Capital Ideas 2012

June 9

A Capital Idea Part 122: Libertarianism Would Make Slaves of us all

At the heart of the conservative message is the concept of "freedom." This is not their real agenda, in my opinion, but it is the key symbol used to sell their policies. According to conservatives, we need freedom from government intrusion; freedom from "tax burdens;" freedom from foreign influence and enemies, mostly imagined; freedom from stiffling regulations; freedom of religion (as long as it is the "right" religion); and freedom to run one's own business and one's own life as one pleases. The image is of the proud, independent American, a pioneering spirit willing to go it alone, who knows that "America is the best," the shining beacon of freedom that lights the world. This is largely the core of the libertarian message too, except that libertarianism is focused more on economics and conservatism focuses more on social issues; thus, libertarianism has largely merged with social conservatism in the Republican Party. The word "libertarian" has its root in the latin word for freedom. However, what libertarianism means is freedom from economic regulation, not true freedom.

Libertarianism is perhaps the ultimate in irony. Logic and history show us that without economic regulation, capitalist monopolies form and largely rob people of their freedom, turning most of us into "wage slaves," and those fortunate enough to be the employers of the wage slaves, minions of the God of Wealth. This pattern is seen throughout the history of financial capitalism, but is happening on a larger scale than ever before now. At the same time, people are more educated and less ignorant than in the past, which necessitates propaganda efforts on a scale never before seen in order to keep the masses in check, as well as efforts to prevent non-conservatives from voting, efforts to distract us from the real challenges we face if we are to build a more progressive society, and even efforts to keep people from truly being well-educated. As long as we have lots of things to buy, new toys and technology to play with, and mass entertainment to keep our minds off our problems, we can go on buying the present using future credit, and hoping the bill never comes due.

But that time of reckoning is fast approaching, as national and personal debts grow out of control and shackle us Americans much as slaves in the cotton fields of the pre Civil War days. Eventually, even wealthy business owners will not be able to continue their lavish lifestyles if their sources of income and resources dry up.

The conservative mindset, it seems to me, sees life as a competition. They are social Darwinists who see themselves as superior entities destined to win the struggle for survival. They say that if we all compete on a free-for-all playing field of life, things will work out "for the best" for all of us; however, what they will never tell us is that ultimately, they don't care about the rest of us and would just as soon let those who don't serve their purposes, die. A further irony is that those convinced of their superiority are not only being delusional, but inferior as well. Yet another irony is that so many conservatives who buy into libertarian ideology, believe in religious principles which encourage prosocial sharing behavior and taking care of the needy. In fact, lack of regulation results in the greediest, most ruthless among us prevailing. By contrast, the progressive mindset sees us as dependent upon each other, rather than independent of each other. It sees us as social, cooperative creatures who must work together in order to succeed. This requires a considerable and highly functioning government, democratic participation and reasonable regulation. Taxes must be progressive and the wealthy, taxed at a high rate in order to contribute what they can to our governance. Government policies must be devised with the public good in mind, which amounts to democratic socialism.

It comes down to this: Conservative policies bring inequality and unfairness; progressive policies bring equality and fairness. A society entrenched in a system which brings huge and unfair wealth disparities, or power disparities (i.e., undemocratic), can never be free. However, a society which bestows upon its citizens, relative equality and fairness of outcomes, is destined to move toward greater human freedoms on both the individual and societal levels.

May 31

A Capital Idea Part 121: Nutrition is Good for you; Tons of Money, not so much

Based on a conversation on my friend Poor Richard's blog site, I had another idea about the relationship between money and the environment. Thus, I will take one more attempt to capture this relationship here.

We don't put any limits on wealth in our human economy; perhaps this is where the economic system we humans have created, has gone wrong. The system is engineered in such a way, in fact, that wealth makes more wealth possible. It becomes a race to the top, with only a lucky few succeeding. During that race, the contestants must step on, derogate or ignore their fellow human beings. This is a hypercompetitive model (more on that in a soon to be written post). In terms of biology, it resembles Darwinian competition, which is a part of evolution, but only plays a small role in ecology. If our purpose as human beings is to put the rest of humanity, "out of business," so to speak -- in other words, "Let them die," as libertarians are so fond of saying -- then our system is well-designed. However, if our purpose is to have a relatively happy and harmonious society, in which people's potential and thus progress is maximized -- what Poor Richard and I have decide to call "Utopia Light" since a true utopia is not really possible -- we need a very different economic system, one which addresses our economic needs as an ecosystem addresses the needs of its participants through a beautifully choreographed set of interactions in which cooperation and interdependence wins out over competition and independence.

The question that prompted the idea for this post, in fact, was "What in the environment is the equivalent of money?" The person who asked this question is somebody I didn't know, but apparently, he could not come up with any equivalence. (By the way, this is a person who believes that a moneyless society is possible and that there should be no money. While I think that may be possible ultimately, I think we are still a long way from that and for the sake of cultural sanity, we do need some sort of markers to indicate our rights to resources. To think otherwise at this point, seems naive to me. ) However, it only took me a few seconds to come up with such an equivalence. Money is a claim on resources. Resources in "the natural world" would be food -- or nutrition, if you prefer -- and necessities such as space to live and grow in, oxygen if you are an animal, or carbon dioxide if you are a plant. Money would be like saying "This is my space; please let me live here" or something to that effect. Territorialism would be pretty much the natural world equivalent of claiming "I have this much money in the bank." Both plants and animals engage in territorialism, in various forms. Some species are more territorial, like capitalists, while others are more sociable and sharing, like socialists, but all creatures need a certain amount of room and resources to survive and grow.

The economy -- that is, economic activity -- consists of the exchange of resources, essentially. In the human economy, this means people buying and selling things, where money changes hands. In "the natural world," the equivalent of economic activity means the exchange of nutrients, the sharing of space, and so forth in the context of the organism's local environment. Thus, economic activity in "the natural world," is all local, unlike human economic activity, although the ripple effects of ecological activity spread throughout the world. Plants gather nutrients from their local soil, in the region of their root system, and carbon dioxide from the air that tickles their leaves, while animals search for suitable food and shelter in their local surroundings, and absorb oxygen from the air around them. They do not need to, nor do they attempt to, ship massive quantities of nutrients from around the world -- far more than they would ever need -- to be stored in special containers where the contents will either be used to wipe out their fellow life-forms in the ultimate act of shortsighted selfishness, eventually rot unused, or both. Such profound gluttony is a peculiar trait of some misanthropic humans, but not of creatures in a natural system. Only an economic system based upon a limitless wealth and endless competition model can make such behavior possible. Plants or animals may store food or nutrients in their bodies, or in special caches as squirrels do for their winter sustenance, but they only store what they might reasonably need.

Thus, the most important implication of the money/nutrient use analogy is the following: In an ecological system, every organism's use of resources is limited. Sharing and moderation prevail in the natural environment. There is no worldwide gluttony, because any organism only needs or can use a certain amount of resources. However, in the human economy, gluttony is encouraged. Resources from around the world are gathered, by those who are willing and able, and hoarded so they cannot be used by others. This would be the equivalent of one, or a few, fish in the sea, eating up all the other fish. That just could not happen in a natural ecology, but it is more or less what happens in the human economy. True, "the little people" usually have some income, and most don't starve to death (although starvation rates are distressingly high in some parts of the world). However, the large majority of our resources are concentrated in the fins of a few "big fish." An economic system built this way would quickly collapse and hopefully, start over again with a better foundation. I suspect that the same will happen with our economic system sooner or later (probably sooner) if we don't manage to reform it.

Furthermore, we are talking about human beings here, not different types of organisms. Human beings share a certain biological, cultural, psychological and spiritual equivalency. The United States was ostensibly founded on the principle of equal rights and opportunity for all. This does not guarantee equivalent outcomes, but the fact that we are all human beings and basically similar in fundamental ways, means that huge wealth disparities, or other huge disparities in treatment, are fundamentally unfair and should be anathema to us, rather than extreme wealth compared to one's fellow citizens being something to be celebrated. In other words, we should cooperate much as social animals -- since we are the most social of animals -- in "the natural world" cooperate, and share our resources in an equitable manner. The way to do that is to build an economic system which mirrors the balance and fair sharing and exchange of resources, that is seen in a health ecology. There are no "Killer Whale" human beings and no "Amoeba" human beings; we are all Homo Sapiens human beings.

May 24

A Capital Idea Part 120: More is not Better, except for Love

On Monday, I ran into Michael, my student from last year who has Asperger's Syndrome. It turned out that he needed to interview some professors for a class assignment, so I volunteered to let him interview me. During the interview, he asked why the school had never made me a full-time professor, to which I replied that I had never asked to be full-time. I told him that in fact, with all of my activities, I had never really wanted to be full-time even if my pay was restricted. Michael seemed surprised, but only for a moment, then seemed to think that made sense.

Sadly, we in the U.S. have been sold a sort of "more is better" mentality -- more work, more money, more toys, faster cars, bigger houses and yards; all of these things are draining us and draining our resources as they pollute our environment and imbalance our lives. That probably has something to do with why so many Americans seem to be opting for alternative lifestyles in which work is not so central to them, even if it means less income. The "more is better" mentality also probably has something to do with the fact that psychology researchers estimate that depression rates worldwide have doubled in the past few decades. Economists inform us that more people have given up looking for work over these past few years, which is seen by them as a really bad thing; however, this is not neccessarily a bad thing. As long as people can get by financially, even if it means scrimping and being very thrifty, perhaps they are better off than being wage slaves. Perhaps their unpaid activities are actually doing more good, even, than they would be doing with a paid job.

I have seen this coming for a long time, although in the past I have generally framed it in terms of my own life situation. After all, I have had to justify my unusual and idiosyncratic life decisions to a large host of more conventionally minded people. This has helped make me somewhat immune to the opinions of others, if I wasn't that way already. I told people, quite honestly, that I didn't wish to move far away to take a university job elsewhere, due to family ties and especially, my wife. I also confessed, quite honestly, that I wasn't sure how I would handle the time demands and pressures of a full-time academic job, since I wasn't built metabolically for long hours and little sleep. Furthermore, I told some people quite honestly that when I compared my personality and lifestyle to that of the professors I knew, I felt like a poor fit in their culture -- not worse, in fact perhaps superior in some ways -- but certainly, I wasn't the status-driven, hypercompetitive type I was encountering among most of my professors.

However, the most important influence on my lifestyle choices is probably a sense of balance -- a sense which seems lacking in the lifestyles forced upon employees by the typical employer here in the U.S. After all, a healthy personality has many interests and productive pursuits. An all-consuming interest in work, money and material possessions is not only psychologically unhealthy, but is destructive. Yet this is what essentially an economic system of financial capitalism tells us is best for us. As a result, we have overworked, overstressed (usually both husband and wife) adults who are locked into a system and lifestyle which serves both them and our world poorly. It requires massive exploitation of natural resources and labor with little foresight or oversight; the system is clearly unsustainable.

It is well documented that the more "industrialized" a society is, the more resources it requires and the more it contributes to environmental destruction and global warming. Our general justification, as consumers who depend on industrial products to maintain our lifestyle, is that since technology created all these amazing products which enhance our lives, all we need to do is invest in more technology to provide us with solutions to the problems which technology has created. In a sense, this is another example of the "more is better" syndrome. The thinking seems to be that all we need is more technology to fix the flawed technologies of the past, and therefore, we must rely on those with the money to do the investing, to develop these technologies. I don't doubt that technological solutions are possible for many of the problems modern human culture has created, but this is only part of the long-term solution. Clearly, many useful technologies such as cleaner forms of energy, are being developed, but to this point, we have really done little to abate the destruction of our world's environment or climate change. I suspect that we will not until humanity's priorities, lifestyles and more to the point, economic system is changed. As long as the profit motive prevails, people will tend to continue down the greed-greased path of exploitation and hoarding of resources regardless of the consequences. Having technological solutions available, and actually utilizing them, are two different things. If they are too expensive for the average consumer to implement, we will never make much progress through this route. It may take catastrophic events in order to convince the public and to create government policy which neutralizes the effects of financial capitalism, but if we are smart enough to create and utilize all these wonderful technologies, we should be more than smart enough to figure out how to change the way we live.

After all, living better does not always mean having more for oneself. Nature creates a balance, and so should we in our lives -- individually and collectively -- as we nurture a well-balanced environment. If there is anything there can never be too much of, it's not money, land, power, or material things. It is love. I can think of nothing better one can say of a person than that said person did it all for love -- expansive, all-encompassing love. Let us love our world and nurture it rather than abuse it.

May 8

A Capital Idea Part 118: Making Money Real

I saw a Dateline report recently from a series called Power, Money and Wall Street, which talked about the financial crisis brought on by derivatives trading. I had not really dealt with this issue in this series, given that money itself is an abstraction of sorts. Thus, I concentrated on the fundamental abstractions of creating perceived value in order to make claims on resources, an issue which goes all the back historically to the origins of money. However, money can be tied to things, labor or services of real worth. On the other hand, when "derivatives" are allowed to masquerade as something of real value, what we have is an abstraction of an abstraction, a kind of abstraction-squared situation, which makes connecting money to real value virtually impossible in the real world, and the idea of any semblance of fairness, essentially a joke. This is what the banksters did to the world of finance, in order to increase their profits.

In a fair, balanced, rational and sustainable economy -- of which the current economy is none-of-the-above -- economic processes not only have a moral, fair-minded basis, and a biomimetic property making the economy resemble a healthy ecosystem, but also, there should be a requirement that what we use to represent wealth, have a basis in reality. I have an analogy from my training as a psychology researcher. In psychology, there are many tests which have been written to measure various psychological properties. These are written essentially, according to the theory to which the author prescribes, as well as the author's intuition. Some of these tests may appear valid on the surface, but actually are poor ways of measuring what they intend to, due to some common misconceptions perhaps, among both psychologists who are test authors, and the test takers. Other tests do not appear to be measuring what they appear to, which is sometimes intentionally done by psychologists in order to prevent social desirability from affecting test responses, or in order to evoke material from the test taker's unconscious mind in the case of psychodynamically based, so-called "projective tests." (The psychodynamic perspective is the perspective in psychology which postulates that we are motivated unconsciously.) These tests according to research, never seem to have very good validity, and some of them have hardly any validity at all, especially among projective tests. However, some of these tests do have decent, if not good, validity, while preventing social desirability biases from affecting peoples' responses, at least to an extent. In fact, tests which lack "face validity" typically have poor or mediocre reliability, meaning that basically, the results of the test are unpredictable; when a test is unreliable, for example, respondents have a tendency to answer differently from one administration of the test to the next, or more to the point, answer differently on various questions which are supposed to be measuring the same thing. If a test is not reliable, it cannot be valid; reliablility puts an upper limit on potential validity.

