Part 2 of 3: Defining Freedom in the 21st Century

Hegel developed a philosophy of action in which the spirit is always active in the search of some aim, in realizing one’s potential or self-actualization. Hegel believed history is a progressive realization of freedom. Feuerbach’s critique of Hegel’s philosophy is that (any) idealism is an impediment to human freedom and self-understanding. Feuerbach believed that religion must be exposed as a purely human creation in order that humans may become self-conscious and free. For Marx history is the progressive development toward the socialization of the means of life. Money is impediment to human freedom and self-understanding. Marx avoided the idea of humanness or individualism in order to focus his theory on capital, the proletariat and surplus value to strengthen his theory, as he led the revolt of labor against capitalism.

In the 19th century two philosophers, Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, stood out with their reaction against the ‘impersonal’ rationalism of the Enlightenment, and stressed the importance of the individual. Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the ‘father of existentialism,’ believed that one must choose one’s own way without the aid of universal objective standards. Against the traditional view that moral choices involved an objective judgment of right and wrong, existentialists argued that moral choice involved objective judgments of right or wrong. It was necessary to create one’s own values in a world in which traditional values no longer governed. For Kierkegaard, the real problem of life was to discover one’s true talent, secret gift, authentic vocation.

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. The goal of the good life was self-fulfillment achieved by overcoming the conflicts in both natural and cultural environments through free personal choices.

After the Second World War, Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), one of the most important economists of the 20th century, developed a definition of freedom by blending the ideas of John Locke and Adam Smith to create a social contract that supported laissez-faire capitalism. His writings had a major influence on market liberalization strategies, which included discrediting government economic planning. Hayek observed: “Equality of the general rules of law and conduct, however, is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty and the only equality which we can secure without destroying liberty. Not only does liberty have nothing to do with any other sort of equality, but it is even bound to produce inequality in many respects. This is the necessary result and part of the justification of individual liberty: if the result of individual liberty did not demonstrate that some manners of living were more successful than others, much of the case for it would vanish.”[i]

In his book, Road to Serfdom, published in England in 1944, Hayek developed ideas defending capitalism while attacking socialism. The problem with Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, Hayek claimed, was not (only) the non-democratic nature of the political systems, but the (centralized) economic planning being pursued. He warned “most of those who want to restrict private initiative in economic life do so in the hope of creating more freedom in spheres which they value higher [but it]… is not possible without a thorough curtailment of individual liberty.” Hayek claimed, small government, free markets, low taxes, would provide prosperity in the long run.[ii] With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, these economic ideas went mainstream in the West.

The World Health Organization (WHO), defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Wellness was not just absence of negative elements (illness and disease) but the presence of positive elements (physical health and happiness). Wellness is about reaching one’s full potential as a person. Wellness is a decision we make, and we take personal responsibility for achieving it. The WHO defines wellness as the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There is a growing body of evidence about what makes people healthy.

Inequities reduce the freedom and opportunities for an individual to achieve wellness or good health and, in particular, to reach his full potential. 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. A big part of wellness is having meaning in one’s life and the sense that one is contributing to the world whether it be making a difference in the lives of friends and family, ecology or vocation. This has a great deal to do with attitude. Not surprisingly, much stress in in society can be attributed to economic inequality. In fact, economic inequality may have more of effect on our overall health than any other single factor. Research has shown economic inequality to be a primary cause of illness.[iii]

The completion of the human genome project in 2003, also saw 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 was now recognized that the environment, and more specifically, our perception of the environment, directly controls our behavior and genetic activity. Epigenetics is the new science that studies the complex mechanisms of genes being turned on and off according to environmental ques. The genome is very stable; mutations are seldom. On the other hand, the environment is very volatile. In order for the species to survive the genome has mechanisms that respond to the volatile environment by turning on and off genes. As the environment can influence genes, lifestyle can impact the expression of our genes. Early studies show an association between epigenetic marks (in the human genome) and socio-economic status. This has implications for population health and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease.

Epigenetics brings another dimension to self-care. Behaviour and environment can affect how genes are expressed. Epigenetics empowers people to take control of their health by making choices that may override their genetic code, such as diet, exercise, and personal attitude. An individual needs to access this epigenetic information, thus, he requires access to health care for prevention, appropriate monitoring and treatment. Much of health care is about prevention; as well as it maintains, or restores functioning (capacity) that is normal for an individual.

Through public policy and health protection, epigenetics provides a mechanism (for all) to assess their environment and adjust their genetic response accordingly. Various factors – diet, life styles and environmental exposures, can affect the epigenetic status of humans (and other organisms), helping to create their environment. Environmental events play a role in evolution by altering the way our genes are or are not expressed. Such alterations are temporary and reversible, but they can still be passed on, meaning that conditions affecting a parent may also affect the offspring of that parent. A wide range of environmental social and nutritional exposures can dramatically control how genes are expressed without changing the underlying DNA. How we develop mentally and physically has a impact upon our inherent capabilities and our set of life options. Wellness is control over how our genes are expressed or used – about turning off adverse genes and expressing healthy ones.

In the 21st century, the epigenetics revolution is rewriting our understanding of genetics, disease, and inheritance. Individuals are much more sensitive to exposures from their environment, diet and lifestyles than previously thought. Epigenetics identifies that certain exposures to toxins, especially during periods of developmental vulnerability, can cause long-term harm to exposed individuals, and sometimes their progeny. Environment and food play key roles in epigenetic changes and in the development of chronic diseases. Epigenetic control of our genes represents a fundamental shift in the way we understand our world. Because of the role epigenetics plays in human development and in disease causation, there is an important role in regulating epigenetic harms.

Epigenetic harms impact on an individual’s capabilities or freedom of life choices. Preserving human potential as a freedom and protecting human capabilities in an equitable manner from epigenetic harms become an important aspect of public health goals. In the capabilities approach people are in a position to avail themselves of the freedom and have choices and opportunity – not affected by access to education and healthcare. Such a system protects the individual’s opportunity to pursue functions (by choosing meaningful ends) within their developing capabilities set. Regulation of epigenetic risks is challenging; risks cannot be calculated with any certainty. The capabilities approach addresses (1) what impacts do particular epigenetic risks have on our ability to exercise free choices? (2) are these risks avoidable? (3) and how are these risks distributed across society? The June 1992 Declaration of the Rio Conference on Environment and Development, Principle 15 reads: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for post-postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”[iv]

For the protection of all members of the community, a new regulatory framework is required to address epigenetic risk from specific substances (food and environmental chemicals), even if conclusive proof of disease causation cannot be established. It is necessary to introduce the requirement of generating epigenetic risk data to producers of suspected harmful substances. When evidence gives us good reason to believe that an activity, technology, or substance may be harmful, we should act to prevent harm – to protect public health, environment and the future of our children. If we always wait for scientific certainty, people will suffer and die and the natural world may suffer irreversible damage. The goal is to protect human capability in an equable manner.

Why is this important now? Harmful toxins have accumulated over the years, and many have been identified as epigenetic harms associated with chronic disease. Epigenetics explains how environmental factors can switch genes on and off, based on choices we make. Epigenetic studies will predict what environments need to be created womb to tomb in order to protect us, and minimize the risk of chronic diseases.

Wellness is not about the absence of disease. Wellness is control over how our genes are expressed or used – about turning off adverse genes and expressing healthy ones. It is movement towards the highest genetic potential, in which a person is always seeking and moving towards his or her own highest potential – being the best you can possibly be. Living life to the fullest possible extent is made possible by life style changes, which enhance physical, mental and spiritual health.

Wellness is about reaching one’s full potential. Controlling epigenetic harms, or environmental harms, is about treating an individual’s potential as a freedom. The environment, heredity, chance, friends, luck, (things over which one has little control), plays a greater role in wellness than personal life style choices. Governments have a role in preserving human potential as a freedom.[v] The amount of good health or wellness an individual enjoys is a more important measure of freedom than the amount (size) of government or taxes enjoyed.

