It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 5 of 5

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I stated in parts 1-4, that unless we change our attitudes and policies regarding Corporate Capitalism, it will destroy our country, our way of life, our freedoms, and our environment.  Furthermore, we will undoubtedly take some of the rest of the world along with us.  This is a serious accusation and one I do not take lightly.

I have already described four of the five myths that are largely responsible for the mistaken policies and laws that have allowed Corporate Capitalism to become a dangerous disease.  A disease that is infecting our government and policies in myriad ways and causing untold damage to our country and the world.

In this blog, I will describe Myth #5 and how it contributes to the problems we are now facing.  Myth #5 is:

What’s Good for Corporate America is Good for the USA:

shanghai-gm-monoply-guy-720x340 (1)A version of this myth is the “Too big too fail idea” widely heard during the “Great Recession” and now during the Coronavirus epidemic.  General Motors was one of the first giant corporations in America and even as late as 2019, it was ranked 13th on the Fortune 500 rankings of the largest United States corporations by total revenue.  In 1952 during his nomination hearing for Secretary of Defense, Charles Wilson (former CEO of General Motors) was asked if he could make a decision as Secretary of Defense that ran contrary to the interests of his former company.  He replied with the now infamous remark YES but that he could not conceive of such a situation: “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” — Wikipedia

220px-23_Things_They_Don't_Tell_You_About_Capitalism_cover_artThe foregoing belief in the common interests that corporations shared with America came to epitomize the ideology of Corporate America.  American corporations then used the media and astute public relations to convince the majority of US citizens that they are indispensable, and that the welfare of the average person depended on the welfare of the corporation.  To put it another way, the interests of a giant corporation are claimed to be synonymous with the interests of the average person. “What is good for America’s Corporations is good for You.”  “What is good for Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Exxon, Facebook and Pfizer is good for you.

This belief system, that corporate welfare is synonymous with our country’s welfare, is inevitably betrayed by at least two major factors.  These include: Externalities and Short-Term Thinking.

  1. Externalities (Lack of responsibility)

imagesWhen a company makes and sells a product, it is no longer responsible for the effects of that product on either the buyer or the environment.  Unless evidence can be shown that somehow the corporation either lied or had some kind of criminal intent in the sales process, the consumer and society are responsible for the negative effects that a product or service might have.  For instance, oil companies sell gasoline but are not responsible for the effects of polluting the atmosphere by burning gasoline.  Another example is the packaging that many companies use for their products.  Amazon is notorious for over boxing even the smallest products.  The boxes must then be thrown away or recycled in a landfill.  However, the cost of this recycling is not born by Amazon but ultimately by the taxpayer who must pay for the recycling through taxes or direct payments.  Meanwhile, Amazon makes a great profit by being able to take advantage of tax loopholes and escaping any costs.  These costs are called in economic terms: “Externalities.”

“In economics, an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a third party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit.”  Wikipedia

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  1. Short-term thinking

Corporations will tell you that consumers benefit from the aforementioned transfers of costs.  The consumer pays a cheaper price for the product than he/she would if the total costs to the environment were factored in.  However, this is only considering short-term costs.  In the long term, the consumer/taxpayer pays a much greater cost.  For instance, the pollution in the atmosphere has caused the overall temperature of the earth to rise resulting in global warming.  This warming has destabilized weather patterns all over the earth resulting in extremes of weather:  more frequent tornadoes, stronger hurricanes, longer droughts, greater rain in many areas resulting in flooding.

The impacts of these weather changes have already cost the world billions of dollars.  One study found that: “Climate change could directly cost the world economy $7.9 trillion by mid-century as increased drought, flooding and crop failures hamper growth and threaten infrastructure.”Climate impacts ‘to cost world $7.9 trillion’ by 2050.  This study does not measure the misery to human beings all over the earth in terms of famine, pestilence and the impact of more and more “natural” disasters.

So, what we have here is the typical example of “Short-Term” thinking on the part of our Corporate Capitalistic economic system.  From worrying about the daily price of their stocks, the quarterly dividend, the monthly financial statements and the quarterly financial reports, corporations are guided by short-term thinking.  They will compete for short-term profits at the cost of destroying our environment, our way of living and ultimately our world.  This is the nature of the beast as it is bred and chartered.

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When I was a store manager at the now defunct W.T. Grant Company, we used to get a report each month which showed us our store ranking in relation to the 200 or so other stores in our division.  Our regional management would send these out every month to motivate us to raise our ranking.  Thus, if we were ranked 76th out of 200 in sales and profits, it would behoove us to try to improve.  However, these rankings were more or less random since some stores would always be in the top rank because of their size or other demographics.  Even without changing a single factor in our operation, the next month might see our ranking go up to 50th.  This could simply mean that our seasonal sales had kicked in before some other store areas.  The following month we might drop to 125th out of 200.

Each month brought a great deal of shifting between stores.  One soon learned that these reports were worthless.  We regarded them as a big joke.  They told us nothing except that management was focused on the short-term and that it could not look longer ahead than a month.  I worked for W.T. Grant for two years and left 4 years before they went bankrupt.  At the time of their bankruptcy, they were the largest American corporation to ever declare bankruptcy.

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A number of years ago, the average lifespan of an American corporation was 60 years.  The first list of Fortune 100 companies published in 1954 showed that less than fifty years later more than ½ of these companies no longer existed.  A corporation which is regarded as a person by such ridiculous decisions as “Citizens United” lives considerably less than the lifespan of an average person.  Even that limited a lifespan for a corporation has dropped.  The average age of an S&P 500 company is now under 20 years, down from 60 years in the 1950s, according to Credit Suisse.

Why? You may well ask.  The answer is simple.  For two reasons:  Greed and Stupidity.  Hardly a corporation in America does not create a “strategic plan.”  I have helped formulate and facilitate many a strategic planning session.  The most difficult part of planning is to get companies to think long-term.  Partially, this is due to the extremely volatile nature of business and the competition that companies face.  An even bigger part of the problem is the nature of management thinking.  There are some notable exceptions to this prevalent thinking:

“In Warren Buffett’s 2010 annual letter to shareholders he mentions the advantage Berkshire Hathaway has because it doesn’t focus on short term results”:

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“At GEICO, for example, we enthusiastically spent $900 million last year on advertising to obtain policyholders who deliver us no immediate profits.  If we could spend twice that amount productively, we would happily do so though short-term results would be further penalized. Many large investments at our railroad and utility operations are also made with an eye to payoffs well down the road.  At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment. They simply get a letter from me every two years and call me when they wish.”  — Dr. Deming’s 7 deadly diseases by John Hunter

downloadDr. Deming wrote reams about the failure of management to balance what he called the “Problems of Today” with the “Problems of Tomorrow.”  I would typically hear when beginning a consulting engagement numerous reasons why “it could not be done.”  One of the most common excuses was expressed colloquially as “We are up to our ass in alligators.”  Another excuse was “We have too many fires to put out.”  I was fond of reciting Dr. Deming’s comment that, “Putting out fires is not improvement.  Finding a point out of control, finding the special cause and removing it, is only putting the process back to where it was in the first place. It is not improvement of the process.” — Out of the Crisis,  W. E. Deming

I have already mentioned in Part 2 on the Efficiency Myth that most corporations never really understood the idea of continuous improvement.  The focus of management is for the most part, a focus on quick fixes and short-term thinking that can bring quick profits regardless of the hidden costs and externalities.  Thus, the belief that what is good for a corporation is good for its citizens is not just false but dangerous.  To hold this belief is like trusting a rattlesnake not to bite you.  You might think that the rattlesnake is your friend until the day it bites you.  You are no more a friend to an American corporation than you are a friend to a rattlesnake.

