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.”

2 “No Genes for Intelligence.” (30 Jan 2012)

3 Kilgour, Ed. Against the Meritocratic Theory of Inequality.  (24 March 2014) Washington Monthly


Posted in economic inequality, Enlightenment | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part 1 of 2. A Paradigm Shift

In the 19th century Hegel developed a theory to explain historical development as a dynamic process. This not only enforces the concept that conflicts are not bad, but good for generating understanding. According to Hegel it goes a step further, everything in the universe is dialectical. There is constant unfolding of narratives-counter narratives and action-reaction between agents. Hegel thusly claims contradictions are the only way any given individual or society will move forward and progress. To give a brief outline, this model begins with an existing element, or thesis, with contradictions inherent to its structure. These contradictions unwittingly create the thesis’ direct opposite, or antithesis, bringing about a period of conflict between the two. The new element, or synthesis, that emerges from this conflict then discovers its own internal contradictions, and starts the process anew.

The reason the Hegelian dialectic is termed “progressive” is because each new thesis represents an advance over the previous thesis, continually until an endpoint (or final goal) is reached. Marx and Darwin used this theory in their work. This in turn, leads to positivism. Positivism is a belief that society, like the physical world, operates according to general laws, or knowledge derives from experience. Thus the social world can be studied the same way as the natural world. Positivism accepts social reorganization.

Kierkegaard describes Hegel’s philosophy as representing a speculative mode of thinking. Hegel describes truth as a continuous world-historical process, and as the becoming of an absolute reality. Kierkegaard describes truth as a leap of faith, and as the becoming of the individual’s subjectivity. While speculative thinking reflects on concrete things abstractly, subjective thinking reflects on abstract things concretely.

Just as Isaac Newton explained the laws of motion and gravitation, Adam Smith analyzed the laws of motion of the economic categories of civil society as if they were the laws of nature. Smith’s work was popular because it provided an ‘ethical’ rationale for the capitalist system that explained how, when one acted in their own interest, it actually helped someone he did not even know. The early positivists like Comte attempted to equate the study of society with the study of nature and tried to discover laws of societal development on a par with the structural principles of human anatomy in biology. This leads to positivism, the term used to describe an approach to the study of society that relies specifically on scientific evidence, such as experiments and statistics, to reveal a true nature of how society operates.

Although the positivists set out to explain and control the social world, they actually take a back seat to the people who control the social wealth and the social relations of production–the Rockefellers, Morgans, DuPonts and the rest of the monopoly capitalist class in league with the Military Industrial complex and the elected officials beholding to the oligarchs – a structure which composes The Power Elite. The people whose interests the positivists serve are the oligarchs and the managers of the multinational corporations.

Positivism as an ideology justifies the two largest economies in the world: China and the US. The fact positivism reflects capitalist values, legitimizes capitalist society, and was favoured by capitalist corporations and governmental agencies for social political reasons demonstrates its claim to being a value-free politically neutral methodology is specious. Positivism is granted legitimacy because it legitimates certain sociopolitical principals, not because it is legitimate scientific practice. In China the Communist party must justify its existence as communism (a positivism ideology) is considered the end stage of capitalism. With the recent turmoil in the in the Chinese markets, US pundits have suggested that China allow the market to manage itself, conveniently forgetting  dururng the turmoil of the 2008 financial debacle the taxpayers provided half a trillion dollars of public money to CitiBank.1

Thomas Kuhn (1962) in “the Structure of Scientific Revolution” spoke of cognitive relativism: truth is relative to a set of extra-rational conventions of conceptual schemes and interpretation of data. The development of science can be understood in the terms of paradigm. Paradigms historically emerge from a crisis in communication. Upon establishment a paradigm begins to organize a science both in terms of relevant communication and cognition, and in terms of underlying communities. Eventually it gives way to the further development of the paradigm.

Paradigms are not subject to testing or justification, in fact, empirical procedures are embedded within paradigms. Paradigms structure our perceptions of the world. There are no crucial experiments instead anomalies accumulate and eventually advocates of an old paradigm die out and leave the field to practioners of a new paradigm shift. The voice of the inexpert must be heard. For example, non-experts against the prevailing assumptions in the scientific community first identified many environmental perils.

In this system eventually a paradigm falls back into crisis and disintegrates when it loses the competition with other paradigms at the supra-individual level. Supra-individual factors include environmental and cultural factors that partially determine your actions, examples where you live, inequality, culture, and religion. Paradigms can be considered examples of systems that are highly codified and therefore able to determine at the supra-individual level what can be considered a competent contribution and what not. Markets make up a subsystem with a different code – price. For markets self-organization is relegated to the ‘invisible hand’. However, as the 2008 crisis demonstrated, it is possible for an individual to make use of asymmetric data to manipulate the system.

Luhmann’s theory of communication – a system is defined by a boundary between itself and its environment, dividing it from an infinitely complex, chaotic exterior. The interior of the system is thus a zone of reduced complexity Communication within a system operates by selecting only a limited amount of information available outside. This process is called reduction of complexity. Each system has a distinctive identity that is constantly reproduced and depends on what is considered meaningful and what is not. If a system fails to maintain that identity it ceases to exist as a system and dissolves back into the environment it emerged from.

Social systems consist of communications. All social systems constitute themselves through communications – there exists no other mode of operation. Only social systems communicate not humans. Human consciousness is a precondition for communication but not part of a social system. Communications are attributed to persons, which are colloquially identified as “participants of communication.” Communications connect to earlier communications; thereby a social system reproduces itself. What is only possible is the reproduction of communication from the results of communication.