[i] Hayek, Friedrich A. “Equality, Value and Merit.” < http://www.woldww.net/classes/General_Philosophy/Hayek-equality.htm&gt;.

[ii] Hayek, Friedrich. (07 Jan 2010) “What Price a Planned Economy.” http://mises.org/daily/4004

[iii] Rabin, Mitchell. “The Stress of Inequality and its Powerful Effect on Health.” (12 March 2011) <http://www.naturalnews.com/031674_inequality_health.html&gt;.

[iv] “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.” <http://www.unep.org/ Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?documentid=78&articleid=1163>.

[v] Khan, F. “Preserving human potential as freedom: a framework for regulating epigenetic harms.” <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21243846&gt;.

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Part 1 of 3: The Struggle for Freedom

Western Europe once had a deeply religious culture, in which theology was the main discipline. Then theology developed philosophy, and it was soon swallowed and eaten by its child. Theology began to lose ground to philosophy in the 17th century, and by the 18th century philosophy was the dominant discipline in the intellectual life of Western Europe. The Enlightenment was stimulated by the scientific revolution. Stunning successes in understanding the physical world through processes of logic and observation encouraged the belief that similar progress might be made in the area of political economy and social 
relations.

It was not long, of course, until philosophy was forced to yield its centricity. With the advent of the Romantic movement in the 19th century, history began to dominate all disciplines. Many of the libertarian and abolitionist movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were engendered by the romantic philosophy – the desire to be free of convention and tyranny, and the new emphasis on the rights and dignity of the individual.

Georg Hegel (1770-1831) who saw a world governed by individual self-interest believed that we are controlled by external forces, and are nothing but pawns in the game. The classical liberal describes freedom as the absence of restraints. A negative definition means little without the positive freedom to act upon things. For Hegel freedom is realized through self-determination and self-actualization. Hegel sees ideas in the abstract but embodied in society and institutions that change. He believed there is no role for individual freedom, even though one may behave as he likes, he is not free. Freedom is more than one’s own capacity for decisions. Individuals must realize that even laissez-fare manipulates you.

For Hegel, history was where real insight into the human condition could be found. He saw events always moving forward, in perpetual change, conflicting ideas with destabilization leading to a new situation. The random linear process goal of history led to the greater development, realization and understanding of human freedom. It was about the spirit – there was the process of change with the end point of the mind coming to know itself. Absolute knowledge equals absolute freedom.

To understand the process of change described by Hegel we ask three Ws and one H: what, why, how and where. What should be a need-led process, and should respond to concerns. For Hegel what is the changing spirit or the mind, always in search of some aim, realizing potential. Why should be change or outcome focused. Hegel claims individuals are in various states of alienation – the tension created between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The answer to the how question helps you understand the way in which the task or activity is actually done. The process should involve all those desiring change, including communities. For Hegel the process is the dialectic. The conflict between two opposing views (thesis and antithesis) result in change (synthesis.) The dialectic is a dynamic process: Once a synthesis is produced, it becomes a thesis, which inevitably brings forth its own antithesis. Where describes the location of the users or stakeholders. Hegel sees ideas as abstract, but embodied in society and institutions (at the political level), that change.

Hegel turned to the study of Greek history to determine why freedom was so elusive. The fall of Athens had been brought about by the symbiosis between the individual and society being shattered following a combination of events – rise in trading empire, rise of aristocracy and imperialist wars. As the wealth of the polis increased, political power fell into the hands of a few. Those in power ruled in their own interest without regard to public welfare. The fall of the polis, Hegel explains, was the result of the spirit departing from it. The death of the spirit in a people involves the loosening of a sense of the citizen’s identification with his state.

Hegel believed humanity is not to be conceived according to the mechanistic models of 18th-century materialism. Essentially humans are free, but the freedom that constitutes their nature can achieve fulfillment only through a process of struggle, and of overcoming obstacles that is itself the expression of human activity. It was in this sense that Hegel claimed that spirit was “at war with itself … it has to overcome itself as its most formidable obstacle.” In concrete terms, this meant that historical advance did not proceed through a series of smooth transitions. Once the potentialities of a particular society had been realized in the creation of a certain mode of life, its historical role was over; its members became aware of its inadequacies, and the laws and institutions they had previously accepted unquestioningly were now experienced as fetters, inhibiting further development and no longer reflecting their deepest aspirations. Thus, each phase of the historical process could be said to contain the seeds of its own destruction and to “negate” itself; the consequence was the emergence of a fresh society, representing another stage in a progression whose final outcome was the formation of a rationally ordered community with which each citizen could consciously identify himself and in which there would therefore no longer exist any sense of alienation or constraint.

Before the Enlightenment human beings were generally considered in terms of how they fit into social hierarchies and communal institutions, but following enlightenment the view was that the individual rather than society as a whole, is the most important entity. Self-criticism and self-denial were no longer in vogue, replaced by self-expression, self-realization and self-approval. Hegel explains the modern state is the institution that will correct this imbalance in modern culture. Although economic and legal individualism play a positive role in society, Hegel foresees the need for institutions that will affirm common bonds and ethical life while preserving individual freedom. He believes, for example, that the state must regulate the economy and provide for the poor in society and that there should be ‘corporative’ institutions somewhat similar to modern trade unions, in which different occupational groups affirm a sense of social belonging and a feeling of being connected to a larger society. According to him, religion (or his philosophical interpretation of it) fulfilled man’s constant psychological need to have an image of himself and of the world by which he could orient himself.

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) played a role in the transition of post-Hegelian philosophy in traditional idealism to various forms of naturalism, materialism and positivism, influencing themes developed further by others. Feuerbach joins the great tradition of materialist philosophers who, taking as the point of departure for their views man’s actual state in nature and in society, could see that the idealistic solutions were illusory. The hard fact that man’s natural drives were permitted no satisfactory outlet, showed freedom and reason to be a myth, as far as social realities were concerned. Hegel had committed the unpardonable offense against the individual of constructing a realm of reason on the foundations of an enslaved humanity. Despite all historical progress, Feuerbach cries out, man is still in need, and the pervasive fact philosophy encounters is ‘suffering.’ This, and not cognition, is primary in man’s relation to the objective world. ‘Thought is preceded by suffering.’ And no realization of reason is in the offing until that suffering has been eliminated.

For Feuerbach religion must be exposed as a purely human creation in order that humans may become self-conscious and free. Feuerbach replaced reason with sense perception. Feuerbach’s critique of Hegel: Philosophy is an impediment to human freedom and self- understanding. Feuerbach’s radical move is seeing the dialectic as a dialectic of consciousness that is rooted in the very condition of material human existence, such as human needs, wants, and interests. By material, Feurbach means something real or existing, as opposed to consciousness alone. There is no need for the God of good qualities of the human species, Feuerbach believed, the act of liberation (freedom) can be brought about through a simple reformation of people’s consciousness.[i]

Karl Marx (1818-1883) owes his philosophical awakening to Feuerbach. With regard to religion, then, Marx believed, we don’t project an ideal, unalienated realm in religion for nothing; we are desperately trying to deal with ourselves in an unhappy, oppressed, dismal situation. Marx’s most significant criticism of Feuerbach is that the latter interpreted reality, but did not change it. Materialism argues that the actual reality of the surrounding world determines the way people think and what they believe. In contrast to religious and other ‘idealist’ philosophies, Marx’s materialist conception of history asserted, “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (Karl Marx, Preface to “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,” 1859).