41bf5SeawKL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I have sat in many boardrooms for many planning meetings, and seldom did I ever hear an executive worrying about the environment or the hidden costs of externalities.  The oft assumed legal mandate of a corporation is to make a profit.  However, corporate law states that a company does not have to pursue profit maximization at all costs.  This is idealistic though since the tendency in the marketplace and short-term thinking push corporations to ignore other considerations and pursue profits at all costs.  It is also much easier to measure profits than it is to measure a “good” to the environment or a “good” to the social system.  Thus, generally profits will trump other considerations in running an effective business.

Conclusion:

What is to be done?  How do we restore the proper balance of power to ensure that Corporations serve the country and not that the country serve the corporations?

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I think it will require the following major actions:

  1. We must overturn the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United
  2. We must change corporate law to do the following:
    1. Place size limits on corporations
    2. Place limits on the number of companies a corporation may acquire
    3. Regain citizen control by changing the corporate charter
  3. We must place limits on the exercise of lobbying
  4. We must stop corporate donations to political candidates
  5. We must place limits on the hiring of corporate executives to manage and oversee the government agencies that regulate their industry

There are many other things that can be done if we as citizens recognize that we have the power to take control of corporations.  We have the power to insure that they are acting in the public interest and not the other way around.  Madison Avenue has convinced Americans that what is good for Corporate America is good for the USA.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is time we take back our power.

“Corporate social responsibility is measured in terms of businesses improving conditions for their employees, shareholders, communities, and environment. But moral responsibility goes further, reflecting the need for corporations to address fundamental ethical issues such as inclusion, dignity, and equality.”Klaus Schwab

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It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 3 of 5

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I have stated in my two previous blogs that unless we change our attitudes and policies regarding Corporate Capitalism, it will destroy our country, our way of life, our freedoms, and our environment.  Furthermore, we will undoubtedly take some of the rest of the world along with us.  This is a serious accusation and one I do not take lightly.  I have been a business educator in higher education and a management consultant to some of the top corporations in the world.  My opinion is not based just on theory or observations.  It is based on the in-depth work that I did with over 32 companies during the time I was actively consulting.  There are many good people working in corporate America but as Dr. Deming once said “You put a good person in a bad system and the system will win every time.  There are Five Myths of Capitalism that are largely responsible for the mistaken policies and laws that have allowed Corporate Capitalism to become a dangerous disease infecting our way of life and causing untold damage to our country.

In my previous blogs, I described the first two myths.  In this blog, I will describe Myth #3 and how it contributes to the destruction of our country.  Myth #3 is:

  1. People Run Corporations

It is natural to believe that because people, managers and employees run corporations that they will act as humans might act.  It is supposed that corporations will be or at least should be humane, compassionate, and guided by responsibilities to its employees.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Nothing could be a bigger lie or myth.  People DO NOT run corporations.  I think I can illustrate the point I am trying to make with a few short stories from my own experiences with large corporations.  I am sure that as you read my stories, you will think of many similar experiences you have had.  That is what I want you to remember.

"Before we discuss destroying the competition, screwing our customers, and laughing all the way to the bank, let's begin this meeting with a prayer."

Best Buy Story:

Several years ago I bought a new desk top computer from Best Buy Corporation.  I also purchased a two-year extended warranty.  No sooner had I got the computer set up in my home office when problems started.  The computer would shut down without warning, most of the time right smack in the middle of a paper or presentation that I was preparing.  I was always very diligent at backing up my work, but I would still lose up to 15 minutes’ worth of work which was very annoying.  This happened a number of times and I called their customer service and got to talk to the Geek Squad.  This was originally a group of computer nerds who had their own company and Best Buy bought them up.

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I got a service rep on the line after the usual wait and switching of phone lines. He had me run a series of diagnostics and wanted to know if I had a virus protector.  I told him no, I had not yet installed one.  He informed me that this was my problem.  I had a virus and would need to install a virus protector.  I jotted down the incident number for this report and the date I called Best Buy.  I purchased a McAfee Virus software and installed it.  I was hopeful.  However, even after installing the new software, the same thing happened again and again.  The computer screen would go blank and the computer would shut off.  I called Best Buy tech support again.  I gave them my former incident number, but they opened a new number and gave it to me.  I talked to a tech rep.  He took me through the SAME series of diagnostics as before but could not find any problems.  Then he asked me if I had a virus protector.  I told him “Yes, I had purchased and installed McAfee Anti-Virus software.  He suggested I should switch to Norton Anti-Virus as he was sure that I had an undetected virus.  I said thanks and hung up.  I then went out and purchased a copy of Norton’s software.  I installed the software and you probably have already guessed it.  The computer had the same problem and kept logging off.  I was fed up.

I disconnected the computer.  Took my purchase receipt and took my incident numbers and notes and told Karen that I was taking the damn thing back to Best Buy.  She cautioned me to “Be nice”.  “You catch more flies with sugar than vinegar.”  I promised I would.  When I arrived at the store, with box and computer in tow, I was referred to the Customer Service manager.  He wanted to know the problem and I gave him my history.  He then asked me if I had called the tech group for support.  I said I had.  He requested proof.  I showed him my notes and both incident numbers.  He then said “Well, since you did not purchase this at our store, there is nothing I can do.”  Bingo! I had him, I thought.  I showed him my receipt of purchase at this very same store.  “Well,” he said “We would need an extended warranty for a refund since it has been over six months since you purchased this computer.  I pulled out my 2-year extended warranty and showed it to him.

At this point, he said he would have to go talk to the store manager.

Mr. Customer Service manager came back about fifteen minutes later.  He looked me straight in the eye and said “how sorry he was” but it was “against policy” to take back merchandise.  I had had enough with “being nice.”  I told him I would never shop at Best Buy again and since I was a business education teacher at a local college, I would warn my students about shopping at Best Buy.  He looked blank and said not a word as I left his store.  It has now been over ten years.  I have never entered Best Buy again.  I would not buy a battery there if it were the last place on earth.

The Moral of This Story: 

We are not human beings to the people that work in large corporations.  We are dollar signs.  They have no empathy for us.  They switch off empathy when they join the corporation and aspire to climb the corporate ladder.  They become automatons who obey policy, follow procedures, and screw the customer if it means saving a dime for the corporation.  They will look you right in the face while screwing you and have no pity or compassion.  Remember, “we are only following procedures.”  By the way, this is about as true in large Government bureaucracies as in private for-profit corporations.  Caveat:  There are always decent people out there who are “exceptions”, I repeat “exceptions” to the rule.  However, they are not the norm.

