filled out Christmas cards. I found an envelope with several Christmas cards in it, sent to us by one of the places that my wife Eunice (Zunliang) donated to in the past year. On the outside of the envelope, was written, "Innocent but punished for the crimes of the guilty." It was referring to children in poor nations who are homeless and ostracized for one reason or another. As I was listening to my radio yesterday, I heard an interview on Pacifica Radio of a man who studies things such as global sustainability. He said that the overuse of global resources is essentially a problem caused by approximately the richest 10% of world's population, around 600 million persons. I couldn't help but think that these children could be well taken care of and no longer have to live as outcasts, fending for themselves, if the "haves" of the world would learn to share their wealth with the "have nots."

For sure, issues such as overpopulation, environmental degradation and global warming -- among others -- must be dealt with as well, but I suspect, when people are better taken care of, better educated, and men and women are treated more fairly and equitably around the world, they will be much better equipped and motivated to do so. It will take a peaceful, democratic revolution in order to make this happen, just the sort of thing that the OWS movement seems to be leading to. We must continue its momentum and translate its energy into voting and political activity in favor of progressive reforms. That such a peaceful, democratic revolution become a reality is my Christmas wish, and this post is my Christmas gift to the world.

By the way, "America" is strangely, named after the given name of an early explorer of North and South America, Amerigo Vespucci. Thus, I chose the name, The United Fiefdom of Vespucci for my story.

December 20

A Capital Idea Part 98: Economic Democracy

Based on my friend Zenzoe's mention of Economic Democracy in a reply to the True Economic Freedom and Public Economy posts, I looked up "Economic Democracy" on the internet. I had heard of this term in passing, but didn't know there was such a large body of literature about this topic or such a large movement toward Economic Democracy, so...there I go again reinventing the wheel, more or less. At least I am learning something, and have my own perspective on the economy actually, which does have differences from these other ones (Venus Project, Peer-to-Peer, Economic Democracy, certain progressive economists' ideas).

First, I found a site at economicdemocracy.org (http://economicdemocracy.org/), but it seems to be pretty much low on content aside from a homepage which says things such as "We can overcome corporate rule." Many of the links say the information is "coming soon" but there were some links to a few specific articles, poems and cartoons. I had better luck with other websites about Economic Democracy, especially Wikipedia, which has an extremely long description of Economic Democracy, despite most of this site's materials being written by conservatives. There is an excellent introduction to the topic there, rather lengthy itself, but well worth reading, which follows here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_democracy):

Economic democracy is a socioeconomic philosophy that suggests a shift in decision-making power from a small minority of corporate shareholders to a larger majority of public stakeholders. There is no single definition or approach for economic democracy, but most theories and real-world examples challenge the demonstrated tendencies of modern property relations to externalize costs, subordinate the general well-being to private profit, and deny the populace majority a democratic voice in economic policy decisions.

Classical liberals argue that the power to dispose of the means of production belongs to entrepreneurs and capitalists, and can only be acquired by means of the consumers' ballot, held daily in the marketplace."The capitalistic social order", they claim, therefore, "is an economic democracy in the strictest sense of the word." Critics of this claim point out that consumers only vote on the value of the product when they make a purchase; they are not voting on who should own the means of production, on who can keep its profits or on the resulting income redistribution. Proponents of economic democracy generally agree, therefore, that modern capitalism tends to hinder or prevent society from earning enough income to purchase its output production. Centralized corporate monopoly of common resources typically forces conditions of artificial scarcity upon the greater majority, resulting in socio-economic imbalances that restrict workers from access to economic opportunity and diminish consumer purchasing power.

Economic democracy has been proposed as a component of larger socioeconomic ideologies, as a stand-alone theory, and as a variety of reform agendas. In most cases, economic democracy promotes universal access to "common resources" that are typically privatized by corporate capitalism or centralized by state socialism. Assuming full political rights cannot be won without full economic rights, economic democracy is a proposed solution for the problems of economic instability and deficiency of effective demand. As an alternative model, both market and non-market theories of economic democracy have been proposed. As a reform agenda, supporting theories and real-world examples range from decentralization and economic liberalization to democratic cooperatives, fair trade, and the regionalization of food production and currency.

Following this, Wikipedia discusses topics such as:

"Deficiency of Effective Demand" (the loss of capital due to accumulation by the wealthy);

The need for unemployment created by the capitalistic system;

The need for artificial scarcity created by the capitalistic system;

"Enclosure of the Commons" (the private holding of what should be public resources);

"The Rise of Corporations" (a historical perspective);

"Imperialism" (considered an advanced stage of capitalism by the author, at present being the United States' massive international military-industrial complex);

"Alternative Models," citing several people including Martin Luther King, Jr. and a Hunagarian historian named Karl Polanyi, and one named Schweikert who defines Economic Democracy in terms of Worker Self-Management (eg., unions and workplace democracy), Social Control of Investment (eg. public banks or credit unions), and The Market (in which profits are equitably shared among all employees rather than hoarded by "owners");

"Inclusive Democracy" which includes "Demotic Self-Reliance"(decentralization and self-reliance), "Demotic Ownership of Productive Resources" (economic decision making by the entire community), and "Confederal Allocation of Resources" (planning and decision making at the regional, national and international levels). The words used in the article are indeed "demotic" and "confederal," by the way;

"Social Credit" including "Credit as a Public Utility" (eg., zero-interest loans from public banks), and "A National Dividend" (cash dividends and pricing subsidies instead of allowing capital to be accumulated by business owners);

"Monopoly Power versus Public Utility," in which J.W. Smith advocates using public utility to basically collect public rent for the use of all resources (similar to my recent "Public Economy" post with the addition of the idea of actually collecting rent from business people for resource usage, which is a form of tax);

"Democratic Cooperatives" including worker cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, and food cooperatives;

and finally (yes finally, as this took quite a while for me to go through), "Regional Trading Currencies" (which I understand as each nation or region issuing its own trading currency, which would help resource producing third-world nations economically by allowing them to take control of their resources rather than having to give them up at low cost to richer nations). In summary, yes, I have indeed more or less reinvented the wheel, but without some of the ideas included in this article and with much more psychology and ecology involved in my approach. Thank you to whomever wrote the Wikipedia article on Economic Democracy, which was the most comprehensive and excellent Wikipedia document I have yet seen. Due to its length, I only summarized as well as I could the major content of this article.

Aside from this article, I found another article by J.W. Smith, but it focused on eliminating poverty and never directly discussed Economic Democracy (http://www.globalissues.org/article/5/economic-democracy). I also found a short description of Economic Democracy in a British website (http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/take-action/economic-democracy). There was even a link to a mention of how to "restore" (as if it had ever existed) Economic Democracy on the Forbes magazine website, but when I clicked on the link, I only got an advertisement, then the Forbes magazine homepage. I guess the thought of Economic Democracy was subsequently banished from Forbes magazine, and I guess my description of Economic Democracy from Wikipedia will suffice.

Clearly, this is another example of the breadth and magnitude of the economic reform movement around the world, as well as the great degree of agreement regarding the sources of our economic problems and commonalities in the suggestions for reform. Such ideas in my opinion, shared by so many people -- eventually by the entire 99% I think when we all become aware of these ideas -- are the intellectual basis of the Occupy Wall Street movement and thus evidence that the movement will continue growing. Good ideas can never be killed. Good and necessary ideas will only keep growing until they become beliefs which must be acted upon.

December 13

A Capital Idea Part 97: True Wealth

Every person wants to be happy. Presumably, every person also wants to achieve his or her potential in some way. Yet, wealth is measured in monetary terms. Perhaps it is time we started measuring wealth in terms of the things that really matter.

As I have mentioned before, money isn't even real, in a physical sense. It is only a social construct used as a placekeeper, of which people end up having trouble equitably keeping track. Money exchanges hands in various phantom ways, through wires, through stock market exchanges, and so forth. It is merely a claim on resources, mostly, material ones. This makes the concept of monetary wealth all the more bizarre. On the other hand, there are sources of true wealth on both a personal and social level.

One form of true personal wealth is happiness. Happiness is difficult to quantify, but it is something which every person values, quite properly. Actually, there nonetheless is a happiness index which has been created and used to compare various nations, and I wrote about before in this series.

An even more appropriate form of true wealth is how well people reach their potential as persons, the goal of life called "self-actualization" in humanistic psychology. Facilitating self-actualization is what I argue is the goal of a fair and just economic system.

Also, resources are forms of true wealth, including natural, human-made, and human-capacity resources, as described in my Capital Ideas posts and which are all part of a resource-based economy.

I would say that there is also interpersonal wealth. What can be more rewarding and enabling than being in love, or participating in a happy family? People in small groups can accomplish things that we could never do as individuals, and as people sometimes say, "Love is its own reward." Love is the ultimate source of emotional and spiritual wealth.

However, there is another aspect of true wealth which transcends the level of the individual's resources or even immediate family and friends. I believe that there is such a thing as collective wealth, which transcends personal wealth. To paraphrase a German businessman sometimes mentioned on the Thom Hartmann show, when asked why he didn't mind paying such high taxes as a German citizen, he replied that it is better to be a normal person in a wealthy society, than a wealthy person in a poor society. To put it in psychological terms, according to Gestalt principles, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

We can easily see this fact when we look at the interdependence people have in attaining progress. Without education, few people would be able to advance scientific knowledge. Without infrastructure, it would be difficult to educate people. Without labor, there would be no infrastructure. On the other side, without an educated populace, there would be no one to utilize new technologies, and of course, without money, there would be no customers to buy the new technologies, if money is required as it generally is in a society which depends upon money to acquire just about anything. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts; everything works together to make an integrated whole. The same for that matter, can be said of a body, although that is far less relevant to the current topic.

Thus, another goal of my Capital Ideas is to create and present ideas which can facilitate a wealthier worldwide human culture, in which the interlocking parts work together synergistically as a whole. When people don't have to worry about going broke, or finding adequate health care, or being oppressed, or compromising themselves to please their bosses, they have all the more opportunity to self-actualize as well as to be happy. When people have the opportunity to explore their interests, when people are socialized to be caring, civic-minded, socially responsible persons, who respect others and do not abuse them, this gives all of us all the more opportunity to self-actualize and find true happiness. A society in which all people -- or as many as possible to avoid sounding overly utopian -- contribute to the general well-being, is truly the most wealthy kind of society. This is the kind of world which I envision with every intention of helping to make a reality. Just imagine what true treasures of love, happiness and human potential we would enjoy in such a world!

December 8

A Capital Idea Part 96: True Economic Freedom

As long as I am writing about freedom issues, this is an opportune time to discuss another blog post idea which had been waylaid and sitting on my notepad since July, due to my trip to Taiwan plus the advent of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Nowadays, we are hearing Republican candidates such as Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul talk about eliminating minimum working ages, and utilizing prison labor. This is really anti-economic freedom talk. This is about the ruling class finding the cheapest possible labor to exploit, which could not be further from economic freedom. In fact, I wrote a post a while back, in which I speculated that low-wage sweatshop style workers around the world, and even here in the U.S., are probably cheaper for business owners than slaves were to keep in the bad old days of legal slavery. After all, these workers are supposed to take care of themselves on their itty bitty salaries. I could not find any actual estimates of what it cost slaveowners to take care of their slaves' needs, interestingly. I wonder if "the ruling class" considers that a secret that it wouldn't want to be known, lest it be found out that modern minimum wage workers are cheaper than slaves. In any case, the financial capitalist system clearly craves cheap labor -- the cheaper, the better -- and that is an anti-freedom thing.

I am sick of hearing about "the free market," as though such a thing existed, as though it made people "free," and as though there were real alternatives, for that matter, to having a market of one sort or another. Obama even mentioned the free market in his speech a couple days ago as the world's greatest creator of wealth, just before assailing trickle down economics. It was definitely the sort of speech I have been waiting to hear from Barack, but it did include too much deference to "the free market," the role of banks, the military, and way too much nationalism in my opinion. However, it was a good beginning toward changing the direction of our economy which clearly implies that anti-corporatocracy type actions by the Obama adminstration will be -- well, attempted in the face of stiff, uncompromising opposition by the miscreants on the other side of the aisle. Obama even talked about reducing wealth disparities, a very welcome thought.

Thus, here is another premise: Human exchanges will always involve some sort of market where people get together and exchange things (unless somebody invents a "replicator" a la Star Trek which people simply ask to create anything they want). Even taxes and government are a form of market in a sense, with taxes being exchanged on the government market for services which the public barters in a democracy through electing representatives and informing them of "the will of the people" which the people demand be met, or else, well, they will unelect their representatives. In theory at least, that is how it works. When the market is unfair, people are less free. It's really a pretty simple fundamental rule. When the government does not represent the people, the people are less free. When the market is rigged, and the so-called "playing field" is slanted toward one side, people are less free. When government "representatives" actually represent the rich instead of their constituents, people are less free. This is why people are waking up and starting to rebel -- our economic freedoms, as well as other kinds of freedoms, have been eroded by the corrupting influence of money, as we find that we live in a society in which the so-called "free market" becomes more and more slanted toward the rich, as the market itself becomes "freer" in the parlance of economics, and our government becomes more and more "bought and paid for" by the rich. In other words, not only is "the free market" not a producer of freedom, but to the contrary, the less regulated and the "freer" the money becomes, the less free the citizens become!

True economic freedom involves a truly "level playing field" in sports parlance. In other words, a system which does not favor any one person or any one profession over another -- a truly fair and impartial system. It is my contention that as long as we have a system dependent upon using money itself to acquire more money, through such means as stock markets, and usury (loan interest), we will never have a fair, economic-freedom producing financial system. This is another way of explaning why I believe that stock markets should be eliminated (in addition to their general uselessness and waste of human resources), and usury should be strictly regulated. And of course, monopolies should be broken up, and our economy well-regulated by all the means we know to be effective. These are things which are feasible and could be done in the relatively near future, given the political will to do so and a progressive enough Congress to take these steps.

However, none of these steps will prevent those so-inclined -- a group which includes just about every greedy businessman or greedy businesswoman -- from working to slant the playing field again. You can count on this: The greedy among us will always be looking for ways to rig the system in their own favor. This is why we need to take drastic steps to reshape our economic future, away from financial capitalism, and toward a more resource-based, public economy. This is ultimately what I think the current revolution -- which I suspect is only in its infancy -- will be about, so that such abuses and restrictions of freedom by the wealthy class against everyone else as we are currently experiencing, can never happen again, and so that people can enjoy more true freedom, both economic and personal. Elements of this new economy will include localization of economic activities -- perhaps even local currencies -- plus at a national or even international level, the ensurance of human rights to basic needs such as food, health care and education, and the usage of specific methods of exchange in the market, such as credits, vouchers, etc. which can be used to acquire things that people need but not to accumulate excess wealth. As mentioned in the previous post, people will be entrusted with a certain share of resources, pending good standing as citizens, but will not be considered "owners" of resources who can treat their acquisitions as part of an expanding, personal empire. Rather, their use of resources will be contingent upon their responsible, socially productive and environmentally sustainable use of these resources. There should also be limits on how large a business can be, and still be run by a single person. Perhaps all businesses above a certain size will ultimately be required to be collectively owned and operated, although smaller businesses can still be run by an individual and self-employment will be encouraged. When people don't have to worry about where their next meal will come from, or about "pleasing the boss" which may entail intense sacrifices and compromises, they will be all the freer to pursue productive activities which please them and lend themselves to self-actualization. When education is free and equally available to everyone, and people are socialized to be civic minded and socially responsible, with the help of good role models, people will want to engage in productive activities. That will only be natural.

It is in such an atmosphere of fair exchange that true economic and personal freedom can thrive, and the wonders of the greatest of resources, that of human potential, can be unlocked as it never has been before.

December 6

A Capital Idea Part 95: The Public Economy -- An Intelligently Planned, People-Powered Approach

A new concept has been gelling in my mind recently, one that integrates and unifies several more familiar (at least to me) concepts -- the public economy. This may be a better way of framing the future of a better economic system than the various ideas I have heard thus far. Actually, I have heard of public capital as a concept. From there, it is not much of a jump to think of a public economy.

Let me explain what I mean by the public economy. First of all, when people talk about the economy, they often mention "the public sector" and "the private sector." The public sector works for government in one capacity or another, which is the type of job that conservatives are trying to eliminate. The private sector consists of people who work for private corporations, which conservatives apparently think should be everybody, so that the business-owner faux "job creators" can run everything, including government. More reasonable people think that there should be a balance between the public and private sectors.

Let's start with this premise that there is such a balance which is optimal. Next, let us redefine what the private sector does, and change the way it functions correspondingly. My wife often says that the entire world -- or The Universe for that matter -- belongs to God. A form of this is my second premise. That is, the world does not "belong to us" humans, neither as individuals, or even in the collective. It belongs to a higher order, which is "God" to some, nature to others. Thus, the concept of "private ownership" is not really valid. If we do not "own stuff," then how do we consider the stuff that we use? It's pretty simple, but it requires an out-of-the-box leap in thinking. We are entrusted with things as citizens of the world. We do not "own things," but we can have and use the things that we are entrusted with. Whoever thought of the idea of "ownership" was being very egocentric.

Next, what entity does the entrusting? Religions are very fond of saying that God entrusts them with something -- that is, God gave them this land, these animals, these plants, these minerals, and so on, and meanwhile, God made these wonderful promises to the people as "the promised ones." This is a very toxic place to go, especially when other people with different ideas about what belongs to whom, want to occupy "the promised land." As a human culture, we must make a third premise, that God or Mother Earth -- Gaia -- has entrusted us collectively with the right to figure out "who gets the goodies" (as a sociology class at my alma mater Pitzer College was called). In other words, it is up to us as a species to create a fair, moral, sustainable and productive economy, and at the same time, protect the environment upon which we depend. Thus, anything which is entrusted to us, is entrusted by society as a whole. It is government -- at its varous levels -- which in effect should bestow the entrusting of resources upon people, with the knowledge and consent of the people.

Now that we have gotten to the point in this conversation where individual people are entrusted with a certain share of resources, as a right, let us consider what the individual's obligations are, a la the social contract. The individual is responsible for taking good care of those resources with which he or she is entrusted, and not degrading them. Furthermore, the individual is responsible for the so-called externalities of his or her use of the resources, such as costs of environmental cleanup when the individual's actions do in fact degrade the environment. The individual does not operate in a vacuum, so to speak, separate from the rest of society. To an extent, our legal system as it exists, does hold people responsible for the consequences of their economic decisions, but quite ineffectively. Business people tend to get away with environmental crimes, and even manslaughter (as Thom Hartmann is talking about at this moment) due to the money-bought laxness of our economic system, which favors business owners over the rest of us, and the bigger the business, the more the person is favored. Rather than what we have, we need a comprehensive legal system which holds all people equally accountable for their economic actions. (I know I have written about this before, but this is a new way of framing this idea.) Creating a fair, moral, sustainable and productive economy demands nothing less. Also, there needs to be cultural oversight -- presumably through democratic governance at local, regional, national and international levels -- of fair wages for all, economic morality which means ensuring our rights to a certain share of resources, and economic sustainability and productivity.

The concept of the public economy also subsumes the concept of a resource-based economy. The idea of a resource-based economy, as I understand it, is to take all of the "goodies" with which humanity has been entrusted, and divide it up according to criteria including human rights and needs, and the value to society of the work that a person does. The resources are divided first at a central level, most likely, then subdivided at a more local level. In addition, local economies may exist in which certain resources never leave the region. Instead of using the same currency for everything, there may be different credits, vouchers, etc. which are good for different basic needs such as food, utilities, and so forth, while the familiar money could be used to buy specialty items of personal interest, or extra items relating to basic needs. The public economy places the resource-based economy in the context of a larger system which employs government oversight in a democratic manner. It also allows for a wide variety of economic activity, including businesses run (but not literally "owned") by individuals, cooperatives, and public employment as well as being able to coordinate local, regional, national and international economic activity in a people-powered manner. It places the people collectively -- rather than certain individuals -- wholely as in charge of the economy, as entrusted by the greater forces of The Universe in the most rational possible manner.

Before finishing, I want to discuss the issue of a having a rational economy a bit more. The public economy is the most rational -- and thus the best in my opinion -- way to run an economy. It is a planned economy, which is a radical departure -- again in my opinion -- from what has ever actually occured in the history of humankind. Much as the founders of a nation, most famously those of the United States -- U.S. spells US by the way -- planned their government through the creation of a Constitution, much to our benefit, the economy should be planned. Perhaps creating a sort of global "economic Constitution" would be an excellent idea. This is the kind of thing that the public economy would endorse. However, the economic system that we have, evolved haphazardly out of the exchanges of peoples over the centuries, and particularly with the influence of wealthy people who rigged and built the system to suit their own greedy aspirations. This stupid, unplanned, might-makes-right system must be stopped, and replaced by an intelligently planned (to borrow a phrase from debates over evolution) economic system which does not allow the sort of abuses and economic oppression that our current system manifests; this system which is intelligently planned and modifiable with democratic consent and input, is what I call the public economy.

November 27

A Capital Idea Part 94: The Great American Freedom Scam

Here is another post about "freedom" as presented in the United States. I have written around the edges of this topic previsouly, but hearing or seeing so many Americans give obligatory "thanks" to our military for the second time in two weeks, made me realize that this is a scam perpetrated by the military-industrial-religious-political complex in the United States, and thus needs to be framed that way. Also, this time, I did some research comparing the "freedom" of the United States to that of other nations.

First of all, here is the scam. We are brainwashed into believing -- those among us who are susceptible to the message -- that it is American military might that made us "free" and keeps us "free." Our military "must be strong" and "must respond to challenges around the world" in order to "maintain our freedom" and "extend freedoms to other nations." Does this sound familiar? It should. This is the language of empire, and empires are destined to collapse to the right, under their own weight. How does this scam relate to the economy and capital ideas? The answer to that question does not require much of a stretch. We know that several trillions of our national debt -- probably most of the national debt which is such a hot topic in politics these days -- is due to military spending. This is a horridly misplaced priority, this military spending, however one conceives the motives to be. I would say that it is mainly in order to build and maintain an international military-industrial complex for the 1%ers, but if the motives are more noble, it is a horribly ineffective, even counterproductive, strategy. It only works as a strategy in order to enrich people who are part of the military business, to keep distant flocks of sheeple who work for tiny wages, under control, and to placate the enormous egos of American politicans.

In order to maintain the current military order, our government needs a certain level of cooperation from the public. It needs military personnel who are willing to carry out orders with unquestioning patriotism, for one thing. It also needs to justify in the minds of the public, the military budget and various military actions and bases around the world, for another. The lie which we are constantly subjected to, that we owe a debt of gratitude to the military for giving and maintaining our "freedoms," is the primary means by which public consent to these horrid policies is attained, as well as acting as an effective military recruiting tool. We are especially subjected to this enormous untruth during holidays, which tend to have conveniently militaristic (Veterans Day and Memorial Day) or nationalistic themes (Fourth of July and President's Day), or offer thanks to people such as military personnel (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Thus, the United States' military can go on spending profligately, military contractors can continue living in their mansions, and military equipment used to kill people, including Americans, around the world can continue to be perhaps the United States' biggest export. Meanwhile, international businesses feel that their overseas investments are protected, and American politicians can proudly point to the "accomplishments" of the military that they run, even while American troops are accidentally killing Pakistani soldiers as happened yesterday, or killing innocents by remote control drone attacks, and excusing their actions with an "Oops, mistakes happen!"!

If military spending "makes us free," then the United States should be the most "free" nation in the world by far, so is it? The answer is most definitely "no." There are a large number of nations which are just as "free" as the United States, if not freer, including military-less Costa Rica according to Freedomhouse.org, which has been measuring freedom in the nations of the world since 1972 (http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=351&ana_page=379&year=2011). To be exact, there are 87 nations out of 194 nations for which their was data, which ranked as free in both civil and political rights in both 2010 and 2011 according to their surveys, one of which was the United States (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_in_the_World). This represents 45% of the nations in the survey. Each nation can get a score from 1 to 7 on civil rights and on political rights, with lower scores indicating more freedom. According to the survey, the majority of the nations (48 of them) described as "free" in terms of both civil and political rights had scores of 1 on both measures, including the United States, the best scores that they could have had. Moreover, the percentage of nations considered to be "free" in terms of both civil and political rights has trended upward over the years since this measure began, beginning with only 27% of the nations enjoying such "freedom" in 1975. Thus, the rest of the world is "catching up to" the U.S. in terms of freedom, and most of these nations who are doing the catching up, appear to be ones that spend relatively small proportions of their national treasure on their militaries, at least, relatively little compared to the U.S., and also, they in no way owe their freedom to U.S. military "protection," based on my admittedly subjective perusal of the data.

On the topic of "freedom" in the United States, anybody who thinks that people in the United States are as "free" as people could be are living in dreamland. The following critique of freedom in the United States, for example, as well as the definitions of freedom used by Freedom House was presented in Wikipedia. "The definition of Freedom in Gastil (1982) and Freedom House (1990) emphasized liberties rather than the exercise of freedom, according to Adam Przeworski, who gave the following example: In the United States, citizens are free to form political parties and to vote, yet even in presidential elections only half of U.S. 'citizens' vote; in the U.S., 'the same two parties speak in a commercially sponsored unison,' wrote Przeworski" in 2003.

Apparently, and surely to be expected, "Freedom House" is basically a right-wing organization, so when I use its own statistics against it, that is damning evidence indeed. The quote continues as follows:

"More recent charges of ideological bias prompted Freedom House to issue this 2010 statement:

Freedom House does not maintain a culture-bound view of freedom. The methodology of the survey is grounded in basic standards of political rights and civil liberties, derived in large measure from relevant portions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These standards apply to all countries and territories, irrespective of geographical location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development."

Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear to me, that virtually nothing would prevent the United States from obtaining the highest possible scores in "Freedom House's" survey. There is a clear cultural and nationalistic bias there. The way that these ratings are obtained, is not by surveying residents of each nation, but rather, by having a panel of "experts" rate each nation on 10 political rights questions, and 15 civil rights questions, then obtaining average scores for each nation. Although the questions themselves seem good ones as far as I can tell, the reliance upon "analysts" and "academic advisors" (probably mostly or all U.S. citizens) for ratings seems very suspect in terms of subjective bias potential. Even with such bias, however, it seems very clear that spending our resources (i.e. human, natural resource and financial capital) at such an enormous rate as the United States does, on military endeavors, is not making us any freer. In fact, quite the opposite is most likely true. That is, it is impinging on both our civil and political rights, as well as our economic freedoms.

The fact that "freedom" itself is a bizarrely abstract concept, makes it easier to use as a tool to manipulate public opinion. I will end here with some of my personal perspective on the concept of "freedom" which helps to explain my constant use of quotes around the word, as well as helping to frame the topic.

First, the word "freedom" implies a lack of limits or restaint, as in being totally free to do whatever one wants to do. Of course, this is nonsense. Although using the word "freedom" tends to invoke the notion of unlimited choice, in reality, only an omnipotent being would have total freedom. Freedom is relative, and actually denotes being granted the right (or left) to make certain choices for oneself.

Second, the concept of freedom is biased toward an individualistic world view, which itself, is biased toward conservative ideology. We are taught to think of freedom as applying basically to the individual. There is such a thing as collective choice, or collective freedom, if you will, which operates at the societal level, and which outweighs individual freedom in many regards. Elections, if done fairly, are a good example of collective choice. However, the concept of freedom is seldom thought of as collective in an individualistic culture such as this, at least. Perhaps it is in more collectivistic cultures, which helps account for differing perceptions on topics such as civil and political rights. If members of the OWS movement began referring to themselves as fighting for the collective freedom of the 99%ers to direct their own governance such as by having truly fair elections, and truly representative democracy, it would help focus the movement. That is happening to an extent, which is a good thing, but due to our cognitive training it is difficult for Americans to stop thinking in terms of their own personal freedoms, and their own economic plights.

Third, the freedom that matters most is mental, not behavioral. Freedom (the right to make choices) can be thought of as having emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. However, the act of choosing, is essentially a cognitive process, aided by emotional processes. A person can have considerable freedom to behave as he or she chooses, yet still be mentally trapped into a certain way of thinking. On the other hand, a person who lacks much behavioral choice, may mentally be free to think and feel quite freely. (Think Stephen Hawking, for example.) We probably all have had experiences, in which we found ourselves trapped in a certain modality of thought which limited our ability to choose, or on the other hand, have found our choices taken away by others, but we essentially remained as free as before because our mental alacrity to think and feel as we pleased, remained unaffected. However, the discussion of "freedom" focuses obsessively on the idea of behavioral freedom.

Fourth, here is something which I have heard from several people to whom I am very close: Freedom is overrated. This is not to say that freedom is unimportant, but rather, that it does not always lead to the desired outcomes, as I understand it and agree with. The phrase, "Be careful what you wish for" comes to mind. Perhaps we would find ourselves happier and better off, if rather than obsessing over personal decisions and what is "right for me," we deferred somewhat to those with more experience and especially, to the greater, collective good. The concept of freedom that we have here in the United States, at least, and probably around much of the world, is akin to being a teenager who is given several credit cards, and told to go shopping, buy whatever you want, and money is no object. Now, that's freedom! It is for awhile, anyway. And people in such situations tend to be inordinately happy, until the bill eventually comes due, when they suddenly become alarmed and stressed. That is exactly what has happened with the huge scam that U.S. politicians and the military-industrial complex has perpetrated upon the people of the United States, and predictably, they don't want to pay; they want us to pay the bill and go through severe austerity in order to do so. Freedom in the hands of a fool, is a dangerous thing; it must be used wisely if we are to enjoy our freedoms.

November 16

A Capital Idea Part 93: I Occupied Riverside, and I Liked it

On Sunday morning, I noticed a post on Facebook from Occupy Riverside which said that they would be having an "education day" that day with various workshops. I checked the workshop schedule, and decided that this was the day for me to make my first appearance at an Occupy site. Thus, I found myself headed for downtown Riverside, CA that afternoon.

I got there around 3 p.m., although I apparently was so excited that my adrenaline was in high gear, resulting in me having to pee by the time I parked my car. I parked on Mission Inn Boulevard (Riverside's most iconic landmark), so I had a short visit to Riverside's Historic Landmark prior to heading for the Occupation site in the area of University and Main Streets. This is essentially a plaza area where no cars are allowed, a beautiful and excellent site for an Occupation, surrounded by various quaint shops, many of them actual one-of-a-kind, local businesses. The place was clean, obviously well cared-for, as well as attractive, and absolutely no obstruction of the businesses was taking place. In fact, the Occupy movement seems to be bringing more business to the downtown plaza. This area has the government buildings of Riverside and Riverside County, since Riverside is the seat of Riverside County, which is a very large county. It also contains legal and financial centers of the region, such as they are (relatively minor, to be perfectly honest).

Every hour there were 3 workshops scheduled, at locations "A," "B," and "C." I immediately noticed a group of people at location "A," and saw from the board that it was an overview of the causes of the current economic crisis. A fairly young lady was speaking, and she did an excellent job although she was covering material that personally, I already knew pretty well. At one point, she mentioned teaching, so I figured that she was a professor, like me. I counted about 15 other people at station A, mostly college student types, and saw that several people were actually taking notes. There were also several little child revolutionaries running around in a sort of populist preschool atmosphere. Around 3:30, the first presenter gave way to the second presenter, a fairly young man who also appeared to be a college instructor. Again, he did a very good job, although I had to wonder about his singling out of psychology departments as being bought off by big business. This is definitely not the case anywhere that I have been. After finishing his short talk, there was a discussion period, which was very active, with probably no fewer than 10 questions and/or comments from the audience. I added a couple of comments of my own in fact. I was very pleased to see such a high level of intellectual curiosity, and willingness to learn by the Occupiers. After finishing, I introduced myself to the male presenter -- the female one went somewhere very quickly so she was unavailable. Here is what I found out. It turns out that both of them had been teaching at U.C. Riverside, but had been let go due to budget cuts. The man I was talking to was an English professor, and I think the other presenter is too. His wife was the oriental (I think Japanese) gal (while the presenter is a "white guy") with the young daughter and son little revolutionaries orbiting around her. He also admitted that the big business connection to psychology is not so much at the U.C. schools, but mostly at east coast Ivy League schools. It is my opinion that universities are victims of coporatization, all departments, not just psychology, so that in the face of lost public revenue, they have to look to deep pocket businesses for funding these days. Now here is where it got really interesting. After being let go by U.C. Riverside, both of them have found part-time work at Moreno Valley College, the same place where I teach! I had not seen them before, but we all teach at the same school. An audience member said he had recently finished going to Moreno Valley College too. I am surprised the two Enlgish professors found work where I teach, since we are also losing professors and classes due to budget cuts, but I guess my school is still hiring people with Ph.D.s. It's getting to the point where almost everybody who teaches at Community Colleges has a Ph.D. these days, including myself.

Around this time, lo and behold, a familiar young man shook my hand and said "Hello Dr. Warden." I knew immediately who he was -- a student from this winter session who had read my blog and complimented me on it. I couldn't remember his name though, so he told me he was Cesar (plus his last name). Cesar had those plastic serving gloves on his hands. He said he was dispensing donated food, so I followed him back to his food stand. People were asking him for food such as salads, all for free. It was totally refreshing to see such sharing and community. I asked Cesar about how to contribute and he said pretty much any food or supplies were welcome. A moment later, a young African American woman asked me if she could interview me. She asked if I was part of the Occupy movement, so I told her yes, but mainly, I blog about it. She was fine with that, and for the next half hour, she basically listened to me and took copious notes. She really didn't have to ask me much; she just pushed my "on" button and my engine ran by itself. It turns out that she is a student at U.C. Riverside, and she was interviewing people for an English class assignment. By the time she was finished with the interview, it was 4:30 so the next workshops were about halfway through.

