Discourse and Democracy: the Exercise of Social Power Exploitation

Democracy is eroding across the globe – at least being transformed in such a way that we have to rethink what it means and how it works. How would one measure democratic backsliding in a country? Many believe the best measures of the state of democracy are driven for the most part by the health of public discourse rather than by any kind of systematic evaluation of the institutions themselves. This criteria raises worrisome indicators in countries like Poland, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, and now the US, with the shredding of norms – feeding concern that democracies are dying. In this post-fact era, more and more authoritarian states around the world are holding elections, pretending they are fair when they are not, and using a lot of the techniques that are associated with democracies. To ensure the health of democracy it is necessary to refocus on the quality of deliberation in a society and the reasonableness of the discourse.1

Nobody, looking back at the first 18 years of this century, can suggest that the political, economic and financial elites who brought you the euro crisis, the war in Iraq, the Great Recession of 2008, growing inequality and middle-class income stagnation have not made some very serious mistakes, of very enduring consequences, with very startling impunity. A lot of that anger and distrust toward large institutions remains to this day. A common complaint against twenty-first century democracy is that it has lost control of corporate power. Big companies hoard wealth and influence. They fuel inequality. They despoil the planet. They don’t pay their taxes. For many corporations these kinds of complaints come with the territory – banks and oil companies have heard them all before. Ordinary folk reckon the system is rigged, that elites are not in it for the people but, rather, the money.

Populism is a phenomenon which can emerge in all forms of a democratic system. Conservative populists target those with a monopoly on representation (journalists, scholars, established political parties) rather than those with a monopoly on production. Social media gives populist actors the freedom to articulate their ideology and spread their messages. Politics of fear is used to get people to vote a particular way, allow excesses in spending, or accept policies they might otherwise abhor. In post-truth politics social media assists political actors who mobilize voters through a crude blend of outlandish conspiracy theories and suggestive half-truths, barely concealed hate-speech, as well as outright lies. These “populist” voters now live in a media bubble, getting their news from sources that play to their identity-politics desires, which means that even if you offer them a better deal, they won’t hear about it, or believe it if told.

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. 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. 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 1996 a whistle blower exposed the wrongdoings of Big Tobacco publicly – how the tobacco company he worked for misled consumers about the highly addictive nature of nicotine, how it ignored research some of the additives used to improve flavor caused cancer, how it encoded and hid documents that could be used against the company in lawsuits brought by sick or dying smokers. Today there is a parallel with addiction to social media, and Facebook in particular. Behind the veneer of the motto “bringing people together” and “building community” exists a machine built from day one to be addictive thanks to millions of cleverly arranged filter bubbles. Facebook was never designed to provide in depth knowledge to its users rather it encourages everyone (news publishers for instance) to produce and distribute the shallowest possible content, loaded with cheap emotion, to stimulate sharing. It locks people into feed-back loops or bubbles that become harmful to democracy.2

Today banks and oil companies are no longer the world’s most powerful corporations. That mantle has passed to the technology giants: Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. The digital revolution has been simultaneously good and bad for democracy, and Facebook is no exception. The good is in the breadth and the openness of the network. The bad is in the secrecy and opacity of the way the network is run. This includes the blurred line between opinion and fact. Changes in media content and the media business model have contributed to the jumbling of fact, fiction, and opinion. Examples include journalistic content that fails to distinguish between opinion and fact, news programs that rely on commentary rather than factual reporting without clearly labeling them, and social media platforms that allow anyone to become a source of information. In the end it is only the regulatory power of the state that can make Facebook safe for democracy.

Cognitive dissonance is the brain’s inability to handle two conflicting realities, so it creates an alternate one, which often defies actual reality. Cognitive biases reflect mental patterns that can lead people to form beliefs or make decisions that do not reflect an objective and thorough assessment of the facts. For instance, people tend to seek out information that confirms preexisting beliefs and reject information that challenges those beliefs. Segregation across the American electorate along economic, political, and social lines contributes to the development of insular and isolated communities, each with its own narrative, worldview, and, increasingly, even “facts.” The growth in the volume of subjective content relative to factual information increases the likelihood that audiences will encounter speculation or downright falsehoods. That makes it more difficult to identify key pieces of factual information. What is the importance or significance that individual citizens understand the debacle of policy or even a good grasp of all the facts?

Ideas on the web tend to be about problem solving, while opinions on the web are mostly theatre, in which emotions drive decision-making. The advent of the information age seems to have created individuals who feel they know more than ever before – when their reliance on the internet means they may know ever less about the world around them. Today in the post-fact era people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts. The problem in the US is how to objectively measure the impact of the media environment that is so partisan and fragmented – such that – Americans can no longer agree on a baseline set of facts. With Republicans and Democrats more polarized than ever, each group believes what they want to believe, supported because they don’t trust the people providing the facts, or can find some way to explain them away.

Conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), home of Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton, have many projects that support the neoliberal economic project. AEI supported a 1980 study on the emerging ‘social cost’ arguments against smoking in support of the tobacco industry, and more recently supports various studies that cast doubt on global warming. 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 publicly promote its desired message. As in the 1990’s, when Big Tobacco felt its home market dwindling, the companies decided to stimulate smoking in the Third World – Facebook’s tactics are reminiscence of that. Today, it subsidizes connectivity in the developing world, offering attractive deals to telecoms in Asia and Africa, in exchange for making Facebook the main gateway to the internet.

After the election of Donald Trump, Facebook’s initial attitude was to bluntly deny any involvement in the torrent of misinformation that contributed to the Trump victory. Now it is certain that Facebook, for the sake of short-term profit, turned a blind eye to what was unfolding. Like the approach to Big Tobacco it is necessary to have as many agencies as possible participate with respect to cross-cutting issues. For example, effective tobacco control required the use of fiscal policies to reduce tobacco consumption, allied with labor and environmental laws to reduce exposure to smoke, and regulation of marketing practice. With respect to the addiction promoted by companies like Facebook it will not be enough to just raise public awareness, rather the response will require a series of regulations and taxes to address the power exploitation of devices. These are important necessary steps to restore the health of democracy.

1 Sean IIling. (2 July 2018) Why the death of democracy may be overhyped https://www.vox.com/2018/7/2/17500564/is-democracy-dying-trump-treisman-interview

2 Frederic Filloux. Facebook has a Big Tobacco Problem. https://mondaynote.com/facebook-has-a-big-tobacco-problem

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Globalization and Individualism: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) discovered the natural laws of motion, which provided the final piece to the puzzle, establishing the Copernican theory of the Earth revolving around the sun, introducing the spirit of individualism and the idea the study of human progress was at the center of all things – the individual was placed at the center of the universe. Individualism was established as a Western value during the Enlightenment. Over the past two hundred years individualism and capitalism rose together. By the last quarter of the 20th century, individualism, happiness, and capitalism were part of the core values of Western culture. Individualism reinforces the person who thinks that he/she should not have to contribute to the community’s common good but should be left free to pursue his/her own personal ends. Today the power elite manipulates the collective illusion that the free markets of globalization maximize individual freedom and prosperity.

The logic of globalization is seductive because it is based on a simple premise – free the market of its restrictions and its self-organizing dynamics will bring employment, wealth, and prosperity. Thus, globalization supports diversity, freedom of choice and enhancement of material production. In return, the system is to provide everyone, equally, an opportunity to exercise a full range of choices. Globalization promotes free trade, which ultimately benefits everyone, as free access to goods to goods, services, capital, people, information, and technology; it provides countries with the best advantage to advance. Globalization was to bring increased prosperity in the community. This dogmatic belief purports that markets tend towards natural equilibrium, and the best interests in a given society are achieved by allowing its participants to pursue their own financial interests with little or no restraint on regulatory oversight. This faith in free market fundamentalism establishes a rigid framework for thinking.

The focus on individualism and self-centeredness in society led to the increase in narcissism while the sense of entitlement became pervasive. Another aspect of bad, extreme individualism is self-tolerance. Such individuals learn to tolerate their errors and personal flaws and come to accept themselves as okay. They feel justified in asserting themselves, defending their perceived rights, believe rules do not apply to them, lack respect for authority, and habitually lie to people. It is impossible to distinguish pathological narcissists from self-confident, self-promoting, highly individualistic individuals. The culture of extreme individualism ushered in the narcissism influencing decision-making and accountability today. With narcissism, such a person lacks empathy and does not recognize boundaries: personal, corporate or legal. The world viewed from an emotional rather than a rational perspective allows personal feelings to override the distinction between right and wrong. Today extreme individualism and amoral relativism create a climate where men elevate their personal interests above the common good.

Ronald Reagan declared, “… the government is not the solution, but the problem.” Milton Friedman’s neoliberal triumvirate of privatization, deregulation – free trade, and drastic cuts to government spending laid the groundwork for Reagan economic policies which, in turn, launched globalization which was supposed to undermine authoritarianism. What was not obvious at the time is that the neoliberal version of globalization would herald the return of predatory capitalism of the 19th century with the goal of subordinating the working-class while restoring the unfettered hegemony of capital. These economic changes brought an end to the post-war boom as the living standards in the West stopped going up.  Mobile capital created a climate for reduced tax on profits – multi-nationals could move their money elsewhere. Globalization’s deep, structural motors are, in fact, enabling authoritarians. Not only can capital now mask itself and disappear without any trace, but gigantic sums of money are now traveling the world in a concealed manner.