Delta Airlines Story:

A few years ago, my wife and I bought tickets to go to Rhode Island to visit my sister.  We bought the tickets well in advance and looked forward to the visit.  A week or so before our scheduled departure, my brother in law called me up.  “John, I know Jeanine would never ask you to cancel your trip, but she has really not been feeling good.  We had to take her to the clinic, and I think it would be best if you came some other time.”  I told him “no problem”, we would cancel the trip and reschedule at a later date when she felt better.

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I called the airlines up to see about a refund.  I was told that “they were deeply sorry, but sickness was not a reason for a refund.  I said “seriously, you mean if I get sick and cannot make a trip, I cannot get a refund.”  The clerk replied, “If you were sick, it would not be a problem, but you were not sick, it was your sister.”  I could have bit a steel spike in half, but I replied civilly.  “Okay, but what about another booking at a later date?”  “We can manage that he said.  We will put a voucher in for you, but you will have to pay a restocking fee.”  “How the fuck do you restock an e-ticket I asked?”  “Its standard policy”, he replied.  The restocking fees cost about a third of the ticket prices and I remember being out of pocket about $300 dollars.  Three hundred dollars to restock an e-ticket?

The Moral of This Story:

Same as the moral for the Best Buy Story.  You customer.  Me corporate man.  We make billions by screwing people like you.  Sorry, its nothing personal, just business.

Travel Insurance Company Story:

Here we are in the middle of a Global Pandemic.  Karen and I had planned a trip to Paris and Moscow.  We purchased trip insurance to cover a number of costs over nine months ago.  Our two flights there and two flights back have all been cancelled due to the pandemic.  I am confident (Perhaps an unwarranted assumption on my part) that the airlines will either give me a voucher or refund.  Thus, the trip insurance company has not had to shell out one penny yet.  I decided to call the insurance company to see if I could get reimbursed for our Visas to Russia and Belarus that cost us a total of $1000 dollars.  I had already called both embassies and was informed that I would have to reapply for new visas.  The trip insurance agent informed me that Visas are not covered under “Miscellaneous Trip Cancellations” because as the agent said, “Does it say Visas?”  A short time later they sent the following notice by email to all insurance recipients:

If your travel insurance contains Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption coverage:

Unless you purchased Trip Cancellation for Any Reason coverage, our insurance does not cover fear of travel.

Many of our plans exclude losses due to “any issue or event that could have been reasonably foreseen or expected when you purchased the coverage.” The COVID-19 outbreak is considered a foreseeable event under any plans containing this exclusion purchased on or after January 29, 2020.

I want to make three quick points. 

  1. Do you know anyone in their right mind who would not be afraid of traveling at this time?
  2. How in the name of anything you believe can the Covid-19 outbreak be considered a “foreseeable event” as early as January 29th?
  3. Have you ever seen the fine print and the number of pages on any insurance policy?

The Moral of This Story:

By now, you should know what the moral of this story is.  But just in case.  It is simply this.  If a large corporation can find any way to screw you, give you the shaft or take your money and give you nothing in return, rest assured many if not most of them will.

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Now, I want to return to my main point.  Corporations have no heart.  They have no feelings.  They have no emotions.  They are not sympathy machines or compassionate entities.  The people who are hired by these large corporations soon learn that if push comes to shove, they had better side with the corporation rather than the customer.

Unless, we change the character of corporate law, what it takes for articles of incorporation to be issued and the entire governance structure designed to provide oversight for companies, the stories that I have told above and your own sad tales will continue to reflect the reality of how corporations deal with people.

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Should it be this wayAre profits more important than people?  I fear that we have developed a system where too many people would say yes to both questions.

“How people themselves perceive what they are doing is not a question that interests me. I mean, there are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, ‘That person I see is a savage monster’; instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do. If you ask the CEO of some major corporation what he does he will say, in all honesty, that he is slaving 20 hours a day to provide his customers with the best goods or services he can and creating the best possible working conditions for his employees. But then you take a look at what the corporation does, the effect of its legal structure, the vast inequalities in pay and conditions, and you see the reality is something far different.”  ― Noam Chomsky

Carnival Knew It Had a Problem, but Kept the Party Going

More than 1,500 people on the company’s cruise ships have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and dozens have died.  What were the executives thinking?  BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

 

It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 1 of 5

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There are many theories about what drives progress and change in the world.  Some say Ideology changes the world.  Some say Technology is the main driver of change.  Karl Marx, one of the most famous or infamous men in history, (depending on your beliefs) argued that Economics is the main driver of change in the world.  Much of Marx’s theory is summed up by the term Historical Materialism which can be defined as:

“A theory of history which states that a society’s economic organization fundamentally determines its social institutions and the way that people live and benefit from the means of production in that society.”

marxism-capitalism-1-638Most of what people learn about Marx is far removed from his actual ideas.  Given that Capitalism has been diametrically opposed to the very name of Karl Marx, it is not surprising that he is routinely disparaged.  Even at the University level, it is rare to find anyone studying Marx very deeply.   Many educators and instructors describe Marx’s economic theories as “Totally Discredited.”  Few people in America have any good words for Karl Marx.  Any politician in the USA who might suggest that Marx ever said one good thing or had one good idea would court instant political death.  Marx is the devil in our Capitalistic system.

the economyMarx did of course hate capitalism.  He saw Capitalism as a system that exploited workers and allowed the greedy to benefit at the expense of those less fortunate or less aggressive.

“Capitalism: Teach a man to fish, but the fish he catches aren’t his. They belong to the person paying him to fish, and if he’s lucky, he might get paid enough to buy a few fish for himself.”  — Karl Marx

10665231_470379489743928_2447670465163187643_nThe antipathy directed towards Marx and his critique of Capitalism has discouraged any real in-depth understanding of the limits and myths of Capitalism by most Americans.  Capitalism resides in America on the same level as Mom, God, and Apple Pie.  Woe to anyone who would dare to attack Capitalism.  In the United States, Capitalism is as hallowed an institution as Christianity.  In fact, most Christians think that Capitalism and religion go hand in hand, which to a large extent they sadly do.  Unfortunately, not all Capitalism is the same.  In America, we have a home-grown version that is more appropriately called Corporate Capitalism.  What is the difference you might ask?  Well it gets even more complicated since economists define four types of Capitalism.  These are:  oligarchic capitalism, state-guided capitalism, big-firm capitalism, entrepreneurial capitalism.  The type of Capitalism that I am going to talk about is known as Big Firm Capitalism or Corporate Capitalism.  It has been defined as:

“Corporate capitalism is characterized by the dominance of hierarchical and bureaucratic corporations… A large proportion of the economy of the United States and its labor market falls within corporate control.  In the developed world, corporations dominate the marketplace, comprising 50% or more of all businesses.  Those businesses which are not corporations contain the same bureaucratic structure of corporations, but there is usually a sole owner or group of owners who are liable to bankruptcy and criminal charges relating to their business. Corporations have limited liability and remain less regulated and accountable than sole proprietorships.” — Wikipedia

Before we proceed further, you need to understand one thing.  I am not against corporations per se.  We gain many benefits from corporations.  Corporations are a large part of the foundation of our economy which from strictly a monetary perspective has been phenomenally successful.  The USA has perhaps the most successful economy in history.  I have no problems with the monetary contributions of corporations.