Once a test has been demonstrated to have decent or better reliability, the hardest part of creating a good psychological test is validating it, which involves much empirical data collection that correlates the test with other measures in order to prove that the test works. The most difficult and crucial of several types of validity is called construct validity, which means getting down to the real nitty-gritty of demonstrating that the test measures what it was intended to measure. In order to demonstrate construct validity, a requirement that is absolutely essential, is that the test be demonstrated to predict results from real world variables. A psychological test could correlate with other psychological tests, but if those other tests are not valid, such correlations are meaningless. One would essentially be constructing a house of cards, a mirage giving the illusion of validity when in fact, the results of the test were fatally flawed, making the test's results misleading. I think "a house of cards" is a pretty good description of what has happened in the financial world. Such a system would never even pass for anything more than a joke in the realm of psychological testing. Money has basically been decoupled from any connection to real worth, in the places where most of the world's money resides, the financial industry.

To give an example from psychology, the Five Factor Model of Personality by Costa and McCrae has been tested extensively over the past couple of decades, and the five factors have been found to predict numerous real world outcomes. Extraverted people spend more time with other people, neurotic people have more psychological and physical problems, people who are open to experience are more progressive minded and interested in learning, agreeable people are more charitable and kind-hearted, and conscientious people have much better and more meticulous habits such as health habits, to name a few results. We know from these results, that the test is measuring something real which tends to correspond to specific real world outcomes.

When it comes to money, the financial industry is playing with its money in a fantasy world. I guess the most important message of this post is that we should not let financial institutions play with our money, because it distorts any real value to the point that it becomes unrecognizable. Rather, we need to tie money, in whatever form it may take, which could include scripts, vouchers, credits, proxies, local currencies, national or international currencies, to real value -- labor, natural or human resources. The first step in doing so would be to prohibit the use of derivatives and other forms of gambling by financial institutions. Banning derivatives should be relatively easy to do, as these activities have not even been done by financial instititions until the past couple of decades, when deregulation made the use of derivatives possible. I don't know that much about derivatives, but as far as I know, they are still being used although in a somewhat more regulated manner than before recent reforms. Perhaps someone else who reads this will know more about that. However, the stock market is essentially a gambling institution created by and for -- make no mistake about it and don't buy into the "stock market is for everyone" meme -- rich people in order to increase their wealth by distorting the value of their investments. Thus, the stock market -- that bastion of capitalism -- as difficult as this may be, should be eliminated in order to form a fairer economy in which there is more of a connection between money and real value.

Beyond these steps, minimum wages are useful, but need to be increased to reflect real costs of living. Businesses which cannot afford to pay a minimum wage to their employees, perhaps should not be in business. To go into relatively more uncharted territory, would suggest the use -- at least to me at the moment -- of price controls and government determined pricing, which along with eliminating the stock market, is another of my suggestions which I am recycling from earlier posts. (Okay, maybe I am running out of new topics or ideas here, but not new ways of explaining them.) Also mentioned previously, is that my studies of the world's health care systems has revealed at least one instance in which government determined pricing works very well, which is the price of medical procedures in Japan. If my studies of other topics can uncover that, there are likely to be other instances around the world (presumably not in the United States yet, though) which show that government pricing can work to create a fairer economy.

Coincidentally, my good friend Poor Richard has recently written a post on essentially the same topic, "Love's Labor Lost?" on May 3 (http://almanac2010.wordpress.com/). While in general agreement with this post, Poor Richard essentially makes the case that all monetary value can be connected to labor; it isn't really necessary to separately value natural or human resources monetarily, and this makes sense to me. Here are a few quotes from Poor Richard's post:

“Labour was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased.” Adam Smith

"As long as the value of money is ultimately based on (backed by) labor, I think it may be safer to use whatever currency, token, or proxy is most convenient for a particular kind of transaction." Poor Richard

"Many will object that labor is a poor value standard because the value of labor varies according to the qualities of labor (abundance, expertise, fitness for a given purpose, etc.). But to argue that the value of one person’s labor or time differs from another’s is to claim that the value of different people’s lives varies.

Oh, really?

The products or results of one person’s labor may be more valuable than the products of another persons labor, but we need not (in fact I believe we must not) conflate the value of the product or service with the value of the labor or the person– despite the tempting convenience and simplicity of so doing. Many things go into the value of a good or service besides the cost of labor. My proposal is only that the value of a unit of human labor should be universal and that this value might become the ultimate standard behind the value of any basic unit of currency. Might that make it easier to keep track of risk and value even if financial engineers converted labor into other units or bundled time into derivatives?" Poor Richard

"It may seem intuitive to simply make a distinction between the monetary value and the moral value of a person’s time, labor, life, etc.; but doing so may in fact, if my hypothesis is correct, be a slippery slope towards evil, because it introduces an element of hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.

Labor’s love lost?

Instead of monetizing labor, maybe we should be labor-tizing money." Poor Richard

April 29

A Capital Idea Part 117: An Educational Model for Progress

Education, broadly speaking, is the imparting of impartial information and ideas to people. It includes formal education, learning how to do one's job from other workers, media news insofar as it is true and unbiased, and people sharing information and ideas over the internet. As with health care, affordable education should be a right, not a privilege.

True education needs to be free of ideological, religious or profit-driven bias. That might seem a strange comment, coming from a progressive blogger, but I am confident that truely unbiased knowledge will lead to a more progressive society. I have often heard the complaint, from people of various political orientations, that education is essentially an exercise in "brainwashing," and I agree that it all too often is indeed an effort to propagandize the "students." We have heard of conservatives' efforts to influence textbooks, starting with the Texas Board of Education and conservative influence on the Texas-based publishers of textbooks. There is also the push for "equal representation" of conservatives among professors. Religious schools might be fine for teaching arithmatic or the ABCs, but they tend to be horrible at teaching anything scientific, since so much of science tends to conflict with most religions. We all know full-well that Christian schools have as their primary goal, the spreading of their religious beliefs. The more recent danger in higher education is the corporate agenda. Colleges and universities have come to rely upon corporate funding more and more, as public funding has dwindled over the past few decades in the United States. Consequently, corporations have taken the opportunity to set the curriculum to whatever extent they can, and propagandize college students to be good, loyal, low-paid corporate workers. This trend has even extended to K-12 education to an extent.

I propose here that education, of all kinds, be formally ensconced in a model for progress. First, the right to affordable education must be written into law. Conservative overlords, as they always have throughout history, want an ignorant, uneducated population, aside from those people who need to be educated to do certain jobs. Furthermore, they want whatever education we have, to be biased to favor them -- that exercise in brainwashing mentioned earlier. It seems to me that the best ways to prevent this are: A. Culturally value true education and knowledge; and B. Encode the right to affordable education into law. Second, sources of bias in education must be eliminated. Corporate funding of universities and other schools is out. Religious schooling must be carefully regulated. Academic freedom, as long as it is in the pursuit of truth and the imparting of knowledge, is in and ideologically driven textbooks are out. These changes will require some legislative and regulatory action as well, in order to safeguard the integrity of our educational process.

Similarly, regarding other forms of lifelong education, such as media news and internet sharing, some legislative actions are needed to safeguard the process to ensure that people are learning from each other, not bullying, lying or propagandizing each other for personal gain. In order to call itself news, television and radio programs must present balanced, or unbiased programming. Otherwise, such shows (such as Fox "News") should be classified as opinion shows. With regard to the internet, I have found that there is a tendency for conservatives to intimidate progressives such as myself, in an effort to truncate honest discussion. The fact that they cannot shut us up, is I suspect why some conservatives have recently reacted so strongly and irrationally to our opinions; they find our truths threatening to their world view, and their efforts at intimidating us into silence have not been effective. These efforts by conservatives may take the form of personal attacks, but more commonly, they seem to take the form of "trolling," but in a more sophisticated form; that is, a statement which looks progressive friendly is made, but a progressive reply is subsequently attacked, or a topic with a progressive sounding title is presented, but the content is a conservative diatribe. In any case, "trolling" is a violation of internet protocol, which needs to be regulated more effectively. The same is true of personal attacks. The internet needs to be a place of open, honest, civil discussion.

The topic of unbiased education in all of its various forms, as a right, is simple in principle, but as this discussion indicates, ensuring it is not simple, and involves various legislative safeguards. All of this is well-within our reach, however. It is a matter of good legislation and regulation. Many other nations seem to be doing a much better job of this already, than the United States. Perhaps just as important ultimately, is a culture of truthfullness and honesty which as ideals, can be built around the public knowledge of these safeguards to our knowledge acquisition processes. In my view, having appropriate legislative safeguards, as well as a culture of open an honest knowledge acquisition, will inevitably lead to a more progressive society. The only way a mercilously greedy person can see to prevent progress, is to stunt our innate drive for knowledge by short-circuiting the educational process and turning people into "wage-slaves," driving humanity into a sort of cultural evolutionary dead end. Humanity did not evolve as it has, by preventing our fellow humans from learning.

April 20

A Capital Idea Part 116: Is Democratic Capitalism Possible?

A new way to frame the issue of capitalism versus socialism, and democracy versus authoritarianism just occured to me last night. I think all 4 might be possible: Democratic Socialism, Democratic Capitalism, Authoritarian Socialism, and Authoritarian Capitalism, as well as combinations of these. Since I am writing about "Capital Ideas," this seems a very relevant topic.

Democratic Socialism happens when people democratically elect a government which provides safety nets, social regulation and controls at least some of the means of production and distribution of goods, while being responsible to the will of the people and having the public good in mind. There are many nations which are primarily Democratic Socialist in nature, mostly the more successful nations currently, and many others which have well ensconced elements of Democratic Socialism whether they are labelled as such or denied, including the United States.

Authoritarian Socialism occurs when an unelected, autocratic government bureaucracy rigidly controls the means of production and distribution, and dictates rules and regulations to its peons, based upon the judgment of a small ruling class, without being sensitive to the desires of the non-ruling citizens. This is what is found in North Korea and perhaps Cuba and a few other nations currently, and what used to occur in Russia and the People's Republic of China before economic reforms changed the situation. (Economic reforms are said to be taking place even in Cuba now, however.)

Authoritarian Capitalism is what now occurs in the People's Republic of China. This is what happens when an autocratic, unelected government takes advantage of financial capitalistic opportunities to create huge, government run industries (which are in essence privately run by a small group of political and financial elites who run the government), or privately run industries at the behest and under the watchful eye of the government elites.

Democratic Capitalism is what the United States is supposed to have, and which many if not most Ameircan citizens delusionally believe exists in the United States. What we are led to believe happens in the United States, is that the public elects representatives who oversee an economic system of privately owned, capitalistic ventures, with minimal regulation and maximal opportunity for the enrichment of business owners. This is essentially what Republicans and other conservatives in the United States endorse. However, by its private nature, this form of capitalism inevitably leads to an erosion of democracy. This is what we are currently witnessing here in the United States, and this public versus private, 99% versus 1% struggle is the ideological battleground upon which the politically aware in the United States are fighting. The United States' government has long recognized the need for some elements of socialism, actually, which are well-established parts of our society, such as welfare, medicare, the right to form unions, and social security, but conservatives are trying to take even these away, in order to form what in their minds would be a truly Democratic Capitalist society, although if successful, this process would essentially strip the United States of whatever remaining democracy it possesses, leaving the nation in the hands of a few wealthy elites. In essence, the United States will have become an Authoritarian Capitalist, corporatist state, democratic in name only. This danger threatens not only the United States, but with financial globalism, the world at large.

I wish to suggest here that there is another form of capitalism, however, a public as opposed to private, form of capitalism. In this case, truly Democratic Capitalism is possible. The key issue is that of joint (or public) versus private ownership. Unions are an example of something in which there is joint, democratic participation and ownership of an organization, although it may be involved in capitalist ventures. Cooperatives are another example, and employee-owned businesses (such as the supermarket Winco of which I am fond) are another. These are not socialist in the sense of being government owned or run; they are clearly capitalist, even in a traditionally financial sense. When such practices dominate, at least the non-government sector of the economy, this would qualify as a Democratically Capitalist society.

I would add that there is yet another form of Democratic Captialism which is possible, although it overlaps with socialism. This is the most important form of capitalism, in which there is democratically run, public ownership of our capital, which is an essential element of what I have been advocating in these essays. In other words, the people -- not private banks -- should own our money supply. There should be a government run bank which regulates our money supply and other banking operations. In addition, there should be public ownership of those resources which we all share, such as natural resources. To an extent, there is public ownership of natural resources, but only those found on public lands, and some of these areas are at times bargained off to private interests. Public ownership of resources needs to be extended, not eroded.

The key point is that democracy is best -- especially educated democracy -- rather than authoritarian rule, and that private ownership or having government power held in the hands of a few -- the concentration of power -- is antithetical to democracy. I believe that in the future, the direction in which humanity needs to go, and ultimately will go, is a democratic one as historical trends suggest. Economically, it will involve elements of both Democratic Socialism and Democratic Capitalism, as well as the mixing of the two, so that socialism and public or jointly-run capitalism will become so intertwined that they will create their own sort of hybrid economic system, which will be stronger, more resilient, sustainable and adaptable than either system could be alone.

April 15

A Capital Idea Part 115: My Wife and I Now Own a Hybrid Car

I guess this is incrementalism or "lesser evilism" at its best.