After getting Cesar's phone number and email address, I went over to a workshop at location "B" that said "Nonviolence." People there were reading in turns from a scholarly article. However, the article wasn't what I had expected from the title. Frankly, it did remind me of the conversations about racial oppression I had with my African-American advisor while in graduate school. There was definitely a lot of "hate whitey," references to "white privilege" and white pacifists not understanding why violence by oppressed populations is sometimes justified, in the article, even though it was written by a guy with a Dutch-type name. I had to have some very mixed feelings about this workshop. A couple of people apparently left it in disgust, in fact. However, nobody in the group seemed to feel like advocating violence. They seemed to simply be trying to understand why it happens sometimes, thinking about the issues, and many of them were taking notes. I counted about 18 other people aside from myself, even after a couple of people left. The article was fairly long so the session lasted until about 5:20 instead of ending on time at 5 p.m. I was sitting on a curb, and a young man next to me let me share his article. At one point, I asked him to let me look it over so I borrowed it from him for a few minutes. After finishing, there were a few questions, although most people were in a hurry to go to other workshops, etc. I needed to go home to eat dinner, prepare for school the next morning, etc. One of the comments, interestingly, brought up the topic of victim derogation, comparing racial/ethnic oppression with the derogation of rape victims, a topic which I did some research about, with a recent Ph.D. graduate, Geri Stahly, when I was a graduate student. I did speak with the young man next to me, on our perspectives on violence, and we seemed to pretty much agree that people have a right to self-defense, but should never instigate violence. In a case of synchronicity, Thom Hartmann was discussing the topic of potential violence by Occupiers the next day, and he took the same position I have been taking -- that we must take the moral high ground to make the movement as inclusive and effective as possible, which means pledging ourselves to nonviolence, even if opponents may behave violently toward us. I think the article that was read had valid points, but it does not apply to the present movement. It was about long-term oppression of people of one race by another, basically, which is completely different from what the Occupy movement is about. My fervent wish is that the Occupiers realize this and listen to the moralistic voices advocating nonviolence, whether its source is a "whitey" such as myself of Thom, or someone else. I think the presence of large numbers of women among the Occupiers I saw (about 1/2 of them), will help dissuade Occupiers from any violent impulses they may have, in general, although I am sure that there will be exceptions. (Before I forget, the gals must be evolving, as a good percentage of them had bright hair colors such as pink, green or blue. One of them even appeared to be growing feathers from her head; perhaps self-powered human flight is coming next.) Since this is a "99%" movement, clearly, it includes the large majority of "white people" who have never experienced systematic oppression by people of another race. Most importantly, with the means of instant communication and recording that are available now, it has become very difficult with oppressors to get away with violence or other forms of oppression, anymore. They may not televise the revolution, but the people will.

After talking with my reading partner, I went to find Cesar again, but he had temporarily gone somewhere, so I headed home. By that time, I had to pee again.

I called Cesar yesterday to ask him some more specific questions about donations and parking. It turns out that one disadvantage of the location is that this is the "high rent" district, such as it is, of Riverside County, which means that free parking is difficult to find except on weekends or outside of the 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. working hours. Thus, I decided to go back to Occupy Riverside today after 5 p.m. when the parking is free. I will bring an American flag, some markers for writing on signs, bottled water, a bunch of Pineapple Guavas from our "magic tree" that has close to 1,000 Guavas every fall, "Caesar" Salad Dressing (for Cesar), Ketchup, Mustard, canned Tuna, and paper towels. Most of these items are thanks to my gorgeous packrat wife's shopping habits, who buys large amounts of on-sale food and stores it in various places in our house, patio and garage. Eunice is still in Taiwan, and plans to return around Christmas, but she told me she wants to go to check out Occupy Riverside and make more donations shortly after she returns. Bless her heart!

Well, that is my report from Occupy Riverside. Overall, it was very encouraging to see so many young adults educating themselves in civics, politics, economics and so forth, and being willing to learn from others with more experience such as myself. Also encouraging is the sense of community they are forming, and the experience in direct, hands-on democracy. I am proud of them all, especially Cesar, as well as my friends "Nimblecivet" (James) who is a camping Occupier in San Francisco, and David Walker, who is a day Occupier in Chicago. I don't know what the outcome of the Occupy movement will be, but I know that something good will result from what we are learning.

By the way, I wasn't counting the total number of people at the event, but I think it was somewhere between 50-100 at any one time.

November 13

A Capital Idea Part 92: Truth, Knowledge, Power, Money and Freedom

I was listening to a radio show guest a couple of months ago talking about Native American folklore when something clicked for me regarding this topic. I saved this topic for later, and now is later. I don't remember a lot of the details, but she was talking about Native American stories which taught that Knowledge is Power. We have similar stories and sayings from virtually any culture, I suspect. A related truism regarding Freedom is "The Truth Will Set You Free."

In theory, all of these sayings should be true, indeed. Knowledge is really only knowledge if it is True, by definition. Knowledge allows us to influence our environment to effect certain outcomes; thus Knowledge gives us Power. For example, scientific Knowledge gives us Power to manipulate our environment for our own perceived benefit. The same of course goes for knowing the Truth. It allows us to have clear perceptions of our circumstances so we can effectively deal with them. To give a counterexample, schizophrenics do not accurately perceive their environment due to false thoughts and perceptions coming from self-generated stimuli; thus, they are unable to effectively deal with their circumstances. As for "The Truth Will Set You Free," we will never truly be free as long as we are living a delusion. To continue the schizophrenia counterexample, schizophrenics tend to suffer many idiosyncratic (as opposed to the culturally prescibed) delusions; thus, they find themselves prisoners of their own warped thought processes. The more Knowledge, i.e. Truth we know, the more freedom we can enjoy as relatively enlightened souls -- freedom to be who we were meant to be, to make rational and informed choices while taking responsibility for those choices. From a psychological standpoint, conventional wisdom works out excellently regarding Truth, Knowledge, Power, and Freedom.

However, these is a proverbial fly in the ointment of these fine proverbs, namely Money. The basic problem is that Money distorts the relations between Truth, Knowledge, Power, and Freedom, inserting itself into the process and basically taking it over if it can. Money will run, and ruin, everything if it has a chance to. And when unrestrained financial capitalism reigns, Money has every opportunity to do so. Money is used to manipulate the messages we hear -- to convince people that what the people who run the media want us to believe, is in fact the Truth. This is called propaganda, but when I say propaganda, I mean it in a broad sense, a sense which includes the spin we hear in conventional news shows, and even in many ordinary conversations with friends, family and acquaintances, as well as advertising and political or religious messages we hear. When we are affected by propaganda, of any of the kinds mentioned in the prevous sentence, what we think we "Know" is not actual Knowledge, but rather a socially constructed distortion of the Truth. Essentially, we become as delusional as schizophrenics, but on a mass scale, when socially prescribed delusions become the norm, and thus, society becomes dysfunctional. The influence of Money and Power concentrated in the hands of a few people, acts to create these socially constructed, delusional memes which serve their masters.

Of course, we Know that if we let it, Money will become Power. That is what we are dealing with now, which has prompted and is the focus of our growing revolution as exemplified by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Money inserts itself big-time into the political process, if we let it, and our recent predecessors have indeed let that happen, big-time. Rather than stemming from Truth and Knowledge, as it should, Power stems from having more money than one's competitors. Of course, humanity has a long history of Power resulting from having better weapons and more aggression than other potential leaders, so True democracy and enlightened culture has been difficult to establish, but as a whole, humanity has been working in that direction. Now, Power is not coming from the barrel of a gun so much, at least not directly, but rather, comes from the Money that buys the political process, as well as the guns from whose barrels Power sometimes still comes. It is the influence of Money, not raw agression and threats, which stand in the way of a more enlightened society now (or perhaps it has always been that way). We, the 99%, have been effectively pretty much neutered, in the process, from the standpoint of political Power. Without Power, we are relatively helpless, unable to effectively make the changes we need to in order to move forward, especially the big changes. Our Freedom has been compromised in this state of pseudo-democracy, or semi-democracy, a state which is very difficult to characterize. We still have democracy, we still have campaigns and elections. We have some very good politicians even, as public servants, but frankly, we have mostly bad ones. No wonder only 9% of Americans approve of the job Congress has been doing. We have a choice between two political parties which are both more conservative than the large majority of the public, and certainly far more conservative than they need to be, in the relatively stultified system that American politics has become. No wonder we, the 99%, are beginning to openly revolt against politics as usual, and especially, the influence of big Money in politics.

We are underpaid or out of work. That has to be bad for one's sense of Freedom.

We are undereducated and most of us can no longer afford higher education without a scholarship or going into so much debt that it resembles indentured servitude. That cannot be good for our sense of Freedom.

Education is derogated in popular culture and in the media oftentimes, as well. This only serves the purpose of those who do not want us to have Truth, Knowledge, Power, and Freedom -- or Money, for that matter.

And of course, as mentioned above, while being told we are included in and crucial to the political process, we are effectively marginalized in terms of access to real Power. That has to detract from our sense of Freedom.

The way to regain our Freedom, Power, Knowledge, and Truth, is to assert ourselves politically. We, the 99%, must continually use the right of democracy to speak out for what we believe in, what we need, so that we can build a society in which Knowledge is indeed Power (and Money is no longer Power), and in which the Truth Will indeed Set Us Free (and the amount of Money one has will no longer be directly proportional to whatever limited Freedom a person enjoys, which doesn't appear to be much Freedom for me at this time since I only have $1 left in my wallet). I Know it will not be easy, but this is the path that history has set us upon.

November 8

A Capital Idea Part 91: Cyber-Occupying, Micro-Occupying, and Voting-Booth Occupying

As a social scientist as well as an interested observer, I have noticed how culture consists of a coordinated set of norms, standards, rules, customs, language, and so forth. The same applies to cultural change. What we are talking about here, is actually cultural evolution.

I have mentioned that it is my impression that the Occupy movement is the most recent and most visible expression of a revolution which has been fomenting in people's hearts for years. This revolution I believe, will actually be a process of cultural evolution, and as such, it will need to consist of a coordinated set of related phenomena in order to succeed.

The revolution probably began with social networking via the internet. Suddenly, people were sharing their political opinions with others they never would have known otherwise, and they found like-minded people, probably far moreso than they expected to. Arguably, the revolution may have started prior to that with local movements, such as creating local economic cooperatives, people attempting to be more self-sufficient by growing their own food, or efforts to buy from local businesses rather than large conglomerates. However, it seems to me that this aspect of the revolution is just beginning to pick up momentum with the advent of Bank Transfer Day and the whole movement toward utilizing credit unions. I would say that the second phase of the revolution was most likely Voting-Booth Occupying, particularly with the election of Obama in 2008. Unfortunately, conservative backlash and the pre-existence of a deeply conservative political system, regardless of who was elected to be our President, temporarily derailed the Voting-Booth sub-revolution. I would say that Micro-Occupying is the fourth phase of the revolution.

Of course, all of these sub-revolutions are interconnected and interrelated, so creating a timeline with separate phases is rather misleading. Instead, what is crucial to the success of this process of cultural evolution, is for the people to recognize what is happening, and make every effort to engage in coordinated actions involving the various forms of occupying. In other words, people, Cyber-Occupy, Micro-Occupy, and Voting-Booth Occupy your hearts out! Occupy to your hearts content. Do not make the mistake of equating the current revolution with the in-the-streets protesters. But don't hesitate to engage in In-The-Streets Occupation, if so inclined. This revolution consists of all sorts of occupation, using our voices and our actions, to effect progressive change -- a change that is nothing less than a fundamental change in the nature of our culture.

Ultimately, the most important actions we take in order to effect political change, will probably be the processes which lead to the election of politicians. We need to be involved in the process, all of us, of selecting -- or even being -- politicians, from showing up at campaign stops or political debates, to donations to progressive candidates, to voting for progressive candidates in primaries, to voting for them in actual elections. In fact, I heard a councilman from Los Angeles yesterday morning, a true progressive named Rosenthal -- these past few days have been so eventful that I almost forget this in the midst of events -- essentially make the same point on Pacifica Radio. He said that we must use the energy of the Occupy movement to translate to the voting process, in order to elect more progressives to public office. I couldn't agree more.

I would add further that instead of falling asleep at the wheel once our candidates are elected, as often tends to happen with the electorate, we must continue to take the wheel of politics and steer America into the future. We must always keep the pressure on politicians to engage in progressive policies, and make our representative actually represent us. Otherwise, the forces of corporate fascism, social conservatism imposed on all of us by a relatively small minoirty, and political corruption will tend to take hold, until we create a system in which such things are not possible. It should be our goal to create such a system. Yes, I know that many people will claim that an uncorruptible system is not possible, but I believe it is, once we take the influence of big money out of politics, making it illegal, and establish a truly representative democracy in which all the people are taught to participate. By actively and conscientiously participating in the political process, we can Occupy it.

October 30

A Capital Idea Part 90: The Genius of the Occupy Wall Street

Last night I watched The McGloughlin Group, the longstanding political discussion show on public broadcasting. I used to watch this show regularly, but not so much anymore since I noticed that even the discussion on the left side of the panel was truncated to prevent any discussion reaching the point of true progressive systemic changes. However, yesterday they spent much of their time discussing the Occupy Wall Street movement. Predictably, the persons on the right (Pat Buchanan and some woman I had never seen before) were saying that the real number of protesters were small and that the movement would peter out in the winter. In addition, Pat Buchanan was saying that they were a bunch of modern-day hippies who would discredit themselves with their horrible behavior, exactly the sort of thing which happened to some extent in the 1960s and which I warned the protesters against in my previous post, and furthermore, which this time I don't think will happen. The two members on the left (Eleanor Clift and Clarence Page) in contrast, said that the movement has staying power and will continue over the long haul, if not grow. As usual, Moderator John McLaughlin was leaning toward the wrong side with Buchanan and the new right-wing talker.

It struck me during this conversation that only Clift and Page really understood that this is a far larger movement than a few thousand disgruntled persons. I think only Clift mentioned the social media as supporting this movement, although I know Page is aware of that too since I am "friends" with him on Facebook. Furthermore, Clift mentioned that earlier movements did not have this level of organization and communication made possible by the social media. The hippies of the 1960s could only dream of such things, which might as well have been something out of Star Trek as far as they were concerned. Well, maybe I am exaggerating a bit, since they did have stay put telephones, at least, but that is not nearly the same thing. One thing that has become clear to me regarding the Occupy movement, is that among media pundits, only progressives really understand it even though it is supported by over 92% of the population in a recent poll. Also, this poll found that 70% of the Occupiers were political independents, suggesting the impetus and desire for the formation of a new, reform-minded and progressive political party, or pulling the Democratic Party well to the left of where it has been. Most of the Occupiers were found to have jobs, also, contrary to media portrayals of them.

Conservatives to a person at this point, just don't seem to understand the genius of the Occupy movement, and perhaps it is fuzzy to most progressives as well, so I will lay it out here. (I didn't hear Clift or Page really show they understood this in all of its details, although they know it is a far larger movement than just the protesters who are doing the "Occupying.") First, we have chronically high unemployment. This is an essential consequence of putting financial capitalists in charge of the economy. For all the talk about lowering the unemployment rate, it will never drop substantially as long as the Banksters and their CEO buddies control the conversation regarding the economy. The reason is that capitalism craves cheap labor. It will both go wherever in the world cheap labor exists, which it has, and it will make the supply of jobs scarce so that people will be willing to work for minimal pay, which it also has done, giving us chronically high unemployment. It has become difficult for young people, even with college or even more advanced degrees, to find work. This creates a large supply of frustrated, resentful, talented young people who have little to lose by protesting. (The Arab Spring is also largely being fueled by much the same lack of job opportunities for its educated young persons.) To that population which sees corporate greed as their enemy which denies them work opportunities and pays them unfairly even if they do find work, are added progressives who have been around much longer, and have educated themselves over the years regarding the economic/political situation. Some of these have already been political activists over the years for progressive causes, who can add their expertise. Also, there are a mix of middle aged and older persons who have probably never protested anything before, but may be chronically unemployed and blame corporate greed for their situation, or have realized that they have been getting abused by the system even if they are employed. Many of them are concerned regarding the fate of their children or grandchildren, in fact.

Take this mix of disgruntled persons, and put it all together, and you get a political powderkeg which inevitably will lead to some sort of protests. Add to this, the raw power grabs by Republican politicians, attempting to disband unions in some states, for instance, or change electoral college law in states they expect Obama to win, so that the Republican candidate will get at least some electoral college votes. I almost feel as though I am watching the Republican end game, not as vile but just as antisocial as the Nazi's end-game which involved eliminating the Jews and whomever else they didn't like. Of course, that ended in the implosion of the Nazi movement in Germany, and I suspect that events which are unfolding in the United States will end in either the implosion of the Republican Party, or a radical leftward shift within the party necessary for it to become rational once again. The level of anger and frustration at this point among the majority of the electorate has reached the point where it must have some sort of expression. But none of this background addresses the real genius of the OWS movement.

Here is what is so ingenius about it, that far surpasses previous social movements:

First, we have a large and relatively steady supply of unemployed and underemployed persons, with little to lose and a whole lot to gain collectively, who act as peaceful soldiers, if you will, in the war against corporate oligarchy. The more the system oppresses the 99%, and the longer the current dysfunctional system goes on without remedy, the more determined they will be to fix the system.

Secondly, they have a support system which is unlike anything that was possible in the past. People are using the internet to donate food, shelter, port-a-potties, clothing, and whatever these protesters need. Protesting has essentially become their job, which as far as I know, was never the case in the past.

Third, many of them have both photo and movie taking capabilities which were not present during past movements, either, and which can broadcast -- live in many cases -- police brutality or the actions of conservative infiltrators, for instance, when these do occur. They can also record the large peaceful crowds of protesters, and all of the good things going on there, without having to wait for the "Eyewitness News" truck, or whatever, to show up.

Fourth, speaking of police, the protesters are on the side of the police, as police are part of the 99%, and furthermore, are unionized employees who are the target of Republican royalist nutbags who wish to have them replaced by private militia or "security." Some policemen and policewomen don't seem to realize that yet, but eventually, they should. Thus, the power of authority to squash the protests is very limited, given the sympathy of most police to the movement.

Fifth, and most importantly, the Occupy movement is just the visible manifestation of a far larger movement which is occuring in the blogosphere and the social media of the internet. Thus, no matter what happens to the protesters who carry signs while walking or occupying financial centers, the movement will continue. There is no way our internet or cell phones can be taken from us. Of course, this larger population of internet connected people is supporting the protesters in ways material, intellectual, spiritual and inspirational. Thus, one way or another, the movement will continue. There is no way for the oligarchs to stop it. The only way it could stop, is if complacency among the electorate sets in again. It was complacency which led to the conditions which made this movement necessary in the first place, but now that people are waking up politically, not only here in these United States, but around the world, we will not fall asleep on the job again.

Sixth, the movement has learned from past movements. The large majority of the protesters have pledged to stay non-violent. They have learned from, if not studied, previous nonviolent movements. I am confident that some of the leaders among the movement have studied works describing how to have a successful, peaceful revolution, such as the works of Gene Sharp. They have also by and large decided that it is best to behave themselves, and not act like spoiled adolescents who have run away from home and wish to act wild and crazy, or some such. So far, the protesters have taken the moral high ground, as they need to continue doing in order to maximize the success of this largely morally based movement.

Seventh, it is a relatively leaderless movement, a truely populist one, which avoids the problems caused by cults of personality. Eventually, there should be identifiable leaders of the Occupy movement, some already well known, some new names and faces to the public, but it will remain the ultimate populist movement of potentially global proportions.

Finally, the "Occupiers" are policing themselves, another lesson they have learned from past movements and the recent revolution in Egypt. They are catching infiltrators who try to make them look bad, as well as disciplining those among their number who commit transgressions such as acts of violence or other inappropriate behaviors -- often using their high tech capabilities to aid in these efforts.

It is the combination of all these factors which make the current political movements around the world, actually, beginning with the "Arab Spring," and continuing with the Occupy movement, distinct from previous political movements. However, compared to the Arab Spring, in this global economy, the Occupy movement's reach has become truly global. The combination of these factors, acting synergistically to allow the Occupy Wall Street movement sustainability, global outreach, and the broadest possible appeal, is the true genius of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

October 24

A Capital Idea Part 89: This Could be the Best Revolution Ever

This is my special message to all the 99%er revolutionaries among us. I really believe this could be a positively transformational period in human history. It could be, but that depends -- on us. I suffer no delusion that 99% of the population is on our side, although it should be. However, I am sure that it is the large majority of us.

Who is not on our side? For one, and most importantly, the oligarchy and their massive wealth is not. For another, the banksters are not. We all know that Republican politicians are not on our side, and many Democratic ones are not either. The right-wing pundits are not, either, of course. And of course, there are the Archie Bunkers and ditto-heads of the world who act against their own self-interest. But all of these put together, probably amount to 20-25% of the American population.

Let me give you my perspective on what we are up against, that is, what these wealthy people who oppose the 99%ers really want and don't want of the American public.

Don't be delusional about these people. They don't want you to be rich -- they want little obedient wage slaves instead. As long as you are too busy trying to "make a living" to pay attention to politics or complain too much, the system they put into motion can keep churning along.

They don't want us to be educated, really -- they want us to know just enough to make good wage slaves. People such as myself are what they think of as anomalies, no matter how many of us there are. There must be institutions of higher education, so people such as myself slip through the cracks and get PH.Ds in what they refer to derogatorily with such language as "pinko commie liberal institutions" such as the University of California, where our advisors rage against the military industrial complex and the corruptness of the Republican party. I was supposed to hate affirmative action, and be a conservative champion of the power of the individual over collective action. I was supposed to love the private sector and hate big government, but something went wrong; actually, something went wrong with probably over 90% of us. I have yet to meet an openly conservative psychologist, despite the omni-present bald pate of Dr. Phil, Texas conservative clinical psychologist (or some such) on the television. What went wrong? We were educated! By the way, I think the same holds true for my two older PH.D brothers (a geneticist and a water quality specialist). No wonder these people want to privatize the educational system, make it the domain of the wealthy, and dictate its agenda and curriculum!

They don't want a low unemployment rate either. No, they want many of you to be unemployed and struggling to find work. Why? When their is a shortage of jobs, people get desperate for them, so they will work for just about any wage, no matter how low. What do they do about the unemployed? Social Darwinism, basically. If you are unemployed, so they say, you must be an Unworthy One. The rich deserve their wealth, they say; it is proof of their worthiness. The poor are like lost sheep which deserve nothing better than to be victims of the wolves of the world. Meanwhile, Republican politicians circle Obama like a school of sharks on the hunt.

They don't want you to vote either. They say they believe in democracy, and as proof, they are willing to export what they call "democracy" from the barrel of a gun. But they don't want democracy; they want an oligarchy of the wealthy. The less the people vote, the better for them. They assuage us with mindless entertainment -- sports for men, soap operas for women, idiotic sitcoms for both genders, etc. And they let us have computer games and other high tech toys, hoping to distract us from our growing problems.

What do they want? Well, that's easy -- money, power, prestige, comfort, security, self-esteem-- the more the better. How do they get what they want? By rigging the system so that a constant flow of money comes their way, and using that money to buy the rest, except for self-esteem, which cannot be bought. How do they get self-esteem? They rig their own personal belief systems to make their actions worthy of only the best among us. They believe in Social Darwinism, and place themselves at the top. They convince themselves that they are the "job creators" without which society cannot function. They even adjust their religious belief systems to reflect their privileged reality.

What do we want? We want economic fairness, an unrigged system, education for all, widely available employment, and true democracy in which money plays no part. In other words, we want all the things they don't, and I believe, we are going to get it, sooner or later.

How will we get there? By being persistent, by all pitching in and helping, and by all understanding the current situation and how we need to transform society.

In the previous two blog posts, I described the Social Contract and some ways to enforce it. This is my way of framing the new revolution. This revolution is about forming a new Social Contract and making sure that it cannot be undone by a small minority of greedy (in any way) individuals. I described how "the other side" -- namely the corporate oligarchs, many bankers, and many of those in government and the miliatary -- have broken the Social Contract. However, we, the 99%ers, have our own social obligations to fulfill if we are to form a new, much better Social Contract and succeed in making it a reality.

This must remain a peaceful movement, even if the opposition becomes violent. Never let them have the social ammunition to make the case that they have the higher moral ground.

This movement must be focused and disciplined, something which is often difficult for the young and angry to succeed at. We, especially those in the public eye, must be on our best behavior as much as possible. Have fun, but don't turn protests into parties! Don't take drugs, don't engage in sexual promiscuity, don't act like jerks, and don't blame clean living people such as me when people do so and we all suffer the consequences. This is a moral movement; thus, it must act morally.

This movement must not become a showcase for personalities. The cult of personality can be a dangerous thing. That is why it being a "leaderless movement," at least in the beginning, is a good thing. I believe that the movement will eventually need leaders, but based on rational reasons, not based on the "Need for Power" (as psychologist Henry Murray would call it).

We must be persistent, and not get discouraged when things don't go as we hope. Things we rarely go exactly as we hope, but as long as we make our point and keep moving forward, we will succeed.

We must all do what we can to help. This is not a movement merely of disgruntled, mostly out of work people protesting against corporate power. In fact, the seeds of this revolution were planted long ago, and all of us who are not on the side of the oligarchs, are revolutionaries. Make no mistake: There will ultimately be no such thing as neutral in this revolution. This is a populist revolution, with the large majority against a relatively small minority. All of us will take part in it. Those of us who are not out in the streets, may do as much or more for this movement in many cases, as those in the streets. Those who write, talk, or take action in favor of the 99%ers are all effective revolutionaries. Those who love humanity are 99%ers too, as are the people who buy Pizzas or Port-a-Potties for the protesters and otherwise support them. Holding protest signs and walking around in large city downtown financial and government centers is only the more out-in-the-open, attention catching side of the revolution. Ultimately, most of this revolution will take place at the ballot box, the Whitehouse.gov email box, and the halls of Congress and the White House, when we find representative who finally represent us! But those of us who do go out and protest, keep on protesting. We need you. You have gotten their attention. And if you support the revolution in some other way, keep on doing that as well. This generation has a chance to transform the world in a positive way, to advance human cultural evolution to a point where we at last, put the era of financial capitalism dominance behind us, but we must all participate. Don't ever think of political participation as merely an optional right. It is not only a right, but really, an obligation!

I have been hearing a relevant quote attributed to Ghandi recently in relation to the Occupy Wall Street movement. However, when I looked it up on the internet, I found that this quote was disputed, but there is a verified similar quote from a Union activist named Nicholas Klein in 1918. Here it is:

"And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi

We have gotten past the "ignore" stage, and reached the stage of being ridiculed. Please be prepared for the real attacks on the movement and those involved in it, in the coming years. Be brave, but be careful and self-controlled.

Finally, we must understand the world pretty much as it is. Live life with an open mind, a rational mind, a caring mind. Believe in fairness and work for it, always. Most of all, live a life of good conscience. The growing revolution we now find ourselves in asks nothing less of us, and nothing more.

October 17

A Capital Idea Part 88: Enforcing the Social Contract

Last time, I wrote about the social contract, a mostly unwritten understanding of the rights and obligations of both individuals and the institutions which they create. Lacking official status, the social contract is relatively easy to break, and in fact, even deny that it exists. Thus, it has been sadly abused by those who have the power to manipulate financial, political, religious and military institutions in recent years.

In order to prevent such abuses, the social contract must have a pre-eminent position in society, as enshrined in culture and law as the Constitution is. One way to do this would be to actually write it into the Constitution, perhaps in a manner similar to the Bill of Rights. This is what I would prefer, but given the stultification of the American legal system, it is unlikely at present that such a large scale change could take place -- perhaps it could happen sooner than we expect (like 2025), but not now. Before something which creates a far better foundation for society such as this occurs, the groundwork must be laid. The first step would probably be to have a group of citizens write a social contract. In fact, this has essentially been done, by various groups or individuals, although it is usually presented in terms of a "people's bill of rights." I have seen 2 or 3 of these already on Facebook. A comprehensive social contract includes the rights and obligations of all concerned -- the rights and obligations of the citizens and consumers, as well as the rights and obligations of government, financial institutions, religious and military organizations, etc. Thus, a more comprehensive document needs to be formed than the various ones which are floating around the cybersphere these days.

Next, the document needs to be publicized. The obvious way to publicize it in these days -- what I suspect will be the very early days -- of Occupy Wall Street and the 99%ers, is to bring such a document to the attention of the protesters and have it incorporated into the demands of the protesters. At present, the Occupy movement is essentially leaderless and without agreed upon demands by the protesters. It is more of a movement against corporate greed in general -- something to which the maximum number of Americans (probably about 99% of us), can relate. However, in order for the movement to effect social justice and progressive change, it must endorse specific policies eventually. As the movement matures, leaders and more specific agendas will emerge. Part of this maturation should include something in the way of a social contract, which the people demand be encoded into law.

With the success of the movement which I expect, laws will change, perhaps in a piecemeal fashion, but at least changes reinforcing the social contract will be made. However, the progressive movement must keep its eyes on the goal of enshrining the social contract into the Constitution. Anything less, can be rather easily overturned by lobbyists and their political cronies, should the wrong group of people happen to once again attain political power. Part of this process should also be political reform, in order to make democracy more democratic. This is social contract point number 9, actually, which I forgot last time. The social contract must specify public funding of elections, and outlaw corporate funding of elections and lobbyists, at the very least. Additionally, it should include reforms such as instant runoff voting, perhaps voting for parties rather than individual candidates for governing bodies, and perhaps requiring all eligible citizens to vote, all of which should make parties other than the Democratic and Republican parties viable, giving us a multiparty system and much more of a true democracy. This people's movement must work relentlessly for these reforms, and insist upon them.

In the larger picture, the ultimate solution to the problem of money corrupting people and resulting in the disruption of the social contract, I believe, will involve creating a resource based economy. Such an economy will have strong local as well as regional and global ties. It will be based primarily on cooperation and ecological soundness and sustainability rather than competition. It will be like a thriving ecosystem as I envision it, with a multitude of economic practices which act synchronistically, rather than antagonistically. It will include redundancies just as a healthy ecosystem does, so that the economy does not depend upon any one business or institution. It will be a people's economy which gives people the relative freedom to pursue their productive activities, separately or together, but does not condone counterproductive activities. It will be a people's economy, in a truly democratic sense. When money no longer carries the meaning that it does now, and the accumulation of disproportionately vast amounts of it is no longer possible and no longer a pathway to power, making a social contract which truly serves the public will be a natural consequence. Breaking the social contract as is routinely done now, will become not only be difficult if not impossible, but rather than being a sort of status symbol of wealth and power, as it is now, such actions will be viewed as they should be, as something grossly obscene and cause for the punishment and shaming of the social contract breakers or would-be breakers.

Next time, I will present my plea to the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially it younger members, regarding my view of what their goals should be.

October 12

A Capital Idea Part 87: The Social Contract Breakers

My introduction to the concept of the social contract was when I learned about Lawrence Kohlberg's cognitive theory of moral development. I have found this a most important concept over the years, and I still think a moral perspective on the social contract is the most appropriate way to view it. In Kohlberg's theory, there are 6 stages of moral development. The fifth stage is the social contract. In terms of Kohlberg's theory, the social contract is conceptualized as a personal contract between an individual and society, including rights and obligations of the person. This is an informal thing, as in between oneself and God. Personally, I think that the social contract should be the highest stage in Kohlberg's theory; however, Kohlberg had a cognitive and individualistic bias, not surprisingly, so he placed universal ethical principles (self-chosen) and personal conscience at the highest level. Perhaps it was difficult for Kohlberg to wrap his mind around the idea of collective morality, which is really the logical extension of the social contract.

In order for a society to function effectively, there must be collective morality, actually. People must agree upon basic moral principles which undergird the legal system, personal relations, and even religion. Thus, there are unwritten, informal social contracts by which society functions, but of which people are generally unaware, and therefore, there is no particular remedy for violations of the social contract (unless they break the law) and furthermore, people may not be aware of them since they are not generally aware of the social contract itself. This makes violating the social contract relatively easy to get away with. We are suffering the consequences of powerful, rich people getting away with breaking the social contract now, and it has been only getting worse over the past several decades.

What is this implicit, collectively moral, social contract? Here in the United States (and surely without much difference throughout the world), the social contract is rather difficult to define, since it has never been clearly stated. However, it would presumably include the following components:

1. Paying taxes on a graduated scale with those who have higher incomes paying at a higher rate, to fund government services is the price which income earners and corporations must pay in order to enjoy the benefits of democracy and government services such as government built and repaired infrastructure, protection, etc.;

2. Business people are obligated to avoid using their money selfishly to advance their own agenda through political influence;

3. Consumers have the right to reasonable consumer protection, including government agencies which protect the environment, and protect consumers from abuses;

4. Workers have a right to a decent living wage from their employers;

5. The military is obligated to serve the public and not its own grand visions of a military empire;

6. Religous professionals are obligated to maintain the separation of church and state, and thus, not involve themselves in endorsing political agendas or specific politicians;

7. In return for being good citizens, the government has an obligation to protect "the commons" and use them to provide for the citizens' needs;

8. In return for being good citizens, the government has an obligation to serve the public good through large scale interventions which would otherwise be difficult for people to perform, and through the redistribution of wealth.

There may be other aspects of the social contract of which I have not thought, and since it is a work in progress, different people may have different ideas about it, but there is generally agreement among most people that it exists and that it contains components such as these. Perhaps you can think of some other aspects of the social contract.

As I examine this list, it is clear to me that all of these aspects of the social contract are being systematically violated.

1. The rich and corporations tend to avoid paying their taxes, which have been reduced to a rate which is already far too low as it is. Yet these people still whine and moan about their so-called "tax burden."

2. Large businesses hire lobbyists and support corporate candidates to change laws in their favor and increase their wealth and political power.

3. Consumers lack adequate protections as businesses and military operations continue pillage the environment, with weak environmental regulation. Similiarly, consumer protections are weak, although a new government consumer protection agency has been formed, a truly good development. (Thanks, Barack!)

4. Pay is so low for a large percentage of workers that American homeowners are losing their homes in droves, and most Americans are struggling to get by financially, even if they are employed, often working 2 or more jobs and requiring both husband and wife to work as well.

5. The military-industrial complex of the United States has reached such proportions that it resembles a military empire more than anything else, which has been occupying not only Wall Street as a resident, not a protester, but also military bases and even entire nations around the world, using excuses such as its "war on terror" to continue its extremely destructive and costly reign.

6. Fundamentalist preachers have violated the separation of church and state systematially, while enjoying tax-free status, consistently supporting socially conservative policies and politicians.

7. Our government has been mostly taken over by politicians who do not believe in "the commons" or even the social contract, but rather, are beholden to the corporate interests which fund them. As a consequence, most of them (with some notable exceptions) are more interested in supporting the upper echelon of the business community than in serving the public by providing for the needs of the typical citizen. Even those politicians who would like to serve the public good are, in my opinion, often so intimidated by lobbyists and the power of big business, that they are afraid to do anything to oppose them and risk cutting off their funding which might result in them losing their next election.

8. Conservatives, who are experts at accusing others of what they are guilty of, decry "class warfare" anytime the idea of appropriate redistributuion of wealth is brought up, through raising taxes, social programs, etc. Government has been stultified to the point where, although we clearly are drastically in need of major reforms, these become political impossibilities in the current political climate. Republicans in Congress have become so obstructionist, that they routinely oppose anything that the Obama administration proposes, on principle -- not the principle of what is good for Ameirca, but the principle that the worse they make government govern, the more voters will presumably blame the government, giving whichever sorry idea-challenged candidate they choose for next year's election, a better chance of beating Obama, and putting the "White" back in "Whitehouse." Meanwhile, since Republicans don't believe in government, governing poorly only serves to confirm their skepticism as well as that of Republican voters.

