There were several statements from Andrew Yang in the episode that were quoteworthy. The Vox article is quite quoteworthy as well.
“The greatest danger,” he told me, is that, “the truly rich are increasingly separated from the lives of the rest of us so that they become largely insensitive to the concerns of those who still earn by the hour.” If that happens, he warns, “they will probably not anticipate many of the changes, and we will see the beginning stirrings of revolution as the cost for this insensitivity.”
The opposing force for Authoritarianism is deeper than socialism, which is why acceptance of socialism as the good is irrelevant in the long run. Authoritarianism is the godhead. The worship of absolute authority over all things living. What opposes it is just as strong, but largely unvoiced. It is an expression of the value of each human life. It is at its core humanism, the valuing of the human over the spiritual or supernatural. The movement that was spawned with the enlightenment and has been forgotten by most people today. Authoritarianism vs. Humanism
Capitalism and socialism are not in opposition. Capitalism and socialism can be present in the same mixed system because they deal with different parts of human interaction. Profit is not evil. Profit, when properly managed, is the reward for the entrepreneurial spirit. Profit, when held as an inviolable sacrement, leads to worship of the wealthy, what Objectivism has turned into over the last half-century. The Trump administration is laboring under this delusion of money. This holy profit-taking. Trump has started beating the drum of red baiting. He is promoting the same old schtick that Nixon and McCarthy did so well with two generations ago. I’ve said this from the moment that he announced his candidacy and he’s proven it daily since the broken system we live in delivered him into office. Trump believes in the zero-sum game and is right now rigging it to favor the wealthy who currently own our country. Delusion of Money
The delusion of money is why US libertarianism has become laughable. Specifically, their conceptualization of what money is precludes them from understanding what will solve the recurring economic crises we’ve suffered over my lifetime. This is another one of those if I had a nickel moments. If I had a nickel for every time a libertarian spouts off about taxes being theft, or the poor stealing from the wealthy, or some other expression that lets the hearer know that the speaker thinks their money belongs to them. That money is something earned through work and work alone. If I had a nickel for every time I tuned one of these guys out in recent years, I’d be a very wealthy man.
When I take the time to listen to them these days, to read their arguments, I’ve started posing this counter question. What is Libertarian Socialism? They generally short circuit like a drone android calling for Norman. Libertarian Socialism, a political movement that dismisses notions of taxes as anything other than the monetary recapturing tool that taxes are, sees Guaranteed Minimum Income as a necessary function of living in large groups. Just one more movement afoot to bring economic freedom to the problem of worldwide poverty. A real solution to a real problem, not hidebound ideology and wishful thinking.
The process of discovering what money is and what its functions in human society are has lifted a veil from my eyes. And I have struggled with how to present the idea that seems so clear to me, present it in a way that will be understood by others. Understood by others who have not dropped their preconceived notions about money on the wayside. Understood by them and not simply have the argument rejected out of hand.
Year after year, when I was a libertarian, I promoted the World’s Smallest Political Quiz (WSPQ) as the way to illustrate, concretely, just how libertarians were different from liberals or conservatives. I wish I had spent that time studying economics rather than promoting fringe ideology, now. The WSPQ is a variation on the Nolan chart, a political spectrum diagram created by American libertarian activist David Nolan. The WSPQ slims down the questions asked by Nolan to ten yes/maybe/no questions, and then places people in their political quadrants based on their answers. I never understood the pushback offered by people who suggested that financial freedom wasn’t what the diagram described while I was out stumping for it. Now I can see the problem more clearly.
The Nolan chart and all it’s minor variations don’t deal with the reality of economics; and consequently, these attempts to measure political beliefs do not measure economic freedom as they claim to do. This fact makes all libertarian ideas that deal with economics flawed at the precept level, shattering the entire structure of libertarian philosophy. Shatters not just libertarianism, but any philosophy that includes the ideals of money as an individual possession. You cannot define libertarianism as different than the same flawed left/right and/or liberal/conservative political lines without a measuring stick that is separate from social freedom, and economic freedom enables social freedom more than any other kind of freedom one can imagine. The two go hand in hand (Four Freedoms) Understanding what money is, conceptually, is the first step to understanding how the systems we live in can be improved.
Money is not a thing; or rather, money isn’t just one thing. Money is not a possession, although physical representations of money can be possessed. Money is not a commodity even though it is currently traded like a commodity. If I had the last glass of water you could have all the money in the world and you couldn’t buy that last glass of water from me. That is the difference between a commodity and a currency. Money isn’t even a set value as my previous writing on the subject of money skims over. So what is money?
I’ve been bashing my head against this wall and several others for the last decade and more. It’s part of the overall arc of EPHN, my languishing work on Emergent Principles of Human Nature. The work languishes because I lack the depth of knowledge to deal with the questions posed by writing the work, not by my ability to express the ideas contained within it. The accumulation of information takes time, and so the work languishes, in a general sense. At the same time, my understanding grows about certain subjects that interest me, and one of those subjects is the delusion of money.
Money = Lubricant
Any mechanical part that moves in relation to another part of a mechanical construct, like a motor or an engine, has to be protected from the friction present when any two parts come in contact. This protection can take several forms, and even several forms at the same time. Motor oil. Hydraulic fluid. Ball bearings. Grease. Money is like these things in many ways. It reduces the friction between one side of the economy, supply, and the other side of the economy, consumption.
If you provide sufficient funds to each household to allow them to meet needs you will see how much of each product needs to be produced based on the value assigned to the product by the consumer. Thusly, money eases the acquisition of goods and services for the people who need them. Without money we are forced to barter one good for anther one, and that system has never functioned in a way that the average human found acceptable, which is why we invented money in the first place.
Then you, the money issuing authority, sit back and wait. You wait to see where the money goes. When you notice that money is pooling in areas and not being spent, you tax those pools that don’t enhance the economy, the economic backwaters that don’t serve the purpose of lubricating the system generally. You tax them because money hoarding is a corruption of the intent of the system. Money is for spending not for hoarding. Property is what you keep. If you want to hang on to wealth, invest it.
Money is a third-party contract that is carried along with every other financial contract that is agreed to. Money is the underlying agreement between the people who are giving over goods or services and the people receiving said goods or services, that the compensation will be in X currency at a particular value. Anyone who has read a financial contract should recognize this language. The value of money, that money will have value at all, is an agreement between every working and consuming person on the face of the planet. When that agreement breaks down, commerce breaks down. Goods rot in warehouses. Families starve.
Ten autumns ago came two watershed moments in the history of money. In September 2008, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers triggered a financial meltdown from which the world has yet to fully recover. The following month, someone using the name Satoshi Nakamoto introduced BitCoin, the first cryptocurrency. Before our eyes, the very architecture of money was evolving — potentially changing the world in the process. In this hour, On the Media looks at the story of money, from its uncertain origins to its digital reinvention in the form of cryptocurrency.
Money is a collective belief in the value of a thing, a story we tell ourselves about buying what we buy and what we buy it with. Bitcoin is the essence of this narrative. It only has value because calculating entries in the blockchain is currently rewarded with bitcoin, funding all of the Bitcoin mining centers all across the world. What happens when the last Bitcoin is minted? Where will the value in maintaining the blockchain ledgers come from then? No one who invests in Bitcoin wants to know what the answer to that question is. In the meantime the story of the value of Bitcoin continues. But any currency is only as valuable as the people who trade in it think it is. If you can’t buy anything with the currency, the value of the currency is zero.
How can you make money to spend if there is no debt to create money from? This was the problem that faced the world after the crash of 1929. There was insufficient money in circulation. No one had money, and the reasons for this defied explanation according to the rules of the time. Europe needed gold to create money. Europe did what the gold standard required of them and raised taxes on their poor citizenry to the brink of starvation in an attempt to create gold reserves, creating backing for government spending that they needed in order to dig out of the holes that World War One left them in. The hordes of gold that the US held in reserve profited the American people not one bit, even though the rules of the gold standard dictated that America should be swimming in cash. Why was there no cash? Because the rules of the gold standard did not accurately describe how economics works. (Lords of Finance) FDR had to create new, insane rules, by the standards of economists of the time, to justify creating money that did not already exist, so that he could hand it out to people who wanted to work but could not find work.
Making sure that everyone has money to spend simply shortcuts the requirement that incomes will start at zero. Work is not required to generate debt, to create money. Work is how you pay off debt, and government generates money to make these transactions possible. But money is more than that, too. It is more than a lubricant that makes nearly frictionless exchange of goods possible. More than a contractual obligation that we all agree to every day when we buy or sell anything. More than a story we tell ourselves and more than a debt obligation that we must dig out from under.
