The Rise of the Neoliberals

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) discovered the natural laws of motion, which provided the final piece to the puzzle, establishing the Copernican theory of the Earth revolving around the sun, introducing  the spirit of individualism and the idea the study of human progress was at the centre of all things. During the following decades, his achievement was celebrated as the triumph of the modern mind over ancient and medieval ignorance. The 18th century Age of Enlightenment saw the intellectual maturation of the humanist belief – a system of thought that focuses on humans and their values, capacities and worth. With the introduction of new patterns of thought, honest doubt began to replace unreasoning faith. The ‘truth’ discovered through reason, would free people from the shackles of corrupt institutions, such as the church and monarchy, whose misguided traditional thinking and old ideas had kept people subjected in ignorance and superstition. The concept of freedom became central to the vision of a new society. Through truth and freedom the world would be made a better place.

Neoliberalism is an ideology and policy model that emphasizes the value of free market competition. As national economies became more interdependent in the new era of economic globalization, neoliberals promote free-trade policies and the free movement of international capital. While this political theory has been around since the late 1900s, the rise of the neoliberals occurred over the last 40 years to become the dominant ideology shaping our world today. Joseph Stiglitz observes, “Neoliberal market fundamentalism was always a political doctrine serving certain interests. It was never supported by economic theory. Nor, it should now be clear, is it supported by historical experience. Learning this lesson may be the silver lining in the cloud hanging over the global economy.”

Over centuries of development humanism emphasis shifted from the religious realm to the human realm. The neoliberals brought in their own vocabulary to control the debate: human beings became human capital, essentially reduced to an investment. The individual is no longer at the centre of discussion, having been displaced by the corporation. Government has no economic responsibility; only people have responsibility. Neoliberals maintain the pretense of freedom defined as non-coercion – less government means less coercion or control. The solution is to treat politics as a market and promote an economic theory of democracy. The citizen is replaced with consumer of state services. Following from the human-capital concept education is a consumer good, not a life-transforming experience.

To neoliberals the market is a natural state of mankind. The market can be made manifest in many guises. Natural science narratives are woven into the neoliberal narrative. For example, it can be considered an evolutionary phenomenon. The selective pressure seen in nature is also seen in market forces. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), an English philosopher and economist, believed that society was evolving towards increasing freedom of individuals and held that government intervention ought to be minimal in political and social life. Spencer’s survival of the fittest concept was believed to be natural, hence morally correct. Neoliberalism that underpins the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act introduced education reforms promoting high-stakes testing, accountability, and competitive markets. The education system is largely seen as the ultimate arbiter of innate intelligence and ability, as well as the benefactor of hard-work and merit. If public schools fail it clears the road for voucher and charter schools (experimental publicly funded private schools with minimal regulation). Charter schools are neoliberalism’s logical conclusion for education, where schools should become for-profit institutions.1

Their vision of a good society is such that conditions for its existence must be constructed. On the other hand classical liberals reconciled freedom with authority and replaced authority with society. Neoliberals reject society and revive a version of authority under a new guise. The state becomes a core agency that actively fabricates the subjectivities, social relations and collective representation suited to making the fiction of the markets real and consequential. Neoliberals vigorously reject that there are ‘failures’ or glitches in the markets, rather, evolution or ‘spontaneous order’ brings the market to ever more complex states of self-realization that the human mind cannot understand. They reject any suggestion of ‘market failure’ with relation of the 2008 debacle.

Neoliberals extol freedom as trumping all other virtues. Their freedom is divorced from democracy, buttressed by the concept that all coercion is evil. This particular brand of freedom is not the realization of any political, human, or the ultimate aim of cultural success, but rather relying on a system to harness the selfishness of people and direct it to public good, thus freeing itself from the need to depend unrealistically upon the uncertain moral virtues of its participants. For neoliberals inequality is unfortunately a by-product of capitalism, but a necessary functional characteristic of their ideal market system. It is part of a strong motor to progress, hence the rich are not parasites, but a boon to mankind. In fact, the concentration of wealth since 1990s is part of the neoliberal script to produce more efficient and vibrant capitalism.

Neoliberals need the state, (it cannot be destroyed), it is necessary to redefine the function and nature of the state. While democracy is ambivalently endorsed as the appropriate state framework for an ideal market, it is necessary to keep the relationship impotent so that citizen interests are rarely able to change anything. It is necessary to restrict the state with numerous audit devices under the sign of accountability such as, convert state services to private and provision of government services on contractor basis. The privatization of the process of securitization of mortgages , which had started out in the 1960s as a government function has become a flash point in in explanations of how the financial sector lost its way. They mask their role in power by marketization of government functions – and in the process, shrinking state bureaucracies that become unwieldy under such neoliberal activities.

A corporation can do no wrong (as it was created for legal purposes only). Neoliberals were for introducing market forces into corporations. The reengineering of the corporation by separating ownership from control by such features as reduced vertical integration, outsourcing supply chains, outrageous compensation for top officers, incentives such as massive stock options, golden handshakes, and latitude beyond any oversight. Capital has a natural right to flow freely across national borders (labour enjoys so similar right). Offshore outsourcing of manufacturing in advanced economies is clearly a function of neoliberal doctrines concerning the unbounded benefits of freedom of international trade, combined with neoliberal projects to reengineer the corporation as an arbitrary nexus of contractual obligations, rather than as a repository of production expertise.2

Concurrent with the neoliberalization of America, the prison population in the United States exploded. Crime is defined as an inefficient attempt to circumvent the market. Neoliberal ideology helps justify increasingly punitive government intervention into crime and punishment – incarceration becomes a solution to structural economic inequality and political instability. Faced with increasing populations situated outside the reaches of the disciplinary structure of the wage labor system, the neoliberal state reforms welfare into prison-fare to exert social control and regulation of poor and deviant populations and, therefore, limit social instability. The precariousness bred by a welfare-averse politics maintains a steady flow of inmates. The main drivers of penal policy reform at the elite level are cost-benefit analyses and concerns about recidivism, not concerns of justice or human rights.3

Neoliberals have made efforts to have economic theories do dual service as a moral code. The best that they can achieve is intellectual accommodation with the religious right. They share the same freedom – the desire to follow one’s own moral conviction as a modern safeguard to individual freedom. Neoliberals notoriously use “wedge issues,” commonly known as “culture war” issues, such as abortion and gay rights, to divide Christians who might otherwise stand together against the neoliberal economic agenda. Republican neoliberals continue to have one thing in common with their evangelical protégés; they are unlikely to waver in their faith.

The market (suitably engineered and promoted), claim neoliberals, can always provide solutions to problems seemingly caused by the market in the first place. Basically any problem has a market solution. Suitably engineered boutique markets are promoted as superior method to solve all sorts of problems previously thought to better organized by governments: everything from scheduling space shots to regulating the flow through airports and national parks. The marketplace is deemed to be a superior information processor, therefore all human knowledge can be used its fullest only if it is comprehensively owned and priced. This is extrapolated to explain that the solution to perceived problems in derivatives and securitization is redoubled ‘innovation’ in derivatives and securitization, and not their curtailment. Essentially the best people to clean up the crisis were the same bankers and financiers who created it in the first place, since they clearly embodied the best understanding of the shape of the crisis. The revolving door between the US Treasury and Goldman Sacks was evidence that the market system worked, and not of ingrained corruption and conflicts of interest.2

The 18th century Enlightenment was a movement to displace the dogged adherence to established opinions and customs, and to enlighten a population that the system had kept in the dark. The Enlightenment introduced critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition and challenge the blind faith in institutions. In the 18th century the church was the dominant institution, while in the 21st century the corporation is the dominant institution. In the 21st century there is a need to challenge the blind faith and convictions in less government and regulations to understand the truth – increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society over the past four decades is no longer acceptable. It is necessary to introduce interventions to reduce the influence of the dominant institution, the corporation, in government affairs. New social relationships need to be constructed, creating a system with increased transparency and accountability that allows individuals expanded opportunities for self-determination and freedom, making the existing model obsolete.

1 Leyva, Rodolfo (2009) No child left behind: a neoliberal repackaging of social darwinism. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 7 (1). pp. 365-381. ISSN 2051-0969 http://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/14551/

2 Mirowski, Philip. Never Let A Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown. (2013) Verso London: New York p. 50-67.

3 Gottschalk Marie. The Folly of Neoliberal Prison Reform (08 June 2015) https://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/marie-gottschalk-neoliberal-prison-reform-caught

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The Death of Liberalism

Classical liberalism supported the notion that society as a whole would begin to prosper as the level of personal freedom or autonomy increased. Individuals left to their own devices to pursue their own goals, limited only by known and universally applied prohibitions against harming the same freedom for others, would produce superior results for all, rather than allowing one authority to dictate terms to everyone. John Locke (1632-1704) popularized the concept of natural rights and freedom. Human freedom meant being free from as many constraints as possible. For the following discussion liberal describes the view that humans are rational beings who should be left, as far as possible, to pursue their own purposes without compulsion or constraint. The word first appears in the English language in the 14th century and refers to free men as distinct from those who are not free.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) discovered the natural laws of motion which provided the final piece to the puzzle to explain why the Earth revolves around the sun. Newton was aware of specific problems in the solar system that his laws did not explain which included the fact that Saturn was moving away from the sun while Jupiter was moving closer. To account for movements not able to be explained by his formula, Newton proposed the hand of God to guide the planets in various circumstances – providing long-term stability to the universe. Adam Smith’s efforts to discover the general laws of economies were directly inspired and influenced by the example of Newton’s success in discovering the natural laws of motion. Smith sought the natural law and harmony in nature in the economic sphere. Locke and Smith assumed an innate morality to support their systems of minimal government.

The Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith’s classical introduction to economics provided an ‘ethical’ rationale for the capitalist system explaining, “every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither tends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it… he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which is no part of his intention.” Simon-Pierre Laplace (1749-1827), a French mathematician, is recognized for his contributions to astronomy and statistics. He observed data about the actual position of planets to predict the motion of planets and was able to solve the error in Newton’s observation of planetary movement.

Friedrich Hayek (1889-1992), who admired Adam Smith and built on the ideas of his teacher Ludwig von Mises, explored the truths of the Austrian school. The Austrian school sees society as a complex of human interactions, in which prices act as signals for human behavior. The diversity of goods produced by many individuals is richer and more useful, ensuring greater and more widespread wealth than any system which attempts to control from the centre. A diversity of different attempts to predict future needs is what guarantees innovation. Market pricing transmits information about preferences and about relative scarcities. Profit is the signal which demonstrates that the entrepreneur is doing the right thing for people he cannot possibly know. Price is therefore the language of the complex or extended order of modern societies.

