Common Good, Properly Understood
An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany
The common good is a
core value for humanity, and it is taking on vastly increased importance as our
population has grown over the years.
Back in the hardscrabble days of hunting and gathering, before the
discovery of methods of growing crops and domesticating animals, small clans of
nomadic peoples lived in the most providential niches on Earth, and their
impact on the natural world in their struggle for survival was relatively
slight. Today human civilizations have
become much more widespread and destructive all around the planet, starting
with the choicest places and now going real marginal.
Our human population
reached seven billion people in the year 2011, up from only two billion in
1930. This rapid growth is causing an
extensive array of problems. Our
proliferating needs are depleting fossil fuels and mineral resources,
decimating wildlife populations, overexploiting fisheries, and causing
widespread harm to wildlife and their habitats.
We are also causing topsoil erosion, pollution of waterways, paving over
of wetlands, clear-cutting of vast tracts of forests, and the generation of
large quantities of wastes and toxins.
We are even altering the gaseous composition of the atmosphere and the
alkalinity of the oceans, contributing to ominous changes in weather patterns
all around the planet. We are thus
upsetting the vital natural balance of ecosystems on Earth.
We are confronted
with a growing realization today that the survival and well-being of our
species is becoming increasingly threatened by these developments. Our best hope for future generations is that
we will find good ways to mitigate the most severe impacts of our
activities. Competition for natural
resources is intensifying as they are being depleted, and the dog-eat-dog
nature of our economic activities is becoming a serious liability. The wiser collaborative qualities of our
human natures are consequently becoming ever more important to the overall
health and sustainability of life.
Our understanding of
common good goals, and of the best means to collectively achieve them, is
becoming increasingly crucial to our survival.
This essay explores these big issues and casts the bright light of
sanity and common sense on better ways forward.
have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
Thomas Paine, Common Sense
Let’s start the world
over again, and do so in ways providentially consistent with the greater good!
Perspective on What Constitutes the Common
President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the
greatest conservationist leaders in American history. He created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905
with a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the
nation’s forests and grasslands so as to meet the needs of people in present
and future generations. Gifford Pinchot,
the first Director of the Forest Service, sensibly defined conservation as
being “the greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest
This concept is also an excellent definition of
what constitutes the common good. The
main things that characterize the common good are safe communities, good
quality public schools, a productive economy, broadly-shared prosperity,
measures that ensure fairness of opportunity and a strong middle class, fair
access to healthcare, an affordable social safety net, fair political
representation for all citizens, democratic self-determination, reasonable
regulation of banks and big businesses, strong commitments to collective
security and peacebuilding, fair trade, openness in government, a free press, a
clean and secure energy system, well-managed public transportation systems,
smart investments in urban renewal, and guaranteed freedom of speech and other
civil liberties as spelled out in the Bill of Rights. The common good also requires strong
protections of healthy ecosystems, fresh water sources, unpolluted air and a
stable climate, along with reasonable safeguards to preserve biological
diversity and protected parks and open spaces.
In contrast, there
are many things that are drastically contrary to the common good and well-being
in general. These include things like
allowing water and air pollution, uncontrolled emissions of greenhouse gases
into the atmosphere, environmental damages, wasteful energy policies, the
stimulated depletion of resources, suburban sprawl and “tragedy of the commons”
assaults on the ecological commons. Many
other aspects of human behaviors and institutions are contrary to common good
goals, including monopoly practices, fraudulent activities, unfair cronyism,
severe inequities, no-bid government contracts, discriminatory employment
practices, high cost education, unaffordable healthcare, harm-engendering
special perks and privileges for elite constituencies, boom-and-bust economic
policies, excessive corporate influence in elections and lobbying, expansive
government secrecy, harsh punishments for those who commit crimes, ruthless
injustices and aggression in war.
People could, and
should, create fairer societies that operate in much better harmony with the
common good, and with core principles of human dignity, individual liberty,
fair representation and equal treatment under the law. The common good is much broader than
corporate goals, because corporate purposes are narrowly focused on just two
overriding objectives -- maximizing profits and limiting liabilities of owners
and top managers. This essay examines
these topics in detail.
“The status quo has many guardians, but the
future is an orphan.”
--- Timothy E. Wirth, United Nations
Invisible Hands of
The famous economist Adam Smith contended that ‘the invisible hand’ of
individuals pursuing their own self-interest naturally serves, in a free
market, to promote the good of the whole of society. Adam Smith believed that the welfare of the
entire community would generally be improved by private interest activities and
self-motivated behaviors. But he seems
not to have foreseen the extent to which social and environmental ills of
industrialization would be made worse by unbridled greed and abuses of power
that are inherent in human nature and capitalist economic systems.
Adam Smith apparently did not imagine the profound extent to which the
majority of people would be manipulated by corrupting influences of Big Money
and powerful vested interest groups and insidiously persuasive marketing
campaigns. And he did not recognize the
significant risks the economy would encounter, or the adverse potential for
economic depression and systemic collapse due to the short-term orientation of
business goals. It has become clear that
when groups like bankers, investors and homeowners rationally ignore risks of
“low-probability, high impact events”, financial meltdowns can occur like the
one that was experienced beginning in 2008.
How should we
rightly understand self-interest? Ah,
here’s the catch! Self-interest is one of the most powerful of
human motivations, but self-interest is NOT identical to our own individual
selfish interests. In the end,
self-interest is necessarily linked to the common good. What exactly is right and proper with
regard to self-interest and the public good?
What is best for humanity as a whole?
This essay grapples with questions such as these, and provides some good
Economic fundamentalists and people in corporate-sponsored think tanks
have used the metaphor of an invisible hand to conceal the actual hands that
rig the system and exploit resources and take advantage of workers. These interest groups tend to regard the
maximizing of profits as the highest of values.
The corporations and politicians that wield the most powerful influence
in our system often contribute to increased inequities, heightened systemic
risks and harsh injustices. They are
also significantly responsible for environmental damages, and lamentably even
for reckless aggression by the military, all at the expense of the common
Roosevelt’s strategy on the international stage was “to walk softly, but carry
a big stick”. This approach is much more
consistent with common good goals and the desire of our Founders to avoid
foreign entanglements than our pursuit of interventionist military policies in
the 21st century and the use of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and
Marines to implement a strategy of entangling foreign involvements. This aggressive approach allows our armed
forces and drone bombers to act as judge, jury and executioner in geostrategic
operations that are prone to causing terrible turmoil, civilian dislocations,
and injuries or death to millions of innocent civilians.
George W. Bush
once claimed that God told him, “George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.” I don’t know if he was being stunningly
delusional or colossally deceitful in these words, but it sure seems sadly
suspicious that the rationalizations he used to sell the war in Iraq to the
American people kept changing, and that they were formulated to downplay the
costs and risks and highly probable negative outcomes of destabilizing
preemptive warfare aggression. I
personally think George W. Bush should have listened to a more reliable voice
than God’s, like Mark Twain’s when he warned Americans that it is much easier
to stay out of a war abroad than to get out.
Mark Twain saw through flimsy and deceptive rationales to the heart of
the matter when he declared we ought to let peoples in other countries “deal with their own domestic questions in
their own way”. He expressed the convincing
conviction that the American eagle should not put its talons into peoples in
other lands, especially when motivated by conservative religious motives to
impose our values on Persons Sitting in
The Ecology of
theory provides the largest scale and biggest picture perspective of how we
should rightly understand economic activities in terms of self-interest and the
common good. There are basically two ideas of macroeconomics. One is that societies should be structured to
maximize production and consumption and wealth creation. This theory posits that providential
prosperity will result from such policies, and that it will trickle down to the
masses, allowing the environmental harmfulness of business activities to be
mitigated and the injustices associated with industrial capitalism to be
A contrasting and more comprehensive idea is that we should place
emphasis on behaviors and decision-making that create a broader prosperity that
is consonant with the sustainable ecological health of human communities and
natural ecosystems. This latter idea
posits that only by nurturing, protecting and restoring the soundness of
natural systems will a more salubrious and widely beneficial well-being unfold
that will be most advantageous for the vast majority of people in the long
run. This seems to be the best probable
route to a sustainable future.
“We have always known that heedless
self-interest was bad morals; we now
know that it is bad
--- President Franklin D.
Roosevelt, January 1937
It is simple, really, in a complex kind of
way. There are overarching
considerations to all our individual and national and global problems. Ultimately, the only sensible and moral
courses of action are those that are in harmony with the long-term common good,
including the interests of people in
Morality, in its
origins, consists of those things that are essential to the health and
preservation of a social group. Moral
right action should therefore be a function of sociology, and what is right for
society depends on the well-being of the majority AND of people in the
future. Right action is not merely a function of economic expediency or
political ideology, or of stimulated fears or theological dogma or religious
orthodoxy. The things that are right and
proper can most accurately be seen as the ones that are best in the long
run. It is not right to neglect the interests of our heirs in future
generations by pandering principally to greedy and shortsighted interest groups
If we irresponsibly choose to live like there will be no tomorrow, the
tomorrow that our children and theirs, and theirs, will inhabit will be one
that is far less salubrious than it should be.
Ascendancy and Victory
“If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware!
lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a
at the same time.”
--- Mark Twain, The War Prayer
noted in his first Inaugural Address that “a nation cannot prosper long when it
favors only the prosperous.” A
broadly-based prosperity is much more in accord with the common good, and with
the ideals of our Founders, than a narrowly-focused one. It is a sad tragedy for the majority of
Americans that the dominant ideological arguments of the Reagan and Bush years
rationalized bigger disparities of wealth in the world and a new Gilded Age of
conspicuous consumption and unfairness.
It is now time for us to redesign our system to ensure that trickle-down
economics is replaced by policies that encourage middle class and bottom-up
prosperity, and that our government and tax system is simplified and made
fairer and more progressively structured.
conservatives say that lower taxes, laissez-faire governance, free markets and
smaller government are the best ways to achieve general prosperity. They promote tax breaks that primarily
benefit taxpayers who have high incomes and high net worths. They claim that
tax breaks are the best strategy to stimulate the economy and ramp up
investment and create jobs and wealth.
‘Trust us!’, they say, claiming that such policies will trickle down to
benefit all Americans. Such people are essentially trying to make economic and
moral justifications for greed and selfishness.
see empathy-based moral values that champion both individual and social
responsibility as being more important than conservative ideas that leave out
the latter half of the equation. These
people understand the compelling need for protecting the common wealth and
assuring ecological sanity and striving for peaceful coexistence. They recognize an overriding need for us to
restructure our societies to ensure greater economic justice. They see that the tax system should be more
steeply graduated. They believe the
government should be managed frugally and more efficiently. They know that federal and state governments
need to demonstrate greater integrity to earn the trust of citizens, so they
advocate that they play stronger, smarter, more sensible roles in preventing
corporate corruption and in regulating markets.
They also understand that we should find good ways to prevent institutionalized
bribery and government waste and corporate fraud. Many people also see the greater social good
of fairer wages for workers, so they support rights for workers to organize to
improve their bargaining power and obtain more of the benefits of increases in
productivity and a fairer shake in the hard-fought struggle between capital and
The Proper Role of Government in Our Lives
The main institutions
that have determining influence on our national priorities are corporations and
governmental entities. Our economic system is flexible and resilient
largely due to the initiative of private enterprise and small businesses and
the processes of ‘creative destruction’ that allow poorly run companies to go
bankrupt. But the economy has gotten so
complex that without effective Federal Reserve monetary policies and spending
by the federal government, economic recessions could slide into worse
depressions. Government bureaucracies,
on the other hand, can be wasteful and inflexible and vulnerable to being
exploited by corporate interests and big public employee unions.
History shows that too little regulation of
business, particularly of banks and large corporations, leads to unfair
dealings and bad practices and the externalizing of costs onto society. These things can cause significant social and
environmental harm. Economic hard times
generally reveal that inadequate regulation of the economy can contribute to an
increase in debt leveraging and overly risky speculation and economic bubbles. And when the government allows businesses to
dominate the economy, there are inevitably undesirable increases in inequities
and social injustices.
It is also clear that governments have a propensity
to become swaddled in absurd levels of red tape and fiscal
irresponsibility. The federal government
has indulged in unprecedented amounts of deficit spending for the past 15
years, and it panders to vested interest groups and gives ridiculously generous
amounts of corporate welfare to companies that oppose innovative new
initiatives and industries. The need for
fundamental reform is abundantly clear.
Instead, the only thing Congress appears to be capable of delivering is
timid tinkering, or even worse, misguided legislation that is regressive,
unfair and favorable mainly to interest groups that already have the most power
in our dysfunctional political system.
We do not have lean government and well-regulated
businesses in the U.S. mainly because CEOs and large multinational corporations
have excessive influence in our national politics. They make sure that laissez-faire ideological
arguments have outsized influence, and that regulations are minimized. As a result, businesses are subjected to
ineffective rules, and they pay low amounts of corporate tax. The reality that our public policies are too
narrowly focused and too short-term oriented is almost always contrary to the
The Supreme Court Sides
with Corporate Dominance of our Nation
to the Supreme Court like John Roberts and Samuel Alito have collaborated to
make rulings on a variety of issues that are downright retrogressive. The most blatant example of this was the
January 2010 Citizens United ruling
that overturned campaign finance laws that had restricted corporate spending in
elections. The High Court thereby “rejected the common sense of the American people, who have
fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering
since the days of Theodore Roosevelt," according to one of the dissenting
Congress should correct
this challenge to the common good by enacting legislation that would make our
government more responsive to the people.
One good idea is a ‘Fair Elections Now Act’. If U.S. citizens are to have a fair voice in
our national priorities, we need to find a way to govern corporations better so
that their already powerful influence does not make institutional bribery even
more pervasive, especially in light of this Supreme Court decision that
effectively allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money
to influence election outcomes.
time has come today for us to work together to establish goals that are more
likely to result in achieving the greater good, and our leaders should
cooperate together to ensure that these goals are sensibly formulated. While powerful forces shortsightedly oppose a
broadening of prosperity, our nation’s true ideals offer positive
guidance. Let us again hearken back to
the ideals of our Founders.
Paine, writing in Common Sense in
1776, called government “a necessary evil.”
He argued that government should be constituted principally for the
public good, and NOT for “despotic” ends.
He believed that true security for citizens is the proper purpose of
government, and that national policies should be designed to ensure security at
the least expense and for the broadest benefit.
His idea of the optimum form of government was one modeled after a
principle of nature: “that the more
simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier
repaired when disordered.”
Wow! -- How far we have come from that
concept! Congress, take note! Your popularity is at record lows for good
reasons. Complexity, not simplicity,
dominates our Congressional policy-making today for the basic reason that the
more complex a law is designed to be, the more fine print there will be in the
law and thus the more hidden lobbyist provisions it can contain to advance the
narrow goals of special interest groups.
This complexity almost always comes at the public expense.
Paine envisioned an American nation that would have a fair and representative
democracy and respectable guarantees of a maximum amount of individual
liberties for all citizens. He asserted
that such a form of government would be best suited to “embracing and
confederating” all the various competing interests throughout a nation. I feel strongly that it is of utmost
importance for our society to become fairer and more just, and that effective
mechanisms should be put in place to make sure our collective activities and
resource usages are more likely to be indefinitely sustainable. To achieve these goals, a proper balance is
needed between the extremes of anarchic freedom and centralized control.
What should the proper role of government really be
in our lives? Ronald Reagan glibly
declared in his first Inaugural Address:
“In this present crisis, government is not the
solution to our problem; government IS
the problem.” With this, Reagan set
forth on a concerted effort to cut taxes for the rich, increase military
spending, reduce regulations on banks and corporate entities, champion
laissez-faire capitalism, and weaken the power and prerogatives of working
people. In contrast, Barack Obama stated
in his Inaugural Address: “The question
we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether
it works for the majority of people.”
Surely we need a federal government that is less bureaucratic and less
profligate where it should be, and smarter in its operations and spending and
investments of taxpayer dollars. The
overriding goal should be to make government work better for the vast majority
of the people.
development has been taking place in the past century that requires clearer
understanding. The size of the U.S.
government has increased dramatically, as measured by federal spending as a
percent of Gross Domestic Product. Such
spending was less than 10% in all the years before 1918, then it spiked to
almost 30% in 1919 to finance the First World War. Government spending averaged about 12%
through the decade of the 1920s, and then 20% through the Great
Depression. It spiked to more than 50%
in 1945 in fighting the Second World War, and then it averaged 27% in the
1950s, 30% in the 1960s, 32% in the 1970s, 35% in the 1980s and 1990s, and 37%
in the first decade of the 21st century.
This increasing trend culminated in 2009, during the financial crisis
and recession, when government spending totaled more than 45% of GDP, according
to data at the website, usgovernmentspending.com.
This raises a
question whether such growth in the size of government is a good thing or a bad
thing for the greater good. People in
conservative think tanks adduce a long list of reasons that big government is
bad. These reasons are, on the whole,
somewhat convincing. But other nations
like those in Scandinavia have a higher average quality of life compared to
people in the U.S., and their governments levy higher taxes and spend relatively
more money than ours to provide their citizens with inexpensive college
education, universal healthcare, better retirement programs, paid sick leave,
more vacation time, good child care and more affordable housing.
The growth of U.S.
government spending and the national debt seems like an undesirable state of
affairs because it is a considerable risk to run huge budget deficits and have
so much government debt, and to support unaffordably large military
expenditures year after year after year.
We face the serious dilemma today that if we take drastic steps to
balance the budget, it could cause another recession and increases in
unemployment. This is a lesson that was
learned in 1937 and 1938, when cuts in government spending and a tightening of
the money supply torpedoed a nascent economic recovery from the severe
Depression. Actions that seemed
responsible at the time can thus be seen to have caused a contraction in the
economy and higher joblessness.
Advocates of privatization point out that government ownership
or control of resources gives political considerations more clout than economic
considerations in determining how resources are allocated. Privatization
is NOT, however, the panacea for all social ills, because it also creates many
problems. Instead of advancing
salubrious goals like lower costs, greater efficiency, better management and
the improvement of society, the outcome of privatization is often a spike in
costly no-bid contracting and excessive fees, price gouging, socialized costs, increased
fraud, more unfair cronyism, and less accountability. The privatization of government functions and
concomitant deregulation can create rich new opportunities for corporations to
swindle taxpayers. These are NOT good
banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but
wants it back
the minute it begins to rain.”
--- Mark Twain
Ideas and Better Plans for a Better Future
would be an excellent plan for us to manage our national affairs better, and to
champion more sensible priorities and smarter, fairer governance. Instead, we have too much red tape,
dysfunctional regulation and bureaucratic inefficiencies, on the one hand, and
too little good supervision, oversight and smart regulation, on the other. And we have too much political corruption and
Regulatory agencies often fail to act in the
public interest because of “regulatory
capture”. This term refers to the
process by which powerful vested interest groups and their lobbyists succeed in
getting what they want for themselves at the expense of the greater public
interest. When such regulatory capture
occurs, dominant businesses and industries use their insider political power
and financial resources to “capture” favors rather than allowing the agencies
to fulfill the regulatory purposes they were created to enforce. Regulatory capture operates in ways similar to
the Tragedy of the Commons phenomenon in which individuals or groups with
high-stakes interests in regulatory decisions or policy outcomes focus their
energies and resources to gain outcomes they prefer, while members of the
public, who each have only a small and less focused individual stake in the
outcome, are much less influential. When
intently focused entities devote their energies to particular policies by
successfully capturing agencies whose purpose is to regulate them, it almost
always undermines the greater good. One
glaring instance of this was the failure of regulatory agencies like the
Federal Reserve and the SEC to anticipate and prevent the financial meltdown of
facts once again lead to the inescapable conclusion that our economic and
political system must be seriously reformed so that corporations and government
are better managed in ways that are consistent with the greater good.
Paine noted that freedom can be dangerous in the hands of the poor, due to
ignorance, just as it can be dangerous in the hands of the rich, due to
excessive influence. This is why he
advocated public education to overcome ignorance, and a robust representative
democracy that is strong enough to prevent political corruption.
Both liberty and
equality are important to the common good.
To the extent that these two ideals conflict, we should wisely strive to
establish the fairest balance between them for the maximum number of
people. Liberties should be protected by
assuring openness in our societies and the freedom of speech and religion for
all, and by establishing laws that guarantee a maximum amount of economic
self-determination and individual rights.
And equality should be guaranteed especially with regard to fairness of
opportunity and political representation for every individual, along with equal
treatment for everyone under the law.
Efforts by retrogressive leaders to bring about more extreme inequalities
are anathema in a democratic society, and they should be opposed and reversed.
perspectives should be welcomed.
Economists, when they are being cautious and honest, point out that it
is unwise and improvident to borrow heavily from future generations for
wrong-headed purposes. They know that it
is folly to promote priorities that are too short-term oriented because such
courses of action are likely to leave a disastrous legacy for our
descendants. Ecological philosophers and
environmentalists advise that long-term impacts should be taken into account in
all assessments of courses of action taken by businesses and governments. They
also provide us with cautionary tales regarding the damaging and risky impacts
of activities like the depletion of fisheries and the clear-cutting of forests,
and they warn us of the probable costs of global-warming-stoked climate change
and the risks associated with recklessly wasteful uses of fossil fuels and
fresh water and other natural resources.
They tell us that there is an overarching need for a transformation in
our societies to make them sustainable.
And they remind us about the risks of failing to courageously address
the causes and consequences of population overshoot.
fundamentalists also weigh in on the common good, as they understand it. They vehemently proclaim that they have the
absolute truth about what is right and wrong, and what is good and evil, and
what is best for us sinners. They derive their truths from a variety of ancient
‘holy books’ in which the alleged words of their particular God are interpreted
by religious authorities in ways that are often curiously self-serving,
domineering, doctrinaire, male chauvinistic, or inflexibly narrow-minded. Established churches should become less
socially reactionary and more of a force for good in our societies. They should cooperate together with statesmen
and diplomats to make sure they do not become forces that contribute to
discriminatory prejudices, conflict, war, genocide, terrorism or ecological
calamity. They should stop opposing
women’s healthcare and family planning programs and contraception, because most
of the biggest challenges that face humanity are made worse by having too many
people using limited resources and contributing to ecological overshoot of the
carrying capacity of the Earth for our demanding kind.
“To do good is my religion.”
--- Thomas Paine
George Lakoff writes about strategic initiatives in his
thought-provoking book, Don’t Think of an
Elephant. Such initiatives are plans
that have broad impacts across many issues.
For instance, tax cutting is a plan championed by conservatives that
accomplishes a wide range of objectives they hold dear, like enriching wealthy
supporters, restricting social program spending, and reducing the flexibility
of government to regulate corporations and hold them accountable.
An example of a contrasting liberal ‘strategic initiative’ is the
Endangered Species Act. This law
protects species, forces companies to mitigate the environmental harms they
cause, helps defend public lands from unwise exploitation, and makes it more
necessary to plan ahead wisely with a long-term sustainable orientation. A progressively structured system of taxation
is another example of a liberal strategic initiative, for it raises money to
finance a wide variety of needed functions, and does so in a way that is equal
for every person at every level of income.
George Lakoff writes about traditional American progressive values,
principles and policy directions. It
seems abundantly clear to me that Broad Prosperity, Effective Government,
Mutual Responsibility and a Stronger America would be better to achieve than
narrower conservative ideals of a Strong Military, Strict Father Values,
Laissez-Faire ‘Free’ Markets, Low Marginal Tax Rates and Ineffective Smaller
Since the effect of tax breaks targeted to
the already wealthy is to increase disparities of wealth, such policies make
our societies less egalitarian and physically less healthy, and therefore less
secure. Contrasting policies that increase social fairness have positive
implications for the overall physical and psychological health of a nation’s
people. This was proved to be true by
the impacts of measures implemented in Japan after World War II. When the U.S. occupied Japan after the unconditional
Japanese surrender in 1945, many of the Allied Occupation staffers who worked
under General Douglas MacArthur were policy veterans of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s
New Deal program. At the time, Japan was
a deeply unequal society. The Americans
worked to transform it into a more equal one by using the so-called “three D’s”
of economic equality: demilitarization,
democratization of the political process, and decentralization of wealth and
These reforms made
people in Japanese society more equal, and the population became much healthier
as a result. Sensationally, the average
life span of a person in Japan was less than 45 years before World War II, and
then an amazing increase in life expectancy occurred because of the public
policies put into effect to increase equality in Japanese society. Within 40 years, the people of Japan had
achieved the greatest longevity of any nation in the world -- over 80 years on
U.S., meanwhile, has chosen to pursue policies that are increasingly
anti-egalitarian since 1980. A
significant increase in inequality in American society is revealed by trends
toward more pronounced disparities in earnings and wealth between high-income
earners and everyone else. The
“conservative” policies that helped create this state of affairs have led to
Americans being ranked behind about 35 other countries in the world in life
expectancy today. Woe is us! Our sadly unfair healthcare system is disturbingly costly,
and so are such things as deregulatory policies that create risky economic bubbles and military
policies that harm and infuriate people around the world. We should implement initiatives that are more egalitarian (domestic 3
D’s!) to create greater fairness in our health care system, as well as in
representation, opportunity, education, legal justice, taxation and the
insurance industry is dominated by corporations obsessed with making bigger
profits every year, so they have rapidly increased insurance premiums at the
same time that they deny coverage to millions of people and aggressively avoid
providing insurance to people who have ‘pre-existing condition’ health
problems. These strategies may be good
for profits, but they are bad for the vast majority of people!
The exposure of faults
and weaknesses of ideological doctrines make it clear that we need to be more
flexible. Flexibility will allow us to
be more effective in achieving propitious outcomes. Reckless consumerism, lavishly wasteful
resource usages, bubble economics, trickle-down unfairness, speculative
excesses, ideological shortsightedness, ruthlessly exploitive disaster
capitalism, a lack of sensible regulation and oversight, and antagonism to
sensible family planning programs are all facets of a doctrinal worldview that
denies vital understandings about ecological well-being, sustainable resource
uses, and the value of moderation and prudence and smart pragmatism.
has made efforts to create a form of post-partisan political pragmatism that
would result in more positive conditions for our nation and the world. Millions of people hoped from the day he was
first elected that he would succeed in fostering truly farsighted, even
transcendent change. A review of Obama’s
first seven years in office reveals how astonishingly high the hurdles are to
basic reforms and positive change in our political system, and it is
astonishing how rancorous the Republican opposition has been to his
efforts. But this in no way diminishes the
overarching need for fair-minded cooperative problem solving!
The Long View of Historical Change
Our Founders made a courageous commitment to the creation of a nation
based on ideals of individual liberty, equality, social justice, fair
representation and limited government.
They did this to “promote the general Welfare”, as stated in the
Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. We
have been trying to live up to these ideals ever since.
Many progressive milestones have been enacted to achieve these ideals,
and to reduce the gap between America’s ideals and reality. Salient examples of this progress are the
Bill of Rights ratified in 1791, the legal freeing of black slaves in 1865, the
granting to women of the right to vote in 1920, various worker protections
established during the twentieth century, the New Deal that included a Social
Security system and other safety net programs that were created in the 1930s,
Medicare for Americans age 65 and older that was established in 1965, and
consumer rights, investor rights and civil rights that were strengthened in the
1960s along with vital environmental protections set forth in the Clean Air
Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Wilderness Act of 1964.
This progress has been difficult to achieve, and America has at times
slid backwards, especially during times of war.
For instance, habeas corpus rights were denied during the Civil
War; dissent was suppressed during World
War I; Americans of Japanese ancestry
were deprived of their rights and property and freedom when they were interned
in prison camps during World War II;
illegal surveillance was done on anti-war groups and the underground
press during the Vietnam War; and
numerous incursions have been made against civil liberties, privacy and other
fundamental citizen rights in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on
September 11, 2001. This is another good
reason for citizens to demand that their government resort to war ONLY when all
other alternatives have been completely exhausted, and to have a defensive
strategy, not an aggressively offensive one.
Nonetheless, the long trajectory of American political history has been
toward a fuller realization of our Founding ideals. This includes a clearer
recognition of the overarching importance of doctrines that emphasize fairness
and the common good. After the original
13 colonies declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 in a Big Bang of
revolutionary zeal and joined together to form the United States of America,
our Founders established a government with a strong system of checks and
balances. They recognized with visceral immediacy the extreme undesirability of
abuses of power and taxation without fair representation, so they created a new
form of government that governed under the auspices of a democratic
Constitution and Bill of Rights and fair-minded rules of law. The Founders were justifiably suspicious of
big government, big businesses, infringements on personal freedoms, entangling
alliances, and anything that would subvert the will of the people.
revolutionary transformation is required to ensure that we continue our
historical progress toward reforms that make our societies better. Our nation’s policies should be made more
consonant with the bigger-picture greater good, and we really should strive to
realize a new and more positive relationship between all of humanity and the
web of life that includes and sustains us.
This new relationship should include a
fairer and smarter balance between common good goals and (1) the goals of
consumers, who want good values at low prices, (2) the goals of investors, who
want to get high investment returns, regardless of the harm this may cause to
society and the environment, (3) the goals of government employees, who too
often appear to be more concerned with getting greater benefits for themselves
than fairly serving the public, and (4) the impulse of corporations that want
to maximize profits by getting subsidies, tax reductions, and expanded
privileges to externalize worker healthcare costs and pollution and
environmental damage costs onto society.
This new relationship can probably not be
achieved in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s
United ruling that overturned limitations on campaign financing. The way to establish this new relationship
now is for Congress to honorably formulate intelligent rules that honestly help
ensure that the best interests of We the
People will be more fairly represented.
Common Sense and Precautionary Principles
Humanity has been making enormous gambles, rather
than acting with precautionary sensibility.
Our leaders have stimulated debt leverage and risk-taking, creating a
severe financial crisis in 2008. They
have hyped up wars and religious conflicts and dominant forces have continued
their unmitigated exploitation of planetary ecosystems, damaging them
mindlessly even though we ultimately depend on them completely. And we let religious fundamentalists and
social conservatives have domineering influence in our societies in opposition
to sensible family planning measures and broader initiatives to educate and
One of the most sensible strategies would be to
follow more honest and reasonable approaches that are focused on actions and
behaviors consistent with shared prosperity and the common good. This idea is similar to the “no regrets”
approach that serves as the basis for the precautionary principle
enunciated in Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and
Development. This principle states:
“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.”
All legislative considerations should include a
Precautionary Principle of ecological propriety. Such principles should be
designed to make sure we “pay forward” deeds that are propitious to our heirs,
rather than leaving them a legacy of depleted resources, polluted environs,
widespread injustices, record levels of debt and ruthlessly internecine
conflicts. To the extent that our actions
damage the environment and are clearly not sustainable, new methods should be
developed to guarantee the vitality of the environment and protect the
prospects of life on Earth in coming years. We simply cannot continue to
plunder the planet without regard for the consequences of our actions.
We should also
establish a Precautionary Social Principle that enshrines a fair and bipartisan
concern for the common good as the highest value. Barack Obama was right when he noted that “a
nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.” An ethical earthquake is needed to shake up
our entrenched, wasteful and inequitable priorities, and to emasculate
shortsighted doctrines and deceptive propaganda.
Another Precautionary Principle is needed in arenas
of economics and finance. Adequate
regulations should be maintained to prevent economic bubbles, destabilizing
national debt, and unsustainable schemes.
The ‘Ponzi scheme’ perpetrated by Bernard Madoff, which “robbed Peter to
pay Paul”, cost thousands of people their life savings. And a far larger Ponzi-type scheme continues
unabated; it is an insidiously
inter-generational one -- the Social Security system. Current workers pay taxes from their earnings
to the government for Social Security. These
funds are immediately transferred to people who have reached the age of
retirement. As more and more people
retire and the number of people collecting Social Security funds increases, the
burden on current workers becomes more oppressive. Eventually the system will be bankrupt unless
it is restructured and made more financially sound. Without a growing population of working
younger people and immigrants, the Social Security scheme will fall apart as
currently structured. It is like a Ponzi
scheme rather than a sound retirement plan because money from today’s workers
is given to retirees rather than being saved and invested for future
obligations. The federal government has,
in fact, borrowed every cent and more of Social Security “surpluses” for decades
and then commingled the money with general funds and squandered it on the
exigencies and excesses of the moment.
It is time to
honestly begin treating Social Security as an insurance plan rather than a
fully funded retirement plan, as spelled out in Radically Simple Ways to Make America Fairer, and to Fix Both
Social Security and Health Care So We Can Move On to Address Much Bigger Issues.
Principle of Reproductive Responsibility should also be embraced. Nadya Suleman represents a metaphor for human
irresponsibility; she is the woman who
had six children she could not afford to support, and nonetheless sought
artificial fertility procedures that resulted in the birth of octuplets --
another eight children! -- in January 2009.
Just as Nadya Suleman was stupidly selfish, and her fertility doctors
were outrageously irresponsible, we collectively are being foolish to deny that
we cannot afford to continue policies that encourage rapid population
The quality of
life for our children, NOT the number of them we can spawn, must become a
more important consideration. From this
qualitative standpoint, the opposition of conservatives to family planning
programs should be overcome and rejected.
Public family planning programs prevent about 2 million unwanted
pregnancies and 800,000 abortions every year, according to a study by
Guttmacher Institute. This saves
billions of dollars in taxpayer money.
The Promise of More Fairly Shared Prosperity
Worker productivity rose more than 100% from the end of World War II
until 1974. Simultaneously, the median
family income rose by a similar amount.
From 1974 through 2007, however, worker productivity increased by over
80% while median family income barely increased. To create a fairer system in which prosperity
is more broadly shared, we need to implement policies that reconnect real
growth in wages to worker productivity.
This can be done by tying both management and worker incentives to
performance, increasing the minimum wage, strengthening labor laws, and
expanding education and job training.
Studs Terkel was a working class hero who died in 2008 at the age of
96. Studs was a journalist who stood up
against the Establishment in defending the rights of workers and the common
good. He always seemed to be a step
ahead of everyone else, opposing fascism and McCarthyism in his early
years. At a time when the mainstream
media was largely enthralled by propaganda of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in
America” in 1986, Studs neatly sized up the era: “The only thing trickling down from the top
Studs Terkel received a
Lifetime Achievement award in 2006 from a workers’ advocacy organization named
American Rights at Work. After accepting
the award, he said: “What brings workers together can be a belief, a hope of
improving the climate and community at work -- the spaces where so many of us
spend so much of our lives. Respect on
the job, and a voice at the workplace, shouldn't be something Americans have to
work overtime to achieve.” Right on! It would be a great contribution to the
common good to find ways to deal more respectfully with working people, and to
provide them with fairer compensation and more influence at work.
Hurrah for the late
Studs Terkel! Asked if he was optimistic
about the future, Terkel was cautious, but he did say that “you’ve gotta have
hope. Hope dies last.” Hope is good, and it is even better with
actualizing energy to provide better prospects of flourishing and salvation in
the here and now.
A Progressive ‘Slippery Slope Strategic Initiative’ for the Greater
Think about the scope and nature of our human activities, and how
exhaustively and rapidly we are depleting natural resources like fossil
fuels. Consider also the enormous wealth
transfer from the United States to oil producing nations, and the cost of
fighting wars in the Middle East to protect access to oil supplies. And think about deforestation and the
billions of tons of greenhouse gases we are spewing into the atmosphere every
year, and related phenomena of global warming and changes in global weather
patterns, all of which contribute to growing environmental problems and the
depletion of biological diversity on our wonderful home planet. Here are some of the most serious and
far-reaching challenges that humankind has ever faced, and it is simply
astonishing that ALL these existentially daunting obstacles could be
effectively addressed with the same policy prescription: by committing to making significant investments
in a new Apollo-like program to develop renewable energy alternatives, more
efficient resource usages and better ways of conserving fossil fuels.
A bold strategic initiative like this would contribute to solving
problems adduced above, and it would also create jobs, improve public health,
mitigate impacts of anthropogenic climate disruptions, and potentially help
developing countries with new technologies for their energy needs. By reducing existing subsidies to fossil fuel
and nuclear industries, and increasing investments in new energy alternatives,
there would be a desirable movement away from our dependence on polluting
But powerful resistance exists to such courses of action. This is
ironic, since a sensible restructuring of our economies is clearly needed to
make our human activities sustainable over the coming decades and
centuries. Partisan bickering,
ideological struggles and greedy vested interests tend to hijack our priorities
and cause us to fail to solve overarching problems.
Everyone across the entire political spectrum from very conservative to
very liberal should be willing to come together to form a broad consensus as to
the optimal courses of action for the greater good. Then we need to support good plans to achieve
these courses of action. This should
include incentives and disincentives designed to motivate people to act in more
responsible and providential ways, which would be among the best means for
ensuring that we move along a pragmatic path toward more likely well-being in
the long term.
The proposal to implement an eminently fair-minded fee-and-dividend
plan is so compellingly convincing that it is astonishing that we Americans
cannot put it into effect. Only
political corruption and excessive influence by fossil fuel industries stands
in the way.
Here is this concept presented in Climate Change
Considerations, Carrying Capacity, and Population Overshoot:
there are good solutions to daunting dilemmas like climate change that confront
us. Putting a much higher price on
carbon emissions through a fee-and-dividend plan, for instance, would create
powerful incentives for the conservation of resources and efficient uses of
fossil fuels. Such a system could be
structured in non-regressive and egalitarian ways that would be fair to the
majority of Americans, including people living in poverty and those struggling
in the middle class. It also would be
vastly fairer to people in future generations to take such action to slow the
depletion of fossil fuel resources and reduce the culminating harm we are doing
to natural ecosystems by failing to rein in emissions.”
The motto of Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations is “Be
Prepared”. Everyone can try to prepare
himself or herself better to deal with challenges and potential emergencies by
knowing the right thing to do at the right moment, and then doing it. The moment has come for us all to be prepared
to support smarter priorities. Lend your
Copenhagen, and Obliviousness
The Copenhagen Climate
Change summit held in December 2009 was said to be one of the most remarkable
meetings of world leaders in history.
The summit emphasized the scientific evidence and facts of global
warming and highlighted the failures since the 1997 Kyoto Accords to rein in
emissions of greenhouse gases. The
summit unfortunately failed to produce strong steps to avert future climate
disasters, principally because powerful vested interests blocked effective
reforms. The summit also made it clear
that a minority of people obtusely deny the overwhelming preponderance of
scientific evidence that reveals global warming IS occurring, AND that it is
caused in large part by human activities that include the burning of fossil
fuels, the cutting down of vast tracts of forests, and the maintenance of large
herds of methane-gas-producing cattle and sheep.
A reasonable surcharge
on energy use should be included in prices of all products and services to fund
mitigations of climate change impacts.
Rational individuals and societies should be willing to pay this cost as
a form of insurance against future damages.
Suppose, for instance, that there is a 10% probability that climate
change will cost $10 trillion within 50 years, plus an untold amount of human
suffering associated with increased probabilities of widespread flooding of
islands and coastal areas and failures of regional food production due to more
frequent powerful storms and intense droughts.
Should we not be required to pay an additional 10% of the cost of a
gallon of gasoline, or some such similar measure, to finance preventative and
remedial measures like reforestation, conservation, efficient uses of energy,
and investments in greener renewable alternatives to fossil fuels?
It is a distinct ‘tragedy of the commons’ that
individuals and vested interest groups are so strongly opposed to paying a
reasonable and affordable on-going price to prevent or mitigate such
risks. This is a matter of political
will. We could dramatically alter our
current propensities by using wisely-targeted incentives and
disincentives. Market methods like this
have been proven to be very effective in modifying collective demands and
behaviors, and they seem to be one of the fairest ways to affect people’s
actions. Precisely-targeted incentives
and disincentives should be implemented that would change our collective course
of harmful activities. This would be
preferable to alternatives like burdensome laws and regulations, in general,
since they are fairer mechanisms for influencing the choices people make.
underpinnings of those who deny that human beings are contributing to global
warming and climate change are ‘curious and curiouser’. So what, they say, if the human race is
spewing tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every
year? So what if this has caused the
concentration of carbon-dioxide to increase from 280 ppm to more than 400 ppm
in a geologic instant? So what if this
trend is almost certain to result in more than 500 ppm of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere within a century? Gee, say
the skeptics, it’s still real cold in Chicago in the winter, and a little
warming would be quite welcome! So what
if we happen to flood more than 100 million people out of coastal areas
worldwide in the next 100 years? These
‘deniers’ cling to narrow ideologies propagated by entrenched interest groups
that say we simply can’t afford to alter our habits and shift incentives from
dirty fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.
They even seem to deny that renewable energy sources are a better plan
than aggressive exploitation of the remaining fossil fuel resources in the
world. Climate change deniers often seem
to think that liberals and the majority of scientists are too radical because
they advocate that we take precautionary steps.
I believe differently! We should
seek the most accurate understandings, and follow where they lead!
paralyzed Washington D.C. in February 2010 when severe winter storms hit much
of the East Coast. Climate change
deniers were practically apoplectic with jubilant derision about this alleged
refutation of the fact that the planet has been on a warming trend for
decades. Sean Hannity on Fox News took
advantage of the snowfalls to declare that these weather events “seem to
contradict Al Gore’s hysterical global-warming theories.” Amazing!
Even junior high school students know that scientists have been warning
for many years that atmospheric warming will inject more energy into the
climate system and cause more extreme weather events of all kinds, including
more severe floods and droughts and hurricanes and yes, extreme cold snaps and
snowstorms. Weather and climate are
different things, guys, and as one pundit put it, “we owe it to our offspring”
to know the difference.
Deniers not only seem
to reject precautionary principles, but they also seem to be zealously willing
to gamble that current trends will not result in a double-glazing warming of
the Earth in coming years. These skeptics
hold this risk-taking conviction mainly so that people will not be collectively
required to invest responsibly in an effort to begin the inevitable necessity
of weaning our civilizations from our addiction to the burning of limited
reserves of non-renewable fossil fuels.
Most of these deniers admit that changes in weather patterns have been
taking place in recent decades, but they dispute that increasing incidences of
record-unusual storms, melting glaciers, heat waves and droughts are actually
related to human activities. Maybe it’s
just sunspots, they say.
These same people tend
to be the ones on the radical right who rashly support aggressive American
military occupations of Middle Eastern nations.
They are often the same ones who buy the shrewd propaganda that says the
wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were unrelated to our economic efforts to assure
access to global supplies of oil. The
largest remaining reserves of oil on Earth are located in Saudi Arabia, Iraq,
Iran and other Persian Gulf countries, and this fact poses real risks to our
well-being and security.
The U.S. has
already burned more than 200 billion barrels of oil from its own domestic
reserves. As these reserves dwindle and
we frack the hell out of underground formations, the temptation tends to
increase to use military means to assure access to oil supplies. In international matters, we should always remember that our greatness
as a nation can best be measured by our free, fair and peaceful trade with
other nations, not by our coercive military might.
What happened to our
faith in free markets, fair competition, cooperative problem-solving, peaceful
coexistence and respect for the sovereignty of people in other countries? Why are we so eager to involve our nation in
preemptive warfare when threats to our national security are not imminent? Could our military aggression in Iraq
actually have been merely a front for our supremacist hubris and resource needs
and greed? Shouldn’t all nations agree
that every nation should, without exception, honestly and fairly compete for
declining reserves of fossil fuels and other resources?
deniers are not stupid people, but they sure are easily duped by corporate spin
that says we should allow costs related to pollution and climate-related
natural disasters to be foisted onto society.
Such people sometimes figuratively have poor
peripheral vision, or are most comfortable when they wear blinders. It may be convenient for them to cherry-pick
facts and distort accurate understandings in favor of more constricted points
of view, but the time has come for us to see and seek the most propitious
perspectives for the long-term common good, rather than merely for short-term
advantages and profit-making.
It is easy to be
cynical about people who deny the risks of global warming and climate
change. It seems preposterous that they
can be so strongly opposed to economic initiatives that would require every
product and service to include a small assessment to mitigate future climate
catastrophes. Such insurance is needed
to minimize the extent to which we unleash harmful impacts on people in future
generations. Shouldn’t we be much more
responsible for taking actions to definitively guarantee that our home planet
Why Are Common Good Values So
Vested interest groups fight
ferociously to gain and maintain perks and privileges for themselves. Our system unfortunately panders to many
things contrary to the common good. Workers,
investors, homeowners, consumers, retirees, and people both rich and poor all
tend to want the most they can get from the government for themselves. Our political system is dominated by insider
groups that include corporate CEOs, bankers, wealthy people, Wall Street
‘masters of the universe’, retirees, union members and religious
conservatives. As a result, these
interests manage to skew our national policies to their own narrow advantages,
while the general public is betrayed by big corporations and government. Those with the most influence win this
serious game, and those who have little power have little voice, and
consequently lose. Big ambitions for
making profits should not succeed so wildly while ambitions for the
self-preservation of humanity fail.
aim must always rule the aimless. Yet
there will always be singing birds.”
--- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Expediencies often dominate our national decision-making, to
the pronounced detriment of the average person.
The most harmful expediency in the long run is our sacrifice of the
foundations of a good quality of life for people in future generations because
of our unwillingness to find ways to live within our means today. It is folly to borrow huge sums of money from
everyone in the future instead of courageously seeking to achieve a better
balance between spending and revenues.
In addition, it is unwise to use up natural resources as fast
as humanly possible, and to deplete and degrade fresh water resources and
pollute and dump obscene amounts of toxic wastes into the environment. These activities damage habitats and
ecosystems and drive untold numbers of species of life toward eternal
extinction, effectively reducing vitally important biological diversity. Is nothing sacred anymore? We also obstruct initiatives for social
justice and let the status quo prevail even in the face of absurd policies like
excessively risky banking deregulation and speculative debt leveraging,
instability-creating bubble economic policies, outrageous healthcare inequities
and amoral profiteering by the military-industrial complex and health insurance
corporations and Big Pharma and Big Oil.
in our crazy world. Who would have
imagined, for instance, that the “conservative” political party would work so
steadfastly to undermine precautionary ecological principles? Who would have been able to guess that
political conservatives would be the main ones who would recklessly promote
risk-engendering deregulation, bubble economics, and fiscally imprudent deficit
spending from 2000 to 2008? Who would
have thought that conservatives would thus be most responsible for causing the
most serious global economic crisis since the 1930s? Who would have
anticipated that Republican rule would have led to bigger government, and
consequently to an urgent need for even BIGGER government and more government
interventions to bail out the banking industry and to stimulate spending to
create jobs and get the economy out of its hardship-engendering doldrums?
Who, for that
matter, would have thought that social conservatives would reject Charles
Darwin’s scientific understandings of biological evolution while at the same
time finding such mesmerizing merit in theories of Social Darwinism that
justify special advantages for the few and the imposition of austerity policies
that are contrary to many of the principles and ideals that our Founders held
Darwinism is a theory that sees the struggle for existence in all societies,
driven by fierce competition and the survival of the fittest, and in effect
concludes that this competition overrides needs for ethical fairness in the
social compact between citizens. Social
Darwinism rationalizes the domination of the weak by the strong, and this
ideology is used to justify the deepening of class inequalities, the
intensification of resource exploitation, the oppression of workers, and even
military imperialism. The Social
Darwinist theory was first formulated by philosopher Herbert Spencer during the
inegalitarian Gilded Age of so-called ‘robber barons’ in the mid to late 1800s,
and he coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” to justify a political
philosophy that opposed humanitarian justice initiatives.
such simplistic and selfish theories, Social Darwinists try to undermine
constraints like social justice, fair-minded democratic governance, and equal
treatment of all citizens. They portray
sink-or-swim capitalist gambits as being necessary and inevitable, instead of
recognizing how vitally important it is to establish a fairer social
compact. This ideology has been used as
a justification of pathetic policies that are opposed to the egalitarian
principles enunciated by our Founding Fathers.
It does so by promoting profit making and “progress” in an oddly
retrogressive sense, and by discounting the general welfare and other
The fact that
accidents, diseases, bankruptcy and other adversities can afflict anyone at any
time suggests that the best system a society could establish would be one that
provides fair opportunities for every person to improve their circumstances,
while also creating a social safety net for everyone that is affordable in
total. Healthy societies should
establish effective incentives and disincentives to guide entrepreneurs and
businesses, and they should encourage them to operate successfully in ways that
are consistent with the common good.
In actual fact, Social Darwinism appeals to entrepreneurs and
industrialists and rich people because it gives a deterministic and seemingly
superior moral justification to the schemes of capitalists in their long-fought
struggle against fairness to workers.
Social Darwinism is used as an ideological argument to persuade
people of the desirability of laissez-faire policies and reduced regulation of
corporate entities. This ideology is
advocated in conjunction with traditional methods used by capitalists to
suppress the prerogatives of labor, which include the coercion of workers,
efforts to undermine the freedom of workers to organize and bargain
collectively, corrupt politics, the oppression of minorities and people in
lower classes, and even outright violence against workers.
We’ve had quite
enough of Wall Street financial elites and corporate CEOs who rig our economic
system to gain outlandish blessings for themselves at the expense of the
stability of the system and the greater good.
The costs of allowing this state of affairs are proving to be
excessively high. It has become starkly
apparent in recent years that weak economic and financial conditions can create
negative feedback loops that reinforce themselves and threaten to spiral into
even worse problems.
creates a risky state of affairs.
Volatile job markets and home values and equities markets and high
levels of national debt, along with a sustained non-productive cost of
wars-without-end, are all converging to cause increasing threats to our
national security and well-being. It
would be a better plan to ensure a sound economy with moderate levels of
consumption, slowly rising asset values, a balanced level of risk-taking and
reasonably limited debt leveraging than to stimulate boom-and-bust economic
bubbles, lavishly wasteful consumerism, unsustainable usages of resources,
poorly regulated risk-taking, high levels of leveraging and volatile asset
Many people might disagree with these
ideas. The novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, for instance, undertook a monumental
assault on what she saw as collectivist ideas in her novel Atlas
created a towering paean to individualism, rational self-interest and personal
freedom in this novel and other works, and she harshly portrayed forces like
government and organized labor that fight against the presumed deserving
triumph of industrialists and selfish motives.
Let us honestly debate ideas like these, and create a new approach that
incorporates our best understandings in light of the common good in the long
Parenthetically, Ayn Rand’s first name is pronounced
to rhyme with “mine”. This little known
fact is curiously appropriate because her philosophy was staunchly oriented
around selfishness and egoism. Mine,
mine, mine, chimed Ayn!
In the context of these deliberations, let
us seek the truth and implications contained in Senator Teddy Kennedy’s remarks
when he said:
by a liberal, they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind; someone who
welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions; someone who cares about the welfare
of the people, their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their
civil rights, their civil liberties;
someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicion
that grips us, if that is what they mean by a liberal, I am proud to be a
--- Senator Edward M. Kennedy, 1932 –
A Compelling Case for Better Ways of Achieving Peace
One of the subtexts of all Earth Manifesto writings is that a
stronger role for women would be a positive thing for our societies. Dee Dee
Myers, the White House press secretary for President Clinton from early 1993
until the end of 1994, advocated this idea in her book Why Women Should Rule the World.
She noted that women have stronger inclinations to cooperate and
seek a win/win consensus than men do, so in nations where women are educated
and empowered, democracy is stronger and those nations are characterized by a
greater cooperative spirit, and generally have fairer and more practical
priorities. Women in power tend to favor
spending on health, nutrition and education, and to be less eager to commit
excessive amounts of money to the military.
Dee Dee Myers writes that history reveals an increased
likelihood for a nation to get involved in wars when that nation spends heavily
on its military. She concludes from this fact that policies
oriented toward making more generous investments in the education and
empowerment of women would instead providentially provide a powerful impetus
for fewer wars. See A Peaceable Proposition: The Golden Rule ‘Greening’ of U.S. Foreign
Policy in the Earth Manifesto, and Reflections
on War – and Peace for deeper introspection into important ideas about this
Republicans are the party that says that government doesn’t work -- and then
--- Political satirist and writer P.J. O’Rourke
create some very odd alliances. Republicans were traditionally the party of
small government, but they have been the most ardent supporters of a large and
interventionist military and they have frequently championed the ideological
and practical goals of expanded corporate power and vested interest
privilege. The Republican Party
continues to affiliate itself with rigid religious fundamentalists who oppose
the rights of women to determine their own destinies when it comes to choosing
to use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted
diseases. And most conservative
Republican politicians indulge in red-button-social-issue politicking when they
almost unanimously align themselves with government intrusiveness in women’s
lives, as can be seen by their staunch opposition to Planned Parenthood clinics
and allowing women the last resort of choosing to have a safe abortion, even in
cases of rape or incest or a high risk of complications in a pregnancy that is
likely to kill the woman.
Why Are Our Public Decision-Making Processes So Messed Up?
Mark Twain once observed:
“In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in
almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination."
It is becoming increasingly
important for us to honestly examine our beliefs and the things we are told by
our leaders, and to make better public policy decisions in light of these
better understandings. We should base
our decisions on the broadest range of relevant facts and information, and on
fairer and more clearly established priorities. Unfortunately, our public
decision-making is powerfully affected by biases, selfish ideologies and the
undue influence of narrowly-focused vested interests.
Researchers have found that there
is an apparently genetic component to the way we see and feel the world. In a study done in Nebraska, a surprisingly
strong correlation was found between the degree a person is susceptible to
sudden noises or scary images and how strongly they hold political opinions. It turns out that conservatives tend to be
much more easily frightened than liberals.
This means that there may actually be a basic biological component of political beliefs. This is one reason that actuating people’s
fears is such an effective way to manipulate them.
This research was reported in the September 2008 issue of the prestigious journal Science, in an article titled “Political
Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits”. The researchers found a strong
correlation between political views and unconscious reactions to immediate threats. The subjects had been tested for
strongly-felt attitudes related to issues like foreign aid, military spending,
gun control, the death penalty, the Iraq war, warrantless searches, the Patriot
Act, torture of political prisoners, women’s rights, premarital sex, school
prayer, gay marriage and immigration policies.
The researchers explored this
so-called ’Startle Reflex” and found that people tend to react either strongly
or more calmly to a sudden threat. Watch
out! Those who had the most significant
physical reaction to stimuli tended to have conservative attitudes on political
issues, and those who had calmer responses tended to have liberal attitudes
toward these issues.
So people not only have rational
reasons for philosophical differences on issues and deeply ingrained
socially-conditioned biases, but even biological predispositions that affect
what they believe. When we recognize
this, we can see that it is important for us to communicate better and debate
more honestly, and be more willing to compromise on finding the best plans for
public policies. While it would be advantageous for us to reduce the
institutionalized bribery in our dysfunctional political system so that rich
people and lobbyists do not dominate it so excessively, we also need to find
ways to facilitate constructive public debate so that we can find the fairest
compromises between all competing interests.
To do so, we need to keep in mind the greater good, as it is most
reasonably assessed in light of the long-term best interests of society as a
whole. A focus on long-term goals is
sometimes even a good way to make better things happen in the short run.
How can we diffuse the hyper-partisanship that gives public
support to ideological arguments that affect our public policy making? Deep subtexts affect partisan conflicts, as
was evident in the absurdly preposterous ‘birther’ controversy that was
fomented against President Obama by the extreme conservative fringe. Those folks cultivated suspicions about
Barack Obama’s citizenship and rejected definitive proofs of it. This and many other facts make it clear how
difficult it will be to overcome deep biases, racism, economic fundamentalism
and radical anti-environmentalism in our society. By having constructive debate in our
communities and working together, and by marginalizing those with extreme
viewpoints, we could move forward together toward a rosier future.
A marvel-inducing conundrum confronts us with the rise of
Trumpism. Americans apparently don't
really want politicians who tell it like it is, they seem instead to want
politicians to “tell it like it isn't.”
During the run-up to the 2016 national elections, politicians have been
making promises that are bigger and bolder and less tethered to reality than
those of previous presidential races.
“Voters appear to want candidates who will deliver nothing short of
their wildest partisan dreams (and delusions), alongside the unconditional
silence and submission of their ideological adversaries.”
We are living in topsy-turvy times in which shrewd
politicians are channeling the anger and frustrations of disaffected people by
exploiting their increasingly desperate anxieties and the growing envy of the
Have Nots, while also obsequiously pandering to the increasingly passionate
jealousies of the Haves, in reaction.
These mega trends are playing out in a context of national
priorities that are excessively focused on contributing to increases in
inequalities and fomented discord and stoked passions and goaded anger and
trumped up feelings of frustration and disaffection.
Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump and
Ted Cruz, along with extreme conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and some Fox News
commentators have riled up people’s passions over religion and women's reproductive
prerogatives and the acceptance of gay men and lesbian women and other hot
button social issues, but let us not “take our eyes off the birdie”. Astonishingly better governance and
policy-making are achievable, and marching to the tune of bigots and
billionaires is not the right way to achieve these desirable goals.
John Steinbeck gave voice to downtrodden folks like
migrant farm workers who faced harsh conditions in a society without a social
safety net and the refugees who were forced to flee the Dust Bowl in the
Midwest during the hard times of the Great Depression. He saw clearly that dissatisfactions and
political unrest grow most riotously in the fertile soil of economic despair
and social upheaval. It was in such soil
that the fascist demagogue Adolph Hitler rose to power by exploiting the German
people’s feelings of humiliation and desperate struggle due to the hard times
that followed World War I and the harsh reparations imposed by the victors of
that war, which included a severe hyper-inflation that buffeted the Weimar
Republic as a consequence.
Today we should strive to improve conditions so that the
soil is prepared for a saner and more providential harvest, and we should avoid
sowing bitter seeds.
A French aristocrat
named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States for 9 months in
1831. After his return to France, he
wrote the renowned book, Democracy in
America, in which he provided insightful observations about our nation and
its politics, economy and people. One
idea he introduced was “self-interest rightly understood”. This concept is valuable in the world today
because of the seriously adverse consequences being suffered as a result of
misguided understandings of what actually constitutes true self-interest and
the common good. Ultimately, our prosperity must be consistent with basic human
values, and with an adequately protected environment and renewable resource
usages and a sustainable economy -- AND with a stable number of people on
Earth, rather than a rapidly increasing number.
Proponents of specific special interest groups focus intently on their
goals, so they are well organized to assert their power and exert powerful
pressure on politicians for special privileges and benefits. In contrast, common good interests are less
immediate and somewhat less tangible, so they generally do not have equally
strongly committed proponents. This is
why the priorities in our political system that are socially beneficial do not
receive the support they should. Tragic
assaults on the commons result, along with rapid resource depletion and the
unethical exploitation of government corruption and profligacy.
believe in economic fundamentalism, and others like those who formulate
policies in right-wing think tanks, tend to cloak their arguments in spurious
convictions about why courses of action are most desirable for the nation that
just happen to serve their own greedy interests and those of the cash-flush
constituencies that finance such propaganda.
The tickle-down theory that champions tax cuts to be given
overwhelmingly to rich people, for instance, is an example of narrow-minded and
often dangerous perspectives of such people.
Ideologies like this facilitate greed, selfishness, shortsighted politics,
partisan intransigence and wrong-headed ideological certitudes, all of which
can detrimentally affect our world.
It is sensational
how effectively the inertial forces of the status quo are subverting “change
you can believe in”. Wall Street bankers
have grabbed huge bailouts and obstructed meaningful reform of the banking
system; we have been unable to make our
system of taxation significantly more progressive; and the best ideas for really good healthcare
reform have been torpedoed, even though many millions of people are being made
less secure by these developments.
The need to get
Big Money out of the driver’s seat of our political system is becoming clearer
every day! And the challenges to this
goal have been dramatically ratcheted up by the narrow majority of
conservatives on the Supreme Court while Antonin was still alive, and by their
rulings that corporations and wealthy people should be allowed to spend
unlimited amounts on influencing elections.
“Free speech” for Americans is being dealt a blow in favor of ‘paid
speech’ by corporations. We really need
to reform our system, and do so boldly, and soon!
As the League of Women Voters succinctly states, “When
citizens are frozen out of the process, government doesn’t respond to our needs
-- it only serves special interests.”
The organization rightly recommends that we need to take our democracy
back from corporate and partisan interests.
was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it
was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of
incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was
the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us …”
--- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
lines by the famous British author Charles Dickens launched his tale of London
and Paris during a period of economic and social turmoil in England and France
in the latter half of the 18th century.
Taxes and war-engendered national debt were oppressive in France at that
time. This was the period of King Louis
XVI’s reign from 1774 to 1792, a time characterized by popular discontent and
political unrest that culminated in the French Revolution of 1789, a violent
upheaval of the people against the oppressive aristocracy. Charles Dickens concluded the opening
paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities,
quoted above, by noting that “… in short, the period was so far like the
present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being
received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison
only.” Today, such hyperbole lives on!
against tyranny and neglect of the common good contributed to the Revolutionary
War by colonials against British hegemony that began in 1776 and continued
until 1783. At a bleak point early in
that war, Thomas Paine, the English immigrant to the American colonies who had
become a passionate advocate for American independence, noted in a pamphlet
titled The American Crisis: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Today we are
living in another era with widespread economic, political and social
turmoil. Once again it seems like the
best of times and the worst of times.
And once again our souls are being figuratively tried. In addition to serious domestic problems,
there are many violent conflicts around the world, and poverty, hunger and
strife haunt societies worldwide.
The crisis today
involves impacts that are more intricately intertwined and global in scope than
ever before. Environmental side effects
of agricultural and industrial activities are growing more complex and more damaging
every year, and human activities are causing increasingly ominous changes in
the basic ecological and climatic conditions on Earth. All these conditions together are
contributing to dramatic social and geopolitical challenges around the globe.
social malaise provides us with a “dangerous opportunity” to reform our
econopolitical systems and to invest in a more positive future. In theory, the recent financial crisis should
have made it necessary to alter the absurd aspects of partisan politics. As playwright Tony Kushner wrote: “There are moments in history when the fabric
of everyday life unravels, and there is this unstable dynamism that allows for
incredible social change in short periods of time. People and the world they're living in can be
utterly transformed, either for the good or the bad, or some mixture of the
We should not
have let that crisis go to waste! We
should have taken advantage of the opportunity to transform our societies in
ways that are best for the common good in the long run. We should be more honest
with ourselves and embrace a new freethinking “Great Awakening” that is attuned
to accurate understandings and common sense and prudence -- AND to fairness to
future generations. This modern Great
Awakening should be far-seeing and ecologically smart, in contrast to
historical episodes of “awakenings” that were bizarrely obedient to blind faith
in religious myths and strictly fundamentalist interpretations of ancient “holy
acknowledge the strong connection between the unprecedented rapid growth in the
number of human beings on Earth and all the overarching problems that face
humanity, including human-caused climate disruptions, fresh water shortages,
deforestation, habitat destruction, wildlife decimation, resource depletion,
ocean acidification, poverty, inter-generational conflicts, violent wars,
injustice and terrorism. Let us accept
more responsibility for the future well-being of our species, including
environmental responsibility, fiscal responsibility, social responsibility and
kaleidoscope colorfully morphing from one configuration to another, the
relative equilibrium of our societies is being shattered by economic hard times
for millions of people. During this
unsettled interregnum, we have the great opportunity to create a more
sustainable and sensible future. We
should find better ways to prevent powerful vested interest groups from
hijacking our societies, as they have done during other crises. Naomi Klein writes about this tendency in her
valuable book, The Shock Doctrine: The
Rise of Disaster Capitalism. During
a crisis, we are more vulnerable to increased injustices and fraudulent forms
of profiteering and the imposition of harsh austerity measures and more authoritarian
forms of government. For this reason, we
should choose to use periods of radical upheaval to implement real reforms, and
not just yield to reactive and manipulative forces.
During times of
unrest and upheaval, whether personal or societal, it behooves us to learn the
larger lessons contained in the challenges and to make “the growth choice, not
the fear choice”. In this way, we can
take good advantage of adversity and improve our lives and future prospects. As our nation took desperate measures to
contain the economic contagion caused by the bursting of the engineered real
estate and equities bubbles, we should have realistically evaluated what has
taken place, and why. We should also
“think outside the box” for optimal solutions.
In addition to the ideas explored herein, I highly recommend a review of
the specific proposals in Common Sense Revival, or in Part Four of the Earth
Manifesto online, particularly One Dozen
Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies and the Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity.
Directions: Progressive, Not Regressive
interest groups that support the status quo are extraordinarily powerful, and
they are generally staunchly opposed to changes that would benefit the common
good. In 2008, the American people voted
for “change we can believe in”, and we really should seriously begin to make
fundamental changes that are needed in our government and business world. Our failure to do so is propelling powerful
efforts for revolutionary change like that advocated by Democratic presidential
candidate Bernie Sanders, and this failure is also giving negative impetus to
anti-establishment sentiment in the Republican presidential primaries in
2016. I feel strongly that stoking
partisan conflict is a much worse strategy than uniting and cooperating
together with fair-minded intention so that truly important goals can be
achieved. We should seek common ground
on what these goals should be, and on how best to accomplish them. Then we should commit our societies to act in
ways consistent with these goals to achieve them.
We should begin
to make the federal government a bit leaner, and stimulate the powerful engine
of small businesses to create jobs and drive us out of the current economic
morass. We should help finance
micro-loans to people and reduce interest rates on student loans, rather than
giving trillions of dollars in bailouts and cheap money to mega-banks. We should make health care a right for all
citizens, and apply smart and effective cost controls. And we should give much
greater respect to the sovereignty of other nations on the international stage,
seeking win-win solutions and acting as good neighbors rather than reckless
dramatically restructure subsidies and incentives to reward activities that
facilitate the common good, and discourage those that are
counterproductive. We should make our
societies fairer by making our graduated income tax system more progressive,
with higher marginal rates on the highest levels of income. We should advance a ‘green revolution’ in
several ways. We should decrease sales
taxes on high mileage vehicles, and increase them on SUVs and other vehicles
that get poor mileage. We should revise
property taxes, graduating them so that they are lower for small energy
efficient homes and higher for homes larger than 2,500 square feet. We should invest in greening the construction
of homes and businesses. We should boldly act to break free from our dependence
on polluting fossil fuels. We should
finance these energy initiatives by increasing gasoline taxes and by putting a
reasonable cost on carbon dioxide emissions, and we should begin to solve the
national security threats posed by global warming and climate change.
We should enact a
Bill of Rights for Future Generations, as was advocated by the great ecologist and explorer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves
Cousteau. We should use this Bill of
Rights as an overarching guide to help us determine how to live our lives
without harming the prospects of our descendants. We should, in summary, strive to make this a
better world with brighter prospects and greater cause for hope, rather than a
more unfair world with ever-worsening problems and ultimately unsustainable
courses of action.
But we are not
doing the right things. We have not
faced the need to reduce wasteful spending on the military. We have not cut misguided subsidies for the
oil, coal and nuclear industries. We have slid backwards instead of reforming
our political system to reduce institutional bribery and limit the excessive
influence of lobbyists for large corporations.
We are failing to change our political system to make opposition parties
constructive and to discourage extreme partisanship. We have been unable to take smart steps to
seriously reduce economic inequities.
Both Republicans and Democrats have indulged in the expediency of
deficit spending and helped radically ramp up the national debt. We could make the changes needed, but only
with bold and fair-minded action. NOW is
the time to start!
Propensities of an Explanatory Mind
It seems to me
that people have collectively been denying the proverbial elephant in the
room: that the majority of taxpayers
cannot afford to pay more to invest in national goods and future well-being,
and that government at both the federal and state level are in difficult
financial straits, and that we have already borrowed far too much money from
people in future generations. These are
facts that make it clear there is really only one good plan of action: to require profitable businesses and wealthy
people to pay higher amounts of tax.
Successful businesses and rich people must be obligated to contribute
more to the greater good. This should be
done on a progressive scale that is more steeply graduated for the highest
levels of income. And these solutions
should be put into effect in nations worldwide to prevent multinational
corporations and rich people from evading responsible roles in our societies.
It is in
everyone’s best interests to tap into the large source of funds of those who
can afford it. We could probably even
design some creative plan that would make it profitable in the long-term for
successful businesses and rich people to contribute to the greater good today because
they would ultimately benefit from better economic conditions and the more
propitious well-being of the people.
At the same time
that economic and ecological crises envelop our nation and the world,
innovations in communications like television, the Internet and social media
are having a profound influence on us.
These technologies give people extensive knowledge about trends,
circumstances, causes and the interrelatedness of economic activities and
social outcomes, and they also make us more acutely aware of inequities and
injustices. As a result, it is becoming
increasingly important for people everywhere to have clearer and more
comprehensive understandings of what constitutes the common good, and not to fall
hook, line and sinker for all the partisan spin and fear-mongering and stoked
anger that pervades the airwaves. And it
is vital that people become more aware of the whole --- AND to show more
consideration for it.
Good Cause for Hope: The
Positive Potentials for the Presidency of Barack Obama
People want to have hope. They
want to hope that their leaders will be honest and care about the common
good. They hope for a government that
protects them and invests in them, not a government that rips them off and
abandons them in favor of a privileged few.
They hope their own interests will be more fairly represented, and not
just the interests of bankers, CEOs, and the 2% of Americans who own 50% of the
wealth in the country.
We live in a society with short attention spans where sound bites and
“bumper sticker sentiments” and simplistic talking points are used to mold
public opinion. Right mindfulness
involves smarter and more expansive and inclusive ways of seeing things.
Think about the
competing mega-interests in every civilization.
It is desirable from the standpoint of the whole of society to have high
quality and affordable education, low unemployment, adequately protected
workers, young people who are brought up well, universal healthcare, a
reasonable modicum of retirement security, and a stable and healthy
environment. In contrast, from narrower points of view of businesses in which
profits are a primary priority, it is desirable to have higher unemployment and
thus conditions that favor lower wages, lower health care costs and smaller
employer contributions to workers’ retirement costs. Perhaps this is why statistics show there is
a higher rate of joblessness during Republican administrations than during
Democratic ones. Republicans are more
heavily oriented toward business interests, so they tend to be more adamantly
opposed to government initiatives that promote broadened opportunities and
advance the rights and prerogatives of workers and common good goals.
indicate that stock market returns have in general been higher under the
administrations of Democratic presidents than Republican ones. This is rather surprising because the
enactment of business-friendly policies would seem to be most likely to create
bigger profits and therefore higher investor returns and stock prices. This may prove that policies designed to
maximize benefits for a very small segment of the people actually turn out,
ironically, to be worse for society as a whole than policies that emphasize a
greater modicum of fairness to people in the working classes.
Conservative talk radio hosts and people in
right-wing think tanks confuse millions of Americans into believing spin that
basically asserts that regressive policies are better than progressive
ones. It is amazing that “conservative”
propagandists have managed to create so much fear and distrust of tax-and-spend
policies, yet when they had domineering federal power, they implemented
policies that were fiscally irresponsible by borrowing heavily to finance
high-end tax cuts and significant increases in spending. They managed to convince many Americans that
job creation is better under Republicans than Democrats (the opposite is
historically true), and that stock market averages do better under Republican
administrations than Democrat ones (again, the opposite is true).
Facts and distortions of facts are used
manipulatively by partisans of every stripe.
In the face of such a barrage of obfuscation, we need to understand the
greater truth of the matter to achieve better outcomes. And the truth is that the policies of the
radical right have seriously harmed our nation so far this century.
I expressed the conviction several years
ago that we should all hope that Barack Obama SUCCEEDS in making our country
fairer, and not that he fails like the obstructionist naysayers of the radical
right “hope”. Consider the treachery of
that sabotage! First, this crowd
contributed both intentionally and inadvertently to the engineering of an
economic disaster through fiscally irresponsible tax cutting combined with rash
increases in government spending, and then when they dominated Congress, they
passed devious laws like a new Prescription Drug entitlement designed in ways
that would increase profits for big drug companies at the public expense. They also irresponsibly championed
trickle-down economics and the deregulation of banks, and helped inflate
speculative bubbles in real estate and financial derivatives. Then, in the throes of the ensuing economic
hard times, they stubbornly refused to go along with most needed remedial
Like an old scratched record album, they
claim over and over and over again, in a tired refrain, that the only way to
solve any problem is to cut taxes further.
In the small print, these tax cuts are always designed to primarily
benefit big corporations and wealthy people.
The radical right often denies scientific
understandings, so they no doubt give little credence to the incisive insight
of Albert Einstein, who defined INSANITY as “doing the same thing over and over
again and expecting different results.”
It is high time to try new approaches!
A Sensational Perspective on
Common Sense for the Common Good
Katie Herzog has written a
fascinating article titled Meet the presidential candidate who makes Bernie
Sanders look conservative. Listen in:
Jill Stein is a Green Party candidate for president, and
she was the winner of the 2012 Green Party nomination.
But if Sanders is too radical for the establishment, Stein
is vastly more so. She not only promises to cancel all student debt, she says
she would guarantee access to food, water, housing, and utilities; establish a
single-payer healthcare system; set a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage; end
police brutality, mass incarceration, and institutional racism; protect women’s
reproductive rights; end discrimination against LGBTQ people; create a path to
citizenship; and replace drug prohibition with harm reduction.
Her plan to address climate change is even more ambitious.
“What I’ve been calling for is declaring a national emergency,” she says. “We
did it after Pearl Harbor, and it’s not just one harbor being destroyed, it’s
all harbors, all coastlines, most population centers. We think we have a
migrant crisis right now? It’s peanuts compared to what we’re looking at, with
100 million refugees or more. And that’s just beginning.”
Stein is calling for a transition to 100 percent clean
energy in 15 years, and the creation of 20 million full-time, living-wage jobs
in renewable energy and infrastructure, a sort of green New Deal. She also
calls for an immediate ban on all new fossil fuel exploration and construction
of fossil fuel infrastructure. “It all grinds to a halt on the day that we are
elected,” she says.
Ending our reliance on fossil fuels won’t just address
climate change, Stein says, it’ll also end our need to engage in overseas wars
over oil. And that’s how she’ll pay for all this, says the candidate — by
cutting the military’s budget in half. “Right now we have 1,000 military bases
in 100 countries around the world,” Stein says. “We’re the only country that
does this, and it’s largely safeguarding oil supplies and routes of
transportation. We’ll no longer need it! Instead, we put our dollars back into
true security here at home.” Stein is slightly off about the statistics: We actually
have about 800 military bases in about 80 countries around the world. But
she is right that no other country does this, and it’s hard to imagine
anyone trying to establish a base on U.S. soil.
Most of what Stein says makes sense. And that’s maybe the craziest thing about
Jill Stein: Our most radical, leftist
candidate is also supremely rational.
When she says that if the federal government bailed out Wall Street, it
can bail out students, it’s not hard to see the logic. Sanders says the same thing. And is it really that radical for every
person to have food and clean water? To
end police brutality and discrimination?
To do something about climate change before it’s too late? These ideas aren’t -- or shouldn’t be --
revolutionary: They’re common sense.
Should We Be Radically
Cutting the Size of Government?
Most Republicans still march to the beat of
discredited voices that say we must shrink the size of government until it can
be figuratively drowned in a bathtub.
Their actions have ironically resulted in the necessity for the federal
government to take a much more active role during the 2008 economic crisis by
nationalizing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and bailing out the giant insurer AIG
and the auto industry and numerous banks.
The financial crisis also made it all but mandatory for the government
to increase already high levels of deficit spending to prevent the economy from
sliding into a depression. And yet,
Republican politicians still strive to obstruct solutions and perpetuate policies
that got us into these problems.
Good God, politics! The deep hole dug for our nation by
irresponsible politicians is proving to be extremely difficult to get ourselves
out of, and the failure to take smarter steps to improve the economy is hurting
many millions of people.
Perhaps what we really need is a Twelve
Step Program to help heal our political class.
Here is my proposed 12-Step Recovery Program
for Repenting Politicians. Note that I have personally never had the
behavioral need or biochemical dependency to participate in a 12-Step program,
but they all operate on similar principles as those put forth by Alcoholics
Anonymous, so that template has been adopted and adapted for the purposes of
this proposed addiction intervention program. Here it is.
Twelve-Step Program for Repenting Politicians
We admit that our lives have
become unmanageable due to our obsession with power and money and political
We have come to believe that a
Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, and that this power is
represented by the best interests of We the People rather than the
narrow interests of the wealthy few.
We make a conscious and
conscientious decision to turn our will and our lives over to the will of an
enlightened electorate and their understandings of inclusive national
We make a searching and
fearless moral inventory of ourselves, and are honest about the influences that
have driven us to pander so exclusively to entrenched interest groups.
We admit to God, to ourselves,
and to the American public the exact nature of our wrongs.
We are entirely ready to have
God remove all these defects of character, and if God does not see fit to
intervene to do so, we trust sensible voters to hear these truths and to
choose commendable champions of the greater good to represent the best
interests of the largest number of people over the longest period of time.
We humbly ask God to remove our
weaknesses and shortcomings, and pledge to make committed efforts to achieve
this goal with the help of family and friends and all people in our
We will make an honest and
inclusive list of all persons that our actions have harmed, and become willing
to make amends to them all.
We commit to making direct
amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them
or others, and we embrace Golden Rule reciprocity principles as an overarching
arbiter of the propriety of these amends.
We continue to take personal
inventory, and when we are wrong, we will promptly admit it.
We seek through prayer and
meditation and a sense of enlightened mindfulness an improved awareness of big
picture perspectives and proper priorities for the common good, and
so state unequivocally our desire to work to improve our knowledge of
God's will and the people's true needs and the best avenues to a healthy and
sustainable future, and we hope fervently that we will have the power to
achieve this noble conception.
Having had a spiritual
awakening as a result of these steps, we strive
to carry this message to other politicians and to the people, and we affirm our
commitment to practicing these principles in all areas of our lives.
To Bailout or Not to
Bailout, That is the Question
Some people say
that we should let businesses go into bankruptcy when they falter. Others say that when corporations become too
big to fail, we must bail them out to prevent economic disaster. Very good arguments can be made on both sides
of this question. Bankruptcy proceedings
allow corporations to reorganize in such a way that costs are reduced and
workers as well as CEOs, top managers, suppliers and lenders are all forced to
compromise to save the organization. If
successful, reorganizations like this allow a business to survive and emerge
from bankruptcy as a healthier and more competitive entity. On the other hand, when the government bails
businesses out, it allows the persistence of excesses, inefficiencies, waste,
egregious CEO and management bonuses, and wages and benefits for workers that
may not be justified by profits earned.
Such bailouts are generally done at the expense of taxpayers and future
generations, so they are distinctly unfair.
The danger of NOT committing to bailouts of banks and mortgage giants
like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and insurers like AIG, is that such failure to
act could lead to a ripple effect that would cause a financial and economic
should set up our economy in such ways that giant corporations are not allowed
to grow to such a size that they become too big to fail. Trust-busting was a powerful movement during
the Progressive Era a century ago, when three U.S. Presidents -- William
McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft -- acted to break up
powerful monopolies that exerted too much power. Maybe we need to once again break up big
businesses that have grown too powerful, and act to give small businesses a
greater chance to succeed.
Ben Bernanke, the
Chairman of the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014, declared during the
financial crisis: “I want to be very,
very clear: too big to fail is one of the biggest problems we face in this
country, and we must take action to eliminate too big to fail.” Let’s do this, Congress, and not just talk
about it! We should at least once again
implement sensible regulation of banks by reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act
that kept depository banking separate from investment banking. And we should create laws that regulate
financial instruments like mortgage-backed securities and derivatives like
credit default swaps. See the essay Existence, Economics and Ecological
Intelligence for further insight into economic issues like this.
Confidence in a Fairer and More Propitious Economy
Franklin Roosevelt gave his first inaugural address during the depths of the Depression
in January 1933. In that speech, he asserted
his firm belief that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Interesting call, Mr. Roosevelt! There are surely valid things to fear, yet
it’s also true that in a market economy it is fundamentally important for
people to have CONFIDENCE in the system to assure available credit, free trade,
reasonable security and good prospects for the creation of both jobs and
wealth. Market participants need to be able
to trust in the legal tender of money and in the adequate availability of
credit; they must believe that
unfettered supply and demand mechanisms work;
and they need to feel assured that the marketplace will be managed well
by state and federal governments to insure free exchange while simultaneously
protecting people against monopoly abuses, fraud, misinformation, dangerous
products, unsafe workplaces, unfair labor and trade practices, and
Of course we need to have confidence in
sound policies and institutions, and not in having delusions about failed
policies and corrupt institutions.
Overconfidence contributed to every Ponzi scheme in history, so we
surely need to have confidence in good ideas, not in dangerously unsound ones. Confidence in a system that is inevitably
unsustainable may be beneficial to the perpetuation of the corrupt system for a
while longer, but ultimately we need confidence in a different way of doing
things, one that IS sustainable. A solid
foundation is needed for a lasting structure, not shoddy construction and
smoke-and-mirrors illusions or house-of-cards construction techniques.
Confident Attitudes vs.
There is an unfavorable tendency for
special interest groups to employ “confidence tricks” to make gains and exploit
advantages at the public expense. This
is very different from the real confidence we need, so it is no wonder that
such scams inspire uneasiness. Nobel-laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz writes
about the government banking bailout, saying that the Bush administration
“talked about confidence building, but what it delivered was actually a
confidence trick. If the administration
had really wanted to restore confidence in the financial system, it would have
begun by addressing the underlying problems -- the flawed incentive structures
and the inadequate regulatory system.”
The repeal of the Depression-era Glass
Steagall Act in 1999 was foolhardy, as was the passage of the Commodity Futures
Modernization Act in the year 2000 that prevented regulation of all manner of
banking derivatives and mortgage securities shenanigans that contributed to
causing the “Great Recession” that began in 2008. Let’s reform these laws! (“Yes, we can!”)