The disconnect over the subject of money really isn’t the fault of libertarians, they are nothing more than my target of opportunity because of their culpability in promoting the ideas that have come to dominate most thinking about money and economics in the US these days. Classical economics itself deals with the individual rational actor the homo economicus as he is occasionally referred to. Economics was set up at the outset to create the delusion of the supreme individual modifying the market with his rational demands. This has proven not to be the case, but most economists who come from the Chicago school are still caught up in the delusion. Capitalism, as classically taught, was at war with a socialism that eschewed profit. The Marxist utopia of communism. Like most utopias, Marxist communism is a dystopia that we would be better off not pursuing. However, in a general ideological sense, capitalism and socialism aren’t even in conflict. Authoritarianism and democracy are in conflict, and authoritarianism is in ascendency.
Authoritarianism has been in ascendancy since Vladimir Putin started trying to dismantle the democratic West, and China decided to help him. When there is one party, and you control that party, knowing who your enemies are makes controlling that government child’s play. Consequently these rising authoritarian regimes (including the United States under Trump) have a lot of political prisoners. Removing them into the slavery of the prison system is the best way to clear your path. This is one of those facts that should have been obvious to us in the US for a very long time. We’ve been growing the prison population since Nixon was in office, and we now have the largest prison population per capita. Most of those people are there because of crimes that were invented in order to criminalize Nixon’s political opposition, and it has proven prudent for each president since Nixon to leave those people there.
Capitalism and socialism are not in opposition. Capitalism and socialism can be present in the same mixed system because they deal with different parts of human interaction. Profit is not evil. Profit, when properly managed, is the reward for the entrepreneurial spirit. Profit, when held as an inviolable sacrement, leads to worship of the wealthy, what Objectivism has turned into over the last half-century. The Trump administration is laboring under this delusion of money. This holy profit-taking. Trump has started beating the drum of red baiting. He is promoting the same old schtick that Nixon and McCarthy did so well with two generations ago. I’ve said this from the moment that he announced his candidacy and he’s proven it daily since the broken system we live in delivered him into office. Trump believes in the zero-sum game and is right now rigging it to favor the wealthy who currently own our country.
Subscribing to the delusion of money as Trump and the average American thinks of it today is to go back in time to the days of the robber barons, when monopolies ran roughshod over Americans and the the world at large, when the simple fact that you had money meant that you had the right to rule. We don’t want to go back to those days. This is why Make America Great Again is the chant of mouth-breathing idiots. The America that they think was greater than it currently is was an America where they would have died young of a preventable disease, probably at the hands of someone like Don Jr.
To paraphrase what I said to Trump Jr: Never too earlier to teach her about conservative capitalism either.
Put her in an orphanage that sells her out to work in a coal mine. Kid that size can get into spaces an adult can’t, business can find all sorts of uses for them. You don’t have to pay them. They don’t need safety equipment. You hardly have to feed them. And if they die, fuck it, you can always get more.
Meanwhile, the Robber Baron she works for gets 99% of all the candy in the world and she and all the other kids get to split 1%.
Oh, and while you’re teaching lessons, Junior, make sure she knows her lady parts belong to you.
If you combine the dollar being the world currency with the results of moving off of the gold standard as detailed in Lords of Finance you can create a money background for yourself to muse about the current perilous status of the dollar against. Or you can be like the libertarian that I was trying to enlighten today who called out for Norman before locking up in the illogic of money being a social construct. Pick one.
If you need further examples of just how confused the problem of money is, here is another one. TED Radio Hour, The Money Paradox. I did get one response from a libertarian after writing this piece. He informed me that I wouldn’t be taken seriously on the subject of money unless I looked like a rich man. People who are wealthy don’t bother with trying to look wealthy. They don’t need to convince anyone of their wealth because they are reassured that they have wealth in simply living their lives.
Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.
This article was posted when it was because of a conversation that was evolving on a Facebook group I’m part of. A conversation between people convinced that their personal beliefs are somehow manifested in a show they love, Star Trek in this instance, and then argue that their political beliefs somehow are justified in the show. Star Trek represents a post-scarcity economy, as several people went to great pains to explain during that evolving conversation. As expected, the notion that there could be a society where everyone gets enough to eat and has a place to sleep that protects them at night from predation, that notion is conceptually beyond the thought processes of your average Stormtrumper. This fact doesn’t change what the show’s creator set out to do.
So we’ve discovered the genesis of IOI then? Well, that’s good news.
What’s IOI? Innovative Online Industries. You know, the corporation from Ready Player One. If you haven’t read it, get the Audible version read by Wil Wheaton. It’s excellent. Don’t watch the movie of the same name; or more exactly, don’t watch the movie of the same name and expect to see the story from the book. The movie contains an entirely different narrative, with different characters and different FX sequences. The plot for the book would have been far less exciting on screen, and would have made for a much longer film. As far as video stimulation goes, the movie has excellent FX sequences, they just aren’t plot points that occur in the book. At all.
How do I know that Amazon is the corporation from Ready Player One? Well, for one thing, that cage looks like something that IOI would think was OK for workers to spend the majority of their lives in. For another, the links to the book and the movie both go to Amazon. I could point other places, but they’ll all be owned by Amazon eventually.
The Wife and I watched the film a few weeks back. I had never read the book at the time, she had read the book. We set the viewing up on purpose as a test to see who enjoyed the film more. I’m pretty sure I won that contest. I had nothing to compare the film to and so had no expectations for it to fulfill. She spent the first thirty minutes of the film just trying to figure out where in the book the scriptwriter started the narrative at, because it certainly wasn’t anywhere in the first half of the book in spite of the fact that the first scenes have him living in the stacks.
Having watched the movie I then fell asleep to Wil Wheaton’s voice in my ear for the next week or so, describing the world of Ready Player One. A world that is either a post-apocalyptic hellscape or a capitalist paradise depending on your point of view going into the book. In any case, as usual, the Hollywood version has cardboard cutouts for villains and the novel has pretty well-fleshed characters that you can believe exist somewhere. Neither tale is free of flaws, but both have their own moments of entertainment value.
Just understand that, when I envision the giant robot battle for capitalist dominance of the globe, I will now picture Jeff Bezos inside the Mechagodzilla.
There have been several podcasts in my feed over the last year dissecting and observing the subject of poverty. This is probably because of the over-hyped evidence that the majority of Trump (OHM) supporters were poor, rural whites. The podcasters in their turn feel they need to address the issues raised by these people. The issues that made these poor, rural whites feel so desperate that they would hazard the welfare of us all on a known liar and con artist.
I say over-hyped with no intention of belittling the plight of the poor, or the fact that poverty runs rampant in the modern United States. Poverty is more widespread and more painfully felt now than it has been at any point since the end of World War Two. The disparity between rich and poor today is comparative to 1929, in the time leading up to the crash and the Great Depression. People are poorer now and paid worse than at any point in modern American history.
But it isn’t trade deals that are causing this problem. It isn’t illegal aliens in the US taking our jobs. It isn’t any of the things the OHM says is causing poverty; and his solutions to fix poverty are solutions that not only have been tried before but failed to work previously. So why do them again?
No, I say over-hyped because the rural poor more than likely voted for Trump because the rural poor have been the largest viewing block for reality TV. The rural poor have little other entertainment they can access aside from television. The Apprentice was popular with the same people who voted for Trump. Why is it so hard to admit that these people thought that the character on that show was the guy they voted for in the election? That the lack of broadband access in the rural areas of the US have lead to an information gap that resulted in the election of a con artist to the presidency? That poverty is merely a factor in the larger problem of inequality in America?
All of these podcasts have struck a chord with me. I have blogged both directly and tangentially about this subject in the past. It is not a subject I like writing about. The nerves are raw and the wounds are kept fresh in my current situation of disability and poverty. The series from On the Media, Busted: America’s Poverty Mythsbrought me to tears. I recognized so many tropes from my own childhood. Things family members and friends both have uttered in my hearing. Things that I have been guilty of believing in the past. In this article I will take a more purposeful walk down that memory lane, painful as it is. I want to do this in the light of these discussions by scholars, writers and journalists.
…and I will start this journey of introspection with the writer/journalist Stephen Dubner and his podcast Freakonomics,
James Truslow Adams, born in 1878 to a wealthy New York family, became a financier and, later, an author. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of New England; and later he wrote a book called The Epic of America. Even though it was written during the Great Depression, Adams took a fundamentally bullish view of the United States.
His book was hugely popular, and as best as we can tell, it introduced the phrase “The American Dream.” Adams defined this as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The phrase caught on, and not just a little bit. Especially among our presidents…
…The Stanford economist Raj Chetty has been working with large data sets to try to understand why so many Americans are no longer living the American Dream. When it comes to economic opportunity, Chetty and his colleagues found huge regional and even local differences throughout the U.S.
As he told us, kids growing up in San Francisco have about twice the chance of living the American Dream as kids from just across the bridge, in Oakland. Why? One easy explanation would be that the people in those different areas are just different – they have different abilities, different cultures, different job opportunities. And that certainly has some explanatory power. But Chetty and his colleagues found the story isn’t that simple…
…This is hardly a new idea – that growing up in a poor neighborhood isn’t the best launching ground for economic success. This idea, in fact, led the Clinton Administration to experiment in the mid-1990s with a program called Moving to Opportunity.