Economic elites blame individuals who bought risky subprime mortgages rather than the individuals in the financial services industry with self-tolerance and a sense of entitlement leveraging the market, who brought chaos on the world financial system. Since the Great Recession more and more need to work two jobs to make ends meet. The number of part-time jobs has increased significantly since 2007 while the number of full-time jobs dropped – corporations decided not to add full-time jobs that come with costly benefits. Now many workers find themselves stressed working 60-70 hours a week as the only way to survive. These long hours are mentally and physically exhausting and lead to stress at work and at home. Long-term stress can result in anxiety, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. It also contributes to depression, obesity and heart disease. People who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol.

In 2008 the capitalist class turned to state assistance to bail out of the crisis created by their own greed. Under a rescue plan hundreds of billions of dollars of banking risk were transferred to the federal government, adding to America’s huge burden of debt and increasing the reliance on foreign investors (to buy the debt). Even with neoliberalism discredited, the ruling elite do not have an issue with it. It remains a weapon in the arsenal to control the working class. They use the ideology of neoliberalism when it suits their needs to justify austerity to cut social safety nets. The social costs of globalization include the costs of production that are not born by the producer or included in the price of the product, underemployment, lost tax base, rising trade and current account deficits from offshoring of manufacturing and tradeable professional services.

The American ruling elite who embrace the dangerously simplistic ideology of deregulation has responsibility for the present mess. Neoliberalism is known for its hatred of democracy, the common good and the social contract. David Harvey notes, “…the raw money power wielded by a few undermines all semblance of democratic governance.” Policy is now fashioned by lobbyists representing big business such as the pharmaceutical and health insurance companies going so far in the case of drug companies to drive the opioid crisis to increase their profits. Neoliberalism not only undermines the basic elements of democracy by escalating the mutually reinforcing dynamics of economic inequality and political inequality – accentuating the downward spiral of social and economic mobility – it has created conditions that make fascist ideas and principles more attractive. The rise of the populist, a close cousin of fascists, occurs in parallel as the ideas, values and institutions crucial to democracy have withered under a savage neoliberalism.1

The shift from a market economy to a market-driven society has been accompanied by a savage attack on equality, the social contract and social provisions as wages have become gutted, pensions destroyed, health care put out of reach of many, job security undermined, and access to crucial public goods such as public and higher education considerably weakened for the lower and middle-classes. The reality is that prosperity is marred by the growing inequality in the distribution of wealth, income, and opportunity; a rapidly restructuring “new economy” that is destabilizing older patterns of work and community; ethnic tensions sparked by the steady arrival of “new,” racially “other” immigrants. Neoliberal globalization thrives on producing subjects that internalize its values, corroding their ability to imagine an alternative world. Under such conditions, not only is agency depoliticized, but the political is emptied of any real substance and unable to challenge neoliberalism’s belief in extreme inequality and social abandonment.

Today’s regulations support neoliberal policies. The rich, via lobbyists and Byzantine tax arrangements, actively work to stop redistribution – insulating both capital and the state from democratic control. The consequence is a hegemony that relentlessly hollows out the state and marketizes all forms of social existence under the claim the market provides a natural mechanism for rational economic allocation. The evolution of the neoliberal project should be understood, not as a meticulous manipulation of social reality, but a series of increasingly desperate attempts to hold the very fabric of reality together. Neoliberalism has become an anxious form of crisis management attempting to cover over the gaps in its ideological contradictions. The power elite control what you think through proxies who control information and communication, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. Through this mechanism they perpetuate the fear of change – if taxes are raised on the rich unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear.

Inequality is not inevitable, it’s engineered. It is about the increasing control of the power elite and the decline in labor power (as part of the era of globalization) along with the attacks on the welfare state – consequently there is a rapid rise in social, income and health inequalities. The new policies to strengthen democracy need to address the growing economic gap and create opportunities for all. We need to ban making public policy decisions through the lens of individualism (which oversimplifies complex and multifaceted problems) and switch to filter social and economic policies through the lens of the social determinants of health before they are implemented to ensure they support actions that reduce inequities in the system.  The clamor against globalization is the public calling for better provision of public goods. It is necessary to switch from a value system based on ‘rule of the market’ and individualism to the values based on ‘community’ and ‘public good.’

1 Henry A. Giroux (20 Aug 2018) Neoliberal Fascism and the Echoes of History https://socialistproject.ca/2018/08/neoliberal-fascism-echoes-of-history/

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A Social Constructivist Approach to Change

With the increasing socioeconomic inequality, we recognize the need for change. An interpretative framework for analysis is social constructivist thought – knowledge is not passively accumulated, but rather, is the result of active learning by the individual. In attempting to make sense of the social world, social constructivists view knowledge as constructed as opposed to created. This is an adaptive process that functions to make an individual’s behavior more viable given a particular environment. A social construct is an idea or notion that appears to be natural and obvious to people who accept it but may or may not represent reality, so it remains largely an invention or artifice of a given society. Analysis through a social constructivist lens allows an overview of the political aspect of globalization discourse by emphasizing the potential for change rather than the inevitability of global processes.

Neoliberalism is mindset that many people and institutions accept as a starting point – growth is always a good thing, and it will help everyone over time, without ever challenging whether the foundational basis are actually true. Neoliberal economists promote these concepts as ‘common sense’ and a necessary responsibility, and by-and-large we have allowed these to enter our everyday language with little analysis of their underlying impact. This activity includes switch our values from the ‘public good’ and ‘community’ to a value system based on the rule of the market and individual responsibility for their success, while corporate expansion is good for all. The neoliberal worldview has been embedded in contemporary culture to such an extent and now is so pervasive that countervailing evidence serves only to convince people of its ultimate truth. On the other hand, social constructivists develop their own particular meanings that correspond to their experience.

Neoliberalism failed to predict the end of the Cold War. The neoliberal commitment to individualism and materialism meant they could not grasp what appeared to reside at the heart of this stunning development: the revolutionary impact of ideas to transform the organization of world politics. The so-called competitive advantage of neoliberalism did not appear to be in play. Social constructivism however, provides an explanation for change and transformation. Social constructionism means that our realities are shaped through our experiences and our interactions with others. Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. The political and social domination of the upper classes are presented as normal outcomes of the functioning free market. The contrast is the taken-for-granted of many globalization discourses while constructivism emphasizes the potential for change rather than the inevitability of global processes.

How does inequality becomes systematically structured in economic, social, and political life? As we live in a society that emphasizes the individual, that is, individual effort, individual morality, individual choice, individual responsibility, individual talent often makes it difficult to see the way in which life chances are socially structured. The dominant ideological presumption about social inequality is that everyone has an equal chance of success. However, systemic inequalities based on group membership, class, gender, ethnicity, and other variables that structure access to rewards and status determine who gets the opportunities to develop their abilities and their talents. Neoliberals believe individual effort, responsibility and talent determine how life chances are socially structured. Social inequality describes the unequal distribution of valued resources, rewards, and positions in society. The privileged position of the middle class has steadily been eroded by growing inequalities of wealth and income. The middle class is becoming more and more indistinguishable from the wage-earning working-class.

When class, gender, race puts people in a position in which they can claim a greater share of resources or services, then social differentiation becomes the basis of social inequality. Neoliberals preach that well-being is tied to economic freedom and the inclination to act in one’s own interest. Thus, every decision and choice can be conceived as a market decision, a finely-honed calculation of the benefits and costs of every action we take. All happiness and dissatisfaction are reduced to a lack of positive attitude. Since social class is no longer relevant everybody ends up with the social economic position they deserve. This produces a chronic sense of self-blame, anxiety and self-recrimination, with individuals having nobody to blame but themselves for not being famous, very rich or more attractive. This neoliberal social construction hides the truth that factors like wealth, income and power, contribute significantly to the success of any individual.

F. A. Hayek observed that social orders emerge from an aggregate of individuals or choices, then proposes laws are to protect the liberty of the individual in order to create a decentralized ‘bottom up’ actions on the part of individuals, knowing full well it created a system with built-in inequality. To assuage this deficit Milton Friedman developed the theory of trickle-down economics – claiming benefits for the wealthy like tax cuts on business, high income earners, capital gains and dividends helps poor people by the trickle-down effect in which economic growth flows from the top to the bottom, indirectly benefiting those who do not directly benefit from the policy changes. This claim to knowledge that investors, savers, and company owners are the real drivers of economic growth is supported by the reality of a social construct that is actually based on subjective criteria rather than objective realities.

