Refuse to Be Ruled by the Past

Theories of society develop out of social conditions and are shaped by cultural influences. They have been expressed in varying forms of action, by which in turn, they have been modified. William Godwin wrote in 1793 that governments have no more than two legitimate purposes: the suppression of injustice against the individuals within the community, and the common defense against external invasion. Freedom is not something to be decreed and protected by laws and states. It is something you shape for yourself and share with your fellow men. We should refuse to be ruled by the dead hand of the past. We cannot use experience in the present to plan for a future where conditions may be quite different. If we demand freedom of choice we must expect a similar demand from our successors. We can only seek to remove the injustices we know.1

Bakunin believed that political freedom without economic equality is a pretense – a fraud, a lie. He believed that real freedom was possible only when economic and social equality existed. Freedom is a product of connection, not isolation. Bakunin insisted it is society which creates individual freedom through social interaction. Equality means social equality such as quality of condition, or equal opportunity. Men deprived of freedom to decide their own future, means they lose the sense of purpose in their life. Some – the economic elite – are cushioned by wealth and privilege from feeling the direct impact of this process, though they too are affected in insidious ways, but the poor and marginalized experience the imposition of the minimal state in a very direct way.2 The desire for liberation from the dead hand of tradition, can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages.

The Peasants’ Revolt was a major uprising across England in 1381 triggered by the Poll Tax under Richard II which was considered unfair and angered the people as the poor had to pay the same tax as the wealthy. For over 20 years prior to the uprising John Ball was preacher wandering the country-side denouncing the rich and their exploitation of the poor calling for freedom and equality: “For what reason have they, whom we call lords, got the best of us? How do they deserve it? Why do they keep us in bondage?… Except perhaps that they make us work and produce for them to spend!” The King’s army set about systematically identifying the ringleaders from each village that had participated in the uprising and executed them, including John Ball. Past promises made by the King were repudiated and the common people of England learnt how unwise it was to trust their rulers.3

The 17th century English Revolution saw an interlude of republican rule during the 1640s. During the Commonwealth a cluster of radical groups emerged that included the Diggers. Gerrard Winstanley, the Diggers’ leader, decided that it was his mission to speak up for the disinherited, for the common people who had been very little helped by Cromwell’s victory. In 1649 Winstanley published a pamphlet called The New Law of Righteousness which denounced authority of his day, “Everyone that gets an authority into his hands tyrannizes over the others.” Living in an agrarian age he saw the main problem as ownership of land. In the spring of 1649 he led a company of his men to squat on unused (common) land in the south of England and to cultivate it for their own sustenance. The Diggers were harassed by legal actions and mob violence, and by the end of March 1650 their colony was dispersed.4

In 1762, Rousseau published the Social Contract in which he defined the ideal social contract, describing how man could be free and live together in a community. By ‘equality’ Rousseau did not mean that everyone should be exactly the same, but differences in wealth should not imbalance the state, as massive material inequality can put liberty up for sale. The poor would be willing to sell their freedom, and the rich would be capable of buying it. Both the very rich and the very poor would value money more than liberty. Thus, Rousseau asserts, that some level of material equality is necessary to ensure that liberty comes before profit. The celebration of Rousseau in the French Revolution came from the fact his work argued society was formed from the general will of its people. It provided a justification for the abolishment of a government, if it had breached the social contract and ceased to reflect the people’s will. Rousseau’s critics regarded him as mainly responsible for the deification of the State which emerged in the French Revolution, and in all subsequent revolutions.

Claude Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), a liberal French aristocrat, took part in the French Revolution under the Directory. Saint-Simon believed that in a previous stage of historical development, kings, nobles and priests served a necessary role. It was only now, under new conditions, that they had become socially useless. The aristocracy was now an anachronism and served as an obstacle to the new social order which Saint-Simon saw emerging around him. While a defender of laisse-faire capitalism he became more and more concerned of the dangers of uncontrolled individualism. His fascination with technology and innovation lead him to support technocrats, saying, “We must replace the government of men by the administration of things”.5 By 1830, five years after his death, his followers split into several factions. Those heading in a socialist direction built upon his rejection of individualist selfishness and rationalism and his concern for social solidarity and interdependent responsibility. They popularized Saint-Simon’s ideas and tried to make them more attractive to the working classes.

A key contribution of Saint-Simon and the Saint-Simonians was to link socialism solidly with the notion of progress through industrialization. Marx observed that all social systems have a small minority of powerful elites. For Marx all history is class struggle; exploitation is hidden by the political institutions that exist, and the state is a reflection of the most powerful economic classes. Because of Marx’s view of the dominance of the economic factor in the exploitation of one man by another, his followers were inclined to ignore the lethal characteristics of other forms of power. In the early 20th century Lenin adapted Marx’s ideas to support the Russian revolution run by a minority. Lenin installed a top-down control system (called communism) in the USSR. When Stalin finally pushed Trotsky aside and took over power in 1928, he used this system to suppress the populace and industrialize the country.

Hegel claims individuals are in various states of alienation – the tension created between the way things are and the way they ought to be. Once the potentialities of a particular society had been realized in the creation of a certain mode of life, its historical role was over; its members became aware of its inadequacies, and the laws and institutions they had previously accepted unquestioningly in the past were now experienced as fetters, inhibiting further development and no longer reflecting their deepest aspirations. Thus, each phase of the historical process could be said to contain the seeds of its own destruction and to “negate” itself; the consequence was the emergence of a fresh society, representing another stage in a progression whose final outcome was the formation of a rationally ordered community with which each citizen could consciously identify himself and in which there would therefore no longer exist any sense of alienation or constraint.

With feudalism in decline unfair taxes triggered the Peasants Revolt in the 14th century England – rulers could no longer afford to ignore the feelings of the common people. The difficulty with the version of social contract posited by Rousseau was that the contract ultimately bound the individual in one way or another to the state, claimed Proudhon, obligating him in various instances to lay aside his own particular will or desires to abide by the general rules of the sovereign power that regulates everyone. The followers of Marx failed to understand the importance of government format in delivering economic models. The increasing economic inequality over the past 30 years indicates unquestionably that the ‘trickle-down’ system has become socially useless. Proudhon claims that the pursuit of equality of conditions is the true principle of right and of government.

We should not expect the future to be determined by the past. Like Saint-Simon before us, we observe that inadequacies of the existing social conditions are inhibiting further development for many. Let us analyze needs through the lens of the poor: food, shelter and clothing. The first requirement is a minimal world-wide tax to counter the efforts of corporations in manipulating the system in order to avoid paying taxes. This will secure funds to keep state debt under control and provide for safety nets to ensure equality of conditions for individuals to participate in society. The second change is regulation of banks to prevent the manipulation of real estate, specifically, money laundering (30% hidden in real estate) and the off shore “investors” driving up prices. The third change is to introduce the necessary processes and regulation to reduce food wastage from farm to fork. These actions should address many of the injustices we know.

references:                                                                                                                                            The Anarchist Reader (1977), edited by George Woodcock, Fontana/Collin                                              1 page 15                                                                                                                                                                     3 page 29                                                                                                                                                        4 page 30                                                                                                                                                       5 page 24                                                     and

2 Part 1 of 2: The Rise of the New Anarchists (29 Sept 2014) http://questioningandskepticism.com/part-of-2-the-rise-of-the-new-anarchists/

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Beyond Plutocracy: the Return of Democracy

The Power Elite is a 1956 book by sociologist C. Wright Mills, in which Mills calls attention to the interwoven interests of the military, corporate and political elements of society and suggests that the ordinary citizen is a relatively powerless subject of manipulation by those entities. When a small group of people rules a society, the political system is considered an oligarchy; when only money and wealth determine how a society is controlled, the political system is a plutocracy. From the standpoint of a democratic society, both oligarchy and plutocracy are inherently unjust and corrupt. The job of the politician in a plutocracy is always to find the line that provides the lowest level of pay, security, housing, consumer protection, health care and political access for society so that the economic elite can extract and hoard the greatest amount of wealth, power, and immunity from justice for themselves. Today, should America be considered a plutocracy?

The first decades of the 21st century herald a new ‘Gilded Age’ with an ideology system of ideas invented by the ruling class to promote its own interests yet presented as incorporating the moral consensus of society as a whole, to keep everyone else in check. Gramsci described cultural hegemony as a form of thought control by the dominant economic and ruling elite that permeated throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality. The trickle-down economics narrative is a grand illusion for those in power to promote to justify dominance over those who are less privileged. Of course, it is based on greed being a virtue, relying on a system to harness the selfishness of people and direct it to public good, thus freeing itself from the need to depend unrealistically upon the uncertain moral virtues of its participants. Plutocracy is government by the wealthy; by definition it is not democracy.

In the US 80% of the national wealth generated goes to the top 2%; and 65% to the upper 1%. The increasing inequality destroys the middle class and exploits the poor. In the US one-quarter of the jobs pay below the poverty line for a family of four, while one-third of the population struggle to make ends meet every month. Fast food chains in the US pay wages so low that workers’ families qualify for public assistance – the result of not earning a living wage. In this manner the plutocrats rely on public funds to allow them to profit so much. Of the fast food chains McDonald’s is at the top of this list, with Walmart the largest outside food industry involved.1 Many now believe it is not enough to define poverty as not having enough material resources to merely survive, but rather having enough resources to participate in society in a meaningful way. There has been a crisis in low paying jobs for the past forty years.

