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) <http://business.financialpost.com/2014/01/01/canadian-economy-missed-expectations-in-2013-will-2014-perform-better/&gt;.

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

 

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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) <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ 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) <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ archive/2011/01/the-rise-of-the-new-global-elite/8343/1/>.

[vii] ‘Canada’s Middle Class being Hollowed Out.” <http://www.business.financialpost.com/2011/12/05/canadas-middle-class-being-hollowed-out/&gt;.

 

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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.

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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. http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2012/07/15/topic61/

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.” https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/ john_whiteheads_commentary/the_politics_of_fear_in_america_a_nation_at_war_with_itself

 

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In Response to Evangelism of Fear

The Roman Empire maintained strong top down control. The Empire came into contact with the 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 the Roman religion expanded to include the Emperor themselves. The Imperial cult that developed was inseparable from Roman deities. This included a top down favoritism of the Roman gods, which began with the emperor and trickled down, if only feebly, to the lowest of society. The divinized emperor was seated in splendor at the high point of the patronage system, and he distributed power and privilege down the system. Rites and ceremonies integrating patriotism and religion legitimized this trickle down system. Christians were persecuted for refusing to recognize this imperial divinity.

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 noted, “against a growing number of sects and doctrines, leading early Christians concluded that the beliefs of the faithful must be established, disseminated, and sustained by an authoritarian church structure.” With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Catholic Church was the only organized force in Western Europe.1

The Catholic Church wielded extreme power and influence during the medieval period, shaping the social, cultural, and political fabric of peasant life in Europe. Additionally, the church played an important role in determining a peasant’s economic fate. Although the church itself was exempt from paying taxes, peasants were responsible for paying approximately ten percent of their earnings (either in cash or goods) in taxes to the church—known as tithes. The church threatened that the failure to pay tithes would result in the damnation of one’s soul. People were too scared not to pay tithes despite the difficulties it meant for them.

The system of law and order throughout medieval Europe reflected the extremely strict and rigid social structure of the period. Those in authority used fear and the threat of severe punishment as a tool with which to control the peasantry, who overwhelmingly outnumbered them. The Medieval church was seen by the people of the medieval ages as terrifying and scary due to the power and wealth that the church had and owned. The church during the middle ages was very intimidating and peasants had reasons to fear such as crime and punishment. A woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg, circa 1530, entitled A Question to a Mintmaker, illustrated the three causes of inflation: the Pope and sale of indulgences, the minting of debased coinage, and cheating by merchants.2

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

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.

In Canada, when you ask Conservative cabinet members about health care, or the public finances there’s now a common answer: Jihadi terrorists are out to get us. The politics of fear has created a threat to Canadians’ rights. The amalgamation of the Progressive Conservative Party with the Reform Party created the federal Conservative Party, a political party that has fear of change. Prime Minister Harper’s conservative government is harnessing citizens’ fear during debate on the anti-terror law. This legislation would allow police to go well beyond collecting of intelligence and, lacking checks and balances, could be used against lawful dissenters and legitimate protesters – including environmental and aboriginal activists. In the Conservative war on terror the first casualty is freedom.

The Fifth Ecumenical Lateran Council was called by Pope Julius II and sat for 12 sessions from 1512 to 1517. The last seven sessions of the council were presided over by Leo X. One hundred and twenty bishops and representatives of Kings and Princes met to consider the challenges facing the Roman Catholic Church. The sessions made declarations on many issues that included money, power sharing, book publishing and condemning a philosophical standpoint. Specific decisions included such things as provisions to raise money to fight the Turks and abolishing the Pragmatic Sanction in France (which had limited the authority of the Pope over the church within France) and a decree legalizing the charitable pawnshops the Franciscans had been establishing. In addition, the council ratified the censorship of books introduced earlier by Alexander VI, and condemned the Averroist philosophy of neo-Aristotelians.

