(This was also posted in the group "Left Wing Atheists")
I have come a long way in three years. I was so naive. I couldn't wait to vote the Republicans out of office, so I registered myself as a Democrat and woke up at 5am to go stand proudly in line to vote for Obama. Like many of us since then, I now realize what a sucker I was. I had high hopes that Obama was going to nationalize the banks when he took office and start loosening the hold the bankers have around our throats. Well, that didn't happen, and instead he went after health care. We all know what he has and has not done since, with the latter more than overwhelming the former. So I got frustrated, as most of us have, that nothing changed with Obama. I got determined to educate myself and find out what the real problems are, and what the real solutions are.
I started watching a lot of MSNBC. At first, I stuck with Hardball with Chris Matthews. While that kept me informed as to what the two political parties were up to, I was far from satisfied. Then one day I tuned in a little early and caught a little of Dylan Ratigan. His personality turned me off a little at first, but the next time I saw his show I was mesmerized. Hooked. Here was a guy who was finally speaking about the real issues, the fundamental structural problems underlying the mess we are in. If you know the show, much of what I am about to say will sound like repetition, but these are what I think the real problems in America are.
There are 6 industries which own the US government, the military-industrial complex (e.g. Lockheed Martin), health care (Big Pharma, health insurance), banking, energy (oil, Halliburton), agribusiness (think Monsanto), and telecommunications (e.g. the phone companies that rip us off). The heads of these industries use their spectacular wealth to buy politicians. In fact, 94% of our elections are now won by the candidate who raises the most money. Obama was no exception. Yes, he raised more money from small donations than anyone had before, but he also raised more money from LARGE donations than ever before. Goldman Sachs was his single biggest campaign contributor in 2008. We all know that if a candidate tries to go against any of these industries, they use their fabulous wealth to take out attack ads so that they don't stand a chance (think swiftboating). As long as our two political parties play by the rules, they can divide up the country in any other, meaningless way they want.
They have a very cozy relationship, these plutocrats. The politicians look the other way while the rich engage in insider trading. They even call up their friends on Wall St. and give them insider information as to policy changes which have financial ramifications (and then engage in a healthy amount of insider trading themselves). Then the rich spend huge amounts of money in lobbying efforts to convince the politicians as to how the laws should be written. They have managed to rig, to their vast benefit, the tax code, trade policies, and banking regulations to siphon money from the American people and into their pockets. They pay lower taxes (or none at all) than average American individuals and businesses. They trade with countries like China which can make products far cheaper than we can make it here, eliminating American jobs while flooding the markets with cheap goods (think Walmart). But the banking "industry" seems to have benefited to even more egregious levels.
Our US government has allowed a $700 trillion, completely invisible and unregulated swaps market to exist without requiring all of these transactions to take place on a visible (and regulatable) exchange. There are no capital requirements, which means they can trade without having anything of value to put up as collateral. And when their bets go bad, the Fed just sends them a check to the tune of $29.6 trillion of our tax-payer money so far since the crisis began. And I thought we had a deficit! Where are we getting all of this money from? Are we just printing it?
Meanwhile 1 in 15 Americans now live in poverty. 18% of us are unemployed (that's the "real" unemployment figures), and that's not even counting the underemployed. Incomes are falling, debt is mounting. People are left homeless while foreclosed homes sit empty. Income and wealth inequality are at their highest levels since the Great Depression. Meanwhile our elections are being put up for auction and neither political party will stand up to these powerful ruling interests. If this isn't a state of unjust affairs, then I don't know what is. These are issues that shouldn't even be restricted to the left, we are all being oppressed. But while we on the left are waking up, those on the right are drifting towards a libertarian philosophy which plays right into the hands of the rich. With no government around, who could possibly stand up to the rich?
