Saturday, March 05, 2005

Civic Caring & Shared Community

Abraham Lincoln declared that our nation was dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Men are obviously not equal. Some are strong, aggressive, talented and greedy, and others are weaker, ordinary and average. So what does it mean that our nation was dedicated to the proposition that men are created equal? We get the answer in part from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...That to secure (this right), Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...”

So our government is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal for the precise purpose of meeting the equal common needs of all men. Our government is dedicated to protecting every person from the strong, aggressive, talented and greedy and the power such persons get in the unregulated exercise of their liberty in earning money, building weapons and disseminating propaganda. It was Lincoln’s fervent hope that “this nation, so dedicated and so consecrated, of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Our government is not of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. It is of, by and for all people equally. It exists to protect us, and to meet the needs that humans have in common.

What needs do we humans have in common?

We need recognition and confirmation that each one of us is a worthy human being with an equal right to flourish.

We need recognition that every one of us is dependent on and connected with each other human.

We need recognition of our capacity for caring.

We need truth, fairness, honesty and transparency in our dealings with each other and from our government.

We need the preservation of our beautiful planet home.

We all need clean air, clean water, sanitary sewage treatment, public health and disease control, safe nutritious food, medical care and medicines.

We need a sustainable political economy that is designed to fit human beings and designed to provide a reasonable livelihood for the ordinary human together with a safety net.

If we are to have democracy, each adult human needs an equal fractional share of the aggregate of political power.

In order to govern ourselves wisely, we need reliable sources of truthful information.

In a word, we need protection from the jungle, the law of the jungle, and the “survival of the fittest.” We need protection from those who are more talented in making money than we are. We need protection from the unregulated planet wide market economy. We need both awareness of and protection from the submissive psychology and cultural erosion that this market economy creates in each of us.

But what constitutes the government? Its most important branch is us! “We the people,” as a practical matter, we voting citizens, are the source of our Constitution and our government. Since we elect our representatives and agents, we are the sovereign branch of government and we are ultimately in control. We get what we want, and we are privileged to implement our own vision, hope, caring, ethics, and spirituality. Lest we ignore the responsibilities that come with self-government, we each must answer the question: “Who do I want to govern me if I do not?”

The infrastructure, non-governmental institutions and government, including the sovereign fourth branch, “We the People,” that meet these common needs constitute our wealth in common, our common wealth. Our common wealth is founded on the value of equality and our caring for each other. It is our commonwealth.

The dangers ahead are daunting and we voters have been brainwashed and denied relevant wisdom for decades. We must avoid the mistakes of the past, whether they be Stalinism, Bush’s Oligarchy, racism, nationalism or materialism. We the people need Tikkun’s “transformation and healing” of our own inner psychology, of our attitudes, and our beliefs. It may be necessary for us to open ourselves.

We may have to recognize the 4 separate and important fields of knowledge identified for us by E. F. Schumacher in A Guide for the Perplexed.

1. What, really, is going on inside myself? (What gives me joy? What gives me pain? What strengthens me and what weakens me? Am I aware of my own capacity for greed, authoritarianism, vigilantism, and subtle racism and my own vulnerability to spin, propaganda and manipulation? Am I aware of the subtle ways that capitalism affects our psychology, our culture, and even what we think we know? We ask these questions of ourselves not to determine if we are “sinners,” but simply to open ourselves to more learning.

2. What is going on in the inner world of other humans around me? (One can know this only to the extent that one knows oneself. Can we try to put ourselves in “someone else’s shoes?”)

3. What would I see if I could see myself as others see me? (This is an effort to be more realistic about ourselves and our actions, and to confront our own delusions.)

4. What do I actually observe in the world around me? (The field of Rationality, Science and Reason. It is ironic that we do not use this field of knowledge more actively in evaluating the free market economy. How many humans benefit? How many humans are harmed? What is it doing to our planetary environment? What are its dynamics? Is there a way to reduce the disparity between wealth and poverty? What are its effects on democracy? Are the benefits worth the costs?)