Martin Luther’s promulgation of the 95 theses in response to the abuses of the church occurred just seven months after the close of the Fifth Ecumenical Lateran Council. The attack on the sale of indulgences had a direct bearing on the economic interests of the Fuggers, a German family who had built up a fortune by banking and trading. They were the richest family in Europe during the 16th century. Only with credit from Fugger was Albert of Mainz able to buy himself worldly and church offices repaid with income from the sale of indulgences by the preacher Tetzel. It was in Fugger’s house in Augsburg that the papal legate Cajetan met with Luther in 1518 to try silence this critic who was impacting Fugger’s investments. Luther had the courage to challenge the status quo and demand change! In less than fifty years after Luther had posted his 95 theses against indulgences Protestant reformers had established original systems of Christian doctrine and new churches in opposition to the Church of Rome.4

During the first decade of the 16th century Nicolaus Copernicus developed his own celestial model of a heliocentric planetary system. Around 1514, he shared his findings with close friends in a small manuscript, the Commentariolus, which was circulated but never printed. Copernicus’ publication On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres was not published until after he died (in 1543) in order for him to avoid being persecuted by the Church. The theory posed a fundamental threat to the entire existing Christian framework cosmology, theology and mortality. The power of the church would be cast into question or destroyed all together by the new theory. The successful challenge to the entire system of ancient authority required a complete change in man’s philosophical conception of the universe. Copernicus’ work laid the framework for thinking differently that occurred during the 17th century – known as ‘the Copernican Revolution’.

In the last week of January 2015, business leaders and politicians gathered in Davos, Switzerland, to size up the challenges facing the global economy at the World Economic Forum. At the heart of forum agenda was a theme entitled ‘The New Global Context’. For five days 2500 delegates met and discussed the effects of political, economic and social uncertainty on future policy making. The theme of the 2015 meeting was to ‘reflect the period of profound political, economic, social and technological change that the world has entered, which has the potential to end the era of economic integration and international partnership that began in 1989’. Apologists defend the series of lavish parties noting the importance of a meeting place where the world’s top decision makers can share ideas and future plans with their global counterparts. From the meeting there is widespread international consensus on the need to develop new and improved growth and development models while little in the way of concrete policy guidance emerged.

Occupy Wall Street, the name given to a protest movement that started in Sept 2011, challenges 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. Oxfam attended the 2015 World Economic Forum and pointed out in 2015 that the world’s richest 80 billionaires own the equivalent of what the poorest 3.5 billion people posses. In 2010, it took 388 billionaires. 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. George Soros claims the main benefits from the recent move to print more money to stimulate the European economy will be the rich – in fact, expect the action to increase divergence between the rich and the poor. We need the courage to think differently and challenge directly the systems, which we know to be unjust. For change to occur it requires the outrage of millions of voters around the world to push world leaders to act.

1Horsman, Greg. (2011) The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle. p 52.

2 “Indulgence.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indulgence

3 Whitehead, John. (10 Jan 2012) The Politics of Fear in America: A Nation at War With Itself. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-w-whitehead/politics-of-fear-america_b_1922963.html

4 Horsman, Greg. (2011) The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle. p 8, 78, 79.

 

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Individualism and the Social Determinants of Health

Individualism was established as a Western value during the Enlightenment. During the 19th century there was reaction to many of the values of the enlightenment, except individualism. Romanticism appeared which supported the individual listening more intently to his conscience (emotion) rather than the (rational) demands of society. Existentialism stressed the importance of the individual, people had to create their own values, as traditional values were no longer the standard. Nietzsche claimed that individual freedom required freedom from all external restraints on one’s behavior. Herbert Spencer believed the individual had the right to do anything except interfere in another man’s rights. Individualism fueled the American dream – the hope for a better quality of life and a higher living standard than their parents had.

The rise of capitalism and individualism grew in tandem. Individualism is the belief that one’s place in the social hierarchy – their occupational class, income and wealth, and power and prestige as well as the effects of such placement such as health and disease status – comes through one’s own effort. Neo-conservatism supports dominance of markets and market model. The main tenants are (1) markets are the best and most efficient allocators of resources in production and distribution, (2) societies are composed of autonomous individuals who have the ability to control their own destiny through their own decisions (3) competition is the major market vehicle for innovation – there is no need for entitlements.