When a particular definition of reality supports elites, it may be called an ideology. Ideology controls the masses – ideologies conceal essential aspects of social and political reality and prevent change. The concealing aspects of ideology are not accidental (i.e. not simply errors) but relate systematically to a set of social and cognitive interests of the elites. Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality. The political and social domination of the upper classes are presented as normal outcomes of the functioning free market. Postmodernism is a 1980s movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. Supporters believe knowledge and truth are products of social, historical and political discourses or interpretations, and therefore contextual or socially constructed.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) social construction of ‘sound’ economic policy includes how far debt and debt reduction should be a priority over boosting aggregate demand and supporting economic growth. For years IMF fiscal thinking has emphasized prudent fiscal policy leading to deficit bias and fiscal sustainability concerns, advising countries to build up fiscal buffers. Following the 2008 crash there has been a shift in fiscal policy thinking – fiscal policy was a more powerful counter-cyclical tool than hitherto had been appreciated. A 2016 IMF research article identified austerity can do more harm than good: “It turns out, however, that the cost could be large – much larger than the benefit. The reason is that, to get to a lower debt level, taxes that distort economic behaviour need to be raised temporarily or productive spending needs to be cut – or both. The costs of the tax increases or expenditure cuts required to bring down the debt may be much larger than the reduced crisis risk engendered by the lower debt.”1

Neoliberals have always known that their vision of the good society will triumph only if it becomes reconciled to the fact that the conditions for its existence must be socially constructed, and will not come about “naturally” in the absence of concerted political effort and organization. Neoliberals regard inequality of economic resources and political rights not as an unfortunate by-product of capitalism, but a necessary functional characteristic of their ideal market system. With its redefinition of the individual as data, classless, and without self-interest objectives rational or otherwise, it sought to overcome all opposition based on individual rights, class, property, and public good. It sought on the one hand to create change by breaking down the apparent democratic appeal to government, while on the other hand extoling the virtues of the free-market as the promethean struggle against the regulation of the inefficient state. Freedom has nothing to do with democracy or speech or individual rights: for the neoliberal it is about the freedom of the market and the elites who control those markets.

Under the cultural trope of ‘individual responsibility’ welfare for the poor is cut and restructured to make welfare recipients more responsible for their economic status. This takes the focus from the inherit inequality in the system and focuses on the distribution, specifically its disproportionate effect on the excluded – such as the unemployed, minorities and immigrants.2 A consequence of this neoliberal change is the reconfiguration of class relations in a society where the explosion of inequality and economic instability has profoundly dismantled the working-class. IMF researchers claim: “Increased inequality, in turn, hurts the level and sustainability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects.” Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality.

Societies that are economically unequal have higher levels of poverty. It is not about the amount of wealth, rather it is about its distribution. Thirty years of lower taxes and deregulation created a system with increasing inequality between the wealthy and the rest of society. The 2016 Brexit referendum and the Trump election highlight social crises as unhappy voters rejected the establishment, demanding change. Donald Trump tapped into a wide and growing optimism gap that opened between the white middle class and the poor. A 2016 IMF research report declared rising inequality was bad for growth and that governments should use controls to cope with destabilizing capital flows. Social constructivism asserts that individuals cannot be separated from their social context, and that social context is dynamic and constantly changing. For change, it is not necessary to define equality, rather just decrease economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society.

1 Larry Elliot. Austerity Policies do more harm than good, IMF study concludes (26 May 2016) https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/may/27/austerity-policies-do-more-harm-than-good-imf-study-concludes

2 Ideas Have Consequences: The Explosion of Inequality (01 Oct 2017)  http://questioningandskepticism.com/ideas-consequences-explosion-inequality/

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On the Ethics of Poverty Reduction

Poverty doesn’t have one cause or one basic response. Poverty isn’t just about the lack of income or basic necessities – it involves social isolation, an erosion of the sense of dignity and spiritual vitality. Poverty doesn’t just involve life choices or circumstances, but also structures, systems, and institutions, which can be shaped by bias, racism and privilege. This makes the way harder for some than others. Inequality and racism do not exist separate from culture. Thus processes to address these critical issues and ways to confront them must not either. The increasing income gap in society is alarming because it erodes social cohesion – a basic sense of trust between people who do not know each other. A reasonable degree of social cohesion is needed so that a society (and the world) can function, and for people to have the chance to increase their opportunities in life. Inequality tests our ethics.

Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy. Ethical comes from the Greek ethos “moral character” and describes a person or behavior as right in the moral sense – truthful, fair, and honest. Ethical behavior means acting in ways consistent with what society and individuals typically think are good values, and involves demonstrating respect for key moral principles that include honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity and individual rights. If ethical theories are to be useful in practice, they need to affect the way human beings behave. Ethics provides us with a moral map, a framework that we can use to find our way through difficult issues. Many people think that for many ethical issues there isn’t a single right answer – just a set of principles that can be applied to particular cases to give those involved some clear choices.

It is generally accepted what made civilization possible was the invention of agriculture, but more fundamentally than agriculture were ethics. For only through ethics is it possible for large groups of people to live together. Agriculture was clearly necessary to support a large sedentary population, but there would have been no significant grouping of co-operative people to invent agriculture if they did not have a unifying, objectively valid code to begin with. Fundamental ethical principles include concern for the well-being of others and an obligation to bring about good in all our actions. We have an obligation to respect the autonomy of others, which includes respecting the decisions made by other people concerning their lives. We have an obligation to prevent harm to others, or at least don’t increase the risk of harm to others. In public life we have an obligation to treat all people equally, and fairly, refusing to take unfair advantage of them. These principles are applied equally to all people, with no distinction between strong and weak, and are what we expect of one another without needing to articulate the expectation or formalize it in any way.

Public perceptions of poverty and of the priority attached to poverty reduction are influenced as much by technical and policy perspectives as by shared values which define the social arrangements and institutions. Reducing poverty requires that public policies enhance material redistribution and social recognition. Promoting ethical decision-making and resolving moral conflicts will require changes in repertoires about morality, rather than shifting modes of cognition. Defining poverty as a concept uniquely applicable to humans has thus far helped us understand poverty as a condition that causes its victims to live lives in which they cannot fully participate in the range of activities expressive of their nature as human beings and they may even fail to be able to maintain their physical health. They are excluded from full participation as human members of society. Inequality and racism do not exist separate from culture. It is not possible to address them as separate issues.

The present weakness is the life style approach to interventions, instead of across the community activities focusing on poverty and inequities in the system that affect choices. Poverty limits choices. Poor people have limited choices for their diet. They often lack shops in their area where they live, or have trouble reaching them. In particular, the poor have the lowest intake of fruits and vegetables. This leads to consumption of an over abundance of cheaper junk food (high fructose corn syrup drinks and processed foods), leading to more obesity and chronic disease than the general population. Falling back on the lifestyle rhetoric of the health promotion approach that relies on health education to encourage healthy behavior has worsened social inequalities in health as upper socioeconomic classes have secured the most benefits.

Richard Wilkinson observes, “we had always regarded classification by social class as simply a proxy for the real determinants of health that we saw that we imagined were material factors – like diet and what you’re working with and what you’re exposed to at work and maybe housing, air pollution, things like that. Now it looks more and more like social status itself is an important determinant of health. There is now a growing realization that most health issues are caused, or worsened, by poverty and inequality.” In countries like the UK and America, people in richer areas can live up to 14 years longer than people in poor areas. Research shows health is responsive to changes in income, and that the death rates of the poor are more responsive to changes in income than the death rates of the rich are.

Around the world poverty is responsible for more preventable deaths than anything else. In 1995 at the World Conference for Social Development 117 Heads of State and Government signed a declaration committing to processes that would integrate social, economic and environmental goals. A feature of these development commitments is that they involve improvements in total human well-being, far more than, though inclusive of, the growth of national income. The Canadian Medical Association reports, “… poverty is the main issue that must be addressed to improve the health of Canadians and eliminate health inequities”. Poverty is a significant determinant of health. It means more of the household’s income will go towards shelter, leaving less for nutritious food. It also means families have less choice when it comes to housing, and are more likely to live in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions. Research in Canada on housing shows spending $10 on housing and support for chronically homeless individuals resulted in $22 in savings.1

At the heart of ethics is a concern about something or someone other than ourselves and our own desires and self-interest. Many people want there to be a single right answer to ethical questions. They find moral ambiguity hard to live with because they genuinely want to do the ‘right’ thing, and even if they can’t work out what that right thing is, they like the idea that ‘somewhere’ there is one right answer. For others moral ambiguity is difficult because it forces them to take responsibility for their own choices and actions, rather than falling back on convenient rules and customs. One problem with ethics is the way it’s often used as a weapon. If a group believes that a particular activity is “wrong” it can then use morality as the justification for attacking those who practice that activity. Modern thinkers often teach that ethics leads people not to conclusions but to ‘decisions’.2

Ethics is not only about the morality of particular courses of action, but it’s also about the goodness of individuals and what it means to live a good life. The cognitive bandwidth model explains why low-income people make decisions that extend their poverty: When people have very little of something (money, food, time etc.), they focus on that scarce resource and don’t have the “bandwidth” to think about long-term concerns. Reducing poverty requires that public policies enhance material redistribution and social recognition. Promoting ethical decision-making and resolving moral conflicts will require changes in repertoires about morality, rather than shifting modes of cognition. Inequality and racism do not exist separate from culture. We are more likely to address discrimination by gradually changing cultural narratives that stigmatize particular groups than by simply sensitizing individuals to their own subconscious biases.3

Distributive justice involves the use of ethics concepts and criteria to determine the distribution of wealth among people, groups, organizations, and communities. There are different theories of distributive justice. One approach or principle says that every person should have the same level of material goods (including burdens) and services. The principle is most commonly justified on the grounds that people are morally equal and that equality in basic material goods and services is the best way to give effect to this moral ideal. Rather than have goods and services to be measured and distributed according to some pattern, for developed economies like Canada and the US it is only necessary to reduce the economic gap. Distributive principles should be designed and assessed according to how they affect well-being, either its maximization or distribution.