Okay, so young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on. What, exactly, does this signify? What’s going on in the poor neighborhoods to depress income mobility and what’s going on in the better neighborhoods to increase it? Answering those questions has become a big part of Raj Chetty’s work.
The above hits the high points of that Freakonomics episode, without getting into the meat of it, which is excellent. The scholar Raj Chetty‘s five factors address my personal experiences of poverty directly. It was because of this episode that I felt the need to write more on this subject, but the title of the post comes from a segment of another podcast, which was introduced to me through this episode of Radiolab,
In a 5-part series called “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” On the Media picked apart numerous oft-repeated narratives about what it’s like to be poor in America. From Ben Franklin to a brutal eviction, Brooke gives us just a little taste of what she learned and shares a couple stories of the struggle to get ahead, or even just get by.
This episode features an excellent overview of the 5-part series; enough for the casually interested, but not enough for someone who remembers the shock of sudden poverty as a child. A now old man who lives in poverty due to illness, disability, a truly lackluster US economy, sexism/ageism in the workplace directed at the Wife, etc. But I don’t want to get ahead of the narrative, and discussing the particulars of my experience in poverty even in the general sense gets ahead of the introduction provided in the full five part series from On the Media.
As the Freakonomics episode mentioned, It is actually twice as easy to move up the income ladder in Canada as it is in the US. This is a travesty, an ongoing insult to America, this delusion we live under. What delusion is that? The delusion that the US is the best country in the world to live in, that we provide more access to social mobility than anyplace else in the world. It simply isn’t true. Hasn’t been true for a good, long time.
The first episode of the On the Media series is an introduction to the reality of poverty in America. It is the boxing glove on the fist of the next three episodes that drive home the fact that we Americans really don’t have a clue what it is to be desperately poor in the US. Even I only vaguely recognize the lives that the truly poverty stricken must live. The reason for this is; I profited from the status of my parents. My parents, in their turn, benefited from the status of their parents; white, working class, upwardly mobile christians with land. My paternal grandparents had enough property that they farmed at first, and then sold land to the city and to new families moving into the bustling township that Leoti, Kansas was after the dust bowl. They sold and profited as the town grew around them, just like the dreams of all Americans play out.
“Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.”
The possession of land leads to wealth, if one is lucky enough to own the right piece of land at the right time. The Steele family in Wichita county, Kansas were those people. The fact of their ownership of land made them powerful within the township. The location near a then-growing town gave them a chance to sell off some of their property for cash, something that there is never enough of in any small town. People have to eat, after all. They have to have somewhere safe to sleep. All of this costs money in the modern economy, and the only way to get money is to work or be born into it. So I wasn’t born into poverty, at least.
I was born overseas to a father who was stationed there in the military, a mother who enjoyed being overseas for the first time but really didn’t enjoy the constraints of a military wife in the 60’s. She returned to the states not too long after my birth, and my father left the military as soon as his mandatory term of service was up. They returned to my father’s home on the high plains of Kansas as I mentioned. My father grew up in a little town named Leoti that would be so small you would miss it if you blinked, if only the main roads went anywhere near the place. My father’s family had settled there a few decades previously and Grampa had several thriving businesses in the town. One of those businesses was sold/given to my father when he left the military, and he settled down with my mother for the happily ever after that all young people believe in.
Did I say “happily ever after?” Yeah, that never showed up. Dad took to drinking a fifth of bourbon every single day as he struggled to deal with bringing in enough cash to support his growing family. Mother was unhappy because the family kept growing and her husband didn’t seem to be around much to help. The fighting got worse until it damaged the furnishings and frightened the children, and the divorce wasn’t long after that. Coming out of the 40’s and 50’s and the attitudes about women and families, the ridiculous notions of money and politics, wealth and poverty and the meaning of all these things all wrapped up together, the surprising part of this story is that some women put up with the way life was for them. They put up with it instead of leaving. Maybe they had better husbands?
The story of my pre-teen life was pretty common for the time. By the mid-70’s when the divorce happened fully half of all marriages went that way. Prior to World War Two women were expected to stay home, raise children and provide for the running of the household which encompassed pretty much everything you can imagine. Everything you can imagine, if you imagined a self-sufficient household operation that was a day’s horseback ride from the next nearest town, a train ride away from the nearest city with running retail businesses in it. A household without running water or electricity. That is what frontier life was like just two generations into the past for me, four generations now. My grandparents remembered towns without electricity, the introduction of indoor plumbing and the automobile.
Automobiles made the difference. This fact is spelled out in the heaps of rusted metal you can find dotting most older farmsteads. When the old car dies you leave it where it sits and buy another one, just as you did the tractor and the harvester. On the Wife’s family farm you can still see her dad’s first tractor, parked on the edge of the field where it died, rusting into nothing as the decades fly by. It still sits there even though the farm itself has changed hands twice since her mom sold it. Sold it because there just wasn’t any reason to keep it any longer.
We weren’t farmers. We were never going to sign up for that life. The automobile made city life bearable because you could live in the outskirts of the city and commute downtown for work. In the city you don’t need to make your own clothes, you can go to the store and buy them. You can go to the store and buy them, that is, if you have the money. Money has been the limiting factor imposed on the poor for longer than any of the now living can remember. Longer than those who came before us can remember. Further back than even our great-grandparents and their parents time.
Brooke meets Carla Scott, a young woman in Cleveland forced to sell her plasma for bus fare after a series of events derailed her life, as well as Carla’s nonagenarian grandmother, Grace, a hard-line believer in “personal responsibility.”
Personal responsibility or paying for every mistake you’ve made for your entire life. That would be costly, and hasn’t been my experience. This is the privilege of white skin in the United States. It certainly hasn’t been luck that has seen me through to now. I’ve told myself all my life I make my own luck. I make my own luck because 50/50 chances almost never fall my way. Even so, there are many behaviors that I have engaged in that would have resulted in imprisonment and probably death, had I been caught doing them while black.
While I was near homeless for a few years living in friend’s spare rooms and sleeping on enclosed porches, I never had to sell plasma. I didn’t have children of my own to tend to before I was ready largely because I knew what a pain children could be. That was one of the many lessons I learned being raised by a single mom.
The benefit of city living masques the machinery of poverty creation. Having everything you want or need available at a store for purchase makes the delusion of self-sufficiency seem quite real. Self sufficient, if you have the money to buy these things. Self sufficient, if you have work that pays money. I have always had work because I would do just about any job offered to me. White, young, male, with no tattoos and no piercings. This was important above all things; maintain the illusion of a fine, upstanding middle class status. That illusion kept me working.
Poverty waits for those who fail to maintain the illusion. Jobs that go to others. Careless sex that leads to children. Drug addiction. Tattoos and piercings that announce your rejection of white bread America. That inner-city poverty of slums and ghettos? The tattooed and the peirced? The drug addicted and the ne’er-do-well? That poverty that has moved out into the country from the cities. The rebellion that motivated the election of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) was generated in rural America, in the persons of the last victims of a grinding poverty that has plagued the poorer neighborhoods of cities since their creation. I noted the rural American bellyaching rang hollow to me in the essay I named after him,
Listening to the people who attempt to defend their affinity for the Orange Hate-Monkey in the podcast isn’t helping. Oh poor, misunderstood me whining by rural whites strikes me as just this side of pathetic. As if urban blacks don’t have problems, haven’t had worse problems for the better part of two hundred years. The fact that the researchers on this podcast are so divorced from the truth of the matter, that the reality-disconnected people they have been interviewing actually turned out to be the ones who had the last laugh, that they got their American Psycho candidate on a collision course with the White House, in the face of the researcher’s own blithe belief that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the presidency, isn’t helping with the surreality of this moment in time.
I know what grinding poverty looks like even though my experience with it was mercifully brief. That time was right after my parent’s divorce. For a time my mom made the best of life in rural Kansas. We got to keep the house. Dad moved into a trailer parked behind his service station. He managed to wrangle down his child support to $300 which wasn’t enough to cover the cost of keeping a roof over our heads, even though that roof had been home for as long as we could remember. Mom took her first job outside the house since going to college, a job teaching Head Start to Leoti preschoolers, a job that was taken from her because she didn’t have a teaching certificate. She left college to get married and had no saleable skills aside from homemaking, a job she couldn’t do anymore without a husband.
So mom remarried. He was a nice enough guy when we met in Leoti. As soon as we left Kansas and moved to Texas, the trouble started. The poverty got worse. Dad stopped paying the child support and only restarted it after mom sued him to get it. The stepdad started drinking heavily, and he was a mean drunk. There were a number of times where my mouth got me in trouble and I ended up on the floor. The last time I saw him was the day he brought another woman to the house. After watching him abuse my mother wordlessly for months, after being the victim of his abuse during that time, having him show up and flaunt his girlfriend in my mother’s face was too much. When mom sent us into the house and told us to hide, I waited behind a door I knew he would come through if he did come in for his stuff. I waited with a high vantage point and a heavy blunt object. I wanted to make sure that if the opportunity presented itself, there would be a near guarantee of killing him. I hated him that much.
