Category Archives: Social democracy

The privileged like their privileges

 

The contented and well-off people around the world are not interested in the Green New Deal think that plan is so absurd because it will cost too much money. They are less concerned about the costs of climate change which they know are so far being born largely by the poor. Efforts to improve matters for them are not worth it. Besides, the affluent are doing very well and enjoy the status quo immensely. What’s not to like if you are rich?

 

John Kenneth Galbraith knew as well the general satisfaction the well-off have in regards to their privileges and the extent to which they are easily able to offer moral justifications for them. Denial of privileges to the less well of are similarly morally justified. Inevitably, the denial is ‘for their own good.’ As Galbraith pointed out,

The first and most general expression of the contented majority is it’s affirmation that those who compose it are receiving their just deserts.  What the individual member aspires to have and enjoy is the product of his or her personal virtue, intelligence, and effort… there is no equitable justification for any action that impairs it… The normal response to such action is indignation, or, as suggested, anger at anything infringing on what is so clearly deserved.”

 

The rich and powerful always command a ready and willing bevy of economic experts to espouse the solid justifications of their privileges. The poor and vulnerable of course do not have the benefit of such a cadre of expert support at their command. As a result, Galbraith pointed out, “ One of the most reliable, though not necessarily most distinguished, accomplishments of economics is its ability to accommodate its view of economic process, instruction therein and recommended public action to specific economic and political interest.”

For such reasons I am leery about accepting the view of economists that the wealthy deserve the massive subsidies they receive for their oil and gas interests. Those subsidies massively exceed subsidies to the poor to help them pay their energy bills.

It is understandable why as result political leaders are quick to give the wealthy what they want and look with greater scepticism at the claims of the needy. But it really should be the other way around. As Galbraith emphasized, “mainstream economics has for some centuries given grace and acceptability to convenient belief– to what the socially and economically favored most wish or need to have believed.”

 

One of the most notorious examples of course was the so-called theory of trickle-down economics that was quickly latched onto by the Neo-conservatives, and others, for the obvious reason that it closely matched their own views and interests. This theory is now widely discredited by independent economists, though the rich still love the theory and continue to use it to justify their privilege. For example, Trump and the Republicans used it repeatedly in 2018 to armour their claims that the Trump tax cuts that largely benefited the wealthy were for the benefit of all.   It did not matter that all the evidence was to the contrary. Trickle-down-economics was in turn supported by economic theories of Professor Arthur Laffer. One excellent example was the theory of the Laffer curve or supply side economics, which held that a reduction in taxes would actually result in increased government revenues.

 

This is what Galbraith had to say about that theory:

“It is not clear that anyone of sober mentality took Professor Laffer’s curve and conclusions seriously.  He must have credit, nonetheless, for showing that justifying contrivance, however transparent, could be of high practical service.”

 

The history of the treatment of the Laffer curve is reason to be careful in accepting economic theories that support the interests of the proponents. It can lead to some wild conclusions. Again, Galbraith had this tart remark about it, “Supply side economics convinced people amazingly, that the rich needed the spur of more money, the poor the spur of their own poverty.

I wish Galbraith were around to analyze the economic implications of the current Green New Deal. But like him, I think it is good to be skeptical of the desires of the well off in analyzing proposed changes in public policy. There are reasons why they usually get their way, as the less well often end up sucking socks.

The Rich need money; the Poor need Poverty

 

Although John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out how  the socialist and capitalist countries are similar, but in the west the

“controlling contentment and resulting belief is now that of the many, not just of the few.  It operates under the compelling cover of democracy, albeit a democracy not of all citizens but of those who, in defense of their social and economic  advantage, actually go to the polls.  The result is government that is accommodated not to reality or common need but to the beliefs of the contented, who are now the majority of those who vote.”

 

Galbraith points out this discrepancy of governmental treatment of the poor compared to the wealthy in amusing terms, though the consequences are far from amusing:

“The substantial role of the government in subsidizing this well-being deserves more than passing notice.  Where the impoverished are concerned — a point to which I return — government support and subsidy are seriously suspect as to need and effectiveness of administration and because of their adverse effect on morals and working morale.  This, however, is not true of government support to comparative well-being.  By Social Security pensions or their prospect no one is thought damaged, nor, as a depositor, by being rescued from a failed bank.  The comparatively affluent can withstand the adverse moral effect of being subsidized and supported by the government, not so the poor.”

