Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Economic Apartheid

Hola Everybody,
I’m going to do a series on what it’s like to be unemployed. I don’t think we really appreciate the negative effects of unemployment on health -- both physical and psychological. And it shouldn’t be this way. More on this starting tomorrow.

Working for a Living

Lots of people who are smart and work hard and play by the rules don't have a fraction of what I have. I realize I don’t have my wealth because I’m so brilliant. Luck has a lot to do with it.
 -- Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, Inc.

Since the 1980s, income inequality has risen to proportions never before seen in this country. The constant bray of neocons is that if we continue to cut taxes for the rich, we will all be better off.

In fact, the vast majority of the working class in the US is worse off today than they were 20-30 years ago. Today, most of us work far longer hours for less pay and less job security. In addition, crucial government services such as health care and education have suffered to the point that they are the laughing stock of the industrialized world.

And yet, neoliberals continue to clamor for more of the same economic policies that have created this catastrophic economic displacement. As a percentage of wealth, you (if you’re middle class) pay more in taxes than wealthy individuals. And this is a bipartisan issue: as horrible as Trump seems, there’s very little difference between who he will appoint run the economy and who Obama appointed and Hillary would’ve appointed. In fact, some of you pay more in taxes than multinational corporations. Neoliberalism is what is known in the con game as a “bait and switch.” Meaning you may get a nominal windfall on your return, but you’re paying out the ass for other crucial services such as college, oil, and other “luxuries.”

In his 2004 report, I Didn't Do It Alone: Society's Contribution to Individual Wealth and Success, Chuck Collins spotlights successful entrepreneurs and concludes that the myth of self-made success is destructive to the economic infrastructure that fosters wealth creation. Collins states, “How we think about wealth creation is important since policies such as large tax cuts for the wealthy often draw on the myth of the self-made man,” He adds, “Taxes are portrayed as onerous, unfair redistribution of privately created wealth -- not as reinvestment or giving back to society. Yet, where would many wealthy entrepreneurs be today without taxpayer investment in the Internet, transportation, public education, legal system, the human genome, and so on?”

When you actually ask successful people, they tell a different story than the ones being sold in the corporate media (remember that six corporations own the vast majority of US media). Some successful entrepreneurs emphasized key factors such as the advantages of privilege, such as inheritance and race. Others emphasized government-provided services, like subsidized college tuition and government investments in technological research. And still others noted good old-fashioned luck. Click here to read the full report.

Conventional neoliberal economic superstition would have you believe the myths of the self-made person so that they can continue to con you. If we’re lucky, history books will write about this era as the greatest con ever.

On the other side of the ledger are the vast majority of us who scrape by from paycheck to paycheck, year after year, without much to show for it. When income just covers the basic cost of living, building even a small amount of wealth becomes impossible.

As I alluded previously, income inequality has grown since global neoliberalism has taken over economic policy. Between 1983 and 2003, average income for households in the top 5% grew by $108,987. The gains were far smaller for every other income group. In 2003, the 20% of households with the least earnings scraped by with an average income of just $9,996, only $839 more in real dollars than what they had 20 years earlier.

Income and wealth are related in two ways. People with high incomes can accumulate wealth, and this wealth can generate additional income. However, for the vast majority of people, income is just a means of surviving.

So why should you care about economic inequality? You might point out that many poor people in the US today own cars and cell phones, luxuries that even millionaires didn’t have a not that long ago. But yesterday’s luxuries are this year’s necessities. Let’s see you find and keep a job without a car or telephone, for example (something I’m currently attempting). Furthermore, human beings tend to define their standards of living in relative, not absolute terms.

Extreme inequality (as found here in the U.S.), reduces people’s sense of inclusion in the larger society. It reduces the likelihood that they will be able to work together to solve social problems or become engaged civically. If you want to better understand the lack of electoral participation, look no further than inequality. It also contributes to overt forms of social conflict, violence, and disease.

Studies of US states and Canadian provinces show that higher income inequality is associated with higher rates of homicide. In 1990, for instance, the homicide rate in the US was Louisiana. That state also had the highest level of income inequality.

I hope to revisit all of this very soon. 

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization… 

If you would like to donate to this blog and my writing, you can do so by clicking HERE. You can also give via PayPal HERE.