Marx’s theory is founded upon his observation that, within the capitalist mode of production, workers invariably lose determination of their lives and destinies by being deprived of the right to conceive of themselves as the director of their actions. For Marx alienation of man created by the fact people’s own labour rules them, giving workers little control over what they do.[ii]

All men are free, but the mechanisms of the labor process govern the freedom of them all. Marx’s shift to economics made money the impediment to human freedom and self-understanding. Marx’s theory of history is centered around the idea that forms of society rise and fall as they further and then impede the development of human productive power. Marx used Hegel’s theory of the dialectic to back up the theory of communism.

Karl Marx observed societies with poverty and inequality, and, in response, developed a theory based on exploitation and class antagonism. Marx focused on the labour theory of value, and profit as the extraction of surplus value from the exploited proletariat. In the need to focus on the proletariat, the individual disappeared from his philosophy, and personal freedom became an abstract concept. Lenin adapted Marx’s ideas to support the Russian Revolution run by a minority, and inserted a band of revolutionaries at the head of an elitist revolution onto an unwilling population. Lenin established a small group, that evolved into an oligarchy, to control the USSR.[iii] Marx sought to end exploitation, but the system that sought to apply his ideas gave rise to its own version of exploitation of the weak by the strong.

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. Voltaire (1694-1778), an outspoken writer known for his brilliant wit and sarcasm, preached freedom of thought. To Immanuel Kant, combining free will and reason creates the capacity for free choice. Man’s purpose, Kant claimed, was to develop fully his capacities for reason and freedom (free will).

Like Kant, Hegel believed that we do not perceive the world or anything in it directly and all that our minds have access to is the ideas of the world – images, perceptions, and concepts. For Kant and Hegel, the only real reality we know is virtual reality. Hegel’s idealism differs from Kant’s in two ways. First Hegel believed that the ideas we have of the world are social, which is to say, the ideas that we possess individually are for the most part shaped by the ideas that other people possess. Our minds have been shaped by the thoughts of other people through the language we speak, the traditions and mores of our society, and the cultural and religious institutions of which we are a part.

The second way Hegel differs from Kant is that he sees the spirit or collective consciousness of a society evolving in a system called ‘a dialectic’, a progression in which each successive movement emerges a solution to the contradictions inherent in the preceding movement with the development of freedom and the consciousness of freedom. There can be no progress, according to Hegel, without struggle. The synthesis that emerges from this struggle then discovers its own internal contradiction and starts the process anew. For Hegel, the struggle against alienation becomes the attainment of freedom.[iv] The necessary ingredient for Hegel’s philosophy was freedom of action, not just freedom of thought.

[i] “Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach.” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ludwig-feuerbach/

[ii] “capitalist mode of production.” https://www.boundless.com/sociology/definition/capitalist-mode-of-production/

[iii] Horsman, Greg. Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An Age of Enlightenment. 2013. p. 177.

[iv] “GEORG WILHELM FRIEDRICH HEGEL (1770–1831).” http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/hegel/themes.html

 

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Social Class, Government, and Dissemination of Information

The Enlightenment of the 18th century opened up the floodgates of new ideas, new thoughts on everything from the way man saw government and his own role in society to the way scientific ideas were conceived, demonstrated, and above all, published and shared with the world. During this period there arose three major areas of concern for the philosopher: the discovery of the underlying laws which govern society, the proper structure of government, and dissemination of knowledge of the material world.

Newton began his career with mathematics work that would eventually evolve into the entire field of calculus. From there, he conducted experiments in physics and math that revealed a number of natural laws that had previously been credited to divine forces. After Newton’s discovery of the laws that governed nature it was believed that through reasoning it would be possible for one to look past the traditions and conventions that had dominated Europe in the past, and to make decisions for oneself – to discover the laws that governed society.

It was believed that through the use of rationality and improved technology there would be progressive improvement of people’s lives both in terms of physical comfort and intellectual sophistication. Denis Diderot recruited a group of intellectuals in France to write and publish the first systematic encyclopedia of human knowledge. This group hoped to enlighten the public by encouraging critical thinking, promoting scientific research and by publishing information people could use to understand their world and improve their existence.

The Enlightenment writers were concerned about the inequality of the existing system and introduced questioning and critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition and challenge the blind faith in institutions. The philosophers wanted to understand the rationale behind inequality, were particularly interested if there were natural reasons for it, or if inequality came wholly from social conventions. Voltaire criticized the class system of the time – a rigid class system based on inherited positions of nobility and wealth – as being a system exclusively dominated by aristocrats who possess all the financial, political and social power.

Charles Murray claims there is a class structure in the US based on IQ. In his latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Murray promotes a trickle down value system.  Rather than explain social problems in economic terms, he explains social problems in moral terms. The gap that Murray has identified is illustrated by the fact of a marriage rate of 83% in upper middle class neighbor hood compared to 48% for working class contemporaries. So instead of contributing economically, the wealthy should be contributing morally to healing a culture gap (which began with the disintegration of national values by the counterculture of the 1960s). The attack on women by the conservatives in the US is the claim that workingwomen weaken the family and its adherent social values.

Murray claims a new upper class and a new lower class in the US have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship – and claims divergence has nothing to do with income inequality and has grown during good economic times and bad. A new upper class with advanced education has appeared. Murray has produced a book-length argument placing responsibility for rising inequality and declining mobility on widespread decay in the moral fiber of white, lower-status, less well-educated Americans, putting relatively less emphasis on a similar social breakdown among low-status, less-educated Americans of all races. Murray alleges that those with higher IQs now exhibit personal and social behavioral choices in areas like marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity that allow them to enjoy secure and privileged lives. Whites in the lower social-economic strata are less cognitively able – in Murray’s view – and thus less well equipped to resist the lure of the sexual revolution and doctrines of self-actualization, so they succumb to higher rates of family dissolution, non-marital births, worklessness and criminality. This interaction between IQ and behavioral choice, in Murray’s framework, is what has led to the widening income and cultural gap.[i]  In such a system, he believes, the free market must provide income to create the social processes.

Murray is the not first to propose that the plight of the poor is due to character weakness. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) advocated utilitarianism as the basis for government reforms in the early 19th century. He claimed that it was possible to decide by scientific means what was morally justifiable by applying the principles of utility. He advocated that actions were right if they tended to produce ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.’ In his day, the ‘people’ were individuals who could vote – workers at that time did not have the vote. While he died in 1832, his ideas were applied to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, with the goal to reduce the rates of poverty in the country in order to reduce the cost to the landowners.

In 19th century England most members of the working class likely slipped into poverty at some point in their lives because of such things as unemployment, sickness or old age. They had to rely on their friends, children or credit in hard times, and this was considered proper as it encouraged the poor to work. Poverty was not seen as a social problem – destitution was felt to be the result of character weakness. The Poor Law reform that reorganized the workhouses was expected to work wonders for the moral character of the workingman, because it was believed that poverty was caused by the bad habits of the poor.[ii]

When an individual fell into debt he had to report to a poorhouse, or workhouse, to live and work until he or she had paid off their debt. The poorhouse was bleak living conditions, provided with the bare essentials and bland food – the men and women were segregated so that they could not ‘breed’. The goal of an efficient workhouse was to ensure conditions within the workhouse were worse than the lowest paying jobs on the outside. Bentham’s pain pleasure principle was in play. The Poor Law did not deal with physical/mental ill health, old age, or loss of parents. This 19th century plan to instill morality into the poor was an unmitigated failure.

During the 19th century, the size of many British cities increased rapidly as a result of the industrial revolution.  Housing, in turn, became overcrowded and epidemics were a major problem. After the influenza and typhoid epidemics of 1837 and 1830 Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890), a lawyer and social reformer, was asked by the government to carry out an inquiry into sanitation in Britain.