During the 20th century Ayn Rand championed the American idea of rational selfishness and individualism. By the end of the 20th century, individualism, happiness and capitalism were part of core values of Western culture. During the last 30 years of the 20th century the self-esteem movement created a population with an exaggerated sense of entitlement and self-tolerance. For this group the world is viewed from an emotional rather than a rational perspective that allows personal feelings to override the distinction between right and wrong. This ushered in narcissism that influenced decision-making and accountability. Such individuals learn to tolerate their errors and personal flaws and come accept themselves as okay. For example, individuals in the financial services industry with self-tolerance and a sense of entitlement leveraging the market, brought chaos on the world financial system.

In the 21st century liberty and self-determination, available to those who have sufficient financial resources and cultural capital, is out-of-reach for much of the population. Oxfam notes that the divide between the rich and the rest of society tends to grow – the top 1% now control 50% of the world’s wealth. The cause of poverty is still seen as somehow being in the eye of the beholder by the right – a narrative in which poverty is seen as an innate moral failure of the poor themselves has taken hold. 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 exercise in moral philosophy, that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”1

Individualism, a powerful philosophy and practice in North America , limits the public space for social movement activism. The challenge is not the amount of democracy rather it has to do with public policies that determine how the resources of the nation are to be distributed among the population. One policy change process (pluralist) approach sees policy development as driven primarily by the quality of ideas in the public policy arena such as those judged as beneficial and useful will be translated into policies by governing authorities. An alternative materialist approach is that policy development is driven primarily by powerful interests who assure that their concerns receive rather more attention than those not so situated.

A primary component of individualism is individual responsibility – being accountable for one’s personal choices. It leads to placing the focus of responsibility for one’s health status within the motivations and behaviors of the individual rather than health status being a result of how a society organizes its distribution of a variety of resources. It fits perfectly with a declining welfare state and also influences responses to health inequities. Individualism creates barriers to the quality of social determinants of health outcomes.

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries. However, the biomedical model also fits neatly with the dominant contemporary political discourse of market individualism, with its culture of opportunity over entitlement and its disavowal of the distributive role of the state.2

It has been well documented over the past few decades that health is determined by more than one’s genetic makeup and access to/use of health care services. Individual and community health are determined by a vast array of external conditions and factors that involve housing, education, transportation, social networks and income, to name a few. We now know that these social determinants of health explain why life expectancy and good health improve in some communities and fail to advance in others. That is, inequities in health – or avoidable health inequalities – occur because of the ‘circumstances in which people grow, live, work, and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness.’

In most of the world, labour’s share of national income has fallen continuously and wages have stagnated under this regime of privatisation, deregulation and low taxes on the rich. Poor and unequal living conditions are the consequence of poor social policies and programmes, unfair economic arrangements, and bad politics. 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, where lower income levels result in poorer health outcomes. Even in affluent countries such as the US and Canada the social gradient exists but is often masked by the high levels of overall population health status (Mikkonen & Raphael, 2010). The social gradient not only represents the effects of income on health but also the importance of income as a means of gaining access to other social determinants of health such as education, food, housing, recreational activities, and other societal resources.

Education plays an important role in determining health status of an individual, but is more likely to be linked to income, employment, and career success than it is to an individual having a greater store of personal knowledge. With higher levels of educational attainment, individuals have access to less hazardous jobs, and reduce their risks associated with workplace injuries. In addition, their education attainment provides more access to employment with job security, retirement plans, and health insurance that is not covered by government health programs.