There you have it -- the rich, big business, the government, military and religious leaders hare all systematically breaking the social contract in America these days, a problem which has worsened since the 1970s or 1980s until reaching a critical point now. These people who break the social contract, as well as their apologists such as conservative radio show hosts, generally deny that it exists -- that enlightened self-interest and Social Darwinism will take care of all of our problems once they purge society of these pesky liberals and their compassion-based, logic-based and reality-based cooperative society ideas.

My basic remedy for social contract breaking, is to make it official -- a written document encoded into law much as the Constitution is. Much of the social contract which I have described is written into law to a degree, but the social contract breakers have been eroding these laws over the years, when they should have been strengthened. Also, the wealthy and powerful are very adept at getting away with violations of the law, although they would much prefer to change the law so that everything they did was legal, no matter how immoral. Once there is an actual social contract, the social contract breakers will no longer be able to deny that it exists.

Also, we need to start calling social contract breakers exactly that, something which will be far easier to do once there is a real social contract for us to point to.

I will discuss in more detail how to make the social contract work better and more difficult to break, next time.

October 6

A Capital Idea Part 86: Cheaper than Slavery

As growing crowds of unemployed people, college students and political activists protest corporate and financial greed here in the United States, millions of people still live in unofficial slavery around the world. The latest estimates are around 30 million people living in slavery, at least according to a couple of estimates that I saw (http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Global_Secrets_Lies/New_Slavery_DP.html), although it is not legal anymore in most places where it occurs, if anywhere (http://www.antislavery.org/english/slavery_today/what_is_modern_slavery.aspx). Actually, this amounts to less than 1/2 percent of the world's current population of about 7 billion, so as shameful as modern slavery is, it represents a tiny percentage of the population. In contrast, in states which allowed slavery had an average of about 1/3 of its inhabitants were slaves before slavery was banned in the United States. According to Wikipedia, slavery represents a smaller percentage of the world's population than in the past, although more actual slaves due to the tremendous increase in the world's population (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery). Included in the world's current slave population are, most shockingly, about 1 million slaves in the United States according to the CIA, including women imported for the purpose of prostitution, as well as domestic servants and farm workers who work under conditions of sheer coercion and no pay (http://matadornetwork.com/change/10-shocking-facts-about-global-slavery-in-2008/).

Forms of modern slavery mentioned in the websites include chattel slavery (permanent servitude), debt bondage (being unable to leave due to permanent debt), contract slavery (tricking people into slavery with a false contract), early forced marriage, trafficking and forced child labor. It is worth noting that much modern slavery is connected to prostitution, in places such as Thailand, and even in England.

I believe that business owners would currently be managing to turn a much higher percentage of persons into slaves if not for one thing: It is cheaper to have wage slaves than actual slaves. I searched the internet for costs to slaveholders of owning slaves, but was unable to find anything specific about the topic, although I did find this fine article about the history of slavery in the United States, written by Jenny B. Wahl (http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/wahl.slavery.us). Apparently, there is no good data about the costs; thus, I cannot prove my thesis, but I think it is true.

Think of the costs of being a slaveowner.

First, back in the bad old days of public slavery, slaves were often bought, which was expensive.

Once bought, the slaveowner had to provide food and housing for the slaves, including any slave children or old slaves who could not work. This is another major expense which business owners obviously do not have to pay. When a slave died, the slaveowner might feel obliged to pay for a funeral. There were most likely some pretty high security costs, as uppity slaves had a habit of rebelling against their owners. Thus, in the old "south," the head of the household probably had to pay other white people to keep the slaves in line through violence and intimidation. Business owners who pay low wages presumably do not have to pay for their former workers' funerals, and probably have relatively low security expenses. Basically, it is easier to own a sweatshop than to own slaves. Owning slaves is inconvenient -- certainly inconvenient compared to paying sweatshop workers a pittance and asking them to take care of all their needs on that small salary, and furthermore, it's more expensive to own slaves.

There is also a very important psychological benefit of being a business owner rather than a slave owner. The legions of business owners around the world who pay very low wages get to envison themselves on the high moral ground, however delusional it may be, that they are "job creators," and "defenders of freedom," etc. since after all, their employees are free and "choose to work at this job of their own free will," and they may even live in what they call a democracy. Slaveowners do not enjoy these psychological advantages. They must do their dirty business more or less in secret. Their hearts must feel filthy. Similar advantages accrue to the paid workers compared to slaves, as well. Slaves are humiliated enormously, and must lead miserable lives. On the other hand, people who are paid ridiculously low wages, which could very well be the majority of workers around the world, at least have autonomy over their lives to a degree. They have "freedom," inasmuch as a person who barely gets by financially if even that, can have freedom. Certainly, this autonomy, or at least the perception of autonomy, is an enormous psychological advantage. On the other hand, being paid less than a slave has to be bad for a person's mental health, as well as their personal welfare!

This practice of businesses racing to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder to find the cheapest possible employees, or even slaves, regardless of the consequences, must end. The systematic underpayment of employees must end, for the sake of humanity and its future. This is what the Occupy Wall Street movement is fighting for. Wage-slavery is a dead end in terms of cultural evolution. Viva La Revolucion!

September 28

A Capital Idea Part 85: The Psychology of the Economic Cycle of Destruction

This is a topic suggested by my psychiatrist friend, David Malen, and I thought it would naturally follow from the previous one. Get well soon David!

An examination of the Fourth Turning website (http://www.fourthturning.com/html/generations___archetypes.html), by Strauss and Howe, shows that although they are historians, they do a psychological explanation of the four different generations within a cycle. Here is my summary of what they have to say, starting with my generation, called the Prophets.

Prophets are born during the "high" which follows a crisis. They are indulged as children, but they are passionate, principled moralists, and have the attributes of vision, values and religion. According to Strauss and Howe, as young adults they challenge established institutions. As middle adults they become downbaeat and cynical, and preach a values-fixated belief system, and as older adults, they attempt to resolve deepening ethical issues.

Nomads are born during an awakening period which follows the high. The have the attibutes of liberty, survival and honor. They are cynical realists and individualists. They are underprotected as children, independent in early adulthood, tough pragmatists in middle adulthood, and advocates of simple lifestyles in older adulthood.

Heroes are born during a period of unraveling (such as the period just prior to the present). Their primary characteristics are community, affluence and technology. They often are advocates of prosperity and optimism. As children, they are nurtured and protected by pessimistic parents. As young adults during a crisis, they challenge the failures of their elders. As middle adults, they become upbeat and socially constructive, and as older adults, they continue to construct social changes.

Artists are born during a time of crisis, such as now. My parents are also artists, from the previous cycle. Their activities include pluralism, expertise and due process. They are overprotected as children during a time of crisis. As young adults during a post-crisis high, they become good helpmates in socially constructive change and in fostering a feeling of calm. In midlife, they apply expertise and due process to further progress while calming the passions of the young, and in late adulthood, during an unraveling, they quicken the pace of social change by favoring sensitivity and complexity over the old order.

What do I think of this exercise in glittering generalities? Well, it seems to me that attempting to summarize entire generations psychologically is impossible to do well. Strauss and Howe succumb to the temptation to do so, and further, make each generation look good for the most part, which begs the question: If every generation helps build a better world, how do these destructive crises occur? Strauss and Howe, being historians, not economists, seem to ignore the economic factors involved in the cycle to an extent. However, there is probably some truth to their generalities. That is, the average person in these four generations may differ in ways predicted by the Strauss and Howe model; however, it does not come close to accurately describing every individual. Taking myself as an example, I was indulged as a child, and grew up to be a principled moralist, in a progressive sense. I am a visionary type (thus fitting the "Prophet" label), and consider values important. (But who doesn't?) I am not religious in any conventional sense, however, although I believe in a higher power and am spiritual. As a young adult, and even younger, I disagreed with established institutions but was not really an activist. As a middle adult, which is now although I feel and act more like an early adult, I diverge sharply from the description. I am not a pessimist at all, although I have my pessimistic moments. Fundamentally, I am an optimist, something which transcends life-stage periods. In fact, I have become increasingly distressed with the cynicism I see, now primiarily among my fellow progressives. (Thank you Thom Hartmann for singing my tune in recent days on the toxic effects of cynicism, such as people who don't vote or participate in politics because they are so convinced that the democratic process is meaningless.) I do not preach a values-fixated belief system in any conventional sense, such as conservatives and their traditional values. It is quite the opposite in my case, although I could be considered an advocate of a different values system which considers the greater good of humanity and the entire ecosystem first, and values scientific input over traditional religious input. I suppose that I will continue to work to resolve moral issues. But again, who wouldn't? However, most important will be resolving practical issues in a way which will allow the resolution of moral issues. (For example, if your nation is embroiled in a war, how can you resolve issues relating to violence?)

I think a better approach would be to look at the economic and social drivers of the Four Turnings cycle.

I will start with the "high" period just after a crisis, and proceed to the next crisis. During the "high," as when I was born, people and government are working together in a relatively cooperative and egalitarian manner, benefitting the economy greatly. Things are "booming" economically at this time. Monopolies of the previous cycle have been destroyed or considerably downgraded, families previously of great political influence have been turned into ordinary citizens except perhaps more affluent than average, and progress occurs, especially in a materialistic sense. Psychologically, working to build a more prosperous society, is the predominant sentiment. This was seen quite clearly in Japan and Germany as well as the United States, following WWII.

As time goes on, society enters into the "awakening" period of Strauss and Howe, when people, especially young adults, yearn for not only material progress, but also spiritual progress. At the same time, the natural progression of financial monopolization begins to take hold. More successful businesses begin to accumulate great wealth, and these businesses begin to coalesce, either through mergers, or business cabals. Meanwhile, they begin strategizing about how to consolidate their wealth and increase their political influence. They learn that money can pretty much buy most politicians, and they also learn that money-generated propaganda can pretty much fool most of the public, during this period. At this time, the public, accustomed to the relatively serene and caring cooperativity of the "high" period, are rather easily lulled into ignoring the machinations of the wealthy. Worse yet, the financial capitalist system favors the emergence of the greediest among us as the richest and most influential individuals, for the most part. Those with my proposed Avaricious Personality Disorder thrive during the "awakening" period, even as the more spiritually inclined and morally inclined among us are striving for completely different goals. The growing rich, as wealth disparities begin to grow, also form coalitions with reactionary elements within society. Whether this is an intentional strategy or not, traditionalists such as the ultrareligious, and ultraconservative minded individuals, find themselves drawn to the conservative, big money sources of society. This is because the wealthy, the ultrareligious and the ultraconservative, all are distressed by people who want to fundamentally change things -- people with new spiritual, moral, economic, and political ideas who want to continue the progressive momentum of the previous 20 years. Thus, an unholy coalition of people who fancy themselves as holy ones forms to thwart the ambitions of the changlings of society.

During the "unraveling" period, wealth disparities continue to grow, reaching the "unravelling" point eventually, where it becomes clear to the public that rather than their time being better off than previous periods, their society is actually in a worse condition economically for the general public. People become aware that society is moving in the wrong direction, and become alarmed. However, the forces of money, power, military, nationalism, traditional religion, and social conservativism all combine to thwart and confuse the public. Such a combination proves to be very potent. Much of the public, especially at first, believes the propaganda and blames the forces of change for their problems. Throughout this period, society languishes while cynicism and pessimism grow, but it is a gradual process as is the unraveling.

Eventually, however, the nation enters the period of "crisis." Economic conditions reach a crisis point and an economic crash, precipitated fundamentally by the undue accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, which takes money out of circulation and prevents sufficient economic activity from occuring. Basically, most people no longer have the means to buy as many goods or services as they used to, and may not even be able to pay for their homes, cars, etc, leading to an economic crash. At this time, the combined forces of money and conservatism continue to ply their trade with much success at first, but ultimately, the true nature of what is going on becomes evident to all but those truly committed to conservative ideology and the reification of the all-mighty dollar. At this point, an uprising, in the streets and at the ballot box, through protest and voting, or by any other means neccessary, becomes a reality, and a peaceful or bloody revolution occurs. Whether the revolution remains peaceful, or becomes bloody, is largely dependent upon the reaction of the combined forces of wealth and conservatism. If they show a sufficient amount of realism and restraint, if not growing wisdom regarding what is going on, it will remain peaceful. On the other hand, if they hold on stubbornly to power and the rigged system they have managed to create, it will become bloody -- how bloody, perhaps depending on how much cooperation the status quo can exact from the military they attempt to control and direct at their whim.

I am optimistic that the current revolution will be of a different, more peaceful nature than previous ones, and hopeful that it will be the last one needed before permanent reforms junking society's dependence on financial capitalism, will be instituted. As stated previously, the public has new organizing tools involving communications technology at our command. Also, we have the benefit of more knowledge of history and historical trends, as Strauss and Howe's work exemplifies. We have more people committed to peaceful resolutions of conflict than in the past, and more reluctance to engage in raw aggression, either by government, or by rebels, for the most part. Finally, the world has gotten closer together over time, not only economically, but also socially. Thus, the current revolution will affect people all over the world, and people from all over the world will take part in it. Organizations such as the United Nations will be able to play a role in conflict prevention while allowing change to take place, and hopefully even encouraging it. There are more people than ever, with more tools and information at their disposal than ever before. Thus, there is no reason this should not be the public's most politically aware period of history to this point. Given the emerging technologies which enable greater action, and the increasing world consensus that democratic actions in the name of the public good should be the norm, the people never have had more collective had power to enact change, now, we must learn to use it. We know that there are powerful forces aligned against us, so we must use our powers well and wisely.

September 18

A Capital Idea Part 84: The Fourth Turning is Upon Us

"Though I do not believe a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders." Henry David Thoreau, courtesy of my good friend Poor Richard of the Poor Richard's Almanac blog site.

In 1997 William Strauss and Neil Howe, two American historians, published a book called The Fourth Turning (http://www.fourthturning.com/html/fourth_turning.html). When I first heard about this book on the Thom Hartmann show, I thought the authors' ideas were a bit hoaky and overwrought. However, over time, I have come to suspect that they have discovered a fundamental truth of financial capitalism as it relates to history. This book has also grown on the public, as well, considering the amazingly active message board on the intelligently done website created by the books authors to discuss and promulgate their ideas.

In brief, the thesis of Strauss and Howe is that history goes through approximately 80 year cycles with 4 different periods corresponding to different generations. They applied this in particular, to the United States, but the same thesis seems to apply to much if not all of the world -- anywhere that the economic system is based upon financial capitalism, in my opinion. (This isn't discussed as ar as I could see by Strauss and Howe in my brief studies of their theory.) The first period following a crisis is upbeat, works hard, is civic minded but conventional and cooperates to build lots of things such as infrastructure. The second period is idealistic, progressive, and spiritual and continues to promote cooperation and infrastructure building, while questioning existing institutions and working to creatively change them. The third period is materialistic, reactionary, selfish and short-sighted, and engages in capitalistic and other excesses amid growing pessimism. The fourth period is when the excesses of the third one result in collapse of the system and a crisis which leads to some sort of revolution and a new civic order, starting the entire process over again.

Now, let's take a look at Strauss and Howe's timetable and current circumstances. Looking at American history, and keeping in mind that similar events occured around much of the world on a similar timetable, we see the striking regularity of events which must have first given Strauss and Howe their idea. The American Revolution began in 1776 officially, although its roots go farther back. The Constitution was written in 1783. The Civil War began 85 years after the American Revolution began, in 1861, and ended in 1865, 82 years after the Constitution was written. The Great Depression, which was a clear sign of collapse due to the excesses of a previous capitalistic generation, happened in 1929. This period of crisis concluded with the end of WWII in 1945, exactly 80 years after the Civil War ended. The financial collapse of 2008 happened right on cue, 79 years after the crash of 1929. Is this starting to seem eerie to you, or perhaps, just starting to make sense? According to this timetable then, breaking down the four "turnings" into 20 year periods, the last period of "The Fourth Turning" occured from approximately 1925 to 1945, and the next one should be going on at this time, with the approximate timeframe of 2005-2025. That would put us in the early stages of this period of crisis and revolution -- essentially, in the crisis stage, but not yet in the manifest revolution stage. The signs of crisis certainly are everywhere -- from political instability, and public dissatisfaction with the current state of politics -- to persistent economic woes and growing debt -- to consolidation of power and money in the hands of a few -- to diametrically opposed political points of view separating the only 2 political parties with any real power, clashing in Washington -- to the deliberate, power-mad sabotaging of America by Republican politicians who represent only monied interests rather than their constituents. Yes, the seeds of revolution are growing in our hearts, and so, in our minds, the revolution is already here in a real sense, as my good friend Ria so eloquently described in response to my previous post on this topic.

When I mentioned these ideas to another good friend, David Walker, he mentioned that progressive economist Ravi Batra had similar ideas. I had heard Batra on the Thom Hartmann show several times, but reading about his work was a revelation. Clearly, listening to somebody talk is not as informative as reading that person's ideas. It turns out that Ravi Batra's ideas are far closer to my Capital Ideas than I had realized. Concepts such as public capital, for some reason, clearly have been de-emphasized on the Thom Hartmann show (although Thom talks about "the commons"), as well as Batra's spiritual and theoretical frameworks. Batra has been making economic predictions for some time. He first predicted an economic collapse and worldwide depression in 1990, which did not come to pass, but since that time, has been making much more accurate predictions, including predicting the election of someone such as Barack Obama a couple of years before it happened. According to Wikipedia, Batra's main thesis is that "financial capitalism breeds excessive inequality and political corruption which inevitably succumbs to financial crisis and economic depression" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravi_Batra). This is basically what I have been saying in this series although Batra said it first. Batra also has long been a believer in historical cycles, which he calls "Social Cycles," and roots his ideas in Hindu religion. His resolution resulting in the end of these destructive cycles comes from his mentor Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar's PROUT theory, which stands for "Progressive Utilization Theory" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PROUT). According to Wikipedia "PROUT is a social system that overcomes the limitations of both capitalism and communism. Among other things, 'progressive utilization' would optimize the use of natural, industrial and human resources, based on cooperative coordination on a wide basis, ranging from local communities to larger regions and nations, and between the people of diverse geographical areas." The economic system proposed by Sarkar is a balanced one which resembles many of my conclusions as well: "Prout’s three-tiered economic structure consists of government-owned key industries (oil industries, wind farms, etc), worker-owned cooperatives, and privately owned enterprises. Of these three, the cooperative structure—industrial, consumer, agricultural and credit—forms the core feature of the Prout economy.

According to P. R. Sarkar, cooperatives are considered the best economic structure for human society. If individuality dominates human life, it will adversely affect the environment, the welfare of different groups and even the continued existence of humanity."

Regarding morality, the Prout system advocates sensitivity to human needs as well as promotes egalitarian ideals. There are five moral prinicples of this Hinduism-inspired system, from the Samskrta aphorisms:

"1.There should be no accumulation of wealth without the permission of society.
2.There should be maximum utilization and rational distribution of the crude, subtle, and causal resources.
3.There should be maximum utilization of the physical, mental, and spiritual potentialities of the individual and collective beings.
4.There should be a proper adjustment among the crude, subtle, and causal utilizations.
5.Utilizations vary in accordance with time, space, and form; the utilizations should be progressive."

As far as I can tell, Batra does not directly deal with the psychological issues of economics, nor the ecosystem analogy as I have presented. Batra however, does believe that we are entering a period of crisis and reform, just as Strauss and Howe do. Batra's latest book published in 2008, The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos, suggests that a period of political crisis and revolution will result in a new Golden Age of political and economic reform.

In fact, I would go a step farther than Strauss, Howe and Batra, to suggest that the current cycle may be financial capitalism's last. (Actually, Batra has predicted the end of financial capitalism as well, plus communism, but it is not clear to me if he thinks that the New Golden Age will spell their end or not.) The seeds of a new system are growing, and resourceful people around the world are putting into place the mechanisms by which this system of public capital, cooperative living, and technology sharing may be put into place. More importantly, the world has changed in ways, since the previous cycle, which make a worldwide economic revolt and revolution possible. First, the financial world has been globalized as it never has before. Second, technology allows for worldwide as well as local communication to continue unfettered even in the face of authoritarian efforts to prevent it. Third, social networking via the internet allows public organization to circumvent propaganda efforts as well as efforts to control public dialogue. Fourth, people are becoming less naive regarding history and politics. Now, there are books such as The Fourth Turning, which in my opinion, do a great service by informing the public of the destructive cycle we find ourselves faced with. Also, there are a plethora of available economic ideas which people can learn of, such as Batra's ideas as well as those of many others (Max-Neef, Wolfe, etc), and practices such as The Mondragon Cooperative, etc. These forces should act to create an intellectual atmosphere of economic enlightenment, in which new ideas emphasizing economic morality, justness, cooperation, sustainability, the vital role of ecosystems and their relationship to the economy, and the psychological awareness of how cognitive processes effect economics, can take root and grow. The flip side of this analysis is that, until humanity sheds itself of dependence upon financial capitalism, destructive economic-political cycles will continue to occur. Thus, it is a moral incumbent upon the current generation, being aware of this cycle of economic excess and destruction as previous generations have not, that we make this cycle the last one in world history, and replace it with something much better, more stable and of lasting value.

Last night, I saw a segment on the local news about an auto mechanic with a colorful nickname which I happen to forget at this time. Over the past several years, he has devoted himself to transforming cars from gasoline powered to electric powered. When interviewed, he stated that he saw a revolution going on, but it was a slow, bloodless one, the good kind. A larger revolution is going on as well, a worldwide economic one, one which will ultimately be the source of great good. May it be successful as well as bloodless!

 

 

September 8

A Capital Idea Part 83: The Coming Revolution

Change is part of the human condition. Some people like that; some do not. Either way, it is unavoidable.

Conditions over these past several decades, as corporate globalization has spread the power of money, has set up conditions for a global revolution. Yes, I believe a revolution is coming to us, and perhaps it is already beginning. The only alternative to revolution is a global corporate empire in which a privileged few economic elites control the fate of the rest of us. The global corporate takeover has been gradual, and the public's realization of it has been correspondingly gradual, but I don't think the world will stand a permanent state of corporate feudalism.

The revolution of which I speak may be gradual itself, or more abrupt, but it seems inevitable. It will hopefully be peaceful, but that is the dream of a pacifist which is unlikely to be realized. I think it will be largely peaceful but not in all cases. Added to the economic pressures for revolution, are ecological pressures caused by global warming and the world's enormous and still growing human population. Only a drastic change in lifestyle can adequately sustain the human race as climate zones shift, sea levels rise and crops fail or diminish.

This revolution will be democratic and populist in nature, and will center around economic themes. However, it must involve politics, the environment, and the use of the social sciences as well.

Economically: The public will demand that the growing inequality in wealth be reversed;

The public will make a stand against corporatism, demanding they pay more in taxes;

The public will demand the assurance of labor, union, health, safety, environmental and consumer rights;

The public will demand a new social contract in which all citizens in good standing are guaranteed as decent standard of living as society can muster;

Alternative economic practices such as cooperatives and local economies emphasizing local products, will become more common.

Politically: The public will demand that their voting rights be ensured as they realize that they have been eroding. They will make a stand against election fraud and efforts to prevent people not favored by the conservative establishment, from voting. Voter turnout and participation in politics will increase, and there may be movements to require all eligible voters to vote, as in Australia, or to have voter IDs and records to ensure that votes are correctly counted;

The public in the United States in particular, will demand political reforms which will make parties other than the Democratic and Republican parties viable, as it is very clear to the public already that the current two party system is dysfunctional and deeply conservative in nature, serving the interests of the rich primarily. The reforms will most likely include changes which will make the United States more like other democracies, such as proportional representation, instant runoff voting, etc. Political reforms in the United States will be inspirational and helpful to the rest of the world, and vice versa.

Environmentally: The public will become more aware of the crucial importance of environmental health, and thus will demand that government will hlep them take care of their environments. Local efforts to create wholesome, healthy local environments will increase, but more importantly, a global movement to create a sustainable living environment for humanity will become a very large and influential movement. Havoc wreaked by global climate change will play a large and unpredictable role in the coming revolution.

Socially: The public will use social media to organize and to promote democratic reforms. The public is becoming more aware of media-based manipulation tactics, so are becoming more immune to them gradually over time. Social media will be used to counteract the effects of media propaganda, and to create psychologically and sociologically based strategies for peaceful positive change. Social scientists of all kinds -- especially academics -- many of whom have long been calling for societal reforms, will be at the intellectual heart of these reforms although the involvement of the public will be the most crucial aspect of the revolution as always.

The revolution of which I speak will probably be as slow as the global corporate takeover has been, taking place over a period of decades, but it will be global in nature, and will have specific events which will be turning points -- watershed moments, if you will. These are my predictions based on the momentum of human culture over the past several decades, and historical trends. I have no special abilities to prognosticate involving ESP; my expectations are simply based on logic. Many of the change processes mentioned have already begun, but they are still in the early stages in my opinion, and will gain momentum. I cannot discount the power of money which will be used by those so inclined, in attempts to prevent and oppose the coming revolution, but the power of money concentrated in too few hands, is the reason that the revolution is needed in the first place. In other words, the more big money is used to prevent or oppose a populist, democratic revolution, the more obvious these ploys become to the public, which further revolutionizes the public. In this sense, people of wealth who wish to consolidate wealth and power, are caught in a trap, which I believe has always been the case, historically, largely accounting for the periodic revolutions seen throughout recorded history. People can put their proverbial heads in the sand, as conservatives -- and I am sure, our greedy overlords -- are apt to do, and say everything is fine; only minor tweaking is needed, but they would be in denial of world reality.

Yes, a revolution is coming -- one that is a force for good. It's coming soon to a neighborhood near you. Don't miss it!

September 2

A Capital Idea Part 82: A Spirit of Generosity

This post came about due to a comment by my friend David Malen, and although it overlaps with other topics mentioned in this series and in progressive circles, I did some research yesterday about the topic which revealed some interesting new information.

Last time, in my post about Taiwan, I finished by mentioning the spirit of giving which I saw there, which is part of my wife's psyche. In fact, she is still unofficial chairwoman of Kaohsiung's charity society, at least according to her. She and several of her Bhuddist friends were donating to Mrs. Wong the coffee shop owner's charity fund. Gift giving is an important part of Chinese society, as is leveling the playing field to some extent by helping the needy. Gift giving is part of "Guanxi" -- the Chinese word for relations, as in maintaining relationships and smoothing social interactions. I think the spirit of generosity that this embodies, also is typical of more collective societies and fits well with democratic socialism.

However, conservatives say "not so fast." I remember having a lengthy argument with a conservative on the Thom Hartmann site in which the other person insisted that conservatives are more generous than liberals. It turns out that his assertion was based upon a single study, by one Arthur Brooks, who happens to be the head of the conservative thinktank known as the American Heritage Foundation. I won't provide a link to Brooks' work because it has been so widely promulgated by conservatives on the internet, and it is very easy to look up. Basically, he received his Ph.D. at a school run by the Rand Foundation (say what? I didn't even know they had a school), which is another conservative thinktank, revealing his bias from the beginning. After finishing his Ph.D. at said not-so-esteemed institution, he somehow landed a job at a major university, where he promptly began his study of the giving habits of liberals versus conservatives. His basic findings were that people in "red states" give more to charity than people from "blue states," and that "religious people" give more to charities than do nonreligious people. He claimed that these findings surprised him (yeah, right!). Regarding the first finding, this involves the crux of the research I did yesterday, and is not a simple issue. However, I will point out first that the findings are about the states in general, so they don't necessarily mean that conservatives give more than liberals. Perhaps liberals in those "red states" are the ones who are so generous. Nonetheless, I tend to accept that conservatives give more personal charity to causes of their own choosing, which is very different from conservatives being more charitable in general, yet Brooks equates giving to charitable orgnazations with a conservative spirit of generosity, which I assert is a false conclusion. Regarding the second finding, that one is a no-brainer, as devout Christians are practically required by the churches and social order, to tithe generously to their churchs and other related charities. In fact, analyses have shown that differences in charitable giving are virtually abolished when church giving is taken into account.

Now, here is what I have found about the difference between liberals (AKA "progressives") and conservatives in terms of their views on having a spirit of generosity. First, to describe the difference between progressives and conservatives as Thom Hartmann does, implies a much more giving spirit among progressives than conservatives. Hartmann says that progressives are those who wish to care for the least among them, as Jesus asked his followers to do, while conservatives are people who blame the poor for their own dilemma, and thus think something such as "I've got mine and nobody else can have it. To hell with the rest of society!" In other words, they are paranoid, fear motivated, greedy bastards who selfishly only care about themselves, their families and maybe other people like themselves. Perhaps this is a bit overdramatic in its condemnation of conservatism, but it does fit the general observations of conservative behavior and the current class warfare being waged by the forces of wealth against the rest of us. Of course, this view of conservatism directly contradicts that of Brooks and other defenders of the conservative ethos.

Let's take a look at some recent research then, to see what it says about the spirit of generosity. I was interested in personality correlates of liberality versus conservatism. First, I found a post by someone named Steve Bogira which looked at this research (http://m.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2011/08/18/4462041-liberals-conservatives-and-personality-traits). A recent study in the journal "Personality and Individual Differences," as I already knew and several studies have confirmed, found that Openness to Experience, one of Costa and McCrae's Big 5 Personaity traits, is associated with liberality. The study in question, however, examined voters in 5 european countries, and thus seemed pretty comprehensive. This trait was the best of the 5 traits in predicting political views. The second best predictor was the trait Conscientiousness, which actually predicted conservative political views. I found that inconsistent with much of what I know, and wondered if there was a better breakdown of the trait Conscientiousness into parts which predicted liberality and conservatism, respectively. I found such a study was done recently, in fact, in an abstract for an article called "Compassionate Liberals and Polite Conservatives: Associations of Agreeableness with Political Ideology and Moral Values, by authors Hirsh, DeYoung, Xu (yes, a Chinese), and Peterson (http://psp.sagepub.com/content/36/5/655.abstract). All but DeYoung are affiliated with the University of Toronto, while DeYoung is at the University of Minnesota. Their research divided Agreeableness into Compassion and Politeness, and divided Conscientiousness into Orderliness and Openness-Intellect. They found that actually, liberal political attitudes are associated with Compassion and Openness-Intellect, while conservatism is associated with Politeness and Orderliness. So there you have it: There is a liberal ethos and a conservative ethos, but they differ. The liberal ethos is compassionate and open minded, while the conservative one is polite and orderly, and also, from other research, tradition oriented. If you ask me, however, I would take a compassionate, open-minded spirit of generosity over a polite, orderly, traditional one any day. My thanks goes to Hirsh, DeYoung, Xu and Perterson for their excellent and timely article, which was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin!

To summarize, liberals (i.e. "progressives") tend to base morality upon compassion and are open-minded and inclusive in their approach to morality and spiritual generosity, while conservatives are guided in their spirit of giving, by tradition, and culture which promotes politeness and orderliness.

The most disturbing aspect of this topic to me, which I have mentioned before without it drawing any comments, is the heritability and biological aspects of conservatism versus liberality. Apparently, the conservative and liberal mindsets are largely heritable. In fact, the post by Steven Bogira mentioned this, and even mentioned research which is pessimistic about society ever reaching a consensus short of the anihilation of one set of genes or the other. In short, genetics was found in a recent study to have more influence on political orientation than socialization does, and furthermore, it has been found that people tend to marry others who match their political views pretty closely, so there is "no genetic melting pot" in terms of genes which influence political orientation. In other words, one invisible genotype of people are liberal, open and compassionate, while the other is conservative, tradition bound, orderly and polite in their natural inclinations according to current research. Of course, such behaviors are not "hard-wired" into us, and may be influenced by experience or drift and change over generations. Perhaps WWII eliminated most of those in Germany or Japan who had the conservative genes since they were more likely to be eager war-fodder, for instance, leaving these nations more liberal-minded afterward, although their horrific war experiences probably had a lot more to do with the liberal shifts seen in those nations since WWII.

A final study I came across looked at brain differences in liberals versus conservatives (http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/04/11/liberal-conservative-related-to-different-brain-structures/25184.html). This article by Rick Nauert focused on research by Ryota Kanai (a Japanese-born person apparently) of the University College London. The study published in Current Biology found that the anterior cingulate cortex (in the front, more advanced part of the brain) was larger and more active in liberals than in conservatives, and responded more readily to conflicting information in the brains of liberals. On the other hand, conservatives have larger and more active amygdalas, which is a primitive part of the brain involved in primitive emotional responses such as fear, anger or basic pleasure. Furthermore, Kanai found that conservatives were more sensitive to threats or anxiety when faced with uncertainties than were liberals. Sorry, conservatives out there; I didn't make this stuff up. Apparently, the brains of liberals are more advanced and able to handle a wider variety of information, while those of conservatives are more primitive and focused on fear, anger or basic pleasure responses. Based on the heritability findings, it seems likely that these brain differences are largely genetic, although that issue is not settled, and certainly, experiential factors are also involved.

Regarding the spirit of generosity, my conclusion, consistent with all I have found out, is that both conservatives and liberals can be equally generous. However, the generosity of liberals normally involves entrusting one's resources to larger agencies such as government, to be distributed in ways that help, to those in need, raising the standard of living for all of us, and taking care of the least among us. In other words, liberals don't mind paying their fair share of taxes, or whatever fees that are required to make a good, prosperous society. This is the generous spirit of the liberal. Conservatives may also believe in generosity; however, they depend on individual generosity to organizations of the individual's choice, giving a sense of control to the conservative and soothing the conservative's fearful mind. They view taxes and government generally, as intrusions upon their freedom, including the freedom to donate as they please, rather than as extensions of a caring society which allows for good governance and the common welfare. Unfortunately, although many conservatives have a giving spirit, their reliance upon the individual's spirit of generosity opens the way for the wealthiest, greediest and most selfish among us to dominate society by choosing not to share their wealth with the rest of us, or pay their fair share to society for all the benefits they have received from others, which allowed them to achieve their wealth in the first place.

August 20

A Capital Idea part 81:The Great Financial Magnifying Glass

Since I am in Taiwan, ostensibly part of China, this seems the ideal time to start a post with a Chinese example.

Yao Ming, recently retired from the NBA due to injuries, was recently discussed on a television show as an example of wise financial planning. Apparently, he made good investment choices with his multimillions of excess NBA salary, and now, is even richer than ever. Never discussed in the television report here in Taiwan, was the fact that he parlayed his extreme height 9far more than any thletic skills he may have possessed) into riches. (Ironically, that same extreme height may have been responsible for his persistent and serious foot injuries which caused his retirement.) In fact, Yao Ming is probably the tallest, or certainly one of the tallest, of more than a billion Chinese. (By the way, my height is quite average for an adult American male at 5 feet, 9 inches, so no Napolean complex here, but I also do not enjoy the benefits of the height-advantaged.)