 

 

Subsidies to the poor are always on a very different level than subsidies for the wealthy. The poor are always underserving, the rich always in need. Not only that but subsidies to the rich or well-off are always for the benefit of society as a whole. Subsidies to the poor are given out of the largesse of the well-off. The rich are to be complemented for permitting their money to be used on the poor. As well, the rich are to be complemented for accepting subsidies not really for themselves but in order to benefit society as a whole. The poor should be looked down on for accepting charity. It shows they are not of strong character. That is just how it works when you control the political process. As a result of such attitudes, when the Green New Deal proposes to spend money to ease inequality of incomes, we must treat the howls of protest from the affluent with careful skepticism. They might have a point, but we should not assume they have a point.

Although Galbraith was describing the United States the same things happen in Canada too.  In Canada the contented accept government subsidies through CMHC, CDIC, RRSP’s, farm supports, DREE, and numerous grants to businesses.  Particularly the oil and gas sector which has done so much to create the problem of climate change enjoys subsidies in the billions. Subsidizing clean energy or green projects is seen instead with alarm by the contented.

 

Business sees no problem in going to the public trough for itself, but not so for the poor. They are also extreme in their defence of their own privilege. Witness the recent puny attempt by the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau in making fairly modest tax reform proposals in Canada principally around reducing the benefits of well-off Canadians in earning money through a corporation rather than personally. Those benefits of course go largely to the rich. In my practice of law it was not common to see homeless people come in to incorporate their scrounging ‘businesses.’

Even though he was a privileged Harvard economist, former Ambassador, and confidant of the rich and famous, Galbraith had similar scepticism:

 “While self-interest, as we shall see, does frequently operate under a formal cover of social concern, much social concern is genuinely and generously motivated.

Nonetheless, self-regard is, and predictably, the dominant, indeed the controlling, mood of the contented majority.  This becomes wholly evident when public action on behalf of those outside this electoral majority is the issue.  If it is to be effective, such action is invariably at public cost.  Accordingly, it is regularly resisted as a matter of high, if sometimes rather visibly contrived, principle…”

Given the power of the affluent to influence public opinion, it would be surprising if the Green New Deal were easily proven to be a rational plan to reduce climate change.

Socialism for the Rich

 

As my favorite political philosopher Hannah Arendt made clear more than 50 years ago, notions of left versus right are hopelessly out of date. For example, no one believes in free enterprise anymore.  Least of all business people, who are the first to lobby the government for grants, subsidies, and protections.  Witness the farmers, often thought to be the last bastions of individualism.  They are now among the quickest and loudest in their demands for government intervention.  What we see now is what others have called “socialism for the rich.”  Or what David Lewis, years ago, referred to as “corporate welfare bums“.

At the same time, the ideas of the left have also been discredited.  The welfare state is seen as a prison, governed by mediocrity.  But the voices of dominance and privilege are heard loud and clear, and are usually accepted at face value, while no credence is given to the voices of the dominated.  Their voices are considered cranky, silly, and immature.

The philosophy of privilege, namely, conservatism, or its newest version, neo-conservatism, particularly in the US, but also in Canada, has been very effective in imposing its agenda and its very vocabulary on government.  The public sector is regularly pictured as a burden on individuals, as sapping their strength and vigour.  The free market is lauded as the engine of real growth and the savior for all of our woes.  For example, in Canada, the Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank, is given a wide press each year when it announces “tax freedom day“.

It is implied by such comments that public institutions merely consume, while not providing anything of value.  But is it really true that video games are more valuable than public libraries? Is it really true that toys are more important than public swimming pools?  Public services are often more important than private services.  Through them we have clean water, clean air, accessible hospitals, standards for safe food, housing for seniors, safe roads, and mind-expanding education.  Public services are not a drain on our initiative.  They are what frees the creative juices in each of us.  Without them civilization is a dream.

 

My  favorite economists, John Kenneth Galbraith understood this process and explained it with his customary verve. As he said,

“…individuals and communities that are favored in their economic, social, and political condition attribute social virtue and political durability to that which they themselves enjoy.  That attribution, in turn, is made to apply even in the face of commanding evidence to the contrary.  The beliefs of the fortunate are brought to serve the cause of continuing contentment, and the economic and political ideas of the time are similarly accommodating.  There is an eager political market for that which pleases and reassures.  Those who would serve this market and reap the resulting reward in money and applause are reliably available…

…there were few doubts among the happily privileged, strongly  self-approving, if hygienically deprived, throng that surrounded and sustained Louis XV… a forceful set of economic ideas, those of the Physiocrats, affirmed the principle by which those so favoured were rewarded .  These ideas supported and celebrated an economic system that returned all wealth, superficial deductions for trade and manufacturing apart, to the owners of the land, the aristocrats who inhabited and served the court.