Luckily for both of us, the opportunity never occurred. He left without his stuff. I was on a plane to stay with my father in Kansas within the week. Psychotherapy was part of that process. I was the lucky one. The luckiest of the four children who endured the stepfather. I had a room of my own in my father’s house. I had running hot water at the tap. I had a mother and father who were concerned for me. I never appreciated this fact, this blessing, until visiting my mother in Texas and seeing what hitching her cart to the stepfather’s wagon had wrought in the end.
The unlucky ones? They had one bed for the four of them to share. Mom went through another divorce, which means those three siblings went through it with her. The garage apartment they found in the tiny town they had ended up in didn’t have a reliable roof or much in the way of indoor plumbing. They had to heat water on the stove to fill the bathtub so that they all could bath each night. My mother had taken the next of dozens of jobs she would eventually hold, working the night shift running that blight of the American landscape, a convenience store. Virtually the only profitable business in yet another small town whose only claim to fame was being on the road to somewhere else.
When I saw how bad their living conditions were, I cried. We siblings then made the first of several pacts that followed over the years. After a few weeks of mutual badgering, our parents in their separate hostile camps were convinced to let the rest of the kids move back up with dad and his new wife. I didn’t appreciate having to share a bed with my brother again, but at least they had hot water to shower with. Television to watch. Decent schools to attend, back in the good old days, when Kansas still believed in investing in young people.
For the first time in my mother’s short life, she was free. No children to supervise. No husband to cook for or tend to. Free to try and advance her skills by returning to school. So she did that. She moved to a larger town in the area, a town called Sweetwater. It was a town with a school, a town big enough for a trade school, but not so big that it became expensive to live in. She took business classes and worked odd jobs. She was probably about as happy as she had ever been.
This happiness was short-lived. This is a section of the story that I wrote about at length here,
Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.
…She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.
It was a point of pride to my mom that she never took food stamps. That she never had to go on welfare. Her memory is a bit more selective than mine. We may never have needed food stamps, but we certainly ate a lot of government bread and cheese. Drank a lot of government milk. I got a job as soon as I could after moving back in with mom. I knew even before she explained it to me, there was no way we’d survive if I wasn’t working. So I started sacking groceries and cleaning up at night at one of the two grocery stores in that mid-sized Texas town. I took a lot of food that the store was going to throw away home with me instead, one of the benefits of being the flunky who throws out the trash. We never went hungry, but that is just barely the truth.
I spent my senior year in high school as a stranger in a school I didn’t really want to attend. I preferred the Kansas schools of the time. Kansas’ investment in higher education (now abandoned) Kansas’ belief in better times ahead (ditto) Texas was meaner. Texas was harsher both in climate and attitude. That mythical Southern hospitality is the velvet glove over the iron fist of crony capitalism and repressive social structures designed to keep the poor in their place.
I attended the same trade school my mom had moved to Sweetwater to attend and I made the best of the illusions I had been fed as a child. That I could be whatever I wanted to be. That I had no limitations. That all I had to do was work hard and I would make the grade. That I could live happily ever after, too.
In the third installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we take on one of our country’s most fundamental notions: that America is a land of equal opportunity and upward mobility for all. And we ask why, in spite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, does this idea persist?
With the help of historian Jill Lepore, Brooke traces the history of the “rags to riches” narrative, beginning with Benjamin Franklin, whose 18th century paper manufacturing business literally turned rags into riches. We hear from Natasha Boyer, a young Ohio woman who was saved from eviction by a generous surprise from strangers… only for the miracle to prove fleeting. And we consider the efficacy of “random acts of kindness” and the fateful role of luck — where you’re born, and to whom — in determining success.
Much like Benjamin Franklin in reality, as detailed in this segment of the story, I moved away from the family that was a drag on my ability to succeed on my own. Their poverty making my poverty that much harder to ignore, that much harder to escape. After a brief, heartbreaking few months trying to establish myself in Kansas back living with my father, trying to make good on promises made to a girlfriend I had left in Kansas and failing at that rather spectacularly, I returned to Texas and moved up the road from Sweetwater to Abilene for a brief time, living on my own. Like everyone who transitions to life on their own, that was quite a shock. I think it was the month driving on a leaky tire because I couldn’t afford a new one that brought home just how hard it was going to be to make the grade. Just how remote the possibility that happily ever after might ever occur.
“It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
It was while living in Abilene that I noticed that I effectively had no boots and thusly no bootstraps to draw myself up by. I had limited education, most of which I provided for myself through voracious reading. I clearly had a problem producing work in my chosen profession, a barrier that I had never realized was mine alone until that time. There was no one with money in my immediate family. I knew no one in Abilene aside from co-workers at jobs I no longer had, and I wore out their welcomes in pretty short order. I even had to borrow mom’s pride and joy, the first new car she had ever bought for herself, just to get myself out of the rut I’d made in Abilene and move myself to a new, hopefully more promising locale, San Angelo.
It was in San Angelo that I met the Wife, working at one of the many odd jobs that came my way. It was there that I dragged the rest of my Texas family, after I finally found a job that paid money and had rented a house that would fit all of them. It was there that all of them eventually went to college. It was a long, hard struggle even getting to that level, the level where I felt I could attempt to repay a debt to my mother that I knew I still owed. But I was still poor, just not as poor as I had been. In order to not be poor I knew I was going to have to find a bigger city. Bigger cities require more architecture, more planning, more design, and I knew that was a demand that I could help satisfy if I could just get there.
In the fourth installment of our series “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we examine the strengths and shortcomings of our nation’s safety net. Government assistance does help lift millions out of poverty each year — indeed, without it, poverty would be twice as high — but those in the most dire circumstances often slip through the cracks.
With the help of Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, we consider how anti-poverty programs can actually keep people poor and offer little hope for a way out.
Also, Brooke meets Margaret Smith, a Columbus woman made homeless after a violent crime derailed the life she’d carefully built with her six children. And we visit an Athens County food pantry that provides not just meals to the community, but also school supplies, clothing, furniture, job training, home repairs, disaster relief…even burial plots.
In the city there is no illusion about the temporariness of prosperity, of hearth and home. If there is any real difference between city life and country life, it is the illusion of permanence that country life affords. In the city you pay by the month for everything including hearth and home. You never stop paying for anything, ever. New cars, bigger houses, longer commutes, more roads, taller buildings, denser usage. The city is a meatgrinder, and the meat it grinds is human. Best not to watch it happen if you have a weak stomach.
It’s true, there are more opportunities in the city if you can afford to go there and look for them. I took that leap almost thirty years ago now. Left what I see now as a quiet little town of a hundred thousand people; ten times the size, and more, of my hometown of Leoti at its peak. Austin boasts more than a million citizens now. if you incorporate its far-flung suburbs, there is something closer to two million people who work and live here because of Austin being here and pretty much for no other reason. It certainly isn’t for the weather, which is Texas hot nine months out of the year.
There is a little joke in Austin that if you move here and don’t have allergies, wait five years. You’ll have them, just wait. I had allergies before moving here and I never intended to stay here. Fate has kept me here, year after year in spite of my intentions to leave as soon as I was assured of an ability to provide for my family. I was ill before I got to Austin, and my illness has gotten worse every year I’ve been here. The symptoms which had no name eventually got so bad that I found a name for them, Meniere’s. Finding that my symptoms had a name is the only reason I’m alive to write this uplifting little post today. Having a name for what keeps me from working is what gets me disability payments that kept my now-grown children fed while they were still growing. The disability made me worth more alive than dead; so I’ve kept living, to the consternation of many.
Disability isn’t a carefree life of freedom and bliss. Ill health is generally hard to endure even without the grinding poverty that accompanies it in most cases. The poverty is inflicted on those of ill-health by the system itself, not as a function of their relative worth. The cost of treating illness is itself a function of building the wealth of countless millions of healthcare professionals, people who would be as poor as I am without people like me coming to them for treatment. Without Social Security and Medicare paying my bills, I’d have taken my own life years ago. All those thousands spent to educate my children, house, clothe and feed them, would never have existed. Their promising careers, the careers of my Texas family who went to college because I brought them somewhere that had a college, all of the people who benefitted in some way from the work that I’ve done if not by the simple existence of my health issues, none of them would be where they are now had I simply not existed. Had I been cast aside like the poster-waving homeless visible on every city street corner in the US.