Within the plutocracy the wealthy win acceptance from the entire political class that its largely speculative activities, such as financialization – the growth of the scale and profitability of the financial sector at the expense of the rest of the economy – are normal. Through this process the financial markets, financial institutions, and financial elites gain greater influence over economic policy and economic outcomes. In addition, the wealthy control enough of the media to ensure they are credited for being the economy’s principle engine of growth. In return, they are given privileged treatment as the well-being of the national economy relies on them. Plutocrats make investments to ensure ongoing upward flow of cash. Over the decades they have spent millions of dollars opposing unions and supporting deregulation. With the subsequent increased inequality, many find themselves living in a precarious and unequal democracy of a political economy of a new gilded age.

Nader observes: concentrated power in the hands of a few should matter to you. It matters to you if you were denied full-time gainful employment or paid poverty wages, and there are no unions to defend you. It matters to you if you are denied affordable health care or are gouged by the drug industry and your medication is outrageously expensive. It matters to you if it takes a long time for you to get to and from work due to lack of good public transit or packed highways. It matters to you and your children to live in impoverished areas and have to breath dirty air or drink unsafe water and live in housing that is neglected by the landlord. It matters to you if your children are receiving substandard education in understaffed schools where they are being taught to obey rather than to question, think and imagine, especially in regards to the nature of power.2

Illusion is the ability to manipulate how other people perceive reality. What makes our society unstable is when the illusions around income inequality start to disappear. People can or are more willing to overlook income inequality as long as their quality of life remains unchanged. As long as the greediness within the plutocracy does not affect their day-to-day life – your retirement is funded, you can afford to take vacations – you are willing to look away while the economic elite are doing their thing. However, this ultimately becomes the problem – enough is not really enough for certain rich individuals. Unless there are checks and balances, the economic elite keep working the system until it breaks down. More and more find themselves in an era of insecurity as the safe routines of their lives have become undone, they now realize that the market system failed them, and this security was an illusion.

There is no difference between the fake news, misinformation, disinformation of today – such lies have been churned out for years, but today it is designed to support the plutocracy. There is an orchestrated counter-revolution based on polarization. Trump’s victim politics is a complete fraud, an old trick used by economic elite to keep working-class Americans fighting each other rather than focusing on processes to counter the plutocrats who are ripping them off. Trump and his allies stoke racial tensions even as they seek to cut taxes on the rich by shedding affordable health care for everyone else, dismantle protection for workers and consumers, and tear down environmental protections that stop wealthy corporations from poisoning communities. Victim politics is cultivated for a reason – to keep workers distracted from the real causes of economic inequality.

In a plutocracy, commercialization dominates far beyond the realm of economics and business, everything is ‘for sale’, and money is power. But in an authentic democracy, there must be commercial-free zones where the power of human rights, citizenship, community, equality and justice, are free from the corrupting influence of money. Elections and governments should be commercial-free zones, and the environment and water resources should never fall under the control of corporations or private owners. Children should not be programmed by an economy of indebtedness where their vulnerable consciousness becomes the target of non-stop marketing and advertising. It is necessary to challenge a hierarchical system in which elites are superior, have no empathy for the middle class, in fact, express distain for those who they consider inferior. For example, it is the middle class who were caught off guard with the 2008 economic crisis, and in fact, the plutocrats ensure they are blamed for the economic problems.

Social classes are hierarchical groupings of individuals that are usually based on wealth, educational attainment, occupation, income, or membership in a subculture or social network. The class system in America puts those with the most wealth, power, and prestige at the top of the hierarchy and those with the least at the bottom. During the 21st century the middle class continues to be stripped of jobs, income, and security. Max Weber (1864-1920) claims people are motivated by custom or tradition, by emotions, by religious or ethical values, and by rational goal-oriented behavior. All human behavior, Weber says is motivated by various combinations of these four basic factors. However, just because an action is rational in terms of fulfillment of a short-term goal, does not mean it is rational in terms of the whole society. It often happens, he writes, that an excessive focus on short-term goals undermines the very goals of society.

The power elite that C. Wright Mills identified over 60 years ago has coalesced into the plutocracy of today – where discipline and conformity in the office or factory are counterbalanced by a potpourri of gratifying and pleasurable consumer choices. What Mills observed can teach us a great deal about the need for change in society today. It is necessary to take steps to reverse the power now in the hands of the plutocrats: counter vote suppression gimmicks, reverse 2010 Supreme Court decision in favor of Citizens United to control the amount of money spent on elections, and take back control of the public sphere. More resources are required in public spaces – like hiring enough teachers to staff classrooms, paying them living wages, and improving a crumbling infrastructure. The return of democracy will occur with the establishment of commercial-free zones in the community that are free from the corrupting influence of money.

1 Atossa Araxia Abrahamian (15 Oct 2013) Majority of U.S. fast-food workers need public assistance: study https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-fastfood-wages/majority-of-u-s-fast-food-workers-need-public-assistance-study

2 Nader, Ralph. (30 September 2016) Plutocracy of Maximums, Democracy of Minimums. www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/37819-plutocracy-of-maximums-democracy-of-minimums

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Darwin’s Invisible Hand Narrative: A New Paradigm

Economists try to model human motivation in an attempt to understand how markets work. Traditional economic models assume that the satisfaction people take from consumption depends only on the absolute amount of it. Yet compelling evidence suggests that relative consumption also matters. In contrast to the Darwinian narrative, which emphasizes the link between individual success and relative performance, Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ narrative assumes that individual success depends primarily on absolute income, not relative income. Available evidence leads one to question that assumption. The satisfaction an individual derives from a given consumption level depends on its relative magnitude in society (i.e. relative to average consumption) rather than its absolute level. It appears changes from a reference point matters for decisions, not absolute status of wealth. We are emotional beings strongly attached to and affected by our relative position in society who care more about our relative well-being than our absolute well-being.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) discovered the natural laws of motion which provided the final piece to the puzzle to explain why the Earth revolves around the sun. Newton was aware of specific problems in the solar system that his laws did not explain which included the fact that Saturn was moving away from the sun while Jupiter was moving closer. To account for movements not able to be explained by his formula, Newton proposed the hand of God to guide the planets in various circumstances – providing long-term stability to the universe. Adam Smith’s claim about the ‘invisible hand’ in Wealth, first published in 1776, pertains to a scheme consisting of all the voluntary actions of people who engage in buying, hiring, producing, consuming, and selling, typically mediating these actions by exchanges involving money. Smith’s point is that, if certain conditions are met, these actions will collectively produce a result that a benevolent God would wish for us.

In the 19th century Herbert Spencer popularized the word evolution. Spencer preferred the Lamarckian evolution of adapted characteristics in which he believed that societies like living organisms evolve from simple states into highly complex forms – equating evolution with progress. He saw evolutionary progress as an economic problem, worked out at the level of the individual. This supported the doctrine of social Darwinism promoted to justify laissez-faire economics, thought best to promote unfettered competition between individuals, and the gradual improvement of society through the survival of the fittest. In the 20th century, economics needed to catch up with the advances in science, turned to biology. To achieve this the market is treated as natural which allows natural science metaphors to be integrated into the trickle-down narrative. The economic elite sought strategic interactions of the kind found in social systems which actually constitute Lamarckian evolution. The market was replaced with competition as the defining character of human relations including redefining individuals as consumers.

Over the past 30 years there have been attempts to promote ‘universal Darwinism’, the concept that any complex system can be understood in terms of the same principles that are the core of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection, including socio-economic systems. The predictive power of the theory rests on its specification of systemic selective forces, based on the algorithm of variation, selection and retention. Most commonalities between innovation in nature and technology need little explanation. Trial and error in populations become self-evident necessities, once we accept that humans – like nature – are very poor at anticipating successful innovations. Similarly, extinction results inevitably from limited space and resources in both the natural and technological world. Still, detractors suggest replacing the ‘top-down’ approach of universal Darwinism, with ‘bottom-up’ causal theories that explain how the interplay of descent, experience and learning shapes the competitive performance of firms in the evolution of industries.

Stephen Jay Gould pointed out, the parallel between Darwin’s natural selection and Smith’s invisible hand is remarkable. “The theory of natural selection is uncannily similar to the chief doctrine of laissez-faire economics”. In both instances, there is no regulation from on high to govern the individual transactions; neither natural selection nor the invisible hand actually exists as a tangible entity, but each works to benefit the whole system. Just as Smith saw competition leading inevitably to specialization and diversification that enrich the economy of man, so Darwin saw competition leading inevitably to specialization and diversification that enrich the economy of nature. Smith’s fundamental economic insight was that allowing people to compete in the market place allows the inefficient to be weeded out and the best outcomes to arise for all. There is an obvious parallel between this concept and that of ‘natural selection.’ Individuals are struggling for reproductive success, the natural analogue of ‘profit’. In both the appearance of order is actually the result of blind competition.1

As Darwin saw clearly, life is graded on the curve. For a genetic mutation to be favored, it is not sufficient that it enables the individual to generate large numbers of offspring. It must enable him to produce more offspring than rivals who don’t carry the mutation. Robert Frank notes: Life is graded on the curve. It’s not how big you are, how strong you are, how smart you are. It’s how good you are at the things that count relative to the people around you. As you probably know, there is a curve used in many academic settings. This means that one is not graded on how good he or she is but on how good others are in relation to them. Darwinian narrative counters that workers favor safety regulation not because of insufficient competition, but because of the consequences of excessive competition among themselves.