The NBA is an extreme example of people parlaying often small, and superficial in terms of a person's true worth, differences into big time money. However, such is the case in general, in the competitive world of business. As Charles Darwin wrote about, and evolutionary biologists often study, genetic differences which lead to slightly better adaptations have huge evolutionary consequences, as those with even a small advantage eventually come to dominate the gene pool, perhaps even resulting in the elimination of those with an inferior form of a gene. Even more, species which are slightly better adapted to their environment, may not only outcompete, but at times, cause the extinction of other species which are somewhat less well adapted. Of course, all of this depends on what "the enironment" is. In the case of sports, the rules of the game create "the environment." In basketball, for example, the rules of the game, particularly placing the basket 10 feet above the ground -- a level which is probably quite optimal for enabling the tallest among us -- inadvertantly created a sports environment in which there is an extreme correlation between a person's height and success.

Every type of business also has an environment, and this environment creates competitive advantages for some individuals or companies. This is the basis of the conservative meme that "free enterprise" is good for the economy by creating competition. There is some truth to this idea, but it ignores three important facts. First, it ignores the fact that the competition among businesses is only temporary, lasting no more than a few decades at the most, until monopolies or collusionistic cabals form and dominate the market. However, for the purpose of this post, the central problem is that the way capitalist society is structured, creates a huge financial magnifying glass which exagerrates peoples' differences, resulting in great economic disparities in outcome which do not reflect peoples' input. The third, and most fundamental fact which conservatives ignore, regarding the nature of the economy, is that it ultimately is not about competition, but rather, has far more to do with cooperation -- cooperation which necessitates an economy which aspires to long term success, to create some level of economic fairness in which input and outcome are well correlated, a situation which can never exist as long as the great financial magnifying glass is in place.

Rather than looking at our natural environment from the standpoint of competition, biologists over the years, have come to see ecosystems more in terms of mutually beneficial interdependence and cooperation.. The same should apply to economic systems. Just as a good ecosystem is full of diverse lifeforms which are thriving, and has long-term sustainability and adaptibility, the goal of an economy should be to create a viable, diverse, lively, adaptible and sustainable system which serves the needs of the people, and in which the citizens of the world can thrive, pursue their interests and self-atualization needs. A good ecosystem is not dominated by a single species -- a fact which calls into question the health of our current human-dominate planet, as many alarmed and concerned citizens have realized -- but rather, contains the intricacies and richness of a plethora of species' contributions. An individual or species may dominate its own little microenvironment, but not the larger environment. Why then, do we continue to employ an economic system which ultimately results in world domination by a few rich individuals? We have allowed the great financial magnifying glass to continue to skew the economy further and further toward its ultimate, ugly worldwide collapse of a conclusion.

To answer the above question, one factor is tradition. The rich created the system that now exists in the first place, and rigged it to serve their whims, and once something has existed over a series of generations, it becomes imbued with the legitimacy of "tradition" and all which that bestows. People begin to forget that the system could be anything other than what it seems to them has always been. We must remind ourselves that our destiny as a species is in our own hands, and we can undo what has been done and create something better to replace it. Another reason that the great financial magnifying glass continues unabated, is that the people whose riches are being multiplied by it, have the means to propagandize the public to believe that the system works for the benefit of everyone and is already the perfect system. However, people can only be fooled so long before they start to realize what is really going on. A third, related reason is that money has been allowed to buy political influence which is used in a truly conservative manner, to prevent changes to the system. This can change when the public demands that politicians engage in true political reform -- when people elect true representatives (of which there are at least a few in the current U.S. Congress) who are willing to defy the oligarchy and advocate political reforms which prevent the rich from having undue influence on politics, and push them consistently to do so.

We must use all of these means to stop the continuing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few. Most importantly, we must change the way that the economy is viewed, replacing the competition-is-king conception of the economy, with a more nuanced, ecological style conception of the economy. Yes, competition does exist in a healthy ecosystem and plays a role in fine-tuning it, but healthy interdependencies which benefit the ecosysem as a whole, and cooperation - among individuals and species -- are the fundamentals upon which a healthy ecosystem is built. The same would be true of a healthy economy, which clearly, is not what the world is experiencing at this time.

July 23

A Capital Idea Part 80: Higher Taxes = Better Life

After last time, I realized that I should also look at the relation between tax rates and the economic and life satisfaction outcomes, so I have moved to the next phase of my analysis of nations.

I performed the same sort of calculations as last time, using the nations with the highest and lowest tax rates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tax_revenue_as_percentage_of_GDP), and comparing them on Quality of Life (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-of-life_index), Satisfaction with Life (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfaction_with_Life_Index), and Per-Capita Income in 2010 according to the IMF (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita). The results were pretty stunning, especially considering that there were a few nations which threw proverbial monkey wrenches into the process. Of course, these findings do not take all nations into account, and are not correlations. Nor have I included tests of statistical significance, but they very likely show significant trends which encompass all nations.

The ten nations with the highest tax rates are: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Zimbabwe, in alphabetical order. The ten nations with the lowest tax rates are: Algeria, Haiti, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, in alphabetical order. The tax rates I used are tax revenue as percentage of GDP, which includes all taxes, and the nations with the higher tax rates are generally in the 40-50% range, while the nations with the lower tax rates are less than 10%. Several nations, including France, had to be excluded from the analysis, because they lacked data on one or more of the other variables, unfortunately. By the way, this data was collected by the conservative, Heritage Foundation, of all places, so it certainly cannot be claimed to have a liberal bias. Most of the data is from 2009. The Heritage Foundation even refers to low tax rates as "Fiscal Freedom" or "Economic Freedom."

Here is what I found:

1. Looking at Quality of Life for these 20 nations, using their rankings, I found that the average Quality of Life ranking for the high tax rate nations was 32.7, while the average ranking for the low tax rate nations was 76.1, with lower scores being better. For example, the nation ranked best in Quality of Life would be ranked number 1. Thus, nations with the highest tax rates ranked far better on Quality of Life, on the whole, compared to nations with the lowest tax rates. Note that Zimbabwe seems to be a basket case of a nation. I am not sure what is going on there, but I believe that there is major political and civil strife occuring there, but it has a very high tax rate. It ranks last of all nations in Quality of Life, at 111. Otherwise, the results would have been even more extreme. I am guessing that the high tax rates in Zimbabwe, rather than being used to enhance people's Quality of Life, are being used for military purposes, or to enrich its leaders, defeating the purpose of raising taxes;

2. In terms of Satisfaction with Life, there were similar findings, but not as extreme. The average Satisfation with Life ranking for the ten nations with the highest tax rates, was 43.2, while that for the ten nations with the lowest tax rates, was 74.2. Thus, citizens of nations with the highest tax rates rated themselves considerably more satisfied with their lives than did citizens of nations with the lowest tax rates. In this case, Zimbabwe had the second worst ranking on Satisfaction with Life, 177 out of 178 nations; otherwise, the difference between the two groups would have been considerably greater;

3. I was interested in differences in income between the two groups, as well, for several reasons. This is a complicated topic, but needs to be examined. If nations with high tax rates have higher incomes as well, it could be argued that differences in Quality of Life or Satisfaction with Life between the two groups may be due to income differences. On the other hand, it may be argued, as I suspect, that higher tax rates result in higher per capita incomes. It also may be the case that nations with higher per capita incomes tend to develop more liberal economic policies and therefore higher tax rates. Citizens in nations with better incomes may feel more capable of paying high tax rates, although that certainly doesn't seem to be the inclination of most wealthy people here in the United States. In any case, I found the following. The average Per-Capita Income ranking for the ten nations withthe highest tax rates was 40.2, with Zimbabwe bringing up the rear again in position 180. The average Per-Capita Income for the ten nations with the lowest tax rates was 64.0, meaning that these nations did tend to have poorer Per-Capita Incomes, but the difference between the two groups was less than the other two comparisons. Qatar actually had the world's best Per-Capita Income, at $88,559 per year (oil money presumably). Several other nations in the lowest tax rate group also had good Per-Capita Incomes, but eight of the ten nations in the highest tax rate group had rankings of 22nd or better on Per-Capita Income, accounting for the difference between the groups;

4. I also looked at public debt for these 20 nations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_public_debt), but didn't do a comparison of the groups, partly because Wikipedia listed the data as suspect, and also because there were considerable differences between two different measures of debt. (For example, the United States was listed as having only 58.9% of GDP national debt as of 2010 according to the CIA and Eurostat, but 92.7% according to the IMF.) Also, public debt probably isn't as relevant as the other variables. Governments are not meant to be profit making businesses, and nations with good economies and high tax rates have considerable ability to repay their debts. I found that Japan, which is more or less run as a democratic socialist nation, but with only moderate tax rates, has the world's highest public debt at 225% of GDP, a fact mentioned by Thom Hartmann, coincidentally, the other day. I think Japan, along with the U.S., needs to raise its tax rates. Zimbabwe came in fourth place, at 149% of GDP, giving that nation another reason for having high tax rates. Overall, the high tax rate nations ranged from 4th to 75th in terms of public debt as a percentage of GDP, not great, but not too bad. The low tax rate nations admittedly did better on this measure, ranging from 59th all the way to the most fiscally responsible nation in the world, according to conservative terminology, at 128th. Which nation was this that had the world's lowest public debt as percentage of GDP? Libya, no less, surely a model of practical, conservative economic principles worthy of emulation by Republican politicians. Libya's percentage was only 3.3%, never mind that its people are revolting against the government and now it's in the midst of a civil war. Other repressive nations with low public debts include Iran and Saudi Arabia;

5. I also attempted to compare the GINI Indices of the two groups, but found that most of the nations in the low tax rate group did not have one listed, although undoubtedly, these would be high ones indicating high economic disparities (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality).

Overall, my findings provide substantial support for my thesis that progressive policies help not only a nation's economy in the long run, but also life satisfaction and quality of life. Since taxes are set by governments, hopefully with the consent of the public, these are policy decisions which affect other outcomes. Thus, a strong case for the causality of tax rates in terms of other outcomes can be made, although real life is messy and never so simple. Nonetheless, it is difficult to conceptualize the main causal path as being anything other than tax rates affecting Quality of Life and Satisfaction with Life. Over time, it probably even helps a nation's income by creating an environment in which the greatest number of people can find gainful employment which is well paid.

Lowering taxes and thinking that will help the economy, or the well-being of the public -- as conservatives argue -- is clearly moving in the wrong direction. Of course, having low tax rates also ensures that a nation such as the United States will continue to amass huge public debts, so it is a self-defeating policy for debt-hating conservatives. We desperately need to raise tax rates, especially on the upper income levels. It is also of utmost importance to use the revenues for constructive purposes, such as infrastructure building, education and research, and care of needy children (welfare) as well as mental health care, rather than to support the United States' military empire and military adventures. The importance of this conclusion cannot be overstated.

p.s. Happy Birthday to my beautiful wife, Eunice, or as I call her, You-Nice.

July 19

A Capital Idea Part 79: Life Satisfaction, Income Inequality, and Quality of Life

Denmark makes a nice example, but true knowledge requires looking at the cumulative reality, not selective cherry picking of the best examples. I realized last time that I should look at these issues across the nations of the world. If I had access to statistics programs, I could run correlations between these variables, but in the absence of these programs, I spent most of the day yesterday comparing the highest and lowest 10 nations on these variables, an informal technique which yields very similar conclusions to that of a correlation coefficient. I also found one site which had a scatterplot of the relation between income and life satisfaction (http://www.gallup.com/poll/104608/worldwide-residents-richer-nations-more-satisfied.aspx), but it didn't give the correlation coefficient and income isn't quite the variable I most wanted to look at, preferring Quality of Life instead.

What I found was mostly as I had postulated. One comparison had very weak results, in the direction I expected, and another had even stronger results than expected, but in general, they showed that income inequality goes with low quality of life and low quality of life goes with poor life satisfaction. The link between income inequality and life satisfaction is the weak one, but I will present explanations for that.

The link between per capita national income and life satisfaction seems to belie the old saying that "Money can't buy happiness." However, the situation is not that simple. Actually, as national income goes up, the relation between the two variables becomes weaker. In other words, nations where most of the people are so poor that they are destitute and have trouble meeting basic needs such as finding enough to eat, truly have poor life satisfaction, with good reason. However, nations where people generally have enough income that they don't have to worry about starving or meeting basic needs, tend to have fairly good and similar life satisfaction, whether it is a particularly rich nation, or a modestly wealthy nation. Differences among these "better off" nations are probably much more due to other factors such as income inequality, cultural factors, social harmony, etc. Overall, looking at the scatter plot graph, it looks like a fairly strong correlation between per capita income and life satisfaction, perhaps around .60. The scale for correlations ranges from -1 (complete opposites) to +1 (complete correspondence).

Next, I looked at the GINI Index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality), which measures income inequality, focusing on the ten nations with the highest GINI Index, and the ten with the lowest. These nations were compared on both Quality of Life, and the Satisfaction with Life Index. The ten nations with the lowest GINI Indices, in alphabetical order, were Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Ukraine. Of course, Denmark has the lowest GINI Index. These nations have relative income equality. The ten nations with the highest GINI Indices, in alphabetical order, were Bolivia, Botswana, Chile, Columbia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and South Africa. Actually, some nations were left out of these lists because they did not have data on the Satisfaction with Life Index and/or the Quality of Life Index, so these are the top and bottom 10 nations on the GINI Index which have data on all 3 variables. Also, there is not a specific year for the GINI Index, as the data year varies for different nations, but in every case, it is from the past several years.

There are 111 nations with Quality of Life data as of 2005 on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-of-life_index). I took the Quality of Life rankings of the ten nations with the lowest GINI Indices, and found that they averaged 40.25. The Quality of Life rankings of the ten nations with the higest GINI Indices averaged 77.5. Thus, Quality of Life was far worse in nations with great income disparities than in nations with small income disparities. Next, I did the same type of comparison between the GINI Index and Satisfaction with Life, which lists 178 nations on this index as of 2006 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfaction_with_Life_Index). In this case, I found that the ten nations with the lowest GINI Indices averaged a rank of 72.6 on Satisfaction with Life, while the ten nations with the highest GINI Indices have only a slightly higher average, 76.3 on the Satisfaction with Life Index (lower rankings being better). Of course, as many people have pointed out, Satisfaction with Life is essentially a subjective measure. The two largest biases in this measure which I can identify are the tendency to be self-deprecating as opposed to being narcissistically egotistical, and peoples' life expectations in terms of what it takes to make them feel "happy." For example, I noticed that Satisfaction with Life ratings for Asian nations tend to be low, which I think has to do with a relative tendency to be self-deprecating by citizens of Asian nations. There was only 1 Asian nation on either GINI Index list, Japan, but it ranked 90th in Satisfaction with Life even though it is 17th on Quality of Life and has one of the world's very lowest GINI Indices. In terms of peoples' expectations, I would expect these to be relatively low among poor people with relatively little hope of social progress. Poor peoples in nations with great income disparities, in other words, may be easier to please, assuming they accept their situation and feel that there is little they can do about it. (Otherwise, with the empowerment of the people, a revolution is in the offiing.) They are essentially comparing themselves to a lower standard than other peoples.

The final comparison I did was Satisfaction with Life, compared with Quality of Life. The reason I felt this comparison was needed is that I felt, as explained in the previous post, that Quality of Life is a better measure of a nation's wealth than is per capita income. Also, if I am correct, there should be an even stronger relation between Satisfaction with Life and Quality of Life than there is between Satisfaction with Life and per capita income, because Quality of Life takes into account variables such as access to good, cheap health care or education -- things which progressive societies do for their citizens -- which contribute to life satisfaction, which per capita income does not. It is important to note that there are no measures of life satisfaction included in the Quality of Life measure. The two measures are completely independent of each other. However, Wikipedia states that the Satisfaction with Life Index correlates strongly with health, wealth, and access to basic education. The results I found were striking. The ten nations with the highest Satisfaction with Life ratings which also had Quality of Life ratings were, in order of rank, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Costa Rica. The ten nations with the lowest Satisfaction with Life ratings which also had Quality of Life ratings were Rwanda, Bulgaria, Pakistan, Russia, Georgia, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldava, and Zimbabwe, with Zimbabwe having the lowest rank. The average Quality of Life rank for the top 10 nations on Satisfaction with Life is 10.9, which is not that far from being the top 10 nations overall in terms of Quality of Life. In contrast, the 10 basket cases at the bottom of the life satisfaction list, have an average ranking of 93.8 out of 111 on Quality of Life, not far from being as bad as it could be. In other words, it appears that there is an extremely high correlation between Satisfaction with Life, and Quality of Life -- higher than the correlation between Satisfaction with Life and per capita income, as I had postulated.

To put these findings in context, let me reiterate from the previous post, the variables found in the Quality of Life Index. These are health, family life, community life, material well-being, political stability and security, climate and geography, job security, political freedom, and gender equality. In other words, nations which have progressive policies such as empowerment of women, inexpensive and effective health care, trade union membership (found in the community life variable), high public sector employment (job security leading to low unemployment) and so forth, also tend to have higher Quality of Life ratings (and thus good resource use and national wealth), which correlates very highly with life satisfaction.

Of course, we have a "chicken or egg" problem with all of these correlations, or to be more technical, the issue that correlation does not imply causality. Whether life satisfaction leads to a better quality of life, vice versa, or some of both is not a settled issue, although it's probably some of both. Simlarly, whether relative income equality leads to a better quality of life, vice versa, or some of both cannot be determined by the fact that the two variables are related. If I could run a sophisticated causal modeling analysis including government policies, I suspect I would most likely find that progressive government policies (including the high tax rates that these necessitate) lead to a lower GINI Index, leading in turn to better quality of life, which finally leads to better life satisfaction. High life satisfaction also should have a feedback loop to quality of life (i.e., the economy) and even to government policies.

Such conclusions of course await futher research, unless somebody has already done it. We need to be aware of what works and what doesn't work in terms of government policy, in order to have a nation of informed and politically involved citizens and voters. Presumably, a nation of informed citizens will choose by and large, policies which work. The problem is when misinformed or uninformed citizens vote for politicians who advocate policies that do not work, when only a biased minority of the population even votes, or when politicians with their own agendas fail to carry out the will of an informed electorate. The importance of sharing information which can show us that progressive policies work well and conservative ones don't work so well, cannot be overstated.

July 16

A Capital Idea Part 78: Happiness is Good for Denmark's Economy

I will start this post with some additional information and a correction to a previous post. I went back to world's richest countries.com (http://www.worldsrichestcountries.com/) to find out where the world's happiest nation, Denmark was on the list as of 2008. At this site, I noticed that the United States is listed as the 10th wealthiest nation in terms of per capita GDP, not 9th as stated in the previous post. Denmark is ranked at number 28 on the list. Remember that per capita GDP is essentially a measure of how much economic activity occurs per person -- that is, how much money changes hands, which is buying and selling activity. This would inflate the statistic presumably for nations where people "shop 'til they drop" and fail to save their money, which fits the United States very well. That would relate to Maciamo's mention of "cumulated wealth and assets" as causing a discrepancy between per-capita GDP and true wealth.

I also forgot to put the list of the wealthiest per capita GDP nations in the previous post. Here they are as of 2008, according to the World's Richest Nations website:

1. Leichtenstein, $118,000 per capita GDP;

2. Qatar, $103,500;

3. Luxembourg, $81,100;

4. Bermuda, $69,900;

5. Kuwait, $57,400;

6. Jersey, $57,000;

7. Norway, $55,200;

8. Brunei, $53,100;

9. Singapore, $52,000,

10. United States, $47,000.

The per capita GDP for Denmark was $37,400 in 2008.

I didn't know that Jersey was it's own country! This must be a different Jersey, of course. Most of these wealthiest nations are ones with small populations, and as mentioned elsewhere, there are a variety of reasons which make per capita GDP less accurate, which for the most part would lower the U.S. even further down the list.

In any case, Denmark is clearly not one of the "richest nations" of the world, as the wealth of nations is measured. However, a study of its economy shows that it is doing very well economically, relative to most nations.

Denmark's economy includes a very large government sector, as is expected in a nation with a democratically socialist government. Tax rates are very high, close to 50% on the average, and this tax money is used to provide many free or inexpensive services including free education, even higher education, and government sponsored health care. Government in Denmark uses tax money to create a "commons" which creates a basically decent or better standard of living for all of its citizens, which contributes greatly to Denmark's high happiness ratings from year to year. In regard to quality of life, which seems to me a better measure of a nation's wealth than per capita GDP, Denmark has one of the world's highest. Perhaps the reason that quality of life is not used more often as a measure of wealth is the lack of an objective, established measure of this construct. However, there is a measure of quality of life, not surprisingly, called the Quality of Life Index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-of-life_index). Denmark does very well on this index. The Quality of Life Index is based on a combination of 9 measures: Health, Family Life, Community Life, Material Well Being, Political Stability and Security, Climate and Geography, Job Security, Political Freedom and Gender Equality. Although these constructs have but crude measures such as life expectancy and divorce rate, the Quality of Life Index does give a sort of comprehensive measure of a nation's various resources -- that is, its various forms of capital. The most recent year for which the complete Quality of Life statistics are available is 2005, and Denmark came in 9th place on it, much higher than its 28th place per capita GDP cited earlier. The top 10 nations were:

1. Ireland;

2. Switzerland;

3. Norway;

4. Luxembourg;

5. Sweden;

6. Australia;

7. Iceland;

8. Italy;

9. Denmark;

10. Spain;

Followed by

11. Singapore;

12. Finland;

and 13. United States.

Thus, Denmark and 11 other nations did better on this measure than the U.S. With events since 2005, it is expected that Ireland is no longer in the first position. However, Denmark and other nations in the top 10 continue to do rather well. I found another Quality of Life Index which is computed by International Living magazine, but my impression is that this is more of a rich person's index with emphasis on variables such as Cost of Living, and Culture and Leisure, with nothing relating to median income, for example (http://internationalliving.com/2010/01/2010-quality-of-life-index-194-countries-ranked-and-rated/). France has been coming in first place on this measure for 5 consecutive years. The United States comes in 7th place, and Denmark is not in the top 10, which are the only nations listed, but as I already mentioned, this basically seems to be a measure of the best places for rich people to hide out after they have crashed their home nation's economy, so I don't take this magazine's ratings seriously.

Denmark also has the world's lowest GINI index at 24.7 according to the United Nations' latest figures, which is a measure of economic disparities among a nation's citizens, this despite the fact that Denmark has relatively unregulated monetary and trade policies (apparently compensated for by the high taxes). The United States, on the other hand, has a relatively high GINI index at 40.8 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality). The lower the GINI Index, the more smaller the disparity in economic outcomes are among citizens of a nation, and I believe, the fairer the distribution of wealth is. Denmark's low GINI Index is a major reason for the happiness of its people. I suspect that Denmark's people will eventually realize that they need more economic regulation of their businesses, by the way, if they haven't already. A recent website mentions how the current worldwide economic crisis has affected Denmark (http://www.traveldocs.com/dk/economy.htm). With its freewheeling but high tax paying businesses, Denmark has been economically hurt by the world's current economic woes, more than many other nations. However, Denmark's economy continues to be stable, dynamic and successful overall, although it has few natural resources and the low-lying nation faces the likelihood of becoming an aquatic nation over the next few centuries.

It is my contention that happy people make good workers, a contention which is supported by much recent research, such as findings that vacations actually help workers be more productive when they do work, and much organizational psychology research relating worker satisfaction to work productivity. Furthermore, happy people cause fewer economy-draining problems such as psychological problems which prevent people from working or prevent people from working effectively. Happiness even promotes physical health in addition to psychological health, thus contributing to less work missed due to illness and longer careers.

And now to the main point: What makes for a happy society is a peaceful, stable egalitarian society which treats men and women relatively well and equally, and has relatively equitable economic outcomes, as shown by Denmark's low GINI index. This description applies best to Denmark among the world's nations.

Next time, I will extend this topic to a comparison of nations in terms of happiness and quality of life, and other measures of economic success.

(Note: Of interest here is another index based on Life Satisfaction, Life Expectancy, and Ecological Footprint, called the Happy Planet Index which has very different results from the other indices mentioned here (http://matadornetwork.com/life/four-ways-to-measure-your-standard-of-living/). On this index, Costa Rica, which I wrote about before, comes in first place. The top 10 nations on the Happy Planet Index are:

1. Costa Rica;

2. Dominican Republic;

3. Jamaica;

4. Guatemala;

5. Vietnam;

6. Columbia;

7. Cuba;

8. El Salvador;

9. Brazil;

10. Honduras.

How different this measure is from the economic based measures! My guess is that these nations will benefit greatly in the future due to their relatively pristine environments and ability to nurture their natural resources rather than exploit them in a one time fashion.)

July 12

A Capital Idea Part 77: The Mondragon Cooperative

Yesterday I checked out a special work cooperative I have heard of from time to time, one that may serve as a model of cooperative resource sharing, a sort of resource based economy nested within the larger financially capitalistic economy -- The Mondragon Cooperative.

This cooperative is in the Basque region of northern Spain, and was begun in a village of 7,000 persons called Mondragon, in the year 1956. In addition to being called The Mondragon Cooperative, it is also called the Mondragon Corporation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation). Interesting, huh? It actually is a corporation as well. It grew out of the teachings of a young, socially minded Catholic priest named Jose Arizmendiarrieta (but we can just call him Jose). It is structured to maximize democracy, cooperation and fairness. For example, wages in The Mondragon Cooperative are regulated so that the ratio of supervisor to worker pay is a constant, and a relatively low differential ranging from 3 to 1, up to 9 to 1. Areas of business activity in which the cooperative is involved include finance, industry, retail and knowledge. Of note are the innovations in the area of finance and knowledge. In terms of finance, dues are collected from members, both for the purpose of benefits such as retirement funds or sick leave, and for raising capital for business ventures, rather than leaving that to individual investors (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/the-new-economy/mondragon-worker-cooperatives-decide-how-to-ride-out-a-downturn). In terms of knowledge, there is the University of Mondragon: "The University of Mondragon is a university of a co-operative nature, which combines the development of knowledge, skills, and values, and maintains close relations with business, especially the Co-operatives. Technological innovation is generated by through the Co-operatives’ own R&D departments, the Corporate Science and Technology Plan, the work of the Corporation’s 12 technology centres and the Garaia Innovation Park.

For their part, the 12 technology centres, with a workforce totalling 742 people and an overall budget of 53.7 million euros in 2009, continue to play a fundamental role in the development of the sectors in which they focus their activity."

The Mondragon Cooperative operates under a unifying set of ten basic principles which create as egalitarian a business climate as possible. These principles in brief are (http://www.justpeace.org/mondragon.htm):

1. Open Admission;

2. Democratic Organization;

3. Sovereignty of Labor;

4. Instrumental and Subordinate Nature of Capital;

5. Participatory Management;

6. Payment Solidarity;

7. Intercooperation;

8 Social Transformation;

9. Universality;

10. Education.

Of note here: Democracy is taken very seriously in the Mondragon Cooperative. Authority is invested in the "General Assembly" which includes all members of the cooperative, who make group decisions by vote -- one person, one vote;

In terms of sovereignty of labor, wealth is distributed according to a member's labor, not the member's status as a financier or executive;

Capital holds no primacy in the cooperative. Labor is considered superior to capital (to paraphrase both Abraham Lincoln, and Pope John Paul II) The workers own the enterprise and manage the capital collectively;

The management style of the cooperative is also democratic and encourages worker participation as much as possible;

In terms of Social Transformation, the cooperative reinvests a high percentage of its profits in the community with the goal of job creation, and even donates 10% to charitable causes (like a tithe);

It is the wish of cooperative members to extend their way of life to all workers around the world (Universality);

Regarding education, the "founder and main driving force, the priest José María Arizmendiarrieta, was always quite clear that 'education, understanding as such the complex of ideas and concepts adopted by a man, is the key to the development and progress of a people'. Insisting on this idea, Father Arizmendiarrieta liked to repeat 'that education is the natural and indispensable cornerstone for the promotion of a new humane and just social order' and that 'knowledge has to be socialised to democratise power'. " Well said, Jose!

Of course, conservatives around the world and especially here in the U.S., will most likely decry The Mondragon Cooperative as a Communist venture and a certain failure, but actually, it is not communist at all. It actually is as fine an example of Democratic Socialism as exists in the world today, and being so democratic in nature, in my opinion bears less in common with the monopolistic empires built by Capitalism than does Communism as has been practiced around the world. And, far from being a failure, it is working (http://www.ownershipassociates.com/mcc-intro.shtm. More current stats are also provided in some of the previously cited websites). The Mondragon model has also begun to affect some businesses in the United States in a positive way as they adopt practices used by Mondragon (http://cultivate.coop/wiki/Mondrag%C3%B3n_Cooperative_Corporation).

I have seen mentions or at least hints of other places which have moved toward resource-based economies around the world, but my internet search turned up nothing else that was solid. I think the reason is that other such ventures are relatively new and not nearly as famous as Mondragon. However, its ideas are slowly but surely spreading, and that is a good thing if I have ever heard one!

Building resource based economies, at least in limited contexts, may be easier than we would tend to think. There was an interesting example I did find during my search, by a music teacher (in the U.K, I believe), explaining how he or she would build a resource based method of teaching music (http://www.tzmeducation.org/content/personal-account). This would involve the sharing of musical instruments and technology, and rather than having fixed sessions lasting 1/2 hour, based on pay by each pupil, a resource based system would allow far greater flexibility and creativity, resulting in better quality instruction overall. In other words, while Jean was still absorbed in her video violin lesson, Joan could spend an extra half hour perfecting some aspect of her violin playing with her instructor. (Okay, the author of this post is actually a drum teacher, but the violin example seems more intriguing.)

Viva Mondragon!

p.s. I think I set a personal record for references in this post.

July 8

A Capital Idea Part 76: Humanity's Obsession with Money -- Gambling

On July 1, My wife and I made a brief stop in Las Vegas to eat lunch and refuel the car. We stopped at a place with a gas station and a food court -- plus, of course, gambling machines. While there, I saw a young woman -- presumably a fellow travellor -- totally absorbed in the process of feeding her money to a machine. Personally, I was given a total of 3 dollars by Eunice which I played "Black Jack" with on a machine for a very short period until the money was gone. I am not that interested in gambling, nor is Eunice, but submitted briefly to the urge to try winning something, or at least see what would happen. Observing the behavior of the young blond haired woman, I realized that I had gotten my 3 dollars' worth and more.

Watching her, I suddenly began to connect a variety of dots. I realized that we human beings have a need to understand money which manifests in a variety of strange ways, and goes well beyond the need to pay one's bills. I believe that this need to understand money is a motivating factor in gambling behavior. When people gamble, it is as though they are trying to figure out how it works, and furthermore, how they can control the uncontrollable. When I mention gambling, I am not only referring to games of chance which are officially known as gambling. I am also referring most notably to the stock market, and people taking business chances.

People have a drive for financial security. Perhaps the need to understand how money works results from the drive for financial security. However, this topic is not about people needing money to get by financially, and it's not about the avaricious drive which some people have to attain untold riches. In fact, rather than resulting in financial security, gambling ironically creates financial instability. What this topic is about, is the inability of human beings to understand what it is that we have created, and upon which we base the exchange of goods and services. It's a puzzle which boggles the mind and creates dissonance, whether people consciously recognize this fact or not. "Can I make the machines work for me? Can I figure out the system? What is this stuff we call money, anyway?" These are the type of questions which must be in the back of people's minds as they work with money. I must come to the conclusion that the only people who can "figure out the system" are those who have been allowed to rig the system, people such as bankers or owners of big business, and even they really don't understand money better than the rest of us, nor are they any smarter than the rest of us. The only difference is that they have a means of manipulating the financial system so that it will work for them and keep loads of money coming in.

Actually, I heard an example of the business side of humanity's obsession with money while eating lunch at the little travellor's center in Las Vegas. There was a young man at the next table talking to two older men about some business deal, something that happens all over the world, but the shady side of which seems to occur more often in Vegas. The younger man was explaining something to the effect that the deal was all set, but so-and-so's check turned out to be no good, etc., etc. As mentioned previously, business deals are basically gambles as well, with the business people playing the role of pawns in a game they don't realize they are a part of. Most pawns get eliminated, but occasionally, one is transformed into a king, at least in the real world of finance.

Of course, people need a certain amount of money in order to pay the bills, and of course, some people get caught up in the excesses of the pursuit of extreme wealth, but all people, I believe, have an underlying need to understand what it is that society has created -- sort of a Frankenstein scenario, as in "I have created a monster." Gambling is a naive attempt to understand and control the uncontrollable, or at least, understand something about the statistical principles governing the variable outcomes of financial ventures. Of course, speaking of rigging systems, it is the "houses" -- whether it be gambling houses, banks, or international corporations with the power to effect legislation and nations' economies significantly -- which rig the system, and create for themselves the illusion that they understand how money works and that the capitalistic use of money is a fair and rational system. The rigging of the system by certain individuals who accrue great wealth is one result of gambling and the need to understand money. The other affect which I can identify at this time, as mentioned earlier, is financial instability, and thus social instability, in a manner that creates stress, poverty, crime and all sorts of social ills. Speaking of stress, poverty, etc., on the way home on July 4, while passing through Phoenix in heat well over 100 degrees, we ate at a McDonald's where we wound up giving an ice tea, french fries and $5 to a very grateful -- and presumably homeless -- book bag carrying Anglo-type man who was dirty, discheveled and covered with about a week's worth of dark facial hair -- pretty much how I would look if my wife didn't clean me up or dress me like Little Lord Fauntleroy, except that my facial hair has turned a mixture of white and other colors over the years. The man had been sitting in McDonald's the entire time, eating nothing and meekly hoping to catch someone's attention, although he didn't actually ask for anything. He got ours, and our sympathy. We also gave some money to an African-American beggar outside a gas station near Vegas earlier in the trip. A lot of people in the U.S. are doing high wire acts without a safety net, and many of them are falling.

Personally, I have had enough of gambling with money and the attempt to understand and control in a rational manner, something which has rational aspects, but is irrational as practiced in the world today. It's not that money is inherently irrational, I think upon reflection, but the system which has been built around money has been created for the benefit of the rich who created it, in a pseudo-rational way which conceals its underlying irrationality. The bottom line is that we need to create a system of resource use and allocation -- a system of capital -- which is based upon rational principles, a system which can truly be understood.