A few weeks ago, my wife noticed an advertisement from the dealership where we bought our 2010 Honda Fit two years ago. It was specifically asking for 2010 Honda Fits for trade-ins, and offering "up to $15,000" for the car. Even though we liked "Lenny" or "good boy," our Honda Fit, we thought about trading it in and purchasing a Honda Insight, a hybrid model which had been our second choice in 2010. After a few days, we went to the dealership to ask about the trade in and look at the Insight selection, but said we planned to come back later. Initially, my wife Eunice had wanted to return after my spring break, but as spring break approached, she decided to go back to try to make a deal, before spring break so we could drive the hybrid car during our spring break trip, which was to be sort of a delayed 10th anniversary celebration.

Thus, on Tuesday, April 3rd, we returned to the Honda dealership to talk seriously about making a deal. Eunice originally wanted to pay no more than $5,000 for the Insight, but I figured it would take way more than that. Eunice's figure was based on an advertised price of $18,000 something for an Insight, minus the $15,000 she expected to get for our Honda Fit. However, the price of Insights had gone up in the meantime, and we were unlikely to get $15,000 for our Fit. Sure enough, after looking at our Fit and noticing the barely visible residual effects of a small dent in the back of the car (which happened when I was hemmed in at the Winco parking lot and didn't notice the larger car just in back of me), the dealers only offered $7,000 for the old car. Meanwhile, Eunice preferred the higher end $25,000 Insight model on display because it's grey color was less susceptible to looking dirty, and it had those little mirrors on the sunshades in front of the seats. Yes, these are the types of things upon which my wife's choice of a specific vehicle depend, so now, we have a clean looking car where my wife can do her makeup. Before that happened, however, Eunice huffed and puffed for a couple of hours, nearly blew the dealership away, got the trade-in price up to $10,000 but still no deal, and was getting into our Fit to leave, when I figured that the dealership was ready to make a last minute trade. I went into the building to ask for my Honda Fit key to be returned to me, told them we had about had it unless they made another deal with us, and at that point, the boss, whose family owns the dealership and with whose father I went to high school, offered us $13,000 for the Fit. (My high school classmate passed away in an off-road vehicle accident a few years ago). Finally, Eunice agreed to the deal, and after both of us signing about 100 papers and Eunice writing a check for $13,800 which included $1,800 for a 7 year of 100,000 mile warranty, we were proud owners of a brand new Honda Insight hybrid car.

On the way home, however, we noticed that "she" -- we decided that this was a girly car -- was "singing," that is, making a high pitched squeaking sound coming from in front of us, that seemed somewhat like morse code, whenever he reached speeds of around 65 miles per hour on the freeway. During our test drive, we had never gone faster than abut 45 mph. Friday morning, April 5, we took the car to the dealer to try to fix the problem. What we found out was that the sound was due to an improper seal between the front windshield and the car frame, and this was the second Insight in recent weeks that had the same problem at the dealership. We were told that there was no danger from the problem, just an irritating sound, but that the window company that could fix the problem was too busy to do the job that day. Thus, we decided to go on our trip to Arizona, squeaky windshield or not. Now we have returned, after a week of sometimes squeaky driving, which we labelled as the car "singing." We do plan to fix the sound soon, though. During our trip, we averaged between 45-50 miles per gallon, as compared to the 34.5 miles per gallon which the Fit averaged. On Thursday, in fact, when we drove from Show Low, Arizona to Blythe, CA, with a side trip to Canyon Lake and Tortilla Flats, I have a carefully calculated average of over 49 miles per gallon for the trip. Thus, we are already saving money and more importantly, gasoline with our new car, which is basically the same to drive as other cars, unlike the Prius. My step-daughter Isabella was one of the earlier buyers of a Prius, about seven years ago, so I have had the opportunity to drive it from time to time.

After deciding to purchase the seven year warranty, Eunice and I quipped that seven years from now, we would probably buy an alternative energy car, such as an electricity or hydrogen-powered car, which by then will probably be readily available in some form. I have seen various critiques of incrementalism and what is called "lesser evilism" by some progressives, but I have never really bought into that ideology. It seems to me that it is driven by a combination of impatience with what these people perceive as a lack of progress, and rigid idealism. However, progress rarely happens all at once. It seems to me that it is usually incremental, and if we continue to make incremental progress -- to choose the "lesser of 2 evils," so to speak, and make it clear what we consider to be good and progressive -- the future we shape will become better and better, if not in the leaps and spurts which sometimes happen, at least slowly and incrementally. In fact, there is a well-known principle in behavioral psychology called "shaping," which is that: If you want sophisticated, complex behaviors (solutions) to be implemented, one must shape it incrementally, by a series of steps and successive approximations. Of course, the same can apply to destructive behaviors -- that they are learned incrementally if too complex to occur spontaneously. The key is to continue moving forward in a productive direction. I think that the current trend toward hybrid and alternative fuel cars is an example of that. It doesn't solve our fundamental problem of government-rule-by-corporation which exists in this country, but it might indirectly lead people to a paradigm shift in thinking which will make people's thought processes incompatible with corporatism. Incidentally, I saw a documentary last night called "Bag It," by Jeb Barrier, which discussed the insidious effects of plastics on our lives. The same points about incrementalism (recycling or avoiding the use of plastics, for instance) and fighting government-by-corporation by the democratic actions of citizens, were made in this film.

While I am discussing some encouraging trends, I will finally mention that since I don't get cable television at home, it was a pleasant surprise to me, to see how progressive MSNBC has gone, with Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow all lined up between 7 - 10 p.m. Meanwhile, Alex Wagner, who looks a lot prettier than the name sounds and of whom my wife was getting a bit jealous, was on at 9 a.m. I think Andrea Mitchell was on at 10 a.m., and she seems pretty centrist, but the rest of the lot are progressive. In between those times, we were never in the motel room, so I don't know what was on MSNBC during those hours. On the down side, there was a sort of wild west atmosphere in Arizona wiht lots of gun-loving talk by residents we met, even after the Jared Loughner incident, and even a gun-radio station in the Phoenix area. There was a sign on the nightclub next to the motel where we were staying in Show Low (which was named after a card game, and we stayed in a motel on Deuce of Clubs Avenue), informing patrons that guns were not allowed inside. Also, the only political radio show I could find in Arizona was the Micheal Savage show, who let no opportunity to praise himself pass, calling himself a "brilliant political analyst." The only talent I found him to have, was the ability to spin everything to the right, counterclockwise. I guess that is how these people keep trying to turn back time.

When we returned from our trip, my wife went through our accumulated mail, and found an advertisement from a Toyota dealership offering "up to $13,975 or more" for 2010 Honda Fits. Apparently our judgment in buying that car was very good and fortuitous, as I expect it will prove to be with our new hybrid car, the Honda Insight. Without the offer for the old car, we never would have purchased the new car.

My future objectives include convincing my wife to have solar panels installed on our house, and aside from that, hopefully for both of us to contribute more to progressive causes.

April 1

A Capital Idea Part 114: Things We Never get Paid to do

Yesterday, after loading the car with provisions for step-daughter Isabella and taking an approximately 45 minute drive to her house, I was asked to plant the flower plants we brought with us, fertilize the yard with a large box of Miracle Grow my wife and I had bought, and fill the green waste trash can with the leftover wood from the previous trip 3 weeks ago in which I singlehandedly dismantled a large cabinet. Of course, after planting and fertilizing, I needed to water the yard as well, although as it turns out, the "possible drizzle" forecast a couple of days earlier, miraculously turned into a full-fledged rainstorm by that evening, leaving me to drive home around 10 p.m. in the rain.

While I did my yardwork, Isabella and her mom were "visiting people" and talking. Of course, my work did not end with the yardwork. Isabella also asked me to install the new printer she had bought, since her old one "didn't work." When she checked the old printer yesterday afternoon, she did indeed find something wrong with it which completely prevented it from working; it was not plugged in. Since she had already bought a new printer and had unpacked it, we repacked it for return to the store. There was another matter to deal with after finishing the yardwork as well. Actually, there was additional yardwork with me moving some large bricks to cover up a "low spot" in the patio, and something fun for a change, picking a bunch of early ripening Loquat fruit, but after that, there was something inside the house. Apparently, a new roomate is scheduled to arrive there soon, but she doesn't want any of the furniture which the room was equipped with, so I had to move the bed, chair and table into the garage. Around that time, Isabella disappeared. When I asked my wife where she was, my wife said she had gone to a dance class. She tried calling Isabella but there was no answer. It was about 5:30 p.m. by this time, so we decided to go to "T.C. Emporium," which is what Eunice always calls "T. and S. Emporium," a sort of Chinese health food store. Since she was worried about Isabella, she tried calling again, and Isabella was finally done with her dance class, thus we decided to go to dinner at the Chinese seafood restaurant next door, where Isabella soon joined us. By this time, it was around 7 p.m. or so.

The story has a happy ending of sorts at least. This past week has been very stressful for me, for a number of reasons, but Isabella, after years of trying, with several jobs and periods of unemployment in between, passed her 3 month probation period at her accounting job this past Wednesday, just as I was having my 3 year teaching evaluation (or "improvment of instruction" as our school calls it). I did say this post would have something to do with education, didn't I? Anyway, congratulations Isabella! She paid for the dinner, so thank you Isabella, too. Since I have been very worried about both of my parents, we tried calling my mother multiple times during the day, with no answer. (I have not memorized the phone number of the place where my father is, so we couldn't call him.) However, we did reach her when we got to the restaurant. It appears my mother is improving from her intestinal problems, eating better and gaining some strength back, although she has lost about 20 pounds. My father was scheduled to have prostate surgery and surgery for hemorrhoids on Monday, but strangly, there was some mixup with the paper work and so the surgery was not done. It was also decided to do separate surgeries instead of doing them both at once. However, it was reported that my father is doing somewhat better than he had been.

After dinner, we made a trip to Wal-Mart in the rain to return the printer, then returned to Isabella's house for her and her mom's customary prayer session, before we finally started for home after 9:30 p.m. in the rain. I guess it's all in a day's work for me. Actually, I am still not completely recovered physically from yesterday I have noticed. I went to bed later than I had wanted to and rather fatigued from all the heavy physical labor I had done, as the "big strong man" in the family. Aside from that, I kept feeling the effects of my wife's labor camp protocol for approximately the first month after her return from Taiwan. There is a very painful impulse from my left arm anytime the lower arm touches something hard; I think it may be a deep bone bruise and it corresponds exactly to where the handle of a shovel pushes against my arm while digging. My left arm also feels a bit sore at times, but it's nothing serious for sure.

Yesterday's adventure made me think of a serious Capital Idea in a different way than I have dealth with before, and thus, the origins of this post. Something which has always bothered me, is why people are paid, sometimes enormous amounts, for certain work which may require relatively little effort or time, and yet, spend far greater effort and time doing many other things productively, for which we are not paid whatsoever. It seems to me that people's worth is not well-reflected in what they do for pay, but rather, is better accounted for by many of their other activities. For that matter, our economic system as well, often fails to punish people for counterproductive actions -- the pollution and environmental destruction they produce, the deceitful business practices, the lying and other counterproductive and hurtful things that so many of our species are in the habit of doing. My answer to all of this, especially the first part, detailed in earlier posts, is to reward people with the assurance that their basic material needs will be fulfilled to the best of society's ability and their rights upheld, as long as they are citizens in good standing who engage in socially productive activities for at least a minimum amount of time, such as 20 hours or more per week. Regarding the counterproductive behaviors, many of them are a result of our economic system, so fixing the system should improve these behaviors. Also, it is a matter of culture and socialization. Once responsible -- but individually free within certain parameters -- behavior becomes the norm, people won't be as inclined to misbehave. Also, with less serious crime or issues to worry about, people can focus more on the actualization of our human potentials and on being genuine, open and honest people.

Actually, I have another horrid example -- albeit one which benefits my family personally -- from this past week. On top of everything else that was going on, Wednesday was scheduled as a land payment day. However, the payment did not appear in my wife's checking account that day. After a few emails to some escrow agents and a couple phone calls to our appropriately named "personal banker," Bill, the payment was received the next day. We sure worked hard for that money, didn't we? Well, if we were members of the uber-rich enclave, that probably would have passed for hard work. It feels really strange, but somehow deliciously ironic yet appropriate karma-wise, that I should infiltrate the capitalist class the way I have. Actually, I worked far harder in helping Isabella yesterday. In addition to helping other people for no pay, I have spent a great many hours in labs doing research for no pay. I was paid at times for doing research, but usually not, and when I was, it was only around $13 per hour. Some other productive activities for which I am not paid include comforting and counseling upset students (usually upset about something other than school) or answering their questions on other than class time, babysitting, cooking for other people, watching over things while people are on vacation, and lots of other things I am sure. Of course, childrearing is a biggie in terms of usually unpaid work, another example of the devaluing of traditionally feminine roles in our economic system which was built by rich men. I am sure that there are lots of things you can think of having done productively, such as being an unpaid counselor to your friends, for which you were never paid or ever expected to be paid.

It seems to me that there is something very pathological about a system which only values certain activities, and ignores everything else we do, good or bad. A healthy economy should do a much better job of taking the totality of human existence into account, in my opinion. Otherwise, we wind up with distorted values and outcomes, just as we have. The truth is, everybody has something of value to offer society. Why not at least attempt to value people for what they are truly worth?

March 24

A Capital Idea Part 113: A Model for Progress

I think I may be nearing the end of my capital ideas blog post series. I say I think I may be nearing its end, because new topics keep popping up. I want to endeavor in this post and the next few most likely, to discuss how to build a lasting social model for continuous progress in the economic and political realms.

A few days ago while listening to Pacifica Radio, I heard a guest talk about the importance of protest movements. To paraphrase the guest, whose name I don't remember, he said that the only times true democratic change has occured have been during periods of widespread protest, and whenever protests are not in evidence, anti-democratic processes seize the opportunity to compromise democracy and advance financial elitism and corporate totalitarianism. He also mentioned that periods of protest last around 15 years or so, and the Occupy movement or even the Tea Party, represents the mere beginnings of the newest protest period. I agree with all of this, as played out in United States' history to this point. I would add further that the approximately 80 year cycles described by Strauss and Howe in The Fourth Turning also apply, with the fourth turning corresponding to the periods of greatest change. However, some of the most significant protest movements occured earlier in the cycle, movements such as the union and workers' rights movement around the early 1900s and the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The current movement happens to correspond to a "fourth turning" period, which has the potential to make it all the more potent.