Robert Frank argues that Darwin’s understanding of competition describes economic reality far more accurately than Smith’s. And the consequences of this fact are profound. Indeed, the failure to recognize that we live in Darwin’s world rather than Smith’s is putting us all at risk by preventing us from seeing that competition alone will not solve our problems. Darwin’s insight that individual and group interests often diverge sharply – suggests Smith’s idea was almost an exception to the general rule of competition. The themes of inequality and competition are driving today’s public debate on how much government we need. The reason Frank gives is “Darwin’s wedge” – a term he coins to emphasize a divergence between individual and group interests which in turn causes wasteful competition and collective loss.2

Sheeham and Wahrman describe, in Invisible Hands: Self-Organization and the Eighteenth Century, the emergence of the language of self-organization that grappled with the problems of accident and causality, the mysteries of aggregation, the nature of organic life, and the complexity of modern existence. They observe that Providence initially gave “a shape and language for thinking about and describing nature’s dynamic processes. Providence was also, in turn, a shelter under which the idea of self-organization could grow.” There are two main self-organizational narratives today: Smith’s invisible hand; and Darwin’s invisible hand. These two systems of self-organization are centred on the production of knowledge – basically a disparate attempt at justifying a new faith in the world. These narratives stave off breakdown in order to allow the world to make sense – rendering the crisis (economic, metaphysical, moral, etc.) a narrative point, a turning point in the narrative rather than a breakdown in the narrative as such. If self-organizational systems perpetuate the providential desire for meaning that produces a certain kind of hope, then which of the two is the most meaningful self-organization narrative?3

Darwin, renowned for the theory of evolution, was a naturalist, not an economist, and his view of the competitive struggle was different from Smith’s in subtle but profound ways. Growing evidence suggests that Darwin’s view tracks economic reality much more closely. The central theme of Darwin’s narrative was that competition favors traits and behavior according to how they affect the success of individuals, not species or other groups. The real reason for regulations is to protect ourselves from excessive competition with one another. These regulations to deal with collective action problems are squarely consistent with the Darwinian view that life is graded on the curve. Market failures in Adam Smith’s framework occur only when competition is limited. The Darwinian framework, in contrast, holds that market failures can occur even when everyone has taken full advantage of all available opportunities for potential gain. Darwin’s view of the competitive process will prevail over Smith’s in the end because it offers a far more rigorous explanation of the behaviour patterns observed.2

In 1974 Richard Easterlin observed that self-reported happiness of individuals (i.e. subjective well-being) varies directly with income at a given point in time, but average well-being tends to be highly stable over time despite tremendous income growth. Easterlin argued that these patterns are consistent with the claim that an individual’s well-being depends mostly on relative income rather than absolute income. Consumption creates negative externalities. For example, individuals consume and therefore work to increase their status, then they will tend to work too much relative to their socially optimal level by maintaining two or three jobs. This argues for minimal wage regulation to support a living wage. Social status is important in determining how much control individuals have on their own lives and participation in society. An individual with lower income with respect to his group peers can suffer from psychosocial stress which attacks the immunological system, and individual health might worsen. Thus Newton’s invisible hand narrative is a fundamental paradigm shift from Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ for modeling human motivation.

1Ted Davis on Reading the Book of Nature (06 Oct 2016) Darwin, Free Market Economics, and Evolution by Natural Selection. https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/darwin-free-market-economics-and-evolution-by-natural-selection

2Frank, Robert. Charles Darwin, Economist. https://www.the-american-interest.com/2011/09/28/charles-darwin-economist/

3 Dubilet, Alex. (26 May 2016) Book Review of: Invisible Hands: Self-Organization and the Eighteenth Century. https://tif.ssrc.org/2016/05/26/invisible-hands/

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The Poor Must Seize the Charities

It is not enough to mitigate the worst aspects of poverty. We should instead seek to harness the potential of direct aid to create organizations which aim to abolish the conditions which make that aid necessary. Vulnerability has three important dimensions: individual, social and programmatic. These are interlinked and one influences the other. Individual vulnerability refers to biological, emotional and cognitive aspects of the individual. Social vulnerability is characterized by cultural, social and economic aspects that determine the opportunities to access goods and services, whereas programmatic vulnerability consists of the social resources that are necessary for the protection of the individual in relation to risks and integrity, as well as to physical, social and psychological well-being. For example, charities should not only help homeless, but also prevent homelessness and bring opportunities to vulnerable people, such that the poor might be empowered by their own efforts and not by what others do for them.

In 1801, the Inclosure (Consolidation) Act was passed to facilitate the seizure of ‘common’ land that was under the control of the lord of the manor, even though historically such rights as pasture were variously held by all manorial tenants. The tenants displaced by the process often left the countryside to work in the towns. This made the industrial revolution possible – at the very moment new technological advances required large numbers of workers, a concentration of large numbers of people in need of work had emerged – former country tenants and their descendants became workers in industrial factories within cities. In 1832 William Forster Lloyd, a political economist at Oxford University, looking at the recurring devastation of common (i.e., not privately controlled) pastures in England, asked: “Why are the cattle on a common so puny and stunted? Why is the common itself so bare-worn, and cropped so differently from the adjoining inclosures?”1

Regardless of what the apologists claim, the market was not a spontaneous creation of blind economic laws; neither is it an ahistorical institution as old as humanity itself. Rather, the capitalist market emerged in Europe in the sixteenth century as a qualitative extension of the simple commodity mode of production that had existed as a subordinate part within all class societies. Capitalism’s genesis dates back to the sixteenth-century English countryside, when the common land of peasants was effectively privatized and, for the first time in human history, people were forced to rely on the market for subsistence. Over the next two centuries, as land enclosures continued and workers were forced to sell their labor under threat of starvation, industrial capitalism emerged. This novel system created a material abundance the likes of which the world had never seen. Between the beginning and end of the nineteenth century, production per person increased exponentially.

At the same time England’s peasants were being transformed into an urban proletariat and children were losing their parents to coal-pit accidents and their arms to the gears of mechanical weavers, the bourgeoisie of London built the first orphanages and public hospitals. By the nineteenth century, poorhouses for the disabled and centers for the distribution of unused and spoiled food had been established in every major industrial city. But if these philanthropic ventures balmed the broken hearts of the bourgeoisie, they did nothing to alter the structural privation to which they were responding. But, as Wilde notes, “this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty.” Charity, if it soothes the soul and provides a degree of sustenance the economy denies, buttresses the same system responsible for the impoverishment. Homeless shelters and breadlines do not challenge the existing social order; the philanthropic sentiment behind them has always been a corollary of capitalism.

The Gospel of Wealth, an article written by American steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie in 1889, argues that the wealthy can undermine social protest by donating to worthy causes. Carnegie rejected demands to raise wages and living standards because that would cut into profits. He preferred to create “opportunities for people to better themselves”. Of course, these opportunities should be profitable or promote profit-making. Instead of giving money to governments, Carnegie advised the rich to establish charitable foundations so they could shape society in a pro-business direction. Oil magnate JD Rockefeller embraced this strategy, insisting that “the evils of society are not fundamentally economic but are physical and moral. They are to be cured by improvement in the public health and in the public morals.” Reducing social problems to biological defects embeds racism in medical research, education, and treatment.

The Rockefeller philanthropic institutions insisted that medicine be “scientific” and place biology at the root of disease. Defining “scientific” as biological means that social factors can be dismissed as ideological and therefore not scientific. In the early 1900s capitalist philanthropic foundations backed academics from top universities to promote “race science” and ultimately eugenics to eliminate the “socially unfit”. In 1910 Carnegie and Harriman philanthropic foundations funded Charles Davenport (1866-1944), a professor of biology at Harvard University, to document the hereditary basis of poverty and inequality. Davenport’s Eugenics Records Office was instrumental in shaping the two arms of American eugenics policy: forced sterilization and racist immigration controls. By 1935 more than 20,000 people in the US had been forcibly sterilized for belonging to the “socially inadequate classes” which included delinquents, alcoholics, drug addicts, the sick and disabled, paupers, orphans, the unemployed and those who scored low on an IQ test.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when protest movements identified social conditions as a cause of poor health, the Rockefeller Foundation countered with a 1975 conference to set a “new direction” for health policy, condemning “irresponsible individuals” who indulge in “sickness-promoting behaviours” and burden “responsible” people with higher taxes. Rockefeller policy papers formed the basis of the US government’s report, Healthy People: The Surgeon General’s Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (1979). “Personal excesses” were blamed for “runaway health costs”, and the public was instructed to eat healthy, get active, stop smoking, drink responsibly, say no to drugs, abstain from sex, work safely, etc. Capitalists never give money away without strings attached. Providing “a hand-up instead of a hand-out” promotes the belief that people are poor because they lack opportunity and social support, not because the capitalist class hoards the surplus.2

In 1984, Charles Murray published Losing Ground. Its central thesis was that all government welfare programs should be abolished, supposedly because welfare hurt the very people it was intended to help by “rewarding bad behavior” such as “illegitimate babies.” Murray also called for ending food stamp programs. Murray’s manipulation of data claimed to show welfare programs were the cause of minority poverty, rather than the cure. In order to get the numbers to work to “prove” that liberal social welfare spending created poverty, Murray excluded government spending on the elderly from his “evidence.” As Lester Thurow, former dean of MIT’s Sloan School of Management noted, 86% of federal social welfare spending went to programs to help the elderly; and the poverty rate for the elderly dropped from 25.3% in 1969 to 14.1% in 1983, refuting Murray’s thesis. There is no science to support Murray’s social Darwinism ideas that the economic elite exploit to persuade themselves they acquired their wealth through merit.3

One of the political functions of the safety nets of the New Deal includes promoting political stability. The redistribution of income downward and the expansion of the welfare state eased discontent among the disadvantaged, legitimized ‘the system’ as fair, and otherwise contributed to electoral calm and business profits. However, neoliberalism is fundamentally hostile to social welfare programs. In 2000 Jeb Bush summarized neoliberal thought: “True compassion means suffering with the poor and acting on the consciousness of your suffering – and we should shift power away from the bureaucracy to the people in the compassionate community, who actually deal with these problems.” Bush promotes charitable choice as neoliberal social welfare strategy. The impact of 30 years of neoliberalism is diminished social, economic and political functions of the welfare state, as redistributing income upwards continues to take its toll.