His report was published in 1842 and it claimed that disease was directly related to living conditions and that there was a desperate need for public health reform. He advocated government intervention (take steps) to protect the lives of people living in Britain’s towns and cities. He claimed that public health should be administered locally so as to encourage people to participate in their own protection. One part of his advocacy to protect and improve health included changes to building codes to protect the health of the laboring classes by amendments of existing building and regulation of new buildings to address the conditions in the towns – “in the great proportion of cases where neither private benevolence nor enlightened views can be expected to prevail extensively.”[iiiiChadwick noted that it was necessary to address issues of sewage and good water supplies before actually being able to determine the contribution of crowded housing to health problems. He was appalled at the number of people admitted to the workhouses and became convinced that if the health of the working population could be improved then there would be a drop in the numbers of people on relief.

Chadwick used an economic argument to drive change – loss of revenue to the government because of early death of so many people. He believed that a healthier population would be able to work harder and would cost less to support, and if all of his recommendations were carried out the average life expectancy for the laboring classes would increase by at least 13 years. The report was not acted on until 1848 – following a general election, when a new government under Lord John Russell came to power. The 1848 parliament passed a Public Health Act that provided the formation of a Central Board of Health with powers to create local boards to oversee street cleaning, refuse collection, water supply and sewerage systems. This was the beginning of public health advocacy.

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. Finally the tobacco control movement prevailed. It took a series of regulations and taxes to address the negative effects of smoking and create the opportunity to achieve wellness or good health – a process or quest by which a person always seeks and moves towards their own full potential.

Once the reality of the consequences of the economic debacle of 2008 set in that the pleasant retirement and the promise that one’s children would have a better life than their parents had been destroyed, many became angry and disillusioned. For the first time in history middle class children will likely end up poorer than their parents. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are connected by the anger of the common person against the banks for manipulating the system and nearly 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 promote the political will to transform the system in fundamental ways.

In the second decade of the 21st century we now realize the middle class has been stripped of jobs, income, and security. We need to replace socioeconomic status with class as the significant structural factor in determining health. Class represents structural characteristics of society. Recently the structural class perspective is rapidly increasing. Social inequalities, such as income, are a consequence of structural change in class power. 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 global class system (now considered the new aristocracy) is described as a system in which privileged groups in both developed and developing countries act (often in concert) to protect their own position at the expense of others. Under globalization the dominant business class no longer needs to accommodate citizen pressures within national boundaries.

The accumulated impacts of human activity over the past two centuries are now threatening our continued well-being. Under The Four Systems Conditions identified by scientists: “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 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.”[iv]

Today economics trumps politics – the trickle down economics belief system supports industrial and environmental deregulation for job growth. Scientific information that should be used to make decisions on sustainability is manipulated or hampered by underfunding of regulators and through the influence of lobbyists. Consequently there are many toxins (such as endocrine disruptors) in the environment that the majority of people are unknowingly exposed to. The harshest costs of modern economic practices fall upon ecosystems and populations with little current economic power or value, including generations not yet born. In thirty short years this economic system has created a class system in Canada and the US with increasing inequality between the wealthy and the rest of society. Class, now an important social determinant of health, needs to be addressed to ensure the social mobility necessary for all individuals have an opportunity to reach their potential.


[i] Edsall, Thomas B. “What to do about ‘Coming Apart.’ (12 February 2012 New York Times. <http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/what-to-do-about-coming-apart/&gt;.

[iii] Chadwick, Sir Edwin. Inquiry into the Conditions of the Poor. (184)

[iv] “The Four Systems Conditions.” <http://www.thenaturalstep.org/en/canada/the-system-conditions&gt;.


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Another Inconvenient Truth

An inconvenient truth is a truth no one likes to admit, and thus it is inconvenient and causes problems or difficulties for someone. The truth about the climate crisis is an inconvenient one that means we are going to have to change the way we live our lives. Our climate crisis may at times appear to be happening slowly, but in fact it has become a true planetary emergency and we must recognize that we are facing a crisis.  The 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, starring former US Vice President Al Gore, did raise public awareness – we seem to be sitting on a ticking time bomb. So why is it that some leaders seem not to hear the clarion warnings? Big oil companies have spent millions of dollars over the last decade trying to confuse the public on global warming in order to maintain the status quo.

An Inconvenient Truth identified the facts that humans are responsible for climate change, and the effects can be devastating. Since the 1970s, the extent & thickness of the Arctic ice cap has diminished precipitously. There are now studies showing that if we continue with business as usual, the Arctic ice cap will completely disappear each year during summertime. At present, it plays a crucial role in cooling the Earth. Preventing its disappearance must be one of our priorities. The message is current technology can reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1970 levels. This response involves multiple approaches: reduction of oil consumption by the more efficient use of electricity in heating and cooling systems, lighting, appliances and electronic equipment; increased vehicle efficiency by manufacturing cars that run on less gas and putting more hybrid and fuel-cell cars on the roads; reduction of use of fossil fuels can be achieved by changes in transport efficiency, such as designing better mass transit systems, and increased reliance on renewable energy technologies that already exist. All these actions impact the oil industry’s bottom line.

The correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide concentrations over the last 1,000 years – as measured in the ice core record from Greenland – is striking. Nevertheless, the so-called global warming skeptics often say that global warming is really an illusion reflecting nature’s cyclical fluctuations. To support their view, they frequently refer to the Medieval Warm Period. But the historical thermometer shows the vaunted Medieval Warm Period was tiny compared to the enormous increases in temperature of the last half-century. There is a debate over how fast the polar ice caps will melt – and detractors use databases with the minimal rise in ocean levels excluding Greenland and Antarctica (because researchers could not quantify the amount of melt, not because it will not be significant). The documentary suggested the conveyor (thermohaline circulation) in the north Atlantic would disappear, while IPCC model has it slowing down by 30%. We don’t know what the consequences of a slow down will be, or when it will appear, because it depends on the efforts put in place to reduce the pollution that causes global warming.  However, thousands of other facts in the movie have gone unchallenged.1

Cigarettes did not become popular until the development of automated equipment to make them in the 19th century. The tobacco industry was set up to reap huge profits. During the 1940s, the tobacco companies promoted the health benefits of cigarettes – preventing colds and relaxing individuals. Lung cancer was rare in the early 1900s but by the mid-20th century it had become an epidemic. A 1950 medical report described a casual association between the smoking of cigarettes and lung cancer.

In 1952, a Readers’ Digest article decried the negative health consequences of cigarette smoking. The following year was the first year in two decades that the sale of cigarettes dropped. The tobacco industry responded by setting up the Council for Tobacco Research. This was the beginning of a survival strategy. This meant denying the health consequences of smoking. Deceiving customers about the true nature of cigarettes through marketing and PR, as well as damaging the credibility of industry opponents. This including introducing distractions by drawing attentions to other agents like radon gas, asbestos, arsenic, silica and chromium. The tobacco companies joined many associations who typically oppose taxation and promoted themselves as supporters of freedom of expression, but blocked making available any information linking smoking to death or any negative outcomes.

In the 1960s lung cancer was only a few per 100,000 in non-smokers, but over 300 per hundred thousand in smokers. At the time, the Tobacco Research Council funded studies that suggested there was no cause and effect between smoking and lung cancer, and suggested that air pollution should be considered. A long series of court cases (all of which the tobacco lobby won) were based on a lack of evidence – the illness was not causally related. In 1978 scientists discovered the suppressor gene p53 – when it detects DNA damage p53 halts cell division and stimulates the DNA repair enzymes that fix the problem. Mutations that inactivate p53 remove a key barrier to unrestricted cell decision. Benzopyrene, a potent mutagen found in cigarette smoke, binds directly to the tumor suppressor gene p53 and mutates it into the inactive form. This was the link proving chemicals in cigarette smoke cause mutations causing lung cancer and after this study cigarette companies abandoned their claim that cigarettes have not been shown to cause cancer.