There is one thing which has always bothered me about protests and social change, and I suspect, bothers most other people as well. The guest on Pacifica Radio touched on part of it, but there is more. The idea that we need protests to enable change bothers me, as does the idea that in the absence of populist protest, essentially the wealthy opposition wins. In a democracy, it shouldn't be this way. Thus, I began thinking about social structures which allow continuous progressive change. Worse, there is the reality that violence can result from a populist movement, and almost always does in one form or another. The saying "First they ignore us, then they mock us, then they fight us, then we win," applies here. Even if a movement is committed to being totally peaceful, its opposition will inevitably resort to force (the "fight us" part of the saying), threat of violence, and actual violence in an attempt to maintain its position of power, before submitting to the forces of history and progress. Furthermore, there are almost inevitably violent exceptions to peaceful protest even in a basically civil, peaceful movement. We cannot expect every person in a large populist movement to behave peacefully or honorably. Again, constructive change should not require violence, especially in a democracy, which is after all, designed to enable peaceful, orderly change.

I say this knowing that whether we recognize it or not, a revolution seems to be on its way, with a virtual army of young soldiers in the gender neutral war of love and economic fairness, waiting in the wings. I saw a student paper on a desk in one of my classrooms last week. It was from another class, perhaps a writing composition class, and had a typically mixed group of about 5 or 6 names on it, including Asian, Hispanic and names of either White or Black people. It was about a song called "Stop the War" by somebody who calls himself Speak. The paper praised the song, which was about stopping wars driven by corporate greed. There was no doubt which side the authors were on in the current movement, which is the same side the large and ethnically diverse majority of American youth are on. I read the paper and left it on the desk, in case the authors had forgotten it and wanted to pick it up.

I have discussed how a remodelling of our society could bring about an end to the cycles of oppression and violence followed by modest change, that we have been mired in, and give us a greater and more lasting trajectory of progess. However, there is much more. Most importantly, there is the issue of how to get to there from here. The key to success is making the appropriate cultural changes, and the key to making the appropriate cultural changes, along with protest is education in all of its forms.

I have one final note here: Change is in our cultural DNA, and I suppose, in our biological DNA as well. In fact, the world has changed tremendously over the past several centuries. I find it ironic in a way, that Euro-Americans are leading the conservative movement, when in fact, the industrial revolution began in Europe, and the American Revolution was lead by persons of European ancestry. Perhaps it is in peoples' nature -- not all people, but some people -- to become conservative, "tradition" valuing and change resistant, once they reach an exalted social position of being part of the "in-group" -- the group which wields the most power. Whatever the reason for this reactionary tendency, we are clearly not designed for social stasis. Rather, we are changlings -- agents of change who are driven to create a better world in some way. Let us all be participants in this process of nurturing a culture of love and fairness.

In my next blog post, I will discuss what I see as the role of education and information, both formal and informal, in creating a system which cannot be corrupted by anti-democratic forces. I am pretty much making this up as I go along, and by no means claim to have thought this process out thoroughly, even after all the relevant blogging I have done, but this is something which needs to be discussed.

March 17

A Capital Idea Part 112: Running out of Space

Jurupa Valley? Eastvale? Say what? As I was driving home yesterday from taking my wife Eunice shopping, I noticed a new sign by the road, which read "Eastvale City Limits." Huh? What's an Eastvale? It was never there before that as far as I knew. According to the sign, the population of "Eastvale" is already over 54 thousand people. Shortly afterward, there was another sign announcing the city limits of "Jurupa Valley," another totally new city, and its population is already over 96 thousand people. That is over 150,000 people in two brand new cities near my hometown. I knew before that there was an area called Jurupa Valley, but it was unincorporated, had maybe 10-15 thousand residents as far as I knew, and one modest size high school, when I collected some of my dissertation data there around 1990. Eastvale was totally new to me.

I am sure that these quickly growing new cities make "developers" such as people who plan housing developments, and realtors happy and rich, but it seems to me that they are a sign of out-of-control population growth, and we are running out of land and resources for such developments, at least in this region. After all, people need clean food, clean water, clean air, and a place to grow. I immediately thought of how I had written about the delusion of the endless growth model of economics -- the one in which endless natural resources magically appear, much like the fictional magic of the so-called "free market." The limits to growth are in evidence now, not some pie-in-the-sky concept promoted by overly passionate environmentalists while we stare at seemingly endless mountains, prairies, deserts and oceans.

According to some researchers, the planet's sustainable human population is only around 1 billion persons, and the extra 6 billion or so are only living on borrowed time, borrowed from mother earth by the exploitation of fossil fuels for fertilizer, transportation, and many other convenient products for human use. I suspect that a much larger sustainable human population than 1 billion persons is possible, but doing so will require weaning us from our quickly-running-out fossil fuels, and utilizing sustainable and recyclable alternatives to these resources. I see steps being taken in that direction, such as the development of solar power, hybrid and electric cars, but not as fast as they should be. Most importantly, as far as I know, little is being done about the dependence of modern agriculture on fossil fuels for fertilizer. Clearly, in order to feed the world's population through agriculture, we need places to grow the food, good climate and soil, and fertilizer, or... we could stop depending so much on large-scale agriculture of the world's lands.

One possibility for harvesting more food is greater use of the oceans. Although fisheries for top-of-the-food-chain ocean predators are already being strained by overfishing, edible ocean plants such as various forms of kelp, are not only healthy to eat, but extremely fast growing, and the amount of kelp in the worlds near-shore oceans could be nurtured to yield far more than is currently harvested. Kelp plants only need some sort of hard substrate not too far below the surface, on which to anchor, and nutrient bearing currents in order to grow. They grow several feet per day and can be harvested every day. Kelp could probably even be grown over deep water if floating bouys with attached kelp growing substrate are built. Smaller forms of seafood such as smaller fish in the middle of the food chain could be relied upon more as food sources, also. Fish such as sardines, anchovies and herring, plus a myriad of other modest size fish, are still plentiful for the most part and in fact, probably even benefitting from the over-harvesting of larger fish which prey on them. With the probable substantial rise in ocean levels in the coming decades and centuries, utilizing the ocean as a food source will become all the more important.

Growing some of our own food is of course, popular already, but may become more of a fact of life in the future. I recently saw a television show about a beautiful and intricate drip-irrigation system which more and more apartment dwellers are starting to use in order to grow food in their apartments. There are hydroponically grown plants attached to the apartment's walls in some sort of containers, while nutrient-infused water drips from one pot to the next lower one through a tube. Florescent lights are used in this system too, in order to stimulate plant growth, as I recall. Thus, as we build upward, we do not need to leave plant life or agriculture totally behind. Of course, those with nice yards such as my wife and I have, can grow some food in them as well. Also, as a sport fisherperson I would be remiss were I not to mention that in our wildlands, well-regulated fishing, hunting and other harvesting is a modern version of our hunting-gathering roots which adds valuable supplements to many people's diets (like Thursday's catch of panfish from a relatively urban yet scenic and nature-surrounded reservoir, which became yesterday's delicious and healthy main course at dinner).

In regard to farmland, recycling nutrients organically will be key to sustainable agriculture. If this sounds like what you think it sounds like, it is. People buy large bags of "steer manure" for fertilizer already, and "people manure" has long been used for agricultural purposes in most parts of the world. However, the direct application of such substances is not necessary in order for the nutrients to be recycled. We are already moving toward processing human waste into fertilizers for certain purposes. Ecologists tells us, as I have seen on nature shows, that running sewage sludge through water loving plants removes so much of the nutrient load that nearly pure water may emerge at the endpoint of the process. Bacteria can also remove waste nutrients and use them as fertilizer. These facts have been known for several decades. Using this knowledge to enhance our food-producing capacity merely requires finding ways of working the nutrients back into the system in such a way that they can help grow food, without "grossing out" the public. Of course, public perceptions and knowledge are key to this process. Once we educate the public regarding how the ecosystem works and how everything is recycled, the process becomes second nature. For example, the plants which remove the nutrients from the sludge, could be used as mulch which is used to fertilize crops or to feed livestock such as milk producing cows or egg-producing chickens. Even the use of fossil fuels is in a sense, the recycling of ancient organic matter. I suppose everything is recycled in the end, even our souls, our essence as living beings.

The amount of potential farmland can also be increased by storing and recycling water in desert environments. Here in currently rainy southern California, we already have large swaths of desert lands to the east of here which are used very productively as agricultural land, growing such crops as dates, lettuce, and carrots, among others. These lands are watered mostly by irrigation from canals using Colorado River water. However, in recent years, scientists have begun an endeavor to let some water sink into the desert sands to create an aquifer underneath the desert. There are plans, I believe, even to recycle domestic water in this way, if this process hasn't begun already. Again, filtering water deep into the ground acts to purify it, a fact which explains why spring water is so pure. Once the water is in the system, it can be judiciously stored and recycled for use as irrigation water for agriculture, subject to certain limitations caused by evaporation and so forth.

Also, as vegetarians are fond of pointing out, the production of livestock is not only inhumanely done, but is enormously wasteful of resources. That is, the same amount of land and fertilizer can be used to grow a far greater quantity of vegetable and fruit crops than the amount of meat that would yield. We need to rid ourselves of these wasteful and inhumane meat industry practices, and concentrate on growing more healthy plant crops. What meat we do grow should be grown more in concert with the environment and agriculture.

Meanwhile, let us work to stop the willy-nilly usurpation of our land for the sake of building more realtor and construction company pleasing Eastvales and Jurupa Valleys. We need a new model of community planning, one which builds environmentally sustainable communities, and a new model of economic growth -- one which is based on the limitless growth of human potential rather than the wanton exploitation of our limited natural resources until they are gone.

March 11

A Capital Idea Part 111: My Taxes are Way too Low

It's time for a personal post, this one about taxes. I did my taxes on Thursday, 3 days ago, expecting to have to pay between 10-15 thousand dollars more in federal taxes than what had been deducted from paychecks, due to our extra income from the sale of my wife's land. I downloaded the H & R Block Taxcut program, and after a long session downloading the federal updates to my dial-up computer, did our taxes in the simplest possible way -- reporting all income, including the land deal income under capital gains including cost basis, and no itemized deductions. To my great surprise, our taxes still showed a refund due even after including all the extra income on which we had as yet paid no taxes. In fact, we had been waiting more or less to pay taxes on the income before starting to use it, although we are spending a bit of it since my wife's return from Taiwan, and are considering options for upgrading to high speed internet access. I was expecting to have to access the account which the money from the land deal is being placed in, in order to pay the large tax bill in fact, which we would have gladly paid. Instead, we have -- according to our official tax software, a federal refund of six-hundred seventy dollars coming to us, smaller than what it would have been otherwise by probably over $2000, but a refund nonetheless.

The reason for the low rate at which we are being taxed is apparently the bargain basement capital gains tax rate which have been purchased by the wealthy at the expense of our government and its capability to perform services without incurring debt. It appears to me that the capital gains were taxed at a rate of about 3%, and not higher than that because they were on the low end of the scale in terms of capital gains income. I have heard that the maximum rate for capital gains taxes is 15%, but apparently, that only happens or comes close to happening, to people such as Mitt Romney who literally have millions in annual capital gains income, while ours was only about $75,000 after subtracting the cost basis. We need to raise our capital gains taxes people! My wife and I would have gladly paid much more, as I have mentioned, but more importantly, it should be an oligation of those who make such money without raising a finger, to help their government perform its functions by paying considerable taxes. Of course, this is in addition to the need to raise taxes on the upper end of the income scale in general.

In terms of our California taxes, the situation was quite different. Apparently, capital gains income is treated by California the same way as any other income, so as a consequence, it was taxed at a rate of something like 3% as well. Thus, we have to pay an additonal $2,733 in taxes to the state. I don't know if all states are the same way, but clearly, this makes far more sense than what the federal government does. I imagine somebody will tell me that the taxes were done incorrectly, and we should owe more to the federal government, or less to the state on the other hand, but the tax result is what the H & R Block Taxcut program -- which is supposed to be quite accurate given the correct input of data as I did -- determined for us. As it turns out, I have enough money in my checking account to pay the state taxes.

It feels strange to be part of the "owner class," but essentially, that is what my wife and I are now. We will continue to have land payments for the rest of this year and next, presumably at the low capital gains rates, with the largest installment at the end of next year. In our case, we plan to use the money for the common welfare as well as our own and that of our family, but this is clearly not the case with many in the owner class who feel entitled to ever-increasing shares of the public pie.

Yesterday, I did -- among other things as Eunice continues to be in labor camp mode -- daughter Isabella's taxes with some input from her (using her computer which downloads information about 100 times as quickly as mine), and found that, while her income was rather low, and a considerable amount of that was unemployment compensation, she ended up owing more than $1000 in federal taxes, but will receive a smaller state tax refund. I was using the same tax program I had bought to do my own taxes, by the way. The contrast could hardly be starker between our two situations in terms of taxes. California does not charge taxes on unemployment compensation, but the federal government does. (The program said that explicitly in fact.) My conclusion? Our national tax program has thoroughly corrupted and bought off by big money, but at least California more or less has its act together in terms of taxes, although this state is having its own budget problems like nearly all forms of government in the United States these days.