Nothing hits so hard for me as being in my car pulling up to an intersection, and having someone come to me with their hand out. I can’t look because I know that if I give in to my desire to help everyone around me, I will soon be the one standing on the street corner holding a sign. See to your own needs first, as any properly trained triage attendant knows. You can’t help others if you end up needing help yourself. I have clung to the top edge of a vertical drop into non-existence for more than a decade now. Every single cent of every dollar spent in the last ten years having to be justified in some way. Kicking myself for ever frivolously spending anything in the years that I had money, not realizing that those years would be the briefest of all.
When reporting on poverty, the media fall into familiar traps and pundits make prescriptions that disregard the facts. So, in the fifth and final installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we present a Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Poverty in America Edition. It’ll equip you with the tools to spot shoddy reporting and the knowledge to identify coverage with insight.
With help from Jack Frech, former Athens County welfare director; Kathryn Edin, co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org; Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; and Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.
Like him I really don’t have any answers aside from the plain observation that what we have attempted so far in the realm of aid to the poor has failed, utterly. We must begin again if we ever hope to improve the human condition. The only sane way is to approach the problem with the knowledge that we don’t know what will work before we try it. So it will profit all of us to make sure that what we are attempting can be tested for effectiveness before we embrace it as true and real.
I keep getting links to The Wall Street Journal articles. This is a regular occurrence on Nuzzel, one of the news aggregators I rely on for my daily news. These links are useless to me; I never pass them on and I never read them. Why? Because The Wall Street Journal has erected an impenetrable paywall around their site and I simply don’t have money to give to publications in general, being a person living in poverty.
Even if I had money I wouldn’t pay a subscription fee to most publications (except maybe The Atlantic) because 9/10’s of what they report is available on Reuters or the AP feed. Why would I pay to read stuff on a newspaper’s website that can be read other places for less money? Micro-payments for specific articles, if I had money to spend, would be something I would agree to, but not subscription.
I won’t pay subscription fees for other cities papers. I’ve never paid for the daily paper in my hometown (currently the Austin American-Statesman) I have never paid a lump sum for delivery of a daily paper; a paper whose content is actually paid for by advertisers who want to sell me cigarettes or alcohol or some other addictive substance that I couldn’t afford to use even if it wasn’t addictive. I borrowed newspapers at lunch or listened to the radio (NPR) for my news.
After the internet became available I started reading more news than I had ever read before and my understanding of the world improved. But this understanding came at a cost to the journalists and publishers of the newspapers who hadn’t figured out how to monetize information consumption on the internet. They’ve tried, and failed, to make advertising work on the internet. It doesn’t work because people like me don’t want to be sold to. We aren’t here to be pigeons targeted by businesses that want to make money off our browsing habits, although many of us (including me) don’t mind if Google (Now Alphabet) makes money off our information in exchange for providing services.
Unfortunately for most internet businesses, there’s only so much room on the internet for businesses like Google, and competing with Google is hard work. Ask Microsoft if you don’t believe me. So how are the businesses going to make money online if advertising (the backbone of information delivery since the invention of the printing press and the mural) doesn’t work online? If the internet is (as I say in The Information Tollway) a replacement for the library, newspaper, radio and television? We’re going to have to admit that everyone who lives and consumes in society deserves some kind of stipend, some basic cost of living allowance.
They deserve it, and we need them to have it, because their consumption habits need to be accounted for. The easiest way for this to occur is for them to be able to spend money for what they need, just like everybody else does. Go to the doctor? spend money. Go to the grocery store? spend money. Read an article online? spend money. I doubt we will ever evolve to not need money for accounting purposes, but it is pointless for us to continue believing that money comes from work when not everyone can work, and the most important work (raising children) continues to be done essentially for free.
In the meantime, places like the Times, the Post and the Journal will have to do without cash from people like me, because people like me have to save what little cash we have to keep roofs over our heads and food in our stomachs. We already economize with our health unless we have medicare, and the GOP tax bill will cause seventeen million more people to do without healthcare in the near future, if passed. So there will be more people getting sick and just ignoring it as time progresses. We will economize with our knowledge and understanding as well if forced to. You can see that in the #MAGA‘s (Misguided Appallingly Gullible Americans) election of people like the OHM and the GOP congress that is shafting the same misinformed people who put them there. But that is a story for another article.
I could have sworn we nearly had a revolution not even two years ago because the information delivery services we’ve tied ourselves to thought they could meter our internet consumption habits. Has everyone forgot how Comcast throttled Netflix until they coughed up millions of dollars? Are American memories so short that they can’t even remember what happened in recent history? SOPA? PIPA? Is the average American really that clueless they can’t remember?
The FCC under the OHM’s direction intends to go against the will of the majority of the American people, and the informed technologists, on the subject of the necessity of information to the proper functioning of democratic government. I’m not sure why I’m surprised, it’s been profit over sense since day one for the OHM. He’s not going to change now just because he’s transparently defying the will of the people.
Ah Nick Gillespie. A cherished source of much misinformation in my past years as a libertarian. How to explain to you Nick just how dominated by polemic you are? I’m not sure why On The Media thought that his was the voice to go to, the voice to promote the OHM’s internet agenda. Aside from the fact that he is a vocal critic of everything government, the way a proper libertarian propagandist would be, he has little to no experience doing anything aside from being an apologist for capitalism’s excesses. In all the years I’ve read his work, he solidly comes down on the side of the corporate donors who generously fund his monthly rag.
I would offer a quote from Nick Gillespie’s blog article on Reason magazine, if there was anything quote-worthy about it. That article and the interview Reason conducted with Ajit Pai seems to be the justification of having him speak for the pro-OHM policy side of the open internet argument, but I don’t accept any of his conclusions since he offers not one shred of evidence showing that Net Neutrality rules have in any way limited the internet aside from acknowledging that providing a service as essential as the internet means that the provision needs to be available everywhere in the US equally to all citizens.
I want to make one thing perfectly clear here. I am not shy about demanding the government secure the internet against all threats, including government oversight of internet content. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be strapped down by regulations which prevent them from doing anything other than provide access to the information. They should not under any condition be content manufacturers, as so many of them currently are. Failure to enforce this ban on content creation by the providers leads inevitably to things like Comcast’s shakedown of Netflix, and the permanent throttling of competitors in the near future if the new rules are allowed to go through. Their promises to not throttle their competitors in the online world are worth every bit as much as the OHM’s promise that Mexico would pay for the border wall; as in, not worth a thing and probably indicative of the complete opposite in reality.
The ISP’s make and are still making bucket loads of money in the internet world. What they don’t want is to be forced to provide service to areas that are not profitable for them, something that President Obama’s FCC rules on Net Neutrality and Title 2 designation forces on the ISPs. The same kinds of rules that made telephones and electricity things that are available throughout the US. Regulations that require the provision of services to all households in the country whether provision of those services is profitable or not.
I don’t think I can put too fine a point on this argument. This is the future of democracy in the world that we are talking about. The internet is the new library, newspaper, radio and television rolled into one. It is possibly even a replacement for the postal service itself, aside from the delivery of physical goods to locations, a job capably done by other private sources. The internet has to be available to everyone everywhere all the time or it will fail to do its job. What these new proposed rules portend is that information will be made available only to the wealthy, with the rural areas of America left rotting without infrastructure they have every right to expect the government to provide.
An information tollway with demand-based pricing. That most libertarian of libertarian ideas, paying for access to work, shelter food and clothing up front by making everyone pay for the roads they are forced to use just to satisfy basic needs. It was a libertarian idea first, this lame brained scheme to make everyone pay for freeways by turning them into tollways. Here in Austin, we are saddled with several of these bullshit toll roads. There is no way to get from here to there without paying a fee if the road didn’t exist before the tollway was created. This leaves several new developments unreachable without paying a toll, a painful fact that new homeowners will discover only after they buy their houses and learn local routes to and from work. To and from the supermarket.
This is what they propose for the internet. None but the wealthy may pass. Everyone else, get in line.
I want an internet where content businesses grow according to their quality, not their ability to pay to ride in the fast lane. I want an internet where ideas spread because they’re inspiring, not because they chime with the views of telecoms executives. I want an internet where consumers decide what succeeds online, and where ISPs focus on providing the best connectivity.
If that’s the internet you want — act now. Not tomorrow, not next week. Now.
The link in that snippet goes to battleforthenet.com, an online petition and protest organization designed specifically to stop these new FCC rules dead in their tracks. If you want to preserve the promise of an open internet, then I suggest you click on that link and do what you can to help them. Now is the time to act to save the internet from the OHM and his henchmen.
There really is only one problem with this book. The people who should be reading it will never willingly pick it up. Every Trump supporter, Clintonista (been called that myself) and Bernie bro who thinks Clinton betrayed Sanders and the revolution he rode almost to a successful nomination should read this book. He explains in graphic detail how his campaign succeeded beyond his initial aspirations when starting, and how we need to correct the system as it was before January 20th in order to make it serve the American people as it was intended.
Unfortunately that system, like his candidacy, is part of history now. The book is still worth reading, but I have serious doubts about there being much of a system left to fix after we pry His Electoral Highness out of the White House.