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. The best example of recent public health advocacy and eventually control of a chronic disease was the success of 50 years of efforts in tobacco reduction strategy, and second-hand smoke control. 2

The chief propagandists of neoliberalism, were Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, who, in 1947, founded the Mont Pelerin Society, to coordinate the creation of an international network of think-tanks and foundations, to spread trickle down ideology.3 Subsequently, right-leaning think-tanks were established around the world “to improve public understanding … of the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.”  Hayek inspired Antony Fisher to establish the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London during 1955, the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., during 1973, and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York City during 1977 and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 1981.  In turn, the Atlas Foundation supports a wide network of think tanks, including the Fraser Institute (established in 1974 in British Columbia). As the think-tanks evolved they took a page out of the tobacco industry playbook and incorporated it into their communication strategy.4

The oil industry is known for their heavy financial support to organizations that promote doubt over climate science, peddle fossil fuel use and attack clean energy alternatives. The Heritage Foundation has played a consistent role in promoting the oil ideology. Senator Jim DeMint became the president of the Heritage Foundation in 2013. As a Senator, he defended the fairness of giving billions of dollars in subsidies to Big Oil. As president of the Heritage Foundation he champions slashing funds for welfare programs to support a pro growth agenda. The problem, DeMint claims, is centralized planning of big government that doesn’t work – it creates a culture of dependency that can trap people. In fact, he is aware that Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute scoured dozens of research studies and found no evidence that income inequality causes less economic mobility or slower economic growth. This he claims, supports his ideas that government programs are stifling upward mobility.5

The Fraser Institute, a right-leaning think tank, has supported climate-change skeptics for nearly a decade. The Fraser Institute has argued that right-to-work states have seen more rapid employment growth than those without. An analysis of the Ontario conservative party plans for right-to work would put the middle class out of reach for many. Using Statistics Canada’s Longitudinal Administrative Databank, a recent Fraser Institute study, Measuring Income Mobility in Canada, tracks a cohort of over a million Canadians from 1990 to 2009 to see how their incomes changed. Their study claims that the middle class is not in trouble – over the period studied low-income individuals were advancing economically.6 However, Michael Wolfson, a former statistician from Statscan, had previously used the same database and came to the opposite conclusion. The authors of the Fraser Institute  study have yet to publish the details of their income groups.7

A study reported in Psychological Science in 2011 claims that statisticians can prove almost anything. This is otherwise known as confirmation bias, or the tendency to favour ideas that fit with one’s settled positions. The study reports that it is not unusual for a researcher to falsely find evidence that an effect exists than to correctly find evidence that it does not. This report creates significant doubt on any researcher who claims his findings are ‘statistically significant.’ One field, which is losing credibility because of this factor, is psychology, and, in particular, social psychology that merges with economics. The root problem is researchers’ degrees of freedom – the flexibility on data use – that “lead to bias at best, and nonsense at worst”.8 The Fraser Institute article identifies the need for more details to determine the significance of the income mobility report. So just when there is a requirement for better data to target programs on poverty, Prime Minister Steven Harper, a politician well connected to the Fraser Institute, cancelled the long census form in 2013, that used to accompany tax forms – pandering to the speaking points of less government carries the day.

The agenda of organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute include industrial and environmental deregulation, the privatization of government services, deep reductions in federal anti-poverty spending and the transfer of authority and responsibility for social welfare from the national government to the charitable sector and state or provincial and local government. 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. The singular success of Occupy Wall Street is to put inequality on the political agenda. The truth is as income inequality increases social mobility decreases.

The tobacco industry was involved in over fifty years of minimizing the hazards of cigarette smoking through various methods, such as suggesting factors like air pollution may be involved in lung cancer. The consequence of these activities was the delaying of the decision to intervene with public health programs to reduce smoking in the general public to prevent chronic disease and early deaths. Another inconvenient truth, but a truth that must be addressed, nonetheless, is the increasing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society and the subsequent loss of social mobility. There is a need in the 21st century to circumvent activities by various think-tanks to create doubt of the effects of inequality that prevents progressive government initiatives to address the issue. Changes are necessary to address wealth distribution to ensure the freedom of individuals to reach their full potential.

1Masters, Jeffery. “Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.” http://www.wunderground.com/resources/education/gore.asp

2Horsman, Greg. Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An age of Enlightenment, p 25-26.

3Horsman, Greg. ( 6 Oct 2012) “Trickle Down Ideology.” http://questioningandskepticism.com/2012/10/06/trickle-down-ideology/

4Livingston, David. The Fraser Institute and the Subversion of Canadian Society http://www.thedyinggod.com/node/108

5DeMint, Jim. (18 Jan 2014) Why President Obama’s Approach to Poverty Won’t Work http://blog.heritage.org/2014/01/18/president-obamas-approach-poverty-wont-work/

6Veldhuis, Niels, Lammam, Charles, Karabegovic. (Jan 2013) “The ‘poor’ are getting RICHER” http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/articles/poor-are-getting-richer-jan2013.pdf

7Wolfson, Michael. (4 Dec 2012) “In Canada, “Rags to Riches” Is a Myth.” http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/michael-wolfson/income-inequality-canada_b_2234034.html

8Brean, Joseph. Statisticians can prove almost anything, a new study finds. (20 Nov 2011) http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/11/20/statisticians-can-prove-almost-anything-a-new-study-finds/

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End A Decade of Lost Opportunities and Invest in the Future

Working age poverty is defined by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as the proportion of individuals aged 18 to 65 years with equivalized disposable income less than 50% of the median income of the entire population in a given country. A 2013 study of seventeen countries analyzed by the OECD reported that the three countries with the highest working-age poverty are Canada, Japan and the US. The countries with the lowest rate are Denmark, Switzerland, Finland and Austria. The working age poverty rates in Canada and the US are more than three times the working-age poverty rate in Denmark (the country with the lowest rate). High rates of poverty among working age populations indicate wasted human resources, opportunities, and public spending. The OECD concludes, “failure to tackle the poverty and exclusion facing millions of families and their children is not only socially reprehensible, but it will also weigh heavily on countries’ capacity to sustain economic growth in the years to come.”1

The second largest bubble of the 20th century occurred in Japan. Japanese industry gained a competitive edge by copying Western products, improving upon them and selling them back to the West for cheaper prices. The energy crisis of the 1970s reduced the appeal of the traditional large gas-guzzling American style cars and consumers turned to the smaller more fuel efficient vehicles made by Japanese auto makers. In the 1970s and the 1980s Japan dominated the global electronics industry as it manufactured the majority of the world’s consumer electronics products and introduced new innovative products such as the pocket transistor radio, VHS recorder, and the Sony Walkman. They also dominated in the manufacture of semi-conductor chips used in the manufacture of computers. These economic successes became known as Japan’s ‘economic miracle’.

The combination of Japan’s trading trade surpluses, financial deregulation and the country’s export “miracle” eventually led to overconfidence and over exuberance in Japan’s economy, which became the second largest economy in the world after the USA in just a few decades.  Banks started to take increasingly excessive risks that were partly funded by 186 trillion worth of Yen borrowed from various capital markets. Aggressive speculation in domestic stocks and real estate pushed the prices of these assets skyward. From 1985 to 1989 Japan’s Nikkei stock index tripled and accounted for more than one-third of the world’s stock market capitalization.