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The problems arise however, in that there are Myths of Corporate Capitalism which serve to hide the negative impacts that corporations have on our country and the rest of the world.  Today, corporations are global entities and their excesses are felt not just in this country but all over the globe.  I believe that unless these excesses are reined in by intelligent oversight and a rewriting of corporate law, they will destroy this country.  Each of these excesses is a Deadly Disease that by itself could do the destruction.  Together these five excesses are leading America away from the vision of our founding fathers.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were based on the belief in a democratic system of government that was of the people, by the people and for the people.  We are increasingly standing by while our country becomes a government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation.

The Five Myths of Corporate Capitalism that are destroying America:

  1. Corporations are people

supreme court decisionOver the past 40 years, the Supreme Court has radically expanded constitutional rights for corporations.  The original charters for corporations written in the late 19th century, allowed corporations powers never before seen in companies.  The abuse of these powers soon led to a considerable amount of legislation designed to reign in some of the most egregious of these abuses.  Laws such as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act passed in 1890 to stop monopoly practices and the Clayton Antitrust Act passed in 1914 to stop unethical business practices were somewhat successful at ameliorating corporate abuses.  Unfortunately, corporations were still left with considerable power to thwart the goals of democracy and good government.

From the early 20th Century onwards, corporations continued to use their power to bribe, cajole, and persuade policy makers to give them privileges that once again extended their power. They have since more than made up for the power that they lost in the early part of the 20th century.

“Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time.  For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34.  Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.”  — “How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy” — The Atlantic, Lee Drutman, April 20, 2015.  

corporate powerCorporate interests easily dominate the interests of the common person.  The common person has nowhere near the financial clout of corporations.  In 2010, the Supreme Court passed the Citizens United Decision which gave corporations unlimited power to finance and support political candidates running for office as well as to lobby on behalf of any laws that they wanted.  This decision basically upheld the idea that corporations had a right to free speech much like any citizen of the USA and that campaign spending was simply a manifestation of free speech.  Corporations are now being treated as living breathing people despite the fact that corporations can live forever, and corporations are not organic entities.  They are not born, and they do not die like any other creature on the face of the earth.

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Corporations already had almost unlimited power to influence and coerce politicians to do their will.  The Citizens United Decision took all the brakes out of the system.  You have often heard the parody of the Golden Rule “He who has the gold makes the rules.”  This trope is now a fact of life in America.  Many people no longer bother voting because they believe that voting is a waste of time.  Everyone knows that politicians need an exorbitant amount of money to support their campaign and that once elected they immediately start building their money up for their reelection.   They get the lion’s share of this money from big business interests and associations that support big business interests such as the National Rifle Association (NRA).

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According to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission that cover activity from January 1, 2019 through June 30, 2019, congressional candidates collected $389 million and disbursed $172.2 million, political parties received $353.7 million and spent $279.9 million, and political action committees (PACs) raised $958.2 million and spent $818.7 million in the six-month period.  If you total these figures up for money raised in just the first six months of 2019, it equals $1.701 billion dollars.  If there were 100 people in the US Senate and 435 people in the US House of Representatives, this equals approximately $3,179,400 dollars for every one of those politicians in office.  Of course, some will get more, and some will get less, but the majority of this money will be spent helping to support the reelection of each and every one of these honorable men and women.

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Here is a little experiment to show you what this campaign funding could buy.  Consider that the Federal Minimum Wage in the United States as of 2020 is $10 dollars per hour.  A person on minimum wage working full time earns approximately $21,000 dollars a year.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1. 8 million Americans work full-time at or below the minimum wage.  If you double the average election campaign fund to equal a full year of collecting money you will get approximately $6.2 million dollars.  Now divide this campaign fund by the average yearly minimum wage of $21 thousand dollars and you get 295.  In other words, one year of campaign funding (an average) would fund a person now working on minimum wage for 295 years.   If you earn the national average of $86,000 dollars a year, it could support you for 72 years.

To say that something is wrong here is an understatement.  We have a sort of self-perpetuating money machine here.  Every year corporations get greedier and seek more profits.  According to Corporate Law that is their primary reason for existence.  Numerous pundits and corporate sympathizers extol the virtue of greed.

Workers Should Be Very Thankful That Corporations Are So Greedy” by Jeffrey Dorfman

greed is goodOne of the most popular movies in the eighties was Wall Street.  In the movie, Michael Douglas gave a “Greed is Good” speech which was actually applauded by audiences all over the United States.  Some corporations have been sued by stockholders for not being greedy enough.

Every year budding politicians need more and more money to get elected.  Corporations are money banks for anyone desiring to run for office.  Corporations provide the funds that politicians need to wage a successful election campaign.  Once elected, elected officials are then beholden to the major corporations and lobbyists whose help they will need to raise the money to get reelected.

Corporations are more than happy to support candidates who will pass bills that help them to make more profits.  Other bills they like are designed to ensure that they can pay less taxes, have fewer environmental regulations, fewer safety and health regulations, pay lower wages, decrease employee pensions and benefits, defeat unions and avoid onerous consumer liability claims.  Any politician who is willing to support the former goals can find numerous corporate lobbyists willing to donate money to help them get elected.  The Citizens United Decision guarantees that corporations can give as much money as they want without breaking any laws.  After all, it is free speech.

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“Warren Buffett worth nearly $80 billion dollars points to the Forbes 400, which lists the wealthiest Americans.  ‘Between the first computation in 1982 and today, the wealth of the 400 increased 29-fold — from $93 billion to $2.7 trillion — while many millions of hardworking citizens remained stuck on an economic treadmill.  During this period, the tsunami of wealth didn’t trickle down.  It surged upward’.”  — Entrepreneurs, January 24th, 2018

In Part 2, I am going to cover the second myth of Corporate Capitalism.  The Myth that laissez faire will somehow result in corporations being self-regulating entities for the common good.

“According to a survey from the Pew Research Center last year, 60 percent of American adults think that three decades from now, the U.S. will be less powerful than it is today. Almost two-thirds say it will be even more divided politically. Fifty-nine percent think the environment will be degraded. Nearly three-quarters say that the gap between the haves and have-nots will be wider. A plurality expects the average family’s standard of living to have declined. Most of us, presumably, have recently become acutely aware of the danger of global plagues.”  — The Atlantic, Kate Julian, April 17, 2020

In Search of Stupid People

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Have you ever thought that there is an epidemic of stupid people?  Stupid people to the right, stupid people to the left, stupid people in front, stupid people in back of you.  You don’t have to go very far to find stupid people.  In the middle of a world-wide pandemic, we have people who still want to congregate with others.  We have ministers insisting on holding church services and encouraging people to hug and shake hands.  We have governors who deem golf courses and gun shops as “Essential” services.  I won’t dwell on some of the dumb things that our politicians have said as I am sure you have heard enough from them.

If you thought that there were easily enough stupid people to go around before, they now seem to be growing like the corona virus in exponential numbers.  When we are finally back to normal, I am going to suggest to my local college and perhaps high school that they offer a course called “Stupidity 101.”  I will also recommend that we change the name of our species from Homo Sapiens to Homo Stupidus.