Here is the review I published on Audible.com over a year ago when I read his book;
Prof. Reich crystallizes the trends of today’s economics quite clearly, allowing us to inspect what the future holds if trends are not altered. it can be a scary future, or it could be a kinder future if we simply tweak the system in such a way that all can gain benefit from collective human progress. As all of us should benefit, being the product of previous generations of struggle. Everyone should take pause to contemplate this future, whether they agree with the forecast or solutions or not.
Just like Bernie Sander’s book, the people who could profit most from reading this book will probably never be willing to read it because of the politics of who it comes from and the president with whom Robert Reich is associated.
I find I am a complete weirdo on the subject of what I will listen to or read. I actively go out and try to understand the opposing views so that I can see what I’m fighting against. I understand that Trump voters are not openly racist or probably even homophobic. They are mostly evangelical and pretty certifiably stupid since they fell for the machinations of a con artist like Trump, but they don’t understand the forces that they have set loose upon this country. Yet. In their blind desire to have their own pain addressed, they have caused pain and suffering across a broad swath of America, and will not get one moment of relief from their own pains. I hope they can live off the schadenfreude, because that is about the only benefit that they will receive from their victory.
I took the time to listen to and understand conservative thought during my process of evaluating, supporting and finally rejecting libertarianism. I spent several aggravating months listening to Rush Limbaugh (as this blog can attest) as a part of this process. You cannot hope to defeat an enemy that you do not understand. Take the time to read their books, listen to their media, and understand their fears. Only then can you possibly present an argument that they will listen to.
What you’re reading now is a multiple-concept piece amalgamated from several other pieces, reworked and re-edited so many times I’ve lost count. The fact that several of my Facebook friends are now openly endorsing an unapologetic authoritarian, that I have severed my long-time association with the Liberty Dollar over their new commemorative coin, pushes me to complete this piece even though I remain dissatisfied with the way that it firms up.
I am troubled by undercurrents in politics that are presenting themselves these days. I have been troubled since I wrote the article Obama Best President Since Eisenhower and my tepid acceptance of who the next president should be, titled Hillary for President? What troubles me is elusive. It is hard to give it a label. It is even harder to find people discussing the perturbations that aren’t actually trying to cover them up in some way. This tendency to hide true motivations has made the process of expressing my concerns even harder to elucidate, to solidify into words, than they normally are.
I’ve written and rewritten this article more than a few times now with various titles and themes. It started out as Feudalism vs. Socialism, but I couldn’t get a handle on what precisely feudalism was based on the judgement of historians. None of them agree on what it was, when it started and when it ended. The death blow was that The Wife hated the original piece. She essentially forbade me to publish it because it was beneath me. I almost did publish it, but I knew I could do better.
To imagine that our times are defined primarily by the struggle between “liberalism” and “conservatism” or between the Democratic and Republican parties is to be dangerously distracted and misled. There is a struggle that defines our times, all right, but it’s a struggle over what the United States of America is all about—what “America” means. And we have to be aware of this struggle and recognize it for what it is.
Here’s our task: We have to begin framing the debate not as liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican, but as equality or neo-Confederacy. We have to do this every time we speak, every time we write.
We have to do this because we have to push the Democratic Party to stand for equality, not for equality-except-in-politics-and-economics.
We have to know what a progressive, pro-equality position is and what a neo-Confederate position is on every issue—which position promotes freedom for all, and which promotes only the “liberties” of a lucky, privileged class. We have to present those positions to every Democratic candidate and ask her to choose one, and if she chooses the patrician position, we have to ask her why she’s favoring inequality over equality. We have to make her see equality as sensible and popular and inequality as radical and unthinkable.
Because unless we have a Democratic Party that unequivocally stands for equality and rejects inequality—social, political and economic—we can’t have an America that stands for equality.
The Republicans have gone all in for neo-Confederate authoritarianism. We have to go all in, too, for liberty, equality, justice and dignity for all—or the long arc of the moral universe will bend away from us, away from justice, and back into the darkness of rule by force and fear.
Equality is the founding principle of socialism, of humanism, no matter how poorly attempts to bring the notions of socialism into the world have failed, equality remains its basis. I tossed the idea out to see if it floated at a BBS I’ve been known to frequent with the title Egalitarianism vs. Kyriarchy, and got some interesting (and not so interesting) feedback. I just couldn’t get it to gel the way I wanted, so I disgustedly shelved the piece again.
Continuing my exploration of concepts, I ran across this Vox article The Rise of American Authoritarianism. That was when it hit me, the label for at least one of the forces at play in the world.
The political phenomenon we identify as right-wing populism seems to line up, with almost astonishing precision, with the research on how authoritarianism is both caused and expressed
After an early period of junk science in the mid-20th century, a more serious group of scholars has addressed this question, specifically studying how it plays out in American politics: researchers like Hetherington and Weiler, Stanley Feldman, Karen Stenner, and Elizabeth Suhay, to name just a few.
The field, after a breakthrough in the early 1990s, has come to develop the contours of a grand theory of authoritarianism, culminating quite recently, in 2005, with Stenner’s seminal The Authoritarian Dynamic — just in time for that theory to seemingly come true, more rapidly and in greater force than any of them had imagined, in the personage of one Donald Trump and his norm-shattering rise.
Authoritarianism is old, as old as humanity. Everyone in some corner of their mind can find some kinship with the notions of the great man, someone we can turn to in order to fix the problems that trouble us. If we can hand it all to him, he will make it alright. That is authoritarianism, in a nutshell. It manifests in the current election in the two counter-culture Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but the dream of the great man predates all of us.
What is the other force though? The other codifying idea that people coalesce around. It really isn’t socialism per se. Those with authority want you to believe that capitalism vs. socialism is the fight that continues. The holders of old money, the inheritors of new money, the powerful who want to retain power. They raise the specter of socialism like a bogeyman to scare those of us who remember when socialism was the masque worn by dictators across Europe and Asia.
The mind reels at trying to communicate the fear that the word socialism engenders in the minds of people who remember the Berlin wall as a real barrier people were shot crossing. How to communicate the history? Twenty-eight years before 2001, the events that today’s generations remember as 9/11. Back in the time when 2001 was a symbol of a bright future in a film yet to be made, I was born. Born the same year Camelot came to an end. JFK was shot three months after mom gave birth. My mother escaped from Europe on the heels of what she figured was the beginning of WWIII, the general suspicion being that the USSR had a hand in the death of our president.
The end of an age, the beginning of another one.
What were those years like, what was the feeling during that time? It’s hard even for me to say. From 1963 to 1969 there was assassination after assassination in the political sphere. JFK. MLK. RFK. The riots. The marches. Vietnam. Then the 70’s. Nixon and Watergate. The fall of Saigon.
When and where I graduated high school in flyover country, Red Dawn was seen as prophetic when it premiered in 1984. I mean really prophetic, not some kind of hokey, campy the Russkies are coming to get us kind of joke you hear so often these days. We knew the commies were coming to get us, it was just a matter of time, and the feds in DC were the real joke, because they had no idea what was going on in the world.
Saying it that way it seems like a substantial conflict, cognitive dissonance on steroids. How could there be a bright future in 2001, while Red Dawn was a real prophecy of the failure of capitalism, both at the same time? That was/is the kind of discord present in every mind that thinks there is a grand conspiracy out there somewhere running things. There is the world that is, and the world as it really is, and you have to decode the one to find the secret other world.
Besides, 2001 was nearly 20 years away. Who can see 20 years into the future?
It was all a lie. All of it. There were no (still are no) grand conspiracies and the USSR which had survived on graft for generations finally collapsed under its own weight. Not long after that I got a job and started working for a living and they redrew all the maps I memorized in school, and life went on as if we hadn’t spent the last 40 years afraid of our own shadows.
The war machine though, it went on without stopping. With no enemies to fight, the machine still wanted us to act like we were at war. Reagan was AWOL in his own head virtually from the day he took office. His VP barely squeaked out a win on Reagan’s coattails and had to raise taxes to pay for the killing machines conservatives wanted him to build. Bush I lost to Bill Clinton because of the fiscal reality of who pays for the war machines, the wars, but Slick Willy still had to appease the conservatives who held power and the majority, scared in their own beds at night of the commies waiting to get them. Bill fought every battle he found an excuse for just to keep them quiet and still couldn’t justify the military budget, which he had to cut.
Then came the surprise that created the world we know now; created it out of silicon and electricity. PC’s became widely available. Suddenly everyone had the ability to wax verbose across the entire US. Not too long after the US was wired, the whole world was wired. We went from having to do research that took months and years to complete in dusty libraries across differing regions, to being able to access virtually all of human knowledge with the click of a mouse.
Not all of the knowledge is real, though. Very little of it actually is.