The intensification of both poverty and private aid is no coincidence. George W. Bush encouraged charitable giving at the same time he cut tax rates for top earners and reduced welfare spending. In Latin America, charitable NGOs serve as the auxiliary troops of the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programs, redirecting popular discontent over slashed public spending into apolitical, often US-funded relief. Charity, by contrast, creates a relationship that compromises the humanity of both parties. It humiliates the recipient at the same time it gratifies the giver. The proper response to the suffering around us is not sympathy but anger, and with it, a commitment to political solidarity. What we need is a society that doesn’t force people to live on the streets or beg for a meal. Indigence is not a thing to be pitied, it is a condition to be organized against and abolished. The recipients of charity don’t need more pocket change – rather a system to harness direct aide to create organizations with the potential to abolish the conditions that make that aid necessary.

We must recognize charities on the grounds that such organizations are merely trying to deal with the symptoms of capitalism rather than capitalism itself. Thus, the government is very happy to relinquish this chore of providing essential services to charities eager to pick up the slack, as they slash previously funded safety nets. One important goal is for charities to help the vulnerable – their service users – to make the most of their lives. However, ownership only becomes a worthy goal if it is something worth owning, such as control of their development. It is necessary to help the vulnerable take ownership of the charities in order to take ownership of their future. This includes helping the poor develop leadership in order to control the process. The poor must seize the charities and, in turn, advocate for direct aid that is necessary for protection against the risk of – individual, social, programmatic – vulnerabilities.

1 From a Discussion of Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin. http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/TragedyoftheCommons.html

2 Rosenthal, Susan. (May 2015) Socialist Review. http://socialistreview.org.uk/402/philanthropy-capitalist-art-deception

3 Ideas Have Consequences: the Explosion of Inequality (1 Oct 2017) https://questioningandskepticism.com/ideas-consequences-explosion-inequality/

 

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How the Economy Creates Today’s Cultural Conditions

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) considered nihilism a transitional stage that accompanies human development. It arises from frustration and weariness. When people feel alienated from values, and have lost the foundation of their value system but have not replaced it with anything, then they become nihilists. Nietzsche saw that the old values and old morality simply didn’t have the same power that they once did. For Nietzsche nihilism requires a radical repudiation of all imposed values and meaning. He believed we could eventually work through nihilism – in the process destroy the main interpretations of the world, thus open the opportunity to discover the correct course for mankind. In the last thirty years changes in technology, education and economics have intertwined to create today’s cultural conditions. We need to understand why more and more individuals now believe contemporary cultural conditions reduce the possibility of experiencing life as meaningful.

The year 1900 ushered a new era that changed the way that reality was perceived and portrayed. Later this period would come to be known as modernism and would forever be defined as a time when artists and thinkers rebelled against every conceivable doctrine that was widely accepted by the Establishment, whether in the arts, science, medicine, philosophy, etc. The modernists were militant about distancing themselves from every traditional idea that had been held sacred by Western civilization. Whereas in the past, a worker became involved in production from beginning to end, by 1900 he had become a mere cog in the production line, making an insignificant contribution. Thus, division of labor made him feel fragmented, alienated not only from the rest of society but from himself. One of the effects of this fragmentation was the consolidation of workers into political parties that threatened the upper classes.

During the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. The world would be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achieving through bolstering self-esteem. This self-esteem movement has had a significant impact on the school system – in order to ensure positive self-esteem education standards were lowered, creating a milieu for extreme individualism. When there is too much self-esteem there are problems of self-tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. This person demands automatic and full compliance with his/her expectations. The cult of self-esteem that was created in schools provides a pool of individuals in the 21st century who view the world from an emotional rather than a rational perspective, supporting extreme individualism and allowing personal feelings to over come the distinction between right and wrong. This person is addicted to the attention of others for admiration, applause and admiration. Behind this façade they only care about appearances.

The Enlightenment metanarrative promoted that rational thought, allied to scientific reasoning, would lead inevitably toward moral, social and ethical progress. Postmodernism, a symptom of nihilism, reflects contemporary culture as marked by widespread fragmentation and loss of faith in historical progress. When the West declared itself the winner of the Cold War, its collective narcissism was exacerbated – setting narcissism as a new cultural standard in Western society. Social media has enabled a whole generation of narcissists – Facebook enforces self-promotion. The prevailing ideology of neoliberalism feeds the culture of narcissism that is having a toxic effect on community, culture, politics, the economy and even the environment. The neoliberal state has no vision of the good society or the public good, and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems. Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality.

The appeal of the populists has grown with mounting public discontent over the status quo. In the West, many people feel left behind by technological change, and the growing inequality associated with a neoliberal economic system. There is an increasing sense that governments and the elite ignore public concerns. But today, a growing number of people have come to see rights not as protecting them from the state but as undermining governmental efforts to defend them. Encouraged by populists, an expanding segment of the public sees rights as protecting only these “other” people, not themselves, and thus as dispensable. In the recent election Donald Trump sometimes overtly, sometimes through code and falsehoods, spoke to many Americans’ discontent with economic stagnation and an increasingly multicultural society in a way that breached basic principles of dignity and equality.

Friedrich Nietzsche claims there is no objective fact of what has value in itself – culture consists of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. That we should think there is only one right way of considering a matter is only evidence that we have become inflexible in our thinking. Trump’s populism has degraded into nihilism – the consequence of lost opportunities especially amongst the young. This nihilism is a response that reflects how difficult it is to fight a system that priorizes profit over people. Also, the failure of intellectuals to offer the public viable alternatives account for the rise of these movements. The real question is how to achieve reforms despite an entrenched economic and political system. Today’s cultural conditions appear to have created a demand for radical transformation that has been dramatically underestimated.

Agnieszka Golec de Zavala et al. identified three types of people in UK threatened by changes: (1) authoritarians who fear other groups will threatened their status quo within the nation, (2) people high in social dominance orientation who compete for their group dominance, and (3) collective narcissists who believe the UK is so great it is entitled to privileged treatment, but claim this important value is not recognized by other countries. Narcissism and the feeling of entitlement create a group who oppose rational evidence of a debate, leading to polarized positions. In this culture, angry individuals can be recruited to causes without a rational debate. They feel justified in asserting themselves, defending their perceived rights. Collective narcissism created by people who perceive they are part of a disadvantaged group are more likely to have unrealistic belief in the greatness of their nation and support populist ideologies.1

Political nihilism involves the destruction of illusions, the negation of mythology and the removal of the elite who profit from the existing propaganda of artificial confusion. Neoliberals created the illusion cutting taxes for the rich will actually create well paying jobs for the rest of society. 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. In the 21st century the myth of the market hinges on the illusion of a supposedly natural order in the economic realm. However, in this so-called evolutionary environment of the market the income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society continues to grow. These illusions must be destroyed with truth – tax cuts for the rich do not create well-paying jobs for the middle class and there is no justification for the presence of competition in all parts of social activities.

Postmodernism was supposed to be the end of the ‘grand narrative’ or the metanarrative apparatus of legitimization. However, if we accept that all perspectives are equally non-binding, then intellectual or moral arrogance will determine which perspective has precedence. This creates an environment where ideas can be imposed forcibly with little resistance, raw power alone determining intellectual and moral hierarchies. Neoliberals have taken advantage of this, developing a metanarrative about the importance of markets for promoting the virtues of freedom, choice and prosperity. As this metanarrative is created and reinforced by power structures, they are therefore untrustworthy. 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. The neoliberal metanarrative offers society legitimization through the anticipated completion of a (as yet unrealized) master idea.

Democracy is in decline because economic inequality is on the rise. The bedrock of democracy is citizens’ political equality despite unequal wealth, and high inequality inevitably erodes the barrier between wealth and political influence. In the US there is a fake populism driven by President Trump that directs his followers downward against marginal, and outwards against foreigners, rather than upward against the powerful. Trump’s people tapped into collective narcissism – which they continue to draw on at post-election rallies. A Polish study found that people who felt less in control of their lives were more likely to show signs of collective narcissism. The ideology of the low self-esteem person is created by the increasing economic inequality between themselves and the economic elite – the neoliberal economic system.2 This leads to inequality of opportunity where families find themselves trapped by economic stagnation, which undermines hope for change. The existing neoliberal economic system creates cultural conditions that many now find reduce the possibility of experiencing life as meaningful.