The case continues.  The great entrepreneurs and their acolytes who were dominant in British, German, French and then American political and economic life in the nineteenth century and into the early decades of the twentieth were not in doubt as to their economic and social destiny, and this, again, was duly affirmed by the companion views of the classical economists. ”

 

And of course, this process continues to this day. Those who speak to power with news that power wants to hear are quickly given an audience.  Such people  find themselves much less welcomed. The privileged see their privilege as natural, right, and good. That happened then, it happens now, and will happen forever.

Galbraith even pointed out that this process was common in the Soviet Union, which we all know bore no resemblance to its reputed realm of justice and equality. As he said about socialist countries inside the Soviet circle, “They were protected in their fortunate position by the presumed power of socialist principles…Thus, to repeat, was belief accommodated to the need and comfort of the favored.”

 

What does this have to do with the green new deal? Everything. Proposals for reform of our energy system are made, and immediately rejected by the contented in power.  Radical proposals are seen as absurdly expensive clap trap. Radical proposals are often wrong, but what about the status quo?  There are clearly people who benefit from it and they will do everything in their power to prolong what they find comfortable and delay or dismiss which is not in their narrow interests. The rich would have us believe that the only socialism we can afford is socialism for them. The rest of us should be content with rapacious capitalism.

Perhaps the green new deal is not as ludicrous as the contented would have us believe.

 

The time for change is here and now

 

We were all warned about the dangers of climate change in the 1960s. In fact for a while, governments led by Republicans like George Bush Sr. actually took it seriously, until corporate raiders let loose the hounds of PR firms and government lobbyists persuaded politicians  to shelve all talk of doing something about climate change. As a result, we have squandered decades, while businesses that got rich on selling products that increased greenhouse gas emissions got rich.

Yet what are we doing about it? We are subsidizing the fossil fuel industry! As the Guardian reporters Oliver Milman, Andrew Witherspoon, Rita Liu, and Alvin Chang, explained,

“Despite the rapid advance of renewable energy and, more recently, electric vehicles, countries still remain umbilically connected to fossil fuels, subsidizing oil, coal and gas to the tune of around $11m every single minute.”

 

The capitalists from the oil and gas sector have used their vast resources to persuade us and our political leaders to do nothing about climate change for decades and instead subsidize them. That’s why I call them predatory capitalists. I think the name fits. The Guardian reporters reminded us that Lynden Johnson was warned about the dangers of climate change when Joe Biden, a pretty old guy now, was in college. Now that I think about it, I am a pretty old guy and I was in High School at the time.

 

Because  industry funded delays most scientists now say we are headed towards temperature changes of +2.7 degrees, or worse,  even if our countries meet all of their UN climate change pledges, which so far they have shown no inclination to do.

According to the Guardian reporters,

“By the end of this year (2021) the world will have burned through 86% of the carbon “budget” that would allow us just a coin flip’s chance of staying below 1.5C. The Glasgow COP talks will somehow have to bridge this yawning gap, with scientists warning the world will have to cut emissions in half this decade before zeroing them out by 2050.”

 

According to Michael Wehner, who specializes in climate attribution at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “2.7C would be very bad.” “Not bad” is not a scientific expression but we know it means  not good. Then Amanda Maycock climate dynamics expert from University of Leeds was even more blunt, at that level the planet will become “uninhabitable. We would not want to live in that world” In other words, we are right there. This is what we are now committed to unless we make significant changes and there is no good evidence yet—none—that we will make the necessary changes. Right now, we are committed to making the planet uninhabitable for people.

Apocalypse now.

 

 

Tragic Wisdom of Cornel West

 

In my last post I talked about Cornel West’s tragic vision which was enriched by the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi who wanted to find truth for the sweet ship-wrecked mind. I also mentioned in that post that the philosopher Jeff Sharlet talked about his friend Cornel West. Sharlet talked about how West maintains optimism when, as West himself has said, “we are immersed in a culture of superficial spectacle that generates weapons of mass destruction?” That is a bleak view.

 

How can West remain optimistic in the face of it? West according to Sharlet said “hope is not predicated on the future getting any better. That is the difference between hope and optimism.” West reminds us that he comes from a people that were terrorized, stigmatized, and traumatized for 400 years! They have learned a lot about trauma and know a thing or two about dealing with.