It became possible to find news on your own, invent news on your own. No longer force-fed nightly at 6 and 10, you could binge on news 24/7. News that you wanted to read/watch/listen to, not the things that the media determined were things an educated public should know. The doors started to come off the media machine, the carefully crafted machine that fed the US and the world the news it wanted us to hear. Out of that chaos was born the conservative echochamber as we know it today.
The conservative echochamber elected Bush II. Conservatives fed off other conservatives, on channels they created to coordinate what it was they wanted done, how they wanted their arguments to proceed. What they wanted the grass roots to believe. Small government. Low taxes on the wealthy so they would spend more. Low taxes on everybody so that they had more to spend. A war machine to rival all others. Jobs for everybody. All of it born out of the half-baked plans that came to power with Reagan, that influenced Reagan. Neoconservatism. Libertarian economics. A perversion of Goldwater conservatism that even Barry Goldwater would be hard pressed to back.
With Jesus and the prosperity gospel, they brought their selected candidate to office.
I never did credit W with a wealth of brains. Familiarity breeds contempt, and as a Texan I knew what kind of lackluster thinker the Junior Bush was. He did know at least one thing, because it wasn’t that hard to figure out. Any human group works better together with an enemy to fight, and he started off his term in office with every intention of dealing with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, even before that fateful day in September of 2001.
A relative of his Saudi business partners, Osama Bin Laden, had similar if opposing goals. Having been betrayed by the US at the end of the Cold War when we abandoned the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, outraged by the stationing of infidel troops in the holy land, OBL hatched a plan to start a war with the US by destroying the icons of US capitalism and dominance in the world, the trade center in NYC.
The towers fell and the wars started, and the jobs never came and the debts mounted.
That is what it has been like, from then to now. Conservatives afraid of commies, of socialism, suspicious of even their countrymen, especially their liberal countrymen who didn’t see the threat, backing whatever horse showed up, because they prayed to their god to send them a saviour. Faith in the supernatural, reliance on the unknowable, fear and betrayal and more betrayal. That is why the conservative base is backing a demagogue in the current election. They are tired of being betrayed by complex people with complex arguments, and they want a war to destroy their enemy (whoever that is) before they are themselves destroyed.
Dissolved into history.
Returning to the narrative, that is why socialism is a non-starter in fly-over country, the vast angry red areas of the United States. They still think socialism is a thing to be afraid of. They have no idea that socialism is their insurance coverage. Their police force. Their fire fighters. Their hospitals. Any effort that benefits us all and doesn’t have a clear profit motivation to push it forward, that is socialism at work.
Socialism means no more and no less than control of social systems being held by the many rather than the few. That costs to maintain and run the system are spread across the social groups the system serves rather than paid directly by the person who receives the benefit.
When you get a check from your insurance company, you have benefited from a socializing system. The cost to reimburse you for your loss is borne by the group who pays premiums to that insurance company. When you are injured and rushed to a hospital, the existence of those systems being there to keep you from dying is due to socialism’s influence. When you log on to your computer to check Facebook or whatever social site is popular right now, the existence of that system is due to the socializing influence of government investment in technology.
The internet was not conceived of by a single corporation, was not the brainchild of a single mind. It was conceived of by many people working separately with funds infused by government for the purpose of stimulating research. It was the product of many people working towards the goal of making knowledge available to a larger and larger group of people, for the betterment of humanity as a whole. The internet is the most social of social structures ever invented by man. More social than the grandest ideals of socialism, more liberating than millions of dollars handed to each and ever poor person.
The opposing force for Authoritarianism is deeper than socialism, which is why acceptance of socialism as the good is irrelevant in the long run. Authoritarianism is the godhead. The worship of absolute authority over all things living. What opposes it is just as strong, but largely unvoiced. It is an expression of the value of each human life. It is at its core humanism, the valuing of the human over the spiritual or supernatural. The movement that was spawned with the enlightenment and has been forgotten by most people today.
Those of us who do remember 30 years ago remember Hillary Clinton’s first entrance on the world stage as First Lady to William Jefferson Clinton’s Presidency. Sadly it is against the backdrop of his presidency that her suitability for office is judged, rightly or wrongly. Her first book It Takes a Village was routinely derided by conservatives who knew the harsh cruel world for what it was, never actually asking if that was the world they wanted to live in or not. Whether it might be in our power to change the nature of the world, at least among us humans.
But the humanist notions of It Takes a Village have proven to be true over time. We do need to create a better world for our children and grandchildren and generally the word to describe what we have experienced from the 60’s through the present day in 2016 is progress. Perhaps social progress without economic progress, but progress all the same. A leveling out of society at a lower economic status than American’s have had to make do with since before our grandparents were born. Well, your grandparents anyway. Economics and capitalism is where the American population needs progress now, and capitalism is the subject that authoritarians want us to talk about the least.
Capitalism is nothing more or less than an outgrowth of the creation of money for trading goods and services. An outgrowth of the common notion that one should profit from transactions with others. Capitalism and money are themselves tools, part of the bigger picture of human interactions. Money cannot exist without others who accept that currency represents a fair trade for value, making capitalism/socialism a false dichotomy easily destroyed by authoritarians bent on altering the system to suit their goals.
Historical feudalism was an expression of authoritarianism, and facets of feudalism persist into the modern age long past the time when historians have credited it as dead. The notion that one can be granted title to people as well as property by a King or other warlord who controls a region seems outmoded or medieval; however the actual governing of areas, the ownership of lands and systems in the modern age seems hardly different in practice. Holding title to lands was first introduced as a feudal practice. Inheriting that title and associated wealth was also introduced then.
Obviously a family will and should be allowed to continue to use what was held by the head of the household before death. That seems like common sense. But the idea that it belonged to his/her heirs, the notion of heirs, that is feudalism. Is it justice for inheritors to possess gains which were ill-gotten? Gains handed to the original owner on the basis of skin color or where they called home previously? Where is the justice in that, where is the room to be merely human in a world of rigid structure like that?
One can argue that people are no longer property, held with the lands. That is probably the one big difference between the modern world and the ancient world. People are no longer legally property in most places around the world. But if you are poor and cannot afford to leave the lands you were born into (Greece in perspective) the functional difference between the two states blurs. The poor and unfortunate are the pawns of today’s systems just as they were in feudal systems; entirely at the mercy of those who control them. For the poor, there is little improvement through the ages aside from modern plumbing.
Capitalism is not a social structure. It is an economic philosophy of a value for value trade, a good solid basis for dealing fairly with those around you. A basis for labor having a value of its own which can be traded for goods and other labor at a later time. Capitalism has nothing at all to say about the content of society, what the minimum standards of living should be, what humane treatment of the sick and injured should be, how the elderly are cared for; in fact, it has little of merit to say about most things human.
During the course of the First World War the old establishments of feudalism/authoritarianism started to give way to the new ideas of democracy and self-rule. If you aren’t a student of history, you might not know that WWI saw the end of one of the longest running governments in human history, the Ottoman Empire. It was itself the inheritor of much of the wealth and knowledge of the Byzantine Empire which marked time all the way back through the Roman Empire almost to the beginning of recorded history. So the belief that feudalism was a practice limited to the middle ages is not much more than a quaint notion for scholars to debate. The practices of feudalism were encoded into law, and some of them continue to this day.
The United States, an early precursor of the modern age of democracy, one man one vote, wisely adopted many of the mechanisms established by the successful feudal societies that founded the colonies it sprang from. Things like corporations to shield business owners from direct personal liability for business losses. Things like a sound money system which established a commodity as the base measure of value. But the US has always been a mixed economy; mixed as in respecting the feudal/capitalist nature of the systems that were inherited from the English and the Dutch.
Corporations are feudal creations, originally charters granted by emperors and kings, and their structures are feudal in execution. Yes, a group requires a leader, that is a given of all human systems. But the value of that leadership in today’s world is highly over-rated. The pay for corporate executives far out-weighs the contributions they make to the process of creating the goods and services a corporation produces (Saving Capitalism) the average person on the street cannot name the current head of a single corporation. Some of the more savvy could probably name Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but neither head corporations any longer. Political junkies could point to Carly Fiorina or Donald Trump.
This is the intersection which we are currently attempting to navigate. Donald Trump represents exactly what economic conservatives have wanted for a generation; a businessman willing to take on the job of running the country; running the country like a business. Unfortunately for them he exhibits even less control than the previous businessmen conservatives have flirted with nominating. He launched his candidacy by laying this turd in full view of the watching world;
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Donald Trump. Or as I like to refer to him, the Orange Hate-Monkey. Fake tanned, he has embraced the conservative tropes of yesteryear, flinging the hatred of other like a monkey flings shit at gawkers at the zoo. His supporters hear only that they will be saved, if they follow him. That is all they want to hear.
I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?
Donald Trump is the poster boy for feudal privilege. Far from being a hero of the common man, an example of bootstrapping, Trump inherited his wealth and businesses from his father. He has bankrupted those businesses not once, but four times. His claim to authority is based entirely on his birth to a position of wealth and influence, the modern equivalent to nobility. The Dukes & Earls of previous societies are now referred to as CEO or CFO. Positions on the boards of large corporations mark your power within modern feudal society. Governments bow to your whims, write laws to benefit your finances, cater to your desires to the detriment of the poor forced to work for a living within the societies you rule.