1 Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, Rita Guerra and Cláudia Simão. (27 Nov 2017) The Relationship between the Brexit Vote and Individual Predictors of Prejudice: Collective Narcissism, Right Wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5712068/

2 Christian Jarrett. (3 March 2017) How collective narcissism is directing world politics. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170303-how-collective-narcissism-is-directing-world-politics

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The Beginning of the End of Equality and Freedom

The social contract refers to the belief that the state exists only to serve the will of the people who are the source of all political power. Neoliberalism is an ideology founded as the only source of truth. The neoliberal ideological project or hegemony is geared to making itself invisible. It functions by achieving the consent of the masses to abide social norms and rules of law by framing the worldview of the economic elite, and the social and economic structures that go with it as just, legitimate, and designed for the benefit of all, even though they may only benefit the wealthy. Ideological hegemony theorizes the way in which relationships of domination and exploitation are embedded in the dominant ideas of society – a key claim is that the market provides a natural mechanism for rational economic allocation. Lives are now governed by an ideology that limits opportunities, however, equality is a necessary condition for the preservation of liberty.

For John Locke (1632-1704), the role of the ‘social contract’ that placed authority over people was to protect human equality and freedom; this is why social groups agreed to a ‘social contract’ that places authority over them. Jean-Jacques Rousseau criticized some features of the Enlightenment. In 1755 he published Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, describing an endemic moral inequality that was related to power and wealth. As men come together, Rousseau claimed, there is a drive to compare ourselves to others – driving men to seek to dominate over their fellow beings as a way of augmenting their happiness. This leads to the formation of government with the sole purpose of protecting their property and locking in moral inequality as a permanent feature of civil society. This contract is promoted as treating everyone equally, but in reality, it is in the interest of the few who have become stronger and richer through development in their private property.

In 1762, Rousseau published the Social Contract in which he defined the ideal social contract, describing how man could be free and live together in a community. By ‘equality’ Rousseau did not mean that everyone should be exactly the same, but differences in wealth should not imbalance the state. Equality it seemed to him, is a necessary condition for the preservation of liberty, while property and material inequality are the root of human misery and evil. Massive material inequality can put liberty up for sale. The poor would be willing to sell their freedom, and the rich would be capable of buying it. Both the very rich and the very poor would value money more than liberty. Thus, Rousseau asserts, that some level of material equality is necessary to ensure that liberty comes before profit. He defended private property; if everything we did was for the state, we would no longer be free.1

While all men and women suffer from disillusionment, few know that their state of disillusionment is the result of the breakdown of an illusion they themselves had manufactured. Disillusion is never possible without fantasy – and the destructive strength of the disillusionment can never exceed the strength and energy that was used to create the fantasy in the first place. The adverse effect is that man places values on his illusions, and over values what is not true, or no longer exists. In order to clear these errors of thinking, man must release the emotion that keeps him tied to this false reality. The removal of illusion or fantasy involves understanding that expectations are not failed, but false. With this recognition comes an opportunity for change. Trump’s base believes that expectations that the neoliberal system would deliver has not failed, rather were false. So, they turn to Trump to seek changes in government to turn things around.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget are in the process of scrapping hundreds of existing or planned regulations as part of its larger push to ease federal restrictions on the private sector, upending federal policies on labor, the environment and public health. In several instances, the administration is dropping rules aimed at tightening worker safety standards or omitting species the government had pledged to protect under the Endangered Species Act. In other cases, it is proposing new regulations that provide employers with more leeway in how they run their businesses or report their activities to federal officials. “These rollbacks of critical public protections will leave American workers, consumers and children vulnerable on a daily basis,” claim regulatory policy advocates, “to risks such as air and water pollution, unsafe products and tainted food, dangerous workplaces and a newly deregulated Wall Street that once again could threaten economic collapse.” 2

The GOP tax plan isn’t a handout to the wealthy claim neoliberals, it’s actually an investment in the richest Americans so they will trickle their savings down to the middle class. Conservative think tanks claim that corporate tax cuts lead to higher wages for workers, even though the last several decades of evidence indicate the opposite. Most economists point out that shareholders, not workers, stand to benefit the most from corporate tax reform. Recent history suggests that the wealthy are the primary beneficiaries of soaring corporate earnings and a booming market. The top 20 percent of Americans hoard the American dream, they don’t pass it on. Eighty percent of stock value is held by the richest 10 percent of Americans. When the S&P 500 goes up, the middle- and lower-class don’t see the benefits. However, if you are going to sell snake oil – a tonic promised to cure a wide variety of ailments – you must claim it has magical powers.

Neoliberalism casts inequality as virtuous – as everyone gets what he or she deserves. It is up to us to make ourselves better, we are told, and the system simply supplies us with the appropriate tools to use – tasks to undertake and ladders to climb so that we may realize our potential. Precarious workers in this era of insecurity go from job to job, depending on the availability and demand. With no job security and few benefits, the precarious worker now views his development and subsequent success or failure as his own responsibility. Meanwhile, the workings of the system and the pressure to take on such precarious jobs are invisible. Neoliberalism sees the new normal as empowering individuals, and the shifting economy as a valid reason for underemployment. Things are changing – many now believe it is not enough to define poverty as not having enough material resources to merely survive, but rather having enough resources to participate in society in a meaningful way.

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. President Trump’s fear mongering is done to boost presidential power to enhance efforts to eliminate regulations and trash government agencies.

During the past two decades, there has been a strong anti-intellectual movement amongst conservatives in the US, connected with nominating candidates ‘just like them’, which can mean someone as out of touch with the whole wide world as they are. Tom Nichols observes that today, across American society, intellectual authority is resented, resisted and disregarded, with every opinion ostensibly holding equal weight. This levelling of viewpoints has been accelerated by digital technologies and platforms, which have further lowered the barriers to participation, opening the floodgates to those without the requisite educational backgrounds and professional credentials.3 President Trump continually undermines various branches of government including Justice Department, as well as, the fourth estate – the media. The main goal of the Trump Administration is to alienate American voters in order to undermine the idea of deploying state power for progressive purposes.

We live in a world of illusion and see the world not as it is but as we want it to be. The neoliberal worldview has been embedded in contemporary culture to such an extent and now is so pervasive that any countervailing evidence serves only to further convince people of its ultimate truth. The illusion is nothing can change without the market – there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalism. Democracy is embraced because the working class, in particular, understands democratic activism to be the most effective tool they have to attack extreme inequality and maintain a check on the power of elites. If citizens only play a passive role, then the real politics are shaped in private by interaction between elected officials and economic elites – elites who are not interested in the welfare of the classes beneath them. These actions for change include electing candidates identifying policies to begin the process to end big money’s grip on politics, an issue that lies at the core of the debate on freedom and equality.

1 Horsman, Greg. (2013) Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An Age of Enlightenment, p. 189-192.

2 Eilperin, Juliet and Damian Paletta (20 July 2017) Trump administration cancels hundreds of Obama-era regulations. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/trump-administration-cancels-hundreds-of-obama-era-regulations

3 Baer, Nicholas. (30 August 2017) American Idiot: Rethinking Anti-Intellectualism in the Age of Trump http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-08-30/american-idiot-rethinking-anti-intellectualism-in-the-age-of-trump/

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An Introduction to the Axis of Authoritarianism in America

Auguste Comte (1798-1857), a French thinker, believed the evolution of society to be founded on three laws or stages of historical progress: theological, metaphysical, and positivism (observation and experiment). The early stage, theological, identified a time when man’s place in society and society’s restrictions upon man were referenced to God, where the family is the prototypical social unit and priests and military leaders hold sway. The metaphysical is about the justification of universal rights as being on a higher plane than the authority of human rulers to contemplate, but not referenced to the sacred beyond mere metaphor. The purpose of the scientific or positive phase was for people to find solutions to social problems and bring them to force despite the proclamations of “human rights” or the prophesy of the “will of God.” Comte calls this last progressive phase of humanity positivism – being something definite, something beneficial.1

Puritans played an important role in the historical progress of America. Winthrop et al., whose movement to and brutal “civilizing” of the New World, including their “creative destruction” of the native Indians and other “impure”, “ungodly”, and “evil” groups as exemplified by witch trials, is better understood if considering their vision in creation of a theocratic Bible Commonwealth in spite of, rather because of their failure to permanently institute such a theocracy in the Old World. Puritanism not just tends to establish political-moral tyranny, but also is unprecedented in terms of the intensity and totality of authoritarianism. By definition, the political-religious tyranny of Puritanism comprises, generates, or eventually escalates into some degree and kind of terror or methodical war on humans to be punished for or prevent from recommitting the original sin – hence the crusade against evil. At the time of the 1776 Revolution two-thirds of Americans were Puritans.