Just last night, Karen and I were coming back from a trip to the grocery store and we had to stop at a railroad crossing to let a train go by.  Karen noticed that there was a sign along side the roadway that said, “Do not stop on the railroad tracks.”  She turned to me and said, “Who would be dumb enough to stop on the tracks?”  I replied that “I am sure there are enough stupid people in the world that need to be reminded.  Although I doubt that the sign would do them any good.”

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The train finally passed, and we continued down the road.  The street (named Battaglia) does not have a shoulder or streetlights where we were at.  It is a fairly narrow road.  Some movement up ahead caught my eye.  It was on the right side of the road and I swerved to the left to miss it.  As I went by what I thought might only be a post, I saw that it was a woman walking on the same side of the street with her back to traffic and half on the road.  She had on dark clothes and was barely visible.  I wanted to back up and tell her to either walk facing traffic or to wear more visible clothes or better yet, even both.  Karen was startled by my swerving and did not even see the woman as we drove by.  I told her why I had swerved.  I explained that it was just another stupid person who has a death wish.  I personally don’t care about her death inclinations as long as she finds some other way to do it besides me plowing into her with my car.

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This thought of stupid people kept echoing in my mind.  Why are there stupid people?  What makes people stupid?  How do we fix stupidity?  Is there any cure?  I went on the internet to research the subject.  As with any research we must first start with a definition of our problem or the entity we are studying.  Webster’s Online Dictionary defines stupidity as: “Behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgment.”  I thought about this definition and while it is not bad, I like my own definition better.  I would define Stupidity as “A denial of reality.”  Now, why do people deny reality?  What blinds people to objectivity?

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First of all, allow me to get off my “high horse” for a minute.  By now you are contemplating what an arrogant asshole I am.  “The whole world is stupid, but he thinks that he is the only intelligent one in the world.”  No, unfortunately, the world cannot be easily divided into stupid people and smart people.  All of us are stupid at one time or another.  I have my stupid moments and you will or have had your stupid moments.  What are some of the things that make us stupid?  My brief research shows an astounding number of things that make us stupid.  Here are some of the more common factors influencing stupidity:

  • Greed
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Ego
  • Arrogance
  • Short-term thinking
  • Power
  • Love
  • Religion

You are probably thinking “My god, is there anything that does not make us stupid?”  Even my brief list is enough to indict most of the human race at one time or another.  Take the issue of love.  Have you ever made a fool of yourself over an infatuation with someone else?  Or take religion.  How many religious zealots do you know who become so self-righteous that they cannot see the value in other religions or people who do not subscribe to their religious views?  Take any item from my list above and I am sure that you can find any number of examples to illustrate the ongoing stupidity of the human race.

Greed is a particularly interesting factor.  I once heard a quote that said, “Greed is not the worst of all sins, but it is the gateway to all others.”  Just recently we had a Lt. Governor who intoned that “older people should be willing to die for the good of the economy.”  Few older people I know have volunteered to take him up on the offer.

When we are children, we are all taught the story of the little boy and the cookie jar.  This is a great example of the stupidity that greed often leads to.

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Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived with his mom.  He was an only child and was quite spoiled.  His mother gave him everything he wanted.  One day upon his request, she made a batch of cookies.  When they had cooled, she put them in a cookie jar.  Most cookie jars are narrow at the top and wide at the bottom.  She told him that he could have one cookie each day.  As soon as she left the kitchen, he reached into the cookie jar and grabbed the biggest handful of cookies he could hold.  He then tried to get his hand out, but it would not come out.  He pulled and he yanked but he could not get his hand out.  He finally became frustrated with his efforts and screamed for his mom.

“Mom, please come quickly, I need your help.”  His mother came rushing back into the kitchen and looked at her son.  “What is your problem?”  “I can’t get my hand out of the jar.  It is stuck.”  “Well, let go of the cookies” she replied.  The little boy opened his fist and let the cookies fall out of his hand.  Immediately he was able to take his hand out of the jar.  The moral of the story is so obvious I will not insult your intelligence.  But think about all the people and companies and politicians who have their hands in the cookie jar and cannot get them out.  Stupidity is a derivative of greed in many cases.

So what can we do about stupidity?  Will my Stupidity 101 class cure the problem?  What would I teach in Stupidity 101?  Some people say that “you cannot cure stupidity.”  Is this true?  Are we doomed to stupidity as a race?  Can scientists help us?  Are they the people with the solution? Or do we look to philosophers to help us?

"I've been thinking harder than you have, and my thought experiment disproves your thought experiment."

Goethe’s Faust is a classic example of the folly of brains and intellect.

“The erudite Faust is highly successful yet dissatisfied with his life, which leads him to make a pact with the Devil at a crossroads, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The Faust legend has been the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works that have reinterpreted it through the ages. “Faust” and the adjective “Faustian” imply a situation in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success for a limited term.” — Wikipedia

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Tragically, Faust not only destroys his life in a sybaritic bargain for power, knowledge and lust but he nearly destroys the woman who falls in love with him in the process.  Marguerite is redeemed because she repents and sees the folly of her ways but for Faust there is no redemption and he goes down to hell for his deeds.  Stupid thinking by highly intelligent people is nearly as common as among those of lesser intelligence and intellect.  So the question still remains “Can we cure stupidity and if so How?”

See:  10 Most Famous Scientific Theories That Were Later Debunked

"Ulrich, that's bad science and you know it!"

I wish I had the answer to this question but alas, I have no solution.  Here are some comments from others perhaps far wiser than I am.

“The donkey heard the book gives wisdom and ate it.”  ― Ljupka Cvetanova, The New Land

“People think that whatever comes out of the mouth of a wise man is the choicest gem, sometimes it’s utter stupidity and rubbish” ― Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pearls Of Eternity

“I’m tired of being told it’s elitist to call stupid behavior stupid. Remember when you were just a tot and thought it might be a good idea to stick your wee-wee in the electrical socket? Hopefully, you had a mom who kicked you in the behind and called you stupid. There are times when mincing words and pleasant euphemisms simply don’t cut it. Sometimes, you need to call stupid by its given name.”  ― Quentin R. Bufogle, Horse Latitudes

“Wisdom is the distance between intelligence and stupidity.”  ― Matshona Dhliwayo

 

 

The Impeachment Song by D. J. Chump

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Listen up now all my loyal fans and supporters.  I just wrote the greatest song that’s ever been written.  It’s in honor of the greatest event to ever happen in the history of America.  It will take place later this week.  You all know what it is, so I won’t bother you with the details.  It’s going to be great though.

Now, I need to have you all sing this song in honor of me.  Everybody must join in.  No slackers or wusses.  We will start on the right.  As a matter of fact, we will start and end on the right.  No Democrats, liberals, homos, blacks, Mexicans, Reformist Jews, college professors, disabled, Chinese, Japanese or any other Asians, immigrants, Arabs and of course no Muslims are allowed.  Poor people only if you voted for me.  So, sing out loud please.