The keiretsu (business) conglomerates practice of cross-holding each other’s shares played a significant role in boosting stock prices and cause Japanese corporate wealth to balloon along with stock prices. These firms obtained low interest rate loans and used them to purchase stocks and real estate – creating a Ponzi financial system in which earnings poured in as long as asset prices continued to rise. In 1989 the Bank of Japan became concerned and tightened its monetary policy. The Nikkei bubble burst and by 1992 had plunged from 39,000 to 15,000. The imploding stock bubble popped the country’s real estate bubble, throwing the country into financial crisis and halting the three-decade-old ‘economic miracle’ in its tracks. Japan lost its competitive edge against Asian exporters such as China and South Korea. The government tried to keep unprofitable debt-ridden companies afloat through repeated government bailouts. The near zero interest rates of the past two decades have failed to revive the economy. This economic downturn has become known as Japan’s ‘Lost Decades’.1

Following the collapse of the Internet bubble, a long period of low interest rates was encouraged by the US government to support the ongoing expansion of housing as it became the main driver of the economy. There was confidence that the global economy didn’t require regulation, and could self-correct from any excess. The US banking oligarchy ensured politicians who needed funds for re-election were supportive of activities such as allowing banks to assign their own risk level.

The market was leveraged by bundling regular mortgages with high risk mortgages – creating new and alluring securities that could be bundled together and sold (to pension funds as low risk products) as alternatives to traditional bonds and traditional government bonds. To lure in more borrowers, the sub-prime mortgage with initially low interest rates was promoted – which worked perfectly as long as interest rates stayed low.  It became a Ponzi finance system based on the idea that housing prices would appreciate into the foreseeable future. Homes were used as piggy banks at the height of the real estate boom. People refinanced high-interest credit cards with a low interest second mortgage on their home.2

The economic debacle of 2008 followed years of deregulation and manipulation of  the banking system to maximize profits. When the economy slowed down the housing bubble burst. Subsequently US and European governments had to prop up the banks. Middle class workers lost their jobs, many their homes, and their pensions. Many now have to work longer than planned to shore up their pension funds. The costs of the global financial crisis, which has left its mark on all corners of the world, are not expected to disappear overnight – groups campaigning against poverty and globalization have been making this point for a while.

What are the characteristics of the three counties (Canada, US & Japan) with the highest working-age poverty rates? The answer lies in the fact that half of all employees in Japan under age 39 have part time jobs. These part time workers make about 40% less than full time workers and account for the working-wage poverty in Japan. Japan has experienced the burst of a bubble economy, financial crisis, and more than a decade-long deflation and stagnation. With respect to the West, the housing bubble burst, triggered a financial crisis in 2008, and the Western economies have yet to recover. Paul Krugman notes the Fed is projecting elevated unemployment nine full years after the 2008 economic debacle – on track for a lost decade.3 He claims the recession is greater than that that triggered the lost decades in Japan.

Initially Canada appeared to be riding out the storm – banks with less exposure in 2008 and spade ready projects in place in 2009. Today the Canadian economy is now limping along amid weakened demand for many of the country’s major exports. Part of the reason, says governor of Bank of Canada Poloz, is that the country lost about 9,000 exporting companies in the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession (this doesn’t include 1000 jobs loss in the potash industry and the 1700 from Bombardier announced since December 2013). 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 U.S. that have brought down labour costs; a shale oil and gas revolution; and low gas prices that have decreased energy input costs for many U.S. manufacturers.4 

In the mid-1990s Japan turned to short-term workers – disproportionately young. Under the old system of life-long employment, firms invested in training their workers. Now with the switch to short-term contracts, the firms are no longer interested in investing in the human capital of their employees. Thus young workers accumulated fewer skills and have poorer wage prospects whether in their current jobs or the outside labour market. Japan’s traditional manufacturers have become commoditized relying for profit on low-cost production based in low-income countries. One year after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched abenomics in Japan driven by government infrastructure spending and increased real estate purchases prior to a sales tax increase, the Japanese economy remains tepid.

Canadian federal conservatives pride themselves in management competence. The present Canadian federal government no longer supports the long census with tax forms, so just when the requirement for better data to target programs on poverty, pandering to the speaking points of less government carries the day. Their job training program provides grants to companies to train workers often for jobs companies would need to do this anyway – part of the corporate welfare system.  This government spends millions in advertising dollars to promote the success of the program. This includes spending money to advertise jobs that do not exist.5 Over the last decade Canada’s social safety net has been degraded – now more than 11% of working-age Canadians live in relative poverty.

The supporters of small government and minimal regulations – trickle down economics – in the US rely on the social program of job creation to address poverty. This means waiting for the markets to respond, or complaining for the need for less regulation to encourage job growth. Paul Krugman a representative of progressive policies, also embraces job production to fight poverty. His solution is to borrow money and invest in immediate massive government jobs program rebuilding infrastructure. The conservatives in the US Congress believe that not renewing long-term unemployment benefits is the right decision as it will force workers to work in minimum wage jobs to survive rather than being able to wait the a better job, (and in the process challenge Japan for the highest rate of working-age poverty).

In Canada and the US care is seen as parental responsibility with government intervening only to support the labour force participation of low-income families. The availability of the care and its quality tends to be of secondary concern, particularly when the objective is the employment of single mothers. In contrast, the Scandinavian countries have built an extensive network of income supports and public services to facilitate women’s economic and social contribution. A childcare system can only exist in the presence of a public policy framework developed on a national basis.

The Conference Board of Canada notes the debate about the most effective way to reduce poverty revolves around striking the appropriate balance between a ‘benefits strategy’ and a ‘work strategy’. The debate hinges on the apparent trade-off between ensuring adequate income assistance for those in need, while providing incentives for people to work and be self-sufficient. The relationship between social spending and poverty rates is striking. Among the working-age population, relative poverty rates are lowest in countries where social spending  (as a percentage of GPD) is the highest.6

Countries that have reduced poverty rates have turned away from passive, benefits-only poverty reduction approaches in favour of national anti-poverty strategies that incorporate a number of ‘active’ policies. Active policies are social policies that integrate strategies across governments, departments and service providers to reduce poverty, and increase self-sufficiency.  For example active job policies may be set up to help people overcome obstacles to get jobs through a combination of funding job training, providing childcare, introducing tax incentives for lower paid workers. The answer lies in funding ‘real’ job training, providing childcare, and tax incentives to reduce working-age poverty.

The majority of the elected politicians in the Canadian Parliament and the US Congress are proponents of meritocracy and argue that it is more just and productive, allowing for distinctions to be made on the basis of performance. Meritocracy is a concept that eventually turns into an oligarchy.  Chris Hayes notes, over time, a society will become more unequal and less mobile as those who ascend its heights create means of preserving and defending their privilege and find ways to pass it on across generations.7 The consequence is that income inequality has been growing in Canada and the US for the past 40 years. During the same period social mobility decreases while the new elite uses the dogma of small government and minimal regulations to defend their success.

The small government and minimal regulations mindset has heralded the globalization of indifference that prevents progressive government initiatives to address the issue. Under globalization countries compete for the world’s investment capital, which removes traditional government accountability – affecting the ability of elected leaders in democratic countries to make decisions in the interests of the workers. This creates a lack of ability of those affected by decisions to protect their legitimate rights and interests. The consequence of this economic policy, exacerbated by the economic debacle of 2008, is a decade of lost opportunities for many workers in Canada and the US. The question is how to end this indifference. Governments need to be more accountable to the people. The success of the top countries in maintaining low working poverty rates is attributed to a universal welfare policy that has been effectively combined with job creation strategies that support gender equality and accessibility. This is about investing in the future.

1Colombo, Jesse. (4 June 2012) “Japan’s Bubble Economy of the 1980s.” <http://www.thebubblebubble.com/japan-bubble/&gt;.

