Archive for the 'Economics' Category

Binary Pablum For The Masses

 

The smoke and mirrors tactics of the 2016 presidential campaign continue with the relentless repetition of empty mantras such as “Make America Great Again”, “Lock Them Up”, and “Fake News”. Venom is being spewed across the country, part and parcel of the same strategy of puerile name-calling, disruption, and confusion as we witnessed in the last election 

This is the fundamental strategy of the non-stop Trump campaign that continues to create and manipulate ressentiment and foment a collapse of civility and faith in government. It is all shuck and jive with some of the mainstream press unwittingly complicit in Trump’s strategy simply by repeating his vile utterances. The press cannot ignore even a bloviating President, of course. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The Joker in Chief deliberately deploys a maelstrom of contradiction with which the entire civilized world must struggle, and that of course, is the intent. Keep all the rhetorical balls in the air. Keep everyone guessing. When did America stop being great? What isn’t great about America? There aren’t any answers forthcoming because there is no truth to appeal to and none is demanded by his True Believers. It’s true because their Dear Leader says it’s true.

How this came to pass and why it has been so effective are the $64 questions of our time. One answer to consider is a longing by so many people for a world where everything is rendered as simplistic binaries. No subtleties, everything is black and white. A very large proportion of the mainstream public does not want shades of grey, they want certainty. It’s a longing, if not a desperation, for an “Us against Them”, “Right and Wrong” world. Good guys vs. bad guys. They want it to be like Tom Mix riding to the rescue, blasting the bad guys, and riding away on his white horse with the fair maiden holding on behind him. Destroy the Taliban. Destroy al Qaeda. No big deal! And, while you are at it, why not take down the United Nations? Take all those freeloaders off Social Security, welfare, Medicare, and food stamps. No DREAMERS, no foreigners. Up or down, left or right. With us or against us. Never mind consequences or complexities and nuance. Don’t stop to think that you will be hurting yourself. It’s only a matter of “bada bing”, drop a few small nukes here and there and everything will be back to the way we imagine it. We’ll be “Great Again!”

Trump gives his base a comforting, simplistic conception of the world, a peculiar form of indecipherable clarity. No questions need be asked, he has their backs. He says whatever comes to mind and it’s swallowed whole. “Lock her up!” None of it is realizable, of course, it’s just out there like a gigantic public Binkey. A warm bowl of Mom’s chicken soup, binary pablum for the masses.

    

The use of simplistic binary rhetoric has been the modus operandi of Populist leaders throughout history. Hitler and Mussolini were masters of the tactic to rally and control their true believers by pointing at designated illegitimate members of their society. Today’s undocumented Dreamers and refugees are yesterday’s Jews of the Third Reich. We have a President, a Silvio Berlusconi with bad hair, who will say whatever it takes to maintain the delusions. It’s the confusion and the illusions he creates that hold his polity. What kind of destructive mentality emboldens a person holding the highest office and the highest level of responsibility in our society to publicly denounce people like James Comey as an “untruthful slimeball”? What kind of gall does it take for a five-time draft dodger to insult and threaten Robert Mueller, a retired military officer who has served this country honorably?

What will emerge out of the chaos being spewed out across this country and across the world stage remains to be seen.  And I don’t doubt Putin is having a good laugh at our expense. 

Thoughts on “It Can’t Happen Here”

Some time back I wrote a review of Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, “It Can’t Happen Here”. I picked the book up again because, in fact, it is happening here. This essay will use excerpts from that review to illustrate and make what I believe are important points regarding recent political events in which a clearly unqualified and unsuitable individual won the 2016 race for President of the United States and then went on to propose drastic cuts to federal programs so depended upon by people across the United States. Here is a list published by the New York Times and other entities:

  • $5 billion in cuts to public education.
  • $73 billion in cuts to Social Security.
  • $191 billion in cuts to food stamps.
  • $610 billion in cuts to Medicaid (and that’s in addition to the $880 billion the
  • House Republicans are slashing with their Stealth ”health care” bill).
  • $72 billion in cuts to disability benefits.
  • $53 billion in cuts to unemployment benefits.
  • $22 billion cut from low-income family support.
  • $6 billion cut from the National Institutes of Health.
  • $1.2 billion cut to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  • $1 billion cut to National Cancer Institute.
  • $838 million cut to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
  • $776 million cut to National Science Foundation.
  • $575 million cut to National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

(Sources: White House, Washington Post, New York Times)

Of course the President isn’t alone in this savaging of the social contract he is being assisted by Congressional Republicans who are exhibiting  a serious case of sociopathy themselves. The Democratic party contributed its share to the debacle when they conducted what amounted to a rigged convention to nominate a candidate who was not the choice of rank and file Democrats.

We must also include in this the constant undermining of the news media by the president with his mantra of “fake news”. This constant false characterization of the news media is a blatant effort to cause people to not trust what they read in newspapers or watch on television if it contradicts what the Presidential is trying to spin. This is all about social control, this is about being able to lie and to deceive the public. When the public doesn’t have access to the truth, when they are led to believe they cannot trust sources of news even to the extent that crowd sizes at rallies are constantly inflated to cast greater approval than really exists. For example he is touting today that 15 thousand people attended his rally yesterday when, in fact, by official count 4 thousand did.  It is childish propaganda but effective propaganda at that. When the truth cannot be known the effect is devastating and we have a dangerous situation on our hands.

 

In my earlier essay I wrote:

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 while others feel their time has come. 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. This is also 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.

Sad to say, that opening sentence was prescient and I felt it more than I thought it. There were other reasons of course, including what many of us thought was a dishonest primary with high party officials, including the party chairwoman, colluding to favor one candidate over another a fact later confirmed by ballot counts. Complacency in the form of a great many eligible people simply not voting either in the primary or in the general election added to the debacle. The lack of voter interest and participation is, in and of itself, a terrible commentary on and worrisome omen for the future of politics in the United States, for the future of what is left of democracy. Think for just a moment of those who sacrificed, either with lengthy commitment of time out of their lives or by making the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, to preserve this so-called Democracy. The depth of tragedy is unavoidably clear.

Where were all those “Freedom Loving” Americans who stand for the national anthem even if they don’t know the words and can’t follow the music? Do they not know, have they not been taught, do they not understand the importance of voting, of informing themselves of what is at stake? What happened? Where did the American socialization process go off the tracks, substituting consumerism for patriotism?

Lewis describes the pathology that infects both sides of the current Democrat/Republican equation …  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 crucial to their success.

It is a pathology, a disintegration of a social contract that requires responsibility for the conduct of a society and the outcomes of its governance. It’s a pathology that can become fatal. I have witnessed instances of these kinds of “leaders” asserting control over organizations and social scenes and the pattern is always the same. Favors are given, loyalty replaces thoughtful engagement, “goodies” flow, and promises predicting even more “goodies” or “free” munchies for the faithful. It is, on evidence, an “innate primal instinct”. It is always, I believe, a matter of ambition over integrity, of emotion over reason.

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

  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

These specifications describe our 2016 Presidential election and its outcome. The specifications apply to both sides, some elements applying more to one candidate than the other. To these I would add two more. There is a certain kind of ruthlessness that specifically negates civility and exploits weakness in others. If you add together the elements of anomic personality disorder you can come up with a fair and accurate description of the actors in this modern-day drama especially the over-weaning necessity to dominate and to receive submission. Last but not least, in connection with the former, include the need for revenge as punishment for failure of obsequiousness and obedience. 

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. I vividly remember the turmoil of 1968 and the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy. As you read … 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.

As much as some people seem to be revolted by the notion, our social contract is underwritten by socialistic policies such as Social Security, Health Care, highways and by ways maintained by governments, police departments, fire departments, and a standing military; all of this for the benefit and good of all, even if more for some than others. Will all of this be dismantled in a sociopathic jihad that posits everyone should be on their own in some kind of uncivilized jungle ethos? Are we just going to give this a whirl and see where it ends while the rest of the world watches? Good luck!

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.


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