Hayek published his book The Road to Serfdom in 1944 with new ideas, sounding the alarm that the West was rapidly abandoning its inheritance of individualism. He claimed there was a slow process under way in which important personal liberties were being extinguished by the state. He looked backwards at the awful history of the first half of the 20th century, musing upon the nature of the enemy. With the success of his book he decided to create a movement connecting liberals scattered around the world who held positions in academic life. This society met in Mont Pelerin near Geneva in Switzerland most years since the end of World War II. They discussed the nature of liberalism and how it could be brought back from its decline. Milton Friedman was one of the attendees.

By the 1970s the Western world had to face a devastating new problem: inflation. It took a crisis to bring new ideas into government, and that was the price-inflation that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. By the end of the 1970s both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were seeking office with new liberal economic policies. These policies were adopted to deal with economies that were getting out of hand. Thatcher was elected to parliament in 1959, became leader of the Conservative party in 1975, and in election of 1979 became Prime Minister of Britain. Her administration was associated with the destruction of Britain’s traditional industries through attacks on organizations such as miner’s union, and massive privatization of social housing and public transport.

Martin Anderson (1936-2015), an economist and a special advisor to Richard Nixon 1969-1971, was instrumental in bringing into government Alan Greenspan, who like Anderson was an adherent of free-market philosopher, Ayn Rand. In 1971 Anderson joined the Hoover Institution, became the architect of Reagan’s new liberal economic policies. He identified five key elements to the policy: (1) reduce the growth of federal spending, (2) reduce taxes, (3) change and reform government regulation, (4) ensure a more stable monetary policy, (5) introduce stability – do not waver from the policy, keep it constant so that people get used to it and gain confidence in it. This policy was the basis of supply-side economics which was later rebranded trickle-down economics – linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich.

Under the patronage of  Ronald Reagan the liberal revival enjoyed some successes. To counter the Keynesian state planning to address unemployment, Milton Friedman developed the counter-notion of a ‘natural rate of unemployment’. That is the rate to which an economy naturally reverts unless it receives greater and greater fiscal stimuli and, in consequence, rapid and ever increasing inflation. Under Federal Reserve Chairman, Paul Volcker there was severe tightening of the interest rates. People were soon paying in excess of 15% on mortgages. The peak of the mild recession occurred November – December 1982, when the nation-wide unemployment rate was 10.8%, highest since the Great Depression. This bitter medicine cured the rampant inflation in the US.

The tax cuts came in 1981, Reagan’s first year in office. The tax results came up short of measuring up to the supply-side rhetoric. For starters, the tax cuts busted the federal budget. The federal deficit ballooned from 2.7% of GDP in 1980 to 6% of GDP in 1983, the largest peacetime deficit in history, and was still 5% of GDP in 1986. Tax revenues did pick up, especially after the 1983 payroll tax increase kicked in, reducing the deficit somewhat. Worse yet, most low-income taxpayers missed out on the Reagan tax cuts. The bottom 40% of households paid out more of their income in federal taxes in 1988 than they had in 1980. Increases in the payroll taxes that finance Social Security and Medicare, which made up a far higher portion of their federal tax bill than income taxes, swamped what little benefit these taxpayers received from lower income tax rates. In a true trickle-down economy, the benefits of productivity and innovation would be shared fairly by all stakeholders, not just the select few with authority to dictate compensation and how the profits of a company are distributed.1

Milton Friedman explained the failure during the first term to reduce the size of government, “It is easier to bring that understanding to the world of ideas than it is to translate into the world of practice.”2 The problem shifted from reducing the size of government to a redistribution problem that came with the welfare state. After the 1984 Ronald Reagan landslide election, his second term set in earnest to dismantle the welfare state following the principles outlined in Charles Murray’s 1984 book, Losing Ground, described by the New York Times Review of Books as a “persuasive . . . new variation on Social Darwinism.” Charles Murray is a political scientist who is presently a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). AEI is a conservative think tank founded in 1943 to promote the advancement of free market economics. AEI supported a 1980 study on the emerging ‘social cost’ arguments against smoking in support of the tobacco industry, and more recently supports various studies that cast doubt on global warming.

Albert Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity in 1915. Eddington’s observations and photographs during a solar eclipse on the African island of Príncipe in 1919 effectively confirmed Einstein’s predictions of a slight shift in starlight caused by the gravitational field of the Sun – exactly the results predicted. Hayek’s work involved recruiting more believers in liberalism to the cause. Hayek claimed that economic theories can, “never be verified or falsified by reference of facts”3. Friedman interpreted his version of trickle down economics to the politicians. It became a fundamentalist (i.e. “must not and hence can not be questioned”) belief: the benefits of trickle-down economics of tax cuts for the rich create well-paying jobs for the middle class. The theory has a function – serving the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upward.

Decision-makers on Wall Street with extreme individualism and a sense of entitlement chose not to apply critical thinking, but to intentionally take advantage of people, which led to the meltdown of the economy in 2008. Many in the middle class saw their comfortable retirement, their home equity, and their dreams destroyed. With rising financial integration, world economic growth has lessened in the last three years. The threat to individual freedom and opportunities to pursue one’s goals today comes not from political oppression, but from economic failure. Because of  growing disillusionment and anger students and workers are voting for leaders outside the mainstream party candidates during the 2016 presidential primary elections – the consequence of  being left behind by soaring inequality and the failure of government to deliver.

1 Miller, John. Ronald Reagan’s Legacy. http://dollarsandsense.org/archives/2004/0704miller.html

2 Graham, David and Peter Clarke. (1986) The New Enlightenment: the rebirth of liberalism. MacMillan London p. 1-30.

3 A Critique of the Austrian School of Economics. http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-aussm.htm

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The Republican Party – the Party of Cognitive Dissonance

Georg Hegel (1770-1831) who saw a world governed by individual self-interest believed that we are controlled by external forces, and are nothing but pawns in the game. Hegel believed that we do not perceive the world or anything in it directly and all that our minds have access to is the ideas of the world – images, perceptions, and concepts. For Hegel, the only real reality we know is virtual reality. Hegel believed that the ideas we have of the world are social, which is to say, the ideas that we possess individually are for the most part shaped by the ideas that other people possess. Our minds have been shaped by the thoughts of other people through the language we speak, the traditions and mores of our society, and the cultural and religious institutions of which we are a part. He sees the spirit or collective consciousness of a society evolving in a system called ‘a dialectic’, a progression in which each successive movement emerges a solution to the contradictions inherent in the preceding movement with the development of freedom and the consciousness of freedom. There can be no progress, according to Hegel, without struggle.

After November 2008, the tide seemed to be running against conservatism. In mid-February, an opportunity presented itself. From the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CNBC reporter Rick Santelli burst into a tirade against the Obama Administration’s mortgage plan to help stop foreclosures by allowing a small number of home owners to renegotiate their mortgages. “The government is promoting bad behavior!” Santelli shouted. To protest giving public help to “subsidize the losers’ mortgages,” Santelli invited America’s “capitalists” to a “Chicago Tea Party.” Across the country, conservative activists used this opportunity to channel anger against the Obama administration. Operating at first through the social-networking site Twitter, conservative bloggers and Republican campaign veterans took the opportunity created by the Santelli rant to plan protests under the newly minted “Tea Party” name. Within ten days of Santelli’s theatrics, the first Tea Party rallies were held in Washington, DC, Chicago and other cities around America.

Hostility to the Obama economic agenda was already evident in the first weeks of the new administration. As seasoned activists organized local rallies, the video of Santelli quickly scaled the media pyramid, resonating in the conservative echo chamber of the Drudge Report and Fox News. In the aftermath of a potentially demoralizing 2008 electoral defeat, when the Republican Party seemed widely discredited, the emergence of the Tea Party provided conservative activists with a new identity funded by Republican business elites and reinforced by a network of conservative media sources. Untethered from recent GOP baggage and policy specifics, the Tea Party energized disgruntled white middle-class conservatives and achieved widespread attention, despite stagnant or declining favourability ratings among the general public. Tea Partiers are not totally hostile toward government; they distinguish between programs perceived as going to hard-working contributors to U.S. society like themselves and “handouts” perceived as going to unworthy or freeloading people.1

In several primary battles between ideological moderates who for the most part were establishment incumbents and more conservative tea party-backed candidates for the party’s nomination in the November midterm elections, tea party candidates were successful. In the 2010 November elections, forty-six tea party-backed candidates won seats in the House – Republicans gained control of the House as well as an increased number of seats in the Senate. In the 2014 primary House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, was beaten by a a tea party backed opponent in a district he had represented the previous 13 years. The Fox news loop created the angry white guy. By 2015 there was now an unmanageable House caucus, many from safe gerrymandered districts, that answers to no party leader, cannot compromise and cares nothing for co-operative government – but unable to expand their appeal until the arrival of Donald Trump. Trump appeals to resentment that ultimately rests on economic failure: working-class whites have been left behind by soaring inequality (but they mistakenly blame emigrants taking their jobs).

During the 2012 election cycle, Tea Party anger over Obamacare was misread by the Republican Party elite as principled rejection of social welfare programs, despite evidence that those voters broadly supported spending what they believed they deserved – Social Security and Medicare. The Republican elite urged voters to blame the recession on excessively generous home-lending policies, while moving to roll back regulations of one of their biggest sources of campaign money, the financial industry. The Republican Party establishment misread the mood and organised to support tax cuts and deregulation. Exploiting the Citizen’s United decision, money poured into a super PAC that helped Romney overcome more populist challengers.

The ‘narcissism of small differences ‘ was Freud’s 1917 term for his observation that people with minor differences between them can be more competitive and hateful that those with major differences. This concept posits that human nature is essentially egoistic, capable of forming groups only by virtue of shared enemies, a prospect made more depressing because it posits group identities as fictitious, contrived on the basis of denial and distortion. Freud’s theory explains we tend to reserve are most virulent emotions such as aggression and hatred towards those who resemble us the most. We feel threatened by the ‘nearly-we’, who mirror and reflect us. Freud viewed this as a narcissistic issue because the stress comes from looking in the mirror. The narcissism of small differences can apply to politics as minor differences between individuals and groups are particularly prone to be the occasion of bitter dispute.

This phenomenon is particularly heightened in groups or communities that share more in common than the general population. There are two potential problems created by the narcissism of minor differences: (1) the tendency to define yourself by what you are not, and (2) a focus on trivialities over fundamentals. Humans are naturally drawn to conflict, and latching on to minor differences to bolster our sense of self is really just a submerged form of aggression and hostility. Standing out is essentially a competition for status – one that allows us to feel distinct and superior to others.

During the 2016 election campaign the Republican candidates desired a distinct identity, however, when they looked around, the truth was they were very much the same, and are not very special after all. To keep this dissonance at bay and protect their sense of self, it was necessary to buttress and artificially inflate the significance of minor differences to construct unique platforms. One area was their economic policies which were all based on reduction of taxes and deregulation. These policies where made unique by the various ways that this standard conservative economic policy would be introduced. Another area was security – all candidates were for increased border security and regulation of immigration – they all varied in the small differences in implementation.