2 Horsman, Greg (2012) Objectivism Lost: and an Age of Disillusionment. p 163 

3Krugman, Paul. (13 Dec 2012) Lost Decade Watch. http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/lost-decade-watch/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

4 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/ 

Curry, Bill. “Government spends millions on ads for ‘Economic Action Plan’ that ended two years ago.” (25 Jan 2014) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/federal-ad-spending-exceeds-projections/article16503725/ 

6Working Age Poverty http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/society/working-age-poverty.aspx?pf=true

7Hayes, Christopher. Why Elites Fail. http://www.thenation.com/article/168265/why-elites-fail

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Removing Barriers to Good Health

In 1986 a World Health Organization (WHO) statement stated that in order to reach a state of health “an individual or group must be able to realize aspirations and satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment.” Health is affected by the inequalities in the social determinants of health. 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. In 2003, a WHO working group identified ten social determinants of health: social gradient, stress, early life, social exclusion, work, unemployment, social support, addiction, food and transport. There is a strong and widespread consensus that income and social status are the most important determinants of health across populations. The lower people are on the socioeconomic hierarchy the higher their risk of developing chronic diseases, and the shorter their life expectancy. Income level interacts with other determinants to create differences in life experiences – quality of early life, education, employment and working conditions, food security, housing, social exclusion, etc. – and differences in health status.

Inequity and inequality are not interchangeable. Inequity is unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption or cultural exclusion. It is the result of human failure giving rise to avoidable deaths and disease. Health equity is the absence of systemic disparities in health (or in the major social determinants of health). In the past, health inequalities were not considered inequities, and thus did not deserve attention (for if differences are not unfair differences or unjust differences, then they can be minimized and shrugged off). There is a new reference framework – consider every health inequality or disparity as a health inequity until it can be proven it is not – by grounding thinking in the human right to health or wellness.

The World Conference on Social Determinants of Health brought together Member States and stakeholders to share experiences on policies and strategies aimed at reducing health inequities. The World Conference in October 2011 developed the Rio Political Determinants of Health, a political statement of commitment for the implementation of the social determinants of health approach to reduce health inequities and to build support for the implementation of action on social determinants of health. The meeting identified nine broad areas, or social determinants themes.  Two of the themes identify that the type of health care system is important. One theme identifies that globalization affects health and the social determinants of health through changes in social stratification, differential exposure to vulnerability, health system characteristics. The other theme identifies that health systems as important determinants of health, and, in particular, the way health systems are designed operated and financed act as a powerful determinant of health.1 In November 2013 WHO launched the Economics of Social Determinants of Health project to describe and discuss the potential for economic rationales to make the case for social determinants of health interventions, and to summarize economic evidence in key public policy areas.

The health care systems in Canada and the US are important determinants of health. In 1968, the Canada Health Act set out to develop relatively uniform level of resources dedicated to health care across Canada. The Canada Health Act contains five principles: public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability of benefits, and accessibility. Three of the five variables that define the architecture have a pan-Canadian dimension – who pays, what is covered and who decides. But the other two factors, namely, where care is delivered, and by whom are decided by the provinces. In the US the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was signed into law to reform he healthcare industry by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. The goal of Obamacare is to give more Americans access to affordable, quality healthcare insurance, and to reduce the growth of healthcare spending in the US. The Affordable Care Act expands the affordability, quality, and availability of private and public health insurance through consumer protections, regulations, subsidies, taxes, insurance exchanges and other reforms. States have either implemented a state run health insurance exchange, or let the federal government run the health insurance exchange for them. Neither system was an attempt at social engineering.

The profound improvements in health in industrialized countries are primarily not due to advances in medicine or health care, but rather in the kind of societies in which we live, and are due to improvements in general living conditions. There is a growing body of evidence about what makes people healthy. This evidence suggests that the contribution of medicine and health care is quite limited, and that spending more on health care will not result in significant further improvements in population health. It appears that lifestyle behaviours – smoking, diet and physical activity account for small variations of incidence in heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It is now apparent that social determinants of health are more important to the health of Canadians and Americans than biomedical and life style factors.

There was a time when the middle class – really anyone who falls between the rich and the working poor – occupied a wide and comfortable place in society. It meant a stable job, a house with a yard, a two car garage, a perhaps a nice pension. Where did the middle class come from? During the 1950s the gradually expanding economy created prosperity throughout North America. The 1950s are considered the decade that eliminated poverty for the great majority of Canadian and US citizens. The decade was associated with the shift from suburban areas to suburbs, with the supply of housing increasing 27%. With a shorter workweek and increased disposable income the middle class adopted conservative values. The problem during the last four decades is the middle class has not grown (household incomes peaked in 1973). The existing middle class is now earning less compared to those higher up on the wealth scale, and they are working harder for what they get.

The economic system that created the middle class and eliminated poverty in Canada and the US differs from the economic system of trickle down economics that has evolved over the past 30 years. While the actual gap between the rich and the rest is far greater in the US, the inequality is growing faster in Canada than the US. The US has the most unequal society of any industrialized country, so saying “things are better in Canada than the US” does not represent a great achievement considering how low the benchmark is set. The growth in inequality is being driven by an accumulation of wealth among the very top income earners, while the middle class lower income earners continue to stagnate. The great equalizers – universal health care, education, and pensions are under threat, as cash-strapped governments look to trim budgets. Today the middle class is under tremendous pressure – many believe the deck is stacked against them.2

Hope and optimism of the future is key to health and well-being. A study by Wilkinson and Pickett, researchers from the United Kingdom, claim that societies like Japan and Norway, where the middle class is prominent and the pendulum swing from excessively wealthy to poor was far less, has the greatest health, longevity well-being and the least anxiety and depression. Living in a society that tolerates large gaps between the rich and the poor is bad for your health. In a big gap society those lower down the ladder experience more chronic stress that those towards the top.3

A big part of wellness is having meaning in one’s life and the sense that one is contributing to the world whether it be making a difference in the lives of friends and family, ecology or vocation. This has a great deal to do with attitude. Not surprisingly, much stress in in society can be attributed to economic inequality. In fact, economic inequality may have an effect on our overall health than any other single factor. Research has shown economic inequality to be a primary cause of illness.

Health is a resource for everyday life. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities. The inequities of health are measured by the spread in life expectancies between poor and rich neighborhoods, and the need to disseminate knowledge and learning to all local authorities and their partners. These social determinants of health are the social, economic and environmental conditions that influence the health of individuals and populations. They include the conditions of daily life and the structural influences upon them, themselves shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. They determine the extent to which a person has the right physical, social and personal resources to achieve their full potential.4

In addition to an individual’s income affecting whether he or she stays healthy or become’s ill, research is finding that the overall health of all members of a society is more determined by the distribution of income rather than by the overall wealth of the society.5 The healthiest (and happiest) countries in the world are not the richest, rather the countries where wealth is shared widely and more equally. These differences create health inequities. Removing barriers to health creates health equity – allowing everyone to reach their full health potential and not be disadvantaged from attaining this potential as a result of their class, socioeconomic status or other socially determined circumstance. This includes removing barriers to those with disabilities and creating opportunities to access good healthcare. Removing barriers to good health requiress addressing the income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society.

1   “Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health.” http://www.who.int/sdhconference/declaration/en/

2 Horsman, Greg. Occupy Wall Street Success (1 Dec 2012) http://questioningandskepticism.com/2012/12/01/occupy-wall-street-success/

3 Rabin, Mitchell. “The Stress of Inequality and its Powerful Effect on Health.” <http://www.naturalnews.com/031674_inequality_health.html&gt;.

4  “The Social Determinants of Health.” <http://www.local.gov.uk/web/guest/health/-/journal_content/56/10171/3510325/ARTICLE-TEMPLATE&gt;.