Social systems form a unity by exchanging information (memes) within themselves and establish a boundary with the environment by communicating or interacting with an element or system of the environment. When social systems communicate there is a boundary between itself and the environment, a zone of reduced complexity. There is differentiated communication found in politics, economy, and religion. It has a binary code: profit / no profit; for / against; creating dogmatic verdicts.

It is now well documented that the present economic system is responsible increasing economic inequality between a few at the top and the rest of society. The upcoming elections in Canada and the US theoretically should create opportunities for the introduction of new paradigms. However, Donald Trump, an early leader of the Republican hopefuls did not garner attention by discussing the change needed to address inequality. Rather he out maneuvered his fellow contenders applying the politics of fear. In particular, he captured the concern of the Republican base on the fear of illegal immigrants in the US. Mike Huckabee, another Republican contender for 2016, took a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook. He also invoked the politics of fear (the Holocaust) to garner attention. President Barack Obama is marching Israelis to “the door of the oven” by agreeing to the Iran nuclear deal, Mike Huckabee said.

In the past decade the Canadian economy has performed the poorest since World War II. Prime Minister Harper claims if his government hadn’t been in charge things would be even worse than they are today. Rather than consider a paradigm shift, Harper claims, with all the economic turmoil in the world the last thing you need in Canada is change. In place of a paradigm shift, the Harper government relies on the politics of fear to distract the voters. Foreign Affairs bureaucrats were told this spring to produce three terrorism-related statements for minister Rob Nicholson to make to the media each week, ahead of a fall election in which security and Canada’s response to terrorism. For the fall election Stephen Harper emphasizes, again and again, now is not the time for change. The two main themes for the conservatives, the economy and security, are both supported by the politics of fear.

In the US, Republican Gov. Scott Walker approved legislation that bars unions from collecting mandatory representation fees. The right to work legislation is designed to suppress wages. Conservative politicians make decisions supported by the economic system driven by the profit paradigm. The reduction of complexity (created by the system) allows such factors as reduced government and regulation to be promoted, even when there are signs of increasing inequality. This creates the situation in which conservatives are oblivious to the consequences of their policies. In Canada the temporary foreign worker program brought in large numbers of workers for service industries, which displaced existing Canadian workers with lower paid staff, and kept the wages suppressed overall. After ten years in power, the Harper government is more focused on their legacy than introducing change to help address the growing economic inequality among Canadians.

Social Systems consist of communications between people, not the people themselves. Communication makes use of a kind of cultural processes and functional events caught on and subsequently imitated, called memes. Systems are closed and can only come into contact via interactional use of memes. Capitalism is built around the meme of individual consumption, the meme the invisible hand controlling the market, and upward mobility –individuals are rewarded by work hard and following the rules. Corporations control key memes: happiness is associated with consumption of more consumer goods and the belief that minimal government and regulations drives the system.

The rational tradition seeks to remove the individual from the equation entirely. Objectively means that which is independent of any particular point of view. On the modern rational scheme, both science and morality requires a strictly impartial perspective. Knowing that no individual is fully capable of such impartiality or objectivity, we construct political decision making systems designed to compensate for the inevitable bias. The pivot point of modern politics, science and ethics is the nullifying of the individual point of view. Today through the influence of money the oligarchs have re-introduced bias into the system.

It will take a paradigm shift or change in the accepted way of doing things – minimal government and regulations – to address the increasing economic inequality. When Thomas Kuhn introduced the concept in 1962 he wanted people to think of a paradigm shift as change in one way of thinking to another. It doesn’t just happen, its driven by agents of change. Kuhn states that “awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory”.2 We realize the increasing economic inequality that we perceive around us is supported by a system to which we had been previously socially conditioned. We are aware of the need to change this system which we know to be unjust. This requires a paradigm change from a system that supports the growth of profits to a system that supports opportunities for the individual to reach their full potential.

1Kirkpatrick, R. George, Katsiaficas, George N, Mary Lou Emery Critical Theory and the Limits of Sociological Positivism

2 What is a Paradigm Shift?

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part 2 of 2. Dare to Think

During the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests neither the oligarchs nor the bankers found it necessary to respond. The rationale for this attitude has been around for years. Ayn Rand (1905-1982), a novelist and philosopher who developed a philosophical system she called Objectivism, provided the rationale on why there is no need for capitalism to compromise with a mixed economy. Rand claimed: “There can be no meeting ground, no middle, no compromise between opposite principles. There can be no such thing as ‘moderation’ in the realm of reason and morality…The advocates…declare at this point that any idea that permits compromise constitutes “extremism” – that any form of ‘extremism,’ any uncompromising stand, is evil – that the consensus sprawls only over those ideas which are amiable to ‘moderation’ – and that moderation is the extreme virtue, superseding reason and morality… Observe, therefore, that the doctrine of ‘compromise’ and ‘moderation’ applies to everything except one issue: any suggestion to limit the power of the government.”[i] It is not surprising then that proposals for change to prevent another economic debacle did not include compromise as part of the solution.

In spite of the Scientific Revolution, new ideas from science can take awhile to have an effect. Corporations have adopted the disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry over the past fifty years. These tactics include introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, by setting up so called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. This includes cherry picking scientific spokespeople whose interpretations of the peer-reviewed literature suggest to the media and the public that the debate amongst scientists continues, and the results are not definitive. Industries sponsor sophisticated research activities that include both funding of established research institutions, as well as funding of advocacy and ideological organizations to conduct disinformation campaign – leaving public and law makers confused.