Many, many people look at Hillary Clinton, look at her with the backdrop of 40 years of increasingly more conservative dominated politics, as well as the Presidency of her husband, and can’t see how she is an improvement on the President we currently have. There are independents who look at the two major party candidates and inexplicably cannot see a difference between the two of them, because they can’t separate the woman from the men she has been required to serve with, the real estate developer who has lied to himself for so long he doesn’t even know what the truth is anymore.
Maybe I’m just weird.
I’m struck today with the same sense of surrealism that I’ve had since the day I first heard the term Birther, long before there was such a thing as Birther-in-Chief, another apt Trump label. When I heard the accusation that Barack Obama wasn’t an American, I recognized it immediately as racism and dismissed it. When the conspiracy fantasy wouldn’t go away, when the Birther-in-Chief picked up this obvious dog whistle and wouldn’t stop blowing it, I realized that the conservative echochamber was a thing, not just a possibility.
These people don’t know reality from fantasy. Their fantasies about what goes on in the world mean more to them than the facts that govern it. They dismiss those facts when convenient, when the facts get in the way of their fantasies. And since the echochamber reflects back to them what they want to hear, they never get the corrective feedback that reality attempts to deliver.
In much the same way, it is painfully clear to me that misogyny governs most of the reporting that goes on in relation to Hillary Clinton. The media desperately attempt to echo the narrative that the long-dominant political forces in the US seem to want to hear. But there are voices out there sending the feedback that we need to be listening for, if only we are paying attention.
However, even if the worst of the worst of the beliefs about Hillary Clinton are true (and they aren’t) There is no way, NO WAY POSSIBLE that she could be as bad, much less worse than Trump. The beast that he has shackled himself to requires human sacrifice to be satiated. That is what happens when you found your campaign on creating an enemy in our midst. When your every other pronouncement decries the barbarian at the door.
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on
“American fascism will arrive carrying a cross and wrapped in a flag” and it has. However, there is no one person to fear that enters dragging fascism in their wake. The threat is not the figurehead, the Trump or the Hitler. The people to fear are those willing to vote for wrong, to back wrong with force, in the mistaken belief they are right. And that is scarier than the mere presence of the Orange Hate-Monkey on the political scene.
These people desire the destruction of the system itself, in their mad desire to be free of their fears, to the potential destruction of us all.
How is that, you ask?
The delivery of modern technology and modern medicine are such complex ventures that their continuation virtually requires the existence of government, government which is now threatened by corporate greed and corporate malfeasance. It is corporations who benefit from the loss of governmental power, not the individual. Corporations who stand ready to reap larger and larger profits at the cost of the lives of the poor and the sacrifice of the rest of the middle class in the US and across the face of the world. Corporations which must be brought to heel by government if we are ever to see the dawn of a new age. The age of the individual as expressed through humanism, the leveling of the playing field with the more equal distribution of information through technology.
Humanism is the vehicle which will bring the corporations to heel. Its time has finally arrived, let us not waste this opportunity to grasp the future for ourselves, our children and our children’s children. Trust in our ability to make the systems work to our benefit, using modern technology as our tool. It matters little what Hillary Clinton wants to do, so long as she keeps the systems running long enough for us to realize the potential present in the technology we now have at our disposal. Let us not fear the future, but embrace it.
Over the past nine years, since Mylan bought the rights to the EpiPen, the price for the easy-to-use injectors has quintupled — increasing about 450 percent, from around $50 for one injector to $600 for a pack of two.…The actual dose of the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) delivered by the device costs approximately $1.
I had noticed the price of these was getting ridiculous, but then it’s hardly the only medicine this has been done to. Long time allergy sufferers will remember when guaifenesin was cheap (still is if you look hard enough) and pseudoephedrine wasn’t treated as a narcotic. Thank #pharmabro and his speculator buds for this. He’s backing Trump, just FYI.
As the Charlie Hebdo artist said after the recent attacks in Paris, #ParisIsAboutLife. I tried to broach a tangent to this subject when I wrote the recent piece, Greece in Perspective. I sometimes wonder if I’m not too subtle in my writing. Other times I know I am, because the message never seems to get across.
Jim Wright wrote a particularly moving piece today that reminded me of the more subtle point I was trying to make with that other blog entry. Titled The Price of Civilizationhe goes into precisely why I ended the Greek piece with a reference to war and the Marshall Plan.
I’ve always been struck by the apparent contradiction that the most humane policy ever adopted by the United States was crafted by a General who oversaw so much bloodshed. But that was the wisdom of Truman and Marshall, overlooked by many these days.
Terrorism, the kind we face today? It comes from the fact that we, us, we keep blowing up civilization and leaving nothing but death and ruin in our wake. Terrorists are like cockroaches, they thrive on chaos and destruction and we’re damned good at creating that chaos.
Those of us on the liberal side of the aisle like to point at Bush II for creating the problem of Daesh by removing Saddam Hussein from power (as his father predicted would happen during the first Gulf War) but truthfully it is the American people who are to blame. Our own imperial nature which we coyly disguise and defend as capitalism.
We’re the ones who insisted that we wanted out of Iraq as soon as we could get out, instead of actually spending the additional decades it was going to take to make the region into a self-sustaining conglomeration of disparate elements. The kind of time that was spent helping to rebuild Europe after the war. A Europe that was already embracing self-determination and democracy.
Maybe we’re just blind to it, we inhabitants of the most egalitarian association of completely disparate influences, commonly referred to as the US. Because, no matter what detractors might say, no where on Earth do you have the mixture of varying cultures like those present in the current US social structure (maybe Oz. Maybe) all of them more or less harmoniously governed as a single nation. We take the bloodless transfers of power that occur here like clockwork as something everyone experiences, when the truth is that nowhere is there anything like the US when it comes to government, good and bad.
Listening to the Polish election celebrations, where a new isolationist government has been elected, it becomes apparent just how insulated most other places in the world are when it comes to exposure to other cultures.
Even in the conservative bastion of Texas all I have to do is travel to a different part of Austin to experience a whiff of almost any culture you can name. Asian cultures. African cultures. Native American cultures. These flavors are spread all over the nation in pockets. When I lived in Garden City several hundred Vietnamese refugees were dropped just outside of town in a little makeshift neighborhood constructed hastily to accommodate them. There was a lot of grumbling about this, but little violence. Why would there be? It’s a free country, isn’t it? Most of them moved away before too long, apparently to places like Austin where I live now, but we folded them into our society with hardly a hiccup, compared to the experiences of previous generations. That is what America really is good at.
It is a shame that more people don’t understand this. Even the average American doesn’t get it. As violent as we are, the thought of seizing control of the levers of government with force occurs to almost none of the citizenry. This is because there is no need to use violence. Those interested in getting involved in government do so; the doors are open, come on in and roll up your sleeves. If you are among the conspiracy-minded who doubt this is true, find your local precinct meeting place and show up for a meeting. You might be surprised.
Yet the government we set up in Iraq was seized by the majority religious faction in the first election held there, and they proceeded to exert their authority over the other minorities in ways that lead directly to the creation of Daesh-held areas of the country in response. We allowed this to happen in a country we had effective control over. What did we do? We left, not that we really had much choice. But we failed to impart the most important bit of knowledge that all of us should have gathered from our experiences in this free country before we left there. That is to our shame and the world’s detriment.
Freedom doesn’t mean you get to have your way. Freedom means you get to present your arguments. You get to present your arguments without fear of being killed for expressing them. If you are very persuasive, you might actually get to see your arguments accepted by others.
Pointing a weapon at someone will get you compliance, but it will ultimately lead to betrayal and violence, because coercion has a way of backfiring. That is why our military adventurism fails us as a nation. The civilizations we invade at the point of a gun just see the gun. They certainly don’t see the America that the average American actually experiences. The America where guns are frequently a topic of discussion, but almost never used anymore. We all know that when someone points a gun at you, you do what they say. But we also know that the tables will turn, that the aggressor will one day be the victim. Because that is the way of all things human.
So it will be with the violence in Paris that we all witnessed yesterday. The perpetrators of violence will either die violently or be subjected to French justice, a good bit more genteel than American justice. But Paris will go on just as before. Cities are for the living.
In the end, that may be the best response to terrorists everywhere. The best response to those people who encourage us to do violence out of fear. Create a civilization, a society, that can withstand their attempts to destroy it with fear. To slowly smother those who believe that there are things worth dying for with the millions more of us who know that there are many things worth living for. To go on living as if these fear-mongers never existed in the first place.
To pay the costs of establishing a civilization that can withstand the trials of living. Like Marshall did after seeing so many good men die. You either go on living or get busy with dying. There aren’t any other choices.