5 Wilkinson, R.G Unhealthy Societies:the Afflictions of Inequality. New York: Routledge, 1996.

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1984 And Big Brother

George Orwell’s novel, 1984, written after the Second World War, introduced a concept of reality control that the population could be controlled and manipulated merely through the alteration of everyday language and thought. Doublespeak was the method for controlling thought directly. Doublethink is the ability to simultaneously believe in at least two or more mutually contradictory concepts without any cognitive dissonance. You know better and what’s really true, but you keep on believing your own lies. The system requires that all citizens believe every thing that the Party says, even though they know for a fact that it is not true. Ingrained in this concept is also the idea that your mind makes it real. If everyone believes that something is true, then it is true. Thus the Party can literally dictate reality.

Doublethink becomes essential for the functioning of the Party – to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them and to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. Ultimately it is by means of doublethink that the Party has been able to control the course of history.

The use of fear and perpetual war was used to keep the citizens of Oceania under control. The fact they handed over the power to a small cast seems natural, unavoidable condition of survival. In Orwell’s 1984 there was a daily period in which party members of the society of Oceania must watch a film depicting the Party’s enemies, and express their hatred of them. This process created a sense of community. There also included the hate week excitement to divert attention from domestic problems, promote national unity, and, where necessary, to motivate people to kill other people in wars.  Hatred makes people stick together to form a community.

Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984 was about packaging images – it was about his administration’s ability to manipulate news coverage. Rather than focus on rational dry issues Reagan’s handlers recognized how to appeal to the people, consequently developed a plan to focus on the image the campaign conveys. This is illustrated by a how a visit to the Rockwell plant in California where the B1 bomber was made was handled. In order to focus the attention away from the B1 bombers, there was a huge ‘Prepared for Peace’ sign behind Reagan when he made his speech. This eliminated the negative that Reagan was more likely to get the country into war than his opponent. (He presided over the largest military buildup in US history.) The mainstream media dutifully reported Reagan is preparing for peace. Reagan’s handlers were brilliant – they knew that facts are secondary to what is reported on TV.1

During this time the mainstream media was becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of corporate owners. With maximization of profit the driver, the quality of the media is negatively impacted. In television money comes from advertising, not the quality of the programing. Advertisers pay based on the amount of viewers a station has. In this competition, issues and hard news do not attract people. This presented opportunities for the Reagan administration to present the media with pre-packaged stories, frame the issue for them, then allow them to ‘cover it’. Reagan enjoyed a resurgent economy, and American citizens wanted to deny the many political problems in the country, and turned to a leader who reassured the nation that respect and prestige for America was re-established – once more it was “morning again in America”.2 After the 1984 Ronald Reagan landslide election, his second term set in earnest to dismantle the welfare state and shrink the size of government – the Reagan revolution continued unabated.

In 1984, Charles Murray published Losing Ground. It was described by the New York Times Review of Books as a “persuasive . . . new variation on Social Darwinism.” Its central thesis was that all government welfare programs should be abolished, supposedly because welfare hurt the very people it was intended to help by “rewarding bad behavior” such as “illegitimate babies.” Murray also called for ending food stamp programs. The New York Times wrote in 1985 that Losing Ground became “this year’s budget-cutters’ bible” noting, “in agency after agency, officials cite the Murray book as a philosophical base” for slashing social programs.3

Murray’s manipulation of data claimed to show welfare programs were the cause of minority poverty, rather than the cure. In order to get the numbers to work to “prove” that liberal social welfare spending created poverty, Murray excluded government spending on the elderly from his “evidence.” As Lester Thurow, former dean of MIT’s Sloan School of Management noted, 86% of federal social welfare spending went to programs to help the elderly; and the poverty rate for the elderly dropped from 25.3% in 1969 to 14.1% in 1983, refuting Murray’s thesis. (The welfare system was actually working.) Thurow’s conclusion: “The purpose of Losing Ground is to help President Reagan shoot a silver bullet into the heart of the monster called social welfare spending.”3

In a 1997 speech at an event hosted by the Libertarian Party of Los Angeles County, Murray cheered the explosion of wealth inequality since the start of the Reagan Revolution, noting that greater concentration of wealth meant the rich had much more political power, “making it harder for politicians to bash the rich than it used to.” While the majority of the people on welfare are white, Murray’s efforts triggered a war on African American welfare recipients by painting them as undermining the free market system and family values, which, in turn, united various sectors of the right.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. 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. The program is perpetuated by fear – if taxes are raised unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear. This goal is achieved through using perceived and real crisis by triggering so-called crisis management situations that require government program reductions. Ongoing tax reductions create budget implications of deficit financing that dictates this crisis management – (with decisions that support their talking points on less government) such as the need to cut government programs that include environmental monitoring, and social safety nets.

Previous dictators made the mistake of mixing equalitarian propaganda with their purpose. The oligarchy presently manipulating the system is not making that mistake. They claim that inequality is a key part of the economic system, and rely on doublespeak to explain it. Their argument is meritocracy is more just and productive, allowing for distinctions to be made on the basis of performance.George Orwell’s prophesy in his novel 1984 was the appearance of a  state in which the truth does not exist; it is merely what ‘big brother’ says it is.

The conservatives have done such a skillful job of selling the crisis, many middle class folks who are being harmed by these economic policies actively support trickle down economics. Even when individuals may be exposed to new ideas the conservatives have their own media – radio and television – to control cognitive dissonance by ensuring that any new ideas that do not support their dogma are countered, such as reassuring everyone that cutting taxes and small government will address economic issues, and everything will be fine. Thirty years after Charles Murray began his attack on welfare, the US poverty rate for children is the second highest in the world among similar developed economies (just behind Romania).5 While conservatives promote policies that support the family, the consequences of these economic theories are that many families need two incomes to meet monthly bills, and quality time for their family has been significantly eroded. The war on poverty became a war on the family.

Today because of various levels of manipulation only 50% of what you read or hear in the media is true. There are mixed messages from the media explaining the effects of Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the extent of government surveillance. One explanation is that it is part of the war on terror and the world is much safer because of it. The other explanation is this establishes that big brother exists and the state is interfering in your privacy through massive spying initiatives. The challenge is – what part of either statement is true? Well, big brother exists, but is comprised of global corporations rather than the government, and the scope of interference is greater than just monitoring – it is about controlling what you think. The big oil companies, one of the biggest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change denial, control the debate on climate change, as well as the response to climate change – the solution being new cleaner fuel – natural gas obtained from fracking. Agribusiness not only relies on the special formula of sugar, fat and salt for sales, the product image includes the psychology and the marketing that compels us to toss packages of processed food in the cart – you are hooked on inexpensive food.6  Corporations monitor your activity through your electronic purchases and diverse Internet activities. The big banks control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting laissez-faire capitalism, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe – the need for small government and less regulation to drive a global economy.

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” is an Orwell quote from 1984. Thirty years ago (the past) the plans began in earnest to dismantle the welfare state and shrink the size of government with the introduction of trickle down economics which has created an economic system with increasing income disparity between the rich and the rest of society. Today, the oligarchy manipulate the media and control the politicians (in the present) to ensure messaging that creates fear of change to such ideas as turning to a system with emphasis on stability, social conscience and regulation. Until nation states restore the primacy of politics (management of the state) over commerce, and individuals continue to be lulled to complacency by the narcotic of technological innovation, big brother will continue to tell you what is true.

1 “Reagan on the News” http://it.stlawu.edu/~quack/seminar/reagan_news.htm

2 “Presidential Politics.”  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/reagan-presidential/

3 “Project S.H.A.M.E: The Recovered History of Charles Murray.” (10 Jan 2013) http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/01/project-s-h-a-m-e-the-recovered-history-of-charles-murray.html

4 Horsman, Greg. The Average Man (1 Oct 2013) http://questioningandskepticism.com/2013/10/01/on-the-average-man

5 “U.S. Child Poverty Second Highest Among Developed Nations: Report.” (31 May 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/us-child-poverty-report-unicef_n_1555533.html

6 Moss. Michael. Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. (2013) Toronto: McClelland & Stewart pp 331-356

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