Even when facts contradict political ideology, challenging misbelief with fact checking doesn’t necessarily work – conservative media (radio talk shows, television and newspaper articles) provide a milieu where concerned individuals can find evidence that is consistent with their beliefs rather than evidence that might disconfirm them, thus re-enforcing their confirmation bias.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are connected by the anger of the common person against the banks for manipulating the system and almost tanking the economy. Their manifesto becomes a list of items for corporations to clean up and become accountable. This includes rolling back the widespread tactics of misinformation that originated with the tobacco industry, and promoting the political will to transform the system in fundamental ways. For retirees, annuity payments have nosedived. Those not on defined pensions face the prospect of getting only a fraction of the payment anticipated fifteen years ago. The fact that pension plans have shrunk, and are not likely recover for years, is the harsh reality faced by employees contemplating retirement. The economic inequalities promoted by Wall Street are harmful to many people. The call out to the middle class is – to think – the financial system has taken advantage of them. The legacy of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been to dare to challenge the system, identifying extreme inequality as the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, and highlight the failure of the legislators to protect 99% of the people.

In the 21st century, there are two key jurisdictions in which the individual must dare to think – epigenetics and economics. Because the environment can alter our genes much more readily than previously thought, epigenetics is the next frontier for the individual to understand in order for them to have the opportunity to reach their full potential. The economics of forty years of deregulation was followed by the economic debacle of 2008. The slow recovery compounded by uncertainty is being promoted as the new normal, which is code for promoting a new social contract in which the gap between the wealthy and the middle class grows. After the 2008 recession, it was the top 1% who got all the benefits of growth stimulated by government subsidies, while the bottom 90% grew poorer.

Environmental factors can alter the way our genes are expressed via epigenetic mechanisms. Epigenetics involves genetic control by factors other than an individual’s DNA sequence. Developmental psychology is studying this from the perceptions of positive thoughts. Our beliefs filter our perceptions and cause every cell to react. These reactions can cause us to be negative and become protective (flight or fright response) or in growing mode and healthy. Genes are activated by the perception of our environment – if the perception is wrong then beliefs control our genes. With respect to environmental stimuli, negative thoughts can be as damaging as an environmental toxin.

This is another opportunity to dare to think. With the application of knowledge, one no longer behaves fearfully. One does not have free will as long as he behaves in ways that are unsatisfactory to him. It requires the same discipline to change behavior that is used to change diet and lose weight. Motivation, the association of great pleasure to an end result, is a requirement. (In modern society people are motivated to earn lots of money that is associated with pleasure and freedom.) It is necessary to take full responsibility for all your thoughts, actions and perceptions.

95% of our reality lies in the subconscious mind. In the subconscious there is no choice, simply unconscious reaction based on long-standing programs and neural pathways. Again, we must dare to think, re-evaluate our world and pay attention to our thoughts. We have the ability to re-route our neural networks. Where there is choice, there can be change. We can change gene expression by the way we think about our lives and ourselves. Choose perceptions that make you feel happy and good about yourself, which supports you reaching your full potential.

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), an American economist and sociologist, described the rich or leisure class as sheltered from economic pressures that prevailed. From this privileged position, as a class, they were less responsive to the demands required to change society. The pressures of the downturn in the economy do not directly impact the wealthy. There is no penalty for not changing, hence no uneasiness with the existing order of things or pressure to change their worldview. It appears that the wealthy class is not mean-spirited, rather they suffer from the fear of change like all normal men. It is because they have less exposure to the economic forces that drive change than the middle class. The fact is increasing income inequality, seen in Canada and the US today, affects how people think about each other and society.[i]

The guiding principle of globalization is to maximize profits of corporations through the promotion of consumerism. There is a communication strategy to advance the corporate agenda behind globalization; the communications are designed to reduce resistance to the process by making it seem both highly beneficial and unstoppable. There is also the psychology of the inevitable. The alleged inability of governments to halt the progress of globalization is widely perceived as beyond human control, which further weakens resistance.[ii]

The economic debacle of 2008 has become a game changer. The Organization for Co-operative Development (OECD) lost its moral authority to give lectures to the emerging world on how things should be done. To find ways out of the crisis, the OECD countries used multiple approaches – fiscal stimuli, massive debt, nationalization of banks. This was not the same recipe that they lectured to the emerging economies who were facing their respective crisis in the 1980s and 1990s. It appears that an oligarchy and weak regulatory agencies created the economic distortion that led to the Asian financial crisis in 1997. By 2000, the oligarchy that looks after the interests of the big banks in the US had convinced the politicians of the need to keep the market unfettered by regulation, creating the over-leveraged market that imploded in 2008 (controlling the banks was bad). The International Monitory Fund (IMF) helped bring in the austerity measures in 1997 to help the financial and government reform in Asia. After 2008, the IMF re-invented itself defending fiscal stimuli and ongoing deregulation.

This change in the messages and role of the IMF creates cognitive dissonance – the discomfort that comes from holding conflicting beliefs – by branding this as the new normal. The new normal is the low return on fixed investments for the small investor, the need to work longer before retirement, and having less retirement income than previously planned. Others claim that the new normal is only a return to the past – to slow growth and high unemployment. Middle-class salaries stopped rising over three decades ago, while the income gap between the rich and the middle class continued to grow during this period.