Song to the Tune of “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkeys by the Monkeys

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Hey, Hey, I’m a Republican Politician,
I’ve got no morals, I’ve got no ethics,
All I care about is getting reelected.

Hey, Hey, Donald Trump’s my man,
And I’ll stick by him as long as I can.
We all know he’s got a great defense,
Cause nothing he can do will ever rise to the level of an Impeachable Offense.

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Hey, Hey, I’m a Right-Wing Bigot and Fascist,
I don’t like Mexicans, I don’t like blacks and I don’t like Jews,
I guess it’s time to grab a brew.

Hey, Hey, Donald Trump’s my man,
And I’ll stick by him as long as I can.
We all know he’s got a great defense,
Cause nothing he can do will ever rise to the level of an Impeachable Offense.

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Hey, Hey, I’m an Evangelical Christian,
I only vote for those against abortion,
Can’t have any uppity women getting out of the kitchen.

Hey, Hey, Donald Trump’s my man,
And I’ll stick by him as long as I can.
We all know he’s got a great defense,
Cause nothing he can do will ever rise to the level of an Impeachable Offense.

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Hey, Hey, I’m a rich fat cat who hates all taxes, I pay as little as I can,
I hide my true dividends and earnings,
You guessed it, in my offshore banking.

Hey, Hey, Donald Trump’s my man,
And I’ll stick by him as long as I can.
We all know he’s got a great defense,
Cause nothing he can do will ever rise to the level of an Impeachable Offense.

Democracy passes into despotism. — Plato

 

3520 – Wednesday, September 11, 2019 — Can We Ever Understand the Trump Phenomenon?

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Pontificating and writing books and articles about what I will call the Trump phenomenon has become (forgive my use of this cliché), a Cottage Industry.  I have three books on my shelf right now in which an author has gone on a quest (to a remote area of America) to find the reason why so much of rural and middle America embraced Trump.  The ostensible goal of these quests is to understand why anyone would vote for a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic bigoted egomaniac.  Fully twenty-eight percent of American voters selected Trump as well as more than 75 percent of the Republican Party.  Most of those on the left, regard it as the proverbial enigma wrapped in a riddle.

Many of these quests endeavor to be “objective” exercises to find out why Americans voted for and in many cases “love” Trump.  Not surprisingly, these authors tend to be on the left of the political spectrum.  I suppose to be objective and qualify as research, each author must show sympathy for the “deplorables” that elected Trump by trying to listen, empathize and gently understand the forces that were at work in their embracing Trump.  In one case, the author assumes that if you can party with the other side, you will better understand their perspective. 

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A few of these books have sold quite well, even if they do very little to shed any real light on the Trump phenomenon.  They all seem to be researched (research to these authors means meeting with rural folks over tea or coffee and talking to them without insulting their intelligence) by a well-meaning liberal.  Usually, the author is an academic who thinks that talking to anyone who would vote for Trump can solve the puzzle and perhaps make America great again.  Reading these books, you will be no doubt be embellished with many narratives that involve a poignant description of a “typical” rural American to show how the other side really lives and how sad some of their lives are.

I find the solution to the enigma much less puzzling and much less difficult to solve.  I did not need to go on a quest to find the solution.  The solution simply involves “looking at rural America.”  Rural America is dying, dying, dying.  Churches are dying.  Restaurants are dying.  Retail stores are dying.  Industries are dying.  Banks are dying.  Resorts are dying.  Jobs are dying.  Small farms are dying.  Rural America is dying, and no one seems to notice.  Even the people living there do not really notice.  It is a case of the fish being the last ones to see the water.  But on many levels, the angst exacts a toll on the citizens of these areas.   Alcoholism, drug addictions and guns are all means of coping in rural communities.  

People who live in many of many of these rural depressed areas have been told to “get retrained.”  “Find employment in the new emerging industries.”  “Join the information age.”  “Learn computer programming.”  “Go back to school.”  “Go where the jobs are.”

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In 1979, I was hired as a DVOP (Disabled Veterans Outreach Person) by the State of Minnesota.  I worked as a job counselor with the DES (Department of Economic Security.)  At about this time in Minnesota, the iron range was shutting down, many foundries in St. Paul were closing and the stock yards were closing.  For years, these industries had provided relatively decent pay and benefits for people more amenable to working with their backs than with their intellects.  As an employment counselor with a Masters in Employment Counseling from the University of Wisconsin Stout, my job was to help them regain financially viable employment.  Here is what this meant.

I had to take a man (most often a man) with twenty or so years working in one industry, a bad back, little or no education beyond high school, responsible for supporting a wife and two or more children and find him or her a job paying twenty or so dollars per hour with benefits.  There were no funds provided by DES for this man to go to school and even if there were, what kind of school could he go to?  Over the years, both Wisconsin and Minnesota had shut down many vocational training schools to emphasize college over vocational education.  Unions seldom provided apprenticeships and even if they did, most would go to younger workers with less physical problems. 

Globalization was hailed as a great concept and as a business person, I would argue it was good for many Americans and much of the world.  But for the man or woman who worked in American industries that were either outsourced, replaced by foreign labor or moved overseas, it was not so good. 

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I continued working as an employment counselor for the DILHR (Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations) in Wisconsin.  I had taken a Wisconsin State test and found work closer to my home in River Falls, Wisconsin.  I became a Manpower Counselor II in charge of an office in Hudson and Ellsworth Wisconsin.  I ran the WIN Program (Work Incentive), IHRAP Program (Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program), LEAP Program (Labor Education Advancement Program) and several programs for veterans and minorities. 

We had minimal funds for people that could qualify for education and we had maintenance funds for eligible job seekers to help support them while they looked for gainful employment.  With respect to education, there was no way anyone could go to school and support a family while they were in school on the available funds.  For job seekers, the maintenance funds could help while they looked for employment but, in many cases, they had little chance of finding employment without further education.  Regulations prohibited many of these “eligible” job seekers from going to school while they received AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), Welfare benefits or unemployment benefits.

Bottom line, both the Democrats and Republicans threw many of the people who lost their jobs because of Globalization under the bus or over the cliff.  “Go get retrained they were told.” 

694940094001_5470675642001_5470650547001-vsThe research that purports to explain the Trump phenomenon almost never goes beyond the “Right Wing” narratives for Trumps election.  These narratives all point to abortion, guns, taxes, small government, immigration and jobs as the key factors in Trumps victory.  Trump blames the Democrats for everything wrong in rural America and the Republicans have provided a compelling set of schemes that have convinced many in rural America that a partial solution to their problems lies in more capitalism. 

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Greed is good is a mantra among Republicans and they have managed to sell desperate people needing desperate measures with faith in the “Trickle Down Theory.”  For those who might question this theory, the fallback narrative is to blame immigrants, Latinos, Blacks and Muslims with usurping the American Dream.  Trump and the Republicans have sold the rest of the solution as “Make America White Again.” 

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Is it any wonder that people are sick of government and politicians?  The vision and mission of most government agencies hardly ever comes close to matching the reality of the policies, laws and regulations that spew forth from these lawyer led entities.   You would be forgiven for not realizing that the citizens of the United States of America are the customers of government rather than the other way around.  Trump is a phenomenon of distrust, disgust and despair.  Trump promised solutions to these problems while the rest of the government slept and slept and slept.