However, one candidate, Donald Trump, is superior to the others in exploiting the narcissism of small differences to recruit the Republican base. His economic policy resonates with the Tea Party adherents who have seen good jobs disappear overseas – his policy has these jobs returning to America. He would do away with crony capitalism and favours to the donors. Trump’s plans to control the flow of illegal immigrants and block the entry of Muslims – build a huge wall along the Mexican border, and suspend the entry of Muslims into America (temporarily) – are more extreme than the other candidates. These actions energise Trump’s base that includes tea party members and growing number of others disillusioned by the Republican Party establishment and the failure of government to deliver.

The Reagan revolution accelerated the deregulations that put the banking industry at risk by investment bankers. Greedy bankers triggered the economic debacle of 2007 by enabling poor people to purchase homes through sub-prime loans. The years of less taxes and regulation led to corporations moving production overseas with the disappearance of good-paying jobs. The Tea Party was funded by the Republican elite in order to provide opposition to the new Obama administration and create a wedge issue for the midterm elections. The Tea Party was welcomed into the Republican Party, and went on to elect members to Congress who support tea party principles. Tea party members ignored the established leadership and created a dysfunctional legislature. The principles of the Tea Party remained alive, and Donald Trump has figured out how to harness their disillusionment and growing anger.

Hegel saw events always moving forward, in perpetual change, conflicting ideas with destabilization leading to a new situation. Once the potentialities of a particular society had been realized in the creation of a certain mode of life, its historical role was over; its members became aware of its inadequacies, and the laws and institutions they had previously accepted unquestioningly were now experienced as fetters, inhibiting further development and no longer reflecting their deepest aspirations. Thus, each phase of the historical process could be said to contain the seeds of its own destruction and to “negate” itself; the consequence was the emergence of a fresh society, representing another stage in a progression whose final outcome was the formation of a rationally ordered community with which each citizen could consciously identify himself, and in which there would therefore no longer exist any sense of alienation or constraint.

Cognitive dissonance causes the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from the brain’s inability to handle two conflicting realities, so it creates an alternative one that often defies reality. It appears in virtually all evaluations and decisions and is the central mechanism by which we experience new differences in the world. Many middle class white folks have become disillusioned and angry about wages stagnating and good jobs disappearing over the past two decades. The neoliberals knew from the beginning that the theory tax cuts for the rich along with deregulation would provide good jobs for the rest of society is a lie. The elite of the Republican Party now have uncomfortable feelings or dissonance  as the majority of their base express their anger of being left behind by soaring inequality by voting for leaders outside the mainstream party candidates.

While all men and women suffer from disillusionment, few know that their state of disillusionment is the result of the breakdown of an illusion they themselves had manufactured. Disillusion is never possible without fantasy – and the destructive strength of the disillusionment can never exceed the strength and energy that was used to create the fantasy in the first place. The adverse effect is that man places values on his illusions, and over values what is not true, or no longer exists. In order to clear these errors of thinking, man must release the emotion that keeps him tied to this false reality. The removal of illusion or fantasy involves understanding that expectations are not failed, but false. With this recognition comes an opportunity for change. Tea party adherents understand expectations that the Republican elite would deliver have not failed, but were false. Recognizing this, they seek change in the Republican Party. Donald Trump may very well be the individual who unites the forces necessary to turn America from a plutocracy back to a democracy.

Williamson, Vanessa, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/williamson/files/tea_party_pop.pdf

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We Are Unable To Reach Our Full Capacity to Make Wise Decisions

We live in a world of illusion. While many believe they have special access to the truth, the reality is that we all see the world not as it is, but as we want it to be. What began in September 2011 as a small group of protesters camping out in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park ignited a national and global movement calling out the ruling class of elites by connecting the dots between corporate and political power. The main message is the fact the economic system is rigged for the very few while the majority continue to fall further behind. This is an effort to make the middle class aware of what is really happening. “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed,” observed Friedrich Nietzsche.

Maintaining the illusion of prosperity, though, is critical to our economy as it is, because its foundation is built on consumption, fraud, credit and debt. The banking system itself has been engineered from the top down to create unlimited wealth for a few at the top, leaving the workers, the individuals who pay 28% on their credit card, at the bottom. True prosperity is connected to wellness. Wellness is associated with the social determinants of health, which are the conditions in which people are born into, grow up, live, and age. These conditions influence a person’s opportunity to be healthy, his/her risk of illness, and life expectancy. Social inequities in health, the unfair and avoidable differences in health status across groups in any society, are key factors. Differences in health follow a strong social gradient reflecting a population group’s position in society, which translates into differential access to and security of resources, such as education, employment, and housing, as well as differential levels of participation in civil society and control over life.

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort of self-image colliding with reality. Such collisions are inevitable, as self-image tends to be based on values – what is most important to you – while behavior is routinely directed at short-term comfort, pleasure, and utilitarian goals. To put it simply, cognitive dissonance is the brain’s inability to handle two conflicting realities, so it creates an alternate one, which often defies actual reality. Evidently, cognitive dissonance is a fairly ubiquitous phenomenon, and can easily interfere quite badly with our capacity to make sound decisions.

With cognitive dissonance, a key issue is that the ego’s censorship departments step in whenever our (usually positive) self-image gets challenged, such as when a belief gets destroyed that we’ve invested a lot of our personal time, money, sweat, energy, or emotions in – because it would be painful to admit to ourselves that this investment was a stupid idea. We like to believe ourselves to be intelligent. When we believe that we are fully rational, we can be easily manipulated into doing stupid things that undermine human society.

Our ability to believe (or be convinced) that we are rational beings leaves us open to all sorts of manipulation and deception. On a strategic level, the tactic of divide and conquer is standard operating procedure for authoritarians and invading armies, but the illusion of separateness runs even deeper than this. We are programmed to believe that as individuals we are in competition with everyone and everything around us, including our neighbors and even Mother Nature. It is us vs. them to the extreme. This flatly denies the truth that life on this planet is infinitely inter-connected. Without clean air, clean water, healthy soil, and a vibrant global sense of community we cannot survive here. While the illusion of separateness or individualism comforts us by gratifying the ego and offering a sense of control, in reality it only serves to enslave and isolate us.1

Neoconservative pundits have a tendency to assert something is true even if it is not and then repeat the assertion over and over again to give it credibility. The “positive self-image” is linked to a fundamentalist (i.e. “must not and hence can not be questioned”) belief: the benefits of trickle-down economics of tax cuts for the rich creates well-paying jobs for the middle class. The idea is simple: The more money the people on top make, the more the people below will benefit from the dripping down of that prosperity. The hidden agenda here, of course, is the rationalization of inequality. What they want to be real doesn’t correspond to what is real, therefore instead of facing the stark reality that their whole political ideology is wrong, they’ve simply concocted some alternate form of reality. By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the neoconservatives can protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash.

The “free marketplace” is a grand illusion for those in power to promote in order to justify dominance over those who are less privileged. Of course, it is based on greed being a virtue, relying on a system to harness the selfishness of people and direct it to public good, thus freeing itself from the need to depend unrealisticlly upon the uncertain moral virtues of its participants. In the 1970s supply side economics, the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free, (incentive effects would generate new activity so higher revenue) without causing budget deficits was promoted by neoconservatives. Supply side economics was a sleight-of-hand maneuver to convince the electorate that tax cuts were really in the interest of the middle class, not simply the super rich, because the cuts more than paid for themselves. Of course, it floats the boat of those in power. This makes it popular, to be sure, to those who are privileged, but not rational.

Cognitive dissonance puts blinders on people so that they cannot see the reality of what is going on. So, what happened when steel mills were killing those who worked there? In the 1960’s, even the unions fought against environmental and occupational protections for steel mill workers and their neighborhoods. To these people, the smoke and grit and stench were signs of jobs and people rising from poverty into the middle class. How could it be killing them? Obviously, that was not the case. The jobs were great jobs! Cognitive dissonance is often resolved in our short-term economic interests, ignoring competing concerns for long-term health and ethics. There is also a devastating presumption among the population that if a chemical inflicted cancer on many people it would not be allowed. Most educated people understand that is an illusion. However, it represents cognitive dissonance in which the strongly held value of our economic elites as responsible and humanitarian is pitted against the opposite reality, coupled with the need to see corporations as being law-abiding and contributing to a better future for everyone. This working class mythology needs to change.

Is there a cure for cognitive dissonance? Not as long as we have competing needs, interests and values! This is part of the human condition. Cognitive dissonance appears to be a feature of our human nature. Keeping our lives relatively simple and un-stressful is helpful, but we still tend to jump to conclusions and rationalize more than we are aware. Understanding our emotions is one of the keys to thwarting the destructive impacts of the illusions created by cognitive dissonance. To reduce cognitive dissonance we can acquire new beliefs or information that will increase the existing consonance (agreement between opinions) and thus cause total dissonance to be reduced. It is necessary to come to terms with the fact cognitive dissonance is a feature of humans that predisposes us to self-delusion, bias and blindness to our errors and biases. We can give up the struggle for truth and adopt the feel-good illusions that trap us in a matrix of lies and deceit. However, these illusions are dangerous.

Self-awareness is a cruel paradox, indeed, that most people do not understand cognitive dissonance because, ironically, it causes great discomfort to admit that humans are irrational and prone to profound illusions. Cognitive dissonance is inconsistent with our strong values of intellectualism, rational science and free will. So self-awareness of our attachment to illusions continues to elude us. Some believe that slowing down our overstimulated culture is another key to allowing our conflicting realities to reveal themselves to us. Yoga, Mindfulness, and other forms of meditation, exercise regimens, and other stress reduction techniques can open the doors of reality. Yet, it is up to each of us to step out of our roles as consumers/worker drones and claim the role of citizen. We must walk through the doors of illusion and stand firm, spreading the new awareness and reinforcing and supporting thoughts and actions that affirm our humanity and work for a better future.