The prolonged recovery will change trade patterns. Globalization will become less sustainable as consumption declines. Even though Canada entered the crisis with better initial conditions – banks solid, no looming trade deficit with China – global financial problems affect Canada. Today the Canadian economy is now limping along amid weakened demand for many of the country’s major exports. Part of the reason, says the governor of Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz, is that the country lost about 9,000 exporting companies in the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession. Other factors include changes in trade advantages for Canada’s main trading partner: an increase in the number of right-to-work states in the US that have brought down labour costs; a shale oil and gas revolution; and low gas prices that have decreased energy input costs for many US manufacturers.[iii]

Since the turn of the 20th century, there has been a belief that technology and reason could make us masters of our own environment. Max Weber (1864-1920), a German sociologist and philosopher who was a founding figure in the field of sociology, 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. We are paying an enormous price for economic rationalization. As a result of the recession that began in 2008, to keep the global economy on track, people in the developed world need to work longer before retiring, pay higher taxes, and expect less from government; and the new generation, starting in the work place, can expect to earn less than their parents. This will translate into poorer health, as they earn lower wages, and will affect the next generation of children who will be born into a poorer family.

Canada is caught up in what is called the new normal. Retirees on fixed income are finding their pensions shrinking – the low interest rate punishes many pension plans. Working in retirement becomes the new normal. In addition, baby boomers are delaying retiring which, in turn, delays the next generation accessing higher paying jobs their parents had in their forties. This effect could take a generation to reverse. Overall, for the next generation, this means working longer and retiring poorer than their parents.

It is important to avoid a massive cognitive bubble – recognize the need for change, to recognize our error in judgment. Orlando A. Battista (1917-1995), chemist and writer, claimed, “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” [iv] The error in judgment was relying on a system to harness the selfishness of people to create equal opportunities for all. The second important area in which individuals must dare to think for themselves is to overcome their cognitive dissonance (comfort with the status quo) to return back to democracy from plutocracy (government by the wealthy).

Globalization was to bring more jobs and opportunities to more people. The consequences of five decades of regressive taxation and deregulation are a weakened economy that no longer reliably and consistently transmits productivity gains to workers. This era of trickle – down economics has been associated with increasing income disparity between the wealthy and the rest of society. The facts are, as income inequality increases, social mobility decreases. Reduced income translates to reduced wellness – the process by which a person is always seeking and moving towards his or her own highest potential – being the best you can possibly be. However, the corporation’s imperative for short-term profits means that during this recession the demands for less taxation and the need for budgets of governments to be opportunistically cut occurs at the very time when we need to maintain safety nets. With the increasing income gap, many have lost any opportunity to achieve their potential, as well as the next generation – this is the false promise of the market.

[i] Rand, Ayn. 1967 Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal Centennial Edition (231-233)

Horsman, Greg. 2013 Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An Age of Enlightenment (95-96)

[ii] Horsman, Greg. 2011 The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle 2013 (12-13)

[iii] Canadian economy missed expectations in 2013. Will 2014 perform better? (1 Jan 2014) <;.

[iv] Horsman, Greg. Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment 2012 (5)


Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Part 1 of 2: Dare to Think

When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, it had the power to suppress dissention and heretics, and organize wealth. The church took on the authoritarian qualities of the Roman imperial culture – a powerful central hierarchy, a judicial system to enforce obedience from church members and its effective enforcement formalized rituals and institutionalized sacraments, a defense against any divergence from accepted ideology. Richard Tarnas, professor of philosophy and psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, noted, “leading early Christians concluded that the beliefs of the faithful must be established, disseminated, and sustained by an authoritarian church structure.”[i] With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the church was the only centralized, organized force in Western Europe accumulating power and wealth over the subsequent seven centuries.

The medieval church became the most dominant institution in western Europe. It was one of the largest landowners of the time and collected rents and many fees for offices and services. The church did not pay taxes. Its top down structure facilitated control of information and the creation of wealth. The church’s measures to suppress heretics had less to do with spirituality and everything to do with maintaining social and political control. In medieval times the church was the most dominant institution. (In the 21st century the corporation is the most dominant institution.)

John Locke (1634-1704) developed his ideas on individual freedom in the 17th century during a civil war driven by religious differences. Locke believed one should use reason to search after truth rather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject to superstition. Used properly, reason could determine the legitimate function of institutions and optimize the functioning of society with respect to both material and spiritual welfare. For philosophers of this time, the point of promoting science and reason was not just the desire to understand the world, but to change it as well. This thinking evolved into the optimistic faith in the ability of man to develop progressively through education and the use of reason.

John Locke believed that man’s possession of reason made him unique among the inhabitants of the Earth. To Immanuel Kant, combining free will and reason creates the capacity for free choice. In France, Voltaire (1694-1778), an outspoken writer known for his brilliant wit and sarcasm, preached freedom of thought. The thinkers of the Enlightenment believed that ‘truth’ discovered through reason would free people from the shackles of corrupt institutions, such as the church and the aristocracy, whose misguided traditional thinking had kept people subjected in ignorance and superstition.

To Enlightenment thinkers, science was much more than a set of topics to be studied. It represented the unshakeable triumph of the empirical method, the crucial testing of hypotheses against evidence that could be applicable to all aspects of human enquiry, including questions of morality and religion. The basis for the Scientific Revolution was the Scientific Method. The Scientific Method uses observation and experimentation to explain theories on the workings of the universe. This process removed blind adherence to tradition from science, and allowed scientists to logically find answers through the use of reason. This method of research is the basis for modern science.

In Germany, during the 15th and 16th centuries, the feudal lords transformed themselves into feudal princes. They were able to reduce the freedom (feudal rights) of the people with the explanation that they were defending the people from an outside threat, the Emperor. By the 18th century, the princes across Germany had secured control of various states; the people only had the rights and liberties that their territorial princes gave them. They had given up various freedoms held in medieval times; now the prince had the power to determine the content of their freedom.