The 19th century was marked by the creation of wealth associated with industrialization, the 20th century by its redistribution associated with rise of union power, and the early 21st century by its concentration and polarization, the consequence of neoliberal economic policies. In the era of neoliberalism, human beings are made accountable for their predicaments or circumstances according to the workings of the market as opposed to finding faults in larger structural and institutional forces like racism and economic inequality. Work can be a path out of poverty, but only when it provides a living wage, something hard to find in a labour market where precarity is a new norm of employment. The widening socio-economic gap created by the neoliberal project creates a critical necessity of reviving an ethics of fairness and just distribution in the popular imagination and in governing practices.

1 Lane Anderson. (17 July 2014) Giving the homeless a home is often cheaper than leaving them on the streets https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865606966/New-approach-to-homelessness-saves-money-by-giving-people-homes.html

2 Ethics and People http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/introduction/intro_1.shtml

3 Juanita Bawagan. (29 Nov 2017) Poverty, ethics and discrimination: How culture plays into cognitive research. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-11/cifa-pea112317.php

 

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How the Political Right Harnesses Victimhood

Privilege is the sin that must be checked so that the marginalized can continue their long march to freedom. In an empathetic society, victimhood and powerlessness becomes its own kind of power. A large part of understanding these processes lies in the power of victimhood. These identities are placeholders for suffering and signs of the justice of one’s cause. We need to distinguish between victimhood itself and the politics of victimhood – the process whereby suffering is fabricated or conferred, and then ‘weaponized’ for political purposes. That all makes it difficult territory for progressives, who believe real injustice happens every day and should be highlighted and resolved. Progressives must remain cognizant about the allure of victimhood politics. Today we have identity politics of aggressively competing victimhoods, in which groups of people, based on religious, national, ethnic, sexual, or whatever else identity they chose, demand to have their victimhood status recognized and something done about it.

The aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis is that so far, populism has taken primarily a right-wing form, not a left-wing one. The final ignominy is that, as victimhood becomes a political commodity, it will only be accrued by those with power already to advance their cause, probably at the cost of those that really do need help and advocacy. Genuine injustice is already being hidden underneath the jumble of confected grievance. When a population fails to acknowledge the humanity of another population, the certain result is victimhood: they took our jobs; they are changing our society; they don’t follow our customs. Under the dangerous allure of victim politics, this attitude, like a virus, snowballs into populism. Populism is the new victimhood. The gap between Trump’s rhetoric and his policies is not all that uncommon for populists. In Latin America, for example, many populist leaders who campaigned one way governed another.

Populists turn to identity politics, and in the process, become a new elite. But as Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde observes, populists, the self-appointed vox populi (voice of all the people), are intolerant and will attack those with a different view, claiming such as person represents “special interests,” and is therefore part of what they consider to be the elite. The result: The end-of-history assumption that liberal democracy was the final point of progress has been disrupted as religious and other identities stubbornly persist, and continue to drive events. Recently, Francis Fukuyama describes the historical background of the middle class, bringing us to the troublesome present in which the stability of the middle class is in question. He suggests that we need a new political and economic ideology that “could provide a realistic path toward a world with healthy middle-class societies and robust democracies.”1

Micro and macro identities are rooted in the political and the personal – in ideologies, gender, sexuality, ability and dis-ability, ethnicity and myriad others in combination. These identities are not invented, but they are continually emphasized. It seems it’s no longer enough simply to be a citizen – you now have to have an identity. Ian Buruma thought people liked to feel like society’s victims, even where they were personally doing rather well, because modern life hollows out our identities. The age of instant gratification of hyper-capitalism is reducing meaningful beliefs and identity to fast food restaurants, sterile movies and empty gestures. But people want and perhaps need the authentic, the real, and the genuine in life. And so in an external world in which everything seems so empty, we turn inward in a search for authenticity. The only thing that can deliver authenticity is our feelings. And what more powerful feeling is there than victimhood and struggle?2

Feelings have become something of a modern obsession. Many think that people’s feelings are fast becoming the only test of whether something should be allowed. Prioritizing feelings invariably means that if those precious feelings are hurt, upset, or offended, then these things should be banned or stopped. Since everyone can find a way to feel oppressed, either historically, vicariously or presently, how someone feels about something should not be the sole arbiter of how decisions are made. This sets up a loop – women feel oppressed by men; men’s rights activists feel oppressed by feminists; and on and on and on in a never ending and renewable cycle. Arguing over degrees of victimhood replaces moral reasoning, since victims aren’t always right. This can be used as justification for bad behaviour. Skillful populist demagogues have exploited this aspect of feelings to appeal to voters.

Until now, Donald Trump has played the grievance game with his mostly white, male base by fanning flames of resentment and fear aimed at nonwhites. He’s dreamed up an illegal immigration tidal wave, blamed crime on non-native-born Americans, claims jobs are being lost to foreigners, paints multiethnic cities as war zones and championed the causes of white evangelicals who feel victimized if forced to comply with anti-discrimination laws protecting gays. The notion that whites are systematically discriminated against is unsupported and unsupportable in a country where whites still enjoy advantages over nonwhites in education, wealth, life span and virtually every other metric. More recently he is emphasizing the “male” part of the white male victimhood. Trump and the self-pitying male segment of his base would have us believe their cultural, social, economic and political dominance is being unfairly taken away.

No one really consciously chooses to be a victim. It is more a way we fall into, and we fall into it because, it works. It becomes a strategy to deal with life – whether it is staying safe in one’s comfort zone, numbing oneself, finding company, getting attention, avoiding being responsible for something in one’s life, etc. The attention, sympathy and time that a person can get from victimhood is validation that they really are a good person and if circumstances were just different, they would obviously be thriving. It’s a way to “save face” in the midst of any kind of failure. Because this mindset has been a well-practiced pattern, it will take consistent follow up to help establish a new way of seeing the world and acting within it. The response includes not only the phenomenon of actually being a victim, but also living a life with a victim mindset (an attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s view, response to and interpretations of situations).

By dividing people into groups, populists are able to easily manipulate people. If as a group you’ve been taught you’re a part of the ‘victim’ of an affront, it’s easy to rile you up. Progressives want a society which, generally speaking, recognizes there are victims in society (both individuals and groups); that things aren’t fair; that some groups – on the basis of historical circumstance, current economic status, deep rooted prejudice or whatever – have a life that’s harder and opportunities fewer than we would like. Progressives must focus on problems and then ask the right questions. Their values become a compass or guide to helping them achieve their goals and adopting character. President Trump’s tax plan has helped businesses and investors more than wage earners. This creates structural inequality. Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest employer at 1.4 million. Unfortunately, it has set new standards for reducing employee pay and benefits. Its competitors must follow suit to provide the same ‘Low Prices.’3

The neoliberal version of globalization has not brought more rapid economic growth, reduced poverty, or made economies more stable. Inequality is recast as virtuous. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve. This era of unfettered markets has come to an end with the rise of nationalism. Populists are tapping into the crisis of neoliberalism. Right-wing nationalism seems to be crafted to win electoral victories at the intersection of protectionist and xenophobic sentiments. Progressives must now focus on nationalism along with Trump’s version of crony capitalism. Economic nationalism is logical if you believe that stagnation will last a long time, creating a zero-sum or even a negative-sum game. But the projects of economic nationalism are destined to fail. The long-term solution actually includes basic guaranteed income, as well as, enforcing competition among the rent-seeking monopolies in order to force the price of their goods so low that people can survive scarce and precarious work.

If victimhood is the feeding ground of populists, then its antidote is agency, driven by empowering information, institutional access, intersectional voice and programmatic purpose. Health care is often considered one of the three pillars of social policy, along with education and social welfare/income security. Health care must be set up with national standards and as a public good paid for with tax dollars rather than a private good for sale. Rather than pressuring the poorest people in a society to find their own solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security, these must be part of the public good. We need particularly to turn young people into agents of their own destiny before they are embedded in victimhood. Start by enacting policies like universal health care and free college, and ousting the private-prison industry from the justice system, while taking power and diffusing it at the same time.

1 Paul Bickley (11 Aug 2016) How cynical populism has created a culture of victimhood politics. https://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/comment/2016/08/11/how-cynical-populism-has-cultivated-victimhood-politics

2 Jamie Bartlett. The dangerous allure of victim politics.                 http://littleatoms.com/society/dangerous-allure-victim-politics

3 Kimberly Amadeo. (10 Oct 2018) Income Inequality in America. Causes of Income Inequality.       https://www.thebalance.com/income-inequality-in-america-3306190

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The Unintended Consequences of Schism

For centuries conspiracy theorists have used religious terms and symbolism to transform fear into political activism. And from the earliest days of Christianity, when followers discerned divine significance in the smallest details of scripture and current events, conspiracy helped Christians interpret events in a way that propelled their religious interests forward, showing them that conspiracy could be harnessed as a potent religious – and political – force. Right-wing populists use religion to define a “good” people whose identity and traditions are alleged to be under siege from liberal elites and “dangerous” others. The populist use of religion is much more about “belonging” than “belief” and revolves around two main notions: restoration and battle. Donald Trump tapped into a deep schism in the Religious Right. Trump promises that he will battle ‘illegal’ immigrants who threaten prosperity and safety, and appoint conservative judges to – potentially turn back the clock to ensure variants of behaviors and ways of thinking that are acceptable to the Religious Right – define social truth.