July 6

Skywalkers

My squaw Eunice and I are now officially Skywalkers, and it has nothing to do with Star Wars. The actual day of our Skywalking was June 22, one day short of my 52nd birthday. As it turned out, there were throngs of new Skywalkers, accompanied by some more experienced ones, largely of the host tribe, the Hualapai of northern Arizona. A great many of the visitors were members of the Han Tribe of China, including my wife. In fact, the whole concept of Skywalking as currently practiced is said to have been the result of a sacred financial vision of a Han Tribesmember. Apparently Skywalking in Hualapai territory is a sort of rite of passage among the Han Tribe. Add to that, they are the most numerous tribe in the world. Myself, I am merely a transplanted member of the Anglo-Saxon Tribe who happened to get caught up in my squaw's Skywalking ritual. In addition to the Han people, I saw members of a great many tribes from around the world engaging in their Skywalking lessons.

It turns out that Skywalking is not as difficult as it might at first seem; all that is required is to pay the requisite fees, about $75 in total. After paying, Skywalkers are herded onto a bus, and taken to the Skywalking area. After the Skywalking experience, they are herded into the feeding trough area. My squaw Eunice and I declined to feed there, prefering to stay hungry. Judging by the average size of the host tribe Hualapai members, many of whom make even me look slim, there is no shortage of food in their territory. I am even surprised that many of them can Skywalk. To be fair, the size of Hualapai and other Arizona tribe members appears to be genetically mediated, the result of millenia of living with unpredictable food sources. Another thing the Hualapai are not lacking in these days is money. Despite this, getting to the bus departure point involves driving along nine miles of rough dirt road.

As far as the Skywalking experience itself is concerned, it is a bit scary, although apparently it is quite safe. Not one Skywalker yet in the few years the Hualapai have been offering Skywalking lessons has crashed or been injured during the experience. Most people concentrate on looking toward the Grand Canyon in front of them and the muddy Colorado River -- the means by which the entire canyon was generated -- rather than staring down at the chasm directly below them, understandably. Those who wish to have their Skywalking experience captured in perpetuity can have an image engraved on a magic sheet of plant fiber by one of the capable, experienced Skywalkers who inhabit the area. Later during our trip, Eunice and I had were caught in two separate, awesome thunderstorms, of the sort which dig into the past, while nourishing the present. Both times, we wound up sitting in the car, laughing -- the first time, with mud up to our knees, all over the underside of our car, and all over our fishing equipment, and the second time, during our last day away from home, at a lake seemingly at the top of the world called Sunrise Lake, on the Apache Reservation, as torrential rains descended on us from the heavens and put an early end to our fishing efforts.

The sight one sees while Skywalking is awesome, in a very literal sense, but not much different than what one sees by standing at the railing at Grand Canyon National Park. My squaw Eunice concluded that one Skywalk was enough for her, and not really worth the expense except to tell her fellow Han Tribe members that she had done it. Anyway, it was a bit scary. Eunice Skywalked rather tentatively and avoided looking down, and I found the whole visual concept of appearing that I was about to fall into a deep chasm rather unnerving, as well.

Looking down into the gorge 4,000 feet below me, however, I had a transcendent thought and thus the inspiration for this post. The rocks that the Colorado River has made its way down to are said to be about 2 billion years old. Above that, lies 2 billion years worth of sediment from ancient seas and/or lakes through which the river has burrowed, giving the Colorado River its mud and its name. Two billion years of layered, hard packed mud and clay, in various shades of red and occasionally other colors -- the stuff that pervades most of Utah and Colorado, and parts of Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and New Mexico, and maybe a few other states -- all of which has been lifted skyward, stands as a monument to the evolutionary power of time! It took 2 billion years to make this possible -- 2 billion years of sedimentation and erosion, and 2 billion years of biological evolution on this planet -- so that we members of all tribes can stand together as one, walking far above the sediments of the past, as brothers and sisters, braves and squaws. We truly are Skywalkers, all of us.

If any of this description seems mysterious, that is intentional, but let me clarify it here. My wife Eunice wanted me to take her to the platform over the Grand Canyon, named the Skywalk, originally envisioned by a Chinese visitor and built on the Hualapai Reservation along the northwest side of the Grand Canyon, in northern Arizona. The platform is anchored into the side of the canyon with special high-strength, lightweight materials, and the platform itself is made of a special, superstrong clear plastic in several layers. It is U-shaped and the outer and inner parts of the "U" are covered with a green (I think) material which one cannot see through, presumably to give comfort to visitors, while the middle of the "U" is see-through so that one can look straight down. Visitors are not allowed to bring cameras or even purses onto the Skywalk. If one wants a photo, there are several photographers who take pictures of visitors. If one chooses to buy one (which we did), it costs $30 per photo. The shame of the whole endeavor is that it is very commercialized -- in stark contrast with the awesome geological and evolutionary experience of the place -- and basically a means of making the Hualapai and some other people involved in the project, rich. People from around the world go there and spend a walletful of money just to say that they walked over the Grand Canyon. (To be perfectly accurate, the actual Skywalk is over a tributary canyon.) On top of the actual fees, there are the concessions as well. My wife bought a small Native American drum for another $75 and a plaque for $15 at the store, for example. Of course, the National Park Service would never have allowed such a spectacle to be built on within its borders, at least not in modern times.

I dream of the day when we all Skywalk together without financial profit playing any role in the process. After all, the reason we can Skywalk as a species, is that we have all been lifted to the sky by forces greater than us, forces which bind us together.

June 19

A Capital Idea Part 75: The Richest Nation in the World?

I have often heard it said that the United States is "the richest nation in the world." While growing up, I accepted that as true and a point of pride. As I have experienced more of the world around me during my adulthood, such bold statemates have come to bother me more and more. I have come to think of them as neither true, nor a point of pride. In fact, a nation's wealth could very well be a sign of how successfully it has exploited others or its environment. In any case, it seems to me that being the world's happiest nation would be far more meaningful. I wrote earlier in this series about how Americans are not as rich as they think they are, and gave a variety of reasons for that, but the issue of where this notion that the U.S. is the world's richest country comes from in the first place still bugged me. Thus, I decided to check some websites which discuss the topic.

In general, what I have found out has surprised me for two reasons. First, no one who calculates such statistics even attempts to claim that America is the world's richest nation, except in terms of cumulative wealth across all citizens, and the U.S. has the advantage of having one of the world's largest populations, making that statistic have little meaning. Second, I had more trouble than expected finding sites which even addressed this matter, as though it is something that people assume without a scintilla of evidence. Eventually, I found several sites which were relevant, some of which had lists of the world's richest per capita nations.

The statistics upon which these claims are based are simple, but misleading. The relevant statistic is per capita income (also known as per-capita GDP); however the statistic upon which the world's richest nation claim is based, is Gross Domestic Product, which is basically -- as I understand it -- the cumulative money value of all the financial activity of a nation in a given year, although there are three theoretically equivalent ways to calculate GDP. In any case, GDP is not particularly relevant as mentioned above.

I found an article at the Parade website, published in 2008 I think (before the current economic crisis) which stated that the United States had dropped from first to third in per capita income among the nations of the world. Since that time, I believe it has dropped further (http://www.parade.com/hot-topics/0808/the-worlds-richest-nation). By the way, comments about this post show others equalling my skepticism about the "world's richest nation" mantra we Americans hear on news outlets and from politicians. A second source from the same year, no less, lists generally higher per capita income levels for the various nations, and ranks the U.S. much lower, at number 9 among nations (http://www.worldsrichestcountries.com/). I don't know the reason for the difference in the numbers or rankings, but presumably, the per capita income was calculated differently. Both articles say the rankings are based upon "per capita GDP" -- "the amount of national income generated per citizen" according to the Parade article. Again, the United States has probably fallen in the rankings considerably since 2008 and continues to fall. Both sites make it clear that many other nations are catching up to the U.S. income-wise. In other words, although it may have been true at one time that the United States had the world's highest per-capita income, people who continue to call the United States "the world's richest nation" are either talking about total wealth across the entire populace, are stuck in the past, or they are lying. Furthermore, the status of the United States in terms of per capita income appears to be on a long-term decline compared to other nations.

Next, I will discuss some factors which I believe make the reality of American economics much worse than the raw per capita wealth statistics suggest. A blogger named Maciamo wrote a post about this topic which is helpful (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?24122-Why-GDP-per-capita-does-not-reflect-a-population-s-wealth). Reasons given by Maciamo for the discrepancy between a population's wealth and per capita GDP include the following:

1. Unreported income is not included in the GDP figures. This includes the so-called Black Market or Black Economy, but it also includes perfectly honest bartering exchanges which are still done and are traditionally quite common. Some nations have far more "Black Economy" activity than others. Maciamo reports that, for instance, only 5-10% of income is unreported in the U.S. and the U.K., while about 30% is unreported in Italy (where I think Maciamo is from), and a whopping 50% is unreported in Russia, according to The Economist;

2. Per-capita GDP does not reflect "accumulated wealth and assets, such as savings, investments (bonds, shares...), real estate properties and other material possessions. The GDP per capita would be a good way to compare citizens' wealth if all people were forced to spend all their income on perishable or consumable goods like food or clothes, and be left with no cash, no house and no other investment or long-term material goods (e.g. furniture, TV...) at the end of each year." Some nations have more accumulated wealth than others, clearly, although no figures about that were given in this post. Maciamo does however, give the examples of Germany and Japan, both of which had their infrastructure largely destroyed during WWII. As a result, they had massive economic activity during the rebuilding process, inflating their GDPs, but they have had relatively little accumulated wealth since WWII. On the individual level, accumulated wealth may have more to do with a person's quality of life in many cases, than actual current income;

3. The third reason given by Maciamo is that GDP does not reflect "the historical and artistic heritage of a country." In other words, a nation's wealth is about much more than money. While this is a subjective issue, it may be argued that some nations have far more of this aesthetic wealth than others;

4. The final reason given by Maciamo is that GDP tells us nothing about the levels of income disparity in a nation. This is the key reason for the United States' GDP figures being distorted, in my opinion. To put it bluntly, places that have fairer economies and smaller wealth disparities have better standards of living, happiness and quality of life than places with large wealth disparities, all other things being equal. The United States currently has one of the world's largest income disparities. Thus, while a few Americans live lifestyles of luxury and a small middle class is economically comfortable, the majority of Americans are struggling to get by, perhaps finding that they can only afford a small apartment if even that, perhaps owing more on their homes than they are worth, perhaps one missed paycheck, shopping spree, or serious illness away from financial disaster. The entire economy of the United States is badly unbalanced, being largely based on the financial industry itself, foreign occupation and the exploitation of cheap foreign labor, low taxes and huge national debts, all for the financial benefit of basically a small percentage of Americans who find themselves growing wealthier even as the nation as a whole grows poorer.

Reasons number 1-3 given by Maciamo are ones that I probably hadn't considered before, although number 4 is an obvious one to me. Additional reasons for the discrepancy between per-capita GDP and actual wealth, perhaps mentioned previously in the "We Aren't as Rich as We Think We Are" post, include the unequal monetary exchange rates between nations, and the ability to utilize natural resources (for instance, walking into the forest near one's home and picking wild fruit which grows for free). The value of the American dollar relative to others currencies, is artificially inflated, most likely to make it easier to import cheap foreign goods. At the same time, this makes everything in the U.S. other than imported goods, relatively expensive, resulting in the appearance that incomes in the United States are worth more than they really are. In other words, a dollar buys much less in the United States than it does elsewhere. If one examines lifestyles and cost of living in other nations, one finds that for the most part, other places are much less expensive than the United States, and the quality of life is much higher than that which would we expected based on the average income. Part of the reason for this is also the more natural, traditional lifestyles of people in most other nations, where people share resources and gather natural goods without having to pay. Such free use of resources is relatively uncommon in the United States, and likely one of the reasons that the so-called "Black Economy" accounts for a relatively small portion of the United States' GDP. Also, there is the issue of the conservative American, "sink-or-swim" individualistic philosophy, which results in Americans having to pay for services such as health care and higher education which are largely provided by government in other nations. These are paid for with the help of higher tax rates in other nations, but such government services help lift the quality of life of the general public in these nations, while Americans are left to their own devices to get by. Finally, American commercialism has resulted in most Americans becoming addicted to material goods that they don't really need. Thus, Americans tend to spend enormous sums of money on products that they don't really need and which do not enhance their lifestyle, compared to people in other nations who do tend not to overspend on items of relatively little real worth. Having lots of stuff may make most Americans feel rather rich, but a look at their bank accounts makes most Americans feel far from rich. (The savings rate in the United States currently is quite poor; in fact, I believe that net savings as well as net worth have actually decreased during the current economic crisis.)

Next time, I will consider what a relatively healthy economy that produces happy, well-adjusted people may look like -- the economy of the "world's happiest nation" for the past several years, Denmark.

June 16

A Capital Idea Part 74: An Honest Economy

We all know what a dishonest economy looks like, as discussed last time. Now, it's time to consider what an honest economy would look like. This topic is largely a reframing of material from earlier posts, but such reframing and summarizing might prove useful.

The following are some characteristics of an honest economy:

1. An honest economy will make a serious attempt to create economic fairness;

2. An honest economy will be resource-based, not money based;

3. An honest economy will be based on the sharing of resources, not the hoarding of resources;

4. An honest economy will have a moral basis rather than an amoral basis;

5. An honest economy will fulfill human needs and ensure basic human rights to the benefit of the greater good, rather than seeking to fulfill the greedy desires of the economically gifted;

6. An honest economy will serve the people rather than the other way around;

7. An honest economy will use realistic models of the world, our environment and human behavior rather than being based on bizarre assumptions of limitless yet scarce resources and unlimited population and economic growth;

8. An honest economy will be treated as an ecology would, using ecological models of sustainability;

9. An honest economy, on the other hand, will acknowledge the untold potential of humans to invent, adapt, take care of each other and the world, and evolve culturally;

10. An honest economy will not ensure equal outcomes, which is impossible, but rather work for fair outcomes, which means economic disparities will be far smaller than at present;

11. An honest economy will prosecute those who syatematically and intentionally take economic advantage of others, not reward them;

12. Most to the point, an honest economy would make impossible the various egregious forms of economic dishonesty which currently take place. The resource-based system of sharing collective wealth, and use of alternative forms of money to ensure human rights while disallowing financial abuse will accomplish most of this, regulations will accomplish much of the rest, and a culture of economic honesty will accomplish the rest.

Dishonesty in the economy is not only about people cheating other people out of money; rather, it includes a wide range of behaviors which need to be addressed in an honest economy as in the above points. Prime among these are the unrealistic assumptions of the prevailing economic model about human nature, economic behavior, the nature of the economy and the world's ecology.

For example, as a poster at the Thom Hartmann site has recently pointed out, the idea of the informed consumer making wise choices in a competitive economic model is unrealistic. I have somewhat dealt with this issue before, but not completely. The economic model of consumer behavior seems to assume that the buyer has unlimited time to study the options before making an informed choice. This is utter nonsense. As business people say, "time is money." Nobody has time to labor over every little economic choice. If we did, we would not have time to do anything other than study the options and decide what to buy. In fact, we wouldn't even have enough time to do that. A second false assumption made by the prevailing model of consumer behavior is that different people will tend to have different optimal choices in terms of what to buy. This might be true to a small extent, but largely, consumers look for the same things in a product -- low price for the same product, shopping convenience, and an effective product. Thus, the large majority of informed consumers choose the same product or one of a small range of products, which leads to monopoly and lack of competition. In fact, it could be argued that the randomness of shoppers' behavior to the extent that it occurs, is the main impediment to the inevitable monopolization process. Healthy economic competition is only a temporary state in the early stages of the capitalist economic model.

Regarding human nature, models by people such as John Nash were built around the idea that every person would behave in a greedy manner. It turns out that greed is not the norm. Only certain people exhibit economic greed. Belatedly, we discovered that the person who created these models was a paranoid scizophrenic and that they were a reflection of his psychopathology.

Regarding the nature of the economy, as stated above, it is really an ecological and moral model, rather than the financial empire model, which reflects a true and honest economy.

Regarding the world's ecology in relation to the economy, we must as a species take responsibility for the health of the world's ecosystems, and for keeping a sustainable human population level. If there are too many people, we cannot ensure even a minimum level of resources for each citizen of the world.

There may be other characteristics of an honest economy of which I have not thought, but those listed above reflect the major emphases of my approach to creating an honest and beneficial economy.

June 3

A Capital Idea Part 73: How Money Created a Whole World of Deceit

Today I plan to discuss something dreadful about the psychology of money -- namely, how it makes possible a plethora of deceitful practices, and magnifies those which might exist even without money. In short, money, the stuff that people strive to get because it can be used to buy stuff, opens a pandora's box of dreadfully destructive deceitful practices -- practices which I believe could be prevented. These are not necessary evils; they are just evils.

Going back once again to early forms of trade before physical money was invented, people generally bartered in order to exchange goods. In fact, people often still barter, but most goods are bought with money. In bartering, there is relatively little chance for deceitful practices to take place, and when they do occur, they generally occur on a small scale. Bartering is usually between one individual or family and another. How would a barterer deceive someone? Probably by claiming to have something he or she did not actually have, receiving the goods from the other person, and taking off. Alternatively, a person could actually have something and offer it but fail to actually give it to another person even though he or she receives the agreed upon goods. Of course, outright robbery is also a possibility too. Thus, any exchange offers the possibility for deception. I don't claim that money is responsible for all human deception. Deception also happens when people lie about themselves to other people in order to manipulate them, for instance. However, what I am claiming is that money acquisition, to the degree that it is not regulated -- that is, the so-called "free market" -- elevates the art of deception to a far higher level and a much larger scale, especially in our modern, global economy.

I recently heard on the news that two men were being charged with manipulating the price of gasoline. Coincidentally, I am listening to Bernie Sanders at this very moment, talking about how 40% of the cost of oil is because of speculators buying and selling phantom oil. This is exactly how the 2 men charged with the gasoline price manipulation did it. I don't know who they are, but they must be extraordinarily rich. They bought a huge quantity of oil -- enough to supply the people of the world for several days -- which inflated gasoline prices considerably around the world. This was two or three years ago, and as a consequence of their actions, people all around the world had to pay more, not only for gasoline, but also for food. This resulted in food riots and starvation in some parts of the world. Yes, people actually died because of the greed of these two men! When they sold the gasoline, they made $60 million dollars in profit, while everyone else sufffered. Clearly, as Bernie Sanders points out, this practice of oil speculation continues unabated, despite the prosecution of those two men. Prosecutions in such cases are rare, and they are only being prosecuted for financial crimes, although they should be prosecuted for manslaughter. This is but one example of deception on a global scale which the world's monetary system and global economy makes possible, but this is the story which reminded me to write this post. Keep in mind, there is no actual exchange of goods going on with this type of speculation. All of this oil is basically a phantom product, which the buyers never see or possess physically. It is not as though the built a gigantic warehouse and put all the oil they bought in it.

As the role of money has evolved, in fact, money has become more and more of a phantom product. Instead of using physical money, people tend to use credit cards now. Money is "wired" from one bank account to another. Money in the stock market is basically imaginary, too. When the stock market goes up, money appears out of nowhere, and when it goes down, it vanishes into thin air. It's like believing in magic, the way a 4 year old who has failed to grasp Piaget's task of conservation might think water was being magically created or destroyed as it was poured from one container to another of a different shape. And here, I thought these people who deal with money were grown-ups. I guess I was wrong. Resources are a real thing. That which is used to represent these resources should be, too -- yes, a finite quantity. (By the way, home equity is another example of phantom money which appears and disappears for no good reason, currently causing about 1/4 of homeowners in the U.S. to owe more on their homes than the homes are worth.)

As a consequence of this perversion of the concept of resources, the use of money allows an incredible panoply of deceptive and value distorting practices. For example, China is being accused by the United States, for example, of intentionally deflating the value of its currency in order to make its imports to foreign nations cheaper. I have discussed previously in this series how the exchange rates between nations for different currencies seem wildly distorted. I do believe that this is something which the people who run various nations' economic policies intentionally manipulate in their own interests, so yes, it is a form of deception at the international level. Of course, at the individual level, financial crimes are common, such as pyramid schemes and various scams. In fact, I have argued that the world's entire economy is basically built as a humongous pyramid scheme inasmuch as it operates as a so-called "free-market" economy. However, there is an entire range of financial deception which also takes place, not at the national level, or the individual level, but rather, at the corporate level, and like currency manipulation, is completely legal in most instances, and even when not legal, is rarely prosecuted. For instance, corporations manipulate the price of their products in order to maximize their profits. This has nothing to do with the cost of producing the product, but rather, the fluctuations in prices for the same product are caused by other factors such as creating "consumer loyalty" by having sales, or the popularity of the product, or most insidiously, because consumers are addicted to the product. It could be argued that such price manipulation is an honest business practice, and this is "how business is done," but that doesn't work for me. I have always felt deceived and manipulated by sudden changes in price or wildly varying prices from one seller to another, of basically the same product. Perhaps we have been numbed to the level of corporate price manipulation which occurs due to its constancy in our lives, but it is what it is. These practices effect the entire world's economy, because they occur worldwide.

Other deceptive corporate practices include:

1. Creating dependencies on the product among the consumers (not just drugs but other products as well). Of course, this will never be revealed to the consumer;

2. Undercutting the competition through lower prices, to put them out of business, then raising prices once the "winning" business has more of a monopoly. Of course, this is sold to the consumer as the undercutter being a more generous, less greedy company, and consumers enjoy lower prices during the competition phase, but suffer lack of choice and monopolistic practices afterward;

3. Collusion between corporations in price setting, creating de facto monopolies. Of course, the corporations will never admit this, once again, and the fact that they refuse to acknowledge the reality is proof that it is a form of deceit;

4. Advertisements are often used in deceptive ways. Although advertisers are not allowed to lie, they can still deceive consumers by creating false impressions and false associations, as behaviorist John Watson discovered. At the very least, advertisements are virtually by definition, biased.

I am sure that there are many other deceptive practices made possible by the world's relatively unregulated financial system exist, but I am not an expert regarding these. Perhaps you can think of some more. Something which comes to my mind at this moment is how sometimes, non-profit, charitable organizations may take people's donations, such as those of my wife, and use it to enrich themselves, dismissing the deduction from the money to be used for charitable purposes, as "administrative costs" or some such. My wife worries about that oftentimes when deciding to whom to make donations. Some charitable organizations have statistics about how the money is used, or proven track records, but such information is difficult to come by with many organizations.

At the very least, all sorts of deceptive practices with money need to be regulated, which presumably means making them illegal, both in national and international law. However, with a resource based economy, and money (or credits or vouchers) which has designated value and uses as described earlier in this series, such deceptive practices which harm us all, will be made impossible. Furthermore, with a fairer, far more honest economy, there will be much less wealth disparity and thus less opportunity for global economic deception to occur, and less incentive for individual economic deception to occur.

May 31

A Capital Idea Part 72: The Fight of the Century -- Big Government vs. The Big Banskter (A Short Natural Lefty Production)

Moneypimp announcer # 1: "In this corner, representing The People, the reluctant pugilist, Big Government. In the other corner, representing the Financial Oligarchy, The Big Bankster. It's the heavyweight fight of the century, folks!"

Moneypimp announcer # 2: "Yes, it's common knowledge that Big Government didn't want this fight, but the Big Bankster forced the issue. I tell you, my money is on The Big Bankster. Big Government seems on the verge of whimping out, if you ask me."

The fight starts, with The Big Bankster pummeling Big Government with his lead boxing gloves and shouting insults.

Moneypimp announcer # 2: "My, aren't those lead gloves The Big Bankster is using there." Moneypimp announcer #1 whispers in Moneypimp announcer # 2's ear. "Oh, wait a moment! A quick check of the rules shows that it is legal for The Big Bankster to use weighted gloves -- no, not for Big Government, just for The Big Banskter. Hmm, that's interesting." What he didn't mention was that The Big Bankster had the rules changed just last year by buying off the approximately 60% of politicians who are also Moneypimps.

Round one ends, with Big Government being helped back to the corner dazed and confused, with help from some good citizens.

In round two, The Big Bankster shows up with ether on his gloves, also made legal for corporations and banskters only. Big Government is sent woozy and reeling not only by the pummeling from The Big Bankster, but now, also the ether, after his "associates" had paid a visit to the Moneypimp announcers to remind them who was paying their salaries.

Moneypimp announcer # 1: "Looks like The Big Bankster's got Big Government on the ropes. I don't think Big Government can hold on much longer; it's a total mismatch, if you ask me!"

Moneypimp announcer # 2: "But... Isn't that ether dripping from The Big Bankster's gloves?" Moneypimp announcer # 1 and The Big Banskter's "associates" glare at Moneypimp announcer # 2 menacingly. "Oh, I must be mistaken, then. That is just sweat. After all, nobody works harder or deserves success more than The Big Bankster."

And here we are, at the end of round two, with Big Government having been unfairly yet legally pummeled, insulted, and anaesthetized by The Big Bankster. What are we the people going to do about this situation? Clearly, the rules by which our economy operates have been rewritten by monied interests. They need to be rewritten again by the people and their honest representatives, for the good of the general welfare. I thought that this boxing analogy might be useful in illustrating the problem, although it is a problem of which most of us are well aware.

If such a rigged contest were uncovered in sports, it would cause a huge scandal, but in politics, it seems to be accepted as the status quo. (Actually, I think that there is much de facto rigging in sports, but as in politics, it is mostly secret so that the public remains in the dark, which is a different story. By the way, I hate boxing.) However, money not only can influence the law, but also, the message. Despite that, most of us have at least an inkling of what is going on. We know that the system is rigged by money. We just need to figure out how to unrig it, which will require mass action locally, statewide and/or nationally, and honest politicians.

Well, I guess this is my shortest blog post ever. Notice how I used gender neutral language for Big Government (representing "The People") and male language for The Big Bankster (since they all seem to be males).

May 28

A Capital Idea Part 71: Patriots, or War Criminals?

Today I am going to combine an earlier topic of my posts, about the psychological nature of war, with the current one.

Some of the United States' wealthiest people work in the defense industry. In particular, they are usually contracters, who are given vast sums of money that our government cannot afford, in order to build weapons, military vehicles or equipment high-tech or otherwise, or supply overseas troops. Many of them live in mansions near Washington, D.C. according to Thom Hartmann, who has seen many of their mansions. In itself, the fact that these people are receiving so much money and living a lifestyle of luxury on government money, should be cause for alarm. However, the real crime is what they are being paid to do in my opinion. This is a horribly perverted system which has built up around the United States' military-industrial complex.

While these people direct operations from within their mansions and posh buildings in the United States -- mostly in the D.C. area -- their products are going overseas to kill, maim and degrade the lifestyle and environment of foreign peoples, most of them innocent victims of the mighty American military-industrial complex. Of course, this is done in the name of the "war on terror," "national security" and other well-intentioned sounding phrases. However, even if some of the people who work for the United States' military-industrial complex are well-intentioned, something of which I have no doubt, this is not the result of their actions. They are deluding themselves if they believe that they are bringing benefit to the United States or the world. Actually, I suspect that by now, the majority of those involved in supplying The Great American War and Occupation Machine, realize that they are only benefitting themselves at the expense of others, and that the military operations which they help to make possible are on balance, counterproductive.

Let us examine some of the effects of these peoples' business.

1. They are helping to make foreign peoples, especially those in occupied nations, to hate Americans, and thus are helping to recruit terrorists;

2. On the home front, they are helping to put America's rather large warrior class at risk, resulting in the physical and/or psychological destruction of many American lives. I have several students per year who are veterans of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and virtually every one of them either has PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries), or both. I live near March Air Reserve Base, which was very active in the Vietnam War and is still fairly active in supporting the current occupations, so there is a substantial component of military personnel living in this area. Also, I teach Psychology classes, so my students might not be typical. Nonetheless, my textbook says that 17% of U.S. veterans of these occupations are diagnosed with PTSD, and those are just the ones who are diagnosed. In addition, there are a substantial percentage of these veterans with TBIs. For some, the guilt, stress, etc. are too much, and they take their own lives. The suicide rate among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan has been soaring. Of course, the number of veterans with these problems are proliferating all around the United States;

3. A recent report on life expectancy shows that it has increased in most nations recently, with a few exceptions. The most notable exception is Iraq, where life expectancy, especially for males, has declined considerably over these past few years, all due, of course, to the United States' occupation of that country. I expect Afghanistan will be next to evidence a decrease in life expectancy, although it is probably already quite low. These war profiteers are killing people, not just "bad" people, but innocent people. In fact, most of their victims are innocent men, women and children;

4. Nothing degrades the environment so aggressively as military operations. War is like an environment hating sociopath on the loose, completely devoid of conscience or remorse, the Ted Bundy of environmental criminals. These contractors are feeding the environmentally destructive ways of our military, while they sit in relative safety and great luxury, far from the destruction they cause;

5. Conflict causes increased rates of psychopathology, of all kinds. The long term effects of living in an occupied nation, or one in which military killing is taking place, are insidious and extremely harmful psychologically. It might be likened to the effects of being enslaved, in fact. These contractors are making these occupatons and killings happen, not preventing them. If they were preventing conflict, life expectancies would increase where active U.S. military operations are taking place, not decrease;

6. I did a comparison of military spending among different nations of the world, and rates of violent crime. What I found was that, within each cultural subset of nations in the world (such as European, African, Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and the Anglo culture based nations), with the exception of the Middle East, the higher the rate of mlitary spending, the higher the violent crime rate. The war comes home, so to speak. How many times do we hear of recent veterans of the U.S. miltary coming home and "going postal," killing or wounding someone. A friend of mine recently knew such a person personally, arrested for murder in Las Vegas shortly after returning from Iraq. Not only that, but in general, macho, militaristic societies tend to breed violence, both within and outisde the nation's borders. Militarism is literally killing us;

7. The United States' military operations are causing the dispacement of a great many people, in particular, Iraqis, many of whom have crossed the border into neighboring countries. Such migrations cause their own set of problems, such as anti-immigrant sentiment and straining the social safety nets of the nations receiving the immigrants.

Thus, while our War-Lords sit in their comfy mansions, feeling superior I suppose, in any of several delusional ways -- in a patriotic way, a making the world safe for democracy way, or perhaps a narcissistic entitlement way -- the destruction they are causing is degrading the well-being and the cause of humankind, and causing the deaths of untold numbers of innocent people. While we rail over the evil deeds of terrorists, such as Osama Bin Laden and other Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, or people who ran death or rape camps such as Mladic, and despise them with good reason, I submit that the some of the worst war criminals currently living in the world, if not the worst, are living here in the United States, living opulent lifestyles on government money, stashing away loads of cash, getting away with all of the harm they do, and in fact, most likely feeling good about what they are doing. These people need to face reality and these practices need to stop. In fact, I believe that some of these contractors should be prosecuted for war crimes. That would do a whole lot more good than throwing someone in jail for having a few ounces of Marijuana or growing a few Marijuana plants in their closet. We need to send a message to the world, and to our own miltaristic, capitalist society in particular, that human beings deserve much better than what these contractors are doing to them. All human beings should have certain rights, and these war profiteers deplorably disregard the human rights and lives of those who get in their way, most of them innocent people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Of course, I could say much of the same regarding many U.S. military personnel themselves, especially high ranking ones, as well as politicians who choose to use our military to satisfy their own power cravings or without trying to understand what they are really doing, but that is less a matter of capitalist money acquisition and more a matter of politics.

May 17

A Capital Idea Part 70: Start Local, Think Global

Frankly, this is not my normal inclination. I think it's not most peoples' in fact. However, there is much to be said for the idea of engaging in local economies and local politics in order to do what cannot be done on a grander scale.

Many people have mentioned, for example, that public health care systems will probably begin at the state level in the United States, and steps in that direction are currently being taken by several states. There are also active movements promoting the use of local farm produce or other products. Even local economic cooperatives have been forming here in the United States. All of these are ways of allowing a local group of people to pool their resources, effectively taking a step toward a resource-based economy which functions to create a more stable, equitable and wellness producing local economy.

Since I did not really know much about local government, I looked up a number of websites which describe the functions of local government. I found that there is no specific set of limits on what local government can do, but rather, it depends on the nation and whatever restrictions the national government might impose. Furthermore, I found that there are many services which local government can provide, including both ones which overlap with higher levels of government, and ones unique to local government.

To try to summarize the various forms which local government takes is an immense task. Even focusing on those of the United States is an enormous challenge. Nonetheless, somebody has done so on Wikipedia, summarizing local governments around the world, including the United States, often in great detail (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_government). Perhaps a better approach to understanding what we can do within the context of local government and economies, is to examine the general functions of local government. I found another website, Answers.com, which did that (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Primary_functions_of_local_government). According to this website "The primary functions of local governments are to provide services...such as schools, libraries, and police and fire departments. another function of local governments is to provide and enforce laws." Local government also has the power to tax people living within its jurisdiction in order to provide such services. Furthermore, under the United States' Constitution, those powers not granted to federal or state government become the domain of local government or of individuals. Thus, as I understand it, local governments have the right to create economic cooperatives, for instance, or its own form of schooling as long as it doesn't conflict with state or federal law.

The community I live in is largely devoid of community efforts to cooperate economically. Most of our businesses are chain stores owned by inordinately people living elsewhere, the "1 percenters" who virtually run our economy and are on the verge of running our government. I think this is true of the great majority of communities in the United States, which is a shame. Fortunately, there are a growing number of exceptions, as mentioned in the beginning of this post. There is one supermarket in our neighborhood, based in Oregon, which is employee-owned rather than individually owned, Winco. Thus, Winco is a sort of economic cooperative among its employees. However, it is not very different from other supermarkets in the area, in terms of the shopping experience. The prices, the items, and the employees seem similar to those in other supermarkets. However, my guess is that the employees at Winco are better paid and better treated than at other supermarkets in the area. Aside from that, their crowded parking lots with their 90 degree angles make for troublesome driving, as I found out when I backed up with my eyes on the car waiting for my spot, only to back into another car which was waiting for another spot. GRR! Well, I guess that means business is quite good for our cooperatively run local supermarket, and that's a good thing, especially considering all the chronically empty business buildings in our city and the poorly attended shopping centers. By the way, there is also a relatively new supermarket which carries mostly organic, healthy type products which is doing well. It's called Sprouts (although I call it "bean sprouts"). I do not know anything about who owns it or how it is run, though.

I think where this local economy "business" so to speak, is heading, is toward local self-sufficiency, something which people in many parts of the world have been practicing for centuries, but which we have gotten away from as the alure of technological advances have made the global economy happen. It may not be complete self-sufficiency, but some self-sufficiency is better than none. For instance, people will be able to grown much of their own food, hopefully, in the future, more healthfully and organically, rather than relying on big Agri-business for their food supply. Local businesses may form economic cooperatives and develop a clientele and good reputation among the locals, providing goods and services without having to outsource the work, or the money. As people learn to pool and wisely use their resources, locally, the local economy business will ultimately lead us toward a more resource-based economy. Local government can facilitate this process by helping and encouraging people to develop and pool their resources. At least, that is how I envision the process working, so take heart, people, and don't be afraid to take part actively in creating a better, more cooperative local economy which wisely builds and shares its resources, while allowing other people in other communities to do the same, and still allows for higher order cooperation. Furthermore, I suspect that many of these local actions are ones which even people of opposing viewpoints regarding national politics can usually agree upon. (But there I go again, being "reasonable" as I am so prone to do.) Eventually, what works at the local level will shape how government works at broader levels, including the global economy. We have had it the other way around for too long.