P. S. While I was composing this post, my neighbor Doreen came over here and mentioned that her mother, our good friend Mabel, passed away from her pancreatic cancer, so we are feeling sad now, although she was 94 years old. I am very worried about my anxiety-ridden, increasingly feeble father 84 year old father as well. I have been receiving emails from my brothers regarding his doctors and medications. It turns out that he has been placed on not 1, but 4 different types of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs, even though he has already overdosed on anti-anxiety drugs twice in the past couple of years. I am totally disgusted with our for-profit medical system. As my wife Eunice says, the biggest part of my father's problem seems to be that he is on too many meds and not enough healthy lifestyle and diet, but I guess that is too be expected of a retired M.D. He continues to be placed in a convalescent center connected to the community hospital in Riverside. My mother and Maribel, my father's health care worker, visit him a great deal, but when I tried to ask my father where he was located, he misunderstood and gave me his home address where my mother is. I am wrestling with what to do to help my father, and feeling badly that we haven't visited him in the weeks since he was placed in the convalescent center, but we continue to hope he can come home, which I think my father very much wants to do so we can visit him at home. Meanwhile, my opthalmologist's secretary called my last Thursday to try to make an appointment for a preventive -- and I thought unnecessary, expensive and risky -- laser surgery to clear the drainage in my eyes as a glaucoma treatment. I turned her down, and to my surprise, she seemed okay with that and made an appointment for the end of July, although I am thinking of changing to a different opthalmologist.

March 6

A Capital Idea Part 110: Who Gets the Goodies?

The issue of fairness is at the root of attempts to reform the world economy. When I was an undergraduate, there was a sociology class at my college, Pitzer College, called Who Gets the Goodies? I always liked the name of that course, but I was not majoring in Sociology, and my studies took me in other directions at the time, so I never took that course, sadly. However, I think my subsequent studies and experiences have more than made up for that small hole in my early college education.

Although the scope of this topic is enormously complex, my idea for this specific post was a simple one: Why not compare cost of living with average income, with the objective of showing that there is enough wealth, at least in the United States, that everybody could have a good standard of living, if income were distributed more equally than the great discrepancies which currently exist?

However, I found that there really are no summary measures of cost of living, as I had hoped to find, or if there are, I could not find it. It seems that cost of living varies considerably by city, and is affected by constantly changing prices and items which gain or lose popularity, as well as individual lifestyles and needs. Then I had another idea. I have often heard of a "poverty line" in terms of U.S. dollars, so I checked that. What I found was that per capita U.S. income is far higher than the poverty line, so much so, that clearly, we all could have a very good standard of living, although in reality that is far from being the case. According to Wikipedia, the poverty line for a single person is $10,890. Poverty lines for families of various sizes are given as well, which doesn't go up linearly. For instance, for a family of pretty average size, 4 persons, the poverty line is $22,350. Even for a family of 8 persons, the poverty line is $37,630, and the document says to add $3,820 for each additional person (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_in_the_United_States). On the other hand, the average per capita income in the United States as of 2011 is $48,147 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita). This is the average income per person, not per family, and thus is most directly comparable to the poverty line for a single person, $10,890. Thus, the average income per person in the United States is between 4 and 5 times what is needed to stay out of poverty! Remember, this per capita income includes people of enormous wealth, who considerably skew this statistic to make average income much higher than what most people actually experience (especially since kids, disabled people, elderly, et cetera are included in the total population by which total income is divided to obtain the per capita income statistic.

No one is arguing that everybody should be given an identical amount of money with which to work, but for heaven's sake, we certainly should be working to create some semblance of economic fairness -- the fairer, the better! (My wife is fond of saying, "nobody too rich, nobody too poor"). There is clearly enough wealth in the United States for everybody. This may not be true in every nation, but I suspect that it could be if economic outcomes worldwide were fairer, and if we as a species were able to actualize our potential to create the technology and lifestyles needed to make the world a prosperous, stable, peaceful and progressive place. Of course, I am getting a bit into utopian dreamland here, but I do believe this is possible.

The reality, here in the United States even, is that we have a rather high and increasing poverty rate. Currently, about 15% of the United States' population is living in poverty. This is up from an official rate of 12.65% in 2008, before the economic crash. I don't expect to live in a utopia, but I certainly expect better than this of my nation, which is supposedly a world leader.

However, as I have mentioned previously, it is not only the fact that such great wealth disparities exist in the United States which bothers me, or that these disparities have been growing, but it is the fundamental unfairness of financial capitalism -- a system which has been rigged by certain professions, essentially -- that really causes me deep anguish. Although I do not have time now to recap all of the inequities of our economic system, or their possible solutions, it is because of the fundamental unfairness of the economic system in which we find ourselves -- a system which even a large portion of conservatives, as well as ultra-wealthy individuals, admit is unfair and outcomes usually more dependent upon luck or inheritance than anything else -- that we need to ask ourselves the question: Who gets the goodies? Then we need to actively seek and implement solutions to make the world economy much fairer. Our destinies as an intelligent lifeform require no less of us. On the other hand, if we fail to do so, I believe we will be facing an eventual, likely worldwide collapse of the social structure of humanity.

February 27

A Capital Idea Part 109: Better Gender Equality = Better Society

Here after a long pause, is another one of my Wikipedia studies, maybe the final one. Once again, I got the idea from Zenzoe, who had a link to a comparison of different nations' level of gender equality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Gender_Gap_Report#North_America). I knew when I saw the nations at the top and bottom of the list, that the ones at the top were doing better in general, from past studies and my knowledge of their cultures. Nonetheless, it is instructive to check actual differences on measures of important outcomes.

I compared the top 10 nations in terms of gender equality, with the bottom 10 nations, in terms of per capita Gross Domestic Product (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita), the Satsifaction With Life index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfaction_with_Life_Index), Income Equality as measured by the GINI index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality), and Tax Rates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tax_revenue_as_percentage_of_GDP), which records the average total tax rates paid in each nation as a percentage of GDP. In every case, the nations with the highest gender equality did better than the ones with the lowest gender equality. I also wanted to compare the nations on the Quality of Life Index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-of-life_index), but declined when I saw that gender equality is one of the 9 criteria used in the index, which would make this an invalid comparison. Nonetheless, such a comparison would also have favored the nations with greater gender equality.

The 10 nations with the greatest gender equality rankings as of 2011, are as follows:

1. Iceland, .8530;

2. Norway, .8404;

3. Finland, .8363;

4. Sweden, .8044;

5. Ireland, .7830;

6. New Zealand, .7810;

7. Denmark, .7778;

8. Phillipines, .7685;

9. Lesotho, .7666;

10. Switzerland, .7627.

A score of 1 would represent perfect gender equality. Notice that European nations dominate the top 10, with the exception of New Zealand, the Phillipines, and Lesotho. However, the more "masculine" nations are not in the top 10, while those which do have more gender equality, are typically among the more culturally "feminine" nations. English-speaking nations tend to be culturally masculine, and only one of these is in the top 10 -- New Zealand. More masculine european nations such as Germany are not in the top 10, either. The United States comes in 17th place. I have to wonder about the United States' relatively high ranking, actually, given that the United States has never had a woman as President, out of 44 people, although this measure is not about female representation in politics. It seems to me that a lot more than 17 nations have had female leaders. Overall, the world isn't doing very well in terms of gender equality, but the good news is that 85% of nations have increased their gender equality in recent years according to researchers (http://www.weforum.org/issues/global-gender-gap). Mainland China, the world's most populous nation which has made great strides toward gender equality over the past century, comes in at 61st out of 135 nations surveyed, which is somewhat above average. Taiwan was one of the nations which was not included on the list, but it would definitely come ahead of the People's Republic of China in terms of gender equality.

The ten nations with the least gender equality are as follows:

1. Yemen, .4873;

2. Chad, .5334;

3. Pakistan, .5583;

4. Mali, .5752;

5. Saudi Arabia, .5753;

6. Coto d'Ivorie, .5773;

7. Morocco, .5804;

8. Benin, .5832;

9. Oman, .5873;

10. Nepal, .5888.

These nations represent relative bastions of ignorance and misogyny, and despite oil riches in some such as Saudi Arabia, they tend to do rather poorly on various measures of well-being.

Here are my specific results:

In terms of per capita Gross Domestic Product, I compared the rankings of the 10 most gender equal nations with the 10 nations most biased against women. I found that the average rank of the top 10 on per capita GDP is 41.0, while the average for the 10 worst, is 124.4. That is clearly a huge difference.

In terms of Satisfaction With Life, the 10 most gender equal nations' average rank is 31.1, while that of the 10 least gender equal nations is 111.3. These results are pretty similar to those for GDP, interestingly, although if anything, the more gender equal nations show even better Satisfaction With Life rankings, than GDP rankings, as expected. Keep in mind that Satisfaction With Life is a questionnaire measure which does not in any way directly measure income, although having adequate income has been found to be important to promoting Satisfaction With Life, while further riches once adequate (i.e., "middle class") income is achieved, seem to have little or no further effect on increasing life satisfaction.

The third comparison, using the GINI index to compare nations in terms of income equality, have the least impressive findings of the measures used, but still show the expected trend in which greater gender equality is associated with greater income equality. The average GINI index scores for the 10 most gender equal nations is 34.23, while that for the 10 least gender equal nations is 39.25, with lower scores representing greater income equality. The 10 most gender equal nations would have had a considerably lower average GINI index, however, except for the inclusion of Lesotho. I don't know much about Lesotho, but it is a small nation in Africa, and has an extremely high income inequality, with a GINI score of 63.2, much higher than any other nation among the 20 I am comparing. It seems to have a system which promotes gender equality (empowerment of women) but income inequality (inherited wealth or unfettered capitalism).

The final comparison showed very impressive differences, with far higher taxation rates among the most gender equal nations than the least gender equal nations. The average total tax rate for the top 10 nations is 36.69% (much higher than it currently is in the U.S., by the way), while that for the bottom 10 nations, is only 10.80%. I think that taxes in general tend to be used by governments in ways which favor gender equality -- things such as "social safety nets," education, and infrastructure which are utilized equally if not more, by women and children, than men.

Since these findings are based on real world measures, and thus "correlational" in nature, they don't prove that gender equality makes nations have a better economy, better life satisfaction, income equality or higher tax rates. This is a very "chicken-eggy" area of discussion, where muliple causation and bidirectional influences likely prevail. What is clear, is that nations which "have their acts together," relatively speaking, tend to have better gender equality as well as better outcomes on other measures. Perhaps having a good economy encourages, at least in cultures with wiser leadership, more taxation of excess income, which is used to create more income equality and better the cultural status of women -- all of which leads to greater life satisfaction. Actually, these speculations could make the basis of a nice causal modeling study, but I don't have that capability on my computer. However, an equally plausible alternative model would be that more "feminine" cultures promote wiser policy decisions which include higher taxation rates -- especially on the wealthy -- as well as egalitarian attitudes which lead to greater long-term economic well-being, greater income equality and life satisfaction.

In either case, it is clear that egalitarian attitudes toward gender benefit society, and these include ideals of economic fairness and a sense of economic togetherness which require a relatively high taxation rate in order to support a better society.

With regard to life satisfaction, it is worth pointing out that this questionnaire is given to approximately equal numbers of men and women. It is to be expected that women in more gender equal cultures are more satisfied with life, but it appears that even men benefit from gender equality in terms of life satisfaction, given the huge differences in Satisfaction With Life seen in this study. With regard to regional differences in gender equality, Wikipedia also has a list of the 5 most and 5 least gender equal nations by continent. It appears to me that those with greater gender equality among each continent's nations would generally do better on the other measures I used, but with the number of nations and the variety of other factors involved, this would make a much larger, messier and more complicated analysis.

February 20

A Capital Idea Part 108: A Biomimetic Approach to Economics

Thanks to my friend Zenzoe, I found out that there is a name for the mimicking of a good ecology, which I have been promoting as an approach to economics. It is called biomimetics, or biomimicry. At first, I thought that term was reserved for cases of parallel evolution in which one species mimics another, such as fish which look amazingly if somewhat awkwardly for swimming purposes, like pieces of kelp or coral as a way of hiding from predators, or creatures which take on the appearance of dangerous or inedible critters, even though they are harmless. For example, Gopher Snakes which are found locally, look just like Rattlesnakes, without the rattles. Our new neighbors from Pakistan were scared last summer when they found a Gopher Snake near the border between their front yard and ours, until I identified it as a Gopher Snake and explained that they are harmless mimics of Rattlesnakes.

By the way, as long as I am being off-topic here, my wife and I just found out that we were not approved for a Best Buy card, although we have more money now than ever. Why? The only reason I can think of is that we spend too little money and pay off our bills immediately. They want people who are in debt, who can be made to pay homage to the Money Gods of our Banks -- "whoops," I mean pay interest. This is just another example of the absurdity of our ecologically unhealthy economic system. The rich are rewarded, while the poor and the responsible are punished.

Biomimetics has to do largely with science, as described in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomimicry). The first well-known example is the mimicry of bird anatomy and propulsion in creating airplanes, but nowadays, the number of science projects which explicitly study and attempt to imitate nature are increasing exponentially. For example, solar energy production systems which use processes similar to algae are currently being developed. I also propose using a scientific approach in employing biomimetics, but applied to economic systems as a whole rather than specific scientific projects which mimic one particular aspect of some lifeform. As a number of people have occasionally -- but far too infrequently pointed out -- economics actually is a science. We should be using our empirical lessons -- past and present, laboratory and real world -- from economics to help inform our economic policy. Tragically, economics in politics is treated more like a religion which is not subject to science or reason. That is, politicians seem committed to an economic approach regardless of what reality tells them. This is especially true of conservatives, who are driven by a hidden agenda to create and join an economic oligarchy (the "one percenters") -- an agenda which is being exposed more and more over time.