Mikkonen and Raphael (2010) call attention to an issue that many people never consider: When is something a privilege or right, or a citizen right, as opposed to something that has to be purchased as a commodity? Take the example of health care. Some countries offer full coverage for all required health care including prescribed medications, dental care, and home care. Access to health care, in this example, is determined by the decisions of those in political power. But this concept also applies when we consider the important social determinants of freedom from poverty, housing, food, employment, and the ability to participate in society. In many developed nations, governments take on the responsibility of assuring access to these social determinants of health.3

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has shown that disparities in health associated with socio-economic status are reflected in the costs to the health care system. Preventable disease and injuries drive higher hospitalization rates for lower-income groups. In other words, there is an excess hospitalization rate for people from lower-income groups, which is likely related to preventable causes of disease and injury. High hospital admission rates among patients with low socio-economic status for the treatment of chronic illnesses that, ideally, should be managed on an outpatient basis suggest that these patients face underlying barriers to optimal primary care.

Policy options that support the social determinants of health must reduce the incidence of poverty, reduce social exclusion, and restore and enhance social infrastructure. Policies to reduce the incidence of poverty include raising the minimum wage to a living wage, improving pay equity, restoring and improving income supports for those unable to gain employment. Policies to reduce social exclusion include ensuring families have sufficient income to provide their children with the means of attaining healthy development, assure access to educational, training and employment opportunities especially for the long-term unemployed, and create housing policies that provide enough affordable housing of a reasonable standard. Policies to restore and enhance infrastructure include restoring eligibility and level of employment benefits to ensure health, as well as address the working poor that includes universal welfare policy that has been effectively combined with job creation strategies that support gender equality and accessibility.

The road map leading to less inequality includes education, motivation, and activation. There is need for education by raising public awareness of the social determinants of health. The population has been subject to continuous messaging as to the benefits of trickle down economics that benefits everyone. This messaging lacks the societal effects of reduced government and regulations – increasing income and wealth inequality, persistent poverty and increased working poor. These factors impact the health and the opportunities for many to reach their full potential. The epidemic of chronic disease appearing in the US and Canada – obesity and type II diabetes – are the health consequences of present policies.

Motivation is about shifting public, professional and policy maker’s focus. There is a need to shift from the biomedical model that Nettleson calls the “holy trinity of risk”, of tobacco, diet and physical activity. This means within the traditional health sciences approach health problems remain individualized, localized, de-socialized and de-politicized. This fits the neo-conservative political ideology whereby social problems are being continually framed as individual ones rather that societal (e.g unemployment, poverty, racism, etc,). This dominant lifestyle health paradigm needs to shift to social determinants of health perspective by collecting and presenting stories about the impact social determinants of health have on people’s lives.

The most difficult role is to develop the political will to support action to refocus agendas on the determinants of health. The quality of any number of social determinants of health within a jurisdiction is shaped by the political ideology of governing parties. The rich, via lobbyists and Byzantine tax arrangements, actively work to stop redistribution. Inequality is not inevitable, it’s engineered.4 It is about the rise of business power and the decline in labor power (as part of the era of globalization) along with the attacks of the “new right” on the welfare state – consequently there is a rapid rise in social, income and health inequalities. The philosophy of individualism provides the support within the general population that keeps this system of privilege in place. However, the social determinants of health concept can help make the links between government policy, the market, and the health and well-being of citizens to surmount the barriers to change.5

  1. Horsman, Greg. (2012) Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment. P 26, 27,147
  2. “Social Determinants of Health.” http://www.who.int/social_determinants/sdh_definition/en/
  3. Commission on Social Determinants of Health (2008). Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health. Final Report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Geneva, World Health Organization.
  4. Moore, Susan. (19 Jan 2015) “Inequality isn’t inevitable, it’s engineered. That’s how the 1% have taken over.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/19/inequality-inevitable-1-per-cent-growth
  5. Raphael, Dennis, Curry-Stevens, Ann and Toba Bryant. “Barriers to addressing the social determinants of health: Insights from the Canadian experience.” Health Policy 88(2008) p 222-235.
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The Neocons and Reality

