Thursday, May 02, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #106 - Part 5

Intro to re-thinking the economy

I have been talking recently about what I've been calling the economic state in which we find ourselves. In doing so, I've been talking more about broad concerns, overall conditions, rather than the details of budgets and wonky figures about this percentage of that program.

What I've tried to point our is, in short, that more and more of our wealth, more and more of our income, is going to fewer and fewer people, that inequality is not only large, it is growing, the proportional divide is growing, even within the ranks of the rich and super-rich. Not that long ago we used to talk about richest 20% versus the other 80%. Then it became the richest 10% versus the other 90%. Now we talk about the richest 1% versus the other 99%. But again, even that doesn't show how the divide is growing. As big as the divide is between the 10% and the 90%, there is a proportionately equally large divide between the 1% and the next 9% and withing the 1% there is a proportionately equally large divide between the 0.1% and the rest of the 1%. More and more is going to fewer and fewer.

At the same time, more and more of our economy is dominated by fewer and fewer, larger and larger, corporations. Again, it's more and more going to fewer and fewer.
I've raised this gently before, but I'm going to raise it more bluntly now. We are at a point where we have to start asking basic questions. We have spent decades now careening from one social, economic, political, or military crisis to another only to find in each case that at the end of it all we are at best but little removed from where we started.

And despite what we get told, this is not because of a lack of “leadership” or insufficient "bipartisanship" but because of a shared attitude among all our leaders across both major parties, an attitude that says we can combat our problems without examining the basic premises of our policies or the social and economic structures out of which those policies grow. In fact, the assumption is that those economic and social structures are entirely sound and the national political debate - in fact, often even on the state level, the debate comes down to whether we need to “tinker” a little more with those supposedly sound basic structures or whether we’ve already “tinkered” a little too much.

As a British writer whose name I've forgotten put it, “American leaders seem to think ‘what we did hasn’t worked, so let’s do it again, only harder.’”

But “doing it harder” won’t work because our society’s structures are not sound, they’re seriously flawed. Our social structure divides us by race and sex, favoring some and brutalizing others; our political structure divides us constantly into majority and minority, rulers and ruled, telling us they’re the same thing while actually maintaining the power of a privileged few; and our economic structure slices us into rich and poor, boss and worker, and, to a greater extent than most of us care to admit, owner and owned.

We have got to admit at some point that the problems, the worst long-term unemployment ever recorded, the persistence of poverty, the growing inequality, the growing political power of the rich and corporations, the persistence of racism and sexism, the too-easy reach to drones as a tool of foreign policy, the inability to act against global warming, the knee-jerk reflex to answer every economic problem with "cut spending," the expanding and encroaching police state, all those and more are not aberrations of “the system,” they are the system. They’re direct outgrowths of a socioeconomic system that places it’s greatest value on power and control, that encourages competition and selfishness and discourages cooperation, that persistently divides America and the world into a variety of "we"s and "they"s.

I said it last week: We have to face the fact that we need to re-think our society, we need to re-think our economy.

You want to know what perspective I bring to such as re-think, well, I'll tell you. One way to answer that question is how I describe myself on my blog, Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time: "I'm a democratic socialist/green with an anarchist bent and a civil liberties absolutist who has, by both logical conclusion and moral compulsion, a commitment to active nonviolence. The only isms I wholeheartedly endorse are skepticism and eclecticism."

Or, as I used to put it rather more flippantly, I'm a socialist anarchist communalist capitalist eclecticist iconoclast - a description which caused most people to smile somewhat confusedly, the doctrinaire rightists to call me a communist and the doctrinaire leftists to start going on about "contradictions."

But more broadly, it means that I'm a capitalist in that I believe in the small business, the community-level business, the neighborhood store, the small factory. I'm a communalist in that I believe that cooperative ventures are better than competitive ones - and there actually is ample evidence for that; if you want competition, take up sports or chess. I'm a socialist in that I believe that beyond a certain point, profit-oriented enterprises can't be trusted to be responsible to the communities in which they operate and at that point the community as a whole has the right, the responsibility, and the duty to step in and start making some decisions. I'm an anarchist in that I'm a strong believer in individual rights and personal freedom and I amend Henry David Thoreau's comment "that government is best which governs least" to "that government is best which governs as little as necessary." I'm an eclecticist in that I believe you can pull those bits together into a coherent philosophy. And I'm an iconoclast in that I believe that there is no perfect state, no perfect society or, put another way, "the only ultimate answer is that there is no other ultimate answer." So if a society ever was created along the lines I imagine, the first thing I would do would be to try to see what was wrong with that society and how it could be improved.

So that's the perspective I bring to this.

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