In Germany during the Enlightenment, reason became an instrument of the state. In contrast, in France, reason was a weapon wielded by the radicals against the state. The territorial princes imposed rational order on their jurisdictions with the sole purpose of maximizing their power. Rationalism (in Germany) became linked to the power of the princes. Enlightenment became a tool of the state to support the status quo. From a distance the French philosophers of the Enlightenment praised many of the German states because of their rational administration that encouraged science and business, and granted religious freedom. In the 18th century, the German middle class did not feel they could do anything to change their lot, thus they adhered to convention. Then Kant admonished the middle class that only through laziness or cowardice would one allow another to control them. Kant defined enlightenment as the process of man’s release from self-imposed control or direction from someone else. He asserted one must recognize this, break free, and dare to think (for themselves).[ii]

However, the guardian or system controlling the individual is not static. As one prepares to take a step to freedom and maturity, Kant noted, the guardian will identify that the step is very dangerous and difficult to achieve. Once the guardian (system) secures control over individuals they will go to great lengths to identify the dangers to them if they should dare do something on their own.

In the late 19th century, about 80% of the population was working class. In order to be considered middle class you had to have at least one servant. The move toward urbanization, the ‘new’ or second Industrial Revolution, and increased consumerism all played significant roles in middle class development. In some countries this was more rapid, such as in England, known as a nation of ‘shop-keepers and merchants.’

Over the past two hundred years individualism and capitalism rose together. In the last three decades of the 20th century, people expressed their individuality through exercising choice. Corporations now work with advertisers to develop corporate entities that are individualistic and perpetually new – using branding. Under branding, brand X is not a product, but a way of life, an attribute, a set of values, a look, an idea. Consumers believe they have purchased a unique product. Where did the modern middle class come from? During the 1950s, the gradually expanding economy created prosperity throughout North America. The 1950s is considered the decade that eliminated poverty for the great majority of Americans. The decade was associated with the shift from suburban areas to the suburbs, with the supply of housing increasing 27%. With a shorter work-week and increased disposable income, the middle class adopted conservative values. In America, the 1970s and 1980s belonged to the middle class.

There is fundamentally developing two types of economy, increasingly distinct and divergent.[iii] The financial debacle and its aftermath have as the big banks were bailed out while many lost their homes, increased focus on  inequality people in the system. Leading the fears is the control exerted by the Wall-Street Washington oligarchy, and the development of a plutocracy in which the rich control government activities. The new emerging super-elite of first and second-generation wealth has more in common with the global community than with their fellow countrymen. This new global community is connected by information technology and liberalization of world trade.

Peter Lindert, an economist at the University of California at Davis and one of the leaders of the ‘deep history’ school of economics, a movement devoted to thinking about the world economy over the long term, notes that the productivity gain and the wave of disruptive innovation in the last two decades have been much faster than the processes of the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the 19th century.[iv] The fruits of globalization have not been shared evenly – China’s middle class has grown exponentially, income equality has increased in India, executive pay of global corporations has sky rocketed, while the middle class in the West shrinks. The majority of workers have missed out on this windfall economy, and with the polarization of incomes the gap in income grows. The next generation must understand the consequences of corporate globalization – they will have lower incomes and poorer health than the previous generation.[v]

There is a new world aristocracy that forms a global community connected by interest and activity. They are disengaged from the middle class. This global community, distinguished by their unique talents are above devoting their taxes to paying down the deficit and this group is held together by their extreme individualism. They are an exclusive group sharing a devotion to ideas and similar ideology. Many of their reactions to the middle class can be explained by narcissism. Extreme individualism leads to narcissism. Narcissism creates the illusion that once one has an idea, then it must be reality. It is about bringing individuals of like thinking into their bubble, and attributing unique or perfect qualities to those with whom they associate. This consists of an idea of a hierarchical system in which elites are superior, have no empathy for the middle class, in fact, express distain for those who they consider inferior. In this case it is the middle class who were caught off guard with the economic crisis, and in fact, are blamed for the economic problems. Narcissists cannot take criticism. The plutocrats consider themselves singled out, unfairly maligned, and punished for their success. This creates a situation in which self-interest is the mother of rationalization.[vi]

Hollowing out of the middle class is a global phenomenon that started fourteen years before the Great Recession. This was a shift away from middle class jobs to jobs in industry with lower productivity. Manufacturing is the one industry most susceptible to offshoring, automation and global supply chain that rip jobs out of advanced economies, and make the final products much cheaper (overseas). There has been a polarization in the labor market, in which lower income jobs are growing faster. The evolution of wage structures over the past fifteen years has seen employment polarizing into high-wage and low-wage jobs at the expense of middle-wage work. There is a smaller middle class, with less buying power, reducing the demand for products.

The jobs are in the professional services, but there is a mismatch of jobs skills to the available jobs. The answer lies in retraining, better education, and increased productivity in non-manufacturing jobs. In the short term, there is a need to cushion the human costs of structural change. Job opportunities are growing at the top (college graduates) where wages are rising, and at the bottom where wages aren’t. The lower income jobs are typically low wage, entry-level service-type jobs that do not require much schooling or special skill. The gap between the rich and poor is the widest it has been since the Roaring 20s.[vii]

The new aristocracy opposes any increase in their taxes and oppose any tightening of the regulations of economic activities. They believe this (low taxes) is driving the whole system. Paul Volker, was Chairman of the Federal Reserve under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan from August 1979 to August 1987, questions how much growth this new financial innovation has created. Their reaction is understandable (because of their belief in individualism), but a mistake. The new voice, Occupy Wall Street (OWS), educated many more of the middle class that they have been taken advantage of by a financial system that favors the rich – identifying extreme inequality as the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, and highlighting the failure of the legislators to protect 99% of the people.