We need to retake our government, not break it down into uselessness. And we need large-scale structural solutions to address these mounting problems. We need systematic and system-wide changes to our democracy and our government. We need to weed out waste and abuse of power at all levels. We need to eliminate subsidies for oil companies and stop sending money without strings attached to the bankers. We need to break up the banking cartels so that never again will an institution be "too big to fail". We need real regulations on the banking industry, and that begins with having capital requirements and putting the swaps market on a visible exchange. If we change the way Wall St. does business, they will make money honestly and contribute real value to America rather than being fueled by the need to create more and more debt. We need to restructure debt to help out students and homeowners. And to that end I would suggest literally bailing out the American people. If we are going to print money, why not give it directly to Americans so that they can use it to pay off their debts to the banks?
We need to eliminate superpacs and overturn the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court that makes corporations people and money into protected free speech so that the rich can't talk more loudly than everyone else. We need a real energy plan, and we need to improve our energy efficiency so that we can approach a % in the 90's like other modern industrialized nations have rather than the 34% efficiency we are now sitting at. We need real environmental regulations, and we need to completely restructure our educational system so that we can keep up with the rest of the world. And we need to end privatized profit but socialized risk for the wealthy, and incentivize investment in America and it's people.
The political discussion has been framed by our politicians as being about ballooning debt. While certainly this is a huge problem, I am quite certain that if we address the real problems in America, our national debt problem will also be solved. If we stop war-mongering and being the arms-dealers to the world, we won't have huge costly wars to pay off. With an economy that puts people to work, our social programs will have plenty of funding to continue operations, keeping Americans healthy and financially supported throughout old age.
We are really running out of time. The changing environment is going to make all humanity come together, one way or another. We can come together now and make the necessary changes to our lifestyle and our society so that we can all live on this earth in peace, or the catastrophe to come will be marked by the most violence, starvation, and suffering the world has ever known. And the US needs to lead the way. When the catastrophe comes, humanity will largely blame Americans for it, and rightly so. There will be enough blame to go around, but the American people can do something about it now, while we still have time. If we do not raise our heads up out of the herd and take our country back from the oligarchs who hold us as slaves and hostages, the lion's share of the moral responsibility for the future of humanity will be ours to bear.
Andrew, I think this is an excellent idea - for certain types of people. I don't think that anywhere near everyone wants to be a businessman. I agree with you that it is imperative that we all strive to lift our heads up and take a look at the dynamics of our surroundings, and for business-minded people, the approach you suggest is an excellent one. But there are artists, academics, doctors, foot-soldiers, and probably many other types of people that I am leaving out who object to being part of the merchant class. You have an excellent, very marketable skill and whatever other skills you need to be a good businessman - networking, advertising, accounting, what have you (I have never taken a class in business, nor would I ever want to). But were everyone to be taught that going into business for themselves is the ideal, many different personality types may be left to feel inferior. I am not so big on capitalism that I think just being a part of the markets is something for everyone to aspire to. In fact, I would probably be very happy "just doing my job" if I looked around me and saw that we were living in a pretty fair and just society where talent got rewarded but those who suffered setbacks were taken care of relatively well. Furthermore, I think it takes a pretty large mind to be able to step back and see the whole big picture in the markets to be a successful businessman, or at least a different sort of mind than most people have. Most of us do rely upon others, especially those who have come before us and those who have scaled the social ladders faster, for our ability to make a living. I think what my real point here is that there isn't just a dependence-independence dichotomy here, but there is more interdependence than anything else. So to say that someone "just doing their job" is something very sneaky of someone to do is I think going too far. A good soldier goes over and above the call of duty, but that doesn't mean becoming an expert, or even adept, at things for which he shows no aptitude in or for which he has no authority over. There is always going to be a social hierarchy, and while we should strive to take more responsibility for ourselves and others, we should also expect that others, especially the ones above us in the social hierarchy, are taking responsibility for us.
And I readily admit that this was really more of a meandering rant of little consequence than anything else. I don't even know where that came from.
So you want revolutionary change within your comfort zone?
> to say that someone "just doing their job" is something very sneaky of someone to do is I think going too far.
It's called an Italian Strike: an industrial action in which employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract, and follow safety or other regulations to the letter in order to cause a slowdown rather than to serve their purpose.
BTW, before anybody complains about the Italian crack, I have Giordanos in my family tree. I can talk.