May 10

A Capital Idea Part 69: The Customer is Always Wrong(ed)

When I was growing up, a fairly commonly heard phrase was "The customer is always right." By this, it was meant that business people are supposed to acquiesce to the wishes of the customers or at least attempt to please their customers. Service for the customer was to be the number one goal of the customer-business person relationship.

However, I have heard this term -- the customer is always right -- less and less over the years. I think it must be 5-10 years since I last heard it. The change started happening when Reagan became President and handed the keys of the kingdom, so to speak, to big business. From that point onward, it's been all downhill, it seems to me, for the consumer. Government here in the U.S. has consistently leaned over backward, so to speak, in order to please business -- to create a "business friendly environment." Big business has succesfully pursued its political goal of ensconcing itself in government and buying favors from government with the use of money the likes of which nobody else possesses. The lobbying industry has grown exponentially, and with it, business influence on government. Businesses have been deregulated, detaxed, subsidized, and allowed to ride roughshod over their employees and customers, ostensibly all because it is businesses which are the "job creators" and how many jobs are available is all that really counts, not the quality of the jobs available or the pay. Look where that philosophy has gotten us -- a chronically moribund economy with meager incomes for most who are fortunate enough to have work, and chronically high unemployment rates hovering around 9-10 percent according to government accounts, but in reality much higher. In 30 years, we have gone from the customer always being right, to the business owner always being right, which is very wrong. The economy needs to act in service of the consumer, not the other way around!

I acknowledge freely that most employees of businesses are fairly willing to compromise in order to please customers. I have seen that many times myself during my travels with my expert-negotiator wife on our various shopping trips. However, these are usually low-rank employees and lower-level management we are dealing with, and it is not unusual, here in Moreno Valley, to see employees who recognize me from a mile away as "Professor Mucky T. Mudskipper," or recognize my wife from a mile away but didn't have time to get out of the way of her shopping freight train before she reached them (just a little humor there with little basis in reality except that many employees do recognize us and some of them are former students of mine). There is definitely civility and niceness on most occasions at the business counter, but that is not what I am talking about in this essay. I am talking about the systematic bias in our society and by our government, which favors business over the consumer. This has a lot to do with the still growing disparity in wealth in the United States -- the rich continue to get richer while the poor continue to get poorer, a sure sign of cultural pathology.

I am sure that business has never been altruistic; the business model precludes that since it is based on self-interest and profit. I suspect that our business relations have never really treated the customers better than the business owners, either. However, at least there used to be an aura of generosity toward the customer, but such is no longer the case. Business has been allowed, by political means, to elevate its status in American culture to utter dominance. I suspect that the teachings of business schools have paralleled this change. Greed is being excused, rationalized, and even taught in these schools, I suspect, and even more so, informally taught as part of the business culture in which new business employees are indoctrinated. No longer are they being taught that the customer is always right. In fact, business people are being taught to "rip off" the customers consistently, with periodic face-saving and customer-loyalty-building respites for "sales." Business people are also being taught how to use biased advertizing to consistently lure more customers to the business. Now, our ultra-conservative Supreme Court has just recently put severe limits on class action lawsuits. Yes, the highest court in the law is not only actively helping big business to buy politicians and elections in the name of conservatism, but also, taking away rights of consumers so that businesses can more easily get away with ripping off the public.

As consumers, we need to assert our rights and demand that businesses really serve the customer, not the other way around. We need to produce an army of Ralph Naders. Thank you, Ralph!

May 7

A Capital Idea Part 68: A Question of Balance

At the risk of repeating something I have written earlier, I will discuss the need for a balanced, and in balance with nature, economy. (And by the way, happy birthday to my mom, Thom Hartmann, and my graduate school advisor, Carolyn Murray!)

I have been intrigued by the idea of a resource-based economy, and still am. However, some ideologies regarding resource-based economies, such as the Venus Project, believe we will have no money and no need for money, in such an economy. Edward Bellamy's ideas about a resource-based economy, dating to the late 1800s, were sufficiently vague that there may or may not be some form of money in his vision of society, it seems to me. However, based on discussions about these ideas, especially with Poor Richard, it became clear that in its most general form, there needs to be some form of money in order to have an economy, barring the invention of a Star-Trek style replicator which produces all of a person's needs without cost, that is. This money need not be the kind of money we have today. Money could be more like credits or vouchers, which can only be used to purchase certain types of items, for instance, much the way food stamps currently work. People could be guaranteed a certain minimum standard, while being able to accumulate credits for other items which are both useful and desired. At the same time, people could have money much as we have today, only its accumulation would be much better regulated.

Such a combined approach is the basis for a balanced economic model. In this balanced model:

1. Both credits and conventional money would co-exist;

2. Both credits and conventional money would be well-regulated;

3. Credits, in return for a certain amount of productive activity of any kind per week, such as 20 hours, would be used to guarantee our basic needs and to supplement them;

4. Conventional money would be used to reward a person's pursuit of his/her own interests, but massive corporate accumulations of money would not be allowed;

5. Small businesses, cooperatives, and individual efforts (self-employment) would be promoted, but regulations would prevent or at least discourage very large businesses from forming, and should they form anyway, salary caps would apply to its owners and the business would be broken up if it is on the verge of forming a monopoly or collective monopoly with other cooperating businesses;

6. Local business would be favored over global, although global communication and infrastructure would exist, as it already does, allowing global business to occur but not dominate the economy;

7. The basis of the economy would be our cooperative use of resources, of all kinds, rather than the greedy, hoarding model which currently exists;

8. Our economy would have a moral basis which seeks to maximize the greater good and encourages our moral and intellectual development, rather than a profit basis.

Only through a balanced approach to the economy can the needs of the people be met and the economy continually progress in service to humanity, rather than the other way around. It is worth noting here, something which indirectly comes up over and over again in any rational discussion of the economy -- how hoarding hurts the economy. The economy works best when people do things for each other and are reasonably paid for what they do. It works best when resources, in effect, change hands, although we use credits, vouchers or money as placeholders for resources. However, the more wealth accumulates in the hands of a few, the more they tend to hoard the conventional money -- or resources, if you will -- which basically puts the money (or resources) out of commission, so that it does not help the economy as it should. Meanwhile, as the poor become even poorer, they lose buying power, so they cannot buy what they need even, much less what they desire, which also constrains the economy. Thus, wealth disparity is the great and evil enemy of the economy. We are seeing the results of growing wealth disparity at this time.

Now, let us look at the issue of ecological balance. The current economic model is an inflationary one based on the notion that one can have a neverending pattern of growth. Clearly, this is unsustainable in regard to natural resources (although human resources in terms of our capabilities can continue to grow and will need to continue growing), which have already been so degraded that our world's ecology is in jeopardy and we face a global warming crisis. It is basically the big business model which has caused this crisis. Big business owners hoard resources, it is true, but at the same time, they generate their wealth through the profligate use of resources, many of which are irreplaceable. This practice is bound to end. Our cultural progress depends upon us finding an adequate solution to the issue of how to have a decent standard of living for all, which will require an ecologically oriented economy which can maintain a good environment for life on earth.

To this end:

1. The economy must be treated the way an ecology would;

2. The economy must therefore be conducted in a way that has long-term sustainability;

3. Technologies which allow sustainability must be a top priority of economic policy;

4. While economic growth through technological development in the service of an environment friendly economy must be encouraged, our natural resources must be shared and preserved to the best of our ability, for the sake of the planet and the ecosystem upon which we rely, if nothing else;

5. We must view ourselves as dependent upon our environment and as part of the ecosystem, not as separate from it;

6. We must place the greatest value on the overall quality of life, both human and nonhuman;

7. We must apply scientific methods to the study of economics. Economics research should be used to inform us regarding what economic policies to follow. Furthermore, the science of economics needs to evolve into one which follows an ecological model, and thus builds the economy as a healthy ecosystem would be built.

As I see it, creating a balanced economy means having economic diversity, in terms of the way the economy is handled, with a balance of credits and conventional money; government and business; local, state, national, and global; and a plethora of products and services which exist in balance with nature; a balanced economy also means maintaining an ecological balance, as I see it, with the best possible sustainable technology, but also, simpler, down-to-earth, working-with-nature practices in the mix, as well. The end result should be a diverse, complex, healthy economic ecosystem which creates long-term, sustainable, progressive cultural evolution, not the economic collapse in which our current business model inevitably results.

April 30

A Capital Idea Part 67: If Only They Could Hear

While I was on a long drive Thursday to a popular fishing and vacation spot in Southern California, Big Bear Lake -- the main road there was washed out in torrential rains in December -- I found to my surprise that I was able to listen to the radio almost all the way there, although the area is very mountainous and remote from radio stations. Eventually I had a profound sense of wonder, a familiar sense that I have when I think of the nature of reality. How is it that all of these signals are travelling through the air, yet we would never even know that were it not for radio transceivers? What else is there in our midst of which we are unaware? The Shakespeare quote "there are more things in heaven and earth than we could even dream of" came to my mind.

Furthermore, when I think of our senses, I have to marvel. How is it that vibrations of air molecules become sound, or photons of light become vision, for example? At the same time, these marvelous senses are very limited. There is so much out there, and all around us, of which we are unaware. Perhaps angels are speaking to us but we cannot hear them.

Then, I thought of the human-constructed world of culture, the one about which I have been writing in terms of economics and politics. Is it really so different from the fact that our senses can only detect certain signals? I think not, except that we have the ability to detect different signals if we only learn to think differently, whereas, detecting signals which our senses are unequipped for either requires a fortunate mutation, or the invention of equipment capable of transceiving such signals. In terms of economics, and money, we have constructed such a forceful world that it traps us, puts us into imaginary thought boxes which most of us cannot find our way out of. It deafens us to the signals around us. The messages are all there if only they could hear them, but most people remain unable to. Opening up people's minds so that they can hear the messages our world is sending us about the nature of economics, is on its most fundamental level, what this series of posts is about. If only people could hear what nature is telling us, they would no longer carry on with the system as they do -- no, not even the wealthy among us -- for it is a system of intractable limitations which is coming to an abrupt and nasty end -- on a histortical time frame -- if we don't do anything about it, and a quieter, kinder, gentler transition if we do, a transition which will serve humanity well in its cultural evolution.

Let us open our minds to the fact that the economy is like an ecology at its core, so should be constructed like one, and should be built to work with our earth's actual ecosystem.

Let us open our minds to the fact that the economy should serve the people, and not the other way around, and thus, the economy should have a moral basis, not an endless profit basis.

Let us open our minds to the fact that true freedom for the people, individually and collectively, requires education, equality and democracy. When we are not treated equally in the eyes of the law, we do not have true democracy. The corrupting power of money to create a privileged class at the expense of the rest is antidemocratic, anti-equality, anti-education, and anti-freedom. They are all connected, for as one of my favorite authors, John Muir wrote, "When we try to pick out any one thing, we find it is connected to everything else in the Universe."

What we are really talking about here is a paradigm shift in terms of our economic and political thinking, one that is essential to our future wellbeing, perhaps even our survival as a species. Shifting our personal economic beliefs to accomodate this new paradigm will allow us to hear the messages that are already being screamed at us by nature. This process has already begun as millions upon millions of future oriented, ordinary people have begun to consider our economic future and the changes we must make in order for us -- and because of that the economy, not vice versa -- to continue to grow and thrive as a people. Here's to the future!

April 26

A Capital Idea Part 66: The Vicious Money Cycle

Today I will discuss what is done with our hard-earned money once it is paid to a large business for some product or service, as so much of our money is. More and more in recent years, it has come to light that big businesses have been using their money to buy political influence -- which typically means supporting candidates who are beholden to big business interests, and lobbying for legal changes which make it easier for these businesses to earn even more money and more influence, a problem which has only gotten worse as the vicious cycle has continued as manifested by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Thus, the consumer is put in double jeopardy; ordinary consumers pay once at the place of business, then pay again as that money is used against them politically. Essentially, consumer are unwittingly (in most cases) paying the wealthiest 1% to wage class warfare against them. I for one, certainly don't want my money to pay the wealthiest 1% to wage class warfare against the other 99%, but it's difficult to avoid by this time since the system is so degraded and rigged.

The fact is, that the large majority of large business owners support conservative politics including "trickle down" economics. Doing so is in their own economic interests, which also serves to enhance their political influence as well. Target and Wal-Mart come to mind as companies which recently have been discovered to be supporting conservative causes and candidates, but there are many others. The horribly ironic thing is that, except for businesses which are only patronized by the rich, such businesses are working against the interests of their own consumers -- but perhaps that should not be surprising, given that they work against the interests, by and large, of their own employees. I haven't seen the records regarding political donations, but I know that such records are kept, and they show that far more big business money goes into the pockets of Republicans than Democrats. Furthermore, it is clear that such money is the major corrupter of Democrats who might otherwise favor more progressive policies. Unfortunately, there is no stipulation that the source of political donations or advertisement monies be identified, in the Citizens United decision, leaving the money trail even murkier than before. Attempts were made in Congress to force corporations to disclose their political donations, but these attempts were blocked by Republicans. (Frankly, I am rather confused here, in the sense that I have heard that records of who gave what to whom politically, do exist. Perhaps someone else can inform me about what is known or not known about where the money comes from.)

What can we do to avoid feeding money into this vicious cycle?

First, we can try to find out and publicize, which businesses, including financial ones such as banks, have been supporting conservative politics. These businesses we can try to avoid if possible, perhaps even organize a wider boycott of them. We should utilize as many progressive friendly businesses, or at least smaller, local businesses, as possible.

Second, we can move our money out of the financial businesses which have been systematically manipulating us economically and politically over the years -- the banks, financials services and stocks, that is. I have been developing a plan to do this but have not executed it yet. It's complicated by the fact that my wife might not understand what's going on or even agree with it, although I am sure she would agree if she really understood. I have some mutual funds (not worth a whole lot of money) which my parents gave me. I plan to sell these in the near future and put the money in a credit union. (Ironically, though, my student who was shot and killed this semester at an ATM was at a credit union.) Meanwhile, I have a bank account at Bank of America which I have had since 1993, which I plan to move to the credit union also. (By the way, Thom Hartmann has mentioned that he and his family have already taken these steps, providing myself and countless others with inspiration.)

Third, we can, if not advertise progressive friendly businesses and smaller, local ones, at least use word of mouth to generate interest in them. Again to Thom's credit, he only personally advertises businesses which he believes in, ethical businesses which do not work against the interests of their customers.

Fourth, we can work to elect the most progressive politicians possible, ones which are not only progressive minded, but willing to stand up against corporatism.

Lastly, we can keep encouraging politicians to fight for the people and against corporate interests, in other words, demand that our politicians act progressively in our interest rather than serving corporate interests.

All of these are steps we can take at this time to dampen the effects of this vicious money cycle. Longer term solutions have been discussed previously in this series, including heavily regulating corporate advertising to diminish its monopoly making influence on people, abolishing the stock market and the political lobbying industry, enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act, overturning the Citizens United decision, and insitituting a public finance system for the purpose of election funding, to name a few.

The fact is, big businesses, which have become so powerful politically in this age of corporate globalization and political influence, and these past 3 decades of conservative economic policies in the United States in particular, depend upon consumers for their power, just as dictators depend upon the cooperation of some and acquiescence of the rest of the population in order to maintain power. Just as dictators have weaknesses and dependencies which can be exploited in order to bring them down, as author and researcher Gene Sharp has described in his books about how to create a peaceful revolution (books which are being used in the Middle East at this time by protestors to guide their actions), corporations have major weaknesses and dependencies. They absolutely cannot get by without us, the consumers. On the other hand, although it might be difficult for us to get by without them, unlike the absolute dependence of big business upon the consumers, we consumers do not absolutely depend on big business. We can do without them, but they cannot do without us.

April 19

A Capital Idea Part 65: The Perfect Business Model

A few days ago, I heard an interesting news report, not a novel one, but actually, an all too typical one. It turns out that Google stock has dropped because they are hiring too many people. That is, their expenses for the time being have gone up faster than their profits, because they have to pay all those new employees. Dagnabbit! According to the financial business model, where the goal of business is for the business owner to accumulate as much money as possible, the less the business owner has to pay employees, the better since the more money the business owner can stash away personally.

The ironic thing about this is that Google is helping the economy by hiring more employees. Thus, the more a business helps the economy by hiring employees, the worse for the business owner and investors who buy its stock. This is another huge failing of the capitalist model. Awareness of this problem is nothing new. I recall seeing old television shows or movies from the 1950s era or even earlier, which decried the replacement of employees by machines as technology advanced. Nonetheless, the process of replacing employees with machines has continued, where applicable, and has actually made business more efficient and the average employee more productive. The perfect business model, according to the tenets of financial capitalism, would be one in which everything was run automatically, with no employees needed, only a touch of a few buttons by the business owner, like something out of a Twilight Zone episode.

I have previously discussed the ideal business products as those products which are addictive and which the customer therefore cannot do without. As a corrollary to that topic (although it took me quite a while to think of it explicitly), the ideal business would also be self-run. Are there businesses which approach this demented standard? While we are still a long way from a Jetson-style society in which robots and computers do all the work and take the place of ordinary workers, there are a number of businesses, or ways of acquiring money, which require little in the way of hired workers, and sometimes, little input from the financial beneficiary. The most obvious example would be investors who "sit around on their butts watching their money grow." After all, those in the know, and who have the opportunity "let money work for them." That isn't really a business, but it is a way of acquiring wealth. Some businesses which require very little in the way of employee pay would be self-run businesses, which usually rely on technology to do much of the work. Some examples which I can think of include selling products via computer from home or being a realtor. I am sure that there are many other examples which elude me at the moment. Selling products via computer or dealing in real estate are not big businesses by any means, so they do not seem problematic in terms of potential political influence, taking away others' work, or underpaying employees. However, the richest person I know is my friend Sam who is an owner of a great many apartments in Australia. (He is from Sydney.) He says he has around $700 million in wealth. Meanwhile, he only has a few employees, I believe. Of course, as we know, people as wealthy as Sam are not people who live in apartments, ironically. He actually owns several expensive homes, private airplanes and expensive cars. And by the way, before Sam became rich, he had gone bankrupt at one point and had to be bailed out by Australia's bankruptcy laws. As much as I like Sam -- and he seems to be a progressive politically at least by American standards, based on our political discussions -- there is something obscene about a system which bails out those who try to get rich when they fail, but fails to hold them accountable for their use of resources including human-made infrastructure and irreplaceable environmental resources when they do become rich. Yes, people can become extremely wealthy with only a few employees. They do not have to be owners of large businesses with a huge number of employees, although the world's richest people -- the richest of the rich -- do own large businesses.

Donald Trump is another extremely wealthy person who deals in real estate. I don't know that much about how he generates so much wealth, other than building large projects for rich people such as "Trump Towers." I also don't know how many people Donald Trump employs, but I have to think it is relatively few other than temporary employment of low-paid, subcontracted construction workers. I do know he has a television show in which he has people vie for a job as his apprentice, and relishes the opportunity to narrow the field by firing potential apprentices one at a time. I have to wonder why people want to watch this spectacle. Is the seductive power of big money so strong that watching people vie for a lucrative job kowtowing to an extremely rich person carries such fascination for the public? It seems to me that Trump's only talents are catering to the rich and ripping off everybody else, all using his inherited money. If it were up to me, I would tell Donald Trump, "You're fired."

Another kind of business which comes pretty close to fitting the perfect business model of minimal employee expenses, is banking and/or investment advising. Banks have a minimum of employees, most of whom are paid at the lower end of the salary scale -- places where minimum wage tellers deal with monetary transactions when necessary, but otherwise, ATMs take care of business, and present dangers which have touched me personally in recent weeks as one of my students was murdered while visiting an ATM. Now, banks have automated as many processes as possible, with automatic deposits and withdrawals, and banking by phone or online. Of course, the more banking becomes automated, the fewer the number of employees necessary and the smaller the bank's expenses. Meanwhile, bank owners are extremely rich, often among the world's richest persons. Those who use the media to make their wealth are another category which has a relatively minimal number of employees. All that is required is a strong broadcast signal and a staff who creates the broadcast. Perhaps there are a lot of people mentioned in the credits, which is true, but considering that radio or television shows can be broadcast nationwide, or even worldwide, the potential for wealth generation is enormous compared to the number of employees. It is not a coincidence that the person who is officially the richest in the world, Mexico's Carlos Slim, owns television stations in Mexico. Of course, media also gives those who determine its content a unique opportunity to propagandize viewers and listeners, as we all know another Australian-born individual, Rupert Murdoch, engages in constantly through his media empire.

The main point of this post is to negate the conservative meme that rich people are the "job creators." No, they are not the job creators! They are the financial resource hoarders, and the fewer people they employ, the better as far as they are concerned. It is demand, and new ideas such as new technologies, which create jobs. If anything, those business people who are so concerned about the welfare of society that they go out of their way to hire people -- if such people even exist --- are defying the financial mandates of the capitalist business model. Of course, the second part of the conservative meme about "job creating" rich people is that if government cuts their -- supposedly onerous -- "tax burden," they will "create more jobs." This is utter nonsense! As we have seen over the years since Reaganomics took hold in the United States, cutting taxes for the rich merely allows them to stash away more money for themselves, not create more jobs, while at the same time, it creates a huge government debt. This government debt, in turn, is used as "proof" that government is too large, that progressive, "big government" does not work, and that we need to cut those dang-ol socialist social programs which actually help people. This huge lie perpetrated by conservatives all starts with the mistaken notion that it is the rich who actually create the (lower paying the better) jobs that all the "little people" need, and without which the "little people" could not function and would only become social parasites dependent upon the "nanny state." It's all a lie, and unless they are so thoroughly deluded that they believe their own lies, the wealthy among us know that it's a lie. It is the obscenely rich among us who are the real social parasites.

April 12

A Capital Idea Part 64: Are Progressives Learning to be Helpless?

The concept of learned helplessness has been around in academic psychology for quite a few years. I believe it was first discovered in studies of animals such as dogs. When subjected to constant shock in a cage, the dogs would eventually give up and endure it even after the cage door was opened. Soon thereafter, the concept of learned helplessness began to be applied to humans, typically in studies of children who act helpless in school. The idea is that when a person has the impression, even though that impression is false, that nothing one can do will improve one's outcome, the person essentially gives up and does nothing about the situation. Thus, a child who feels hopeless and helpless at learning math, for example, ignores his or her math homework and prays for the day when there are no more math classes to take. They just take their "Fs" and "Ds" and hope to get a job or a life someday that involves no mathematics.

It seems to me that there are many more potential applications of learned helplessness than have been studied. For example, abused women or children may develop a sense of learned helplessness, but as far as I know, that has yet to be studied in terms of this concept. This post focuses on another application of learned helplessness, one which I am certain has never been studied, which is the political application of learned helplessness in the case of citizens who feel their votes and political efforts make no difference.

I don't think it takes a lot of imagination to understand how this happens. Pretty much all of us experience the frustration of political outcomes which defy our wishes and even those of nearly everyone we know. Actually, I believe learned helplessness can apply to conservatives in some ways as well as progressives, but mostly it affects progressives. What are some symptoms of learned political helplessness?

1. Not voting; I have seen many progressive people including some good friends of mine write that they don't vote or don't intend to vote because "the system is rigged" or words to that effect, so their votes make no difference;

2. Political apathy and complacency; for example, people "just let politics be" since they are mere citizens, not politicians or political experts. Meanwhile, they immerse themselves in entertaining distractions ranging from music, to sports, movies, television or whatever the salient feel good distraction of the moment may be;

3. Inability to organize and create people power movements. For those with the most money and power, it's a divide and conquer strategy. Attack Obama and his administration from both the left and the right. Find wedge issues that pit progressives against each other. Exploit our differences. After all, progressives are far more diverse -- and numerous -- than conservatives. Since getting progressives together for concerted action is like herding cats, throw those with differences together and start a cat fight.

What makes this appearance of political futility among progressives possible? The biggest factor is probably the influence of money in politics. The public gets the message that it's not the common good that counts, nor the validity of one's views. Rather, it's how much money one has and how entrenched in the political/economic system one is. One of the most distressing things to me about the Obama Presidency is that, I recall him saying repeatedly that the election was about "us" not him, but since being elected, his administration has been more about money and placating those with the most of it, than it is about "us," although he has been far better than a Republican President would have been. Two key questions I would have for him in his next Presidential campaign, are first of all, when is his administration going to be about "us" not "them" (as in the wealthy and powerful)? Secondly, what is his administration going to do to finally stop the trend of growing income disparities in America which has been going on since the 1980s? It is realizations such as this, which frustrate progressives to the point of learned helplessness. Our constitution with its winner take all system results in a 2 party system, and when both parties act the same in some regard, it essentially becomes a 1 party system -- or as many progressive on Facebook have been saying "let's get out of this 1 1/2 party system," a change which would require some fundamental changes in our poltical system, most likely involving an amendment that neither Democrats nor Republicans would favor. Another factor is the aggressiveness of conservatives in promoting their agenda, which may be something constitutionally built into their personalities as compared with progressives. A third factor is the historical hangover effect. For example, white males used to be the only people allowed to vote in the U.S. (I am listening to Thom at this time suggesting that only women should be allowed to vote for a period of years since the men have "blown it." Right on, Thom!) This historical advantage still pertains to white males to an extent, as does the influence of money on politics in families of longstanding wealth.

The result of all this is that, even though conservatives are in the minority, and would be unable to outvote progressives (or at least non-conservatives -- that is, people who do not want to push the conservative agenda in America), conservatives maintain an inordinate amount of power. This becomes a vicious cycle since the more success conservative politicians have, the more helpless it feels to be a progressive.

How is learned helplessness prevented? In scholastic studies, children who show learned helplessness are given attributional retraining, where they are taught to frame their outcomes in terms of effort. Thus, instead of thinking they are failures because they are "stupid," they are taught to think that the only reason they might not have succeeded is because they didn't try hard enough. By the way, effort attributions are far more common in Asian students than Americans, which helps explain Asians' academic success. Alternatively, students can be taught to seek more effective problem solving strategies, rather than trying and retrying one strategy, then giving up. Applying these techniques to politics, we need to learn that being a politically effective citizen means taking action. People have different talents, so what we may do effectively differs from person to person, but every person can do something to help. Second, strength in numbers applies to the political situation. We need to understand that people power requires mass action, as difficult as it may be to herd us cat people, and as non-joiner oriented as we non-extraverts tend to be. Third, we need to seek more effective strategies. I think a crucial aspect of long term change will be to promote local actions first. When federal government becomes intransigent, and unresponsive to our needs, perhaps local government can be persuaded to take effective action on topics under its purview. Perhaps progress will come to us first locally, then through state government, and finally through federal government, rather than the other way around. (I thank my friend Poor Richard for bringing up this topic, about which I intend to write more in a future post, and in fact, suggesting the entire learned helplessness topic in his replies to a previous post on Facebook.) Also, states have the potential to pretty much function as we would like federal government to do on some issues. For example, it is likely that single payer health care will happen first in one of our more progressive states, such as here in California, then spread nationwide, much as it did in Canada. Don't fall into the top-down trap of thinking we must first concentrate on changing the Federal government -- as I have admittedly done most of the time -- no matter how enticing this idea may be, and no matter how much we start out believing we can perform miracles before our frustrations turn us into whimpering, cowering, learned helpless shells of our former selves.

Lastly, we need to immunize ourselves psychologically against what author Naomi Klein refers to as "The Shock Doctrine." As I understand this, The Shock Doctrine" is the idea that conservatives intentionally create crises -- or if not intentionally created, at least exploit existing ones -- in order to advance their agenda. The current budget problems which are being used to cut social services and government employee rights by conservatives, are a great example of this. Wealthy people have created our budget crises with the mismanagement of our economy by the wealthy people who tragically, pretty much run our economy. It is tragically also, likely that wealthy conservatives have intentionally played a role in creating our budget crises in order to have their political lackeys do their bidding. We must see through these abominable tactics and understand them for what they are, and insist on asserting our rights as citizens. If not, our economic and political problems will only get worse.

April 10

A Capital Idea Part 63: Death at the Bank (RIP Giovanni & Carrie)

This past month or so for me has been one of strange and contrasting events which seem to me, a microcosm of the imbalance and dysfunction in our larger society. It all started when I found out about the passing of my former fishing buddy, Giovanni, at the age of 24. I used to fish with him at Lake Perris, the local reservoir, over a period of time around 10-12 years ago. Giovanni was a handsome young Hispanic lad in his preteen or early teen years, with sparkling and startlingly blue eyes, and a very friendly and caring personality. I used to drive Giovanni to different fishing spots at Lake Perris State Park, fish with him and sometimes a friend of Giovanni, wait for his mother to pick him up, give his mother some extra fish and give Giovanni some extra fishing equipment such as lures. His mother would take him there to fish and pick him up later, and apparently, his parents were no longer together. Thus, I would watch over Giovanni and his growing fishing skills. Last year, as I was heading to the school mail room, I heard a familiar voice from a car shout out "Robert!" Believe it or not, it was Giovanni, who had grown up, gotten married, and had an infant daughter in the car. Giovanni was dropping his wife off at school. His wife's name was Jasmine. I met her and Giovanni several times and chatted as Giovanni dropped Jasmine off or picked her up. Fast forwarding to this semester, it turns out that Jasmine is in one of my classes. She broke the sad news to me about Giovanni about a month ago. Giovanni had unusually high blood pressure, although he was young and thin, and being without a lot of money and too young to worry all the much about high blood pressure, he tended not to take his medication. On July 30 of last year, Giovanni had a horrible headache. He was taken to the hospital, where doctors discovered that his blood pressure was extremely high. Sadly, he went into a coma, and passed away the next day despite doctors' attempts to help him recover.....

.....On March 27, Carrie finished up her evening as shift manager at Shakey's Pizza and told her coworkers she needed to go the bank to withdraw some cash. She arrived at the credit union around 11:40 p.m. A few minutes later, the police got a call from a passing motorist about a car crash. Someone had crashed into a light pole at the credit union. It was Carrie, car door open and the life was bleeding out of her through a bullet wound in her abdomen, apparently the victim of a robbery gone bad, by a robber in need of a little cash. She was still alive when she got to the hospital, but doctors' best efforts to save her life were futile, as she died from her wounds a little after 4 a.m.

That same day, March 27, my wife tried to wash a blanket along with some clothing in our washing machine. The washing machine shook violently, bashed against the wall causing it some minor damage, and stopped working. Whether of not this was just a coincidence, or perhaps a case of "synchronicity," I don't know. The next day, we decided to buy a larger, water and energy efficient washing machine that can handle blankets, rather than undergoing an expensive repair of the old machine whose warranty had expired. I didn't know about Carrie yet. The day after that, March 29, we spent the afternoon at Chase Bank -- formerly Washington Mutual Bank, which was formerly Great Western Bank as our banks have consolidated over the years -- finalizing documents, with the help of our friend and bank employee Bill Yang, needed to sell a section of land my wife owns, to a solar company for slightly over 1 million dollars. A week or so earlier, I had found out that for the first time in about 15 years of teaching at the same school, I would have no class to teach during the summer session due to "budget cuts" which necessitated reducing the number of classes offered, with fall's schedule still in doubt along with the status of all adjunct faculty including myself. Class warfare is in full bloom. Even stranger, I find myself benefitting from something which did not require us to do anything worthwhile, while being punished for my years of sincere, intelligent efforts to educate my community. In other words, those who sit around waiting for investments to gain in value are better off than those who work hard to benefit society in order to earn a living. We are cutting our children's education and the jobs of public servants, among others, in order to preserve tax breaks for the wealthiest among us. What a time of irony this has been for me! It's bizarro world, a world where greed is rewarded, and caring efforts to live a productive life are essentially punished. This is clearly a recipe for disaster.....

The fact that Carrie didn't show up for class that week wasn't really on my radar, nor was the fact that she didn't show up for her exam on April 6. After all, I have at least 150 students in my classes and absences are not unusual. During my last class before spring break, while giving an exam, a student who had just finished her exam told me about Carrie. The student said she was a friend of Carrie's and had gone to her funeral. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I may not know every student well, but I feel a certain sense of responsibility toward every one of them, whether they are aware of that or not. I was already in the process of getting a sore throat, and hearing of Carrie's death at the bank made my physical state go from bad to worse as I was griefstricken. When I went home, I checked reports of the crime on the internet, and found that it had been all over the local news (southern california). Somehow, between my preference for watching public stations and my wife's preference for watching public Chinese language stations, and my cancellation of the local newspaper in 2004 over its efforts to re-elect George W. Bush, I had missed all the reportage http://csnowheaties.com/2011/03/28/local-news-atm-robbery-victim-carrie-thomas-was-a-manager-at-shakeys-in-moreno-valley/.....

I cannot help but wonder how much longer we must force our young people to worship at the alter of money, an alter which is found in every bank. Had Giovanni lived in a "normal nation" -- that is, one with a national health care system -- having his blood pressure problem diagnosed and treated for little cost would have been no problem, and I have to think that Giovanni would still be with us. Instead, he was asked to pay what was if not prohibitively, an oppressively high cost for medication he wasn't sure he needed at that young stage of life. Had Carrie Thomas, an attractive 23 year old, not been required to participate in a system where cash is king, her kneeling at the alter of the ATM to ask for the favor of a bit of money would have been unneccesary, as obsolete in fact, as the horseshoe making businesses some of my ancestors ran. Her entire life came down to a matter of maybe $100 or less in cash -- a few slips of paper which can buy no more than for instance, a good meal for one family. Whether we sanction it officially or not, by giving money power, it makes life and death decisions. Banks may be able to save face by denying that they decide who lives and who dies, but matters of money do effect who lives and who dies. As long as the rich aren't the ones who are dying, and the rich are in control, they are fine with the way things are. But I am not. There are over 6 billion, soon to be 7 billion people on this planet. Obviously, that is no people shortage, and of course, all of us are destined to die someday. That's an awful lot of dead people. Let us not allow the banks and the moneybrokers to be the ones who decide when and how we die. If we do, we may all go down together.

I have to wonder at times like this, what this life is all about. What is this never-ending struggle of life and our never-ending efforts to make sense of it all? I must conclude that although life is unfair, it is our duty as citizens of the world to do our best to make it a more fair and just place, a place where life can florish. Money hoarding creates a negative energy that is antithetical to that outcome. Money, and their houses of worship, banks, may turn out to be the biggest killers of all. Instead of letting the power of money win, we must create positive energy with love, understanding and cooperation so that we can fulfill our potentials as sentient beings.