OWS protesters reminded us that, since the 2008 financial debacle, there has been no progress on significant reforms of the financial services industry (to reduce the risk of reoccurrence). The OWS protesters challenged the excesses of the corporations in general, and in particular, a government controlled by corporate money and the growing income gap between the very wealthy and the rest of America. There is also a great deal of frustration over the lack of jobs. One of the goals is to get working class people involved in the political process. The discontent with growing economic inequality provides the unifying force behind the necessary change.

OWS protesters want many more of the middle class to become broadly conscious of what is wrong with the present political economy. They call out to the middle class to have the courage to think for themselves, challenge the blind faith and convictions in the present deregulated market, and support interventions to reduce the influence of the dominant institution, the corporation, on the government. OWS protests have put inequality on the political agenda.

[i] Tarnas, Richard. (1991) The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World. (118, 158-160)

[ii] Foster, Harold J. ed. (1969) An Outline of European Intellectual History: Locke to Hegel (89-91)

[iii] Freeland, Chrystia. “The Rise of the New Global Elite.” The Atlantic (Jan/Feb 2011) < archive/2011/01/the-rise-of-the-new-global-elite/8343/1/>.

[iv] ibid

[v] Horsman, Greg. 2013 Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An Age of Enlightenment (171-187)

[vi] Freeland, Chrystia. “The Rise of the New Global Elite.” The Atlantic (Jan/Feb 2011) < archive/2011/01/the-rise-of-the-new-global-elite/8343/1/>.

[vii] ‘Canada’s Middle Class being Hollowed Out.” <;.


Posted in Enlightenment, Global Economy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Sustainability

The increasing challenge for determinants of health approach is the creeping trends of small government and minimal regulations that have subverted the plans for sustainable environmental and social conditions that would bring enduring and equitable health gains. The modern economic theory of trickle down economics is a major obstacle to people’s quality of life. The harshest costs of modern economic practices fall upon ecosystems and populations with little current economic power or value, including generations not yet born. What are the primary components for sustainability? There are four pillars of environmental sustainability commonly recognized: ecology, economy, society, and government.

Ecological sustainability is concerned with the health of the natural environment, the conservation of natural resources, and the preservation of ecosystem functions performed by individual members and the ecosystem as a whole. It requires that use of natural resources not exceed the capacity of an ecosystem to regenerate those resources, known as the carrying capacity. Ecological sustainability also includes preservation of biological diversity, which includes genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity.

The economy has an important role to play in sustainability. Capitalism is based on individualism and making free choices. Western thinking looks at the world in terms of what can be done today to satisfy the growing wants and needs of self that is endemic of a consumer-oriented society. Through globalization more goods and services are made available at lower cost to a wider group of people, and more access leads to rising consumer demand and improved standards of living. Globalization is about the maximizing corporate profits through the promotion of consumerism. The media and advertisers drive consumerism and the cult of individualism that has created the culture of entitlement to consume. Materialism and consumerism have joined together to create individuals with high expectations. Re-education using messages on proper self-esteem will have a significant role in countering such a culture.

The problem is not the mining of heavy metals, or the use of chemicals or compounds produced by society, or disruption of natural process, or even temporarily interfering with people’s capacity to meet their basic needs (unemployment). It is, rather, our industrial system, which has developed so that substances extracted from the earth and produced by society will continue to build up indefinitely in natural systems. This means a progressive build up of pollutants and substances that not only harm us directly but damage natural processes that have taken billions of years to develop.

It is necessary to introduce processes to minimalize the depletion of non-renewable resources. This can be achieved by extending life by recycling, using fewer resources to make a product, as well as switching to renewable substitutes when possible. Economic sustainability uses the construct known as the triple bottom line, as opposed to the traditional ‘bottom line’, which only concerns itself with monetary success. The triple bottom line considers economic profitability compared to environmental harm or profitability compared to societal harm or profitability.Governmental sustainability primarily pushes for legislation that furthers the other three components of sustainability, acting as a steward of common resources and the public well-being for many generations, not only the present constituents.

Milton Friedman claims that policies that support laissez-faire capitalism helps poor people by the trickle-down effect, and that economic growth flows from the top to the bottom, indirectly benefiting those who do not directly benefit from the policy changes. It is believed this is best achieved through minimal government taxes and regulation. This economic theory advocates letting businesses flourish, since their profits will ultimately trickle down to lower-income individuals and the rest of the economy. When this economic model was developed, illness was based on the genetic model of disease, that is, disease originates in changes or mutations in the DNA that take place slowly over time. With the completion of the human genome project in 2003, there was the demise of the genetic paradigm and the revival of the epigenetic approach. From believing that our biological fates were written in our genes, it is now recognized that the environment, and more specifically our perception of the environment, directly controls our behavior and genetic activity. The human genome project did not find a diabetes gene, however, the rapid appearance of diabetes is consistent with epigenetic changes.

Through the lens of individualism, complex and multi-faceted issues are oversimplified allowing self-responsibility to become the dominant issues, and life-style change the response. This type of dialogue sucks all the oxygen out of the room, suffocating debate about the common good. What is known now is that policies aimed at the individual do little to address the social determinants of health, thus fail to promote the health of all.