“I’ve always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked of how, in America, if you worked hard you would become rich. The meaning of that was if you were poor it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie, about my father and millions of others, men and women who worked harder than anyone, harder than financiers and politicians, harder than anybody if you accept that when you work at an unpleasant job that makes it very hard work indeed.”  ― Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

 

 

 

 

 

3570– Tuesday, July 23, 2019 – We Lose Our Way!

Every year, the first morning of our retreat, we get a sermon followed by a song in which one of the lyrics states that “We lose our way.”  This song “Lord teach us to pray” was written and sung by Joe Wise.  Joe now lives north of me in Arizona.  Somewhat of a coincidence since I have heard his song at each of my last 36 retreats in Minnesota where I used to live.  I called him some years ago and talked about the possibility of meeting him.  It has not happened yet.  He still sings religious songs and records.

I started thinking about this idea of “losing our way” in more secular terms when I returned to my home after the retreat.  Somehow the idea just stuck in my mind.  “We lose our way.”  So easy to do.

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We seek fame. We want to be remembered and honored.  We want to be celebrities.  We give up our lives chasing the Goddess of Fame.  We measure success by how much of a celebrity we have become.  We measure hits and likes.  We honor movie stars, sports heroes and heroines and royalty.  We follow their every doing in the gossip pages and the constant 24/7 news that swamps us with their comings and goings.  If only I was like Kim Kardashian.  If only I was popular and good-looking like Leonardo De Caprio or Dwayne Johnson.  Oh, how much better and happier my life would be.  We lose our way.

“We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame changes the game.” — Young Thug

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But maybe our Goddess is not fame.  Maybe our God is Greed.  More, more, more.  More money.  More sex.  More stuff.  More cars.  More and bigger houses.  Bigger is always better.  So, give me a bigger whatever.  Let me have bigger tits, a bigger cock, more muscles, bigger ass, bigger biceps, more hair, more youth.  Let me live forever.  Let me have piles of money to spend.  Let me win the lottery.  Let me win big at the racetrack or the casino.  If only I had more, I could be happier.  If only I was like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, my life would have meaning.  I would be a success.  We lose our way.

“We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” — Stephen Hawking

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Forget Fame and Fortune!  They are for stupid people.  Give me power.  Power is where it is at.  The God of Power Kratos personifies strength, might and rule.  With my three enforcers:  Nike for Victory, Bia for Force and Zelos for Rivalry, I can rule the world.  I can have the power to take anything I want.  I can make all the people bow down and look up to me.  I can tell others what to do and when to do it.  I can be the boss. I can be the ruler.  I can be in charge.  No one can tell me what to do.  Those who have power make the rules.  I will be the greatest ruler the world has ever seen.  If only I was like Donald Trump.  I could grab pussy whenever I wanted to.  I could kill anyone in Times Square and my followers would still idolize me.  I could say whatever I wanted to and insult whomever I wanted to, and I would still be loved and admired by millions.  People would kiss my ass everyday and want to know what I wanted.  It would never matter what anyone else wanted and it would all be about what I wanted.  We lose our way.

 “Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.” — Georg Orwell, “1984”

 How do we find our way back? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3609– Friday, June 14, 2019 – Citizens: Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare!

A number of years ago (1998), I was hired by the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota as a Principle Planner II.  My job was to help the various units at the council to improve productivity and service.  I had been an independent Process Improvement consultant for the previous 13 years.  My new job meant a study paycheck and less travel.  It was a good way to get out of consulting and into more regular employment.  The people at the council were hardworking and dedicated.  Nevertheless, as Dr. Deming always said, “hard work guarantees nothing.”

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In a short while, I found more waste and useless expenditure of time and taxpayer money than I could have imagined possible.  Even though as a consultant, I had often worked with government agencies from the US Navy to the City of Minneapolis, I was astounded at the staggering amount of fruitless effort throughout the organization and other state agencies.  I had become a liaison for the Metropolitan Council to help coordinate quality improvement agencies for a joint committee that included the Met Council and members of various other state agencies.  I frequently came home and exclaimed to Karen: “My god, if the average citizen saw the waste and stupidity that I see every day, they would grab a rifle or pitchfork and march on City Hall.”  I was dead wrong.

It has been twenty years and the waste and lack of accountability in government is still appalling and “no one is marching on City Hall.”  I often doubt if anyone really cares.  There is an old saying which goes like this:

Businesses get the unions they deserve,

Industries get the regulations they deserve, and

People get the governments they deserve.

 The lack of transparency in government is bewildering.  Transparency and accountability go hand in hand.  However, many cities, states and towns fail to publish their complete financial records on-line.  Yet no one demands to see the records of government spending.

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“Democracy depends on an informed electorate, but due to current practices in both accounting and budgeting, the true financial health of a city can be obscured, and citizens are deceived, or at best misled.  Without access to truthful, timely, and transparent information, how can citizens be knowledgeable participants in their governments?” —  Truth in Accounting

It seems that everyone you talk to is willing to condemn the cupidity and incompetence of most of our political leaders.  Yet, such criticism begs the question: “Not why did we elect these people, but why do we continue to reelect them?”

“Congressional stagnation is an American political theory that attempts to explain the high rate of incumbency re-election to the United States House of Representatives.  In recent years this rate has been well over 90 per cent, with rarely more than 5-10 incumbents losing their House seats every election cycle.”Congressional stagnation in the United States

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These high rates of reelection defy logic since they come at a time when trust in government is at an all-time low.  “We the people” grouse and complain but the fact remains that “we the people” do not demand accountability and we do not enforce accountability.  We elect leaders who soon feel little or no need to represent their constituents but more likely never felt the electorate really mattered in the first place.  Too many of our leaders are fully aware that they owe their first loyalty to the lobbyists and corporations that funded them and not to the “joe or jane” on the street that simply cast a ballot for them.

“Public trust in the government remains near historic lows.  Only 17% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right ‘just about always’ (3%) or ‘most of the time’ (14%).”  — Public Trust in Government: 1958-2019

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I have repeatedly said that we need government.  It would be foolish to think that a community, let alone a nation, could function without a government.  Yet, I can also accept the words of Edmund Burke that “The government that governs best is the government that governs least.”  I do not say throw out government, but I do say “we the people” have to start making our votes and voices heard.  Too many of our so called “silent majority” simply do not give a damn.

If you don’t give a damn, you will get the government you deserve.  It would seem that this bit of wisdom has become a reality for most Americans.

PS:

I just watched Jon Stewart’s heroic and passionate speech to the House Judiciary on behalf of 9/11 Responders.  This speech will go down in history as a testimony to the difference citizens can make in government if we dare to speak out.  Stewart echoes my call for accountability in his speech.  See:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2QMqsNvWuc

“Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one.  Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country and it’s a stain on this institution.  And you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here.  But you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.” — Jon Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 3rd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Knowledge without Character.