March 26-27

A Capital Idea Part 62: A Rich Man's Dream

"To have dragons one must have change; that is the first principle of dragon lore."
— Loren Eiseley (The Night Country)

Note: What follows is a sarcastic allegory and is not meant to represent the actual views of the author (in case there would be any doubt about that).

The God of Greed must be giddy with excitement. The thrill of worldwide domination is becoming so tangible he can almost taste it. All the pieces are coming into place -- international corporatism, monopolies, a massive military-industrial complex, and best of all, political systems bought and paid for in order to advance his own self-interest. It's a rich man's dream world. Yes, his friend, the God of War, Aries, is acting pretty pleased too, but more cautious. That killjoy keeps warning him nothing good lasts forever -- how peace is breaking out in the strangest places and he can never keep an endless war going, not to mention that its been 66 years since there has been a really "big one." There are legends about Greed but his true identity remains a mystery. His name is Dragon, and he has been the stuff of fairy tales since ancient times -- the humongous, fire breathing monster which incinerates its victims on the spot. Little is it known that in reality, he is but a tiny parasitic worm living in the an ancient, irrational, emotional part of the brain of some individuals, a part of the brain called the Amygdala, or that his name literally means Drag On, as in a drag on society. Yes, there he is, a parasitic worm with the power to run men's lives -- no, not men's lives, but the entire world, at least as he fancies himself to be the God of Gods. Yet, he must live vicariously through the lives of rich men.

The Growth of Greed

The God of Greed started his career in meddling with the human race modestly. People lived in small groups only, and lived a nomadic lifestyle in the distant past. There wasn't much opportunity for endless gluttony there, no, but Greed did manage to sneak into their tight-knit communities and gain a foothold. Polygamous men, men who hoarded their simple treasures and stored them in secret stashes, and the occasional woman who was overly concerned with beautiful adornments were enough to occupy Greed's time. At least it was a beginning.

Eventually, populations grew and most peoples settled down in towns and cities with the advent of agriculture. Division of labor and the desire to save resources for future exchange and security, gave birth to the Dragon's little brother, the God of Money, whose name was Dogma, both because people quickly worshipped him like no other, irrationally and unconditionally, but also because of his tremendous egocentrism. Dogma is "Am God" spelled backward, after all. Since this time, Money has been Greed's constant companion and helper -- Greed the more passionate, irrational and dominant of the pair, endowed with none but myopic, tunnel vision -- Money, the pseudorational, level-headed workhorse who secretly wishes to be the master of Greed. Money helped the greediest and most successful among humanity accumulate wealth in excess of what any person might need, for the first time. It was a good feeling for both Money and Greed. A great partnership was formed between the two of them, a partnership that lasts to this day. However, people's dealings at that time were limited to fairly small areas and populations, for the most part.

Greed and Money took a great step forward a few thousand years ago, with the help of the War, when the powerful and aggressive learned to make the weak and submissive do their work without pay. Slavery was their best invention to date. Yes, just let the greedy among those poor human saps sit back in rake in the money with the help of free labor. It was a quantum leap forward in the mindless quest for world domination. But there were even better things to come for Greed and Money. As people found the need create banks to save their money in, new opportunities arose. Greedy, money-loving people, drawn to the banking industry, found various insidious ways to increase their fortunes by sucking money from others, and they continue to find increasingly sophisticated ways of doing so to this day, as they increase their stranglehold on society.

However, the reach of Greed and Money was relatively limited until modern communication and travel made global business a reality in the past few decades. Now, Money could buy almost anything -- anything except for wimpy things like love, cooperation, caring, compassion, empathy, and far-sighted thinking, that is. Pertty much everything else had a price. Sure, open slavery had gone by the wayside -- something about all those things Money could not buy, and those pesky people who insisted on them, had been slavery's downfall. But wait a minute -- Greed and Money were extraordinarily clever, and good at figuring out ways to get around the laws created by those pesky, progressive, "love people,' when they weren't able to rewrite the law to suit the greedy, that is. No slavery, no problem -- men of Greed found ways to make women, children and less fortunate men work in ways which would ensure their permanent status as debtors and second class citizens. Sweatshops and debt now rule the majority of the working force, with only a lucky few able to rise out of a state of permanent debt and underpaid work. Money is consolidating as is business, in the hands of bankers and big business owners. Laws are being rewritten to make the process easier. Those pesky regulations are being revoked, making excessive, wasteful, immoral greed as legal as can be, while a hungry, moneyless person stealing a loaf of bread remains just as illegal as it ever was. Meanwhile, the world's military superpower is being overrun by some of the stupidest politicians and voters ever to grace the planet, who call themselves Tea Partiers. These people are even managing to blame unions and teachers for the deficits created by tax breaks for the rich. These are truly sweet times for the God of Greed, like a giant pot of money honey. While the Tea Partiers do the bidding of billionnaires, the Koch brothers and other billionnaires are laughing all the way to their friend, the banker. The ancient citizens of the Greek democracies must be rolling in their graves. Greed has gone global. Democracy be damned -- make way people, for your rightful, global business rulers and their boundless money.

The Final Showdown

Now, the forces of greed have triumphed over love, cooperation, far-sghted thinking and all that naive pollyanna caring-for-the-world stuff, so the stage is being set for the final showdown of the greedy. This is turning into a greedy man's world, a rich man's dream, a world of, by, and for the rich. But as with all competitions, there must be a winner. Who will the winner be? The Dragon, Dogma, and Aries await in lucid anticipation. Will it be Bill Gates, Carlos Slim (the world's current "richest man"), the Koch brothers, the Waltons of Wal-Mart, a Chinese banker, or someone else? How will it happen? How will events unfold? Despite repeated warnings by the God of War that these things don't last, the Gods of Greed and Money can't help but dream of permanent dominance, a permanent worldwide order. So great is the anticipation, especially by the emotionally labile Greed, and so invested in the process, that any thought of the future is basically pie-in-the-sky as far as he is concerned. Once he wins world dominance, he is somehow sure it is to last forever. After all, he deserves it. Life is all about competition, winners and losers, and he is life's big winner. Can't those progressive dweebs with all of their peace, love and understanding chatter understand that? Can't they see that the rich are doing a favor for the rest of humanity -- creating wealth, making jobs, using resources, running things for those poor saps who neither are capable of nor deserving of the chance to run the world for themselves? "Trust us. We and only we, know what we are doing. Just get out of our way and let us run things," so those infected with the Greed parasite rationalize. It's been the same way throughout history; people are great rationalizers, especially the Greed infected ones. That's what the parasite does.

Freud knew about it and called it the Id, this greedy parasite, but he overestimated it. He thought everybody was under its control, but not so. Greed himself knows better. He only finds suitable habitat in certain people -- only a minority of males, and few females are among that number -- no feminine principle here, no pansy-faced men, either. The greed bug is for the aggressive, the dominant, the big time risk takers who feel comfortable with their natural superiority in a grand game of social Darwinism. It survival of the fittest, the fattest of the fat cats, as far as they are concerned, in this never ending struggle of life. Thus, it's a matter of the superior, dominant minority controlling the fates of the inferior masses of humanity not infected with the insatiable Greed bug. So infatuated with power is Greed, and so absorbed in his own "end game" of Greed is he, that he doesn't really see the end coming. Protests, revolutions even? Aries can deal with that. Scarcening resources? No more oil to use? Money can deal with that. Global warming and rising sea levels? Science can deal with that, as otherwise useless as science might be. Mass extinctions? As Greed's human pal Ronald Reagan said, "once you've seen one tree, you've seen 'em all." Who needs millions of little, greed-free plant and animal species? They don't serve greed, except as greedy humans find a use for them and put a price on them. Unions? Advanced Education for all? Calls for increasing taxes on the rich? Let the Dragon of Greed's paid politicians handle that pesky problem. Overpopulation? Yes, that is quite the puzzle, isn't it? The more people, the more workers and the more buyers. It's great, except when people become too poor and use more resources than they are worth to their rich overlords. To Greed, people are valuable only as long as they create wealth by either working for their rich overlords or by faithfully paying them. People complaining about the rich and wanting to demote them? Pacify them and keep them "happy" with religion, drugs, sports, and mindless entertainment such as stupid movies and television shows, video games, and of course, the hypnotic, emotionally propagandistic effects of carefully chosen music, among other things.. There is an ever increasing array of entertainments to choose from in this computer age. Addictions! Now that's the key to long term success. Make the population totally dependent upon your product. Now, that's the way to guaranteed riches and a real monopoly.

How magnanimous are the rich, to provide the people with so many psychologically and physiologically addictive toys, with the help of course, of scientists who for the most part are being paid just enough to make a comfortable living while their employers rake in the profits. The Dragon closed his eyes and imagined a utopia of greed. Would it be one taken over by a world wide megastore such as Wal-Mart, perhaps; a supersized Las Vegas where people frittered away their money on one-armed bandits, perhaps; maybe that icon of pop culture, Coca Cola, or something even he could not yet imagine? His mind flew to one of his favorite places, the Coca Cola Museum in Atlanta, Georgia -- with its lovely proclamations of "sustainable growth" and "environmental responsibility" which so successfully placate the skeptics among us -- and a future in which the "original formula" for which Coca Cola was named, was restored. Dang those hippy liberals and their insistance that cocaine be dropped from the drink. Caffeine makes a suitable substitute, but a bit mild in terms of stimulating people's dopamine receptors. How sweet it would be to have cocaine-laced drinks, and much, much more -- perhaps some opiates to stimulate people's endorphin receptors and make them blissfully oblivious to their misery, perhaps some alcohol to stimulate their GABA receptors and tone down their brain activity and consequently, drown out their anxieties, perhaps some antidepressants to stimulate serotonin and norepinephrine receptors. Get all of those "feel good" neurotransmitters going at once! People walking through Coke-land hand in hand, to the beat of that Georgia-based band REM's Shiny Happy People Holding Hands. Who cares if they are poor, as long as they are strung out on "feel good" drugs? Between the drugs and Wal-Mart, the master of greed can provide for everybody's needs. And if they don't have money to buy the drugs or the food they need, if the poor keep breeding and there are too many to take care of, well, there is always "the final solution," as Hitler called it, only Hitler wasn't so humane. The Dragon would compassionately have them smiling all the way to the incinerator, and oblivious to the muffled screams of the soon to be departed excess baggage of humanity.

Thus ends my sarcastic allegory of Greed, Money and War.

The Triumph of Love

Speaking now as myself, little does this Dragon of Greed see that the rich man's world that he is creating is a budding nightmare for everyone else, nor does it see the inevitability of cooperation trumping competition, of love conquering greed. I will attempt to do a little channeling here, of one of my favorite authors when I was a teenager, an anthropologist and author named Loren Eiseley, who died in 1977 just as I was preparing to go to college, and whom I quoted at the beginning of this post. (Actually, this entire post is something of a channeling of Eiseley's spirit as I understand him.) What the Dragon of Greed doesn't understand, is that dragons bring change. Indeed, we are changlings, and the things the dragon intends to be, can never be as intended. This Rich Man's Dream is but an ephemeral step in the great journey of evolution. The ironic truth is, the winners in evolution are those who were deemed losers in the beginning -- those who were different, perhaps despised and outcast from the beginning, in favor of those who match the majority. We are the products of an enormously long line of losers, mutants who managed to turn our differences into advantages. This may be an oversimplification, given that some differences may immediately lead to success, but the fact is that, even in animals, it is generally difficult for those who are "different" in some way to function within the prodominant milieu of the species, and this becomes all the greater a factor in social creatures such as us. This is the real version of the meek inheriting the earth. At an earlier point in human evolution, greed probably was an advantage to the greedy individuals, and even to greedy cultures who aggressively overtook the humbler, meeker ones, but such is no longer the case. As social creatures, cooperation has always been our strong suit, and much more important than competition, although much like crime, it is the competition that makes news. As we have won the battle for survival in a harsh natural world, and to control and shape our immediate environments, greater concerns regarding our planet have begun to press our consciences. We must transition from seeking control and acquisition of resources, to being good and fair stewards and distributors of resources, and protectors of the ecology and lifeforms upon which we depend and which make our world special.

Ironically, given the single-minded purpose of the money hungry and their equation of material wealth with success and well-being, it is love upon which we ultimately depend as a species for survival -- love of each other, and love of the world and the marvelous variety of lifeforms which our blessed world has evolved. Eiseley wrote about how the first person to apply a word to the feeling of "love" was probably rebuffed and laughed at by the primitives of the time, who were too worried about survival to concern themselves with "love," but nonetheless, love prevails. We have no way of knowing if that was true or not, being lost in the mists of prehistory, but it does have relevance to the neverending efforts of progressives to overcome the shortsightedness and immorality of greed. In the end, that worm that is the God of Greed didn't make people act greedy, or worship money, or be addicted to war; they did it themselves. Perhaps they are the primitive ones, the unevolved ones destined for the dustbin of evolution, people who pay more attention to a primitive little part of their brains called the Amygdala than to our human paragon of evolution, the Prefrontal Cortex which gives us personality, conscience, the ability to plan for the future, and the ability to love truely. I believe that love will ultimately triumph over greed.

I will leave you with one final Loren Eiseley quote: "I no longer cared about survival -- I merely loved." Yet, it is love which will ultimately be responsible for our survival and our success as an intelligent lifeform.

March 15

A Capital Idea Part 61: We're Tired of Being Kicked Around

Today, I want to discuss the emotional side of being a progressive.

Most of us have had experiences in which we have felt manipulated, dominated and abused. There are times in life when I have felt as though I was born with an invisible "kick me" sign on my back. Fortunately, I am good at "getting over" things that some people find difficult to "get over." But the fact remains that most people remain vulnerable to abuse by those who would dominate us, whether through criminal behavior or in a legalized way.

That brings me to the fundamental emotional problem that we progressives face. It is abundantly clear to me that conservatives, especially the right wing true believers, and among these, especially the politicians and politically active, wealthy conservatives, are people who want to dominate the rest of us. As part of their authoritarian mindset, they believe in a hierarchical social structure, and they place themselves at the top of this structure, of course. Progressives, on the other hand, are egalitarian and believe in equal participation by all members, and low power distance between the public and government. Thus, esssentially, progressive and conservatives are operating under diffferent assumptions about human nature. Conservatives tend to believe that human nature is essentially selfish, greedy and wicked, and only a select few are fit to govern us, while progressive believe that human nature is basically good. It is our desire to evolve as people and create a better world together. Thus, conservatives endorse a "me society," while progressives endorse a "we society." Another result of these differing world views is that, powerful conservatives are aggressively assertive in seeking to dominate society, and feel justified in doing so, characteristics by the way which also are part of the groupthink phenomenon.

We see this drive to dominate being played out in American politics over the past few decades. While progressives have been seeking consent and consensus, and essentially trying to herd cats, so to speak, conservatives have been seeking total domination more analogous to a sled driver with directing a pack of dogs, and we are the dogs in their view, even though we are actually more like cats and make horrible sled dogs. Over time, the middle class has dwindled, and more and more Americans feel downtrodden as domination by the coalition of money and conservatism has progressed and conservatism has pulled not only Republican politicians, but even the majority of Democratic politicians to the right. For progressives, in particular, who in my opinion see what is going on more accurately than, shall we say, non-progressives, the results are emotionally disturbing. What is going on is essentially emotional abuse of progressives by uncompromising conservatives. In addition, there are also elements of neglect, as clearly needed progressive reforms are considered politically taboo and never even touched by politicians.

What are the effects of emotional abuse and neglect? Either type of abuse can be devastating, although the effects vary from one individual to another. According to my Developmental Psychology textbook (John W. Santrock, 2008), abuse increases a huge list of problems, among them, depression, anxiety, emotional regulation difficulties, difficulties forming attachments or intimate relationships, substance abuse and risk of violent behavior toward others, especially dating and marital partners. While this is talking about the effects of childhood abuse by caregivers, a completely different situation from politically motivated emotional abuse and neglect, the same general dynamics apply to any type of abuse. In addition, I would add that there is a strong element of intimidation going on, resulting in inhibited and complacent behavior, much as one would see in abused wives and girlfriends.

This brings me to my next point. There is also a psychological gender issue going on here. It seems to me that the conservative worldview is essentially a psychologically masculine one, while the progressive worldview is essentially a psychologically feminine or androgynous one, a point I think I have made previously. Thus, it is to be expected that males are more likely to be conservatives, while females are more likely to be progressives. However, more to the point, psychologically masculine people are more likely to be conservatives, while psychologically feminine or androgynous people are more likely to be progressives. Take a close examination of the personalities of conservative women politicians -- for example, gun toting, halibut whacking Sarah Palin, or ultra-agressive females such as Michelle Bachman or Anne Coulter. Yeah, these may be Dick Cheney's dream women, but they aren't exactly paragons of femininity.

Essentially, we progressives have become like downtrodden, intimidated, abused wives, from a psychological standpoint. Sooner or later, however, the abuse victim decides to stop the abuse, one way or another. You can either kill your abusive husband, divorce him, or try to get him to stop abusing you, if you are a spousal abuse victim. In political terms, killing the husband is a violent revolution, which opens up a horror shop of possibilities. Divorcing the abusive partner means refusing to cooperate with conservatives, and insisting on going ahead with an agenda which will serve the public, rather than serving the interests of the wealthy to the exclusion of the rest of us. This is the approach that I believe would be most effective. The third approach, trying to reform the conservatives, is the path of compromise and reason which appeals to most progressive minded people, including politicians, but is likely to result in great capitulation to conservatives, with little to show for it. In my opinion, there is a great deal of this happening within the Obama administration.

Now, I wish to take the analogy to spousal abuse a step farther. When I was in graduate school, I worked with a professor named Geraldine Stahley, analyzing her data on a topic called Victim Derogation. This refers to the belittling of victims of abuse, not only by the abuser, but also by others. Examples of victim derogation include such sentiments as "she deserved to get raped -- just look at the clothing she was wearing;" "she must be a W**** (prostitute);" "why doesn't she fight back -- she must like it;" "she is a pitiful, weakminded person," etc. You get the idea. In political terms, this means that conservatives generate massive amounts of anti-progressive hate speech, but also, it can mean at times, that progressives blame each other, something which works to divide progressives, and help conservatives while exacerbating our emotional issues. We see that dynamic going on among disappointed progressives over the past couple of years. When Bush was in office, we had a common enemy, and it was clear who was to blame, but now, it is difficult for horribly frustrated progressives to know who to blame when progress doesn't happen.

Ultimately, however, the forces which unite us are far greater than those which work to divide us. Over these past few years, I feel that we are seeing the early phases of progressive backlash against the aggressive takeover of our political/economic system by conservatives and their money. Currently, protests are spreading and momentum for a progressive movement is gaining. To me, what is most important is that we progressives unite based on our common, progressive goals, continue to gain momentum and pull society consistently to the left, not just for a year of two but permanently, and undo the legalized economic and political abuse of the public in the interests of those with the money, power and desire to dominate us, which politcal conservatism has brought us. Emotionally, we cannot afford to allow political conservatives to stay in power as they have, or to regain the Presidency.

For that matter, the world cannot afford to continue going down same path it has been any longer. As I write this, several nuclear reactors in Japan are in the process of melting down and contaminating much of the world with radioactivity, a cruelly ironic monument to the inhumanity of capitalism in the nation which was the victim of the world's first act of nuclear war. Even more ironically, these reactors are in and around the hometown of my best friend from the 1980s, David Susumu Cassie, for whom I served as best man in 1986 when he got married in Tacoma, Washington. That city is Sendai, Japan, which also happens to be the sister city of my hometown, Riverside, CA. We have been kicked around long enough. It's time for a divorce.

March 11

A Capital Idea Part 60: Let the Sun Shine In

I got the title of this post from the song "Age of Aquarius" which one of my brothers bought in record form when I was a kid in the 1960s. It was sort of a "new age" song by a group called "The Fifth Dimension" (an African-American group) whose theme was "Let the Sun Shine In." Naturally, I changed the name of the song to "Age of Aquariums" just for fun -- I knew the real name of the song -- and had my parents buy 4 more aquariums in addition to the one we already had, 3 of which I put in my room, and took care of various kinds of fish for many years after that. However, the message of the song stuck with me.

In terms of opening up our political/economic system, we need more letting the sun shine in, now more than ever. To continue with the flowery, metaphorical language, I once heard a pastor from mainland China give a sermon whose theme appeared to be "The Angels are Taking Pictures Here," something which has also stuck with me. By the way, I think this is the same church where I met my wife. The pastor probably meant that literally there were angels recording everything we do, so we can't get away with anything in the eyes of God, and also, the good we do is ultimately rewarded. I tend to believe that this is true, but regardless of whether or not one literally believes in angels keeping track of our behavior, we have our own human form of this as well, Bioangels, one might call those of us who let the sun of progressive possibilities shine in, as well as let the light of day shine on the perfidious practices of those who would take advantage of the rest of us. (I got the name Bioangels from an ad on my Bioangel wife's Chinese television stations although I have no idea what the context is.) I do believe there are Bioangels among us, albeit imperfect ones. At least some of us are "earning our wings" so to speak.

A couple of examples are Wikileaks (although apparently Julian Assange is no angel) and Anonymous. Wikileaks has been exposing government secrets, with the help of computer experts and Bioangels such as Bradley Manning, who reportedly downloaded a huge amount of military secrets onto what he said was a Lady Gaga CD. Apparently, there are financial secrets in the offing from Wikileaks, something of which the public is badly in need. Anonymous is a more secretive group so I do not know very much about it, but apparently, it consists of computer experts who have been hacking corporate websites, with the aim of preventing them from carrying out their monopolistic practices or keeping their industry secrets, etc.

On a more public level, there was the recent "sting" operation in which a news reporter pretended to be David Koch, got through to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (when no "ordinary citizen" would have had even a chance of doing so), and recorded a 20 minute conversation with Walker which revealed his true intentions and strategies. Even though it seemed apparent from excerpts of the conversation that the reporter (whose name I do not recall at this time) was using a fake voice, Walker was apparently fooled by the ruse, exposing him for the phony flunky of the ultrarich that he really is. Also, the public protests in Wisconsin and other states where Republican governors are using budget deficits as an excuse to take away the bargaining and unionizing rights of public employees, is helping shine the light of truth on what is really happening in this nation. Although it may seem that these protesters are acting in their own self-interests, they are actually acting in the interests of the public as a whole, and thus deserve our gratitude, in my opinion.

We need, as a society, to continue practices which help us first, see what is really going on behind closed doors where powerbrokering is done, and secondly and most importantly, revamps our political/economic system to make it more transparent, so that the public is not closed off from the government and how decisions are made. In short, we need more democracy and in terms of Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions, less "power distance" between the public and the government. One of the most insidiously destructive trends over the history of the United States, in my opinion, is that as the nation has grown in both actual size and in population and power, government has distanced itself from the public and aligned itself with the deepest pockets it could find, who are the ultrarich.

In order to create a more transparent political/economic system, we need to expand upon the discussion of groupthink and its prevention. The concept of Groupthink was developed by psychologist Irving Janus, who coined the term in a book he wrote on the topic, that was published in 1972. I found a brief summary of groupthink at this website (http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm), which in lists characteristics as follows:

Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

The same site gives a summary of Groupthink prevention techniques as well:

Remedies for Groupthink

Decision experts have determined that groupthink may be prevented by adopting some of the following measures:

a) The leader should assign the role of critical evaluator to each member

b) The leader should avoid stating preferences and expectations at the outset

c) Each member of the group should routinely discuss the groups' deliberations with a trusted associate and report back to the group on the associate's reactions

d) One or more experts should be invited to each meeting on a staggered basis. The outside experts should be encouraged to challenge views of the members.

e) At least one articulate and knowledgeable member should be given the role of devil's advocate (to question assumptions and plans)

f) The leader should make sure that a sizeable block of time is set aside to survey warning signals from rivals; leader and group construct alternative scenarios of rivals' intentions.

I would add that the functioning of government is more complicated that the examples studied by researchers. Remedies such as these should be built into the operation of government, but at times, it might be difficult to prevent stating preferences and expectation at the outset, and also, sometimes circumstances are so urgent that devoting a "sizeable block of time" is not always possible. However, the others should always be possible and the rest should be done whenever possible. Furthermore, people in positions of leadership, whether in government or corporations (and the distinction between the 2 has been shrinking), should be educated about groupthink and taught to guard against it. Another step, as I mentioned last time, is not one mentioned in the Groupthink literature, which is creating a demographically diverse group of leaders. This is actually built into some cultures, at least in terms of gender representation. For example, a certain percentage of legislators (40% I think) are required to be women in Sweden. Also, a certain percentage of members of the boards of directors in some nations are required to be union members. In my view, cultural, ethnic and racial diversity in government and in corporations, is also helpful in preventing Groupthink, as is having people with diverse work backgrounds and viewpoints. It is well documented, for instance, that even though academia possesses economists and business professors with diverse political and economic ideologies, with at least half of them being on the "liberal" side, the vast majority of those tapped for government positions are conservatives who parrot "free-market" and "supply side" economic talking points, a phenomonon which has contributed greatly to our current economic woes. In other words, for God's sake, get some liberal economists in there, Obama!

It seems to me that those who govern us, for the most part, including Congress, have become a bunch of secrecy-obsessed dittoheads who refuse to touch certain topics, such as raising taxes on the rich or on corporations, or criticizing the size and use of our military around the world. It is definitely a case of Groupthink going on, which is out of touch with the public's needs or despite the constant brainwashing, public opinion. Also, within the two major parties, the level of Groupthink is even higher than the general level within our government, especially in the Republican Party. There are essentially two layers of Groupthink in the U.S. government then, the overall layer, and the party layer. We need to built anti-groupthink practices into government permanently in order to undo this situation and prevent it from happening again, we need to continue shining the light of day on dysfunctional, destructive, immoral corporate and political practices, and we need to continue dreaming of a better future and let its great possibilities be illuminated in our minds. Progress begins with a vision. Let us go out in the world and do our best to be Bioangels, if not the real thing, at least our best imitation.

One final personal note:

Speaking of sunshine, my wife and I are on the verge of selling a 160 acre plot of land for solar energy development. She bought the land 20 years ago and I have helped her with it in terms of property taxes, checking on it, etc. The company is willing to pay a lot more money than we had ever expected -- just one small, sunshiny step on the way to creating the green economy which will become an environmental neccessity in the relatively near future. And yes, the solar development is being government subsidized as part of the Obama administration's stimulus package, something that wasn't even on my radar when I voted for Obama.

March 1

A Capital Idea Part 59: Is Our Government an Open or Closed System?

As a trained scientist, I have a pretty good understanding of how science works, how it can only move forward to create more knowledge, never backwards, and how within the scientific method is nested a self-correcting process. That is, when theories or ideas prove to be incorrect, they are discarded and replaced by better ones. This is what I call an open system -- that is, a system which is open to outside influence, and therefore can grow and evolve as a self-impoving system rather than be stuck in a small, decaying mental box, unable to make changes to fix its problems due to its inability to account for new information. The only way to fix what's wrong in the stinking, decaying box is to throw it away and start over.

My understanding of democracy is that it is designed to be an open system, whether we are talking about the democracy that florished in Greek city states, or the democracy which more recently grew out of the period of intellectual enlightenment, which was scientifically driven. Thus, if we truly have a democracy, even a bit of of it, we have an open system, a system with self-correcting mechanisms built into it. Thus, the corrollary question to this post is: Do we truly have a democracy, and if so, how much democracy do we have?

The question of whether we have an open or closed system is an extremely important one, and one of increasing relevance, since the issue of how to change our corrupt political system hinges upon the answer. If the system remains open, it can be fixed by working within the system, but if it is closed, only a revolution overthrowing the government can fix these problems which result from the influence of money on the political system. Make no doubt about it, this is an economic issue and a matter of how we consider "capital," that is, resources. The political system in which we exist, creates the rules and parameters which define capital and regulate its use and distribution.

Evidence of a Closed System

It doesn't take any special powers of observation to discover that certain forces including financial and psychological ones, work to make our political system less amenable to change. Actually, any sentient person who halfway pays attention to what is going on can see what has been happening. Globalized corporatism has created a monster the likes of which the world has never seen before. The economic and political system in which we live seems like something that the rich have created exclusively for themselves, and surely there is much truth in that sentiment. Disparities of wealth are as huge as they have ever been, and continue to increase. Furthermore, people with tremendous amounts of money have become more sophisticated in using it to enhance their wealth, power and prestige. The wealthy have always gamed the rest of society, but now, they have gamed society in ways they never have before. They have learned how to influence public opinion through control of propaganda-spreading media, using means which were not available until the mid-1900s and which were not used in this way until recent years. They have learned to influence politics through lobbying, propaganda, dirty political tricks, and now, with the Citizens United decision here in the United States, through direct spending. They have tapped into socially conservative sentiments to help their cause largely through the use of religious organizations, thus reversing the historic trend of religious professionals supporting progressive causes. Of course, religions themselves tend to be closed systems, although with the mixture of messages seen in religious texts, and the variety of interpretations of religious texts, there is room for either progressive or conservative emphases among religions.

I have encountered many people, including posters, bloggers and professional journalists, who appear to have given up hope that our system remains open. At the same time, ironically, I have noticed that these same people tend to blame individuals within the system, such as the President or Congresspeople, for its problems. Perhaps they do hold hope after all, that if we just elect the "right people" or the left people, the system will be fixed, or at least we will start to fix it. If the system is truly closed, it doesn't matter who is elected or who runs our nation, because the system which the rich have created for themselves is the true problem. I do know some people who hold to that view as well, to be perfectly fair, and although I don't totally agree with that notion, I do agree in part.

An example of a famous journalist of gloom and doom (at least as I see it) who has argued that our system is closed, is Chris Hedges. I reviewed some of his work through the use of the internet over the past few days, as well as what some people had to say about it. Basically, Hedges argues that while liberals have been suckered into consent in order to look after their own personal interests, wealthy conservatives have created a totalitarian society run by big money, and thus are able to pull whichever political strings they wish to. Hedges latest book is called "Death of the Liberal Class," and it blames educators, religious professionals, media, unions, and of course politicians for this situation. I find Hedges to be a very skillful writer and an expert at engaging in hyperbole, consistent with his background as a minister's son and person who abandoned a potential career of following in his father's footsteps after abandoning his faith. There are parts of his argument that I agree with, but other parts that I do not. In general, his assertions that the large majority of religious professionals, media and politicians have forsaken their obligations to the public are true. However his nasty notions that unions and educators have done the same, are utter nonsense and needlessly insulting, I can say as an educator! As a psychologist, I don't believe I have ever personally met another psychologist who is a conservative, or who does not support progressive causes, at least in principle. My advisor at U.C. Riverside, Carolyn Murray, was very active in supporting progressive causes, and so radically progressive that she made me seem like a politically bland, noncommittal young man even though I was fomenting very progressive ideas and sentiments at that time. Another highly politically active progressive professor I worked with was Dr. Geraldine Stahly, who was a champion of women's issues. Not all professors are so politically aware or active, especially since most of them are too busy to pay much attention to politics, but as a whole, they tend to be very progressive. I wrote a post about this very topic a year or so ago, and found this to be the case, although economics and business professors tended to be less progressive than other disciplines, as a whole being rather neutral politically, with a mix of conservatives (who are often tapped as political advisors or commentators) and progressives (who are rarely used as political advisors or commentators). Social scientists tend to be the most progressive, although Dr. Phil is a Texas Republican, a rarity among psychologists. Regarding unions, the protests taking place in Wisconsin and other states speak for themselves. It seems to me that unions, and labor interests in general, have always been supportive of the public good, and now, they are finding issues which resonate with the broader public, as conservative Republicans escalate their assault on unions. Hedges wrote his most recent book prior to the eruption of these union-led protests, although his closed-minded approach, consistent with his religious upbringing would probably prevent him from admitting he was wrong about either the unions or educators being sell-outs.

Moreover, the idea of their even being a "liberal class" is a work of artifice. There can be a rich class, a middle class, and an impoverished class, because wealth or lack thereof is generally passed on to one's offspring, but there is no "liberal class" or "conservative class." To me this notion implies that political views are passed onto one's children, which is clearly not true. I think the great majority of us can look at our own families and see how there are widely varying views on politics. If not, just look at the Reagan family, or progressive talk show hosts such as Stephanie Miller or Thom Hartmann, who were raised by conservatives, or my brothers and myself, progressives who were raised by Eisenhower-type, pacifist, and now disaffected, Republicans, but Republicans nonetheless. There are liberal people (which I prefer to call "progressive"), conservative people, and people who are in-between; there are people with committed political views, and people whose political views are still evolving; there are high information voters who are very politically involved, and low information voters who don't pay much attention to politics; but there is no "liberal class" or "conservative class."

Nonetheless, there is a compelling case to be made that, metaphorically speaking, the edifice of our democratic society, which was built with a copious supply of windows in order to let the light in, has gradually seen more and more of its windows shuttered over the past few decades, by people with the money, motives and political means to shut out the light of day from the public, that we would not see the beauty outside and wish to be a part of it.

Regarding the politics of a closed system, I think the concept of "groupthink" applies rather well. Groupthink is a term for the leadership of organizations, when there is a lack of critical thinking and a denial of evidence which contradicts the prevailing group view. Additionally, when groupthink occurs, there is inevitably a sense of moral righteousness and entitlement among the leaders and consultants who make policy. Actually, this groupthink concept can apply both to government, and corporations -- anyplace where policies are made. Groupthink basically creates a closed system. Thus, the antidote for groupthink, is to open the system to new information, bringing in outside experts, or even ordinary citizens, for instance, and honestly and carefully listening to them, taking their suggestions and information seriously. Also, building in safeguards against groupthink help, such as requirements to have people from a variety of backgrounds or viewpoints be members of the policy making group.

Evidence of an Open System

Despite the evidence that our system is far less democratic or open than it was intended to be, I consider our system still open to a degree. No matter how the forces of plutocracy try to create a permanent state of power for themselves, as long as we maintain a semblance of democracy, as long as we continue to have elections, and open communications through means such as the internet, telephones or even letters, as long as peaceful assembly and protest is asserted as a right, the light of day will always find a way to enter the edifice of our society. It means asserting our rights, educating ourselves politically and civically, and making government our own, but the reality is that change is inevitable, and we collectively are the greatest agents of change. Perhaps many of us have fallen asleep at the wheel, so to speak, while rich conservatives reshaped society for their own purposes, and perhaps much of this happened before many of us were old enough to have much of an effect, or realize what was going on, but the collective "we" remains the primary mover and shaker of societal evolution. Even the plutocrats at Citibank, as revealed in their famous memo from a few years ago, acknowledged that. As one as each person has an equal vote, we have the ultimate power. Money doesn't vote, or protest, or write blog posts; people do.