Furthremore -- and more to the point -- we should be using lessons from environmental science and ecological science, to build a more sustainable, productive economy, and most importantly, an economy which promotes the general wellbeing of the people and facilitates their actualization as people -- in other words, an economic system which both is a product of cultural evolution and which promotes further cultural and economic evolution. I have described characterisitics of this system in previous posts, but I think this would be a good place to try to put it all together in terms of a summary of a healthy economic system, from an ecological perspective:

1. A healthy economy should be highly diverse and creative, with new forms constantly evolving, including new technologies, new ways of running a workplace, and new ideas of various kinds;

2. A healthy economy should do its best to put everything to use and not be wasteful;

3. A healthy economy must be balanced between different entities -- between government and non-government, between various businesses, between business, worker and consumer rights, et cetera;

4. A healthy economy should be efficient from a systems perspective. Businesses attempt to be efficient from a short-sighted, individual business perspective, which usually winds up being "penny wise, pound foolish," or worse, so short-sighted that businesses sabotage themselves with their narrow-minded, short-sighted policies;

5. A healthy economy should have enough alternatives ("back up" or redundancies) to create a stable system which can withstand failures and injuries to the system;

6. A healthy economy would not allow monopolies to develop. Rather, it would encourage a proliferation of smaller endeavors, individually, or jointly owned, public or private;

7. A healthy economy must promote a healthy ecology, literally, since our well-being and entire economic system by nature depends on the health of our ecology. This means creating a "green economy" as quickly and as completely as possible;

8. A healthy economy should be resource-based, and make proper use of and properly and fairly reward the use of all kinds of capital, both natural and human, discovered or created by humans;

9. A healthy economy must be both morally and practically grounded in principles of fairness. I have written about the necessary moral foundation of a truly good economy before, but here, I would compare the moral foundation loosely to natural regulation of an ecosystem, which doesn't allow the widespread abuse of the system. When individuals or species get too greedy in nature, nature brings them down to size;

10. A healthy economy must be well-regulated. The regulator of course is the government, which is the larger body which ties all of us together, analogous to "mother nature" and the laws of nature;

11. A healthy economy must be democratic; we collectively are the government, in a democracy. We are the regulators, through our democratic participation. The economy belongs to us all, it is not something that can be owned, anymore than the ecosystem (our air, for instance) can be owned;

12. A healthy economy must be scientifically oriented. We must make use of economics research and historical trends which inform us about what works or doesn't work economically, and put into practice what works the best.

Together, following these principles creates a biomimetic approach to economics, which will naturally lead to a healthy economy if followed -- something far better than the imbalanced, sick economy that we now witness. The powers of the universe have been at it for billions of years, creating and evolving this marvelous ecology so full of diverse lifeforms that we now know on our humble home planet. I say it is time we learn from the wisdom of the universe which created this system and allows it to evolve, by applying its wisdom to our human economy.

February 8

A Capital Idea Part 107: Hurrah for Redundancy and Inefficiency (Sort of)

Here's a really exciting topic, economic diversity, redundancy, and inefficiency. It must be right up there with bored meetings -- oops, I mean board meetings -- in terms of excitement. Actually, this is a very interesting topic on an intellectual level, which is usually where I am at, although, speaking of redundancy, I know I have touched on this topic before, but hey, that was so long ago, I can scarcely remember what I wrote. Hopefully, this post will add something new to what I had done before.

Here again, I assert that ultimately, a good economy must mirror the workings of a good ecosystem. Good ecosystems include a plethora of diverse lifeforms which interact synergistically in such a way that a healthy, stable ecosystem results. Thus, a good ecosystem is diverse, but more than this, it contains redundancies, and even inefficiencies. I am not speaking as an ecologist here, but I have studied enough biology that I can make some fairly educated statements about how ecosystems work. Perhaps an ecologist could add even more or correct any misconceptions I might have about ecosystems.

Redundancies in an ecosystem include:

1. More individuals than are necessary to maintain a breeding population;

2. A variety of species which occupy the same or similar ecological niches, and ;

3. The repetition of similar environments in different parts of the world, most likely occupied by a different set of species in different areas.

Translated into economic terms, diversity means having a wide variety of goods and services available, both governmental and non-governmental. I say non-governmental rather than privately owned, because I feel we must avoid the empire-building, monopolistic tendencies of privately owned large businesses, but such ventures as economic cooperatives are a healthy alternative, along with limited size, smaller businesses.

Having a lot of individuals translates into having lots of small businesses or cooperatives, while having a variety of species occupying similar niches, translates into having a lot of small businesses or cooperatives which perform similar functions, even in the same area, giving customers more options.

The repetition of similar environments, translates into having similar economies occuring around the world. Why is this important? Well, when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts and wipes out 1/3 of the United States, for example, there will be well-prepared people to rebuild once the dust and toxic smoke settle, and the mini-ice age the eruption causes, subsides. Sorry to be so morose, but basically, this is Gaia's disaster insurance, and large scale disasters have occured periodically throughout this planet's history, most famously, the postulated collusion with an asteroid in what is now the ocean to the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, that is thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 63 million years ago, and I infer, was so powerful that it appears to have caused a rift in Pangeia which resulted in the separate and drifting continents we now know. This same event is thought to be responsible for allowing our evolution, but if mammals had not already evolved, in more primitive form than those we know today, the niches vacated by the demise of the dinosaurs would not have so easily been re-occupied. (Notice how I worked in the word "occupy" here.)

Now I go to the strangest, most counterintuitive aspect of the ecological analogy to the economy -- inefficiency. In terms of the ecology, inefficiency happens in a variety of ways which actually help make an ecological system work:

1. As Darwin noted, every species overproduces young, which means that mortality of the young -- a form of "inefficiency" -- is built into the system. We humans, of course, are currently dealing with the fact that we have drastically reduced childhood mortality rates, resulting in a huge, planet engulfing population boom. It nice that we humans are thriving, but not so much when it threatens the health of our planet's ecosystem, and ultimately, our own quality of life and threatens to cause drastic future die-offs of humans around the world;

2. All lifeforms have regular mutations, few of which are ever incorporated into future species DNA. However, those few mutations which are advantageous and are incorporated into the DNA of future generations or species, are of extreme importance, evolutionarily. This abundance of assorted mutations, also represents a sort of inefficiency, but one which allows evolution to procede;

3. Lifeforms are relatively inefficient at collecting or utilizing energy. Only a small fraction of the sun's energy which reaches the earth, for instance, is captured by plants. Much of that plant energy, when ingested by animals, is not fully utilized, either, while other plant energy is ultimately deposited as fossil fuels. This form of inefficiency creates a reserve of energy which could be utilized at a later time. That time is now in terms of fossil fuels, but we had better wean ourselves from these fuels quickly, before they run out. More importantly, energies such as the sun's rays warming the ground and oceans of the world, create the environment which life needs in order to thrive.

Translated into economic terms, the overproduction of young translates into, I suppose for example, the plethora of restaurants that go out of business -- in other words, all those small little baby businesses which compete with each other for economic "survival," either with or without nurturing "parents."

Mutations, in economic terms, translates into new ideas, including technological and scientific advances of various kinds, as well as new knowledge in the social sciences and new economic philosophies -- that is, the stuff of which economic progress and reforms are made.

The inefficiency at collecting and utilizing energy, might best be translated into the value of labor and having a good labor environment. I have heard a couple of people propose that perhaps too much mechanization of business is a bad thing. For one thing, machines do not engage in self-correction, as humans can. If they malfunction, they continue to malfunction or become even worse, until humans fix the problem. A more fundamental problem with the mechanization of business, from the standpoint of capital ideas, is that it redirects the flow of capital to the owner of the machine -- that is, the business owner -- rather than to employees, and here we are wondering why the rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer, and the unemployment rate is chronically high. Mechanization has a lot to do with that, although it certainly isn't the only reason. Of course, as people ever since the dawn of the industrial era have recognized, there is no substitution for the human element in our lives, even in economic interactions. Using more labor intensive means of production or service is a way of keeping people employed at least reasonably productively, and building an economic base from the bottom up, which is the way that really works, rather than from the top down (which is sort of like having the entire ecosystem depend upon its predators and parasites, which would quickly cause the collapse of the ecosystem).

So there you have it: Hurrah for redundancy, inefficiency, and of course, the ever popular diversity (just so long as it doesn't refer to violence as part of a "diversity of tactics" by OWS protesters)! Sooner or later, a working economy with long term utility to humanity, must incorporate these principles as it learns to mimic what is successful in making a healthy ecology.

February 4

A Capital Idea Part 106: Government Should Regulate Business, Not the Other Way Around

That's what I finally came up with, after quite a bit of meme-searching -- government should regulate business, not the other way around. It was going to be "The Separation of Cash and State," but then I realized that our government wouldn't have any money to work with, although certainly the prevailing business model is built upon the principle of "the separation of your cash from your wallet." Next, I thought it should be something like "The Confinement of Business," which isn't too bad, but I couldn't figure out how to explain: Confinement to What? Confinement to itself? Well, obviously, business must interact with customers in order for there to be any business, and government in order to have rules. After that, I had a bit of a meltdown and thought maybe I should go with something like "Business Money is Like a Nuclear Reactor: It needs to be Contained." Actually I like that one, but it gets a bit wordy, and again, what does "contained" mean in this context. Does that imply that government should not be allowed to tax business? I am getting into Salamander territory here. Oops, I mean Next territory. That's pretty scary.

Thus, I continued my meme search from time to time, and finally came up with "government should regulate business, not the other way around" -- no unfortunate implications there, and it captures the essence of what I intended -- that business has gotten its greedy little hands where it doesn't belong all over our government, when there should be a one-way relationship from government to business in the form of government rules and regulations for business. Notice how I keep repeating my meme, like a good advertiser. It's not that I believe in advertising so much -- it needs to be heavily regulated too and even banned in many circumstances, in another opinion of mine that has been expressed before -- but truthful memes which are intended for the public good and are not selling anything, are an altogether different matter.

Yes, memes are essentially what this post is about. To go back to the beginning, I was thinking about the oft-repeated meme "separation of church and state," and thinking we need a meme that does the same thing regarding business and its money -- thus, the sequence of rejected memes I came up with. I was going to write about this meme in the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement and Capital Ideas, without being too redundant, but I realized that by this time, having gotten to Part 106 of Capital Ideas, anything I could say about the matter would probably be somewhat, if not mind-bogglingly, redundant. Thus, I decided to talk about the importance of memes.

The use of information, "facts," reason, and the scientific method to generate informed decisions and better ideas about how to build the best possible economy and political system, is all well and good, but as I used to do a couple of years ago in some posts, I realized that there is a great need to come up with sticky memes -- you know, phrases or short sentences which act like strong mind-glue. Once you hear it, you cannot forget it. This is most crucial for the relatively uninformed to get some ideas to wrap (oops, I just typed "warp" but I fixed that) their minds around and understand something fundamental about our economy and political system. However, I think having good memes is crucial for more informed people too. For one thing, when such people find that their high-minded explanations are flying over the heads of the explainees, it really helps to have a good meme or two handy. (Catchy phrases and sentences are an important part of teaching, as most experienced teachers can tell you -- I say most, because as I am sure we have all experienced, there are some teachers who never seem to get that fundamental aspect of teaching.) For another, when we thinkers have brain cramps, as so often happens, we can probably at least remember some catchy phrase which can act as a retrieval cue, unless we have gone so far down that whirlpool of our minds that we can't find our way out. (I don't know quite what that means, but it sounds good.) Political strategists are good at coming up with catchy memes, and lord knows conservatives have more than their share of political strategists, who owe their jobs to business money. We on the progressive side, need memes which are not only just as catchy, but in contrast to the conservative ones, are actually true and thus, stand up to scrutiny.

Yes, there it is: "Government should regulate business, not the other way around." It may not be the catchiest meme in the world, but it is the best I can do at this time and it is true. Business people -- especially the wealthiest among them -- have increasingly used their money to influence and yes, regulate their own government to suit their own purposes. Business has been used to regulate who runs for political office, who gets funded in elections (and thus, who usually gets elected), what legislation is written or not written, and which legislation is passed or not passed. There isn't much else new to say about the topic that hasn't already been said, I suspect, among progressives, including the "F" word -- you know, Fascism. Let us progressives use our memes whenever applicable and keep those creative meme-making neurons firing.

By the way, my father just called and told me (again) of my mother's memory lapses and asked me to be a trustee "in case something happens to him." It's pretty sobering stuff, but at least I got some levity into this post. Meanwhile, my wife finally just woke up from her jet-lagged slumber -- it's about 10:15 a.m. here -- and she isn't yelling at me, so "it's time to finish this post."

January 30

A Capital Idea Part 105: What is "Economic Growth?"

"Economic growth" is one of those terms I have heard in news reports over and over again since I was young, that was never explained, much like other economic terms such as "unemployment rate" (which only counts people who are seeking work it turns out) or "jobs," (as though the type of job and what it accomplishes doesn't matter). I just checked definitions of "economic growth" on the internet, and as I expected, this term represents multiple and often misleading definitions. The basic reason I am doing this, aside from self-education, is because economic growth ultimately relates to capital, standards of living, and whatever potential limits or lack thereof to growth and human potential exist. This is also an extension of my previous post, "The Sky is the Limit."

The most succinct definition of economic growth which takes describes its various permutations, is as follows from a website called investopedia (http://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economicgrowth.asp#axzz1kxr3g8EJ):

"Definition of 'Economic Growth'
An increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services, compared from one period of time to another. Economic growth can be measured in nominal terms, which include inflation, or in real terms, which are adjusted for inflation. For comparing one country's economic growth to another, GDP or GNP per capita should be used as these take into account population differences between countries.

Read more: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economicgrowth.asp#ixzz1kxsvoVLl"

Thus, economic growth could be defined as the growth in the total output of an economy without reference to inflation or deflation, or total population. This is the definition I suspect that nations typically use and is reported in the news, which tends to inflate (speaking of inflation) economic growth figures, since population usually increases and prices usually increase due to inflation. However, better measures of true economic growth can be calculated, which take into account inflation or deflation, as well as per capita measures which take the total population into account. The only true measure of economic growth is both per capita and inflation/deflation adjusted.

The next point from investopedia indicates that true economic growth (per capita, inflation adjusted), generally results from technological advances. In other words, human capital, in particular, intellectual capital, is the main driver of economic growth. Intellectual (also called cognitive) capital in turn, largely depends upon a nation's educational system. In fact, since natural resources are limited, and have basically been largely utilized already by the world's huge human population, any real economic growth in the future must essentially depend upon increases in human capacities to work productively, which means increasing intellectual, creative, nurturant, or any type of capital which increases the capacity of humans to live productively and contribute to the well-being and actualization of humanity.