Maureen Finnigan observes, “[Friedrich] Nietzsche assures us that ideal truth and pure reality are illusory, for they are utterly indemonstrable. Inasmuch as absolute truth and reality are unsubstantiated conjectures of the human mind, we are left with our perspective, which is not then imperfect or inferior truth, but the only truth. The truth is a claim made by an individual from a context in life. Hence, Nietzsche does not deny truth or reality, but provides an interpretation that redefines them. The sole opportunity for truth and the only experience of reality are from an individual’s perspective within life.”1

Nietzsche was concerned about the effects of nihilism on society and culture, not because he advocated nihilism. Nietzsche saw that the old values and old morality simply didn’t have the same power that they once did. God no longer mattered in modern culture and was effectively dead to us. He believed that there was no longer any real substance to traditional social, political, moral, and religious values, and science does not introduce a new set of values to replace the Christian values it displaces. Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it in science, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves. Narcissism is one such salve.

During the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. This self-esteem movement has 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 of self-tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. This person demands automatic and full compliance with his/her expectations. The cult of self-esteem that was created in the school system in the 1980s provides a pool of individuals in the 21st century who view the world from an emotional rather than a rational perspective, supporting extreme individualism and allowing personal feelings to over come the distinction between right and wrong.

Extreme individualism leads to narcissism and a declining sense of responsibility. Narcissism sets up the illusion that that once one has a feeling, then it must be reality. When narcissism is out of hand one can see many of the characteristics of deception between the rulers and the ruled (the people would be told what they need to now and no more) that Leo Strauss (whose writings have considerable influence on the neocons) believed were essential for modern politics. It is about bringing individuals of like thinking into their bubble, and attributing unique or perfect qualities to those with whom they associate. Strauss’ idea of a hierarchical system in which elites ruled is no different than the narcissist’s drive to be superior, to express distain for those whom they consider inferior, and to seize and control power over others that translates into the right to dominate the lesser creatures around themselves. Strauss was concerned the masses could not cope with this absence of absolute truth and required religion to provide moral values, but this did not apply the leaders of the movement.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, neocons, outraged by the excesses of the shattered society, created an intellectual underpinning for more traditional values. The neocons organized themselves as ‘intellectuals’ focused on shaping public policy. 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. After the Vietnam debacle neocons were concerned that Americans were afraid to make the effort and sacrifice required to sustain the exercise of power. In the late 1970s the neocons championed a renewed cold war and a huge military build up. The election of the Reagan administration saw the implementation of neoconservative evangelism of fear and consequently the beginning of the second cold war.

When traditional morality breaks down two things occur. A new ethic arises to replace the old worn out system and part of society tumbles into amorality or more correctly into nihilism and narcissism. With narcissism the greatest problem is profound disconnect from reality. These people believe that they are always right and that there is nothing that they cannot achieve. They tend to exploit others. In this system of self-tolerance their sense of entitlement leads to victimhood – placing blame for personal inadequacies elsewhere. They lack respect for authority and habitually lie to people. Students demand better grades than they earn. Corporate executives award themselves exorbitant salaries. Neoconservatives are involved in revisionism rather than admit to their mistakes predicting  events in Iraq.

In the 1970s the neoconservatives fretted about the demise of capitalism because it could not preserve bourgeois virtues. The neoconservative lament of declining moral standards, the destruction of the traditional family, and the loss of will at home and nerve abroad (the ‘Vietnam syndrome’). The problem of the family (in the 1970s) the fact that the husband had lost patriarchal authority to the working wife, which in turn, pulmugated a new range of groups and issues that were considered threatening that included drugs, busing, crime, welfare, taxes, abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, women’s rights, divorce and general permissiveness. Neocons insisted that only restoring the rule of traditional authorities that included organized religion, traditional moral values, and the family could save America.2

