During the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests neither the oligarchs nor the bankers found it necessary to respond. The rationale for this attitude has been around for years. Ayn Rand (1905-1982), a novelist and philosopher who developed a philosophical system she called Objectivism, provided the rationale on why there is no need for capitalism to compromise with a mixed economy. Rand claimed: “There can be no meeting ground, no middle, no compromise between opposite principles. There can be no such thing as ‘moderation’ in the realm of reason and morality…The advocates…declare at this point that any idea that permits compromise constitutes “extremism” – that any form of ‘extremism,’ any uncompromising stand, is evil – that the consensus sprawls only over those ideas which are amiable to ‘moderation’ – and that moderation is the extreme virtue, superseding reason and morality… Observe, therefore, that the doctrine of ‘compromise’ and ‘moderation’ applies to everything except one issue: any suggestion to limit the power of the government.”[i] It is not surprising then that proposals for change to prevent another economic debacle did not include compromise as part of the solution.
In spite of the Scientific Revolution, new ideas from science can take awhile to have an effect. Corporations have adopted the disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry over the past fifty years. These tactics include introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, by setting up so called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. This includes cherry picking scientific spokespeople whose interpretations of the peer-reviewed literature suggest to the media and the public that the debate amongst scientists continues, and the results are not definitive. Industries sponsor sophisticated research activities that include both funding of established research institutions, as well as funding of advocacy and ideological organizations to conduct disinformation campaign – leaving public and law makers confused.
Even when facts contradict political ideology, challenging misbelief with fact checking doesn’t necessarily work – conservative media (radio talk shows, television and newspaper articles) provide a milieu where concerned individuals can find evidence that is consistent with their beliefs rather than evidence that might disconfirm them, thus re-enforcing their confirmation bias.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters are connected by the anger of the common person against the banks for manipulating the system and almost tanking the economy. Their manifesto becomes a list of items for corporations to clean up and become accountable. This includes rolling back the widespread tactics of misinformation that originated with the tobacco industry, and promoting the political will to transform the system in fundamental ways. For retirees, annuity payments have nosedived. Those not on defined pensions face the prospect of getting only a fraction of the payment anticipated fifteen years ago. The fact that pension plans have shrunk, and are not likely recover for years, is the harsh reality faced by employees contemplating retirement. The economic inequalities promoted by Wall Street are harmful to many people. The call out to the middle class is – to think – the financial system has taken advantage of them. The legacy of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been to dare to challenge the system, identifying extreme inequality as the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, and highlight the failure of the legislators to protect 99% of the people.
In the 21st century, there are two key jurisdictions in which the individual must dare to think – epigenetics and economics. Because the environment can alter our genes much more readily than previously thought, epigenetics is the next frontier for the individual to understand in order for them to have the opportunity to reach their full potential. The economics of forty years of deregulation was followed by the economic debacle of 2008. The slow recovery compounded by uncertainty is being promoted as the new normal, which is code for promoting a new social contract in which the gap between the wealthy and the middle class grows. After the 2008 recession, it was the top 1% who got all the benefits of growth stimulated by government subsidies, while the bottom 90% grew poorer.
Environmental factors can alter the way our genes are expressed via epigenetic mechanisms. Epigenetics involves genetic control by factors other than an individual’s DNA sequence. Developmental psychology is studying this from the perceptions of positive thoughts. Our beliefs filter our perceptions and cause every cell to react. These reactions can cause us to be negative and become protective (flight or fright response) or in growing mode and healthy. Genes are activated by the perception of our environment – if the perception is wrong then beliefs control our genes. With respect to environmental stimuli, negative thoughts can be as damaging as an environmental toxin.
This is another opportunity to dare to think. With the application of knowledge, one no longer behaves fearfully. One does not have free will as long as he behaves in ways that are unsatisfactory to him. It requires the same discipline to change behavior that is used to change diet and lose weight. Motivation, the association of great pleasure to an end result, is a requirement. (In modern society people are motivated to earn lots of money that is associated with pleasure and freedom.) It is necessary to take full responsibility for all your thoughts, actions and perceptions.
95% of our reality lies in the subconscious mind. In the subconscious there is no choice, simply unconscious reaction based on long-standing programs and neural pathways. Again, we must dare to think, re-evaluate our world and pay attention to our thoughts. We have the ability to re-route our neural networks. Where there is choice, there can be change. We can change gene expression by the way we think about our lives and ourselves. Choose perceptions that make you feel happy and good about yourself, which supports you reaching your full potential.
Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), an American economist and sociologist, described the rich or leisure class as sheltered from economic pressures that prevailed. From this privileged position, as a class, they were less responsive to the demands required to change society. The pressures of the downturn in the economy do not directly impact the wealthy. There is no penalty for not changing, hence no uneasiness with the existing order of things or pressure to change their worldview. It appears that the wealthy class is not mean-spirited, rather they suffer from the fear of change like all normal men. It is because they have less exposure to the economic forces that drive change than the middle class. The fact is increasing income inequality, seen in Canada and the US today, affects how people think about each other and society.[i]
The guiding principle of globalization is to maximize profits of corporations through the promotion of consumerism. There is a communication strategy to advance the corporate agenda behind globalization; the communications are designed to reduce resistance to the process by making it seem both highly beneficial and unstoppable. There is also the psychology of the inevitable. The alleged inability of governments to halt the progress of globalization is widely perceived as beyond human control, which further weakens resistance.[ii]
The economic debacle of 2008 has become a game changer. The Organization for Co-operative Development (OECD) lost its moral authority to give lectures to the emerging world on how things should be done. To find ways out of the crisis, the OECD countries used multiple approaches – fiscal stimuli, massive debt, nationalization of banks. This was not the same recipe that they lectured to the emerging economies who were facing their respective crisis in the 1980s and 1990s. It appears that an oligarchy and weak regulatory agencies created the economic distortion that led to the Asian financial crisis in 1997. By 2000, the oligarchy that looks after the interests of the big banks in the US had convinced the politicians of the need to keep the market unfettered by regulation, creating the over-leveraged market that imploded in 2008 (controlling the banks was bad). The International Monitory Fund (IMF) helped bring in the austerity measures in 1997 to help the financial and government reform in Asia. After 2008, the IMF re-invented itself defending fiscal stimuli and ongoing deregulation.
This change in the messages and role of the IMF creates cognitive dissonance – the discomfort that comes from holding conflicting beliefs – by branding this as the new normal. The new normal is the low return on fixed investments for the small investor, the need to work longer before retirement, and having less retirement income than previously planned. Others claim that the new normal is only a return to the past – to slow growth and high unemployment. Middle-class salaries stopped rising over three decades ago, while the income gap between the rich and the middle class continued to grow during this period.
The prolonged recovery will change trade patterns. Globalization will become less sustainable as consumption declines. Even though Canada entered the crisis with better initial conditions – banks solid, no looming trade deficit with China – global financial problems affect Canada. Today the Canadian economy is now limping along amid weakened demand for many of the country’s major exports. Part of the reason, says the governor of Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz, is that the country lost about 9,000 exporting companies in the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession. Other factors include changes in trade advantages for Canada’s main trading partner: an increase in the number of right-to-work states in the US that have brought down labour costs; a shale oil and gas revolution; and low gas prices that have decreased energy input costs for many US manufacturers.[iii]
Since the turn of the 20th century, there has been a belief that technology and reason could make us masters of our own environment. Max Weber (1864-1920), a German sociologist and philosopher who was a founding figure in the field of sociology, noted by loosening the hold of custom and tradition, rationalization led to new practices that were chosen because they were efficient and predictable, rather than customary. A rational society is one built around logic and efficiency rather than morality or tradition. Rationalization of the economy created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself. This, in turn, created the notion that there exists an inherent natural law unaffected by human endeavor and weakness that drives the economy. We are paying an enormous price for economic rationalization. As a result of the recession that began in 2008, to keep the global economy on track, people in the developed world need to work longer before retiring, pay higher taxes, and expect less from government; and the new generation, starting in the work place, can expect to earn less than their parents. This will translate into poorer health, as they earn lower wages, and will affect the next generation of children who will be born into a poorer family.
Canada is caught up in what is called the new normal. Retirees on fixed income are finding their pensions shrinking – the low interest rate punishes many pension plans. Working in retirement becomes the new normal. In addition, baby boomers are delaying retiring which, in turn, delays the next generation accessing higher paying jobs their parents had in their forties. This effect could take a generation to reverse. Overall, for the next generation, this means working longer and retiring poorer than their parents.
It is important to avoid a massive cognitive bubble – recognize the need for change, to recognize our error in judgment. Orlando A. Battista (1917-1995), chemist and writer, claimed, “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” [iv] The error in judgment was relying on a system to harness the selfishness of people to create equal opportunities for all. The second important area in which individuals must dare to think for themselves is to overcome their cognitive dissonance (comfort with the status quo) to return back to democracy from plutocracy (government by the wealthy).
Globalization was to bring more jobs and opportunities to more people. The consequences of five decades of regressive taxation and deregulation are a weakened economy that no longer reliably and consistently transmits productivity gains to workers. This era of trickle – down economics has been associated with increasing income disparity between the wealthy and the rest of society. The facts are, as income inequality increases, social mobility decreases. Reduced income translates to reduced wellness – the process by which a person is always seeking and moving towards his or her own highest potential – being the best you can possibly be. However, the corporation’s imperative for short-term profits means that during this recession the demands for less taxation and the need for budgets of governments to be opportunistically cut occurs at the very time when we need to maintain safety nets. With the increasing income gap, many have lost any opportunity to achieve their potential, as well as the next generation – this is the false promise of the market.
[i] Rand, Ayn. 1967 Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal Centennial Edition (231-233)
Horsman, Greg. 2013 Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An Age of Enlightenment (95-96)
[ii] Horsman, Greg. 2011 The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle 2013 (12-13)
[iii] Canadian economy missed expectations in 2013. Will 2014 perform better? (1 Jan 2014) <http://business.financialpost.com/2014/01/01/canadian-economy-missed-expectations-in-2013-will-2014-perform-better/>.
[iv] Horsman, Greg. Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment 2012 (5)