> I am not so big on capitalism that I think just being a part of the markets is something for everyone to aspire to
That's what I want to change. There are two sides to what you wrote:
1. The identification of Capitalism with Big Business. It's like the identification of Christianity with Evangelical radicalism. What we need is a resurgence of small-c capitalism. A nation of shops, run by and for Americans.
2. People like to say the small business is the backbone of the economy. So why don't the high schools teach more about business? Unless you're in the Junior Achievement or something, you get no exposure to markets. Since they are not familiar, they seem scary. But business is the most basic economic activity of mankind. Our education system prejudices people against participating in it, while prejudicing them toward being dependent on it. It makes no sense.
> I don't think that anywhere near everyone wants to be a businessman
Nor do they want to be unemployed.
"A nation of shops" - I've actually heard this idea before, and from a libertarian I think. Not that its a bad idea. It does make a lot of sense from a few perspectives, not least in that it means there isn't only a few mega-stores with centralized leadership and centralized profits. And that's true too, people don't want to be unemployed either. I just hope that there is a common fabric - I think that while this "nation of shops" idea gives an ideal aspect to society in a horizontal sense, that there is also a vertical aspect to his society which does tie everyone together and creates the kind of hierarchy necessary to pool resources where necessary.
Actually I have thought about this, and the problem is that if there aren't multiple hierarchies in (hopefully friendly) competition with each other, then you can end up with the oppressive type and no alternatives. There needs to be a way that we can reorganize, where we can split hierarchies apart and reform new ones and merge them together when needed as well. If we had this in America now, it would solve a lot of our problems. We could simply form an anti-DC hierarchy which would compete with the DC hierarchy. Those that wanted to stay with DC could, and those that wanted to leave could. But this causes further problems of a geographical nature that stymie me.
Do you have a vision for what a hierarchy might comprise?
I have many ideas on hierarchies, some better than others. One idea was mirrored in something Neil DeGrasse Tyson said recently, which was that he was dismayed that our politicians are all "lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, businessman, lawyer, businessman. Where are all the scientists, the teachers, etc.?" I agree completely. So my idea was that, in an effort to get more people involved in the democratic process, legislative responsibilities should be extended to include leading bodies in all fields. And why stop there? The leading bodies could be elected by party as well, by those within the field. And so on. We can continue to extend democratic responsibility all the way through the ranks of every industry and field by creating more and more levels of responsibility. This would also have the desired effect of having to rise through the political ranks by many more processes and checks of a person's integrity and ability, so that the one's who finally make it to the national level are groomed and weeded out and we have only the most responsible and capable people at the top, and the one's who have earned the most trust from their peers. And there needs to be a lot of parallel movements as well. None of this is allowed for or even dreamt of in our constitution.
I think the Technocracy Movement had the right idea for a hierarchy.
I've read about the technocracy movement, but it leaves many vital questions out. It deals a lot with technological changes, but as a political approach I saw little in the way of solutions.
First. Where did you get the skills to write software? Where did you get the money to buy your laptop. How did you reach the point where you could start your own business? Did you just suddenly know how to write software and pull a laptop out of the ether?
I am sorry, but I just don't see the logic of the start your own business right out of high school. It would require funding. It would require training. It would require a support system for those that fail and a lot of them would fail. The failure rate for new businesses is high. It would cause immense stresses on the job market as the flood of new business each year forced cut throat competition between the older businesses and the new businesses. How much of a market do you think there is for new dog walkers, new grasscutters, new baby sitters, new construction companies and so forth?
> I just don't see the logic of the start your own business right out of high school.
I didn't exactly mean that. In my plan, people would still go to college, and take jobs long enough to learn their trade and their business. But then the best of them would expect to go independent and hire other local people. Construction already works this way.
One thing that brings me to this outlook is that corporate jobs are going away. The economy is converging on global businesses, which do not owe us the people of the USA anything. So what are the choices for the folks who can't get the remaining corporate jobs - move to Alabama for low wage farm work, move to Mexico for low wage factory work, stay here on the dole, or start our own companies and make our own durn jobs?