In 1534 a religious schism in England established the Anglican Church. In July 1536, Henry VIII’s government issued the Ten Articles, which upheld traditional Catholic teachings on the sacraments of the altar, penance, and baptism. In 1537, the other four traditional sacraments of confirmation, holy matrimony, holy orders, and extreme unction were defended in an official primer called The Institutions of a Christian Man, also known as “The Bishops’ Book.” In the 1539 passage through Parliament of the Six Articles, these articles stated that the Church of England upheld the traditional doctrines of Transubstantiation, celibacy for priests, the inviolability of monastic vows, the legality of private masses, and the necessity for oral confessions to a priest. Parliament next passed a statute that appointed penalties for violations of the Six Articles. At the same time, obedience to the authority of the Roman Church was made treason, punishable by death.

The first events of the English Reformation occurred alongside Henry VIII’s sensational divorce proceedings. Henry himself was not a Protestant, and the great majority of the English people, though they may have been somewhat anti-clerical, were, at the time, piously devoted to the Catholic Church. Whatever Henry’s deeper convictions and understanding of the religious implications of his schism with the Papacy, the manner in which he both played upon the anti-clerical feelings of many in Parliament and destroyed the propertied influence of the secular clergy and the monasteries was crucial to the advancement of Protestant religious doctrines in later decades. While he was king, Henry fulfilled the role of Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England with ruthless success, but his desires to uphold rigidly most of Catholic orthodoxy was not long championed by the majority of Parliament or by the effective will of future English monarchs.1

According to George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, the coalition aimed “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” The contemporary conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq is based not only on a schism that happened almost 14 centuries ago, but on the politics of the Saddam Hussein era. The Sunni Arabs, some 15-20% of the population, provided the bulk of the governing class under Saddam, while the Shiites, who comprise upward of 60% of the population, were denied political rights and their religious freedoms were curtailed. The contemporary politics of the divide also has a regional dimension: The main Shiite religious political parties that have dominated Iraq’s democratic elections have close ties to Iran, a fact that has irked not only Iraq’s Sunnis but also the U.S.-allied regimes of the Arab world, who fear the consequences throughout the region of expanded Iranian influence.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq has had unintended consequences. The new Iraqi constitution recognizes the Kurds’ de facto autonomy in northern Iraq, allowing them to keep the revenues from any new oil fields and to maintain their own armed forces. But the status of the oil rich northern city of Kirkuk remains a flash point, because it is claimed not only by Kurds and Arabs, but also by the Turkmen minority – less than 5 percent of the population, but which carries the backing of Turkey, which is vehemently opposed to an independent Kurdish entity. Following the May 2018 election, the initial distribution of seats of the nine main parties reflect the irreconcilable polarization of the Shiite population. This victory is a major step in Iran’s determination to consolidate the on-land corridor to the Mediterranean. There are no longer any “nationalist Iraqis” anywhere to be found; nor are there any “pro-American” politicians in position of power and influence.2

Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, took over North Yemen in 1978, and became president of the whole republic after its two halves were united in 1990. The only man to serve as president of a unified Yemen, he proved to be a wily political operator, manipulating the country’s tribal system and fending off sustained insurrections in the north and south. The Houthis, a Zadi Shiites sect in the north, emerged as a resistance to Saleh and his corruption in the 1990s led by a charismatic leader named Hussein al Houthi, from whom they are named. The Houthi fought six wars with Saleh and Saudis from 2003 – 2009. The Arab Spring protests of 2011 call for the end of Saleh’s 33-year rule, lead to a schism in the army and allow al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to seize swathes of territory in the east.

In 2012 Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was elected President of Yemen. Since taking power, President Hadi has struggled to tackle widespread poverty and malnutrition. In January 2015, unhappy with a proposal to split the country into six federal regions, Houthi fighters seized the presidential compound in Sana’a. This prompted calls by Yemeni President Hadi for outside military support. Iran has funneled money and weapons to the Houthis. Mohammad bin Salman, as Saudi defense minister at the age of 29, pursued a war in Yemen against Shiite rebels that began a month after he took the helm and wears on today. Already the poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen has for months been subjected to a Saudi blockade, creating shortages of essential goods, including food. This has, not surprisingly, bred hostility – Riyadh is now losing the battle of hearts and minds, as it were. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda exploits schisms and shortages to thrive in Yemen.

Right-wing populist parties in several Western democracies have hijacked religion and used it to define a “good” people whose identity and traditions are alleged to be under siege from liberal elites and “dangerous” others. Seeing the court as the way to accomplish their objectives – and their last defense against the total secularization of American life – has kept religious conservatives closely attached to every Republican presidential nominee. Stressing the importance of the Supreme Court in the 2016 campaign made sense for evangelical leaders, given Trump’s ill-defined and less-than-conservative politics. “The most important issue of this election is the Supreme Court,” Franklin Graham repeatedly reminded audiences. Other evangelical supporters, including Jerry Falwell Jr., James Dobson and Tony Perkins, stressed that Trump would appoint judges sympathetic to conservative Christians’ views on abortion, gay marriage and religious liberty. The 1973 ruling that made abortion legal in all 50 states, is critically endangered and careening toward extinction.

One of the most insightful observers of the Christian Right, Sarah Posner recently observed that Trump may represent a subculture of American Christianity that’s declaring its independence from the larger tribe: “Deliberately or not, Mr. Trump may be the perfect candidate for an evangelical subculture that has increasingly become enamored with the prosperity, or health and wealth, gospel. In trying to build a singular religious faction that agreed on some core issues (like abortion), the Republican Party has courted that subculture, even though many evangelicals consider prosperity theology to be heretical.” What Trump has exploited, like many political leaders in 20th-century Europe, is that a lot of culturally threatened conservative white Christians are willing to throw away the cross in favor of their flag, their race, their tribe, and everything that’s familiar. The religious right made a Faustian bargain with one of America’s most boastful violators of the “values” that the movement claims to uphold.3

By organizing politically, the Christian right may be winning elections in the short term, but it’s also driving people out of the pews, which is likely to lead to long-term defeat. This schism creates an interesting cycle: The more the religious right engages in politics, the more people get fed up and abandon Christianity. Some see Trump playing the same role that opposition to same-sex marriage has in the past: Giving people who already have one foot out the church door an excuse to leave completely. And the more they do that, the easier it is for them to embrace socially liberal policies. An unintended consequence of schism, the Christian right is becoming ever more radical. It’s also getting smaller at the same time, in no small part because moderating forces within the evangelical churches are being driven out. How long will it take for the movement to shrink so much it finally loses its political clout?

1 Henry VIII: Schism and Reformation https://www.sparknotes.com/biography/henryviii/section4/III

2 Tony Caron. (24 Feb 2006) Understanding Iraq’s Ethnic and Religious Divisions http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1167476,00.html

3 Ed Kilgour. (11 May 2016) How Donald Trump Has Split the Christian Right http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/05/how-donald-trump-has-split-the-christian-right.html

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How Populists Hijacked the Inequity Agenda

Inequities were accentuated by the financial debacle of 2008; neoliberalism is still in crisis. The right does not believe in neoliberal economics, however, they still use core tenets of it to run government and society. Populist economic policy claims to design policies for people who fear losing status in society, and those who believe they have been abandoned by the political establishment. The populist economic agenda focuses on single and salient political issues, over emphasizes negative aspects of international economic exchange and immigration, and/or blames foreigners or international institutions for economic difficulties. Much like other populist plutocrats who have come to power around the world, Donald Trump used anti-elite rhetoric to gain office, then performed an about-face to govern for the benefit of the very economic elites he derided as a candidate. He ran as a populist; but governs as a plutocrat. Conservative populists target those with a monopoly on representation (journalists, scholars, established political parties) rather than those with a monopoly on production.

Neoliberals promote the market as being perfect, as success or failure is a personal reward. Neoliberal core tenets include deficits are dangerous, jobs are only created in the private sector, and a dynamic market dictates part-time and casual work. The promotion of ‘flexible labour markets’ in the name of growth and competitiveness has not made many better off when it leads to the proliferation of insecure work. The economic policy has been handed over to those who benefit from it – they understand that in the world of the market there is a trade in lies as much as truth. Governments have absorbed neoliberal operational templates and the Orwellian language that naturally accompanies this. More and more people live with the poverty and job insecurity that flows directly from inequities exacerbated by neoliberal welfare and austerity policies. Rather than values, money is the only universal means of exchange.