Earon Davis asks, “Do we finally become rational when we recognize that we are irrational? Unfortuneately, no! We can be reasonable and intelligent, at times. We can have self-awareness and insight. However, we will not become fully rational. This is why we need to live in diverse communities. Being consistently rational is simply not in our nature. No matter how wise, we will eventually stumble. Our ability to deal creatively with reality also opens the door to illusions and self-deception. No matter how humble we may be, something will slip past our awareness, or our deeds or words will mislead others. No matter how we study cognitive dissonance and define it clearly, we will not always be aware when it is undermining our ability to reason. We are not computers or machines. We are human animals. Power and creativity both ennoble and corrupt us. We can’t consistently choose well, but we can try. We are each a work in progress, as are our cultures. We are creatures who flourish in balance, but yet always tend to push the envelope. When our cultures promote transparency and resilience and remain within the changing constraints of our natural world, our natural environment, we seem to do well. A society that creates” [ a milieu for extreme individualism, and the worship of wealth], “can self-destruct, especially through false choices, “logic” and “reason” that are distorted and empowered by cognitive dissonance.”2

However, Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of the illusory nature of what is considered truth, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values. It is necessary to create the social environment or milieu to support good governance to control cognitive dissonance and the consequent balancing of perception that leads to misperception. Accountability is the key requirement of good governance. Accountability is about obligation to answer for one’s actions. In addition to being responsible for one’s actions, one may be required to explain them to others. Consensus orientation is part of good governance mediating differing interests to reach a broad consensus of what is in the best interest of the community and where possible, on policies and procedures. Processes and institutions must produce results that meet needs while making best use of resources. The effectiveness and efficiency of good governance requires honesty, integrity and fairness. Equity and inclusiveness requires all men and women have opportunities to improve or maintain their well-being. The well-being of the community depends on ensuring that all its members feel that they have a stake in it and do not feel excluded from the mainstream of society. This requires all groups, but particularly the most vulnerable, have opportunities to improve or maintain their well-being. Transparency in governance means that decisions made and their enforcement are achieved in a manner that follows rules and regulations. It also means information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement.3

As the illusions begin to crumble, more people will see the folly of allowing years of minimal government and deregulation feed the rise of an oliarchy in Canada and the US. When enough people become aware of the illusions our society operates under, we can use what remains of our democratic institutions to further change. Everyone must have the freedom and opportunity to reach their full potential. Until we restore the primacy of politics (management of the state) over commerce and address the disparity between the rich and the rest of society, we are unable to reach our full capacity to make wise decisions.

1 Fischbaucher, Thomas (19 Dec 2009) The Tricks of the Human Mind. http://permaculturenews.org/2009/12/19/the-tricks-of-the-human-mind/

2 Davis, Earon. (20 April 2015) Why Awareness of Cognitive Dissonance is so Elusive. http://www.slideshare.net/EaronDavis/why-awareness-of-cognitive-dissonance-is-so-elusive

3 Horsman, Greg. The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle, p 224-229. 2011

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Part 2 of 2: Creating Opportunities: A Comparison of Top-down and Bottom-up Systems

Top-down systems tend to deal with the abstract while bottom-up systems deal with ‘facts on the ground’. Darwin’s bottom-up view of evolution is part of the Theory of Natural Selection. Charles Darwin was not the first person to use the word evolution; others had used it in their writings previously. Darwin introduced a viable process, natural selection, to explain how it works, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent,” Darwin observed, “but the one most responsive to change.”

The top-down system in Canada and the US today is a pyramid with the Central Banks (Fed in US) the large banks, a few rich connected individuals at the top, and the workers, the individuals who pay 28% on their credit card debt, at the bottom. Essentially 95% of the population works to make wealth move up the pyramid. The commercial banks are near the top with the foreign bondholders. More value in the market is likely created by farmers, and workers on the assembly line, but the elite bankers can borrow money more cheaply with greater leverage which translates into more power and control. The middle class has the illusion of money as the system inflates and creates cash for conspicuous consumption. The present top-down system is a wealth generator for the top 5%. The big bankers in this system are part of the financial oligarchy of the Wall Street-Washington corridor of power.

Darwinism includes a broad theoretical framework for the analysis of evolution of all open, complex systems, including socioeconomic systems. Detractors counter that natural selection does not account for human intentionality. The counter is that many choices are not intended, in fact, many intended decisions are under the influence of advertising, which introduces randomness.

Under ‘universal Darwinism’ a fundamental paradigm shift declares any complex system can be understood in terms of the same principles that are the core of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection, including socio-economic systems. The predictive power of the theory rests on its specification of systemic selective forces, based on the algorithm of variation, selection and retention. Selection works best on large populations. Market selection would ensure that banks with the best innovations survive. In a world of limited resources, this new theory connects the social determinants of health that include the conditions that influence an individual’s opportunities in life. Filtering social and economic policies through the lens of the social determinants of health before they are implemented will ensure they support actions that reduce the inequities in the system.

Core Darwinian principles include variation, inheritance (replication) and selection. For small populations, natural selection is not in play, because natural selection occurs in larger populations. Genetic drift (the change in the gene pool of a small population that takes place strictly by chance) can result in genetic traits being lost from a population, or becoming widespread in small population without respect to survival or reproductive value of the alleles (genes) involved. A change is prompted by random luck, rather than a need for adaption. Genetic drift is the reason we worry about African cheetahs and other species that have small population sizes. The more variation that exists in a population, the better prepared that population will be to adapt to change when it does occur. Drift is more pronounced in such populations, because smaller populations have less variation and, therefore, a lower ability to respond that favorably, that is, adapt to changing conditions. Thus it is not just the number of cheetahs that is worrying, it’s also the decreased variation in those cheetahs.

Genetic drift is the change of gene frequencies in a population from one generation to the next, due to chance events. Drift is only a strong source of evolutionary change in small populations, but is an important example of neutral evolution. In large populations genetic diversity is fairly constant and the loss or addition of some individuals has little effect on the total gene pool, hence genetic drift has little effect. However, genetic drift can cause big losses of genetic variation from small populations. In small populations this rapid change in gene frequency occurs independently of mutation (variation), natural selection, retention, and is due solely by chance factors. In small populations, changes associated with genetic drift accumulate over time.

The reintroduction of the bearded vulture into the Alps is another example of concern over genetic drift being most pronounced in small populations. In the 1970s biologists from zoos from around the world set about to try and re-establish a bearded vulture population by introducing captive-bred birds into the wild. Since 1986 more than 120 bearded vultures have been released from captivity; about two-thirds have survived and many have reproduced. However, the problem with the project is not the size of the wild population, rather, it is the size of the captive population. Throughout the world there are about 120 bearded vultures kept in zoos and breeding centres across Europe, Asia and the United States. With these low numbers mathematical models suggest there is not enough genetic variability in the captive birds to keep either the captive or the wild population thriving over the long-term. The population will actually lose genetic variation due to genetic drift. It is important in biology to retain as much genetic diversity in a population as possible. Without sufficient genetic diversity, there is always the risk that a population will not be able to respond very well to new selective pressures caused by environmental change.

The large banks on Wall Street and their equivalents around the world are akin to the small isolated populations of organisms in which genetic drift is the predominate process of change. Many of their products (mutations), or changes, are neutral, and by definition do not provide increased advantage. In fact, with small populations natural selection does not occur to weed out the maladapted. Deregulation allowed the big banks to create many financial instruments, however, in a small population selective pressure does not occur. Thus many changes in the large banks can be seen as equivalent to neutral mutations and without selective pressure one cannot tell whether they were beneficial.

For natural selection to work, there needs to be a larger population of relatively big banks. Applying Johnson and Kwak’s recommendation to roll the size of banks back to their 1996-levels would create a larger population. In this model, the banks could be allowed to fail, with the risk falling to share holders and managers, and not to taxpayers. In addition, a larger group of competitors (more banks) will make it harder for banks to direct large bonuses to their staff and there will be less money for political contributions. Reducing the size of banks would restore balance both to the banking system, and to the political system.1

The 2008 economic debacle was a top-down disaster. It was triggered by the consequences of policies championed by a small group of influential people. The financial sector took advantage of the system, empowered by reckless deregulation. The top-down economic system includes the Wall Street-Washington corridor that influences legislation – including tax bills. Without increasing the diversity and number (population) of banks, selective pressure will not work, and the taxpayer will continue to bail out the large banks when they make poor decisions.

In the past, the main criticism of Darwin’s natural selection was the requirement of multiple generations before change occurred, which did not fit with the business model. With the discovery of epigenetics, this thinking has changed. It is now known that genetic change can occur much more quickly than previously thought, responding from messages coming from other genes, hormones, and from nutritional cues and learning. The reactive oxygen radicals can modify, or turn off and on, genes that effect events further downstream. This can cause chronic diseases within a few decades. The great recession has created a perfect storm for poor health. To keep the global economy on tract, there is a call for less regulation. This political pressure occurs at the same time that we now realize the full consequences of exposure to toxins in our food, air and water.

Today younger people will have poorer health as adults, which will affect their economic status as they will earn lower wages as an adult, and this in turn, will affect the next generation of children who will thus be born into a poorer family. The link from family household income and poorer social and health outcomes is well documented – the growing income inequality in Canada and the US associated with globalization poses a significant threat to the health of many. The economic and social conditions under which people live, rather than the biomedical risk conditions and lifestyles choices are the factors determining whether one develops chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, which develop primarily from material depravation (of poverty), excessive psychological stress and the adoption of unhealthy coping behaviors. The top-down system of trickle-down economics ensures the next generation in the workplace can not only expect to earn less than their parents, but are on track to enjoy poorer health.

In the US Democrats think regulations are necessary to promote safety and general welfare. Republicans think regulations should be relaxed to promote prosperity for business, which they contend eventually, benefits everyone in society. In 2016 Republican governor Rick Snyder of Michigan faces the consequences of weak state and local regulations and the lack of enforcement with respect to drinking water – lead poisoning of the children of Flint that will take years to determine the scope of neurological damage. In order to save money, water for the city was switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River and in addition, local authorities did not have anti-lead preventative added in the water supply as required by federal laws (at a cost $100 per day) that would have prevented 90% of the problems. Children with lead poisoning develop varying levels of brain damage and a subsequent drop in IQ. These children have been denied the opportunity to reach their potential that they could have had in the future.

There is a bottom-up system that will address such future challenges. In particular, epigenetic harms have the potential to affect every aspect of our lives. Harmful toxins have accumulated over the years, and many have been identified as epigenetic harms associated with chronic disease. Personal choices affect environmental exposures, especially with respect to cigarettes and food. The presence of chronic conditions has a greater impact on health care resources than aging. In Canada and the US obesity has become an epidemic in the past 15 years, and chronic disease now consumes a larger and larger portion of health care dollars. The realization that the epigenome is highly sensitive and responsive to environmental influences, including toxic exposures, dietary factors, and behavioral impacts, serves to focus future state priorities. Epigenetics explains how environmental factors can switch genes on and off, based on choices we make. Epigenetic studies will predict which environments need to be created womb to tomb in order to protect us, and minimize the risk of chronic diseases.

Wellness is about reaching one’s full potential. Controlling epigenetic harms, or environmental harms, is about treating an individual’s potential as a freedom. The environment, hereditary, chance, friends and luck (things over which one has little control) play a greater role in wellness than personal lifestyle choices. Governments have a role in protecting this newly recognized freedom of potential – the opportunities one has to reach his or her potential is the most important measure of freedom, not the amount of reduced government regulation and taxes enjoyed. Epigenetic risk is not merely a medical risk, but implicates the fundamental principles of fairness and justice underlying the present social contract.

1 Horsman, Greg. (2013) Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An Age of Enlightenment. p 173-187.

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Part 1 of 2. Creating Opportunities: A Comparison of Top-down and Bottom–up Systems

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), a political philosopher and essayist, described an endemic moral inequality that was related to power and wealth. As men come together, Rousseau claimed, there is a drive to compare themselves to others – driving men to seek domination over their fellow beings as a way of augmenting their happiness. This leads to the formation of government in which the property owners (wealthy) trick the poor into creating a government with the sole purpose of protecting their property and locking in moral inequality as a permanent feature of civil society. This contract is promoted as treating everyone equally, but in reality, it is in the interest of the few who have become stronger and richer through development of their private property.