 

West, who is proudly African American, pointed out that it would have been natural for slaves in such a position to lose hope.  He did not say there was an easy way out. As if there could be an easy way out of slavery. West said many of his people just decided they would live a life of honesty, decency and integrity no matter what happened. They took the position that this is what they are called here to do and said to themselves we will just do it. They had no choice. They were not “immigrants” to North America as Ben Carson suggested.  They had been brought to this continent in the most brutal way imaginable. This reminds me again of my mother who had a little framed saying on her wall in her small apartment she lived in before she died: “This is all I have so this is all I need.”

 

West says he tries to emulate that response to injustice even when it seems impenetrable. Sometimes there is nothing he can do about it.  Whether there are consequences that flow from that choice to make this a better a world or not is beyond his control. He will just do his part no matter what. What a great attitude. “There does not have to be a direct connection between being a decent person and there being more decency prevalent in the world,” West told Sharlet.  Sometimes In some moments in history things happen that we cannot control it. That does not mean we should not choose to live a decent life. We just dissent from the injustice if that is all we can do.

 

West said he learned a lot from the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov, who West calls the greatest literary artist of the late modern world. According to West’s interpretation, “Chekhov said it is just a matter of bearing your truth to the world and doing all you can in your brief journey from Mama’s womb to tomb. We should try to pass that on to the next generation.”

 

West also warned that we might be headed towards an environmental implosion. Corporate greed (fueled by individual demands)  makes it difficult to have a conversation about important issues. If there is no way to fundamentally overthrow or transform the greed of oligarchs and plutocrats, supported by their minions,  and if the patriarchy wants to continue to obliterate women, if straights want to continue to dominate the gays and lesbians and transsexuals, they will do that. I don’t have to be a part of that he says. I can resist. I might not change the world, but I can be a decent person if I choose to be one. The white world can continue to be hegemonic and racist, our mistreatment of indigenous peoples can carry on, but let them carry it on without us. As West said to Sharlet, “I still want to be a person who fights against the period, and I want to fight with others, and if we lose so be it.”  We have no guarantees. What an inspiring thoughtful man! As an indigenous woman at the University of Winnipeg where I heard West speak, told him, “you uplift my spirit.”

 

T.S. Eliot was according to West a right-wing ideologue. But he acknowledged, that even right-wing ideologues have to be right once in awhile. Eliot got it right when he said, in the Quartets, “Ours is in the trying. The rest is not our business.” We are only here to bear witness and to try as much as we can. Or as Samuel Becket said, “Try again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”

 

West, who also said he wants to teach people how to die, asked us to consider what people will say about us. At our funeral will they say we failed?  We made misjudgments. We made mistakes. Hopefully they will see we tried, we held on, we did the best we could. As West said, “We are not pure, but will we lead a trail behind us of integrity, honesty, decency?  If so we have not really failed at all.”

 

To Cornel West resistance to evil is a religious imperative.  He always comes back to religion. He does not waste time talking to us about a personal relationship to Jesus. Instead, he says this is a world of overwhelming oppression, deception, insults, attacks, and brute force repression but will we resist? That is what it is all about for West. We have to rebel against it. But that’s enough. It is enough.

 

Low Vaccination Rates hide a profound social weakness

 

Anita Sreedhar is a primary care physician with a degree in public health and she works in the Bronx. Anand Gopal is a sociologist from my second favorite University, Arizona State University. He is also an excellent journalist who covers international conflicts such as the war in Afghanistan. They have conducted research for 5 years to learn to better understand vaccine resistance. Again, from before the arrival of Covid-19. This is what they discovered:

“We’ve found that people who reject vaccines are not necessarily less scientifically literate or less well-informed than those who don’t. Instead, hesitancy reflects a transformation of our core beliefs about what we owe one another.

Over the past four decades, governments have slashed budgets and privatized basic services. This has two important consequences for public health. First, people are unlikely to trust institutions that do little for them. And second, public health is no longer viewed as a collective endeavor, based on the principle of social solidarity and mutual obligation. People are conditioned to believe they’re on their own and responsible only for themselves. That means an important source of vaccine hesitancy is the erosion of the idea of a common good.”

 

People think they are on their own, because they have largely been left on their own. They know they can’t trust anyone else. It is all on them.

In the Unites States there has been a powerful anti-vaccine movement since long before Covid-19.