These four fields of knowledge constitute an outline of what it takes to become truly adult, human and wise. It is simply not enough to have “good intentions,” and to be spiritual. We also need to become wiser if we are to have a “politics of meaning.” We need to be knowledgeable about what is really going on. We need an accurate diagnosis of ourselves and of our political economy.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Capitalism, Churches, Universities And Non-Profits

Pope John Paul II in his new book Memory and Identity accurately perceives the destructive effects of the uncontrolled market on our culture:

“… unless a vibrant public moral culture disciplines and directs the explosive human energies let loose by the free market, the market ends up destroying the culture that makes it possible.”

How and where exactly is this “vibrant moral culture” to emerge and function? Despite the Pope’s perceptive leadership, it is not coming from the Christian Churches…not from any of them. The Pope apparently believes that moral human beings and a moral Church can live comfortably with a free market that is not otherwise controlled or regulated. The Pope does not explain why moral human beings and a moral church have not “disciplined and directed” the free market after 2000 years.

My own “liberal” Episcopal Church, in an academic city, studiously avoids any topic that might be deemed “political.” As Christian writer Dorothee Soelle pointed out in her book Against the Wind, “An allegedly politics free religion ends up venerating power and its idols….” (Soelle p. 151) “Organized Christianity and the Churches are very busy privatizing our spiritual strength, to anchor it in the family and the individual. This arrests spiritual strength at the level of charity (charity being defined by the status quo and by what is tax deductible). Love of other humans that does not venture beyond horizon of the organized church, love that does not dare to search mercilessly for the foundations of terror (meaning power over the poor), is not love” (Soelle p 136)

In other words a politics free religion stands as a solid foundation for the status quo even when the status quo supports slavery, torture, preventive war, and foreign plunder of human beings and the environment.

I think that Pope John Paul II fails to perceive and understand the immense dynamism and power that capitalism as an institution creates. He recognizes and laments the effects of capitalism and sees “the explosive human energies that are let loose by the market,” but he does not see that the cause is the workings of capitalism itself. For that insight, we must turn to the Enlightenment.

Although a discussion like this is subject to a powerful taboo, the working dynamics of the free market are apparent to anyone who chooses to examine them in light of his/her own experience.

· The core characteristic of the free market economy, of capitalism, is that a person with money hires a person with little or no money for the lowest possible wage, in order to make as much more money as possible for the person who already has money.

Think about this. Is this not axiomatic? If an employer can find an employee who must work for a lesser wage, he will find a way to discharge you. He must do so. In order to survive among competitors, the employer can have no objective other than maximizing his profit? This core dynamic is operative even if the Pope himself was running the business.

· The core dynamic produces a relatively small category of wealthy employer-humans and a much larger category of poor employee-humans. It creates a tremendous disparity of wealth between the employers (and those who invest with employers) and employees. Remember most of us are employees, dependent upon our jobs for survival.

We see the results of this. By 2006 all of the Fortune 400 will be billionaires. We see the fantastic salaries and benefits awarded to CEOs. We see that the wealth of the richest 1% multiplied 4 times over in the late 1990s. For exhaustive documentation of all this, see the 2002 book of Republican Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy. The aggregate wealth of the top 1%, roughly 30,000 humans, is so vast that it is almost impossible to comprehend.*

· With wealth comes political power, and inevitably and ultimately, corruption. As the onetime Speaker of the California Assembly Jesse Unruh once said, “money is the mother’s milk of politics.

· Wealthy persons use their wealth to control legislation by hiring lobbyists, and PR persons, and by funding “think tanks.” Most importantly, they get elected officials to do their bidding by supplying them with the funds necessary for reelection, and funding opponents if they are betrayed. 80% of the “campaign contributions” in the 2002 election came from the wealthiest top 1% of us.