Daly, M., & et al. (2000). Income inequality and homicide rates in Canada and the United States. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 43(2), 219-236. (click here)

Pickett K., Wilkinson, R. (2009). The spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do better. New York: Bloomsbury Press. (click here)

Wilkinson, R. (2005). The impact of inequality. New York: The New Press. (click here)

Landa, D., & Kapstein, E. B. (2001). Inequality, growth, and democracy. World Politics, 53(2), 264-296. (click here)

Kawachi, I., Kennedy, B. P., Lochner, K., & Prothrow-Stith, D. (1997). Social capital, income inequality, and mortality. American Journal of Public Health, 87(9), 1491-1498. (click here)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

[un]Common Sense

Hola Everybody,
My laptop is dying… it’s crashing constantly. I might not be able to see through my commitment to post at least one blog a day for whole of the year 2016. For some reason, this commitment has taken on a huge importance for me. I’m compelled to see it through.

I have two job interviews tomorrow.

Common Sense

Common sense is what tells us the earth is flat.
 -- Stuart Chase, Language in Thought and Action

When I first sought to start blogging, this here was the post that inspired it. Or maybe it was the other way around? I do not remember. In any case, I keep writing -- or better put -- rewriting it. Whatever, that’s how got the name for this blog, [un]Common Sense.

Perhaps we can start here… if this is the [un]Common Sense Blog, then what is common sense?

On January 10, 1776, an English immigrant published a pamphlet urging the colonists to question their assumption about something everybody took for granted: the divine right of the monarchy. According to published reports of the day, many committed Royalists (those who favored the monarchy) were converted by a single reading of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Paine’s argument must have been powerful: half a million copies were sold over the next year. Think about this for a moment: the population of the colonies at the time was probably just over two million; this man’s pamphlet sold a half a million in one year! And Oprah didn’t even pick it for her book club.

Because Paine donated the royalties from his two-shilling pamphlet to the revolution, the United States Congress awarded him a small pension and a farm in upstate New York after the war. Yet only a few years later, Paine was branded a traitor for attempting to further expand the meaning of democracy (remember, initially, the land of the free was only free for white, propertied men). Ahhhh… the fickle fate of celebrity: one moment the “father of reason,” the next, outcast! It seems, my friends, that the more things change the more they stay the same… 

So, what is this thing called common sense? We hear the term all the time: “Common sense should’ve told you… ” we like to say when shit hits the fan, for example, but it eludes definition. The term implies that there is a body of information (“sense”) somewhere that everyone (“common”) knows, but we all would agree that common sense is as rare as an original thought in our current president-elect’s head.

We like to speak of common sense as if it were something immutable -- something that never changes, something static. However, common sense evolves all the time. For example, 18th and 19th century Europeans considered bathing unhealthy.

Common sense, right?

Another example of common sense: tomatoes were considered poisonous until the 18th century when a man ate one on the courthouse steps in Salem, New Jersey (he probably bathed regularly too!).

The upshot being that common sense has more to do with the common part than with the sense part. As in the case of the Royalists of colonist America, common sense is often a mass of unquestioned assumptions dictated by culture and sub-cultures, than by reason.

Still, the prevalent question of the day seems to be, “What ever happened to common sense?” It’s more often than not a rhetorical question, not needing an answer -- it is more of a complaint. We sense that something is missing. Maybe we can say that common sense is a way of being rather than a body of knowledge. We say someone has common sense when they possess an attitude -- not thoughts but an ability to think creatively and with purpose. Perhaps, as author Marilyn Ferguson says, common sense is not what we know but how we know it.

Which brings us back to this blog… but I must first digress yet again. In Emile Zola’s Beast of Man, an engineer and a fireman are quarreling in the locomotive of a passenger train. In his rage, the fireman has stoked the engine’s fire into an inferno. They grapple at each other’s throats, each trying to force the other through the open door. Losing their balance, both fall out and perish. The train rumbles on at breakneck speed. The passengers, soldiers en route to the war front, are sleeping or drunkenly, unaware of the impending disaster.

Zola’s story has been seen as a parable of modern runaway societies. Those supposedly in charge, embroiled in their own personal dramas, paralyzed with performance anxiety, or caught up in their ambitions, have left the driver’s seat. Meanwhile we, their oblivious passengers, are about to pay the price.

Unless we wake up… There should be more to this posting, but I’m afraid my trusty old laptop will crash.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization… 

If you would like to donate to this blog and my writing, you can do so by clicking HERE. You can also give via PayPal HERE.


[un]Common Sense