The precautionary principle to protect the environment was defined in 1992 as one of the principles of the Declaration of the Rio Conference on Environment and Development. The accepted principle includes the premise that, even if full scientific certainty does not exist, that shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost effective measures to prevent adverse health impacts or environmental degradation. That means an activity or product should not be used if it can reasonably be predicted that it will lead to unacceptable consequences. In this instance, the cost effective measure is proportional to the harm. As the scientific certainty of the risk goes up, the justification for costlier measures is similarly increased.

A sustainable society improves the quality of human life process that allows human beings to realize their potential, build self-confidence, and lead lives of dignity and fulfillment. The Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef, identifies nine fundamental human needs that are consistent across time and cultures: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure (time to reflect), creation, identity, and freedom. These needs are constant in all cultures – what varies is how we satisfy the needs, and it is in the satisfaction of needs that cultural diversity can be found. Max-Neef points out that these fundamental needs cannot be substituted for one another, and that a lack of any of them represents a poverty of some kind. Indeed, in Max-Neef’s theory, unsatisfied needs are seen as poverties, broadening the concept of poverty to more than a lack of income and beyond monetary measures. Following this reasoning, development means the alleviation of multiple poverties and becomes the social analogue of individual self-realisation or flourishing.

For the most part society needs to change personal attitudes and practices. People must re-examine their values, and later their behavior. Individualism is such a value, the view that the individual, rather than society as a whole, is the most important entity. During the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. This self-esteem movement had a significant impact on the school system – in order to ensure positive self-esteem education standards were lowered creating a milieu for extreme individualism. The world would be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achieving through bolstering self-esteem. When there is too much self-esteem, there are problems with tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. Self-tolerance leads to a sense of entitlement and a belief that the world owes them something. With the cult of entitlement many social problems seem to be the result of ‘what’s missing.’ This value system can be changed. Promoting self-esteem that comes from achievement and from service to others, over time, reduces extreme individualism.

The realization that the epigenome is highly sensitive and responsive to environmental influences, including toxic exposures, dietary factors, and behavioral impacts, serves to focus priorities on the future state. In particular, epigenetic harms have the potential to affect every aspect of our lives. The scope of the challenge in epigenetics is illustrated by the discussion around environmental chemicals with hormone-like properties, called endocrine disrupters, which are believed to have a significant effect on an individual’s health. There is a link in animal experiments between endocrine disruptor chemicals and obesity, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.

Normal endocrine signaling involves very small changes in hormone levels, yet these changes can have significant biological effects. This means that subtle disruption of the endocrine signaling is a plausible mechanism by which chemical exposure at low doses can have effects on the body. Endocrine signals govern virtually every organ and process in the body. The persistence of effects can be seen long after the actual exposure has ceased. The ubiquity of exposure – hundreds of compounds can be considered.

Epigenetic marks or ‘imprinting’ affect gene expression without actually changing the DNA sequence. There is substantial evidence from animal and man demonstrating that both transient and more long-term epigenetic mechanisms have a role in the regulation of the molecular events governing adipogenesis and glucose homeostasis. The dynamic nature of epigenetics means this is not written in stone – healthy eating, moderate exercise and minimizing stress will have a positive epigenetic effect. Epigenetic marks are reversible. The World Economic Forum says that productivity losses associated with workers with chronic diseases are as much as 400% more than the cost of treating chronic diseases. Productivity costs (indirect costs) are projected to increase as chronic disease rates rise in the working population. These economic measures can be reversed.

Chronic disease is the double-edged sword in the health-care cost debate, that is, it has both a favorable and an unfavorable consequence. The unfavorable consequence is the obesity epidemic that will translate into more chronic disease unless significant action is taken. The favorable consequence is that 70% of chronic disease is preventable. Public health messaging has a role in achieving sustainability of the system. It will still be necessary to change the focus from health protection issues related to air pollution and restaurant and swimming pool inspections, to issues of poverty and social exclusion.

The primary factor that shapes the health of Canadians and Americans is not medical treatments or lifestyle choices, rather the living conditions they experience. Individuals are unlikely to be able to directly control many of the social determinants of health. Public health interventions need to include the social determinants of health. This means adding the social and economic environment, as well as the physical environment to lifestyle and behavior factors, to programs. The social and economic environment includes issues around poverty and exclusion. The physical environment is the source of much epigenetic harm.

Sustainability is something that we do not even know how to directly measure. Agreeing to standards of sustainability is key to holding people accountable. Even though most people can agree that sustainability includes managing our environment, social, and economic impacts on the world so that we meet present needs, while ensuring the ability of future generations to meet theirs, the precise measure of sustainability remains elusive. The main stumbling block to develop measurements is how to calculate ‘soft’ costs, such as the health burden created by such things as fossil-fueled power plants, which have been linked to the increased incidence of cancer, lung disease and asthma. Such costs are not included in the cost of such commodities as electricity generation and distribution.

The real definition of sustainability is about optimizing the human experience, especially well being, allowing the individual to reach their full potential. This requires a change in social and political mindset, along with reformatting economic and environmental policy decisions to ensure that these issues incorporate the social determinants of health into solutions in general, and epigenetic harms in particular. Sustainability will be within reach when we close the gap between recommended care and actual care for those at risk for or living with chronic disease, and act further upstream to modify the environmental and occupational sources that put individuals at risk for chronic disease.

Adapted from On Reaching Full Potential or the false promise of the market, Chapter 8, Sustainability, 2015, by Greg Horsman.