Rousseau believed that the role of government should be to secure freedom, equality and justice for all within the state (regardless of the will of the majority). The only reason that human belongs agree to be ruled is because they believed that their rights, happiness, and property would be better protected under a form of government. Everyone is free because everyone forfeits the same amount of freedom and imposes the same duty on all. If any form of government does not properly see to the rights, liberty, and equality of everyone, Rousseau claimed, then the government has broken the social contract that lies at the heart of political authority.

The economic system in the West, in the 21st century, is a top-down system. This top-down system is about cheap money and power staying concentrated with a small group at the top of the economic pyramid. Milton Friedman claimed that the system helps poor people by the trickle-down effect, and that economic growth flows down from the top to the bottom, indirectly benefiting those who do not directly benefit from the policy changes. This economic theory advocates letting businesses flourish through reduced taxation and regulation, since their profits will ultimately trickle down to lower-income individuals and the rest of the economy.

All candidates at the fourth Republican Presidential debate outlined a plan to cut taxes to the rich in order to create well-paying jobs for the middle class. Inequality will be addressed under various economic plans; basically, as the rich get richer prosperity will return for all. However, this ideology is challenged everywhere. Even the Washington Post’s Fact Checker urges individuals “to be wary about job-creation schemes at the state or national level, as so much of what happens in an economy is beyond a politicians control.”1 In addition, there is a need address the growing oligarchy in Canada and the US – identifying policies to end big money’s grip on politics, an issue that lies at the core of the debate on the economy.

The top-down concept in the West appeared during the Roman Empire, which maintained strong top-down control. Roman religion became a mosaic of belief systems as Roman power grew and expanded through the known world. The Roman Empire came into contact with cultures and religious beliefs of major cultures, and was happy to assimilate any deities they encountered. With the passing of the Roman Republic into an Imperial system, the nature of Roman religion expanded to include the emperors themselves. The Imperial cult that developed was inseparable from Roman deities. This included top-down favourtism of the Roman gods, which began with the emperor and trickled down, if only feebly to the lowest of society. Roman civilization consisted of a paternal system within a highly stratified social structure which gave unswerving allegiance to the Roman system of pacification as a basis for social cohesion. The divinized emperor was seated in spendour at the high point of the patronage system, and he distributed power and privilege down the system. This trickle-down system was established by rites and ceremonies incorporating a combination of patriotism and religion.

In the 4th century CE Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire; it had the power to suppress dissention and heretics and organize wealth. With the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century CE the Catholic Church was the only organized force in Western Europe. The church took on the top-down structure of the empire. The Medieval church was the most dominant institution in Western Europe; it was one of the largest landowners at the time and collected many rents and fees for offices and services. Its top-down structure facilitated control of information and creation of wealth. The church remained a significant force up to the 18th century.

By the end of the 18th century, the Industrial Age in Britain was heralded with the mechanization of the weaving industry and the invention of the steam engine that allowed more effective pumping of water in the coalmines to increase the supplies of coal. The Industrial Age of the 19th century was a top-down system, however during this era two bottom-up theories appeared: one developed by Karl Marx, and one developed by Charles Darwin.

For Karl Marx all history is class struggle – exploitation is hidden by the political institutions that exist. Marx was unhappy with the social climate of his time in which the working class (proletariat) was being exploited by the upper class (bourgeois). The owners pay them enough to afford food and a place to live, and the workers, who do not realize they are being exploited, have a false consciousness, or a mistaken sense, that they are well off. They think they can count on their capitalist bosses to do what was best for them.

In the early 20th century Lenin adapted Marx’s ideas to support the Russian revolution run by a minority. Lenin inserted a band of revolutionaries at the head of an elitist revolution onto an unwilling populace. They developed a system of differential wages. The surplus capital went to support a bloated bureaucracy, headed by a single dictator. Lenin installed a top-down control system (called communism) in the USSR. When Stalin finally pushed Trotsky aside and took over power in 1928, he used this system to suppress the populace and industrialize the country.

E. P. Thompson, among others, promoted the bottom-up approach to history – begin with the needs of society then build upwards to construct the economic climate that will provide for needs of the people. He wrote about the poor and invisible groups in society and their effects shaping the course of history, and in the process creating new approaches to historical truths. The focus is on social history rather than the history of the powerful, the ruling order of kings and queens, aristocrats, industrialists, soldiers, politicians and landowners. Writers live out their professional lives in the midst of social struggle, thus their writing is the interpretation of the world through the culture and belief systems of the invisible groups in society.

The gap between the rich and the powerful and the rest is accompanied by a similar gulf in political perception. Thompson showed how fundamental social political change came from movements of the ‘common people’. Thompson campaigned passionately for the protection of these freedoms as a core element of a democratic society. A 21st century example is the Occupy movement. This approach to history is now under attack from the ideologues of the new right. It is no coincidence that the current attacks on the welfare state and public sector are accompanied by attempts to undermine core cultural and institutional freedoms such as rights of trade unionists and media freedom. These activities are undermining the freedoms and opportunities that had been achieved through working-class, progressive struggle against the bitter opposition of the ruling class.2

Primary factors that shape the health of people in Canada and the US are not medical treatments or lifestyle choices but rather the living conditions they experience. These conditions have come to be known as the social determinants of health. Income is perhaps the most important social determinant of health. Increasing income inequality has led to a hollowing out of the middle class in Canada and US with significant increase in inequality in the past 30 years. 50% of health outcomes can be attributed to the social determinants of health.

Lower income is associated with increased burden of diseases and higher mortalityThe emerging consensus is that income inequality is a key health policy issue that needs to be addressed. This variation among individuals and groups due to income is referred to as the ‘social gradient.’ The social gradient illustrates that higher income levels result in better health outcomes. Poor conditions lead to poorer health. An unhealthy material environment and unhealthy behaviours have direct harmful effects, but the worries and the insecurities of daily life and the lack of supportive environments also have an influence.

A report in 2015 by five IMF economists dismissed “trickle-down” economics, and said that if governments wanted to increase the pace of growth they should concentrate on helping the poorest 20% of citizens. The study – covering advanced, emerging and developing countries – said technological progress, weaker trade unions, globalization and tax policies that favoured the wealthy had all played their part in making widening inequality ‘the defining challenge of our time’.

The IMF report said the way income is distributed matters for growth. “If the income share of the top 20% increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, suggesting that the benefits do not trickle down. In contrast, an increase in the income share of the bottom 20% is associated with higher GDP growth,” said the report.

The report noted that widening inequality also has significant implications for growth and macroeconomic stability, it can concentrate political and decision-making power in the hands of a few, lead to suboptimal use of human resources, cause investment-reducing political and economic instability, and raise crisis risk. The economic and social fallout from the global financial crisis and the resultant headwinds to global growth and employment have heightened the attention to rising income inequality. Policymakers need to focus on the poor and the middle class. The IMF study suggests that raising the income share of the poor and ensuring there is no further hollowing out of the middle class is good for growth through a number of inter-related economic, social and political channels.3

Where should these investments be made? Poor people can spend over 30% of their disposable income on housing. Providing supportive housing for individuals and families and making rent affordable for households at risk of homelessness would address this. Single mothers represent a disproportion of those living in poverty. Providing access to subsidized childcare for poor families would allow women to futher their education and/or make it feasible for them to work. Poor people have problems travelling to where the jobs are. Providing a low-income transit passes is an answer to such transportation challenges. In addition, ensure that people delivering city services, either directly or through contractors, have decent, stable jobs. It is important to create opportunity for people with lived experience to guide and work in city programs to ensure relevance and effectiveness.

Families should earn an income sufficient for them to pay for the basic necessities of life so that they can live with dignity and participate as active citizens in our society. Investment in the lower 20% creates more opportunities for the working poor. Rousseau identified a two-fold remedy for poverty: one pertains to the duty of individuals to one another and the other pertains to the economic institutions or structures under the control of government. It is evident to Rousseau that government has a role in economic distribution. As cultural process gave rise to the inequalities, Rousseau noted, it takes a change in cultural process to reverse the harmful inequalities.

1 Phillips, Amber. (10 Nov 2015) The top 9 issues ahead of Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/11/10/the-top-9-issues-ahead-of-tuesdays-gop-presidential-debate/

Taylor, Richard and Rodger Fieldhouse (31 Dec 2013) Our History is Under Attack http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/31/history-under-attack-ep-thompson

Keller, Jared. (18 June 2015) The IMF Confirms That ‘Trickle-Down’ Economics Is, Indeed, a Joke. http://www.psmag.com/business-economics/trickle-down-economics-is-indeed-a-joke

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On the Rationalization of Inequality

Voltaire observed, “One day everything will be well. Everything is fine today. That is our illusion.” Illusion is the ability to manipulate how other people perceive reality. What began in September 2011 as a small group of protesters camping out in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park ignited a national and global movement calling out the ruling class of elites by connecting the dots between corporate and political power. Its main message is the fact the economic system is rigged for the very few while the majority continue to fall further behind. This was an effort to educate the middle class on what was really happening. The singular success of the Occupy Wall Street protest is to put inequality on the political agenda.

Since the Great Recession, shareholder profits, CEO pay, and corporate tax breaks have soared while average household wealth continues to sink, college debt skyrockets, living costs increase, real wages decline, and the middle class struggles to survive. Ted Cruz admitted “the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our income nationally than any year since 1928.” In a true trickle-down economy, the benefits of productivity and innovation would be shared fairly by all stakeholders, not just the select few with authority to dictate compensation and how the profits of a company are distributed.

Republicans love touting the benefits of trickle-down economics and are still doing it in the big debate over tax cuts for the wealthy. The idea is simple: The more money the people on top make, the more the people below will benefit from the dripping down of that prosperity. The hidden agenda here, of course, is the rationalization of inequality. By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the Republicans can protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash.1

Rationalization is a product of scientific study and technological advances in the Western world. By reducing tradition’s hold on society, rationalization led to new practices. Instead of human behavior being motivated by customs and traditions, rationalization led to behaviors that were guided by reason and practicality. Max Weber believed that rationalization not only transformed modern society, it played an important role in the development of Western society and capitalism. Rationalization of the economy created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself. This, in turn, created the notion that there exists an inherent natural law unaffected by human endeavor and weakness that drives the economy. Some contemporary philosophers have argued that rationalization, as falsely assumed progress, has a negative and dehumanizing effect on society, moving modernity away from the central tenets of enlightenment.

The bubble universe of trickle down economics into which conservatives recruit others involves ‘groupthink’. Groupthink is a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, created by a faulty group decision-making process, which is not critical of each other’s ideas. Groups experiencing groupthink do not consider all the alternatives and they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions. Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions. The group applies selective bias in processing information at hand leading to collective rationalization.