Puritans and Calvinists introduced thorough going regulation of private and public life. This supports the outcome of Puritan political extremism as intolerance in politics as well as society overall. Puritanism generates fanatical political as well as moral-religious intolerance rooted in and expressing Puritan radicalism, reactionary conservatism, and absolutism in politics, morality and religion. The sociological effect of this lack of tolerance in American politics is Protestant puritanical morality – the propensity to see all political life in terms of all black and all white. There are tremendous social costs today with such ideas. The fact is freedom is threatened by both the over reach of the law and by the arbitrariousness of its enforcement. The tough on crime conservative judicial system creates ominous and lethal consequences for human liberty, dignity and life. The opportunity costs of the war on drugs occur through deflecting societal resources from arguably more effective crime-control strategies rather than a system of morality by law.2

In the 19th century Alexis de Tocqueville observed; “It must not be imagined that the piety of the Puritans was merely speculative, taking no notice of the worldly affairs. Puritanism … was almost as much a political theory as a religious doctrine.” In addition, he documented “the ‘servitude of thought’ characteristic for Anglo-Saxon lawyers, including US supreme-court members defending the “conservative spirit of stability against the fickleness of democracy.” Puritanism spread to the South via fundamentalist revivals in America. The new justice, Neil Gorsuch, has delivered key votes backing Trump’s travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries and on the death penalty, and embraced certain kinds of public funding for churches. During arguments in one of the court’s biggest cases of its current term, Gorsuch signaled sympathy for a conservative Christian baker who contends he was within his constitutional rights to refuse to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.

The 21st century Puritans, or neo-Puritans are people who are passionate about their causes, almost obsessed with them at times to the point of rigidity, ready at the drop of a hat to eviscerate those who disagree with them and pronounce them not just mistaken, but bad people whose opinions must be silenced. Neo-Puritanism suppresses or threatens political democracy and a free civil society through its renewed authoritarianism. A neo-Puritan is a person with a limited outlook who is unwilling to consider alternative ideas, perspectives or thought, on new age ideas leading to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and climate-change denialism. The authoritarianism of evangelical churches encourage ongoing “creative destruction” of non-Puritan ungodly or liberal social changes as well as the reactionary restoration of a “pure Christian community.” Neo-Puritans can be as narrow minded as were witch-burning Puritans of the 1600s.

The neoliberal state is the extension of the economic elite and the consequence of restructuring of class power in favour of the economic elite. It has no vision of the good society or the public good and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems. Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality. Neoliberal capitalism is associated with increasing income gradient between the rich and the rest of society. Austerity is backed by the belief that too much state spending preceded it. Austerity, understood as a social-historical force, is the tool of the neoliberal state to subvert democracy and promote authoritarianism. The drive towards a market society and the social engineering required to maintain that society are further expressions of the de facto authoritarianism of neoliberalism and the neoliberal state.3

Narcissism, along with extreme individualism and problems of self-tolerance, has been on the rise over the past four decades. Narcissists associated with extreme individualism focus on short-term relationships and activities correlated with risk taking and sensation seeking. Entitlement is part of their belief system – they believe they deserve special treatment. They lack empathy for others and selfishly take advantage of others. There is lack of respect for authority. Rules do not apply to them – they are special. This person is addicted to the attention of others for admiration, applause and affirmation. They are driven by a need to uphold and maintain a false self projected to the world. Behind this façade they only care about appearances. They feel omnipotent; there is nothing he/she cannot achieve, rarely admit to ignorance and regard his/her intuition and knowledge as superior to objective data, are impervious to the consequences of their actions; and have an ability find scapegoats.

Narcissists are excellent at manipulation – typically they share personal information about themselves to make people feel sorry for them. Initially this may appear that they are sensitive and perhaps vulnerable, but this only part of their system. The truth is irrelevant; its what ever works as they play for the reaction they want. This activity makes them extremely observant and perceptive; they can even appear to be smart. They will tend to agree with people, that is, tell them what they think they want to hear, then find subtle ways to undermine it. As narcissists think highly of themselves, they will seek out leadership positions and take charge. They tend to exaggerate their abilities and, not surprisingly, group members see them as people who can really run the group. Corporate narcissism occurs when the narcissist becomes the leader and recruits co-dependents into his/her bubble. It is necessary to recognize its existence and measure the effect of extreme individualism in daily activities.4

The axis of authoritarianism in America is supported by three belief systems: neo-Puritanism, neoliberal economics, and corporate narcissism. Despite the standard libertarian rhetoric of ‘freedom and individualism’ the dual trend of American Puritanism and other religious conservatism is toward suppressing political freedom and civil liberties while wielding power, and yet to demanding them, for themselves solely, when placed in anti-government opposition or marginality. Poulantzas notes neoliberals need to ensure their own survival by bending civil society, political institutions and democracy to its will. Donald Trump, a ‘world class narcissist,’ delivered his most authoritarian remarks to date on February 5, 2018 during a speech he gave at a factory near Cincinnati, Ohio in which he casually accused Democrats of ‘treason’ for not expressing enthusiasm for his agenda during the State of the Union address. Corporate narcissism has led to dysfunction of the US government. Narcissists profess company loyalty but are really only committed to their own agendas, thus organizations’ decisions are founded on the narcissists’ own interests rather than the interests of the organizations as a whole, the various stakeholders, or the environment in which the organization operates.

Comte’s cardinal position was: “The greatest problem, then, is to raise social feeling by artificial effort to the position which in the natural condition is held by selfish feeling.” Ordinary people can provide this solution. It is necessary to recruit American voters who have been turned off by the inability of the basic machinery of government to serve their interests, to address the shrinking and disappearing public institutions. This will require two waves of voting. The first wave consists of voting out Republicans who are Trump’s enablers and the main supporters of neoliberal tyranny. Once the neo-Puritans and the neoliberals are marginalized in opposition, then it would be necessary to turn out a second wave to vote out Democratic party representatives embracing identity politics or trapped in the world of the elite. These actions will counter the axis of authoritarianism – neo-Puritanism, neoliberalism, corporate narcissism – that is at the root of America’s problems.

1 Auguste Comte. www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Auguste_Comte

2 Zafirovski, Milan. from a review of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Authoritarianism: Puritanism Versus Democracy and the Free Civil Society. (2007).

3 Nightmare on Main Street: the Neocon and Neoliberal Failures. (1 November, 2017) http://questioningandskepticism.com/nightmare-main-street-neocon-neoliberal-failures/

4 Horsman, Greg. (2011) The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle p. 36-43.

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About the Ongoing Crisis Management of a Corrupt Society

Neoliberalism is an anxious form of crisis management attempting to cover over the gaps in its ideological contradictions. The goal of neoliberalism is to remove all impediments to capitalist enterprises. Economic elites mobilized support from media, political parties, universities, in particular think tanks to develop this new hegemony. This process creates a noticeable transfer of wealth from the general population to the economic elite, in particular, the 1%. This activity includes a concurrent assault on the labour movement and labour rights. While this ideology champions that individuals have maximum freedom, a crisis exposes the clash with neoliberal interpretation of freedom and responsibilities, on the balance between personal freedom and the common good. Neoliberalism has not only created an economic crisis but also a political crisis. To the admirers of Trump, facts and arguments appear irrelevant. However, it is not enough to oppose a corrupt system – a coherent alternative has to be proposed.

The Mississippi Bubble, a financial scheme in 18th century France, was engineered by John Law who convinced the government to allow him to establish the Banque Générale, with the authority to issue bank notes. Law established what would become the Company of the Indies to develop the vast French territories in the Mississippi Valley along with French tobacco and African slave trade. In 1719 he merged the bank and the trading company. A frenzy of wild speculation drove up the price of shares that were sold to the public. The French government took advantage of the situation by printing increased amounts of paper money with the idea of paying off the debts of Louis XIV – which stimulated galloping inflation – triggering a general stock market crash in France and other countries. In 1802 Thomas Jefferson observed: banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that grow up around the banks will deprive people of all property until they lose everything.

Louis Brandes (1856-1941) became known as the ‘people’s lawyer’ for fighting for workers’ rights and breaking up monopolies. He spent several years defending the constitutionality of state laws that set limits on the number of hours or types of conditions in which a worker could work. In 1914 he published Other People’s Money and How Bankers Use It, in which he attacked monopolies and the ways investment bankers controlled American industry. When President Woodrow Wilson appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1916, he faced bitter opposition from anti-Semites and supporters of big business. Brandes opposed unlimited government power and an interpretation of ‘individual liberty’ that allowed a few people to control economic entities that affected the public at large. Justice Brandes observed: We can make our choice. We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.

In the 1980s there were people who were skeptical of market fundamentalism in general and big banks in particular. In order to decrease the cognitive dissonance, bankers linked home ownership to financial instruments and complex securities. They borrowed upbeat language from the IT world, including the positive message that innovation was good. This was part of a targeted message that Wall Street was good for America. In particular, that complex securities could help low and middle-income families own homes was a key message to disarming any suspicion. Over time, this message alleviated any remaining concern many had about mortgage lenders and investment bankers. The image of the large banks evolved from untrustworthy to being part of the American innovation scene, creating innovative new products that would supposedly improve the life of everyone. They road the wave of financial innovation – the complex financial transactions were inherently good because they helped ordinary citizens own their own homes.