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Illusion of Control

Illusion is the ability to manipulate how other people perceive reality. When you have discovered that someone or something is not as good as you believed, you become disillusioned. Thirty years of deregulation in the market place supported globalization and created an oligarchy in the West. Key decision-makers on Wall Street chose not to apply critical thinking, but to take advantage of the system that lead to the meltdown of the economy in 2008. Many in the middle class saw their comfortable retirement, their home equity, and their dreams destroyed. Even now many find themselves in an era of insecurity as the safe routines of their lives have become undone, and they now realize that the market system failed them, and this security was an illusion.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) claimed there are no facts only interpretations, and ‘concepts are metaphors which do not correspond to reality.’ Nietzsche said truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; they are lies according to which we find it necessary to live. Although all concepts are human inventions (created by common agreement to facilitate ease of communication), human beings forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe that they are ‘true’, but, in fact, do not correspond to reality. In his 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. However, Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of their illusory nature, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values.1

Before the 2008 crisis, many believed, without thinking too much about it, that there was something solid at the core of the financial system. It was imagined that the world was governed by mathematical formulas – or more specifically by serious men in dark suits who understood complex formulas and the patterns playing out on their computer terminals. Everyone accepted the idea that deregulated markets were self-correcting. The illusion was that this system, a product of globalization, could self-correct as required. The ugly truth was that a few greedy bankers on Wall Street could just about collapse the world financial system. This threat was more than a financial or economic disaster; it was a psychological and existential blow. As expectations gave way to reality that the market was not going to bounce back the usual way, for many, this meant the dreams of a pleasant retirement and the promise that one’s children would have a better future that their parents, has been destroyed. The illusion was shattered and was followed by anger and bitterness.

Thirty years after Reagan’s re-election in 1984 the economic theory that claims cutting the taxes of the rich will provide jobs for the rest of society has become the dominant economic theory. To ensure the policy of minimal taxes and regulations remains unchanged the oligarchs control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting deregulation of the government and the environment, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. Through this mechanism the oligarchs perpetuate the fear of change – if taxes are raised on the rich unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear. Also everyone should fear environmental regulations, as they will cost economic growth and jobs. However, this policy of minimal taxes and government continues to create a growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society – removing social mobility for most of society.

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. As expectations that the deregulation of the financial services industry was a sound policy gave way to reality many have become angry and disillusioned. The pain, resentment and bitterness make many question the trickle down theory. 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.

The false expectations were the result of not realizing supply side economics (that tax cuts could be had for free incentive effects would generate new activity so higher revenue) without causing budget deficits 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. Occupy Wall Street protesters challenged the excesses of the corporations in general, and in particular, a government controlled by corporate money and the growing income gap between the very wealthy and the rest in society. By educating the middle class that they have been taken advantage of by a financial system that favors the rich, the Occupy Wall Street movement put economic inequality on the political agenda. The new truth is that the system of minimum government and regulation favors the 1%.

As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who fiercely opposed the French Revolution wrote, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”2 Today we are vulnerable to the politics of fear. The politics of fear is when leaders (or candidates for leadership) use fear as a driving or motivating factor for the people, to get them to vote a particular way, allow excesses in spending, or accept policies they might otherwise abhor. It’s banking on the fact that presenting people with an alleged threat to their well-being will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of these policies. As author Mark Vernon has noted “… the politics of fear plays on an assumption that people cannot bear the uncertainties associated with [risk]. Politics then becomes a question of who can better deliver an illusion of control.”3

In 2013 President Obama called for increased minimum wage but John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, dismissed this policy as ‘big government’. Republicans are now calling for more redistribution. Marco Rubio is calling for a “pro family, pro growth” tax reform, which aims to lower the corporate tax rate by closing loopholes and increasing the child tax credit. Paul Ryan floats the idea of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. These Republicans are just paying lip service to address concerns about the increasing divide between the rich and the rest of society; their ideas don’t resonate with the base of the party. When it comes to the effect of government assistance programs to the poor most Republicans believe these programs do more harm than good by making people too dependent on the government. Republicans, by about two-to-one, believe the government could do more to reduce poverty by lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations in order to encourage more investment and economic growth.

Hilary Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy. In 2011, she supported bankruptcy legislation that some Democrats – most notably Elizabeth Warren, now senator from Massachusetts – argued hurt working families and single mothers, and they accuse her of doing the bidding of the financial industry. Mrs. Clinton claims she worked to improve the bill. This explanation still leaves problems. No one disputes the crux of the findings, that the very rich are outpacing everyone else in economic gains. Clinton’s economic policy is evolving, but it will need to incorporate specifics on addressing the concerns of the middle class, or else her detractors on the left will paint her as being identified with Wall Street.

Few courageous politicians exist today, as they all look over their shoulders to check that the crowd is following them (to make sure they are still leading), especially as elections approach. They introduce fear tactics, and then check to see if it resonates with voters. It falls to the general public to be the agents of change. We realize we have become disillusioned not because our expectations failed, but because they were false. We need courage to think differently, speak loudly, and challenge directly the systems, which we know to be unjust. We must promote new values for society to create the necessary change in culture to address the increasing economic inequality. With enough people marching in a new direction of more accountability, the politicians will adapt in order to position themselves to the front of the crowd so they can assure us they are in control.

1Linsenmayer, Mark (15 July 2012) Nietzsche on Truth.

2Burke, Edmond. A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful With a Discourse Concerning Taste. London 1834. P 53.

3Whitehead, John. (01 Oct 12) “The Politics of Fear in America: A Nation at War with Itself.” john_whiteheads_commentary/the_politics_of_fear_in_america_a_nation_at_war_with_itself


Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment