Facing Three Great Divides, Part 2
Part two of a three part series
By: C. Norman Farley, PhD
I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom by gradual and silent enactments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CHANGE
We offered evidence in part one that crises and catastrophic events lead to “change.” Friedman, the disciple of the “free market” and deregulation, believed that leaders (economists and politicians) were “to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”
“Exploiting crisis and disaster has been the modus operandi of Milton Friedman’s movement from the very beginning – this fundamentalist form of Capitalism has always needed disaster to advance.”
AMERICA WAS BORN IN A CLIMATE OF “CRISIS”
The Declaration of Independence lists no less than 27 grievances which our founders interpreted as a crisis event. These events, imposed by the British, drove our founders to refuse to continue to pay homage (or taxes) to the British. Our founders had a keen understanding of both history and human nature. This is what led them to install in the Constitution a system of checks and balances. They installed a system of constitutional “regulations” not only to save the nation from future tyrants but also to save us from ourselves. We take freedom for granted – our founders didn’t. The checks and balances they installed were not abstract but very concrete. They understood the coercive political strategies which existed in the past and understood that more sophisticated ones would arise in the future. As 21st Century “global” citizens, living in a consumer/credit society, we must come to grips with the reality that the electronic age we inhabit is based on both people and money control. This adds up to the cold fact that “freedom” and a “free people”are at a most vulnerable moment in history. We are brought to this crossroad because of two catastrophic events – the rise of terrorism and the failure of our current economic system. There is a third factor which will be adressed in part three – demographic changes. As a result, the American population has overwhelmingly voted for “change.” We must, therefore, identify and consider the parameters of the coming “change.”
HUMAN NATURE AND FREEDOM
Two social philosophers dominated the 17th and 18th centuries. Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1670 and John Locke (1632 – 1704). Hobbes believed that ”the natural human state is a war of ‘every man against every man.’” He believed that people are self centered, and driven by a perpetual and restless desire for power. Thus without central government, life is simply grief. “Peace can only be maintained if every person agrees to give up the right to govern themselves and to give absolute power to an individual (or group) who will legislate peace and security using force if necessary. The populace must promise complete obedience in return for order and security.
In opposition to this view was the view of John Locke who saw a whole new dimension for humanity. He believed that
Human development is determined by education and social organization for good or evil. The purpose of government is to protect the ‘natural rights’ of life, liberty and property. “Citizens,” he believed, “have the natural right to rebel against a government which does not respect the rights of its citizens.
Both Hobbes and Locke had an inherent distrust of human nature. However, their approach was dramatically different. Hobbes depended on the Executive to keep order. He was most likely influenced by the “Divine Right of Kings.” The Monarch would attempt to do good for his subjects and the Magna Carta would protect them from arbitrary abuses of power.
Our Founders recognized the problem of human nature so they built the Constitution in such a way as to avoid a “Unitary Executive.”
As students of the Enlightenment, our founders were not interested in the philosophical system of Hobbes because it stressed the subjugation of rights; instead, they adopted the concepts of Locke which insisted on the protection of rights - individual rights. The Anti- Federalists (Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay) refused to endorse the Constitution without a specific Bill of Rights guaranteeing individual rights. Their reasoning was very simple – they did not trust Kings, Rulers, Potentates, Prelates or Presidents! “They wanted to guarantee freedom against a rapacious Congress or out of control Executive or against the people themselves, oppressing a minority.”
Furthermore, “The founders set out to prove that ordinary people could be entrusted with governing themselves in a state where no one could arbitrarily arrest them, lock them up or torture them.”
Jefferson especially feared a President who could sign treaties and make secret deals. He also feared a central bank. “The central bank is an institution of the most deadly hostility existing against the Principles and form of our Constitution. . . . If the American People allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the People of all their Property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered.” In a note to John Taylor he said, “. . . banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale."
The Founders, however, understood that checks and balances were only as reliable as the “character” of those who oversaw them. The bottom rung of their belief concerning human nature is that they saw “all people as corruptible and so set up the system to keep anyone from having unconfined powers.”
As students of the Enlightenment they believed that “reason” formed the intellectual bedrock for a successful republic and “character” was the only guarantee of its stability. It is clearly visible that, in the signing of the Declaration, they declared that “honor” was at the heart of the foundation of this nation. “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
INTEGRITY, THE BEDROCK OF BOTH CHARACTER AND ECONOMY
Max Weber, a German economist and Socialist wrote a series of essays in German in 1904-1905. He wrote
That Capitalism evolved when the Protestant ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work . . . developing their own enterprises and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. In other words, the Protestant ethic was a force behind an unplanned and uncoordinated mass action that influenced the development of Capitalism.
As a general rule those of religious devotion, especially Puritans, (Calvinists) rejected the pursuit of wealth. If this is true, then why is the Protestant ethic credited with the achievement of American prosperity? Weber argues it is because of “moral beliefs.” “He who kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He who murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.”
This is not a philosophy of greed, but instead fostered a government of industry based on morality which created virtue in its citizens. To bolster his theory Weber used Benjamin Franklin as an example of the spirit of capitalism.
The paymaster is lord of another man’s purse. He that is known to pay punctually and exactly to the time he promises, may, at any time and on any occasion, raise all the money his friends can spare. This is sometimes of great use after industry and frugality, nothing contributes more to the raising of a young man in the world that punctuality and justice in all his dealings; therefore never keep borrowed money an hour beyond the time you promised . . . The most trifling actions that affect a man’s credit are to be regarded. The sound of your hammer at five in the morning or eight at night, heard by a creditor, makes him easy six months longer: but if he sees you at a billiard table or hears your voice in the tavern when you should be at work, he sends for his money the next day
Weber might postulate that the sound of “empathy” would be heard best in frugality, punctual payment, diligent labor, justice in all ones dealings, and personal integrity. It is these virtues and disciplines which led to American prosperity. Thus, when our nation was established, the “common good” was dependant to” individual integrity.” Personal integrity is what constituted the genesis of the wealth of this nation and led to the reception of “poor fund” benefits. Weber might argue that
Empathy begins and ends with the development of a set of personal “moral” values. Furthermore, “The spirit of Capitalism was built on “economizing” . . . The individual engages in . . . economizing not only for the expediency of making a living, but in the expectation that such activity would test his inner resources and thus affirm his moral worth . . . His existence revolves around an objective concern outside himself . . .
The work ethic written about by Ben Franklin and discussed by Max Weber is what became known as the Protestant work ethic.
In part one of this series, I suggested that the character defects of greed and power and fraud are bringing this nation to its early demise and are largely the cause of the current economic tsunami. The greed has been sociopathic and the fraud predatory! The question which arises is – since our founders were aware of the defects in human nature how did they plan to deal with these human defects? James Madison writes in the Federalist papers (51) about the “imperfection of man.” “One will read in vain to find the chief author of the Constitution suggesting that faction, much less greed, could ever be eliminated.”
Thus the Constitution was developed to build a powerful government and was instructed by the “Bill of Rights” to defend our “individual” rights from oppressors both foreign and domestic. In order to preserve the Republic, the Representatives were to serve with integrity, honesty and honor as much as was possible with respect to human nature.
They understood that the underlying element of any contract is integrity and when it dies, the death of the contract is assured. Even the most casual observer now understands that “integrity and honor” lie dead in the marketplace.
We must also remind ourselves that the current economic crisis is bigger than 9-11, Katrina, Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of corporate and family suffering. George Lakoff, in his book The Political Mind, might refer to this as a “moral” disaster; if Lakoff didn’t, then I do.
Many sincere Christians refer to the moral issues presented by abortion and stem cell research as the sine qua non of all moral issues. Americans largely agree that” life” is a moral issue. There are many who believe, however, that the physical and emotional suffering caused by a broken economy constitutes a larger moral issue. It creates jobless fathers and mothers, homeless families and children, and emotional devestation to the yet unborn. Money robbed from the family by dishonest bankers who gambled with, and dishonestly leveraged money, has caused insufferable suffering. It inflicts physical, emotional and moral pain on families who have worked an entire lifetime to responsibly support their family, plan for their retirement, and hope to help their grandchildren, only to discover their 401(k) is now devastated, their stock account worthless, and in some cases, their entire bank account empty. These factors have caused irreversable physical and emotional damage to many families – including divorce. From abortion and stem cell loss people recover – from financial ruin many never recover – both are moral issues! The “frame” you look thru and the circumstances surrounding you determine which one is the greater.
To many, however, money surfaces as the larger moral issue because currently the national debt is $11,374,355,485,758.28. Every man, woman and child in the U.S. is $37.115.35 in debt – not including future projected programs such as clean energy, infrastructure, health care, education, future CDs – derivative failures, future bank failures and the repayment of Trillions in borrowed funds.
It’s time we grasped the emotionally intolerable fact that our debt will be essentially doubled and that the natural “rights” to “life, liberty and property” have been irrevocably fractured. Financial integrity and honor lie dead in the legislative halls and financial sectors of our nation. It would also do us well to “morally” ponder that this deadly debt is passed on from generation to generation – with interest added. In fact, this debt is being passed on to the yet unborn. You rank it on your morality scale. One writer puts it this way.
The crisis was a coup de grace: Given virtually free reign over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, and then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve.
Now “change” has been ordered by the populace and it will occur the same way as it did after 9-11 – abruptly! Friedman “estimated that a new administration has six to nine months in which to achieve major changes, if it does not seize the opportunity to act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity.”
This is the same “Friedman who dreamed of depatterning societies, of returning them to a state of pure capitalism, cleansed of all interruptions – government regulations, trade barriers and entrenched interests.”
As has been discussed, Friedman planned to institute change during a time of crisis – President Obama knows the drill and has clearly demonstrated during his first 100 days that he is capable of seizing the current moment of “economic shock” in Friedman fashion but with a Keynesian twist of “regulation” for the “common good.” He has presented the largest budget, social program and progressive vision ever proposed in American history.
Here are the hard, cold, financial facts. “The current National Debt is 11 trillion plus, 8.5 Trillon have been committed to bailouts and 3.6 Trillion is on the spending table.”
“President Barack Obama’s budget would produce 9.3 trillion in deficits over the next decade . . . it’s a prospect even the president’s own budget director called unsustainable. . . . Obama’s budget would generate deficits averaging almost $1 trillion a year of red ink over 2010-2019”
UNDERSTANDING THE PROGRESSIVE/LIBERAL MINDSET
We learned from Lakoff that “empathy, responsibility, protection and empowerment” are at the heart of Liberal political views.” These values represent the “frame” through which Progressives view the world and believe enables government to operate at its optimum. Lakoff further makes it emphatic that “empathy is at the center of the moral worldview.”
Put in practical language, “This, historically, is the moral basis of liberal governance – not justice, not equality, not rights, not diversity, not government, and not even prosperity or opportunity. Liberal governance is about demanding of citizens that they balance self-interests with common interest. . . . every leading Democrat became a Democrat because on some level she or he believes this, too.”
Balancing self-interest with the “common good” is seen as “empathy”. This invites us to discover if the characteristics of “empathy” are capable of accomplishing this task.
Empathy comes from the Greek word (empatheia) denoting “physical affection, passion, partiality and (pathos) meaning feeling. It denotes the capacity to share and understand another’s ‘state of mind’ or emotion.”
Lakoff would “frame” the fact that “empathy” is powerful and that many nations around the globe thrive on the “common good” with superior health and academic records to those in our nation. In his 2007 book, “The Ethics of Care and Empathy ,” however, Michael Slote introduces the theory of care-based ethics that is grounded in empathy. His basic claim is that
Moral motivation does, and should stem from a basis of empathetic response.” He further claims that “. . . our natural reaction to situations of moral significance are explained by empathy.” He observes however, “that the limits and obligations of empathy and in turn morality are natural.” But that these “natural obligations include a greater empathetic, and moral obligation to family and friends.
While Lakoff claims that ”the ethics of care” shapes the group - Slote claims empathy is best shared with those close to us – the facts are that society and the “common good” of society are at a distance from the individual. While it is philosophically interesting to believe that empathy should extend outward to society as a whole, the same as to family and friends, research does not support this hypothesis.
In an article entitled “Empathy” in the section titled “Empathy and the Process of Socialization” the following information surfaces.
Children are by nature relatively empathetic and they slowly loose their feelings of empathy . . . The socialization process . . . may lead to a drop of empathy . . . a factor that could be contributing to a drop in empathy is the general low value society places on feelings and emotions. . . The higher one goes in the formal education system the more emphasis is placed on the intellectual, cognitive brain, generally, this seems to be at the expense of the emotional brain.
The evidence for “empathy” being a high motivator for sociatal care in highly developed societies would appear to be a bit weak. Lakoff claims, however, that “Progressive thinking stresses interdependency and social responsibility alongside individual responsibility”
We must note that in Lakoff’s model of social responsibility, the “common good” and individual responsibility run parallel. The “common good,” therefore, implies a broader form of “collective responsibility” than was envisioned by our founders. History tells us that acts of “common good” and “empathy” have always been present in every society - including early America.
Throughout history all humans have faced unemployment, illness, disability, old age and finally death. In Medieval Europe, the feudal lords were responsible for the working serfs. In Europe, Guild members provided a range of financial benefits to its members. In 1601 the English developed the idea of “poor laws.” The state, it was decided, should provide for the poor. The system, however, made critical discrimination between the “deserving” and the “undeserving.” These “poor laws” followed the English Colonists to America where the English tradition of the “deserving” and “undeserving” was continued. In early America, generally speaking, the sick, disabled, or elderly were cared for by their families who lived on farms. Following the Civil war, the first “social security pension” was created for veterans of the war. Widows and orphans of the war could receive an amount equal to the amount which would be paid to the deceased veteran. The Agrarian age ended, and by 1930 56% of the population had moved to the cities. The urbanization of America was in full progress but so was the depression. “The crash of 1929 left” unemployment exceeding 25%: about 10,000 banks failed: the GNP declined by 50% . . . wages paid to workers declined from $50 billion in 1929 to only $30 billion in 1932.”
In 1934 there was a radical call for action. “The traditional sources of economic security: assets, labor, family, and charity, had all failed in one degree or another.”
Thus the Social Security program was instituted on June 8, 1934 when President Franklin Roosevelt announced his intention to begin a program of Social Security for which he issued an executive order. The Social Security Act was signed into law on August 14, 1935. The Democratic Party would point to this as an example of ballancing self-interest with “common good” interests. While this was without question an act of “empathy” for the “common good” it required personal responsibility and continual payment from each individual installed in the system. It is currently quite demonstratable that the spirit of “empathy” while it may still have some existence among the working class suffers in the ruling class of our nation. It suffers because the Social Security System instituted as an act of “empathy” is nearly bankrupt. It looks like “empathy” ended up in government greed. Furthermore our nation’s financial structure suffers among big Bankers, big Credit, big Insurance, big Pharma, big Stock Houses, big Oil, and big “Politicians.” In fact, “empathy” has largly made its exit from a narcissistic society bent on consumerism and credit. American families are nearly 3 Trillion dollars in credit card debt and the bankers love it. Recently Obama called to account credit card isuers. These included the Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, Chase & Co., Citibank, Wells Fargo, Capital One Financial Corp, Visa Inc, Master Card Inc. and American Express. “The credit card executives requested the White House meeting as they face outcries of anger from beleaguered cardholders and Congress”
The banking companies “exited the meeting without saying a word to waiting reporters . . . on the line for them is an estimated three trillion in annual credit and debit card transactions, plus billions more in late fees and other charges . . . card issuers won’t budge on any of this without a fight. Nor will they willingly soften practices that have proved to be surefire money-spinners in even the most recessionary times.”
The credit card and debit brokers contend that if punative action is taken against them, the “recovery” will take longer. The longer recovery takes – the less President Obama walks on water and the more the Conservatives rejoice. To reverse the trend established by Friedman “deregulation” legislation has been introduced by Timothy Geithner and Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) to “regulate” these out of control bankers. The average outstanding credit card debit for households that have a credit card is $10,679.00. The bill will prohibit double-cycle billing and retroactive rate hikes as well as the issuance of credit cards to those under 18.
We also learn that Social Security funds are rapidly being depleated and “Congressional committees are holding hearings on how the government can “tap” millions of 401-k retirement funds to stave off the Social Security’s system emerging insolvency crisis.”
The summation of the matter is simple – if “empathy” is the basis of “the moral world view” it no longer finds a home in the spirit of today’s capitalism. The primary reason for the election of a new Liberal government was not only to find a fix for the current financial mess but more importantly it was a moral uprising of the populace against the obvious greed, power and social narcissism. As a free people, we now understand that for the survival of the economy, “regulation” is needed. Because of human nature, free markets cannot and will not “regulate” themselves nor do they automatically return to “equilibrium.” The question which surfaces is how far does “regulation” for the “common good” extend before Democratic Socialism or Oligarchy becomes a reality. As citizens, we are all painfully aware that we live in a nation of the swinging pendulum. We have just come through a difficult period when the “Unitary Executive” functioned with a strong hand and the pendulum swung far “right.”
Shadia Drury in her book “Leo Strauss and the American Right” links the past administration to his political philosophy. “There is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior” and “Because mankind is intrinsicatly wicked, he has to be governed…such governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people.”
As Americans, what we hope to avoid is the pendulum swinging far “left” under the concept of “common good.” This is especially true because there is no political “middle” currently operable in the legislature.
THE GENESIS AND MEANING OF THE TERM “COMMON GOOD”
In the recent election the term “common good” became prominent and provided many votes for the Liberal ticket. It becomes important to understand the origin and implications of the concept “common good.”
The “common good” is a term with a long pedigree, running from Aristotle through the “Angelic Doctor,” St. Thomas Aquinas, to Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, which declared the “common good” the foundation of Catholic social thinking.
In their party platform preamble, (Progressive/Liberal/Democrats) they demand that ‘leaders abandon the politics of partisan division and find creative solutions to promote the common good.’
. . . The term, ‘the common good,’ is much maligned, in part because it is frequently used by people to rationalize and promote their special interests. Few would argue that the purpose of society and government is to achieve good, but the question remains: What kind of good? Individual, collective or common?
The Author of the above several quotes must have been gazing through the “moral” Catholic “frame” when he stated: “Few would argue that the purpose of society and government is to achieve good. . .”
Lakoff would argue that “morality” is the Progressive party’s primary responsibility. Marlin suggests that: “Democrats are disingenuously appealing to the “common good” to lull them into believing the party is in sync with their belief.”
We must, therefore, consider the differences between the “common good” of Catholic Social policy and the “common good” of the Democratic party platform.
In the economic realm, the average American is more familiar with Capitalism than “common good” politics. We understand such concepts as “the free market.” Adam Smith, in his book “The Wealth of Nations” (1776) sets forth the concept of a “fully competitive and entirely free market economy. He believed that “each citizen, though seeking his own gain, would be led by an ‘invisible hand to promote an end which was not part of his intention’, namely the prosperity of society.”
Smith believed that the “prosperity of society” would be the biggest benefit for the “common good.” The Catholic Church however, beginning in 1878, following the election of Leo XIII, has issued more than 250 encyclicals related to Social thought and Doctrine. No other government, political entity, or university has produced such a voluminous tradition of Social thought and Doctrine. For this reason, we need to examine the concept of “common good” in Catholic Social teaching. Pope Pius XI (1922 – 1939) was the first to speak of Social doctrine as a “unified body of teachings.” Catholic Social doctrine stresses the “common good.”
It is above all a question of interdependence, sensed as a system determining relationships in the contemporary world in its economic, cultural, political and religious elements, and accepted as a moral category. When interdependence becomes recognized in this way, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a ‘virtue’ is solidarity. This, then, is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortune of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good: this is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all. (paragraphs 38: 3-38.4)
“The Catholic Church, in its social teaching, explicitly rejects belief in the automatic beneficence of market forces.” They reject Adam Smith’s “fully competitive and entirely free market economy” and deregulation has proved them partially correct. They insist that the end result of market forces must be scrutinized, and, if necessary, corrected in the name of natural law, social justice, human rights, and the common good. “Democracy is not a self-sufficient moral system. Democracy, if it is to be healthy, requires more than universal suffrage: it requires the presence of a system of common values.”
We now gain the insight that “interdependence” and “common values” in the Catholic “frame” link both Moral and Social policy – in fact they are inexorably linked! Catholic Social policy is an outgrowth of Catholic Moral Theology. It is here where the Catholic concept of the “common good” and the “common good” of the Democratic platform both link and agree on “empathy” - but also disagree. The Church sees “interdependence” between economic, cultural, political, and religious elements. In the Catholic “frame” the “common good” links economic needs, cultural mores and security with religious dogma. The Democratic Party adheres to interdependence in the social rhelm but currently reject interdependence in the “moral dogma” category. Specifically, many in the Democratic Party reject making the anti- abortion, stem cell research, birth control and pro-life moral positions of the Church public policy. However, in Catholic theology, it is an all or nothing- black or white - because, Catholic Moral theology and Social policy stand as one unit -“solidarity.” This direction for the “common good” has been standard Catholic teaching for 130 years. Therefore, the linkage between Catholic social teaching and Democratic social policy is that they both strongly support social interdependence, empathy and the common good as the basis of social governance. The “moral dogma” differences show up in opposition to President Obama’s proposed visit to Notre Dame. Their Social affinity, however, clearly shows up in their mutual support of labor unions and workers rights for the “common good.”
The very first act of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice was to give its strong support for the pending legislation on the Employee Free Choice Act. This legislation is, we believe, strongly rooted in Catholic teaching that holds that unions are ‘indispensible’ for the “common good.” In 2007, a lead editorial in America stated that: The Employee Free Choice Act is the most important piece of labor legislation in the past 72 years. Both the spirit and the letter of this act strongly resonate with Catholic social teaching, from Rerum Novarum through Laborem Exercens. It deserves to be made the law of the land. (“Restoring Worker Choice,” Aug. 27 – Sept. 3, 2007, 5)
“If Democracy is not to become a democratic tyranny in which the majority opposes the minority, it is necessary for the public to have an understanding of the common good and the concepts that underly it.”
“Many insights of British political and constitutional theory have evolved along lines parallel to Catholic Social Teaching, and the interaction of these two bodies of political wisdom is stimulating and enriching for both of them.”
“All Catholics who engage in the political life of the nation are entitled to regard themselves as engaging in evangelisation, provided they do so in accordance with the principles of Catholic teaching.”
For practicing Catholics this is not only good politics but good Christianity. For American citizens who still regard the Constitution of the U.S. as a national treasure of individual fredom it brings into question “the Separation of Church and State,” “Freedom of Conscience” and “minority rights.”
We must allow that people of different persuasions see through different “frames” not only politically but also religiously. As we have previously noted, this nation was formed by the Constitution and the Protestant ethic. They chose to follow the model set by Roger Williams rather than John Cotton and the Puritans. As a result, they did not recognize the “political wisdom” of the church – but separated the “wisdom” of the church from the “wisdom” of the state.
We will examine more closely the Catholic concept of Subsidiary and Solidarity in Part Three when we will also deal with current demographic realities. A poll, however, conducted in 2006 by Financial Dynamics revealed a large shift in American thinking from Conservative to Progressive moral themes – “common good.” Voters have made it clear that they are becoming concerned about the rising materialism and American narcissism.
• 72 % of the voters believed America was becoming to materialistic.
• 68% of voters strongly agreed that the government should be committed to the ‘common good’ and put the public interest above the privileges of the few
• 73% of Democrats, 62% of Independents, 67% of Republicans strongly agreed with a common good focus for government. There was a large majority % who strongly agreed that the ‘government should uphold the basic decency and dignity of all and take greater steps to help the poor and disadvantaged in America”
Lakoff would cite these stastics as the reason for the re-emergence of the Progressive Party and its basic assumptions regarding “empathy.” The Democrats, of course, rightly claim that they support the “common good.” Now we must ask more questions. How “collective” will the “common good” become? Will it eventually override “individual rights,” negate minority rights, institute socialized medicine, socialized education, and nationalize banking in the name of the “common good”? In short, we all understand that the pendulum must swing; the question is - how far will it swing to the “Left”?
SOCIAL LIBERALISM, SOCIAL DEMOCRAY AND OLIGARCHY
At this juncture we must define several terms: Social Liberalism, Social Democracy and Oligarchy. There are basic ideological differences between them. First, there is a basic difference between Social Liberals and Social Democrats.
Social Liberals value liberty, rights, freedom, and private property as fundamental to individual happiness, and regard democracy as an instrument to maintain a society where each individual enjoys the greatest amount of liberty possible . . . Social Liberals tend to trust that individuals are usually capable in deciding their own affairs . . . Social Democracy has its roots in Socialism . . . and typically favors a more community based view. While Social Democrats also value individual liberty, they do not believe that real liberty can be achieved for the majority without transforming the nature of the state itself. Having rejected the revolutionary approach of Marxism and choosing to further their goal through the Democratic process, Social Democrats nevertheless retain a strong skepticism for Capitalism which they believe needs to be regulated or managed for the greater good. This focus on the greater good (common good) potentially, makes Social Democrats more ready to step in and steer society in a direction that is deemed to be more desirable.”
As the election statics have clearly demonstrated, there is a mood swing in America. There is a distinct shift from free market Capitalism, deregulation, and ‘yoyo’ politics (your on your own). Social Democrats claim that
. . . division, inequality, ruined public goods, weakened popular organization, constraints on Democracy itself. We need to counter that ‘Yoyo’ message at its core. We need to say clearly to all that ‘whether you like it or not, we’re in this together.’ . . . if we don’t hang together, we’re going to hang separately.
During the election we got a purist description of the “common good” from “The Nation.”
. . . common good but only if it means economic dignity and social justice and the ending of corruption and the special privileges that have allowed the very richest to amass great fortunes . . . Common good, if it means being a good neighbor to the world and a force for building common security and common prosperity . . . So, let us work together to build a real and renewed politics of the common good.
This is the “idealistic” definition of the “common good.” We are all bright enough to know that “corruption will not end” and that “common security” and “common prosperity” will move us in the direction of Globalism. We have already been informed that “common prosperity” includes a lower standard of living for the “common good.” This is, however, the definition voters received during the recent election. We are also all old enough to know that “idealism” has nothing to do with “pragmatism” so we are still left with the question “where will Democratic Socialism end us up?” Will we have dispensed with a “Unitary Executive” only to elect a government who, in the name of “economic recovery,” has the goal of an unprecedented shift of power to politicians, big government, and big banks in the name of “common good”?
While most Americans are focusing on Socialism there is another not so well know form of government which needs to be understood - it is called Oligarchy. “An Oligarchy (Greek Ὀλιγαρχία, Oligarkhía) is a form of government where power effectivly rests with a small elite segment of society. . .”
In the early 1900’s Progressives couldn’t wait to get into power and legislate the exciting new ideas that would reform the creaking politics of the 19th century. In 1933 liberals couldn’t wait to get into power and legislate landmark legislation to improve the lives of workers and old people. In the 1960’s liberals couldn’t wait to legislate a civil rights revolution and put the findings of social science to work in helping the poor.
Right or wrong, the age of liberal idealism is over. We live today in a different era. As the American Philosopher George Maroutsos puts it: If you have power and you haven’t abused it you don’t have power. . . It takes an oligarchic sense of entitlement - - almost like a bailed-out banker -- to come into power and immediately give yourself and your supporters a trillion dollar stimulus bonus before you have achieved anything for the American people.
Could it be possible that we have merely switched from a “Unitary Executive” to an elitist group of politicians and bankers who are becoming the new “Unitary Empathetic” rulers of “We the people?”
RENEWING THE AMERICAN DREAM - THE DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM
The Democratic National Platform laid out its agenda to “Renew America’s Promise.” Here, in part, is the platform as expressed at the Democratic Convention.
Jumpstart the economy and provide middle class Americans immediate relief.
I. Renewing the American Dream
Empowering Families for a New Era
• Affordable, Quality Health Care Coverage for All Americans.
• Good Jobs with Good Pay. (Utilizes the barganing power of the labor union)
• A World Class Education for Every Child
• New American Energy.
• Creating New Jobs by Rebuilding American Infrastructure
• Support for Small Business and Entrepreneurship
• Restoring Fairness to our Tax Code.
• Reforming Financial Regulation and Corporate Governance
• Fiscal Responsibility
II. Renewing American Leadership
• Ending the War in Iraq.
• Defeating Al Qaeda and Combating Terrorism
• Win in Afghanistan.
Preventing the Spread and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction
• A World Without Nuclear Weapons.
Advancing Democracy, Development, and Respect for Human Rights
• Global Health
III. Renewing the American Community
• Stewardship of our Planet and Natural Resources
IV. Renewing American Democracy
• Open, Accountable and Ethical Government
• Reclaiming Our Constitution and Our Liberties
• Invest in Social Innovation and Ideas that Work
These constitute about ¼ of the platform.
We must note in passing that a part of the Democratic Party platform called for the following performance. ”Jumpstart the economy and provide middle class Americans with Immediate Relief, Economic Stewardship, Savings, and Fiscal Responsibility.”
We have “framed” the hard reality that our current banking/insurance/stock market/and housing industry did not provide for the “common good” and were not “moral.” We must also add that there are still nearly 3 Trillion Dollars in credit card and debit deficits with”immoral” interest rates which negate the “common good” of the average credit card carrying American. We must, therefore, ask the next question. If Friedman economics and deregulation failed the “common good,” will Keynesian economics through regulation, nationalization of the banks, bail out and regulation of mega corporations; preserve the “common good” and usher in monetary control thus leaving the “free market” a fading memory?
President Bush, upon leaving office, offered this advice: The free market cannot solve the free market’s problems. It should be noted that President Bush was well tutored in both “One World” and Catholic “Social policy.” This makes one ponder what kind of economic policy he may have thought would best solve our economic woes? There is, however, one thing we may tentatively conclude, he had evidently rejected Friedman’s theory that left “free” the market would heal itself.
THE BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL AND THE COMMON GOOD
John Keynes was a British Economist (1883 -1946). His economic theories were prominent during the great depression. Keynes economic theory, known as Keynesian economics, stressed the “circular flow” of money. In brief, if one person spends – another person earns. Keynes proposed that in order for society to prosper there must be a continuous “flow” of money. The problem is that when a recession/depression develops (as they always do) people tend to hoard money. Keynes knew that this stopped the “circular flow” of money and kept the economy at a standstill. So the best solution to get the economy moving again was to “prime the pump.” Keynes argued that the only way this would happen was if the government (that’s you and me) steps in and increases spending to aid the economy. This, of course, adds to the public debt (which you and I assume – plus interest) and represents a total departure from “free market capitalism” as proposed by Adam Smith, which seldom balanced the budget. Keynesian economics does not want the public to have a strong savings plan because that extracts money from circulation. “Keynesian economics further concludes that there is a pragmatic reason for the redistribution of the wealth: if the poorer segments of society are given sums of money, they will likely spend it, rather than save it, thus promoting economic growth.”
Here is an economic paradox. Keynesian economics and Friedman “free market capitalism” both agree on one principle – neoliberalism. Savings is bad! Why? Because we live in a global consumer/credit society which demands that money perform globally and remain “circular.” This is the raison d’ etre of NAFTA, the valedictorian of neoliberalism. When the Bush administration “primed the pump” and sent most Americans a stimulus payment check, we were commanded to “spend.” When President Obama “primes the pump” and sends senior citizens $250.00 they will be expected to “spend.” In all cases the object is to keep money “circular.” But we must enquire about the direction that the “bail out” money and “stimulus plan” funding is headed because ultimately “he who has the gold makes the rules.” If the money significantly aids the “common good,” then “we the people” will continue to have a say – but if the money is primarily headed to the gatekeepers, we will eventually become worthless eaters, monetary slaves, attempting to pay not only our own bills but assume responsibility for debt created by gambling bankers drunk with the global game, and the debt created by power intoxicated insurance and investment brokers and bankers. We will also assume the debt created by the stimulus funding that most Americans received from Bush’s stimulus package; and also the $250.00 directed to senior citizens by President Obama. So the question to be addressed is, how much of the “bail out” money goes to the top and how much of the “stimulus plan” supports the “common good”? Well, here is an opportunity for readers to sharpen their math skills and answer the question. The following web sites contain enough information to calculate the answer.
CNNMONEY.com’s bailout tracker can be found at: http://money.cnn.com/news/storysupplement/economy/bailouttracker/
The Stimulus Plan: A Detailed List of Spending
We have covered a lot of economic territory; perhaps it is time to ponder a few questions as we consider “empathy” and “morality” as they relate to the “common good” of the current situation.
Is the rescue of greedy and corrupt financial institutions morally correct? Should President Obama have demanded new structural and personel changes in the banking system? Is the Shadow Financial System of our nation so entrenched that change is impossible? Have Wall Street and Washington D.C. come together to form the most powerful Oligarchy in the world? It would do well for us to recall that “reform” is what we, the American public, were promised. The promise of the progressive, Liberal, Democratic “reform” was to provide accountable ethical government, practice fiscal responsibility, jumpstart the economy and provide middle class America immediate relief and provide jobs with good pay.
All of the above were, of course, dependant to resolving the current financial crisis. The clear implication however, was that “transparency” would exist – a virtue which appears to have been missing in the past administration.
FINANCIAL “MORAL” OBSTACLES AND “REALITIES”
This section dealing with financial facts will not answer all questions or attempt to guess all economic outcomes. The human spirit is indominatable and Americans are innovative and creative survivors. However, it will lay out the staggering financial challenges which face the free people of this nation. Since Lakoff suggests that the basis of government is “moral” we will need to ask the difficult questions with regard to the “bailout.”
A NEW ECONOMIC ORDER AND GLOBAL GOVERNANCE
First we must grasp the reality that we are entering a new economic order. In short, the American economic empire is dead. The income and lifestyle as we have known it in the past will never reappear. On the eve of the recent Global Summit, President Obama delivered the following message: “The ‘voracious’ U.S. economy can no longer be the sole engine of global growth.”
The first concern most Americans have is will we survive as a nation of “we the people”? In other words, will liberty continue to be an “individual” right not a “collective” right?
According to Cliff Kincaid, president of America’s Survival, recently confirmed U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is being urged to lay the foundation for ‘global governance’ by considering ‘international taxation’ measures to loot more money from U.S. taxpayers.
Kincaid says the idea of a global IRS was included in the report, The Global Agenda 2009, which was discussed at the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos. . .
Kincaid points out that The Global Agenda 2009 report argues ‘sovereign states do not adequately address problems reaching across borders’ and that ‘international taxation’ may be needed to generate ‘the additional resources’ for global governance.”
THE SHADOW BANKING SYSTEM
The question of “morality” and power of the banking industry is best considered by the following quote:
To ease the ongoing credit crisis and get banks lending again, the Obama administration realizes that it first has to resuscitate the ‘shadow financial system’ that’s dominated by hedge funds and other large–scale private investors. . .
While most investors will refer to today’s proposal as another ‘banking bailout plan’ the reality is that fixing the banks is the end game, and not the actual strategy. . .
Thus, to get the “shadow financial system” re-started, Obama administration insiders had to think creatively, and possibly accept a higher level of risk than taxpayers might realize or be comfortable with.
The whole question of appointing a regulatory agency to oversee the banking industry came to a debate. Here is a discussion of the debate:
The Washington Post makes clear that the secretive, undemocratic and largely unaccountable Federal Reserve worked to hide information about AIG’s ripoff schemes (though I don’t think this in any way contradicts what we now know Geithner, et.al knew – or should have known). This comes on top of the broader news about the Fed failing to seriously regulate the financial industry over the last few years, thus helping to create the overall financial crisis.
You might think that in the light of this news, Congress would work to lessen the centrality of the Fed in regulating the economy. But no, in fact, Congress is thinking about making the Fed more central in financial regulation.
He who has the gold makes the rules.
Bank of America Corp. (BAC) Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis said in testimony before New York’s attorney general that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulsen pressured him not only to move ahead with a merger with Merrill Lynch despite reservations, but also to stay quiet about the mounting losses at the crumbling investment bank. . .
. . . Lewis’s testimony that implies the CEO of one of America’s largest financial institutions – an institution that received more that $20 billion in taxpayer money- neglected to alert investors and potential shareholders to the full scope of Merrill’s losses prior to his company’s acquisition. It also implicates two prominent government officials in that decision. . . .
I was instructed that “we do not want a public disclosure.” Lewis said.
These comments shed some light on the question of “morality” and “power” as well as transparency. They also suggest that the “shadow financial system” is untouchable. When we consider that the bankers, AIG, and the Fed all survived in tact and that “we the people” paid for their compulsive and “immoral” gambling habits with our money, it should give us a clue about the future. The facts are the same, “wolves” who just cleaned all the eggs out of the chicken coup – are still in charge of the hen house. Based on the above information, we might come to the conclusion that “fixing the bank is the end game.” This means that the bankers become the power brokers of the world!
SPENDING TO TURN AROUND THE DOWNTURN
The question must be asked, can we spend our way out of an economic downturn?
First, history shows us quite clearly that a government cannot spend its way out of an economic downturn. It didn’t work in Japan in the 1990’s, when the ten stimulus packages implemented over an eight year period failed to prevent the “lost decade.” . . . Yet spending our way out of this situation is precisely what the President is attempting to do, and the nearly $800 billion stimulus package is merely the tip of the iceberg. Bloomberg recently reported that our government has now “spent, lent, or committed $12.8 trillion in its attempt to blunt the recession.
Part of this spending was initiated by the previous administration. It must be observed that much of President Obama’s plan to stop the downturn is to “prime the pump” with his stimulus package. Careful study should be given to the contents of this package which can be found at: http://www.propublica.org/special/the-stimulus-plan-a-detailed-list-of-spending
DERIVATIVES AND CREDIT DEFAULT SWAPS
Internationally there is $516 Trillion worth of derivatives.
The complex and opaque derivatives markets in which these hedge funds played has been dubbed the world’s biggest black hole because they operate outside the grasp of governments, tax inspectors and regulators. They operate in a parallel, shadow world to the rest of the banking system. They are private contracts between two companies or institutions which can’t be controlled or properly assessed. In themselves derivative contracts are not dangerous, but if one of them should go wrong – the bad 2 per cent as it’s been called – then it is the domino effect which could be so enormous and scary.
. . . Warren Buffett, the billionaire who made his money the old-fashioned way, called them “weapons of mass destruction”.
. . . They are financial contracts sold to pass on risk to others. . .
. . . It is like Joe Public buying an insurance policy on someone else’s house and pocketing the full value if it burns down.
Here is the picture. On a global scale, the entire international banking system is at risk because of derivatives or credit default swaps. To his credit, President Obama has been trying to effect some regulation in this part of the financial sector; however, his ability to effect regulations on derivatives have been just about effective as his ability to get a cap on the amount of interest on credit cards.
CREDIT CARD HOLDERS – BILL OF RIGHTS
Riding a crest of populist anger, the House on Thursday approved a bill to restrict credit card practices and eliminate sudden increases in interest rates and late fees that that have entangled millions of American consumers. . .
The measure would prohibit so-called double-cycle billing and retroactive rate hikes and would prevent companies from giving credit cards to anyone under 18. . .
If they become law, the new measures won’t take effect for a year, except for a requirement that customers get 45 days’ notice before their interest rates are increased. That would take effect in 90 days.
While the bill has some desirable benefits to consumers, it fails to do one thing – put a cap on the amount of interest which can be charged. Readers can study the entire bill H.R. 627 and S.B. 235. Albert Einstein was once asked if the atom bomb was the most powerful thing on earth – he answered - “no, compound interest.”
OBAMAS FUTURE FATE
Now that Obama has passed his 100th day he will yield much of his agendas fate to the Congress. His biggest proposals such as health care, education and education policies are in the hands of Legislators who will debate them. His fellow Democrats hold a strong majority, nearly fillibuster proof, in the Senate. To date, the Congress approved his massive spending stimulus bill, has not interfered with his revamp of the auto industry and a 3.4 trillion federal budget over strenuous Republican objections. The Republicans will essentially be barred from fillibustering to thwart his trillion dollar expansion of government-provided health care over the next decade. There are a few challenges however,
rejected one of Obama’s proposals for paying for his health policies: reducing wealthy Americans’ tax deductions for cheritable gifts and mortgage interest payments. They also show little interest in his bid to establish permits for greenhouse gas emmissions that can be bought and sold. Lawmakers
. . . It appears certain to reject Obama’s proposal to people facing bankruptcy keep their homes, at lender’s expense.
OBAMA AND RULE OF LAW
One of the first acts President Obama did upon assuming the presidency was to establish Habeas Corpus and start the close of Guantanamo. This was evidently an act to signal that he supported the Constitution and the “Rule of Law.” One of the first bills, however, to appear in Congress was H.B. 45 known as the Blair Holt Licensing and Record Act of 2009. This bill would
. . . make it illegal to own a firearm unless it is registered with the database in Washington D.C. As a gun owner you will have to be finger printed, you will be required to provide your DL#, SS#, and you must maintain a valid address at all times, submit to mental and physical health records being put on file. . . This bill and its language mirror almost completely one defeated last year in the House of Representatives by soon to be Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
THE “MORAL” QUESTION ANSWERED
Well possibly you have figured it out. Liberals who look thru the “frame” of “empathy, responsibility, protection and empowerment” will contend that the “moral” platform of the “common good” overrides the high cost of achieving it. The economic platform they are developing will make turn around to “free market capitalism” impossible and will doubtless guarantee the flow of the “common good” policy directly into Democratic Socialism. Their expanded platform of “common good,” socialized medical care, education, care for the environment, and clean energy exactly reflects the “frame” they look through and closely compares to European Socialism. . . New research since Lakoff suggests the following:
Liberals consistently identify with two sets of moral foundations – those that empasize harm (harm/care) and fairness (fairness/reciprocity). Conservatives, on the other hand, consistantly used all five sets of moral foundations . . .The harm/care foundation . . .reflects the ‘widespread human concern about caring, nurturing and protecting vulnerable individuals from harm,’ while the fairness/reciprocity foundation is concerned primarily with fairness, reciprocity and justice.
Will “individual rights” and “freedom of conscience” remain in a society of the “common good”? How does “empathy” relate to the future “common good” of our children and grandchildred as related to the national debt, are we mortgaging and bankrupting their future?
Has the American “empire” become a world “laughing stock” or will “empathy” discipline us in such a “moral” manner that we will rise above the humongous load of debt so that the “common good” will raise us to new “moral” heights? Those who look through the Conservative “frame” condem nearly every change which President Obama has facilitated in the economic recovery and stimulus bill package. It will surprise some that some of the world’s biggest financiers support the direction President Obama is moving in. In an article entitled “Buffett: ‘Government is doing the right things” Mr. Buffett states the following. ”The government is doing the right things. . . They’re acting in a countercyclical manner.”
On the other hand, deep within the Decocratic party there is concern. “CIA director Leon Panetta has some urgent advice for President Obama: Read ‘Clintonomics’ and use it!”
The book by Clinton explains that “Both Clinton and Reagan grasped the notion that the private sector, not the public one, is the primary productive engine of the economy.”
There is a final observation. “If Wall Street gets its way, the “reforms” may further consolidate power and ratify a corporate state - - a grotesque hybrid that combines the worst aspects of socialism and capitalism.”
As Americans we need to be awake lest we wake up and find ourselves in a state of Oligarchy. Oligarchy is a form of government where power resides in the hands of a small elite segment of society who are distinguished as royality (bankers and Politicians). If the “common good” ushers in this form of government, “We the People” will only be a memory; and freedom, as Americans have known it, will fade from history. “Individual Rights” and “Freedom of Conscience” may not be on the agenda of the “common good” and “empathy” will have turned into tyranny! Liberty is an individual possession not a collective right!