The economic debate during the November 10, 2015 fourth Republican presidential debate of the campaign season featured groupthink. All candidates have a plan to cut taxes to the rich in order to create well-paying jobs for the middle class. There is unanimity that the economy is worse under President Obama. Inequality will be addressed under their various economic plans; basically, as the rich get richer prosperity will return for all.

However, there were signals during the debate from the candidates that the system has other problems. Some of these came out during discussion on the big banks. John Kasich identified a need to establish ethical values, as greed is rampant on Wall Street. Jeb Bush identified a shortcoming in that the big banks required more capitalization in order to reduce risk to depositors. Carly Fiorina launched several rants against big government. If only one of the journalists could have directed her to discuss the Wall Street-Washington corridor and its effect on big government. Ted Cruz criticized the Fed expansionary money policy, the oversupply money props up the market, but most sits in big banks and keeps interest rates down which affects the ability of average person to save.

None of the three journalists, Maria Bartiromo, Neil Cavuto, both anchors on Fox Business, nor Gerard Baker the editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, who were moderating the debate, followed up any of these leads. There was an opportunity to probe ‘crony capitalism’ and problems with Dodd Franks, in particular, the influence of lobbyists in combination with lawyers from the big banks in gutting the intent of the original bill. Where was the debate on a requirement for a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act that would separate investment banking from commercial banking?

In addition, the moderators carefully avoided the elephant in the room, how to address the existing oligarchy. This would include the candidates identifying policies to end big money’s grip on politics, an issue that lies at the core of the debate on the economy. This is not a novel concept. US Senator Bernie Sanders identified the issue in a speech at the Brookings Institution in February 2015 in Washington. “[W]e are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society,” Sanders said. “Today, the most serious problem we face is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality. This is a profound moral issue, this is an economic issue and this is a political issue.”2

The media creates cognitive dissonance, the feeling of uncomfortable tension, which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. The cult of individualism makes us particularly prone to cognitive dissonance because our personal identity is very important. We see ourselves as stable self-contained beings. However, advertising that we may be missing something, or not fitting in creates anxiety. Television tends to feed an information diet (of self-approval) similar to consuming too much sugar inducing short-term euphoria and happiness while distracting from reality. The weakness of the mass media remains an inability to transmit tacit knowledge and an inability to deal with complex issues, so there is a need to simplify. Consequently they tend to focus on the unusual or sensational, and the promotion of anxiety and fear.

Our beliefs can dictate what we see. Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling people experience when confronted by things that “should not be, but are.” Some react to the situation with anxiety, but others will develop even stronger convictions of their previous belief. The drive to avoid cognitive dissonance can be so strong that people sometimes react to discomforting evidence by strengthening their original beliefs and creating rationalizations to dismiss the discomforting evidence.

Cognitive dissonance also occurs in the pairing of unrelated facts to create correlation. An example of this is President George W Bush’s speech in which he mentioned Iraq and the September 11th attacks in the same sentence. The close proximity of the mentions is designed to create a correlation in people’s minds when the reality is different. By insinuating, people subconsciously take the idea and turn it into a possibility. This information is fed into the conservative echo chamber of which Fox News is the centerpiece, and through repetition, the correlation becomes fact based on misinformation. As a result, in 2013, two years after the terrorist’s strike against the US 70% of Americans believed that Iraq was involved. The belief in the connection persists even though there has been no proof of a link between the two.

During the fourth Republican debate we heard the mantra repeated over and over again – linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the the need to cut the size of government and taxes of the rich. This is an example of taking an idea and turning it into a possibility. Through repetition, the correlation between cutting taxes and good jobs becomes a fact based on misinformation. The uncomfortable feeling is created by the fact that 40 years of minimal government and deregulation has lead to increasing economic inequality with fewer and fewer opportunities for individuals to live the American Dream.

A dream does not necessarily need to be “real” to work as social glue; all that is necessary is for enough people to believe in the illusion. During the Fox Business televised Republican debate information was manipulated how people perceive the ‘American Dream.’ The illusion is cutting taxes for the rich will actually create well paying jobs for the rest of society. The singular success of the Fox Business Network debate is to have more people believe in this illusion by spreading misinformation based on the rationalization of inequality.

1Sanghoee, Sanjay. (12 July 2012). America’s Trickle “Up” Economy and the Rationalization of Inequality. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sanjay-sanghoee/americas-trickle-up-economy_b_2258110.html

2Prupis, Nadia. (10 Feb 2015) Bernie Sanders: Keeping US from Becoming Oligarchy Is ‘A Struggle We Must Win’. http://billmoyers.com/2015/02/10/bernie-sanders-keeping-us-becoming-oligarchy-struggle-must-win/

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Part 2 of 2: The Class System and Education

Most social scientists in the U.S. agree that society is stratified into social classes. Social classes are hierarchical groupings of individuals that are usually based on wealth, educational attainment, occupation, income, or membership in a subculture or social network. The class system in America puts those with the most wealth, power, and prestige at the top of the hierarchy and those with the least at the bottom.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) based his conflict theory on the idea that modern society has only two classes of people: the bourgeoisie – the owners of the means of production: the factories, businesses, and equipment needed to produce wealth, and the proletariat or workers. According to Marx, the bourgeoisie in capitalist societies exploit workers. The owners pay them enough to afford food and a place to live, and the workers, who do not realize they are being exploited, have a false consciousness, or a mistaken sense, that they are well off. They think they can count on their capitalist bosses to do what was best for them.

For Marx all history is class struggle. Exploitation is hidden by the political institutions that exist. The state was a reflection of the most powerful economic classes. Working-class consciousness is then, for Marxists, in comprehending the struggle of the process through which the proletariat develops from its identity as formed by capitalism (the mass of exploited wage-labourers, the class ‘in itself’) to the working class organised as a revolutionary force for the taking of power and the building of socialism (the class ‘for itself’) Then, in the Manifesto, Marx and Engels had written: “. . . a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class . . . in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists goes over to the proletariat.” The proletariat must ensure that the bourgeois ideologists have been educated to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole.1

Marx foresaw a workers’ revolution. As the rich grew richer, Marx hypothesized that workers would develop a true class-consciousness, or a sense of shared identity based on their common experience of exploitation by the bourgeoisie. The workers would unite and rise up in a global revolution. Marx’s vision did not come true. As societies modernized and grew larger, the working classes became more educated, acquiring specific job skills and achieving the kind of financial well-being that Marx never thought possible.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s view there is no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consists of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. Nietzsche (1844-1900) was concerned with the German cultural decline. He believed the cause of the decline included the following: the dominance of commercial society, triumph of philistinism, the death of God, growth of decadence. He was not concerned with the evolution of bourgeoisie society which makes it necessary at some time that such a society be replaced by a qualitatively different system. For Nietzsche the structure of presuppositions which forms the basis of any culture has no external or natural validity, it cannot lead to a qualitatively different system.

For Nietzsche, the values (culture and traditions) of the dominant society (with an ideology consistent with its interests) were oppressing the emergence of a new generation of stronger individuals and a more vigorous society and culture. Darwin effectively showed that searching for a true definition of species was not only futile but unnecessary since the definition of a species is something temporary, something which will change over time, without any permanent, lasting and stable reality. Nietzsche strived through his philosophical work to do the same for cultural values. He substituted Darwin’s adaptive fitness with creative power – for Nietzsche, everything is in flux. Ideas should change as soon as information and input changes.

Early in his life Nietzsche had had the hope that some sort of education regeneration would be possible – finally realizing we are never rid of the past merely by the process of getting older, rather the account requires a change in the manner of understanding. However, Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of the illusory nature of what is considered truth, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values.

Max Weber (1864-1920), a German sociologist and philosopher, took issue with Marx’s seemingly simplistic view of stratification. Weber argued that owning property, such as factories or equipment, is only part of what determines a person’s social class. Weber believed that social class is also a result of power, which is merely the ability of an individual to get his or her way, despite opposition. Wealthy people tend to be more powerful than poor people, and power can come from an individual’s prestige. People who run corporations without owning them still benefit from increased production and greater profits.

People are motivated by custom or tradition, by emotions, by religious or ethical values, and by rational goal oriented behavior. All human behavior, Weber claims, is motivated by various combinations of these four basic factors. However, just because an action is rational in terms of fulfillment of a short-term goal, Weber asserts, does not mean it is rational in terms of the whole society. It often happens, he writes, that an excessive focus on short-term goals undermines the very goals of society.

Weber noted by loosening the hold of custom and tradition, rationalization led to new practices that were chosen because they were efficient and predictable, rather than customary. A rational society is one built around logic and efficiency rather than morality or tradition. Rationalization of the economy created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself. This, in turn, created the notion that there exists an inherent natural law unaffected by human endeavor and weakness that drives the economy.

Today we recognize the limits of economic rationalization that underpins an ideology based on selfishness. The consequences of the 2008 debacle – slow economic growth and under-employment, and the growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society underscores the basis of rational self-interest (selfishness). When challenging ideology (in 2015 the status quo) it is necessary to choose criterion for distinguishing ideas that support the relations of domination from those that do not. The fundamental dogmatism of an economic system of minimal government and regulation is codification of a political ideology defended by proxies.

Sociologists still consider social class to be a grouping of people with similar levels of wealth, prestige, and power. Like all societies, the United States is stratified, and this stratification is often based on a person’s socioeconomic status. This complex formula takes into account three factors: education, occupation, and income.

The American education system is based on class. Students who live in wealthy communities have huge advantages that rig the system in their favour – higher rates of high school graduation, college attendance and entry into more selective colleges. The education system favours the well-off with the growing gap between the rich and poor. University fees were raised faster than the median incomes since the 1980s. Middle class students now rack up huge debts to attend college, especially if they want a postgraduate degree.

In the present system education equates to power – the next generation of powerful leaders gains abilities and skills that will be converted into benefits and power within a country that values education and meritocracy. Higher education breeds middle and upper class citizens who gain greater benefits than those in the lower class. In having the power to determine the credible truths of society, higher education has granted degrees that translate into political tools, economic mobility and ultimately power for those who are able to access college or university.

Education has become a prime vehicle to advance one’s social class. The “American Dream” suggests that the harder people work the more they will flourish economically. Data from the past 40 years increasingly does not support this. Progressive thinkers understand this. Bernie Sanders believes that public colleges and universities should be tuition-free, and the government should drastically reduce interest rates on student loan debt. He would tax the hedge fund managers to pay for this investment.

Hillary Clinton also has a plan to support education in the US. Her plan includes incentive based subsidies to higher education by creating a system in which states are eligible to receive federal grant money. It would make enrollment at community colleges free and affordable without loans at four-year public institutions if students contribute the equivalent of wages from a 10-hour per week job and families make the contribution prescribed by aid eligibility formulas. Part of Clinton’s plan includes refinancing debt and reducing interest rates on new loans.