Several years ago I became very interested in the question of “Character.”  What is character?  How do we develop character?  Are we losing character in our population and if so, why?  I found a number of books on the subject but the one that most impressed me was called “The Death of Character.”  It was published in 2001 and was written by James Davison Hunter.   The book description is as follows:

The Death of Character is a broad historical, sociological, and cultural inquiry into the moral life and moral education of young Americans based upon a huge empirical study of the children themselves. The children’s thoughts and concerns-expressed here in their own words-shed a whole new light on what we can expect from moral education. Targeting new theories of education and the prominence of psychology over moral instruction, Hunter analyzes the making of a new cultural narcissism.

One of the observations that I drew from reading this book is that as a nation, Americans have moved from a perspective of absolute values to a strong belief in relative values or flexible standards.  Wherein once people could be labeled as moral or immoral based on their behavior, today we have the concept of amorality which does not seem to have existed before the 20th century.   Some definitions might help here:

Moral:  Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.

Immoral:  Violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics.

Amoral:  Being neither moral nor immoral; specifically: lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply.

Character:  The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person.

According to Hunter’s research, the American population has moved from a bipartite arrangement in which people fell between the poles of moral or immoral to a tripartite arrangement in which most people would be classified as amoral, immoral or moral.  The percentage of people in the amoral area has steadily increased while the percentage in the moral area has steadily declined since the early 1900s.

I was teaching in higher education from 1999 to 2015 and one question I  routinely asked my MBA and BA students is “What would you do if you were driving down a lonely dirt road and saw a Wells Fargo money bag lying on the side of the road?  Would you return it?”  I suspect that you would be surprised if I told you that less than 3 students in 30 say they would return it.

However, if I ask them the following question, the numbers change dramatically.  “What would you do if you noticed that upon leaving the classroom, Mary had dropped a twenty dollar bill?  You are the only one who has noticed it. Would you return it?”  The replies are unanimous in that all students say they would return it.  Students regard hurting another person that they know as wrong or immoral, but stealing from Wells Fargo is not considered immoral but is rather considered as amoral.  My own teaching experiences over the years confirm much of what Hunter says in his book.  Amorality is rampant among business students.

So we come to an important question.  Can we have an educated and intelligent population (more people getting degrees and going to school) and less morality?  What if more people are becoming amoral and we have less moral people?  What are the implications?  Well, I think the answer is clear here.  Look at corporate behavior.  You have only to read the story of Enron “The Smartest Men in the Room” to see concrete examples of intelligent behavior without a sense of morality or character.   When we look at amoral behavior in people and organizations, a primary question is how long before the amoral behavior becomes immoral and crosses the line to illegal – as it did with Enron, Worldcom, and Global Crossing.

Gandhi says this about his 3rd Social sin: 

“Our obsession with materialism tends to make us more concerned about acquiring knowledge so that we can get a better job and make more money. A lucrative career is preferred to an illustrious character. Our educational centers emphasize career-building and not character-building. Gandhi believed if one is not able to understand one’s self, how can one understand the philosophy of life. He used to tell me the story of a young man who was an outstanding student throughout his scholastic career. He scored “A’s” in every subject and strove harder and harder to maintain his grades. He became a bookworm. However, when he passed with distinction and got a lucrative job, he could not deal with people nor could he build relationships. He had no time to learn these important aspects of life. Consequently, he could not live with his wife and children nor work with his colleagues. His life ended up being a misery. All those years of study and excellent grades did not bring him happiness. Therefore, it is not true that a person who is successful in amassing wealth is necessarily happy. An education that ignores character- building is an incomplete education.”

In my book, “The New Business Values” one of my chapters was on Information.  I outlined a hierarchy of information as follows: Data>Information>Knowledge>Wisdom.   I described knowledge as a set of beliefs, facts or ideas that contained relevance to some goal, need or desire.  In my model, knowledge cannot become wisdom until it is linked to emotions and feelings for others.  I think Gandhi’s ideas of linking knowledge to character probably hits the mark more accurately.  It was my understanding that knowledge without empathy and compassion for others could never be wisdom.

The world is full of knowledge today since scientific belief has replaced religious belief.   However, science can never develop the sense of empathy and compassion as a central part of character development.  Furthermore, character development even more than knowledge, stands alone as a primary developmental need for any civilized society.  Gandhi wisely noted that we have let our passion for commerce and money outrun our passion for purpose and character.

The famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in his book Economics and the Public Purpose (1973, Houghton Mifflin) that:

“The contribution of economics to the exercise of power may be called its instrumental function… Part of this function consists in instructing several hundred thousand students each year… They are led to accept what they might otherwise criticize; critical inclinations which might be brought to bear on economic life are diverted to other and more benign fields.” 

Galbreath observed over 35 years ago that we are educating MBA students who have become mindless automatons in a corporate system without a conscience.  Having no conscience is one aspect of amoral behavior.  In today’s society and schools such behavior has become the accepted norm.  It’s the “go along” to “get along” mentality that accepts corporate decisions regardless of their impact on people, the environment or even our nation.  The “diversion” that Galbraith speaks of is easily recognized as sports and media entertainment.  Sports and news create 24/7 hours if mostly inane and benign diversions that keep the public’s mind off of character or moral development.  Indeed watching sports figures and media figures today is evidence of a “vast wasteland” in terms of character development.

So where do we go from here?  The picture appears bleak.  We now accept amorality as a legitimate position on the map of character development.  We ignore the development of true character in our schools and churches; in fact, we supplant the development of character with the requisite amorality needed to get ahead in the business world.  The values of the corporation have supplanted the values needed for a kind and compassionate civilization.  Our schools have become prisons and our prisons overflow.  The USA has some of the highest amounts of incarceration in the world.  Our courts have become three ring media circuses designed to show an endless succession of trials whose main points seem to be to titillate and entertain the masses.  Can we escape from this cycle of destruction that we have built for ourselves?

Time for Questions:

Am I too bleak?  Do you think there is more morality in society than I describe? What do you do to develop your own character?  Do you feel that there is enough emphasis on character development in our churches and schools?  What do you think can be done about it?  How do we start?

Life is just beginning.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”  ― Arthur Schopenhauer

Where did the Drug Crisis Start?

Where did the “Drug Crisis Start?”  Since 1980 deaths from drug overdoses in the USA have steadily increased every year.  In 1999, the per capita rate of drug deaths (Based on 100,000 people) was 6.1 for all drugs while the rate of deaths from opioids was 2.9.  In 2017, the rate was 21.7 for all drugs and 14.9 percent for opioids.

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Why are so many dying from Opioids?

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This article in the Guardian states that the main reason for the increases was the epidemic created by the pharmaceutical industry in pushing drugs for pain relief for very common problems such as arthritis and back pain. 

Thus, while we arrest drug dealers, the real culprits go scott free and become billionaires on the suffering of the US population. 

Certainly there is a causal link between an aging population, increased obesity, back pain, prescription drugs and drug deaths.  But as we should have clearly seen even twenty years ago, the solution is not more PAIN Killers.”

It should have been obvious to the doctors, pharmaceutical executives, FDA and all of our political leaders.  However, truth and reality are too often forgotten when it comes to making profits.  Greed trumps all other considerations and millions of Americans have become hooked on painkillers to alleviate symptoms that can often be treated with much simpler and more effective solutions.

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