Meanwhile the economic elite established think tank organizations (institutes) who prepared an intellectual war of position that pre-positioned neoliberal ideas to exploit economic and political crisis of the late 1960s and 1970s to make neoliberal solutions appear to be common sense. This activity was facilitated by campaign finance, lobbying, and revolving doors that promoted the ‘deregulation, de-supervision, and the de facto decriminalization’ of (finance) big banks. Neoliberalism generalizes and intensifies contradictions on a world scale, such that, world crisis becomes possible. Neoliberalism creates zones of insecurity and instability as well as zones of prosperity and stability. The system allows the dominance of finance over profit producing capital, affecting investment and production. Consumption tends to be sustained by extending credit. The old saying goes: Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank, but give a man a bank and he can rob the world.1

The Wall Street bankers’ power comes from the ability to provide campaign contributions to both parties, which allowed them to place key individuals in regulatory positions in Washington. This meant decisions in government were handled from the perspective of the big banks. These activities thrived during the two decades prior to the 2008 meltdown. The search for greater and greater profit created a climate to use loopholes to bypass regulations. The big banks made use of the new instruments to get around the rules. By using loopholes, structures were developed that reduced the capital requirements while the risk remained the same. There was no intervention by the regulators even when it was recognized that the banks were attempting to avoid regulation on minimal capital requirements. The Fed did not investigate compliance; banks used subsidiaries not covered in regulation, which created enough churn and confusion to stay ahead of regulators.

The state rescue orchestrated by the Obama administration transformed the crisis in private finance into a crisis of public finance and sovereign debt, which has to be solved through the austerity politics of neoliberals. What followed closely was the beginning of the roll back of post-war safety nets to help balance budgets. Neoliberal policies of austerity are intended to reorganize the balance of forces in favour of capital rather than make policy adjustments – in order to safeguard the existing economic and political arrangements. This can be interpreted as a deliberate strategy to subordinate the policy more directly and durably to the ‘imperatives’ of globalization as construed in neoliberal discourse. Basically, elites try to impose the cost of their mistakes on to others, and seek to allocate costs of crisis management / adjustment, and also shape the learning processes. When the neoliberal bubbles burst in the 1990s and early 2000s, the system was rescued by creating more conditions for bubbles.

Actually, the economic elite are in the process of rebalancing the economy from wage led to finance led which includes the redistribution of income from wage earners to capital. This includes promoting the ‘precarity’ in all areas of life as a disciplinary tool to reinforce the financialization of every day life. The recent budget discussions illustrated the power of financial elites to drive financial budget decisions. Financialization is a pattern of accumulation in which profit making occurs increasingly through financial channels rather than through trade and commodity production. This includes derivatives – involving the money market and investment in commodity future markets. Neoliberalism constructed a system that not only exclusively 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.

“Instead of delivering growth,” a 2016 IMF report explains that neoliberal policies of austerity and lowered regulation for capital movement have in fact “increased inequality.” This inequality “might in itself undercut growth …” As a result, the report states that “policy makers should be more open to redistribution than they are.”2 This issue of inequality amongst the working class was a factor in the 2016 US election. An outsider, Donald Trump tapped into a pool of angry voters just by promising change in Washington. Now in 2017 the Republicans who carry water for the neoliberals, faced a crisis management issue – how to balance an opportunity for image boost vs damage your brand by alienating voters seeking change. With the usual smoke and mirrors, the leadership packaged the Tax Cut and Jobs Act that permanently slashes the corporate tax rate by 40% which trickles down as one time bonuses for some senior workers and $1.50 an hour increase for others, as well as promises of better jobs appearing when the economic elite spend their new money on capital investment – which few Wall Street CEOs committed to doing.

Crisis creates moments for learning which can be linked to critiques: a critique of neoliberalism in crisis includes two important aspects: a critique of domination as well as a critique of ideology, as basis for change. The first observation is that the Great Recession did not alter the economic and ideological domination of neoliberalism. The present neoliberal state mentality stymies introduction of state directed economic intervention to rectify the problems.  While ideologies are perceived to be rooted in interests, values, and social relations of power, they actually seek to legitimate existing social orders or delegitimize them in favour of another. We need solutions to the growing social problems aggravated by a corrupt system. We need to unmask the illusion around individual freedom, and contrary to arguments proposed by neoliberals – the state has consistently been a relevant actor in the organization of the economy and society.

1 Jessop Bob. Neoliberalism redux? Managing the contradictions of neoliberalism in crisis http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/cperc-conf/files/2015/08/Jessop-Neoliberalism-Redux-2015.pdf

2 Dangl, Benjamin. (01 June 2016) After Empowering the 1% and Impoverishing Millions, IMF Admits Neoliberalism a Failure. https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/06/01/after-empowering-the-1-and-impoverishing-millions-imf-admits-neoliberalism-a-failure/

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On Changing a Violent and Enslaving Economic System

From the 1400s to the 1900s Europeans entered the global trade in human beings with massive numbers of men, women and children forced, and semi-forced into migration from their homelands. This African diaspora was the bedrock foundation of the economic system that led to the social and physical infrastructure that produced the modernity of the 21st century. Even though slavery is forbidden almost everywhere, reality is that in today’s world the economy is fed by slave labour. The greatest profits of this slavery are generated and accumulated in the rich and highly technological counties, whether undocumented workers on farms in rich countries, or underdeveloped countries actually working for suppliers of rich country corporations. Neoliberalism has allowed the development of an enslaving economic system – more workers than ever in history around the world are chained to their jobs for survival. The Internet has created a passive population full of consumerism and void of historical conscience and responsibility. Silence is passive consent and complicity.

During the 18th century the French colony of St. Dominque that became Haiti grew and prospered. By the time of the French Revolution Haiti was producing more than half of all the coffee produced in the world, 40 percent of the sugar for France and Britain and accounted for 40 percent of France’s foreign trade at a time when France was the dominant economy of Europe. By the 1750s, Haiti was France’s richest colony, rich from the sweat of slave labor’s brow. By the time of the French Revolution the population of slaves in Haiti was somewhere between 500 and 700 thousand. Under the French plantation system, based upon slave labor, Haiti was an enormously profitable operation. French sugar and coffee operations in Haiti were so productive that its exports to Europe were comparable and perhaps exceeded the total exports of the British North American colonies.

Five years after the storming of the Bastille, in August 1791 the slaves of Haiti rebelled. The news of the insurrection sent electrifying waves of fear throughout the hemisphere. The slave states and the slave owners in all parts of the US and elsewhere in the Americas were forced to face what they long dreaded, the cruelty of their deeds would turn on them in violent slave revolutions. President George Washington and Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, both slave owners, supported France in its efforts to suppress the slave revolt in Haiti. Napoleon sent an army of 20,000 trained soldiers to crush the rebellion. However, the African slaves and yellow fever defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s army – inflicting greater losses than occurred at Waterloo a few years later. When the French surrendered in 1803, Haiti lay in ruins – nearly half of its population lost. The twelve-year war of liberty had destroyed most of the irrigation systems and machines, that, with slave labour, had created France’s richest colony.

News of the failure of Napoleon’s effort to re-establish slavery after sending 20,000 professional soldiers for the task, and their final defeat sent shock waves across the hemisphere. Profound fear spread among white peoples throughout the Americas wherever Africans were held in slavery. Haiti was reviled and feared by all the rich nations of the world precisely for its successful slave revolt which represented a threat not only in nations where slavery was legal, but in all countries, because of their large under-classes living in economic servitude. The strategy of the nations primarily affected, including the U.S., was to further impoverish Haiti, to make it an example. In one grand commitment, Haiti, contributed more to the liberation of the Americas from European colonial powers than any other nation. Twice Haiti, poor as it was, provided Simon Bolívar with men, arms and supplies that enabled the Great Liberator to free half the nations of South America from the Spanish yoke. Haiti asked only one act in repayment: Free the slaves.

In 1885 France agreed to recognize Haiti for payment of 150,000 gold francs in ‘indemnity’. In 1910, President William Howard Taft granted Haiti a large loan in hopes that Haiti could pay off its international debt, thus lessening foreign influence. Shortly before World War I, US bankers obtained shares in the Haitian Bank which controlled the government fiscal policies, and participated in a huge loan to the Haitian government, again placing the people in servitude to a foreign master. US capitalists were quickly given concessions to build a railway and develop plantations. From 1911 to 1915 Haiti went through five presidents driven by unrest that the country was being taken over by American money. The US invoked the Monroe Doctrine to justify occupation. From 1915 to 1934 American administrators ran the government of Haiti. In August 1934 President Franklin Roosevelt ended the occupation. However, as Haiti was deep in debt, the US continued direct control of finance until 1941, and indirect control until 1947 to control loans and business interests.1

In the US, Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in education, housing, transportation, and public facilities. Its purpose was to create a second class and maintain white supremacy. Vagrancy laws allowed blacks to be arrested for minor infractions. A system of penal labor known as convict leasing was established at this time. Black men convicted for vagrancy would be used as unpaid laborers, and thus effectively re-enslaving. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Louise Parks (1913 – 2005), a resident of Montgomery, Alabama refused to obey the bus driver’s demand that she relinquish her seat to a white man – she was arrested. Her trial for this act of civil disobedience triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history, and launched Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the organizers of the boycott, to the forefront of the civil rights movement that fostered peaceful protests to Jim Crow laws.2

The economic elite made loans to developing countries conditional on adopting neoliberalism – removal of subsidies, social spending cuts and privatization of social services. The main practices that created this enslaving system in the hands of the economic elite is the concentration of purchasing power and vast selling power based on oligopoly and monopoly. This allows maximization of profits by extracting the maximum value created by workers and their organizations. Under globalization corporations are able to modularize the production process, assigning the production of restricted parts of the products to smaller companies abroad – the community will keep that business as long as they comply with the will of the economic elite – with respect to taxes, regulations and labour requirements. In the global competition of alternate suppliers, these powerful multinational companies compete against each other by offering lower and lower prices which translates into lower and lower wages, lower and lower benefits, and lower and lower environmental standards.