It was no big surprise that the
Governmental Accounting Office reported in December 2008 that the Treasury
Department was implementing the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan without
adequate oversight or transparency or accountability to taxpayers. This is one more piece of evidence that grave
damage can be done by leaders who are ideologically dogmatic, intellectually
incurious, dishonest or overly influenced by vested interest lobbying. The right wing in politics, in particular,
has shown how selfishly greed-driven, obstructionist and retributive its
motives can be.
“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run
by smart people who are putting us on, or
imbeciles who really mean it.”
--- Mark Twain
Almost no one predicted
back in January 2000 how detrimental Republican rule would be in the subsequent
8 years for the American people and others in the world -- either in terms of
economic outcomes or of negative social impacts, or of environmental harms, or
of the hopes for peaceful coexistence in our relations with other nations. When the stock market hit its bottom in early
2009, gloom and doom attitudes of investors coincided with people’s fears and
angst about the economic prospects we face.
Now, more than seven years later, the banking system has been returned
to profitability and the stock market is near record highs, but life is still
exceedingly difficult for many millions of people.
Conservatives today criticize more liberal
leadership now that a progressive President is in power. This is understandable; it’s politics, after all. But it’s also quite ironic that Republicans
have been impeding almost every Democratic initiative to improve conditions for
the masses. The need is growing for us
to support smarter and more effective and fair-minded initiatives and
We need to give more power to the people by
finding ways to reduce the domination of our politics by narrowly-focused
corporations, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon
rulings on corporate “free speech”. We
should also recognize when individually rational decisions are leading to
collectively irrational ones in our capitalist economic system, and accordingly
formulate ‘rainy day’ plans to prevent systemic failures. And knowing our human natures and natural
propensities better, we should strive to live healthier lives and embrace saner
priorities and broader, more honest worldviews.
If we cannot live with greater ‘voluntary simplicity’, we should at
least “live large” in ways that reduce our depletionary demands on Earth’s
resources and our harmful impacts on our home planet’s ecosystems.
Observations in the Age
of Reason: Fulfilling Our Needs without Destroying the Earth
In conclusion, we need to rethink what is
right and proper. We should reassess
what is best for our society as a whole.
Reason, common sense and wisdom should guide us. There will always be big differences of
opinions, and plenty of uncertainties,
so we need to seek guidance from the most knowledgeable experts and the wisest
leaders and philosophers among us, and be familiar with the lessons of
carved in stone in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at
Delphi in ancient Greece offered good advice: “Know Thyself” and “Nothing in
Excess”. These principles are important
for us as individuals, and they are even more important for us
collectively. A better understanding of
human nature and ourselves could help guide us in re-designing our public
policies and laws and social institutions.
It is valuable to clearly recognize our needs and our wants, our virtues
and vices, our strengths and weaknesses, our emotional insecurities and
compensatory behaviors, our motives and consumer psychology, our susceptibility
to greed and speculative excesses, our drives to manipulate and control other
people, our compulsions to be right, our tendencies toward either ‘Tough Love’
or compassionate generosity, and our practically innate propensities toward
either conservative strictness or liberal permissiveness.
not only the most difficult thing to know oneself, but the most inconvenient.”
--- Josh Billings
basic wants and needs, as summarized by the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow
in his “hierarchy of needs” pyramid. We
have basic physiological needs for oxygen to breathe, water to drink, food to
eat, and clothing and shelter to protect us.
Beyond these basic needs, we have the desire for a more secure
existence. We also have outer-directed
impulses to belong, to be accepted, to be liked and to be respected. We yearn to feel competent and gain status,
and to have a good sense of self-esteem.
Above these needs in Maslow’s hierarchy are inner-directed needs,
like the desire to learn, to explore, to satisfy creative impulses, to
appreciate aesthetics and to actualize inner drives. At the top of this pyramid, according to
Maslow, are drives to transcend selfishness and to be of service to others.
The maxim at Delphi, “Nothing in Excess,” has
a corollary. BALANCE is desirable in
almost all things. Balance is needed
between individualism and social responsibility, between national security and
citizen liberties, between thriftiness and generous spending, between
materialistic consumerism and sustainable consumption, and between excessive
regulation and inadequate regulation.
Businesses are by their nature short-term-oriented, so we need to
subject them to sensible regulation and oversight, and there should be a better
balance between laissez-faire activities and fair accountability. Government should be managed in better ways
that are more effective and more fiscally sound, so that devastating
boom-and-bust economic cycles are prevented and there are fewer economic
Wouldn’t it have
been better, in retrospect, if our leaders had promoted understandings that are
more enlightened? Wouldn’t it be better if we saw more holistic
understandings of the greater good, and worked together to make our societies
healthier and fairer and saner? Such
guidance could help unify us and heal our societies of the deep divisions that
occur between competing and conflicting interests.
right understanding of the common good is that it should include conditions in
which individuals are encouraged to flourish, and their potentialities are
fostered rather than being repressed.
There is much to do, so let’s get started!
When some of
these words were first being written early in the year 2010, a new year and a
new decade were upon us. The start of a
new year is always a good time for reflection and assessment, and maybe even a
resolution or two. A new year provides
us with a rich opportunity to acknowledge the passage of another part of our
lives, and it gives us a chance to step back, to assess, to acknowledge and
appreciate, and to honor the positive things in our lives. I have spent New Years’ Day many times on a
fork of the Mississippi River near its source, and the clear flowing water of
the river in its infinite babbling continuity has always been conducive to
seeing valuable lessons in life. Things
like these: Go with the flow. Make the best of whatever comes your
way. Be nimble and maintain a sense of
balance. Smile. Laugh.
Live and let live. Breathe deep,
and let go. Appreciate the beauty of
life and nature. Accept the ephemerality
of all things. Cultivate equanimity in
the face of adversities, and humbleness in the arms of success. Let the river figuratively run through you!
Much remains to
be done to re-focus our public policies on achieving common good goals. To create a society that has less stress,
less conflict and fewer inequities, fairer policies must be implemented, and
ones that are affordable and sustainable.
We need to have tax policies that are more progressive and opportunities
that are more fairly available. We need
better education and more affordable health care and a more just legal
system. And we must make a bigger commitment
to peaceful coexistence. The sun has
never shined on a cause of greater worth, as Thomas Paine liked to say!
We have it in
our power to figuratively begin the world over again. This is our rendezvous with destiny. Let’s do it right!
Remember the words of Dr. Seuss in his marvelous tale, The Lorax:
says the Once-ler,
"Now that you're here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
for your consideration of these ideas!
Tiffany B. Twain
March 21, 2016
(originally published in March 2010)
“If you don’t like the news, go out
and make some of your own.”
--- Wes ‘Scoop’ Nisker
Germinating Ideas Seeking Their Place in the Sun-
I read the news today, oh boy, and once again, it's
practically a mind-blowing doozy. Even
conservatives in Missouri look west to neighboring Kansas, where the folks
sometimes seem to be going crazy with political shenanigans that are truly
One odd thing about radical conservatives is that they
crow about freedom, but many of their contested ideas of freedom are
grotesquely contrary to real Golden Rule concepts of freedom, or true
fair-mindedness, or crucial precautionary principles. The insightful
linguist George Lakoff writes about the nature of contested ideas in his
provocative book Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most
Important Idea. This book is a somewhat
partisan reply to conservatives' repeated invocation of "freedom" to
justify their agenda.
It is valuable to give balanced consideration to all
opinions. The respectable linguist and
psychologist Steven Pinker has written an article delving into the perspectives
that George Lakoff provides to readers,
He criticizes Lakoff's analyses as a "cartoonish depiction of
progressives as saintly sophisticates and conservatives as evil morons",
and since truth generally lies somewhere between conflicting contentions, let's
just agree that more honest perspectives on unalienable rights and fair-minded
concepts of freedom are needed in our societies to ensure the broadest possible
constellation of personal liberties for the American people. Pinker’s astute summary is worth hearing:
Conceptual metaphor, according to Lakoff, shows that all
thought is based on unconscious physical metaphors, with beliefs determined by
the metaphors in which ideas are framed. Cognitive science has also shown
that thinking depends on emotion, and that a person's rationality is bounded by
limitations of attention and memory. Together these discoveries
undermine, in Lakoff's view, the Western ideal of conscious, universal, and
dispassionate reason based on logic, facts, and a fit to reality. Philosophy, then, is not an extended debate
about knowledge and ethics, it is a succession of metaphors: Descartes’
philosophy is based on the metaphor "knowing is seeing," Locke's on
"the mind is a container," Kant's on "morality is a strict father."
And political ideologies, too, cannot be understood in terms of assumptions or
values, but only as rival versions of the metaphor "society is a
family." The political right likens
society to a family ruled by authoritarian parenting, whereas the political
left prefers a family cared for with nurturant parenting.
Political debates, according to Lakoff, are contests
between metaphors. Citizens are not rational and pay no attention to
facts, except as they fit into frames that are "fixed in the neural
structures of their brains" by sheer repetition. In George W. Bush's
first term, for example, the president promised tax "relief," which
frames taxes as an affliction, the reliever as a hero, and anyone obstructing
him as a villain. The Democrats were foolish to offer their own version of
tax relief, which accepted the Republicans' framing; it was like asking people
not to think of an elephant. Instead, they should have re-framed taxes as
"membership fees" necessary to maintain the services and infrastructure
of the society to which they belong.
Lakoff says that American conservatism appeals to a
notion of freedom rooted in strict-father morality, but that this is a
hijacking of the traditional American concept, which is based on progressive
values of nurturance and empathy.
The left and the right are also divided by another
cognitive style: conservatives think in terms of direct causation, where a
person's actions have an immediate billiard-ball effect (people get fat because
they lack self-control), while progressives think in terms of systemic
causation, in which effects fall out of complex social, ecological, and
economic systems (people are fat because of an economic system that allows the
food industry to lobby against government regulation).
Thomas Frank writes provocative
books, so when I heard that he has a new book out in 2016, I became
intrigued. It is titled Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to
the Party of the People? I will eventually
read it, and record my impressions of his most convincing ideas.
Thomas Frank is the bestselling
author of the important book What's
the Matter With Kansas. His new book is advertised as “a scathing
look at the standard-bearers of liberal politics -- a book that asks: what's
the matter with Democrats?”. I want to
Paul Krugman wrote another thought-provoking titled
Trump Is No Accident. Hear his
The truth is that the road to Trumpism began long ago,
when movement conservatives -- ideological warriors of the right -- took
over the G.O.P. And it really was a complete
takeover. Nobody seeking a career within
the party dares to question any aspect of the dominating ideology, for fear of
facing not just primary challenges but excommunication.
You can see the continuing power of the orthodoxy in
the way all of the surviving contenders for the Republican nomination, Mr.
Trump included, have dutifully proposed huge tax cuts for the wealthy, even
though a large majority of voters, including many Republicans, want to see
taxes on the rich increased instead.
But how does a party in thrall to a basically unpopular
ideology -- or at any rate an ideology voters would dislike if they knew more
about it -- win elections? Obfuscation
helps. But demagogy and appeals to
tribalism help more. Racial dog whistles
and suggestions that Democrats are un-American if not active traitors aren’t
things that happen now and then, they’re an integral part of Republican
During the Obama years Republican leaders cranked the
volume on that strategy up to 11 (although it was pretty bad during the Clinton
years too.) Establishment Republicans
generally avoided saying in so many words that the president was a Kenyan
Islamic atheist socialist friend of terrorists -- although as the quote from
Mr. Rubio shows, they came pretty close -- but they tacitly encouraged those
who did, and accepted their endorsements.
And now they’re paying the price.
For the underlying assumption behind the establishment
strategy was that voters could be fooled again and again: persuaded to vote
Republican out of rage against Those People, then ignored after the election
while the party pursued its true, plutocrat-friendly priorities. Now comes Mr. Trump, turning the dog whistles
into fully audible shouting, and telling the base that it can have the bait
without the switch. And the
establishment is being destroyed by the monster it created.