Paulo Freire (1921-1997), a Brazilian educator and philosopher, claimed that the educational process is never neutral and it is essential that people link knowledge to action so that they actively work to change their societies. He believes that the main purpose of the present education system is to reproduce the values and expectations of the dominant society in order to maintain its power. In the present education system students “receive information as passive entities; education makes them more passive, [this]… regulated information allows students to adapt to the world” Education supports the oppressors by “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation that oppresses them, for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated.”2

The present education system persists to support the existing class system and in the process modifies students’ perception of reality and serves to limit situations in which they can transform the system. The proposed education reforms of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are intended to advance individuals from one social class to another.  However, neither proposed education plan addresses the root cause of the growing economic inequality. Fortunately, there is an opportunity for change. The American system of education is rooted in the Socratic tradition where questioning and skepticism are the foundation to the teaching-learning process.

Most skeptics believe that by continuously questioning our knowledge, the source thereof, and what is held as “truth,” we can greatly reduce the risk of being deceived. By questioning and doubting the fundamental dogmatism of the rationalists David Hume (1711-1776), one of the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, helps focus the issue  insisting, “reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions.” Hume’s primary project was to develop a science of human nature; a science stripped of dogma and based on observable fact and careful argument. Subjectivists would argue that even though emotions are irrational, they should be a part of the decision making process because they show us our preferences.

We need to re-introduce into the universities the type of critical thinking that helped illuminate the way for the thinkers during the Enlightenment and created a cultural revolution that produced new ideas and values. This new intellectual revolution needs to question the workings of society and government, explain the purpose of government, and describe the best form of it to create a new middle class wealth boom.

1 Slaughter, Cliff. (1975) Marxism and the Class Struggle https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/en/slaughte.htm

2 About Paulo Freire. http://www.pedagogyoftheoppressed.com/author/

 

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Part 1 of 2. The Class System and Education

The value referred to as the American Dream is indicative of the American social class system. The American Dream reflects what we see as the kind of equality of opportunity that can exist only in a class system. Americans believe that all people, regardless of the conditions into which they were born, have an equal chance to achieve success. Part of the American Dream is the belief that every child can grow up to be president of the United States. A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Ever since the insecurity created by the economic debacle of 2008, many see opportunities slipping away.

The Enlightenment writers were concerned about a system based on birth privileges, inequality and exploitation. E.P. Thompson described Rousseauian socialism that evolved during the Enlightenment. He described 18th century radicalism’s “… profound distrust of the ‘reasons’ of the genteel and comfortable, and of ecclesiastical and academic institutions, not so much because they produced false knowledge but because they offered specious apologetics for a rotten social order based, in the last resort, on violence and material self-interest …. And to this we must add a …cultural or intellectual definition of ‘class’. Everything in the age of ‘reason’ and ‘elegance’ served to emphasize the sharp distinctions between a polite and a demotic culture. Dress, style, gesture, proprieties of speech, grammar and even punctuation were resonant with the signs of class; the polite culture was an elaborated code of social inclusion and exclusion. Classical learning and an accomplishment in the law stood as difficult gates-of-entry into this culture.”1

For Rousseau the main idea was equality and a government that exists in such a way it protects the equality and character of its citizens. The delicate balance between the authority of the state and the rights of the individual citizens is based on a social compact that protects society against factions and gross differences in wealth and gross differences in wealth and privilege among its members. The gap in society comes from class divisions.

Rousseau believes we must have one power that motivates and binds us all to common goals and ideals. Rousseau’s social contract identified the problem of individualism and consent as sole component of producing government. Humans give up their freedom and consent to be governed. In such a system everyone is treated equally, with no one person having more influence than another (compared to Locke’s liberal individualism that protects the interest of a proprietorial minority). In a class system, an individual’s place in the social system is based on achieved statuses, which are statuses that we either earn or choose and that are not subject to where or to whom we were born. Those born within a class system can choose their educational level, careers, and spouses. Social mobility, or movement up or down the social hierarchy, is a major characteristic of the class system.

The Age of Enlightenment dominated advanced thought in Europe from about the 1650s to the 1780s. It developed from a number of sources of “new” ideas, such as challenges to the dogma and authority of the Catholic Church and by increasing interest in the ideas of science, in scientific methods. In philosophy, it called into question traditional ways of thinking. The Enlightenment thinkers wanted the educational system to be modernized and play a more central role in the transmission of those ideas and ideals. The improvements in the educational systems produced a larger reading public which resulted in increased demand for printed material from readers across a broader span of social classes with a wider range of interests.

In 1859, Charles Darwin published his theory on evolution, On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. He used natural selection as the process to explain how evolution works. Others used Darwin’s work to support their own causes, in particular, on social issues. Herbert Spencer became a vocal supporter of Darwin’s theory, because he felt Darwin’s natural selection could be used to support his own theory of sociology and ethics. Spencer proposed that society was the product of change from lower to higher forms, just as in the Theory of Biological Evolution, the lowest forms of life are said to be evolving into higher forms. He coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” – which states that the strongest or fittest should survive and flourish in society, while the weak and unfit should be allowed to die – and became the Englishman most associated with Social Darwinism. The concept of adaptation allowed him to claim that the rich were better adapted to the social and economic climate of the times, and it was only natural for the rich to survive at the expense of the weak. These ideas appeared at a time when there was a need to rationalize inequalities of laissez-faire capitalism – Social Darwinism emerged as a justification. Industrialists used his theory to justify paying low wages for long hours of hard work to laborers.

Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton (1822-1911), an explorer and anthropologist with an interest in mathematics and techniques of measurement, used Darwin’s theories to support his own cause and, in particular, applied it to social issues. From Darwin’s description of the selection of physical characteristics, Galton set about developing the idea of the ideal man. He became known for his precise quantitative measurements that led him to develop statistical measurement of hereditary predisposition as a way of predicting and improving the population. His work led to the ‘bell curve’ being the starting point for modeling many natural processes.

Galton applied the theory to many measurements of physical traits. He found an approximate normal distribution in the measurements, but there was not a perfect fit. In order to get a better fit he converted the data to a standard score, and averaged the standard score together. Galton’s work on intelligence measurement was based on reaction time – associated with the speed of information processing. In the 1890s, the French government charged Albert Binet with developing a system to screen children who would benefit from public education. Binet’s system measured practical, real-life problems arranged in varying degrees of difficulty. Binet’s tradition gave rise to modern intelligence testing. At the turn of the 20th century, part of the eugenic movement used the bell curve to divide the dominant Anglo-Saxons from immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. In the first two decades of the 20th century, IQ measures backed up the assertions of eugenic promotions.

Karl Pearson (1857-1936) was a mathematician who worked in Galton’s laboratory and developed the Chi squared test. In his various studies, Pearson fell back on mathematical statistics in his desire to find truth. In the 19th century everyone thought that all distributions were normal. After looking at other mathematicians work, he found that distributions reported did not hold up to scrutiny, and the normal error curve could not describe many observations in practice and nature. Pearson found various distributions he studied did not hold up to what had been reported, and the normal error curve cannot describe many observations in practice and nature. Pearson created a new type of statistic, a generalized form of the probability curve, in response to the unshakeable conviction of many of his peers that the normal distribution was the only feasible distribution for the analysis and interpretation of statistical data. Pearson developed a differential equation that was used to model visibly skewed observations. He created a series of equations known as “Pearson’s distribution” when trying to fit known theoretical models to observed data that exhibited skewedness (measuring asymmetrical data) using a differential equation. These formulae have also found use in financial markets

Karl Pearson turned to genetics to support his beliefs around eugenics. Pearson reasoned that if August Weismann’s Theory of Germ Plasma is correct, then acquired characteristics could not be inherited. From this belief one could conclude that training benefits only the trained generation, that is, their children will not exhibit the learned improvements and, in turn, will not be improved, making it impossible to convert poor people into healthy productive members of society by the use of accumulated effect of education, good laws, and sanitary surroundings. In fact, the process would need to be repeated again and again with expenditure of more resources as the population increased, with little improvement. This became the basis of the science that Pearson used to support Social Darwinism. On Galton’s death in 1911, Pearson became the first holder of the Galton Chair of Eugenics at the University of London. It was later renamed the Galton Chair of Genetics in 1963.

There are two main uses of the bell curve in the classroom. One use is called grading on a curve. This process is about assigning grades designed to yield a pre-determined distribution of grades among students in a class. The three requirements are as follows: start with a ordering (ranking) of scores; assign a range of scores to percentiles, and percentile scores are transferred to grades. This allows the test or class to be normalized – meaning grades will be distributed such that the majority of students receive Cs. This system prevents grade inflation and controls for tests harder or easier than the tester intended.

The second use of the bell curve is to develop a modern IQ score. The IQ test evaluates intelligence to a broad range of academic skills – all topics taught and tested in the school system. The items have a right or wrong answer agreed upon by the majority of the people in the culture. Items have a variety of difficulty levels. The answers to many questions depend not only on knowledge of the English language but also on familiarity with certain cultures. There is a strong correlation between an IQ score and how a child performs in school. The IQ test is the industrial world’s measure of ‘bookish academic smarts’ which will measure how well one can do in school, not how well they can do in life. The test lacks questions comforting a sick friend, strategies for appeasing friends and foes, or maximizing enjoyment in life. The tendency to normal distribution (as a result of unavoidable error) should not be used to support pre-conceived ideas that the variable being measured is normally distributed. In social measurements it tends to punish those who fall to the extreme left or right of the bell curve – introducing a concept of abnormal.

In 1994 Richard Herrnstein (1930-1994), a Harvard psychologist whose theory that intelligence was largely inherited, and Charles Murray (1943- ), a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, published The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in America that used the normal curve of error (based on biological determinism) to justify the inequality in the system. They claimed they had discovered that there was a stable 15-point difference between the IQ of children in poor neighborhoods compared to those in middle class neighbor hoods. Their hypothesis was that the lower IQ (15 points) was evidence that blacks (along with whites of comparable test performance) were disproportionately distributed in poverty, in prison, on welfare rolls, and statistics of illegitimate pregnancies. It was the basis for the argument that a meritocracy had developed in America, according to Herrnstein and Murray. This meritocracy, they claimed, was supported by the IQ distribution.

The weakness of Herrnstein and Murray’s argument appears in several areas: (1) IQ distribution better fits a Pearson distribution for skewed data rather than a bell curve, (2) IQs vary by plus or minus five points making it hard to use to position individuals, (3) IQ doesn’t measure individuals who are smarter in one cognitive area than another (like Einstein), (4) the importance of environment for IQ is established by the 12 to 18 point increase in IQ when young children are adopted from working class to middle class homes in Britain.2 Environmental factors could easily account for the 15-point difference that Herrnstein and Murray observed, but attributed to genetics.

