Tonight I was watching “Fiddler on the Roof”, the movie. This movie, along with many others, as well as many written works, both fiction and non, has helped shaped my view of our world.
As I was watching I was recalling many lessons of history that I have learned over the the years.
History has provided so many lessons for mankind…yet we seem oblivious to those lessons, regardless of what source from which they emerge. From the late 1980’s and the events we saw in the Eastern Europe to the various issues arising in various sections of the Middle East. Not to forget the struggles in the Czech Republic or South Africa…or many other nations in between.
In addition to history that is more removed, such as the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia or the French revolution or even our own revolution against Great Britain….not to forget our nations Civil war.
The last few weeks has provided us with an amazing opportunity. WE actually WATCHED, live, on TV and the internet, HISTORY in the making, in Egypt. BUT how many of us will actually LEARN anything from what we saw and blogged about?
WHEN systems (any system …for that matter) FAILS to recognize the NEED of people…it fails. NO man made ideology is perfect. HOWEVER, if MOST people are not benefiting from the IDEALS espoused by ANY ideology, I think it is safe to say that the ideals behind that concept are failing the PEOPLE. THUS the ideology may be flawed, because it fails to understand human failings.
Egypt provided US with a modern day example of what goes wrong when ideologies collide. Egypt was under the rule of a totalitarian regime. This ruling system WAS what was REALLY wrong with their system of governance. THIS corrupt despot ruled with an iron hand BOTH politically and ECONOMICALLY. THUS the economic system, which was MORE capitalistic THAN socialistic, WASN’T the problem…but rather the SYSTEM that controlled the economic system was the problem. AS too many of the people of the nation, were left wanting for basic necessities and hope for their own economic futures. People will put up with a LOT, if they have food in their bellies and opportunity to change their lot in life.
Human beings are NOT perfect. THUS any ideas that man devises will have flaws. NOTHING man creates will be perfect and thus many will learn how to use any system DEVELOPED by man to bastardize it for their own self interest. THIS is both an economic problem and a social governance problem.
With that said, there is a difference between a ruling system of governance and an economic system of allocating resources. SADLY the two concepts have been conflated. TOO many people, ESPECIALLY in the UNITED STATES, don’t recognize the difference between economic systems and ruling systems. HENCE the confusion between a republican style democracy and capitalism…vs a totalitarian system of governance and socialist economic ideals.
ERGO, understanding the difference between economic concepts and RULING concepts is essential to any political conversation. Not to forget to mention, the two concept often intertwine.
SO, I suggest that ANY system (economic or political) that professes to extol the virtues of selfishness or self centered behavior is inherently destined to failure. AT the same time, I suggest, that any system(economic or political) that pretends to extol the virtues of ALL man’s good features and good will toward one another, IS ALSO destined to failure. In addition, I, also suggest ANY system controlled by an elite economic CLASS or power hungry entity is equally doomed, in the long run. In addition, I suggest that any system ruled by the LEAST able (intellectually) is not a good idea, either.
WHAT we need to develop ARE systems (both politically and ECONOMICALLY) that espouse EQUILIBRIUM. Like a teeter totter, both aspects of mans GOOD points and man’s bad points…need to be even, in order for BOTH sides to be able to remain equal. IF one side is stronger than the other…one side falls and the other side rises. I suggest, that economically, socially, culturally , intellectually ALL of those concepts MUST be balanced for any society to truly thrive.
Whether it be economics, social issues, cultural issues, politics, relationships or what have you….balance is the key. Somewhere along the line WE (human beings) have lost this basic concept and have drifted to much to ONE idea or the other, on various issues. WE live in a ‘black and white’ society, and have forgotten that there are many shades of gray ON ALL issues.
WE can’t have a really stable and thriving society IF those who control all the wealth dictate all social concepts and ideas. At the same time, it is not necessarily TRUE that those with the most wealth have the most intellect or moral compass. TO think so, is utterly without understanding of human nature or history.
NOTHING in life is really so ‘black and white’, yet we pretend that it is. WHY?
Even the idea behind the American concept of democracy has been regulated to a ‘black or white’ concept. When in truth that as NOT what our founders had in mind. Our founders, wrong or right, never intended for the ‘least able’ among us to have much say in our systems. ( SAY goodnight Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman…those two were definitely NOT what our founders thought would ever have a ANY say in the leadership of this nation, sadly our current president wouldn’t be one of their choosing either).
When I say least able, they never intended for the most DIM WITTED to have power nor did they intend for those who they believed to be of the lower classes ( uneducated or poor) to have power either. They weren’t a fan of the monarchy (remember…monarchies gave power to those who were born into the ranks of power, merit wasn’t a consideration). THEY also weren’t fans of those who they believed were ‘lessor’ in their ability either. SO when we look at the founders we should be honest as to what they believed were appropriate leaders. I’m not saying I agree with their ideas, but I think we should be honest as to what they wanted for leaders of their concept.
WE should use their ideas as a stepping stone and continue evolving and creating new ideas off the old, that will HELP ALL of mankind and not just an elite few. Although, THEY didn’t see it at THE TIME….that doesn’t mean we should be mired in those concepts TODAY, when we have so much more information about so many more things. THEY didn’t have today’s understand of sociology, psychology, philosophy, macroeconomics, marketingfinance, global trade, etc…that WE have today!
With that in mind…I have to bring up an idea that really bothers me….
Many people get mad at me and argue with me, when I make the following statement…”BUSINESS exists to benefit mankind…MANKIND does NOT EXIST to benefit business.” In my mind, this simple concept seems to elude many in today’s society. ANY concept, ANY CONCEPT, devised by MAN, is supposed to benefit ALL MEN (I MEAN PEOPLE) . THAT means ALL men(ALL PEOPLE) and not just an elite (select) few. (IN THEORY ANYWAY)
AND when I say “ELITE” I am not limiting the concept of “elite” to only those who are economically elite, intellectually elite, manipulatively elite or powerfully elite. THE term “elite” can mean ANY who are in a position of authority or power of the masses.
Sadly, TOO many of the masses are confused by the concept of an “elite class”. Elite can mean many things…it can mean the intellectually elite, the economically elite ( the rich and powerful) the political elite.
I suggest in our current society that elite should be a term used exclusively for the economically advantaged; those who are born in to great wealth or those to whom great wealth has been gained…regardless of how it was attained. MY reasoning behind this concept IS that those with great wealth have great power in today’s society. HOWEVER, those with great intellect or education do not necessarily possess the same access to power. THUS wealth equals power in today’s world.
Unfortunately, there are many among us in society who don’t realize this difference and wrongly assume intellect and education are the same as economic power. These are the people who are most susceptible to propaganda that conflates the two concepts and are least likely to engage in intellectual pursuits, such as higher education.
SO here is my suggestion…let’s STOP centering on the ideas of the late 18th century, and rather LEARN for the history of that period, as well as the last 200 years and TRY to find NEW ideas that mesh with our current human situations. WE are in the 21st century after all and HAVE developed MANY news concepts over that time. ELECTRICITY, HORSELESS carriages…not to mention the INTERNET and MUCH MORE are NOW passe in today’s world. DIVORCE, bastard children, multi racial/cultural/religious families, sex without marriage and living in sin, in addition to same sex couples….ARE all the norm today.
LET US start looking at how we can IMPROVE the human situation for ALL peoples and end the class divisions. LET’S MOVE ON…we should be further in our development as human beings then we currently are…let’s move on from the arguments of the past.
WE owe our future generations a better future.
- The tyrant has gone. Now the real struggle begins for Egypt | Pankaj Mishra (guardian.co.uk)
- Egypt’s Warning: Are you listening? (chrismartenson.com)
Thank you to everyone who commented on my drunken 3:30 in the morning rant!
Everyone added such great comments which provided more food for thought!
Alas, since I misbehaved last night, I have much work to do today, and many papers to write…or I would have replied to everyone individually.
Have a great night everyone and hopefully I will catch everyone tomorrow!
Good post, Abby!
I like the distinction you make between economic systems and ruling systems.
Thank you again for the thought provoking perceptions.
You are dynamic!
The autocrats and kleptocrats have risen throughout history in times of great financial and political turmoil. They thrive in times of fear, uncertainty and succeed as long as there is a “them” to oppose
How many thriving nations are currently run by extreme right-wing governments?
Maybe Isreal? Russia? I stuggle to think of many more.
Whether autocratic or kleptocratic, all extreme right wing governments end. Either at the ballot box or more often on the battlefield.
How do we break that cycle? Or can we, given our very natures? I sure hope we figure it out.
Good post Abbyrose. I agree with a lot of what you say. The key word in your post is balance. Without balance, no system is sustainable. All we have to do is look around at the environmental destruction that has resulted in a system that rewards short term profit over long term survival to see how out of balance our system has become. You have to be willfully blind to not be alarmed at our current state of affairs. We are going to have to have backbones of steel to engage in the struggle for justice that is breaking out around the world. Those who have bought their way to the top of the heap will not relent without a fight.
A couple of quick points…
In any rational economics class, what is taught is “mixed economies,” that is, a bit of capitalism, a touch of socialism, and some raw libertarianism thrown in for spice.
Any time one thing overtakes the other, bad things happen.
Also, many mistake socialism for a political position (it has been used as such many times in the past) when, in reality, it is primarily an economic philosophy. Since economics cannot operate without a political component (same thing with capitalism), the two are often confused.
My take on socialism, or at least my brand of it, says that the commons we all depend on cannot be left to for-profit entities. That is a dangerous road. Government control of necessary things for survival is at least nominally accountable. Private ownership and management of public commons’ are accountable to no one in the end, just a Balance Sheet, of which there is no ability to take to court, or even argue with. Anything not a part of the commons should be left to regulated capitalism, with the regulations more stringent the more a business starts to affect larger and larger elements of society.
In that context, that sort of socialism could work in a monarchy, a democracy, a theocracy, or any other sort of government.
We see the world out of two lenses… one is political, and one is financial/economic, and because of our binary vision, the two are always mixed together and combined. It is difficult to unravel one from the other, but we must.
PocketWatch – I really like your resurrection of the “Commons”. It was a principle from the ’70s that gained much ground until Reagan placed rampant and unfettered individualism as the new holy grail. Americans who have any world history background know that one of the massive changes in Europe was the Enclosure movement that stole the Commons from the people to distribute to individuals. What we do not know is that America did the same. In Massachusetts in 1802 (a pivotal year in moving us from the entire notion of the common good to privatization) the commons were enclosed in almost every town. What we have left are the tiny parks we now CALL “commons” where you can’t walk on the grass or let your sheep graze.
The true “culture war” is about whether we have a common good with resources that need protecting or whether everything is for sale to the highest bidder. The other issues – sexual ones mostly – are the sleight-of-hand distractions from this much larger issue.
I’m not a socialist since for me it’s just another form of corporatism in which distant and usually ignorant people make “policy” directing the lives of those whom they do not know. I favor local – town, county, business, etc. – worker and community control, right down to ownership and management.
But that’s not true of all things. In terms of the commons I very much agree that social intervention is essential. Do we pillage Yosemite to benefit a single entity, whether it’s a traditional corporation or a worker owned one? No. So some measure of socialism is essential. The problem is always to work out what IS the common good? Water, clean air – we probably agree. Health care? Maybe. Land – well, which land? It will always be in a state of discussion and flux. That said, a robust democracy should keep the discussion flowing where in America we’ve once again slammed the door on the discussion itself.
When today’s GOP/TP control that discussion, we won’t have it. How it comes to pass that nobody in that segment of the population believes in the Commons just boggles my mind.
I really disliked much of the Lord of the Rings film triology, but the rape of the Shire was powerful. Only a ridiculously wonky person such as I would have loved it for the inclusion of historically-accurate technology (don’t blink – you’ll miss it) and the powerful depiction of the move from care for the common good to appropriation of the commons for power and gain. Tolkien’s imagery gave illumination in one fell swoop to what had taken centuries in Europe, and later the U.S. It was a powerful image indeed.
When the Tea Baggers demand “I want my country back” I am not without sympathy. But I want it back for us ALL, not just for those individuals. I want the security of the Commons to be a principle that is inviolate. I want Constitutional original intent on this issue since nowhere in that amazing document is there a single defense of private property. That is mentioned only in the “just compensation” principle under eminent domain articulated in the Fifth Amendment, and it’s not even in the Fourth. That’s it. No Constitutional guarantees to the superiority of property over people. None.
Case law? Colonial law protected private property but solely as a base for economic self sufficiency, NOT as a base for riches and accumulation. Colonial law protected the debtor from the creditor so that one’s tools of the trade could not be taken. Nineteenth-century law, however, changed that set of prinicples, and case law abounds with defenses of private property – predicated as far as one can tell on no Constitutional principle. Once that sort of issue arises in this Congress it will be remarkable if the “Constitutional references” demanded by the GOP don’t suddenly revert to CASE law rather than the Constitution per se. Oh – close enough, don’t worry, I hear Boehner rationalizing..
So yes, PW – bring back the issue of the Commons, let’s discuss for whom they exist, how we collectively deal with them, and how we protect them and ourselves against their predations by the rapacious “free market”. If we don’t, we should all be ready for that fat rendering plant sprouting up next door on what had been the library land and our parks turned into toxic waste dumps. At least that will happen so long as they’re “free enterprise” doncha know. The NEW enclosure movement is already underway. Stay tuned.
I say I’m a Socialist, but that’s for effect more than anything else, and to differentiate myself from languid Progressives and Liberals who really don’t know enough about economics, history, and the sweep of public opinion that oscillates back and forth over time.
I personally thnk that capitalism is fine, as long as it is balanced by the principles of the Commons I suggested above. Balance… The Constitution calls for political checks and balances, but the only thing I know that balances an economy is a mix of capitalism (to provide incentives to ‘progress’) and socialism (to protect the Commons from capitalism).
Of course, politics is tightly entwined with economics, since each society “decides” how that mix is enacted and used.
PW you hit on a very good point. How many Americans really view the wealth and resources of the nation as “theirs”? And if they did, would these ideas be easier to implement? Hmmmmmm
The problem is that capitalism has become the right to OWN people. I make furniture and I don’t understand the right to sell other people’s goods and labor. Especially in a third world world countries. I cannot compete with people who can live on 10 bucks a month. Ideally capitalism is the right to sell YOUR OWN GOODS AND SERVICES… that is where the disconnect happened. And the point of the government should be to provide the infrastructure to do so. BUT of course all the wrong people have power… and they are not going to give any to us!
tanya – I hand build furniture from reclaimed lumber, I recently concluded a conversation with a Chinese company who wanted to order one of my table to be shipped to Chine. The man told me it was for his personal use but in speaking to a friend who takes down barns he informed me that there were several barn deconstructers who were selling large quantities of barn materials to the Chinese. Impact on me? Cost of materials is edging up and supply is far less than it was six months ago. So they wanted one of my pieces, and probably others work, probably intent on taking them apart or at least to have a template. When I consider how much they pay for the materials, shipping, fabricating and then shipping completed pieces back to the states you know they have to be paying virtually nothing for labor. I can’t compete with that and I don’t know if they’ll be successful but the immediate impact to me back here is less profit today and the risk of seeing my pieces copied and then put out at prices here below mine. I don’t charge a lot for my work but I can feel the squeeze already. I think that’s why I’m such a focused person on buying locally or at worst nationally. I feel like we are losing ground every day.
You want to really feel robbed be a scientist like I was for over 20 years until I got sick with several world wide patents that you don’t get a dime from even though products made from the patents have made millions for the company.
That is so right. The Free Market notion that open borders and global business means everybody wins is a complete sham! It puts markets first and makes people their servants. The results speak for themselves. Whole states such as Michigan and Ohio plunged into gloom so that a few people make megabucks and move the global economy southward into South America and eastward into Asia. Where new consumers gobble up the goods that the Ohioans and Michiganers can no longer afford.
I think it’s a great thing that countries like Japan, and now China, have been able to raise themselves to our economic level through hard work and sacrifice. I hope the same for the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, etc. But there HAS to be a way to accomplish this without devastating entire regions of the U.S. If economics served mankind, and not the other way around, we’d find it.
I just plain love you abbyrose!
I agree that the problem is greed. I think that most Americans have come to realize this but many get confused by propaganda from the right that points fingers consistently at the government. I was also “amused” by some on the left chastising Obama for speaking to the COC. He articulated well I think, this basic tenet of fiduciary responsibility in this speech. He challenged them morally. Did anyone on either side of the political spectrum “hear” his words?
YES eileen – thank you for truly listening. It was that speech along with the State of the Union that did the remarkable work of laying out the conservative principles and then pulling them back to moral values and progressive policies. He was incredible!
Lots of good things to think about. The conflation of capitalism with democracy: even I have been guilty of that. The meme is so strong. Ayn Rand is the – ahem – “intellectual” background for that particular meme, I think. She stated bluntly that laissez faire capitalism was the only fair way to structure society. In other words, an economic system AS a political system. And my how the idea has caught on.
And the True Believers really seem to believe that such a system won’t obviously by gamed. You know the saying, “it takes money to make money”? Maybe that can be expanded. It takes money to make a LOT of money! It takes a LOT of money to game things your way. It takes a LOT of gaming things your way to make sure that OTHER people don’t make so much money that they stop needing you, or begin to challenge you. That’s the true face of “laissez faire” capitalism. It can’t be sustained. The “unseen hand” becomes invisible because it’s under the table.
Man always tries to oversimplify things and economic theories are part of that blind spot. The best economic system does not fall into a simply category like capitalism or socialism it’s far more complex than those labels can possibly describe. I have not yet conjured up my Utopian economic theory but I know it will be some hybrid that takes the best pieces of all systems where sustainability is the ultimate ideal.
Ironically the short definition of what our governmental system being a liberal representative democracy fits both the capitalist (liberty) and socialist (democracy) paradigms.
One thing is for sure, whatever the “system” ends up being, it will fail if it tries to operate in a vacuum. In other words, if it is a system of government that doesn’t take into account education, work, family life, etc.
One argument that it is hard to fault Rand-ian types for is that; if people are so corrupt to begin with that laissez faire capitalism will always be gamed by the ruthless, how can one argue for government as a watchdog when government officials are just as corruptible as the capitalists? In other words, you can’t NOT trust capitalism without NOT trusting people in general. So putting a government in charge merely moves the problem without solving it.
So we need to go deeper. We need to educate better. Ethics needs to be taught better. Behavior and communication and how to voice disagreement. Reverence for life and for Gaia. We can’t leave such moral education to ancient books and dogmatic religions. If we’re not making a point of teaching our children how to behave honorably, we certainly needn’t be shocked to see them grow up to abuse the positions of power they attain.
Excellent post Abby and I’ll have a better response when I read it with a full night of sleep I’m sure. But one thing did jump out at me I cannot agree with more.
Adam Smith recognized what should be obvious but is not for too many. The “greed is good” capitalists of today mock his work by not recognizing that he recognized that business’ only merit is to have a fiduciary responsibly to society not just to stock holders. I will not go deep into the flaws of Adam Smith’s ideas like the “invisible hand” but he was truly an Age of Enlightenment thinker who really did want his work to benefit society.
a long time ago you used to have to show that your business would benefit the public before you would be given a public charter. Problem is the Rockefellers pretty much took over the government at the turn of the last century (18-19) and removed all the laws that were meant to protect the public. The british government was quoted in a paper in 1908 as saying “the US government has begun to talk and act like standard oil”. the whole point of a “corporation” today is to shield a individual from liability. Is there anything less in the interest of the public good than NOT being responsible for your product?