Archive for August, 2016

Circling The Drain

In mathematics there is a concept called Pareto efficiency, it describes the impossibility for one side of an equation to keep taking without depriving or diminishing  the other side. A common sense idea in which the losing side inevitably goes to zero. Because of the finite quality of available resources namely money, Capitalism is a Pareto efficient economic system – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In other words it is a zero-sum game – I win and you lose. This raises an interesting question: how can a so-called “Democratic” society  tolerate or thrive within a anti-democratic economic model? As a consequence of too few having too much too many have too little of this stuff to spend. It doesn’t require a PhD in Economics to figure out that if too few have to little to spend the general economy will suffer. So, a truthful Economics 101 should tell us that the imbalance caused by greed is a foundational cause of economic failure and, eventually, social collapse.

It is important to understand that aside from accumulating as much as possible, there is no moral or ethical code associated with the Capitalist belief system. To understand this consider: A pharmaceuticals company acquires the rights to a vital medicine which has been selling at $56.64 per dose they raise the price overnight to $317.82 for the same amount and at the same time raise the compensation of their CEO from $2,453,456.00 to $18,931,068.00. The drug went up 461%  and the CEO’s salary went up 671%. As they say, nice work if you can get it and pity the people who need the drug to survive.

Pick up any economics texts and you’ll be treated to an amazing variety of theories explaining why we had a crash in 2008 or why the world’s (and our) economy has failed to regenerate from said crash in spite of various governmental interventions. One theory after another is generated by learned professors at various universities and think-tanks. Of course none of this wisdom accords with what we experience in our everyday lives but it sounds profound. The reason why the economy isn’t recovering is actually quite simple – we live in a Pareto efficient economic system, that is to say, too few people have too much of available monetary resources and too many have too little.

The totality of economics can be expressed this way: 2+2=4 and 4-2=2 but more importantly, 4-4=0. That’s it, that’s the whole story in a nut shell. For all of us unwashed, economics is a simple matter of you either have it or you don’t. As of July of this year 13% of men between the ages of 25 and 54 have dropped out of the labor force consequently they don’t have any “it” to spend. The unemployment rate continues to hover around 4.9% of which 26.6% are considered long-term unemployed. Also, what the numbers don’t tell you is what kinds of jobs are available and what wages they are paying. Do they pay minimum wage? Can people support their families on this level of income? Can employed people afford health care? Is there such a thing as “disposable” income? Did you know that a large percentage of enlisted military families rely on food stamps or that the US has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the entire world? That’s real world economics, folks.

Capitalism is a dualistic belief system which, while promising fair distribution of material and social wealth, delivers quite the opposite. Now that 1% of the population owns 40% of the United States’ wealth it seems plain to see things are out of balance. Although many writers such as Thomas Piketty and Charles Lehmann, have produced incontrovertible evidence  of the imbalance, the general public seems to be in denial. To argue against inequality earns you various imprecations such as, you are a Socialist or even worse a Communist. Most using these terms don’t have a clue as to what Socialism is or means, it becomes name calling because Communists, are, as we all know, evil and totalitarian and who knows what socialists are?

Given the Pareto efficient aspect of Capitalism, the imbalance, cannot be treated with doses of feel-good Kumbaya or patriotic exhortations; eventually something has to give. A bigger question remains. When there is nothing left for the majority how long can belief in the social contract survive? Are we circling the drain? Inevitably we are going to find out.

It Can’t Happen Here

Book Review – “It Can’t Happen Here” – Sinclair Lewis

Yes it can happen here, and some would say it’s already happening. Written in 1935, Sinclair Lewis’ prescient novel, “It Can’t Happen Here” tells what happens to a country when people are complacent and compliant. The novel is an allegory, a morality tale, a story depicting the unquenchable quest for renown, power, and oftentimes wealth in a “go along to get along” complacent society. The story accords both with what is referred to as Big Man theory and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The Big Man, often inflicted with NPD, dispenses favors, employment, and material gain to sycophants in return for loyalty and support. Maintaining the requisite plots and sub-plots requires a great deal of coercion and effort.

Lewis describes the pathology that infects both sides of the current Democrat/Republican equation as well as other organizations from local politics to labor unions. It’s a two way street. The “leader” generally requires obsequious feedback and loyalty and the followers require favors in return for their affirmation and adoration. Everyone in the game has a handful of “gimme” and a mouthful of “much obliged”. It often doesn’t matter what the actors receive so long as they get “something”; a vote, a ride in a limo, a free meal, or simply an “atta boy” pat on the back. Such “leaders” possess an innate primal instinct to identify and exploit weaknesses that is crucial to their success.