The system that the founders of our nation set up was an open one, based upon the rationality and scientific approach of the Enlightenment. The only thing which can fundamentally negate that would be an anti-revolution, an overthrow of our government by corrupt, closed-system forces. However, this will never happen as long as we maintain our fundamental identity as a democratic nation. Plutocrats will use subterfuge and sophisticated propaganda techniques to deceive as many of the public as possible, but their deception becomes evident upon any intelligent inspection.

Conclusion

At this point, I think it may require a second blog post to describe my ideas for opening up our political system and encoding openess into law in such a way that the corporatocracy can never get a stranglehold over our, or hopefully any nation in the world's, political system. This may seem a bit trite, but it is up to us to retake our democracy from the forces which would deny it to us.

I am sure we will continue to have differing opinions regarding the state, and even the nature of, our political system. I do know that this world is changing as we speak. Will we need a revolution to "Fire the rich" (as one recent cleverly entitled blog post on the Hartmann site was entitled), or can we, the people, assert ourselves as the bosses, and "lower their salary," "put them in jail" (where some of the rich surely belong), and/or "demote them?" I think it is possible for the public to assert itself as "the boss," though it will take lots of work. What do you think? What are your ideas for opening up our system?

February 19

A Capital Idea Part 58: The World's Biggest Hole

In building anything, the material has to come from somewhere. It's not just a matter of the labor involved. It is no different with the metaphorical financial pyramid discussed last time.

Think about it. How did we build this huge, hierarchical financial structure which stretches around the world? Of course it took cheap labor, as with the original pyramids, which used slave labor. It also took a lot of materials, but that is chicken scratch compared to the materials used to build the world's financial pyramid. In using these materials, we have built a humongous hole for humanity, one with a dual nature, financial and environmental. May it not become our collective grave.

There are stories to be told, by archaeologists and anthropologists, of ancient cultures which disappeared after unwittingly changing their own environment. The Mayans and the people of Easter Island come to mind. They were naive, pre-technological people's however, or at best had primitive technologies. We have no such excuse for our demise, which also means that we are far better equipped to learn from our mistakes, and learn to cope with and adapt to a changing environment, as well as learn to live well within our environment without ruining it. In the case of industrial society, the reshaping of the environment is far more extreme than anything the Mayans or the people of Easter Island did. There are two factors which drive this reshaping of our own environment. One is the understandable human desire to have a better standard of living by reshaping one's environment to suit one's needs; the other is financial capitalism driven greed. Technology makes the manipulation of our environment for our own needs possible, but how we use it is up to us as a society. We have largely gone down the path of letting greed take over in order to "create wealth" for business owners through the exploitation of resources. In my opinion, it is the exploitation of the environment for financial gain which has created the huge environmental hole in which we now find ourselves. It is true that some of this environmental degradation would be inevitable under any economic system, but it would not have to be nearly as bad as it is. The examples of Cuba and Costa Rica, with their relatively pristine environments, which I wrote about earlier in this series, come to mind as places where enviromental degradation has been kept in check. Costa Rica, in particular, is a democracy, with a relatively good standard of living, good technology and educational system, which is endeavoring to build a green economy. It is also true that the profligate use of resources in the pursuit of profit has created lots of "goods" and jobs which raise peoples' standards of living. However, I believe that standards of living could have been much better raised, with far less harm to the environment, than the way human history has unfolded over the last few centuries, if we had not built this humongous, hierarchical financial structure and instead, had concentrated on the development and use of the least environmentally harmful technology for the greatest number of people. Instead, what has happened is that humanity, by using the most convenient, non-renewable, environmentally destructive materials available, has employed the most harmful technology to benefit the fewest number of people. Of course, it's not too late to learn from this mistake, and we must; our survival as a species may depend upon that.

As an aside, I believe that our human activities, ironically given the efforts of fundamentalist religious people to deny that evolution happens, and their belief in "tradition," will actually result not only in a transformation of society, but also spur evolution. Although our activities are tragically causing the extinction of a great many species, evolutionary biologists inform us that extinction events have occurred from time to time throughout the earth's history, and every time that one happens, evolution happens at an accelerated rate, because new environmental niches are formed which new species can fill. Humans and other mammals owe our own evolution, apparently, to the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Be that as it may, for the foreseeable future, we face an environmental crisis which is likely to transform humanity and spur our own cultural evolution. In addition to the demise of a large percentage of this planet's lifeforms, we also face human-caused global warming. The first effect of global warming, we are seeing now, with shifts in weather patterns and with plant and animal species migrating closer to the earth's poles as ice melts and air and water warms. I cannot prove that it's related to global warming, but the weather pattern locally has been unusual this winter, indicative of perhaps living in a warmer environment. Here in southern California, we had an unusually large number of rain events during the fall, although they did not bring heavy precipitation. Then, in mid-December, we had a huge, record-breaking storm throughout California, fed by the "Pineapple Connection" which brings tropical moisture this way from the mid-Pacific Ocean around Hawaii. Following that, we had about 1 1/2 months of very dry, warm weather compared to a normal winter. Now, we are having another large storm (but not as big as in December) which is being fed by subtropical moisture. All of this is occuring despite this year being a La Nina year in which a dry winter was predicted. As a whole, with global warming, the weather should become warmer and wetter, in other words, more tropical-like which is consistent with what we are experiencing locally this winter. Of course, that could be a coincidence, but there is no disputing -- by reasonable scientists at least -- that global warming is occurring. The next changes will be much more devastating to humanity. Although sea levels are slowly rising, the rate at which they rise should accelerate as more icecaps and tundra become vulnerable to melting. Most indications from climate scientists show that global warming and the melting of ice is occurring faster than predicted. It is difficult to predict when low-lying places of human habitation will be swamped with sea water, but this seems inevitable and could occur within a decade or two, maybe longer. Even a sea level rise of a few feet will force many millions of people to move their homes, and it is possible that sea levels could rise as much as 250 feet if all the world's icecaps melt. Get ready to kiss places such as Florida and Lousiana, plus many more around the world, even certain entire low lying nations, goodbye. (On the plus side, people may find new habitations in Greenland and Antarctica if they don't mind a bit of chilly weather.) The turmoil likely to be caused by rising sea levels will have enormous political and social implications. Exactly what these will be, are difficult to predict, but at least, it will become clear to us that we cannot take our environment for granted anymore. Furthermore, it will be incumbent upon us to learn to live with a changing environment, empathize with and take care of each other as we learn to help those who have been displaced from their homes. That is what it will take to climb out of the environmental hole that the reckless pursuit of profit has created.

The other aspect of the world's biggest hole, is that we have propped up the rich by creating a debtor society. Although it is the labor of many which makes possible the wealth of a few, the many find themselves in debt and one missed paycheck away from financial ruin, due to being born into a rigged system -- rigged by the rich who run the system. This is becoming increasingly evident over the years as money concentrates and consolidates in the wallets of a lucky few. It seems to me that the environmental hole, and the financial hole in which we find ourselves, are rather interdependent. When we learn to take care of the environment, in a sustainable way, we will also have to learn to take care of ourselves in a sustainable way, which will mean no more huge, unstable financial pyramids. Resources must be used with care, using the best available technology, and distributed equitably among all of us, not hoarded or exploited by a few lucky individuals. Once we realize this, we can start dismantling the pyramid and start filling the hole which has been dug by generations of humanity.

February 15

A Capital Idea Part 57: The World's Biggest Pyramid

Egypt is known for its ancient pyramids and its recent popular uprising. Apparently the ancient Egyptians were the first people to think of building a large, tapered structure with a small top and a wide bottom. More recently, economic schemes such as the Ponzi scheme in which the first investors continue to collect money from all subsequent investors, has metaphorically reminded people of a pyramid -- thus the name, "pyramid scheme." However, confining the concept of the pyramid scheme to such fraudulent practices effectively puts the concept of a financial pyramid in a box of illigitimacy. Actually, what increasing numbers of us have come to realize, based on communications with my friends over the internet, is that the entire world economy is shaping into a humongous pyramid scheme. This is the world's largest pyramid, metaphorically speaking.

More and more of the world's wealth and resources are being concentrated in the oversized pockets of fewer and fewer individuals, and furthermore, the way these people got there is in much the same way as a person would get to the top of a Ponzi scheme. Who is at the top of this pyramid and how did they get there? In my opinion, some of the people at the top of this humongous metaphorical pyramid represent "old money" who are people who were in on the beginning of the scheme, while others represent newer wealth who have managed to build huge businesses, monopolies or semi-monopolies, and climb to the top of a changing economic world which has become increasingly global and thus presents greater opportunities for enormous wealth and influence than have ever existed before.

Bankers -- that is, banksters -- represent a disproportionate percentage of those at the top of the world's financial pyramid. Bankers are in a unique position to manipulate the world's money supply and siphon as much as they wish -- which is a disproportionately large amount -- for themselves. Nobody ever complimented the banking community, as far as I know, on its generosity and humanitarian ideals. The banking industry tends to attract the greediest among us, those who in my terminology would qualify as having Avaricious Personality Disorder. This is why we need public banks to control our money supply, or at the very least, have private banks be replaced by credit unions which represent the shared wealth of its depositors.

Another group at the top of the pyramid represent families which have owned large industries since the early days of the industrial revolution -- people such as the Rockefellers of the world. They were in on the building of the world financial pyramid from the early days. Thus, these families have been able to continually accumulate wealth over a series of demonstrations. Wealth breeds opportunities for even more wealth. Some families have squandered their wealth, naturally, as the children of ultra-sucessful entrepreneurs have become narcissistic and irresponsible, or have turned out to be just plain incompetent and stupid (inbred, perhaps?).

The third and final -- as far as I know -- group of people at the top of the pyramid are the newly wealthy, people who have taken advantage of new economic opportunites presented by new technologies such as the computer revolution, or who have developed functional monopolies for goods which are needed or upon which people psychologically depend, such as addictive drugs or gambling (listening to Libertarian Wayne Root tout the virtues of gambling in Nevada at this moment). The ability of new entrepreneurs to join this exclusive club has been aided by the "globalization" of the economy, opening up "markets" around the world to the most sucessful entrepreneurs.

The financial capital system itself is made to build a pyramid. When Mr. Ponzi had the idea of creating what became known as a "Ponzi Scheme" or "Pyramid Scheme," he was merely replicating on a smaller scale what the financial capital system does on a larger scale. The person who starts the scheme begins collecting money from others, promising them that their wealth and standard of living will be improved and that as their great leader, the top person in the pyramid will take care of the needs of those who buy into the scheme. Of course, these promises are left unfulfilled, as the financial leader's true interest is in wealth and power, rather than improving the lives of others. Such a person probably would not know how to, or have the ability to, help the lives of the public as a whole, in fact, even if HE -- I have yet to observe one who is a female -- wanted to. Ultimately, and inevitably, the pyramid scheme collapses. In fact, the financial history of the world can be seen as a series of pyramid schemes which arise, then collapse. Currently, we appear to be likely approaching the collapse of the largest pyramid scheme that the world has ever known. As ordinary citizens, we should mentally prepare ourselves to get out of the way and watch out for debris. The fallout of this collapse will be like nothing the world has ever seen before.

February 13

A Capital Idea Part 56: The Economic Balance of Nature

I have made the argument previously in this series that the economy should be treated like an ecology. If so, what is the balance of economical nature? What does economical diversity look like, and how does it benefit us?

According to my friend Poor Richard, who just reappeared at a most fortuitous time, but says he doesn't have much opportunity to be on the internet lately, a balanced economy is optimal, and it includes equal parts financial capitalism, and resource based community style economy. I hope I adequately understand and summarize Poor Richard's approach to building an optimal economy.

The financial capital part of the system would resemble a well regulated economy in today's world, not like the greed-run economy that we now have. Small businesses would be encouraged, with individuals setting up their own, diverse businesses, some of which would compete with each other, while others would occupy completely different niches. Of course, some businesses would be larger than others, but through government regulation, would not be allowed to reach the monopoly or economic cabal stage. (I believe that without regulation, monopolization of the economy is inevitable, as the spoils that go to the few winners of the humongous, real life game of Monopoly that business people are obsessively playing.) Also, community-based business ventures would be encouraged, such as employee owned businesses. Of course, government regulation would not allow business money to corrupt the political process under this system as it does under our current system.

The resource-based part of the economy would resemble a socialist democracy, but with even more socialism, more democracy, less dependence on money, and ideas which have never been tried to date in this world. It would provide not only a social safety net, but guarantee a semblance of economic fairness and people's economic rights, uniting and lifting all people. This would be the "we society" approach to the economy as financial capitalism is the "me society" approach. Each person would be guaranteed a certain share of our pooled resources, such as food, utilities, a place to live and furniture. They would have, I think, some sort of voucher system which they could use, rather than money, to purchase these things. These vouchers could only be used to purchase these items and perhaps a few luxury items with whatever is left over. Of course, citizens would have many choices regarding what they could obtain through the vouchers, so it wouldn't be a rationing system. With any regular money that people earn, they could of course purchase other items they want. The voucher system sounds a lot like an expanded welfare program for everybody, and it is. Let me say this about welfare. Statistics show that it is a very cost effective, necessary and successful government program. Without it, our society would be in far worse shape than it is. I see women on welfare nearly every time I go to the grocery store here in Moreno Valley. They usually have one child (not a bunch of children), and they purchase relatively healthy food items with their vouchers. I cringe to think what would happen to these people and their kids without the welfare program. Of course, the haters on the conservative crazy train have managed to turn "welfare" into a dirty word in the minds of many, but not me. However, unlike welfare, under this system, there would be public ownership (by all of us as a democracy) of such important resources, that is, those resources which represent "the necessities of life" and "the commons."

What are the potential benefits of this sort of balanced economy?

First, it would unite us as a society far more than we are now. We would all be asked to recognize our common humanity and work together to create, pool and share our resources.

Second, it would balance two sides of human nature. The egotistical, acquisitive side could be satisfied, within reasonable limits, by the business opportunities afforded by financial capitalism, while the cooperative, caring, sharing side could be satisfied by the resource based side.

Third, it would create opportunites for innovation and people "doing their own thing" with the small business model, but would also create opportunities for the public to accomplish great and innovative things cooperatively through the resource-based economic model.

Fourth, it would create greater economic stability. Since the publicly owned resources would not be dependent upon the whims of the financial system, its banksters or its stock market gamblers, it would not be subject to financial collapses caused by the financial elites, but which hurt all of us, as we are currently experiencing.

Fifth, it would also create greater economical stability by creating a more diverse, balanced economical approach, with a lack of monopolies that have the potential to take down the system.

There are probably additional benefits to this approach, but those are all I can think of for now. Perhaps you can think of some.

February 3

A Capital Idea Part 55: The P2P Foundation

P2P stands for Peer-to-Peer, which is a popular term for sharing of technology and information among cyber-experts. There are many P2P sites with different emphases, and the P2P Foundation itself is about much more than economics or the relation of economics to politics. The main emphasis of the P2P Foundation is probably on internet technology and the sharing of technology. However, it also includes a substantial emphasis on progressive economic ideas, generally ideas which involve local economics, sharing of resources, economic fairness, and moving beyond financial capitalism. The founder of the P2P Foundation is Michel Bauwens, a computer techie who is originally from the Netherlands, I believe, but now lives in Thailand with his Thai wife, their children and many of the wife's relatives, I understand. He also teaches at a university in Thailand.

Since the P2P Foundation has many contributors and many topics of interest, it is difficult to characterize adequately. Most of the contributors are from Europe, so this movement is relatively unfamiliar to Americans. My best idea about how to describe it in my words is eclectically progressive, and my best idea for giving others an idea about what P2P is like, is to give some titles from the actual website( http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/). Frankly, the site is huge and difficult to navigate with my slow speed computer. It is definitely made by and for internet techies with super-high speed internet access and great internet savvy. Anyhow, here are the latest titles on the P2P Foundations homepage:

Science Journalism in the Age of Crowd

"How Will OpenLeaks Work?"

"The Process of Catabolic Collapse of our Industrial Civilisation, phase two"

"Reportage on the Internet Activists in Cairo"

"Students move toward a mutualistic self-organized peer learning space"

"An open letter to a pro-copyright author"

"Free Technology Academy: Towards a shared master curriculum on Free Technologies"

"P2P Governance Dynamics in the Egyptian Uprising"

"Social Media and Social Revolutions: what is their relationship?"

"If Your Government Shuts Down the Internet, Shut Down the Government"

All of these articles have been posted over the past 3 days, by several different authors. Most of them are written in typically obscure language which to me, to offer some constructive criticism, seem designed more to impress than to communicate (but maybe that's just me). What is a "Catabolic Collapse," anyway? For that matter, what is a "mutualistic self-organized peer learning space?" Personally, I like the last title on the list best. "If Your Government Shuts Down the Internet, Shut Down the Government." Now, that's a good title.

I first was introduced to P2P by Poor Richard, who now has been absent from the internet, and thus a person about whom I am concerned, since last October. Despite my difficulties relating to its hyper-intellectual approach (and I am a highly, but not hyper, intellectual person), I consider P2P to be a magnificent resource for those who wish to be exposed to, and understand progressive ideas, and for those who want to connect with other progressives who have new ideas which have the potential to reshape future society for the better.

My understanding of the general economic approach is that a better economy would be a more diverse one: part public, part private; part resource based, part financially based; part local, part global; and 100% environmentally sustainable. I think this approach represents a further step after the kinds of reforms I have been discussing in recent posts. Perhaps it even represents the optimal final form which world economies should take. Although I am not certain about that, Poor Richard thought so, and I will discuss his ideas in my next post.

January 26

A Capital Idea Part 54: They Call it Advertising

Today's post is more about labels than anything else. I have recently called for restrictions on advertising and lobbying already. I think this is a good time to examine the memes being used by society and how these memes are being used to mislead us.

It comes down to this. I had the idea for this post a week or so ago when I had the following thought: When corporations do it to the public, it's called advertising. When corporations do it to government, it's called lobbying, and when the government does it to us, it's called campaigning. Here we have 3 separate processes, with completely different labels, but they are really about the same thing -- propaganda, social pressure, skewed arguments using something less than the truth which are designed to persuade people to support the persuaders. Surely, there is truth in what some advertisements, lobbyists and campaigning politicians have to say, but the temptation to reinvent the truth for self-serving purposes, and the lack of being made responsible for the telling of propagandistic non-truths, makes all such messages suspect.

If anything, it is politicians who may be ultimately held accountable for the veracity of their campaign promises and statements. This is an important reason why democracy is a good system and we need as much of it as we can build into the system. However, the route from campaign statements by politicians, to public perceptions of the politician's or would-be-politicians' veracity is tortuously complex in most cases, may take many years to become evident (probably after the politician has retired), and may escape the less-than-discerning minds of a large constituency of voters who are either inclined to believe that particular point of view no matter what the evidence, or are not paying enough attention to what is really happening, to notice. There are numerous potential examples of how intransigent people can be to realizing political truths, but since we are discussing economics here, just take a look at the throngs of people who still support economic ideas which have proven not to work, such as "trickle down economics" or the "free market," among other things. However, at least the trend is toward people becoming wiser over time in understanding the effects of political policies, all other things being equal, much as science is constructed to advance knowledge, and never regress.

On the other hand, the other forms of propaganda, advertising and lobbying, might not ever improve in their veracity. The profit motives of corporations continue to drive these processes in an ever more deceptive direction, as long as it yields profitable results. If one deceptive strategy stops working because people "catch onto" it and begin to understand its malintent, advertisers or lobbyists will quickly devise another, more devious one. This is pretty much like trying to develop a vaccine for an ever-mutating virus. The propaganda is a smart virus which will intentionally change its form to evade elimination, so it can continue growing. Perhaps propaganda is more analogous to computer viruses which can be reprogrammed to stay one step ahead of the antivirus programs. This is why we must limit advertising to politically non harmful venues such as local advertising by small business, and eliminate corporate lobbying. Otherwise, the public will constantly be bamboozled.

Finally, we must see that propaganda is perhaps the most important reason why it is difficult for people to realize political truths. The influence of advertising and lobbying acts to mislead people with regard to political realities, as do long accepted political soundbites. Not only is the public endlessly fooled by ever-changing corporate advertising techniques and politicians constantly fooled by evolving and growing corporate lobbying strategies, but the effects of advertising and lobbying on the political system create a synergistic effect: The more powerful advertising and lobbying becomes, the more they influence politics; the more they influence politics, the more powerful they grow. This political route is the ultimate strategy for continuing the trend by which the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer. Welcome to the world of fascism, the merging of corporate and state power, a world which is well underway and which is producing a downward spiral. I know it won't be easy to stop the process, but I believe it is in our power to do so, by being educated regarding the use of propanda, and wisely refusing to be swayed by it. Propaganda does not work unless people believe it. Hopefully, we can undo this socially destructive process before the spiral hits bottom.

January 23

A Capital Idea Part 53: We Need a New War on Poverty

I decided to be more relevant to current events this time. But first, I need to go back to childhood days when I was so young, I cannnot remember them. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, having replaced the slain John F. Kennedy, proposed that his administration engage in a "war on poverty" so that all Americans could benefit and share in America's prosperity. Following are components of this effort, which was largely successful:

Educational;

1. Head Start

2. Upward Bound

Health;

4. Medicare

5. Medicaid

Standard of Living Help (my wording);

5. Food Stamps

6. School Breakfast Program

7. The Minimum Wage Law of 1966

Jobs Creation;

8. Jobs Corps

The Johnson Admistration also created an Office of Economic Opportunity, which was originally headed by the newly deceased Sargent Shriver, but which was dismantled by Nixon after his re-election in 1972. However, the individual components of the program all still exist in one form or another, I believe, and continue to help prevent a disastrous epidemic of poverty in the United States.

http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell/exhibits/poverty/poverty1.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyndon_B._Johnson#.22War_on_poverty.22

Largely as a result of the Johnson administration's War on Poverty, the poverty rate in the United States decreased dramatically during the 1960's although the poverty rate was already decreasing when the program was initiated.

According to the Russell Library: "The poverty rate dropped from 39 percent to 11 percent from the late 1950s through the early 1970s and remained between 11 and 15 percent through the early 1990s. In 1993, the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line was up to 15.3 percent but the rate lowered to 11.3 by 2000. Since then, the rate rose to 12.7 by 2004 and remained there through 2006" (http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell/exhibits/poverty/poverty3.shtml).

Of course, 12.7 is much closer to 11% than it is to 39%, but that is a misleading number during an era of continued technological revolution, accumulation of massive wealth by the wealthiest among us, and large numbers of people rising out of poverty in many other nations. Add to that, the increasing disparity in wealth between the rich and the rest of us in the United States beginning in the 1980s, and the increasing numbers of Americans who are not far above the poverty line, struggling to stay afloat financially as our middle and "upper middle" class continues to shrink. The main question is not what percentage of the population can be kept officially out of poverty, but rather, how we can decrease wealth disparities and allow all Americans to share in our collective wealth? The other question which may be even more important and to the point in the long run, is how can we create a more economically fair society? I have been dealing with the second question throughout this series of essays, but at this time, we should consider the first question before the American economy degenerates any more than it already has.

If I had to ask Barack Obama one question during his bid for a second term in office, in fact, it would be "What would you do to decrease the huge disparities in wealth we see in the United States, disparities which have continued to rise during your first term in office?" This is the crucial challenge that he faces, and he cannot solve it by hiring advisors who ascribe to free market ideology and have spent a coddled, financially luxurious career working as big shots in big business. I saw a recent internet news article which reported on a poll about the first two years of Obama's Presidency. It found that the large majority of Americans found him likeable, and a small majority already favored him having a second term. The majority of respondents thought he had done a good job in most areas, given the tough circumstances, but -- only 30% approved of the way he had handled the economy. I don't think this is just sour grapes, either. I think it reflects the bank and big business bailout, top down economic strategy which surely was recommended to Obama by his Wall Street oriented economic advisors who are too out-of-touch with real work and what life is like for ordinary Americans, too invested in their conservative, free market ideology, and too lacking in imagination or creativity to suggest anything else.

Some economic ideas which Obama should promote to help the non-wealthy masses of America, include:

1. Increase minimum wages. (California's is already higher than the national minimum wage, by the way);

2. Promote the transition to a green economy and the jobs it can create, using government subsidies. The Obama administration is already doing some of this as part of its stimulus package but needs to do much more. The solar energy project near Blythe in the Mojave Desert is an example which has resulted in two offers in recent months on a parcel of land my wife owns in that area, the second offer being much larger than the first. What we really need, however, is a complete transition to a renewable energy based and recycling based economy, which would radically transform our society and jump-start our economy;

3. Ensure continued unemployment payments for those who cannot find work. Obama did get these benefits extended for 13 months as part of his tax deal compromise, to his credit, but it may have come at too high a price;

4. Use the Sherman Antitrust Act to break up the several monopolistic businesses which dominate much of our economy. This would create many new companies, new hiring and greater competition which would help the economy;

5. Engage in infrastructure repair rebuilding and building, especially with an eye toward building a "green economy;"

6. Most importantly, Obama should unveil a plan to combat poverty and help the economic fortunes of "the average American" much as Lyndon Johnson did in 1964. His State of the Union address would be as good a time as any for him to do that. Such a plan would put give a name, a popular perception, and an impetus to this effort to improve the economic situation of the average American. To give the program some extra emotional appeal, Obama could also dedicate the program to the memory of the late Sargent Shriver.

From what I gather, Obama seems to be turning his attention more toward job creation in recent days, and also long term goals such as education, research and infrastructure building, all of which are good signs, but these promises need to be backed up with actions.

There may be other things Obama can do in the short term to alleviate the economic plight of the average American, but I cannot think of any more at this time. Perhaps you can. Whatever Obama says in his State of the Union Address this year, or any subsequent address, we need to keep the pressure on him to help us out, and help him remember who got him elected.

p.s. I heard an interview of former Chief Economist of the IMF Simon Johnson by talk show host Ian Masters earlier this week (on Pacifica Radio), in which Johnson indicated that the banking elite are basically an internationaly group of narcissists who are not even grateful for the bailouts they have received, having convinced themselves that they deserve nothing less. Instead of trying to appease such people, Obama should concentrate his efforts on people who really need the help and would truly be grateful.

January 17

A Capital Idea Part 52: The Real American Exceptionalism

Yes, The United States is an exceptional nation in many ways with an exceptional history, but that is in the past, and an honest analysis of our history reveals as much to be ashamed of, as to be proud of. What I wish to discuss today however, is what has become the new, dysfunctional American exceptionalism, an exceptionalism which keeps Americans from critically examining their nation or changing what is wrong with it.

I am sick of hearing conservative politicians such as Sarah Palin and her Tea Bagger friends proclaim our nation's unique and inherent greatness. Any person so insecure as to need such validation is living dysfunctionally, and is afraid to face the truth, as one must in order to find solutions, or even to recognize our problems. It is a way of being in denial, and enabling the continuation of bad policies and cultural practices. What better cover for fascism, than to label one's nation "the antifascism nation?" What better cover for the shrinking of democratic practices, than to label one's nation "the world's leader in democracy?" The belief in American exceptionalism, in my opinion, serves to block progress in 3 ways. First, it serves to create a delusional set of beliefs. Second it serves to distract attention from, or prevent the recognition of, the true problems we face as a nation. Third, it also serves as an excuse to prevent the use of practices which work well in other nations.

Let us look at what is truly exceptional at this time about the America that we know and love.

America leads the world in military spending by far, as well as military conquest and occupation;

America leads the world in national debt, largely caused by military spending and low tax rates for the rich;

America leads the world in number, and I think percentage, of incarcerated people;

America has the greatest income disparity among industrialized nations, and possibly among the largest in the world;

American is among the leaders of among "first world nations"if not the leader, in unemployment, and generally lousy economy;

America leads or is close to the lead among the "developed world" in murder rates, rape, crime rates, drug usage, and unwanted teenage pregnancies. These rates have been decreasing but the downward trend has been worldwide largely;

America is exceptional in that it is the only "developed nation" in the world which has a for-profit health care system, which remains intact even with the recently passed health insurance reform bill. As a consequence, the United States leads the "developed world" in cost of health care, number of uninsured persons for whom health care is essentially unavailable, lowest life expectancy, and generally the lousiest health care among technologically advanced nations;

America is exceptional, at the risk of being redundant, in resistance to change and in unwillingness to learn both from its mistakes, and from the successful policies of other nations;

America is exceptional in that its students do worse than those in other "developed nations," and its citizens lead the "developed world" in ignorance, and delusional, self-serving thinking;

America is exceptional in that due to massive propaganda efforts by those with media at their disposal, and unlike people anywhere else in the world, Americans are actually becoming more ignorant over the years in many ways. Among these are a decreasing percentage of the population who believe in evolution, a shrinking percentage who support gun control, and a variety of false beliefs which have been demonstrated to result from watching Fox (Faux) "News."

As a result of a combination of belief in American exceptionalism, with a struggling educational system, a stressed and beleagured, shrinking middle class, and constant propaganda convincing people to vote against their own self interests or the good of Amrerica or the world, America is exceptional in that it is extraordinarily conservative politically, for a so-called "free" nation.

What should we do about this dysfunctional American exceptionalism? Clearly, we need to change our poltical and business culture. First, we need to understand that all human beings share the same nature and a common society. The policies and cultural practices which work in other nations should work here as well. Also, the practices which have failed us in the past, such as "trickle down economics," will continue to fail us if we persist in using them. Even relabelling the same old policies won't change their ineffectiveness. Second, we need to change our educational system to make political and psychological sophistication, as well as logic and critical thinking, a priority. Third, whatever we can do to lift the fortunes of the average citizen, rebuilding a strong middle class, would serve to counteract the effects of American exceptionalistic belief. The children of people with good education and good standard of living tend to do much better in school than children who are raised by ignorant and/or impoverished parents. Also, people living a middle class lifestyle have more energy, motivation and time to pursue progressive change. Finally, they feel less threatened and less anxious about their futures.

Let us make the coming years truly exceptional for America by overcoming our dysfunctional exceptionalism. If we don't, we will be facing an exceptional collapse.

January 15

A Capital Idea Part 51: Shrinking Business Down to Size

Our political system has been designed to favor big business for many years, regardless of what politicians may say. After all, it has been big business which has been writing the rules, or rather, lack of rules. This has led to the dysfunctional state of current economics in the United States and much of the world, by extension. It is incumbent upon us, the citizens, to undo this monopolistic system, for the good of everybody.

I have never really been a business person (although my wife has been keeping me busy with her wheeling and dealing lately so that if her plans work out, we might have more income and be better able to support the causes we believe in such as progressive politics), and I really don't identify with business, especially the American business culture as I know it, but I do believe that people as individuals, collectives and cooperatives, doing things they love or at least like to do, and care about, is important to our well-being and productivity. This takes many forms, such as philanthropy, hobbies, creative activities and so forth, but a major application of people doing what they like to do is found in small business. This is also what should probably be the largest part of the economy. Self-employed people and people working for small businesses that they believe in have relative autonomy. In contrast, those working for large corporations which are autocratically run, are treated more or less like puppets, it seems to me, aside from the ultra-rich business owners. Big business in no way serves the cause of personal freedom, despite the right-wing rhetoric about business and personal freedom.

Thus, I believe that, beyond the reforms I have already proposed in this series, we need to enact as soon as feasible a massive reform of our economic system which favors both democratic government which serves the peoples' needs, and small, do-it-yourself businesses and other productive activities. The following three suggestions are ones that I have made in previous blog posts (two of which preceded this "Capital Idea" series). These are "radical" suggestions to the average citizen, but actually are merely sensible when one considers the dysfunctional reality of the capitalistic empire which has been built by a coalition of industrialists and politicians over many centuries. The reason I am putting them together here is to put them in one place, and put them in a context of fixing the disproportionate influence of big business in our society.

To summarize my three proposals to defang the capitalistic beast:

1. Abolish the stock market. I can see no true good engendered by having this legalized gambling forum for the wealthy, only harm. In theory, it serves a purpose of financing worthy businesses, but in reality, it is driven by greed as is the entire monopolistic capitalist empire, is lacking in rationality (at least in terms of serving the people) and creates greater economic disparities and instability. The stock market, having been created by the wealthy, also serves the wealthy and enhances both their weath and power;

2. Create a democratically elected system for making fair market prices. Market prices as they exist are also greed driven, and inherently unfair, rather than finding the optimal fair values that free market advocates always expect them to. I have written about this before, and there are so many compelling examples of chronically unfair price fixing by businesses and even individuals, that it is incredible that anyone would believe otherwise. Were we to elect a fair minded group of individuals (individuals who serve at the pleasure of the citizenry and could be replaced as other elected officials can) in order to enact a much more fair set of market prices, the costs of goods and services, and peoples' salaries, would be far more fair and under control. The market would be answerable directly to the people, rather than to those moguls who, in effect, set the prices which the rest of us must either agree to pay or do without those goods and/or services. Once again, this innovation would truly "level the playing field" which is currently slanted so that everything "trickles down" to the wealthy instead of trickling down from the wealthy to the rest of us. Thus, it would allow smaller business to compete much better with the larger ones;

3. Eliminate or at least drastically limit corporate advertising. The ability of corporations to freely advertise their products, skewing facts in their favor if not being outright deceptive, is a huge source of propaganda, yet it goes largely unrecognized. This problem is especially egregious in the case of those who are charged with the care of informing the public of current "news" -- the so-called news media. People in high places in the dissemination of news have long since realized that they a great opportunity to influence public opinion and politics inordinately; perhaps that chance is what drew them to this business in the first place. Private "news" media need to be eliminated (although opinion presented as opinion is okay), since it never can be unbiased, and those who decide what news to report and how to report it have abused their positions. Instead, public news media needs to be expanded. Also, people rely on the internet for more and more news as time goes on, which can act as a great source of public information dissemination. Furthermore, the advertisements which bombard us need to be restrained. I realize that ads are how most television and radio is funded, but consider that this is private and hugely biased funding of privately produced programming. I propose that we replace this system of advertising with a network of Consumer Reports or Angie's List type agencies, either publicly or privately funded, or funded by viewer donations. Also, all programming can be funded by viewer donations, as public television and radio currently is. Basically, this would be an expansion of public T.V. and radio in order to make it answerable to the public and to create better, more fair and unbiased programming. In my humble opinion, it seems apparent that public programming is superior to private programming anyway. Thus, I find myself watching more and more public programming over the years, although I still watch some programs aired by private stations. Advertising creates name recognition, and influences people to like big businesses, which serves to allow those more successful at advertising their products to enlarge their market share and create monopolies or business cabals.

I am not a real fan of "incentives for small business" such as tax breaks. As a mere Psychology instructor with a Ph.D. and few benefits (other than a retirement fund that is taken out of our salaries), it seems to me that such treatment is systematically (and systemically) unfair. What we really need is a peaceful, economic revolution to provide real solutions, and in order to do that, we need to make democracy work for us.