The arguments of political economy were based on intuition and assertion rather than on rigorous analysis, but their strength rested on their ideological appeal rather than on their analytical rigour. Modern neoliberal economics is no less dogmatic than its nineteenth century predecessor in resting on a set of simplistic assertions about the character of the market and the behaviour of market actors. Modern economics is not a scientific discipline but the rigorous elaboration of a very specific social theory, which has become deeply embedded in western thought. Cultural hegemony – the domination or rule achieved through ideological means – functions by achieving the consent of the masses to abide social norms and rules of law by framing the worldview of the economic elite, and the social and economic structures that go with it as just, legitimate, and designed for the benefit of all, even though they may only benefit the wealthy.3

Slavery is happening in the 21st century – even in the heart of rich countries, slaves are working for the biggest companies, for the biggest multi-nationals. The enslaving of workers making ordinary goods intended for consumption of the general public is a current phenomenon. How much are the workers making that bring you the tomatoes on your plate? Most meals in Canada and the US include a hefty portion of human rights abuses. With a political environment that encourages public resentment over illegal immigration, many employers take advantage of the vulnerable illegal workers, reducing pay and imposing brutal work conditions. Neoliberalism injects violence into our lives, and fear into our politics. The divisive 2016 US election was built on fear and, yes, despair of too many of the US populace, who have suffered negative impacts that neoliberalism’s memes and policies have reaped. This election result tells us that there is something badly wrong in the system.

Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all. Neoliberal ideology is not just about political power and domination and oppression of those most marginalized in society, rather it requires the consent and compliance of wider society to operate without challenge. Political power follows economic power. Neoliberalism requires that democracy be largely nominal, that is, less involvement of citizens in societal decisions; remove decision-making out of the hands of the working class, and rely on the politicians owned and the media controlled by the economic elite. We need to switch from a value system based on ‘rule of the market’ and individualism to the values based on ‘community’ and ‘public good.’ This includes shifting to a narrative that an open and transparent political and economic system is fundamental to a healthy society. There is no ‘one way’, but change to end this violent and enslaving economic system begins at the ballot box.

1 Clark, Ramsey. Haiti’s Agonies and Exaltations. https://iacenter.org/haiti/ramsey.htm

2 Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation. https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/civil-war-reconstruction/jim-crow-laws-andracial-segregation/

3 Opportunities Lost: Create Your Own Truth. (20 December 2017) http://questioningandskepticism.com/opportunities-lost-create-truth/

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On Banning Words Related to Public Health

When politicians instruct senior public health bureaucrats to ban language used in developing policies this opens the door for change management which creates opportunities to introduce new approaches into the business process. Peter Drucker (1909-2005), the famous management guru, made his name by asking his clients two questions: “What business are you in?” and How’s business?” The business of public health is to transform lives with an expected outcome while supporting people so they can reach their full potential of good health. The answer to “How’s business?’ is not as positive as it could be. Evidence of the need to address health inequities has been present for over 30 years but has not been incorporated into interventions. During this time policies incorporated language such as evidence-based, science-based, entitlement and vulnerability into reports sent to policy makers. For Nietzsche everything is in flux – ideas should change as soon as information and input changes.

Evidence-based public health (EBPH) action was launched following a 1984 report from US Preventative Services Task Force. EBPH “is the development, implementation, and evaluation of effective programs and polices in public health through application of principles of scientific reasoning, including systematic uses of data and information systems, and appropriate use of behavioral science theory and program planning models.” The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (WHO 1986) established that while changing behaviors was indeed a crucial aim of health promotion, bringing change at that level involved a complex interplay of policy and strategy, creating supportive environments, encouraging community action and reorienting health services. Policies aimed at the individual foster the illusion that a person’s health status is entirely under his or her control, as a consequence, health problems are assigned solely to the individual. In the end the individual becomes a victim, being blamed for what are socially-produced health problems.

The 1986 report, Achieving Health for All, introduced an expansion to the traditional use of the term ‘health promotion’ for Canadians. Three major changes were identified as not being addressed by the current health policies and practices: poorer people have significantly lower life expectancies, poorer health and higher prevalence of disability than the average Canadian, preventable disease and injury are undermining quality of health and the quality of life of many Canadians, chronic disease and disability co-exist with emotional stress, and a lack of community support to help cope and live meaningful and productive lives. In summary the report broadened health determinants to include environmental determinants such as income. In the challenge to reducing income inequalities, poverty did not appear, the discussion was about addressing groups who were disadvantaged. Examining the intersection of poverty and health is crucial to understanding the full impact of income inequality on overall well-being.

In the 1990s public health developed under the rubric of population health. Population health includes strategies that address the entire range of strategies that determine health, and strategies designed to affect the whole population. A consensus emerged to support the need for evidence-based policy development and decision making. Emphasis was placed on the use of the most solid information available to make health decisions, and to ensure these decisions reflect the values and principles of citizens regarding health and health care. This means that every decision should be justified by reference to the available evidence and reasoning. It involved increased upstream investment. The population health approach is grounded in the notion that the earlier in the causal stream action is taken (the more upstream action is taken) the greater the potential for population health gains and health-related cost savings for the system. Income and social status was identified as the most important determinant of health.

Social determinants of health (SDH) are understood as the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, that is, their whole life cycle, encompassing not only the social, but also economic, political, environmental, cultural and individual determinants. It refers to the social conditions of each individual, their characteristics, lifestyle, socioeconomic and demographic conditions, permeated mainly by social inequalities. Public health must point out policies and activities that when implemented in other sectors, including medical care, can help improve health and reduce disparities. This is important as many agencies do not participate with respect to cross-cutting issues. For example, effective tobacco control required the use of fiscal policies to reduce tobacco consumption, allied with labour and environmental laws to reduce exposure to smoke, and regulation of marketing practice. None of these activities are the primary domain of the health sector. An SDH approach may identify and address issues that are not feasibly addressed through individual or interpersonal behavior change approaches.

Neglected infections of poverty are a group of chronic and debilitating parasitic and other infections (including congenital infections) that disproportionately affect people living in poverty. Major neglected infections of poverty in the United States include toxocariasis, trichomoniasis, toxoplasmosis, cysticercosis, Chagas disease, and congenital cytomegalovirus infection. Neglected infections of poverty tend to be concentrated in areas of extreme poverty, including the Mississippi Delta, the border with Mexico, Appalachia, tribal lands, and disadvantaged urban areas, where these diseases perpetuate poverty because of their adverse health impact on child development, pregnancy, and worker productivity. The economic toll from these infections are substantial because they cause poor school performance, young adult disability, premature death, and hospitalization; in some cases, the costs of therapy are also high because correct diagnosis is delayed.1 It is necessary to develop health impact assessments in order to help other sectors understand how their action can help improve health and reduce disparities.

The 1992 Declaration of the Rio Conference on Environment and Development, Principle 15 reads: “In order to protect the environment the precautionary principle shall be widely applied by states according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” To mitigate against harmful toxins one could take the precautionary approach, even with the lack of science-based certainty one takes action in the face of potentially serious risk without having to wait for completion of further scientific research. When evidence gives us good reason to believe that an activity, technology, or substance may be harmful, we should act to prevent harm – to protect public health, environment and the future of our children. If we always wait for scientific certainty, people will suffer and die and the natural world may suffer irreversible damage.

Health should be understood as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely as the absence of disease. Vulnerability has three important dimensions: individual, social and programmatic. These are interlinked and one influences the other. Individual vulnerability refers to biological, emotional and cognitive aspects of the individual. Social vulnerability is characterized by cultural, social and economic aspects that determine the opportunities to access goods and services, whereas programmatic vulnerability consists of the social resources that are necessary for the protection of the individual in relation to risks and integrity, as well as to physical, social and psychological well-being. Surveillance of social determinants of health inequalities identifies the following groups in the US where findings indicate that unemployment has a greater adverse effect on the mental health: male manual workers, single mothers, main earner women, and manual workers without unemployment benefits for both sexes.

Since the turn of the 20th century, there has been a belief that technology and reason would make us masters of our environment. By the end of the 20th century, individualism, happiness and capitalism were core values of the Western world. In the second decade of the 21st century we face three deficits: current fiscal imbalance of various levels of government, the need to reverse epigenetic harms from the toxins in the air, water and food, and the debt to future generations as the growing economic gap will ensure them poorer health as adults, which will affect their economic status as they earn lower wages (the false promise of the neoliberal economics). Our expanded understanding of the wider determinants of health and disease suggests that significant advances in health could be achieved if policy makers, program developers, and implementers address these broader influences on health outcomes while maintaining excellence in traditional disease control approaches.

Social determinants are understood as the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, reflecting positively or negatively on their lives. Social and economic conditions (and their effects on people’s lives) determine their risk of illness and the actions taken to prevent them becoming ill or treat illness when it occurs. 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. Words like evidence-based, science-based, entitlement and vulnerability can then be relegated to the reference papers used to develop reports destined for policy makers, that address the key main social determinants of inequality: unemployment and the working poor. We need to close the gap in health-care policies – between the declarations of social determinants of health, and actions and deliverables.

1 Hotez, Peter et al. National Summit on Neglected Infections of Poverty in the United States https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/16/5/pdfs/09-1863.pdf

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