It may seem strange that the slogan of the doctrine of failing neoliberal economics that promised change should have been, “there is no alternative.” Why have neoliberal economics and populist politics coexisted in several Middle European countries? Populists and neoliberals concentrate power at the apex of the state to boost their personal leadership and enact painful reforms. Finally, populists and neoliberals see the deep crisis facing their countries as an opportunity, for populists to prove their charisma and for neoliberals to discredit the state-interventionist development model. The populist economic agenda rejects compromise as well as checks and balances and favours simplistic solutions. Populist neoliberals declare that knowledge, goods and ideas should be free to migrate, but people do not need to move in large numbers. Rather movement should be based on the concept of human capital, applying right to immigrate for a fee, or an IQ screen.

Populism is a phenomenon which can emerge in all forms of a democratic system. Political theorist Cas Mudde, defines populists as sharing three key characteristics. They are anti-establishment, having faith in “plain talkers” and “ordinary people” as opposed to the “corrupt establishment” of business, government, academia, and media. They are authoritarian, favoring strong leaders over democratic institutions and traditions. They are nativist, putting their nation first. The most exposed to its influence are political systems which experience an institutional transition. Populism is a political discourse that imagines a struggle between a good and virtuous “people” and a nefarious establishment. In advanced democracies a more relevant, negative aspect of populism is that it undermines the civility of the relations among citizens. It erodes the respect for the dignity of political opponents and of minority groups and weakens the culture of reasoned debates. Serious flaws of neoliberalism created the inequities that helped the rise of populists.

Slogans offer a new way to connect with voters – another world is possible! Many people left behind since 2008 do not respond to political debate, these people become responsive to slogans, symbols, and sensations. Donald Trump, a political outsider, set himself up as the populist candidate and the voice of the unrepresented. To the admirers of Trump, for example, facts and arguments appear irrelevant. Trump’s victory marks the victory of divisive rhetoric, disregard for facts, promises of simple cures for all ills, nativism, demagoguery, and the power of seductive slogans, which are a common feature of the new populism. The most pressing environmental problem we face today is not climate change. It is pollution in the public sphere, where a smog of adversarial rhetoric, propaganda, and polarization stifles discussion and debate, creating resistance to change and thwarting our ability to solve our collective problems.

There are critical vulnerabilities in contemporary journalism practice that allow populist parties and their supporters to actively manipulate the press and subvert democratic processes. Journalists need to be aware and respond to a role played in their success, by giving them a disproportionate amount of coverage. Social media gives populist actors the freedom to articulate their ideology and spread their messages. Politics of fear is used to get people to vote a particular way, allow excesses in spending, or accept policies they might otherwise abhor. In post-truth politics social media assists political actors who mobilize voters through a crude blend of outlandish conspiracy theories and suggestive half-truths, barely concealed hate-speech, as well as outright lies. These “populist” voters now live in a media bubble, getting their news from sources that play to their identity-politics desires, which means that even if you offer them a better deal, they won’t hear about it, or believe it if told.

On the surface, neoliberalism and populism appear to be conflicting narratives. Both share several assumptions that pertain to the role of welfare, individuals and society. Both populism and neoliberalism interpret virtually everything in purely economic terms. Neoliberalism has reduced citizens to being consumers and accepted lobbying by companies as a standard modality to influence policy making. Populists get elected fighting such things as economic inequality, unemployment and dislocation of firms. Both neoliberalism and populism support individualism and the pursuit of self-interest. However, material welfare is still the greatest achievement in life for most people, but neither neoliberalism nor populism can help most. The failure of neoliberalism over the past 30 years has left many workers angry and frustrated. With lives being determined by impersonal forces leaves people feeling helpless, with increasing inequities, while at the same time they are obliged to compete, or at least see themselves as in competition with other people.

Populists claim to be the only legitimate representative of the people. Populists also increase citizens’ anger over a perceived lack of representation by the institutions. Marginalizing minority voters is part of right-wing populism – teach voters to view those who cast ballots for rival candidates not as fellow citizens of a shared democracy but as immoral and illegitimate “takers” who need to be defeated — enemies of civilization who need to be crushed. Neoliberalism relies on intellectual conformism and fashion, whereas populists condemn any criticism as a form of complicity with the establishment. The failing neoliberal project, harbinger of austerity budgets, is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression – difficult times fall disproportionately hard on minorities and members of the working poor. This underemployment and increasing inequities occur in the US in parallel with austerity budgets – cuts to Medicaid, welfare and food stamp programs and funding for public education.

The populist economic agenda rejects compromise as well as checks and balances and favours simplistic solutions. The answer to this new hegemony is to abandon economicism – the primacy of the “market” and considering human beings in terms of what they have rather than what they are. The populist plutocrat is a leader who exploits the cultural and economic grievances of poorer, less-educated voters against traditional elites in order to achieve and retain power, but who, once in office, seem substantially or primarily interested in enriching him- or herself, along with a relatively small circle of family members, cronies, and allies. Countering this includes replacing money with moral, organizational, and cultural values. Moral values include respect for others and social justice. Individualism must give way to the struggle for social justice – justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.1

Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of cultural hegemony – the dominant ideology of society reflects the beliefs and interests of the ruling class – around the way ideas are transmitted by language. Answering the populist challenge to democratic communication requires a paradigm shift that buries the meanness of a culture of austerity and aloofness of individualism. In order to confront a populist plutocracy, the system needs to be free from the corrupting influence of corporate money. Inequities – the unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption, or cultural exclusion – reduce the freedom and opportunities for an individual to reach their full potential in general, and wellness or good health, in particular. It is necessary to focus on the economy with its multifaceted connections to social issues, and build more equal societies. The new system must address the existing inequities to prevent this era of fear and hatred from evolving into a populist regime.

1 Marco Senatore – 29 March 2018. Beyond Neoliberalism and Populism: Values, individual autonomy and authentic communities https://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/29/03/2018/beyond-neoliberalism-and-populism-values-individual-autonomy-and-authentic

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The End of History: Creating the Good Society

Both Hegel and Marx believed that the evolution of human societies was not open-ended, but would end when mankind had achieved a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings. Both thinkers thus posited an “end of history”: for Hegel this was the liberal state, while for Marx it was a communist society. Francis Fukuyama discussed this in an essay he wrote in 1989, titled, The End of History. He proposes that human history be viewed in terms of the battle of ideologies which have reached an end, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and with no alternative challengers at hand. However, the US has not become the ‘classless society’ that Fukuyama described in his essay. The existing neoliberal globalization creates an increasing economic gap between the wealthy and the rest of society, as well as a shrinking middle class. History now cries out for change.

Thomas Cromwell, a great English statesman, permanently changed the course of English history. He was a lawyer determined to impose his own character – methodical, detached, and calculating – upon government. Cromwell wanted government to be effective and efficient; to achieve this, he had to end the chaos of feudal privilege and ill-defined jurisdictions. He was blessed with a logical mind in an age sadly devoid of them. He built a bureaucracy of professionals outside the royal household. He began the first era of parliamentary control of England, using the institution to dissolve the monasteries which made up a quarter of all arable land and validate his other decisions. Cromwell’s rise to power was directly connected to the fall of Catholicism. As the king’s main adviser, he exercised tremendous influence in the English court and is credited to have played a vital role in English Reformation.

Divine right of kings, a political doctrine in defense of monarchical absolutism, asserted that kings derived their authority from God and could not therefore be held accountable for their actions by any earthly authority such as a parliament. The divine-right theory can be traced to the medieval conception of God’s award of temporal power to the political ruler, paralleling the award of spiritual power to the church. Sir Robert Filmer (1588-1653) believed that the state was a family, that the first king was a father, and that submission to patriarchal authority was the key to political obligation. Making a strained interpretation of scripture, his writings supported Charles I. John Locke ridiculed these claims and argued that the legitimacy of government depended not upon the divine right of the monarch to rule but upon the natural rights of man and the consent of the governed. The Glorious Revolution of 1689 resolved this issue.

In a 1989 essay when Fukuyama declared the ‘end of history’ he was talking about ideas rather than events. He believed the rapidly expanding ideology – neoliberalism – appeared to be providing a balance of liberty and equality post Cold War, that could not be bettered. He claimed that ideological evolution led to universalization of western liberal democracy, and all others should end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society. Rather than playing out Fukuyama’s final chapter in history, the application of neoconservative ideology has caused a crisis of legitimacy of the global system. There is now increasing anxiety over what appears to be the rapidly disappearing ability of the neoliberal global economic system to turn around the deteriorating economic situation of the middle class in the West.

The legacy of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been to dare to challenge the system, identifying extreme inequality as the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, and highlight the failure of the legislators to protect 99% of the people. The neoliberal policies are increasing anxiety in the community from increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society. Trump feasts on social divisions and has perfected harnessing the rage of the workers driven by the failure of neoliberal market fundamentalism. The apparent failure of globalization seems to have energized the right to a greater degree than it has the left. With the failure of the neoliberal paradigm to deliver for most, the most powerful political force in the world one could tap into is nationalism. As Orwell said, “A nationalist can justify anything in the cause of ‘protecting’ his construct of the state.”