In the past decade, epigenetics – which involves the control of gene expression that is not accompanied by any change in the DNA sequence – has shed new light on how environment has a greater effect on a person’s development than previously thought. It is necessary to replace the ‘science’ of genetics from the late the 19th century with ‘science’ of epigenetics of the 21st century. We each get two copies of every gene – one copy from each of our parents. But what happens when one of these genes has been ‘turned off’, or imprinted, and the remaining gene is defective? This imprinting or turning off of a gene is thought to occur in early life. It is known that maternal nutrition could have a dramatic impact on childhood physical and neural development – not solely attributable to genetics. This fact (epigenetic imprinting) repudiates the conclusion in The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in America and, in turn, relegates its advice on social planning “to the  dustbin of history”.

Kathleen Geier and Paul Krugman agree that one of Thomas Picketty’s most important findings in his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that inherited wealth is rapidly re-assuming its traditional role as the preeminent source of economic power. And Krugman notes this trend is being reflected in conservative economic policy in this US: Bush’s tax cuts were about removing taxes from unearned income. Representative Paul Ryan’s “road map” in 2014 called for the elimination of taxes on interest, dividends, capital gains and estates. Under this plan, someone living solely off inherited wealth would have owed no federal taxes at all. Social mobility falls as income inequality rises.3

Andrew Carnegie argued that inheritance tax was the only way to prevent a permanent aristocracy of the wealthy, which could have been prevented had the tax been maintained; instead, North America got that aristocracy, the aristocracy of the descendants of robber barons and bloated bankers. The present economic system of minimal government and regulation supports the social class system of Canada and the US. Protecting inheritance is about maintaining privilege and the class system in which inequality between the rich and rest of society continues to grow. When the rich say they have been privileged to have a good education they are not talking about the private school they attended, rather about the fear of losing these inheritances, these advantages that have little to do with useful learning, that keeps people behaving in particular ways.

1 “Telling the Truth About Class.” http://www.grundrisse.net/grundrisse22/tellingTheTruthAboutClass.htm

2 “No Genes for Intelligence.” (30 Jan 2012) http://www.i-sis.org.uk/No_Genes_for_Intelligence_in_the_Human_Genome.php.

3 Kilgour, Ed. Against the Meritocratic Theory of Inequality.  (24 March 2014) Washington Monthly http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_03/against_the_meritocratic_theor049601.php

 

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Part 2 of 2: A Paradigm Shift

During the early 1900s participants of the Progressive movement were troubled by the plight of the urban poor. They worried that the ‘promise’ of the American system did not extend evenly (Rothman 1980) to all segments of society – it did not penetrate the ghetto or the slum. The progressives rejected the social Darwinists’ logic that the poor and the criminals among them, were biologically inferior and had fallen to society’s bottom rung because they were of lesser stock. In order to address increasing poverty and inequalities the movement spurred an age of reform where government could be trusted to create and administer agencies that could affect social change.

In the 1970s neo-conservatives promoted supply side economics: the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free (incentive effects would generate new activity and so higher revenues) without causing budget deficits. Its creators never believed the initial supply side economics; it was promoted as a credible theory in order to create a political doctrine to unite the right. Supply side economics was amalgamated with ‘starve the beast’ theory to create trickle down economics. John Kenneth Galbraith, an economist who warned of the dangers of deregulated markets and corporate greed, observed, “the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”1

Claims of objectivity or rationalization can be considered as a means of presenting one’s own ideology as a screen for an established fact. Knowledge that is pluralistic is incompatible with the concept of one objective reality. Pluralism in politics is about acknowledgement of diversity. In a pluralistic vision, though, members of most groups will share the most important meanings that hold society together. They may, however, disagree on customs and the choice of lifestyle. The theory is that political power in society does not lie within the electorate but is distributed between a wide number of groups. In democratic politics, pluralism is a guiding principle which permits the peaceful coexistence of different interesting convictions and lifestyles. In this system it is imperative that members of society accommodate their difference by engaging in good-faith negotiations. Pluralism also implies the right of individuals to determine values and truths for themselves, instead of being forced to follow the whole society. The common good, the ideas of individuals and groups to ensure that all the wants and needs of society are taken care of, is established within the pluralist framework. In an oligarch society, where power is concentrated and decisions made by a few members, there is no widespread negotiation or participation or ownership in decisions.

Getting ahead is ostensibly based on individual merit, which is generally viewed as a combination of factors including supposedly objective criteria of abilities, working hard, having the right attitude, and having high moral character and integrity. There is a gap between how people think the system works and how the system actually does work. Rationalization of authority is the process and a meritocratic order the end. In a true trickle-down economy, the benefits of productivity and innovation would be shared fairly by all stakeholders, not just the select few with authority to dictate compensation and how the profits of a company are distributed. In the 21st century, the top down economic system of control is about cheap money and power staying concentrated with a small group at the top of the economic pyramid. Trickle down economics links the welfare of the working class directly to the prosperity of the rich, protecting the interests of the few at the top of the economic pyramid.

Meritocracy consists of an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth. In a meritocracy, all citizens have the opportunity to be recognized and advanced in proportion to their abilities and accomplishments. The ideal of meritocracy has become controversial because of its association with the use of tests of intellectual ability, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, to regulate admissions to elite colleges and universities. Many contend that an individual’s performance on these tests reflects his or her social class and family environment more than ability. Marx observed that all social systems have a small minority of powerful elites. Meritocracy has become a rationalization that allows the rich to abrogate any sense of duty to those less fortunate.

Soren Kierkegaard was critical of rationalism. He believed that humanistic rationalism leads to the loss of all meaning. The only way to be sure of truth is eliminating every ulterior motive or bias to what one says. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche focused on subjective human experiences rather than the objective truths of mathematics and science. The objective thinker is interested in what defines existence, while the subjective thinker is interested in how existence is defined. The objective thinker has a need to quantify certain probability while the subjective thinker ultimately must accept uncertainty.

Kierkegaard argues that the falsehood of objectivity may be revealed by a lack of need for personal commitment, and by lack of need for decision-making, while the truth of subjectivity may be revealed by a need for personal commitment, and by a need for decision-making. The speculating thinker attempts to stand apart from his or her own existence, and attempts to view existence objectively. In contrast, the subjective thinker realizes that he or she cannot stand apart from existence, and that the truth of his or her own existence is found in his or her own subjectivity.

Nietzsche believed that human reason is rationalization, and truth is simply the name given to the point of view of the people who have the power to enforce their point of view. Whatever man can make work in order to achieve his purposes becomes the truth in the system. There is no objective reality behind truth – different perspectives produce different truths. Nietzsche believes that science at its best keeps us in a simplified suitably constructed and suitably falsified world, and that the artificial world that concerns us is a fiction. Instead of using truth as the highest standard of value, Nietzsche argues, individuals need to develop their own powers of judgment and to produce ideas and ethics that will strengthen them and help them to live.2

Kierkegaard made a distinction between objective and subjective truth. For Kierkegaard objective truth merely seeks attachment to the right object, corresponding with an independent reality. On the other hand, subjective truth seeks the achievement of the right attitude; an appropriate relation between object and knower. For Kierkegaard it was subjective truth that counts in life: how we believe is more important than what we believe. It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere. Existentialists oppose rationalism and positivism.

Subjective thinking can be the basis for a paradigm shift. Although Christianity is objectively merely one of many available religions in the world, it subjectively demands our complete attention. Pope Francis commented on the pursuit of money and criticized inequalities and the excesses of capitalism, based on his sincere belief of the gospels of Jesus of the New Testament. The pope noted that once greed for money drives the economic system, it sets people against each other and harms the common home (ecosystem). The Pope seeks the truth through subjective thinking.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is attracting attention in the US because his campaign proposes a paradigm shift. Saunders is pursuing subjective truths. He claims, “our economic goals have to be redistributing a significant amount [of wealth] back from the top 1 percent… move to a society that provides a high quality of life for all our people.” Sanders notes that erosion of collective bargaining rights over the last 40 years have created an economy that delivers maximum profit to the corporations. Fox News labels Bernie Sanders “too extreme”, but that is the result of filtering Sanders’ public policy through the lens of objectivity which supports the profit paradigm.

There is other evidence of subjective thinking. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, made a vigorous defense that the rich got rich courtesy of the social contract, that provides society with the rules and laws that allow a functioning society to proper. Today there is a hereditary meritocracy as the elite in Canada and the US are now self-perpetuating. “Opportunity,” according to Elizabeth Warren, “is slipping away.” Since 2008 there has been a need for more accountability from the big banks on Wall Street. In 2015 the banks are receiving paltry fines after being caught red-handed recently manipulating foreign exchange markets. In other words, there are no practical consequences to these crimes. It is clear why Warren talks about the game being “rigged.”

We can never know how much we do not know. The precautionary principle to protect the environment was defined in 1992 as one of the principles of the Rio Conference on Environment and Development. The accepted principle includes the premise that even if full scientific certainty does not exist of the threat (to health or the environment) that shall not be used as the reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent adverse health impacts or environmental degradation. That means that an activity or product should not be used if it cannot be reasonably predicted that it will lead to unacceptable consequences Today this would include epigenetic risk. Epigenetic risk is not merely a medical risk, but implicates the fundamental principles of fairness and justice underlying the present social contract.

Health and wellness is essentially a subjective experience. Gradients in resources and exposures associated with socioeconomic factors may reflect the impact of subjective social status (i.e., where one perceives oneself as fitting relative to others in a social hierarchy determined by wealth, influence, and prestige). A growing body of research in multiple disciplines—including psychology, neurology, immunology, education, child development, demography, economics, sociology, and epidemiology—examines the interplay of socio- economic factors, psychological and other mediating factors, and biology. Evidence has clearly demonstrated that relationships between socioeconomic factors and health are complex, dynamic, and interactive; that they may involve multiple mechanisms including epigenetic processes that alter gene expression; and that, at times, they may only manifest decades after exposure.

All writing and all science are socially constructed and therefore subject to bias. It is important to first describe any bias that is inherent in the argument, and second to seek to determine whether political biases have influenced the selection and interpretation of evidence. We should accept there is no objective truth, only a variety of subjective views developed through dialogue with others. The principles for determining how evidence has been appraised must be explicit and transparent, the means of taking account of bias must be clear, and the thresholds of acceptability which have been used to accept or reject evidence should be open to external scrutiny. Once one controls for bias, it is possible to achieve a paradigm shift by changing from objective thinking to subjective thinking.

The determinants of health operate in a complex, interactive environment, and the effects they produce are often not apparent for a number of years. As a result, causal relationships are more difficult to establish, return on investment occurs quite far in the future. In the new system corresponding policies and initiatives don’t compete well with other more immediate spending for healthcare service priorities. With a paradigm shift, adopting a collaborative approach towards the policies that address the social determinants of health can transform the system leading to healthier individuals, and ultimately addressing the wellness of individuals and providing opportunities for them to reach their full potential.

1Horsman, Greg. (2012) Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment. p. 147

2Clarke, Maudemarie. Nietzsche on truth and philosophy. http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam034/90036094.pdf

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