Here is the quote: "Investopedia explains 'Economic Growth'
Economic growth is usually associated with technological changes. An example is the large growth in the U.S. economy during the introduction of the Internet and the technology that it brought to U.S. industry as a whole. The growth of an economy is thought of not only as an increase in productive capacity but also as an improvement in the quality of life to the people of that economy.

Read more: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economicgrowth.asp#ixzz1kxw5RGAm"

Wikipedia has a long and very informative article about economic growth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_growth). Essentially, this article makes many of the points that I summarized above regarding true economic growth. (There must be actual progressives writing for Wikipedia despite any efforts to "conservatize" this intellectual resource.) First, the article points out the necessity of defining ecnomic growth as per capita and inflation/deflation adjusted. The article also discusses various theories of economic growth, the history of the concept as well as historical sources of economic growth. Rather than going into these, I will present points relevant to needed economic reforms and reformulation of the concept of capital.

First, in discussing the evidence relating to theories of economic reform, a point is made which is similar to my empirically based post in which I found that higher tax rates result in better economies. Here is the quote: "Perotti (1996) examines of the channels through which inequality may affect economic growth. He shows that in accordance with the credit market imperfection approach, inequality is associated with lower level of human capital formation and higher level of fertility, while lower level of human capital is associated with lower growth and lower levels of economic growth. In contrast, his examination of the political economy channel refutes the political economy mechanism. He demonstrates that inequality is associated with lower levels of taxation, while lower levels of taxation, contrary to the theories, are associated with lower level of economic growth." Got that? In other words, lower taxation rates result in less "human capital" -- that is, less education resulting in less intellectual, nurturant, or creative capital, etc. -- which results in higher birth rates, and less economic growth, CONTRARY TO THEORIES! Most economic theories, other than perhaps some newer, more progressive ones, are built by rich capitalists and serve their interests by coming up with rationalizations which are used to predict that lower tax rates (as captialist, "free-market" loving Republicans so love) should help the economy long term. This analysis apparently did not look at economic regulation levels, but my guess is that similarly, lower economic regulation levels (again, as capitalist, "free-market" loving Republicans so love) result in worse economies long term.

The Wikipedia article also has some additional information about the growth of human capital. According to Wikipedia: "In order to measure human capital more accurately, Eric Hanushek and Dennis Kimko introduced measures of mathematics and science skills from international assessments into growth analysis. They found that quality of human capital was very significantly related to economic growth. This approach has been extended by a variety of authors, and the evidence indicates that economic growth is very closely related to the cognitive skills of the population." Thus, specific empirical evidence demonstrates that the more people learn, the better economic growth becomes. The article goes on the state that economic growth correlates with happiness at the lower per capita GDP levels, but once per capita GDP levels rise above $15,000 per year, the relationship seems to evaporate.

Finally, we go to the downsides of "economic growth." Among these are consumerism, resource depletion, environmental impact, wealth inequality, and global warming. The problems involving environmental destruction -- resource depletion, environmental impact, and global warming -- are such serious challenges and potential threats to the future of humanity and future economies, that it is difficult to overstate them. Regarding global warming, the article states that there have historically been close correlations between carbon dioxide emissions and economic growth, but that this is clearly a trend which cannot continue. In fact "The Stern Review notes that the prediction that "under business as usual, global emissions will be sufficient to propel greenhouse gas concentrations to over 550ppm CO2e by 2050 and over 650–700ppm by the end of this century is robust to a wide range of changes in model assumptions". The Stern Review was published in 2006, and also suggests that an investment of 1% of GDP globally be invested in combating the worst effects of climate change, although the effectiveness of these efforts depends upon how well technological interventions yet to be invented or utilized, work.

The article also has an interesting graph regarding the world's predicted capacity to produce petroleum over the centuries, which shows peak production about now, with production levels dropping drastically to about 1/7 of its current level, by 2100 (only 88 years from now), and to near zero by 2200. (Sorry, I don't think I can reproduce this graph here, or I would.) Of course, various other resources, both living and nonliving, are being similarly depleted, although economies depend on none of these others as they do on petroleum. Obviously, we need to develop a "green economy," and the sooner, the better! Regarding environmental impact, I have one final quote from the Wikipedia article: "Canadian scientist, David Suzuki stated in the 1990s that ecologies can only sustain typically about 1.5–3% new growth per year, and thus any requirement for greater returns from agriculture or forestry will necessarily cannibalize the natural capital of soil or forest. Some think this argument can be applied even to more developed economies." In other words, according to at least some environmental scientists, there is a true limit to both the growth of ecologies, and that of economies, which is consistent with what I have been advocating all along in the sense that we should treat economies as ecologies. Otherwise, we will act as parasites of the ecology -- which arguably we already are -- and will essentially compromise its health to such an extent that our economic activities will not only threaten our host, but also, ourselves. Once the host dies, so do the parasites.

True economic growth in the future is possible, but only if we advance it equitably -- in ways which benefit everyone and prevent oversized wealth disparities -- and work in concert with this planet's ecology to sustain a healthy ecosystem. Furthermore, any future economic growth will depend on the development and actualization of human potential, rather than increased exploitation of natural resources, since these have already been overexploited. In other words, the way forward -- not only socially, but economically -- is the progressive model. Any other approach will result in stagnation, or worse, degradation of the human condition.

January 22

A Capital Idea Part 104: The Sky is the Limit

When it comes to capital, I have noticed that there is a dichotomy which money fails to take into account. Specifically, natural resources are limited for us, to what we have on earth. So is the amount of space available to us humans on this planet, our ecosystem, and the health of the planet upon which we all depend. In spite of this, money is treated as limitless. This fantasy of an ever growing supply of goods is a huge problem for financial capitalism. However, in another sense, we have potentially limitless capital -- human capital.

By human capital, I mean our abilities, efforts and potentials as people and as nurturers and cooperaters, which I wrote about early in this series. We may only be able to imagine what a future with an enlightened democratic economy which serves the people would be like, but one thing is for sure; great things would come of it from the standpoint of human creativity, intelligence and wisdom in all of its potential.

At the same time, we would also have to use our human potential to effectively deal with shortages of raw materials, as well as the limits of food, space etc. on this planet. Someday, perhaps our descendants will be able to colonize new worlds, but that day is still far, far away, and we may find any habitable new worlds to be already occupied. We must think in terms of what is sustainable on this planet for now, something that financial capitalism fails at miserably. In fact, financial capitalism depends upon creating shortages, not only of material goods and jobs, but also, of human capital. The fewer qualified people, the better they can exploit their positions for financial gain. The goal is to be one of the few people at the top of the humongous pyramid scheme, whatever that takes. If you are the best medical malpractice lawyer in the world for instance, and a true capitalist, you wouldn't want a great medical malpractice law school opening up that would create a great deal of competition. You would rather have a monopoly on your business. You would also want to create a shortage of jobs as a true capitalist, in order to keep others' pay low (i.e., all of your pee-on style underlings). However, if you were not capitalistically oriented, you might actually welcome any efforts to a create smarter, more capable population even though that means that many other people could do your job as well as you could, and you would welcome gainful employment for all who seek work.

In terms of human potential, we must distinguish between the potential to exploit our fellow human beings, and the actual potential of human beings. Both are essentially limitless over time, but the first diminishes humanity and shames the exploiters, while the second enhances humanity and lifts us all. An enlightened society nurtures human potential to do good both individually and cooperatively, through nurture, nature and the will to do good; it does not allow endless exploitation of its own kind. In the world I see for our future, the sky is the limit -- not in terms of material wealth, but in terms of human potential, and it is human potential and well-being that really counts.

Achieving such a world will require universal education, an economic system that is not rigged to create wealth disparities and make the general "worker bee" population too busy and stressed to pursue their own interests, and a culture which nurtures our potential. All of this is well within our reach, in my opinion, not immediately, but over a period of perhaps decades if we collectively pursue this goal.

January 18

A Capital Idea Part 103: A Peacefully Creative Revolution

A little while ago, I had one of my really creative dreams, one in which I wrote a song. This happens for me from time to time. My wife, my parents, a singer and keyboard player who looked suspiciously like Elton John, 3 cute Chinese gals with gold painted faces who played drums and various other instruments, a bunch of candy which spilled onto the floor of the auditorium, and a hispanic guy who sat in the same chair with me (so I got up and sat on the bench with my parents) were all involved in the dream. When I got up from my seat, my wife was there by the way. (She is scheduled to return on February 2 and has been asking me to plan a trip to celebrate our 10th anniversary.)

I would provide the lyrics of the song, but I am still working on that.

This dream may not seem particularly relevant to the present topic, but creativity is what we need, that capitalism, along with thwarting diversity and promoting conformity, also ultimately thwarts. Perhaps the average "worker bee" person becomes consigned to limiting his or her creativity to dreaming.

My friend Ria was talking to me about this topic a few weeks ago, and it is really not a new topic. People have brought it up from time to time that I have heard already. I thought that maybe I had written about it before, but the closest I could find was a post entitled "Capitalism is Antidiversity," so here it is.

How does capitalism thwart creativity? First, corporations want to control the supply of something that people want or better yet, need. This is not a formula for creativity, except for the counterproductive kind which is focused on selling people on the idea that they need something. (Addictive or absolutely necessary products are the best items from the standpoint of corporations to sell.) The focus is taken away from the innovation of new products, and placed on the selling of a particular product. Second, corporations grow fat and lazy; they don't want to bother making something new unless they are virtually forced to. It is much easier to control the market and just continue selling the same product, perhaps with minor tweakings and repackagings to exaggerate any small changes being made to appear as major changes. Third, capitalism promotes monopolization, which is anticreativity. When one has a monopoly on a product, there is no need to create anything different, unless it can be turned into another monopoly, which is unlikely, since the initial stages of product development and innovation are the competitive stages which allow other businesses to succeed. In fact, corporations frequently actually work to prevent the development of innovations by other people -- scientists, inventors, and would be business moguls. They have laws passed, which make innovation difficult, or make the use of certain products illegal, and they even engage in industrial sabotage. Fourth, patent and copyright laws actually stifle creativity. Thom Hartmann just happens to be talking about this topic at this time. He even mentioned that there seems to be more innovation in places where technology piracy is rampant.

Due to these factors, the development of new products is discouraged. Innovation requires research and development funding, from the standpoint of a corporation, which might not pay off. Businesspeople who already are on the receiving end of a corporate gravy train don't like taking risks with their money. Maybe if they could steal somebody else's invention, which is what usually happens, they would do it, but not otherwise.

Thus, in order for society to advance progressively, we need a creative, peaceful revolution. I see this as sort of a catalytic process, much as the development of human culture acted as a tremendous catalyst for human creativity, because culture allows people to exchange ideas, and to act cooperatively to produce life-enhancing items and expressions of our creative impulses. We need a new sort of cultural revolution now, one which allows us to grow beyond the limitations of the corporate-financial system which has built up over the centuries. This is the creative aspect of the current revolution which seems to be fomenting, the OWS movement. Once the paradigm has shifted to a more people-oriented economy, one that cares for and serves the people and promotes their actualization both personally and collectively, a torrent of creativity we could at present only dream of (speaking of dreams), will be unleashed. That will be a great and wonderful happening in the history of humankind.

Rather than most people working for other individuals, as in our capitalist system, I foresee most people being either self-employed or working cooperatively in work collectives (similar to Mondragon) in the new, morally and ecologically resource-based economy. People will be allowed to be far more creative than in the current system -- "doing their own thing," so to speak, pursuing their interests, which naturally, tend to be creative (sort of like I do when I blog, but I am not being paid to do this, get no work credits for doing this and have no guarantee of any right not to live in poverty under the current system). What this blossoming of creativity will exactly lead to, we can only guess or dream about, but surely, it will be a good thing. This is what is at stake in our current situation -- our well-being as a species, the fulfillment of our creative potential, our actualization as a species and as individuals by and large, our future.

Perhaps you will have some ideas about what our creative future will look after having a progressive economic revolution, as I hopefully will as well.

January 16

A Capital Idea Part 102: Should Political Candidates be Psychologically Tested?

Psychological testing for job applicants is commonplace, when people apply for ordinary jobs as employees of large companies or organizations. Such testing tends to focus upon the applicant's character. For example, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory may be given, with special attention paid to the Psychopathic Deviance scale, which predicts psychopathic behavior such as stealing, aggression, impulsive and manipulative behavior. This scale relates to disorders such as Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which were discussed in my previous post.

Ironically, psychologists such as myself have never been psychologically tested, although psychologists give such tests. I do remember one female graduate student who did take the MMPI and mentioned that she did have a high psychopathic deviance score. She was married but had an "open marriage." In the years after completing her Ph. D., she got a job in the San Diego area, had a child with someone other than her husband, got divorced, and I think had a drug and/or liquor problem. Political candidates are not psychologically tested, either, even though they arguably have the most important jobs that there are. I am here to argue that they should be tested. The same applies for business executives as well.

At issue here is not so much the common psychological reality-distorting disorders such as the mood disorders and anxiety disordrers, but once again, personality disorders. The basic reason that personality disorders are more of a threat, is that people are motivated to get better when they have depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety disorders and can learn to cope with them and function fairly well if they need to. People with such disorders are usually responsible people. In fact, history shows us that many leaders have successfully coped with depression, anxiety disorders, or even bipolar disorder, although in some cases, these disorders can be debilitating. With regard to schizophrenia, having a schizophrenic leader would be a problem, but schizophrenia is pretty obvious and debilitiating, unlike personality disorders, and thus, schizophrenics rarely if ever reach positions of power. On the other hand, personality disorders are deeply ingrained in a person's character, extremely resistant to change, and guide a person's agenda in life. Thus, when a politician has a personality disorder, it guides his or her behavior and greatly affects government policy and actions. We can only make retrospective, informed guesses about which leaders may have had personlity disorders in the past, but my guess is that virtually without exception, such leaders did great harm to others through their positions, and their terms in power did not end well.

