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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Rationalization of Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Part 2 of 2: The Class System and Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Part 1 of 2. The Class System and Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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. http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam034/90036094.pdf

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 http://www.mega.nu:8080/ampp/176krkpt.htm

2 What is a Paradigm Shift? http://www.taketheleap.com/define.html

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) <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)

 

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