As the antagonist, Berzelius Windrip, climbs his way to absolute power the protagonist, Doremus   Jessup, whittles his life down to as low a profile as he can manage to avoid attention. Windrip, an ambition driven politician, eventually becomes the “President” surrounded by Yes Men and a vigilante posse, the CORPOs, who kill or jail anyone who opposes his and their rule. Jessup, a small town newspaper editor eventually loses his paper and thus his soapbox. Life in the small Vermont town in which most of the action takes place is slowly but surely reduced to imprisonment or sniveling obeisance. Dissenters are jailed or outright murdered by the newly ascendant former underclass CORPOs. Eventually the tide envelops Jessup — he is arrested and finds himself trying to escape into Canada.

The reader is encouraged to consider the following symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as described by the DSM-5 diagnostic text and to ask yourself if you recognize any of these in the current political milieu.

  1. 1.   Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs

The obvious parallels are manifested in Windrip’s startling resemblance to two of the current candidates running for President of the US and Jessup’s avuncular resemblance to a sidelined populist former candidate for President.  Yes, history does indeed repeat itself as I vividly recall the turmoil of 1968 and the populist candidacy of Eugene McCarthy. As you read this valuable prescient book I believe you’ll find yourself wondering if things ever actually change and what is our fate as a society if we cannot do better than this. Think of “It Can’t Happen Here” as an early warning call to action.

  Gliding Into Dreamtime

  We are not living at the dawning of a new Age of Aquarius. We are more living in a necessary Dreamtime. In the Aboriginal “Dreamtime” people connect to their ancestral past and to truth. Today, civilized populations live in a Dreamtime in which there is no truth, and no personal responsibility for the world as it is. There are others to carry that burden. It’s a simplistic cosmology populated with good guys and bad guys. It’s a philosophy that relieves believers of responsibility for the world as they find it; someone else has caused it, someone else will take care of it. Beliefs, dualisms, and fantasies govern this dream world displacing blame and handing off problems to higher supernatural authority.

The world we live in is defined by constant tension and turmoil between believing and knowing. Beliefs simultaneously energize and constrain, they have been the foundation stones of all social contracts from the onset of human experience to this day. Many common belief systems are religious and imaginary projections of characteristics attributed to other belief systems, other individuals – “others” in general. What people believe about anything or anyone often counts for more than what may or can actually be known or proven. Speaking to and stoking belief is a favorite tactic of politicians, demagogues, and despots. Scare people sufficiently and enough of them will follow you anywhere, even to war. History is a continuum of wars waged over beliefs.

Politicians peddle belief as much as clergy. Politicians pay pollsters sacks of money to determine what people believe and what they would believe. Politicians peddle what they learn back to you often via some well known “personality”. A lot of money and effort are spent crafting a believable Dreamtime pitch just for you, just for what you believe, just for what you want to believe. For the most part, this works. Why? Because people generally want their beliefs affirmed and when they hear it from a famous speaker they are validated. Demagogues are especially good at this form of salesmanship holding a fat thumb on the scales of truth.   

The belief / knowledge dualism is built into the humane psyche with belief being, in all probability, the most foundational survival mechanism – one that cannot be extinguished. The dualisms of modern life mirror those of past times. Life and death, wealth and poverty, good and evil, peace and war, health and sickness, gain and loss, power and impotence, justice and injustice. Fear is also belief, particularly with regard to mortality. The sixty-four-dollar question being, what happens after death? Belief in an afterlife, whether a welcoming host of heavenly angels with golden harps or a thousand virgins for every jihadist, is the anodyne of mortality. Belief in Heaven and Hell resolves the dualism of good and evil providing the ultimate distribution of justice. Death is the only unequivocal answer to your questions.

We have to question, I believe, the life expectancy of belief systems foundational to any social contract, capitalist or otherwise, that would impoverish and leave jobless formerly middle-class people.  In many communities across the United States, for example, there is no living wage employment in a vacuum left in the wake of businesses exiting for low wage foreign countries – nothing left behind but mortgage  foreclosures, and food stamps. Ironically, many full-time workers are relying on food stamps, their wages being insufficient to feed their families. In a final irony, some state Legislatures and Governors restrict or outright deny food stamps to those in need often subjecting them to humiliating drug tests. The same is true with subsidized health care and unemployment benefits.

We must ask how much destructive inhumanity any social contract can withstand before erupting into rebellion. The long glide into a dystopian Dreamtime will not be anesthetized by watching Archie Bunker reruns. It’s going to be painful.

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