The following are some personality disorders which would be problematic for a politician to have: Narcissistic and Antisocial Personality Disorders, as discussed in my previous post; Borderline Personality Disorder, which involves impulsive and sometimes paranoid behavior, as well as extreme insecurity; Schizoid (lack of interest in other people and poor ability to understand emotional cues) and Schizotypal Personality Disorders, (highly idiosyncratic and rather bizarre behaviors as well as "loner" behavior), Paranoid Personality Disorder (Richard Nixon comes to mind here); Histrionic Personality Disorder (extreme sensititivity to rejection combined with hyper-emotionality); Avoidant Personality Disorder (social isolation combined with fear of criticism); Dependent Personality Disorder (excessive dependence upon others); and finally, Obsessive-Complusive Personality Disorder (extreme need to be in control combined with obsessions over rules and orderliness). Guess what? This is the entire official list of 10 personality disorders, although some other ones are considered to exist by some psychologists, and the new DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Version 5) may have some revisions to the personality disorders (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/personality-disorders/DS00562/DSECTION=symptoms). (There is a website about the DSM-V revisions, but it didn't connect for my computer.) Of these personality disorders, the most common among politicians is likely to be Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the same one discussed in the context of business executives. However, I thought it was worth noting that any of the other personality disorders might occur in a politician, although some seem unlikely, and any of these would be a problem.

I did a search for research about narcissism among politicians, and as I expected, there was relatively little research about this topic. However, what I did find was informative and seems to help clarify a larger picture in which logic and observation are consistent. I shall begin with what little research there is on the topic. A USA Today article notes that there is quite a bit of research about narcissism as a whole, but little that relates to politics (http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-09-28-political-narcissism_N.htm). However, it does mention two notable studies on narcissism among politicians. This study, by Robert Hill and Gregory Yousey, reported in 1998 in Current Psychology (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/handy-psychology-answers/201101/the-psychology-politics), compared university faculty, librarians, clergy and politicians, and found that the politicians had the highest scores on narcissism, as well as leadership and authority. These politicians were state legislators, by the way. The second study used biographical and presidential fact sources to rate 39 U.S. presidents on narcissism. This study found that the more narcissistic presidents had the more "charismatic" styles -- think of Adolph Hitler here, although he wasn't a U.S. president. The article concludes that narcissists fail to have brakes on their behavior, and thus pursue extreme agendas that end up hurting people severely. As far as the research on narcissism among politicians go, that is it. However, here come the related studies.

The Psychology Today article goes on to relate political behavior to personality. Of particular relevance, moral dimensions are related to conservative versus liberal ideologies. A large, website-based study by Jonathan Haidt found that liberals place more value on the Care and Fairness/reciprocity dimensions of morality, while conservatives place more value on the Authority-respect, Ingroup/loyalty, and Purity/sanctity dimensions of morality, among the 5 dimensions studied. Another article by Delaney Dean talks about John Dean's (no relation to Delaney Dean) book Conservatives Without Conscience, relating conservatism to authoritarianism, which actually has considerable basis in research dating back to around the 1950s. Thus, it is to be expected that conservatives would place emphasis on authority, respect, ingroup loyalty, and personal as opposed to collective morality, as well as placing more emphasis on the individual rather than the collective. This creates fertile breeding grounds for the monster of narcissistic leadership. Meanwhile, the liberal moral viewpoint, emphasizing caring for other people and fairness, runs counter to narcissistic tendencies. According to Delaney Dean, conservative leaders tend to be high in Social Dominance Orientation, which consists of dominance, opposition to equality, commitment to expanding their own personal power, and amorality, all of which lead to political psychopathy. Conservative followers, on the other hand, are characterized by submission to authority, aggressive support of authority, and conventionality, all of which act to maintain and support the political psychopathy of conservative, socially dominant leaders.

My final source is an article entitled "United States of Narcissism." This article cites research indicating that narcissism is on the rise in America. The USA Today article also hinted at this, saying that previous estimates were that 1% of the American population were pathologically narcissistic, but that recent research indicates that this percentage is over 6%.

I will quote approximately the last half of the "United States of Narcissism" article by Daniel Altman at this point:


"Psychologists have been tracking narcissism through surveys of American college students since the late 1970s, and levels of it—often measured as a lack of empathy—have never been higher, according to Sara Konrath, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Research Center for Group Dynamics. “If you look at the levers in society, almost all of them are pushing us towards narcissism,” she says. These levers go beyond Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, which offer endless opportunities for self-admiration. They also include advertising that tells consumers “You’re worth it” and reality-TV shows that turn regular people against each other in a battle for celebrity.

Unfortunately, the notion that any American can become a superhuman success is increasingly a myth. In recent decades Americans have encountered far more inequality and far less social mobility than their parents. But narcissism leads these same Americans to reject redistributive tax systems, since they’re sure they will succeed and have little empathy for those who don’t. They prefer to receive tax breaks rather than investing in opportunities for future generations (although they may make exceptions for their families, who often fall within their narcissistic spheres of concern).

As narcissism gathers momentum, American lawmakers seem to be making matters worse. “Politicians tend to encourage these shortsighted, selfish trends by promising people they can enjoy a better life without having to make sacrifices for it,” says Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State University.

This rhetoric—that Americans can have everything without having to pay for it—dates back to the Reagan era, when an economist named Arthur Laffer suggested that lowering tax rates would result in more revenue by spurring spending among businesses and consumers. He was wrong, but it’s clear from the budget debate in Washington that people still believe him.

Some media outlets try to debunk political rhetoric, but it has also become easier for Americans to ignore them—as any narcissist tends to ignore feedback that challenges his self-image. “With the fragmentation of media and the Internet, people can more and more easily just expose themselves to information and perspectives that don’t challenge their existing views,” says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.

If social mobility continues to erode, and narcissism increases, the nation will someday face tremendous economic and psychic costs. Crushing debts left by the Me Generation will fall upon a country ill prepared for its economic future. At the same time, Americans will suffer a moment of epic disillusionment as their narcissistic balloons finally burst."

The article concludes that this trend will continue until parents start raising their children to be more empathetic and socially responsible, and less self-focused. While we may quibble about the causes of the United States current trend toward narcissism, the problem is clear. Altman traces the trend back to people wishing to explore their human potential in the 1960s, which became distorted into something self-serving. (This was a summary of a book by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell on the topic.) Personally, I doubt the validity of this idea, but rather, I think the narcissism of the United States has more to do with the feelings of American exceptionalism and the "top dog," alpha-male mentality from which so many Americans, especially males, suffer. I believe the origins of this go back to World War I as well as World War II, and has a great deal to do with the American military-industrial complex. The self-fulfillment movement of the 1960s was largely a liberal minded movement, which was socially focused at least in part, on the greater good, although elements of narcissism crept into it. By the way, it would be interesting to check narcissism trends worldwide, but I don't know of any such studies. My understanding is that the United States is one of the most, if not the most, narcissistic society in the world currently, and other nations do not particularly mirror the United States' trend toward narcissism, although they may to some extent.

In any case, the increase in narcissism bodes ill for the United States, and must be reversed if we are to avoid disaster. Also, the higher the rate of narcissism among the American population as a whole, the more American politicians -- especially conservative ones -- can be expected to be pathologically narcissistic, providing us with yet another reason for us to oppose the election of conservatives, since the election of narcissistic conservatives in particular is a recipe for the disaster described in the above quote.

When I see the current assorted collection of mostly narcissistic nutbags vying for the nomination of the Republican Party to run for President of United States, I have to say to myself, please, can we pass a law requiring psychological testing for political candidates? After all, our future may well depend upon the mental well-being of our leaders.

January 7, 2012

A Capital Idea Part 101: Narcissists to the Front of the Line, Please!

My first post of 2012 finds me returning to the topic of personality disorders among the wealthy. This time, rather than proposing a new one, I looked at the prevalence of existing ones as diagnosed in business executives. I found considerable information about the topic, including research findings, and a growing interest in this topic as a whole.

Let me start with some research findings. A study in England from 2001, by Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon, gave personality questionnaires to 39 high level business executives, and compared their results to prisoners with histories of psychiatric problems. Although the sample was small, the results were unequivocal. According to Belinda Board (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/11/opinion/11board.html) "the business population was as likely as the prison and psychiatric populations to demonstrate the traits associated with narcissistic personality disorder: grandiosity, lack of empathy, exploitativeness and independence. They were also as likely to have traits associated with compulsive personality disorder: stubbornness, dictatorial tendencies, perfectionism and an excessive devotion to work.

But there were some significant differences.

The executives were significantly more likely to demonstrate characteristics associated with histrionic personality disorder, like superficial charm, insincerity, egocentricity and manipulativeness.

They were also significantly less likely to demonstrate physical aggression, irresponsibility with work and finances, lack of remorse and impulsiveness."

In other words, business executives were even more likely to exhibit histrionic personality disorder than prisoners with psychiatric problems! Furthermore, they were as likely to exhibit narcissistic personality disorder as well as compulsive personality disorder as the mentally disturbed prison population. They only fared better in terms of being less aggressive, more responsible in the workplace, and in having more sense of remorse and less impulsiveness. Keep in mind that mentally disturbed prisoners, represents an extreme sample in terms of at least 2 of these personality disorders. Criminals tend to be highly narcissistic, and histrionic. Only compulsive personality disorder, among those mentioned above, is probably not particularly prevalent in the prison population. Antisocial personality disorder was not mentioned, either, although it is known to be extremely prevalent in the prison population. Antisocial personality disorder is similar to narcissistic personality disorder, except that it tends to be associated with disturbed upbringings and poverty, resulting in manipulative, distrustful people who are very cynical about the world, but do not have particularly high levels of self-esteem. In contrast, narcissistic personality disorder is found primarily in manipulative, selfish, privileged people who have an overly high level of self-esteem (literally, self-love which is the meaning of the word narcissism).

The next recent study looked at the prevalence of "psychopaths" among business executives. The term psychopath is something of a catch-all term, but it has utility in terms of understanding those who abuse other people -- people who act in extremely selfish ways. According to Duncan MacPherson, the researcher, Dr. Paul Babiak "designed a 111-point questionnaire with the University of British Columbia's Prof Bob Hare - the world's pre-eminent expert in psychopathy and a regular adviser to the FBI - to determine how many industry bosses were psychopaths.


They found that nearly four per cent of bosses fitted the profile, compared with one per cent among the general population" (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2032912/One-25-bosses-psychopath-hides-charm-business-speak.html).

In other words, business executives are four times as likely as the general population to be psychopaths. There is another quote I find extremely insightful in this article:

"And only favourable environmental factors - such as having had a happy childhood - prevent their psychopathic tendencies turning them into serial killers."

That is, exactly that which separates narcissists from those with antisocial personality disorder, who are prevalent among serial killers, is what turns one person into a bankster or corporate megalomaniac who robs people legally, from the typical criminal who leads a miserable life spent largely in jail.

The final website I will cite in this post (being very selective since there are many websites dealing with this topic), does not report a study on the prevalence of personality disorders among business executives, but does describe the problem of narcissistic business executives as very pervasive, describes their traits, and gives advice for how to deal with them if you are dealing with one of these in a business setting (http://www.leadershipconsulting.com/narcissistic-executives.htm). In this 2009 article, Carl Robinson, Ph. D. writes "many of our most successful executives have strong narcissistic tendencies and it is the positive side of that narcissism that enables them to dream big, chase seemingly impossible dreams, take extreme risks, convince skeptical investors to handover millions of venture capital dollars, and overcome obstacles that most people wouldn’t even attempt. However, it’s the shadow side of the more extreme form of narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder, that causes havoc, alienates employees and investors and can tank a company. And, what is especially insidious about these extreme cases is that investors are often blind to it or gloss over some of the early warning signs because these executives often have charismatic personas, can sell like crazy and achieve outstanding results. They begin to crash, however, when they can no longer pull the magic rabbit out of the hat. When their charisma and natural sales ability collides with an economic downturn, repeated rejections for additional venture capital funding, questioning or demanding investors, intelligent employees, or encounters with other obstacles that demand substance over flash. They then will resort to anger, outrage, browbeating and other behaviors that alienate top employees and investors who will jump ship rather than work for or fund a jerk. And, if the narcissistic executive is able to stay employed as the leader, employees who remain tend to be those most afraid to leave, who are often the most passive and least creative…not a recipe for continued success."

In other words, the capitalist system creates an atmosphere which promotes narcissists, who often succeed remarkably in the beginning, but ultimately leads to a crash for which the narcissistic bosses refuse to take responsibility, and tend to resort to strongarm tactics in fact, to continue getting their way even after a crash. Does any of this seem familiar? The boom and bust cycles, the financial hostage taking and terrorism perhaps? It certainly should. These problems have occurred in the current economic crisis, on a scale never before seen, and have hurt the 99% at the expense of the 1%, so severely that it has spawned a rebellion (the people "jumping ship" as described in the quote), as it well should. With regulation, the problems described by Dr. Robinson can be ameliorated, but only a system which is so thoroughly protected against such abuses as to render them virtually impossible, can prevent future abuse of the public by wealthy businesspeople, or prevent the predictable occurence of boom and bust cycles which are breeding grounds for personal misery, insecurity and further psychopathology.

In other words, if we wish to avoid being virtually ruled by the narcissists of the world -- a population which is also drawn to politics, sexual profligacy, or anything involving power (largely from a masculine perspective) -- we must, I reiterate from one of my recent posts, create an intelligently designed economic system which serves the people as a public good, rather than allowing a small group of largely narcissistic people to control and rig the economic system in order to serve themselves.

A final note is that it could be argued that perhaps the system makes the wealthy become narcissistic, rather than promoting those who were narcissistic before becoming wealthy and "successful." This could be true in many cases, but an intelligently designed, public-serving economy would prevent this from happening, as well, so the chicken-egg question becomes a moot point. If anything promotes the creation of narcissistic personalities, it is an excessive focus on the celebration of wealth and success, which happens when wealth disparities are huge and which current business culture promotes. Once society is more economically fair, and the business culture has changed from something like an individualistic, competitive wealth lottery, to a more cooperative, people-oriented venture, narcissism will no longer be the natural result of business success. In fact, business "success" in a cooperative model could even promote empathy, especially when success is measured by the ability to serve the public and to help people earn good livings.