· Democracy is thus demolished. Democracy is founded on the concept that political power is allocated equally with a fractional share to each voter. It is the “one man one vote” concept. Capitalism allocates political power to those who have the most money. Thus even though we have the procedural right to vote, our votes carry almost no political power to get from government what we want and need. We cannot get affordable medicines and health care, for example. The wealthy and their lobbyists “persuade” our elected representatives not to vote for those items. We are, in fact, governed by an Oligarchy of the rich and powerful.

· With this accumulation of wealth and power, the very rich control the government…all branches of government, the CIA, the President, Congress, the Armed Forces, and finally the Courts.

We must recognize that everything that is now occurring is happening because the top 1% wants it to happen. This includes preventive war in Afghanistan and Iraq. It includes torture. It includes the concealment of torture. It includes all of the new curbs on our Constitutional liberties set forth in the “Patriot Act.” It includes tax relief for the very wealthy.

· With this accumulation of wealth and power, the very rich control the media, radio, TV, the newspapers. They control the advertising and PR agencies that create the advertising that are influencing us. They control the Journalists. They control the Universities. Because every Church, University and non-profit organization needs money, the very wealthy control those institutions as well. They have maintained IRC 501 C 3 to insure that all such institutions shall be non-partisan and non-political if they are to continue to get funding from the very rich. These institutions siphon off young humans who might otherwise challenge the dynamics of capitalism and compensate them with professional jobs. These professionals with jobs in 501 C 3 institutions are compelled by law to support the status quo.

This explains the taboo about the dynamics of capitalism. The information about the 6 core dynamics of the “free market economy” here set forth is not communicated by any non-profit organization like Common Cause, by any Church, or by any University. Their funding would be cut off if they did.

The Pope is not alone in this failure of perception. Across the entire civilized world, the engine of capitalism has created a self protective taboo so that its own inner workings and dynamics may not be studied, discussed or understood either in the Church or by most students of the Enlightenment.

*The total wealth for the top 1% of households, obtained from analyses of U.S. Census data is $13 Trillion. This is probably a conservative amount because much wealth is hidden, not reported, or stashed overseas. Also, we are considering only the top 1%. The total of the top 5% would be far larger.

$13 Trillion is a staggering amount of wealth, almost impossible to conceptualize.

A small businessman has a fascinating way of comprehending various levels of wealth (See}

A $25,000 stack of $100 bills is one inch high.
By his method of measurement:
A $250,000 stack is 10 inches high.
A $1 million stack is 39 inches high.
A $1 Billion stack is 3281 feet, or 6/10ths of a mile high.
The Wal-Mart family stack of $94 Billion is 58 miles high.
The $872 Billion total of the 2002 Fortune 400 richest is 542 miles high.
A $1 Trillion stack is 621 miles high.
The aggregate wealth stack of the $13 Trillion of the top 1% of households is 8073 miles high.

If this $13 Trillion held by the top 1% of persons was divided equally and distributed equally to every man, woman, and child in the United States, each person would get $40 Thousand! It is about twice the size of the total U.S. National Debt, which has accumulated over the years since 1790. Just the interest on $13 Trillion at 3% would raise enough money to cover every man woman and child in America with Single Payer Health Coverage. 4% interest on the $13 Trillion would raise enough money to send 1 million Americans through a 4-year college course costing $100,000 each, AND provide Single Payer Health Coverage for every single American. Every Senior Citizen in America could be provided with prescription drug coverage for ten years for only $168 Billion or a mere 1.5% of the $13 Trillion wealth of the top 1%. This top 1% has as much wealth as the bottom 95% of us.

So America is not poor. There is more than enough national wealth to meet our needs, the needs of the States, and the reasonable needs of the federal government. The problem is, as in the case of the Sam Walton family's $94 Billion, the top 1% siphons off wealth. Instead of meeting public needs, America's wealth is used to provide control of our government by the wealthy, private Jet airplanes for the Forbes 400 and 40 room mansions for Bill Gates and an unimaginable level of wealth and secret power for the top 1%.