Donald Trump uses anti-globalization message as a powerful tool to unite disparate parts of the right from mainstream to the extreme. Globalists have become a convenient boogeyman to explain various declines that the US has been perceived to be in. To counter the destruction of US sovereignty Steve Bannon persuaded Trump to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord and the trans-Pacific Partnership. These actions are ushering in a new economic nationalism based on a warped nostalgia for an era around the 1950s. Steve Bannon claims, “…the globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia … If we deliver … we will get 50% of the white vote, and 40% of the black and Hispanic vote and we will govern for 50 years. Like Andrew Jackson we are going to build an entirely new political movement…”1 Bannon has likened himself to Thomas Cromwell.

Thomas Cromwell was born around 1485, in Putney, Surrey, the son of Walter Cromwell, a blacksmith, fuller and cloth merchant, and owner of both a hostelry and a brewery. Cromwell claimed to have worked as a banker in Italy, clerk in the Netherlands, and a lawyer in London. Diarmaid MacCulloch notes, that Cromwell “thrived on indeterminacy in government”. His genius was in his capacity to orchestrate a wide variety of instruments of government and control, concentrating effectiveness here, neutralizing or deflecting there. After growing up in a working-class Irish Catholic Democratic family in Virginia, Steve Bannon served in the U.S. Navy, worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, produced movies and ran the conservative website Breitbart News before becoming an advisor for Trump’s campaign. Following the election win, for a period Bannon became Trump’s chief strategist and senior counsellor and the driving force behind some of Trump’s most controversial policy moves.2

In 1532 Henry VIII confirmed Cromwell as his principal secretary and chief minister. Cromwell responds with a reformist’s zeal responding to the King’s financial needs, presiding over the dissolution of 800 religious houses in four years. The Crown seizes their property, hugely swelling the King’s coffers. The philosopher John Locke praised the Glorious Revolution in his Two Treatises on Government (1689), arguing that if a government does not protect the natural rights of its people, namely life, liberty and property, it can rightly and lawfully be overthrown. Voters in US elected Trump in 2016 believed their political apparatus was corrupt and Trump was the only one who reliably affirmed that belief and promised to fix it. Donald Trump won the votes of whites without a college degree by a bigger margin than any Republican presidential candidate since 1980. And there is reason for that. He gave voice to a group of people who have felt left behind.

Newtonian science would lay bare the workings of nature and lead to important technological advances. Lockean philosophy would lay bare the workings of men’s minds and led to important reform in law and government. Voltaire played an instrumental role in shaping the legacy of Locke and worked hard to publicize Locke’s view on reason, toleration and limited government. The struggle that Hegel envisioned is the great tension between ‘is’ and ‘ought,’ between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The world of fact was chaotic and evil – an affront to man’s senses of order and good. The necessary ingredient for Hegel’s philosophy was freedom of action, not just freedom of thought. Donald Trump’s appearance on the world stage is accelerating our understanding of the scope of failure of the neoliberal version of globalization and the risks associated with not addressing it.

With the middle class under attack from the existing economic system, opportunities once available to the previous generation have disappeared, thus voters are turning to populists promising change. To counter this, we need an action plan to create John Kenneth Galbraith’s ‘good society’. The process includes addressing the value gap – introduce the living wage, and support the formation of unions. The income gap can be addressed through changes to the tax code rather than incremental changes to minimum wages. To address the common goods gap – make housing (the greatest drain on the income of the poor) more affordable. In addition, provide a high-quality child care system, and improve public education and access to higher education to assist social mobility. The key policy that will reduce inequalities in health and provide individuals with the freedom to create opportunities that enable them to reach their potential is the reduction of the inequalities in income and wealth.3

1 Ralph Benko (19 Aug 2017) On Steve Bannon. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2017/08/19/on-steve-bannon/

2 Sarah Pulliam Bailey. (09 January 2018) Why would Bannon compare himself with Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s adviser who was beheaded? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/01/09/why-would-bannon-compare-himself-with-thomas-cromwell-king-henry-viiis-adviser-who-was-beheaded

3 The Good Society: An Alternative Vision of Progress (10 July 2018) http://questioningandskepticism.com/good-society-alternative-vision-of-progress/

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Economic Failure Legitimizes Alternatives to the Status Quo

The Great Recession was a global economic failure that devastated world financial markets as well as the banking and real estate industries. This economic failure led to increases in home mortgage foreclosures and caused millions of people to lose their life savings, their jobs and their homes. While the US has rebounded in many ways, it has also become more unequal, less vibrant, less productive, poorer, and sicker than it would have been had the crisis been less severe. The downturn has wiped away demand for certain types of work, skewing the jobs market in a way that has hurt the middle class for whom wages only recently started increasing again, and a middle class that has been shrinking since before the crisis in 2008. Even after the recession the US remains in a new Gilded Age, with income as concentrated as it was in the years that preceded the Depression of the 1930s.

The collapse of the Roman Empire was associated with economic failure. While the scale, complexity, and violence of government were unmatched, the emperors lost control over their whole realm insofar as that control came increasingly to be wielded by anyone who paid for it. Meanwhile, the richest senatorial families, immune from most taxation, amassed more and more of the available wealth and income, while also becoming divorced from any tradition of military excellence. One scholar identifies a great increase in the purchasing power of gold, two and a half fold from 274 to the later fourth century, which may be an index of growing economic inequality between a gold-rich elite and a cash-poor peasantry. The rich senatorial aristocrats in Rome itself became increasingly influential during the fifth century; they supported armed strength in theory, but did not wish to pay for it or to offer their own workers as army recruits.1

The rise of the Ottoman Empire coincided with the global transition between agrarian economies and industrial economies. Industries were emerging to provide alternative employment opportunities for those who could not be absorbed in agrarian practices. However, the Ottoman Empire failed to replicate a viable economic structure that would transverse the region and ensure that economic benefits are felt even by the lowest societies. In contrast to the Empire’s early expansionist period, it was the conservatism of this economical approach that became a problem and ultimately led to the failure of their system. With Portuguese control of the Spice Islands the Turks lost their monopoly on the spice trade going to Europe, which cost them a great deal of money. The Spanish Empire in the Americas brought in a huge influx of gold and silver to Europe that triggered rampant inflation during the 1500’s. This inflation hampered the Ottomans from transitioning their economic system.2

The “Roaring Twenties” ushered in the new age of the consumer along with widespread fraud in the financial and banking sectors. Radios, air conditioners, washing machines, and automobiles were all being purchased with “buy-now-and-pay-later” plans. By 1929, consumer credit was helping the average family enjoy the prosperity of the day. Business was good, profits were up, and stocks, which were also being purchased on credit, were soaring. In 1929, investor “pools” were formed to trade stocks. The pool would buy the shares, use media contacts to spread favorable news or rumors, and then “paint the tape” with large, meaningless trades among themselves. This would draw attention to the stock, allowing the pool to sell the shares, usually at much higher prices, to an unsuspecting public. During the two months between the actual peak in the economy in August 1929 and the October crash, personal income and wholesale prices were declining, and industrial production was actually plunging.

In the 1970’s and into the 1980’s the Soviet Union seemed to be one of the most stable political units in the world. In international politics the Soviet Union was very strong and seemed only to be getting stronger. It was, for example, securing political client states in Africa. The Western powers believed this image was valid. But in the Soviet Union few things were really what they seemed to be. In the middle 1980’s about fifty percent of the industrial output of the Soviet Union was going to the military – to maintain parity with perceived increases in US military budget. This military build-up left severe shortages of industrial goods for the rest of the soviet economy. Along with the decline in growth, there was drawn-out failure of Soviet agriculture. However, the demand for grain in the cities was increasing, so it was necessary to buy grain in the international market.

While the price of petroleum was high it was feasible to finance the purchase of grain from international sources. When Mikhail Gorbachev was assured of gaining control of the Communist Party and the government of the Soviet Union, he did not intend in dismantling communism, rather he intended to make it work. In response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia increased its production of petroleum drastically and consequently, the price of petroleum fell. When the price of petroleum fell in the late 1980’s the Soviet Union needed to borrow the funds from Western banks to purchase the needed grain. The Reagan Administration understandably took credit for destroying the Evil Empire, but the irony of it is that the successful strategy arose as a result of economic problems, plus reforms brought in by Gorbachev were opposed by the military industrial complex – an elite oriented towards militarism.3

Globalization has created the golden age of money laundering and the rise of kleptocracy. A kleptocracy is a government ruled by corrupt politicians who use their political power to receive kickbacks, bribes, and special favors at the expense of the populace. Kleptocrats may use political leverage to pass laws that enrich them or their constituents and they usually circumvent the rule of law. Contemporary studies have identified 21st century kleptocracy as a global financial system based on money laundering (which the International Monetary Fund has estimated comprises 2-5 percent of the global economy). Since 2011, more than $1 trillion has left developing countries annually in illicit financial outflows. A 2016 study found that $12 trillion had been siphoned out of Russia, China, and developing economies. Western professional services providers are an essential part of the kleptocratic financial system, exploiting legal and financial loopholes in their own jurisdictions to facilitate transnational money laundering.