Neocons argued because of the economic pressures arising from economic demands (associated with the ‘excess of democracy’) on the welfare state, taxes had been raised, inflation had increased and the sole male breadwinner was not able to sustain his family. The answer to capitalism’s moral decline was an assault on the counterculture. Neocons blamed the ‘new class’ whom they defined more or less as government bureaucrats and those professions that benefited most from an expanded government. These people, they claimed, profited from capitalism’s loss of moral legitimacy, because it increased the moral standing and power of noncommercial ‘nonprofit’ institutions they were associated with. The neocons’ attacks on the new class allowed them to take on an identity dear to all intellectuals in democratic societies, that of defending the common man against the elite – the bureaucrats and professionals of the new class. The attraction of the ‘new class’ theory for many neocons lay in the way it allowed them to cloth their aristocratic reaction to the counterculture in democratic language.3

Through brand extension the Tea Party movement has created a strong anti-intellectual movement amongst conservatives lumping experts and science as the enemy labeling them ‘ivory tower intellectuals”. Alliance of the Christian right and neoconservative intellectuals in think tanks with the financial right moved the Republican Party to the right and manipulated public opinion under the influence of sympathizing media oligarchs like Rupert Murdock. Neoconservatives believe in using the government to actively work to achieve conservative goals. Although most neoconservatives still favor a small government, they argue that the government must act assertively in some areas to promote conservative values and policies.

Narcissism and the feeling of entitlement create a group who oppose rational evidence of a debate, leading to polarized positions. In this culture, angry individuals can be recruited to causes without a rational debate. They feel justified in asserting themselves, defending their perceived rights. Everything they say and do is for effect. The truth is irrelevant; as they play for the reaction they want. This activity makes them extremely observant and perceptive; they can appear to be smart. They will tend to agree with people, that is, tell them what they think they want to hear, and then find subtle ways to undermine it.

During the self-esteem movement self-criticism and self-control have been replaced with self-expression and self-assertion. This thinking supports such visions as, “I have a right to my opinion, so my opinions are right” This leads to extreme individualism and self-tolerance. Narcissists can rationalize violence as being caused by evil strangers across the ocean that threaten their righteous and holy way of life, and blame others for the conflict so that they can justify their attacks. Their egotistical lust for superiority would support ‘might makes right’ and aggressive foreign policy. The neoconservatives brook no dissent about the righteousness of the American cause in Iraq.

Too much self-esteem leads to problems of self-tolerance and narcissism and an individual with an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Such individuals learn to tolerate their errors and personal flaws and come to accept themselves as okay. This person rarely admits to ignorance and regards his intuition and knowledge superior to objective data. Part of the bubble universe in which they 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. This group is highly cohesive, but isolated from contrary opinions.

Damon describes in Hands on Parenting that “self-esteem is a perfectly good thing for people to have, but it should be the result of good behavior. In other words you should feel good about yourself because you have done something right… We want to promote self-esteem that comes from achievement and service to others.”4 There are examples of such good behavior. The progressive movement takes on many issues that include the environment and social justice. The mainstream media breathlessly report Pope Francis urges activists to struggle against the ‘structural causes’ of poverty. This is a person who lives Christ’s life, and after studying reality, reflecting on it and, only later, takes action. This is the old morality of the past connecting with the post-modern ethic of the progressive.

An old cliché is that “the first casualty of war is truth”. The neocons ridicule anyone who opposes further involvement in Iraq and blame the ongoing instability in Iraq on President Obama – ignoring the manipulation of intelligence and media  engineered by neocons during the Bush administration to get the US into the war. When it comes to issues like the Iraq War the neocons are divorced from reality. At best they are a cult, an exclusive group of individuals sharing a devotion to ideas, principles and intellectual interests. Another reason that neocon activities are not part of a political movement because their political posturing is consistent with narcissism.

1 Finnigan, Maureen. (2000) “Nietzsche’s Perspective: Beyond Truth as an Ideal.” http://www.iwm.at/wp-content/uploads/jc-06-09.pdf

Campbell David. (1998) University of Minnesota Press. Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. p 165.

Kahan, Allan S. (2010) Mind vs Money: The War Between Intellectuals and Capitalism. New Brunswick, N. J.: Transaction Press p 236.

4 Horsman, Greg. (2011) The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle, p 202.

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