Though unanticipated, the growth of opaque financial systems has become one of the key features of globalization: enormous amounts of money are now moving around the world covertly. Kleptocratic regimes not only are able to wield power inside Western institutions and game them to their own ends, but also use their financial heft to project influence on international media and events. Republican National Committee deputy finance chair, Elliott Broidy is now under investigation for alleged efforts to use his influence with the Trump administration to sell government influence. A probe is investigating the claim that Broidy sought $75 million from a Malaysian business official if the Justice Department ended its investigation of a development fund run by the Malaysian government.4 The Mueller investigation is analyzing the efforts of George Nader to turn Broidy into an instrument of influence at the White House for the rulers of U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia.

Neoliberalism unleashed multinational corporations, however, the benefits of globalization, outsourcing and automation came at a high cost. Companies in developed countries moved their production processes to low-wage countries or outsourced parts of their production processes to low-wage countries. Workers in developed countries who were employed in these manufacturing and service industries have become unemployed with neoliberal policies adopted by the developed countries. The result for most people in the West has been stagnation of incomes and decreased hope of better lives for their children. The failure of the present economic model has led to the rise of right-wing populism in Europe and the US. With these ideas now discredited, it’s time to devise a new narrative to guide our economies in a way that prevents neoliberalism’s excesses, promotes universal well-being as an economic imperative and ensures nationalism doesn’t once again win the battle of ideas.

In 2016 the IMF released a paper questioning the efficacy of mainstream economic policy of most of the Western world since the Cold War – basically a policy that has resulted in increased inequality and stunted economic growth. The neoliberalism of small government and austerity easily evolved into ideology, constraining the choices we appear to have and providing cookie-cutter solutions. The present ‘version’ of neoliberalism must be rejected as ideology that now masquerades as economic science. However, the market, private enterprise or incentives work when deployed appropriately. What is missing in this economic model is social policy around how much redistribution a society should seek. It is time to change public perception around the economy. It is now clear we need policies that benefit all sections of the population so that everyone enjoys the benefits of globalization, and reap rewards in terms of opportunities to reach their full potential.

The legacy of the Great Recession is a sicker, more unequal, more racially divided society. Some workers do not rebound from a recession for years, if ever, their skills degraded and their earnings diminished. Tomorrow’s narrative needs to recognize that economies are part of societies and nature but not the only important thing – the poorer members of society are still feeling the worst effects of the last recession. We must do more than point out these shortcomings; we must shift the narrative. It is necessary to usher in a new world of radical transparency. This will begin to counter the existing corruption in the system. Political events of today erode confidence in the status quo and heighten the legitimacy of alternative ideas. Movements must come together espousing an alternative. We must capitalize on the existing crisis created by the failure of neoliberalism and work cooperatively to introduce a new paradigm.

1 Was the fall of the Roman Empire a catastrophe? (23 July 2018) https://www.quora.com/Was-the-fall-of-the-Roman-Empire-a-catastrophe

2 What problems did the Ottoman Empire have within itself? (26 Oct 2017) https://www.quora.com/What-problems-did-the-Ottoman-Empire-have-within-itself

3 Thayer Watkins. The Economic Collapse of the Soviet Union http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/sovietcollapse.htm

4 Carol D. Leonnig, Devlin Barrett, Ellen Nakashima & Josh Dawsey. (17 Aug 2018)GOP fundraiser Broidy under investigation for alleged effort to sell government influence, people familiar with probe say https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gop-fundraiser-broidy-under-investigation-for-alleged-effort-to-sell-government-influence-people-familiar-with-probe-say

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Do Not Fear to Promote New Values for Society

Fear is what you feel when you face something that is unknown or a perceived threat to you. But fear goes beyond that. Fear is also related to the need to understand, in that if you don’t understand why something is going on, it is instinctive to fear it. Today we are vulnerable to the politics of fear. The politics of fear is when leaders use fear as a driving or motivating factor for the people, to get them to vote a particular way, allow excesses in spending, or accept policies they might otherwise abhor. It’s banking on the fact that presenting people with an alleged threat to their well-being will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of these policies. Trickle-down economics has been kept alive by an austerity delusion – combined inordinate fear with buoyant optimism – of the rich, the bankers, the mainstream economists and the media, rather than reality.

By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the neoliberals protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash. As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who fiercely opposed the French Revolution wrote, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy as justice is now linked to a market logic that divorces itself from social cost. To ensure the policy of minimal taxes and regulations remains unchanged, the plutocrats control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting deregulation of the government and the environment, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. Through this mechanism they perpetuate the fear of change – if taxes are raised on the rich unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear.

As Friedrich Hayek put it, “Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another.” But, he added, “if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy.” Hayek proposes laws are to protect the liberty of the individual knowing full well it created a system with built-in inequality. To assuage this deficit Milton Friedman developed the theory of trickle-down economics – claiming benefits for the wealthy like tax cuts on business, high income earners, capital gains and dividends helps people by the trickle-down effect in which economic growth flows from the top to the bottom, indirectly benefiting those who do not benefit directly from the policy changes. Neoliberalism has no vision of the Good Society or the public good and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems.

Its creators never believed trickle-down economics worked – it was an ideology that was created to unite the right. Today economic elites control corporate and media interests who continue to hollow out democratic principles to further their goals. This new world-totalitarianism is a panoptical world constructed on the basis of fear and authority. Governing occurs by providing individuals with choices and holding them accountable for the choices they make. Trickle-down economics evolved into neoliberalism. Neoliberalism creates insecurity through the use of indicators and measures to assess the performance of an individual. The Occupy Wall Street protest following the 2008 recession outlined how neoliberal ideology supports a system that allows control of information and the redistribution of wealth upwards. Joseph Stiglitz observes the consensus surrounding neoliberal economic thought has come to an end – that an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth has now been pretty much disproved.

While Republicans perpetually talk about getting tough on crime, they actually need it to get and stay in power. Pitting the lower middle class and poor against the really poor, who are simultaneously seen as responsible for and the victims of crime, is the way the economic elite divert attention away from the fact that under Republicans, there is less support for unemployment, income and social inequality – all of which lead to crime. Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all. In the 21st century the myth of the market hinges on the illusion of a supposedly natural order in the economic realm. Neoliberalism constructed a system that not only benefits the upper class but also effectively justifies this outcome – the political and social domination of the upper class are presented as normal outcomes of the functioning of the free market.

It has been argued that reality is not an absolute, that each individual has his own perception of reality. Reality is the state of things, as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. There is a tension between reality and truth. Reality is a construct of beliefs about the world we hold as true. Truth in itself has nothing to do with reality, applied to beliefs and utterances, however, it contributes to the constitution or maintenance of a reality. The reality is the neoliberal model can only deliver: austerity, stagnation, and increased economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society. Neoliberalism is a consequence of restructuring of class power in favour of the economic elite. When only a fraction of society holds the power to define what is real and what is not real, the rest of us are left living by their rules.

Following the economic debacle of 2008, supporters of trickle-down economics now peddle fear of increased taxes or regulation as toxic to this economic system. They introduce fear tactics, and then check to see if it resonates with voters. The fossil fuel industry in the US peddles fear of a weakening economy if environment regulations and responsibility are enforced. The plutocrats 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. While the politicians remain silent on a solution, the corporations work overtime through proxies to defend trickle-down economics, claiming that without minimal government and less regulations, people should fear the ability of the system to create jobs and expand the economy. It falls to the general public to be the agents of change.

As a citizen you may become more compliant, more willing to surrender your rights for vague promises of safety. As an employee you are less demanding, less willing to take risks. The problem is that the lens of fear distorts what you see. It focuses primarily on the negative, exaggerates the potentially threatening, filters out alternative views, and causes you to compromise your core values out of the urgent need to survive. Another notable difference today is that many people feel that they may have to confront threats on their own. These days, the measurable loss of faith in government combined with the difficulty of fighting terrorism has given the public less confidence that they will be kept safe. The narrative of fear presents a vision of a shrinking future, not a better one. We need to shift to a generative democracy of radical engagement in the design, development and implementation of public policy.

The American Dream that any American can reach economic stability through hard work, and that children will have a higher standard of living than their parents, is no longer true. With respect to trickle-down economics, the effects of neoliberal capitalism with the 2008 financial crisis is the greatest broken promise (or lie) of our lifetime. This increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society over the past four decades led to the hollowing out of the middle class, leaving many people disillusioned. With the disappearance of good paying jobs as manufacturing continue to be outsourced to lower costs, legislators in Washington remained gridlocked and unable to introduce new policies. Politicians need to understand we need significant change – the role of the state needs to be transformed from that of enabler of market-based development to that of partner in the growth of the reciprocity and commons-based social economy.1

We realize we have become disillusioned not because our expectations failed, but because they were false. What will drive change is a doctrine of skepticism coupled with questioning that refutes the ideology, sacred values and principles that maintain neoliberal ideology along with the supporting social and economic institutions based on false beliefs. We need a commons-based civil society to challenge the narrow thinking of today’s politicians; the courage to think differently, speak loudly, and challenge directly the systems, which we know to be unjust. We must promote new values for society to create the necessary change in culture to address the increasing economic inequality. In this manner new processes appear to replace the old. With enough people marching in a new direction of more accountability, the politicians will adapt in order to position themselves to the front of the crowd so they can assure us they are in control.

1 Jonathan Dawson (12 March 2015) A wave of disruption is sweeping in to challenge neoliberalism. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/12/disruption-challenge-neoliberalism-commons-political-system

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