I remember one day I was at a conference at my beloved Arizona State University, and at dinner when I was chatting with the woman sitting beside my wife and I.  She seemed intelligent. After all she was an adult like me participating in a university conference with some of the top professors around the world. Both of us did not really belong there. We were ordinary citizens, but the university encouraged people like us to attend such conferences. That is why I like that university so much. I was surprised that she wanted to talk about vaccines which one of the professors had talked about as an aside. She told me she disagreed strongly with what he had said. She said  he was dead wrong when the professor said the vaccine myth that they caused autism had been debunked. (It had). But she strongly disagreed and assured me the science was firm that vaccines did in fact cause autism. (She was wrong).

 She was part of a growing movement of vaccine distrust that is particularly virulent in the US, but has reached as far as Canada, in particular, southern Manitoba.

Many reasons have been given for the anti-vaccine attitudes. Some have blamed online misinformation campaigns, others have blamed our tribal culture, and even fear of needles. Race has also been a factor. At first white Americans were twice as likely to get vaccinated in large part for historical reasons, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiments on African Americans orchestrated by the government to their serious detriment. There was good reason for their suspicions and mistrust. Interestingly, that gap between whites and blacks has narrowed considerably since then. Many African Americans have been convinced to take the vaccines despite their suspicions.

All of these factors are significant, but Sreedhar and Gopal found a more significant factor. That was college attendance. “Those without a college degree were the most likely to go unvaccinated,” they said.  Why would that be. As the two said in their Times article, “Education is a reliable predictor of socioeconomic status, and other studies have similarly found a link between income and vaccination… It turns out that the real vaccination divide is class.”

Class is the culprit. And that makes a big difference as I shall try to show.

Trust, Mistrust and a Monstrous God

 

One of the things that is so interesting about this pandemic is the astonishing fact that so many people mistrust so many so deeply. The distrust is virtually unshakeable. I am trying to understand why that happens. And it happens a lot where I live, in Southern Manitoba.

This has caught me by surprise. Or at least it once did. After nearly 2 years of this pandemic, it no longer surprises me. I expect it. I am surprised when someone demonstrates trust.  I think it has something to do with the deeply felt religious beliefs in our community, but that still does not explain it.

Here is what Winnipeg Free Press reporter Dylan Robertson said about exactly this issue:

“Manitoba children could qualify for COVID-19 vaccines within weeks, but evangelical parents might not let their kids roll up their sleeves.

In a recent Probe Research survey shared with the Free Press, two-thirds of evangelical Manitobans said they “worry about the long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccinations in children,” compared with 41 per cent of overall respondents.

In addition, 49 per cent of those identifying as evangelical said COVID-19 as an issue was “overblown,” compared with 28 per cent of the overall population.”

 

What would lead Manitoba parents to distrust government or the authorities so much that they would put the lives of their children in danger when the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence, and by now, real life experiences, make it so clear that not taking vaccines is a dangerous choice?

The Free Press  interviewed Rick Hiemstra, research director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and this is what he said, “A lack of trust and polarization have come home to roost.” So many of these evangelicals now identify with their group—Christians who don’t trust vaccines. They don’t trust  scientists. No matter how many of them. They don’t trust the government. Instead, they trust what other members of their tribe has told them or trust what they have “learned” from their own “research” on the Internet. And they do while they put the lives of their children in danger.

Here is what a local theologian said as reported by the Winnipeg Free Press,

“Evangelical scholar Nicholas Greco said numerous factors cause that gap, from a desire to rely on God for healing, to science clashing with creationism, to general skepticism of media and government.

Evangelicals often are reflective of a social and political conservatism, which calls for smaller governments (and) personal autonomy, but also tends to lead to a mistrust of government,” said Greco, who is provost of Providence University College in Otterburne.

Greco, a long-time communications professor, said there’s a perception the government wants to control everyone, and that the media is overhyping the virus as part of some sort of conspiracy.

“The rhetoric I hear from many of my colleagues… is that we don’t want the government to have further control, because if they do, we will lose our freedoms,” he said.

The evangelicals believe conspiracy theories rather than scientists and they believe it so strongly they put the lives of their children in danger. It is like an article of their faith that vaccines are untrustworthy, and no reasoning, no data, or no actual experiences will shake them from their convictions.

Here is what the Free Press reported, “At a recent panel, one congregant said everyone who got the vaccine is going to die within a few years, and that they’ll all go to hell.”

As an aside, think for a moment about what a monstrous God this person believed in—a god who would punish someone for eternity for doing what our scientists have strongly recommended.

It is as if denial of vaccine efficacy has become part of their religious faith.

Crony Capitalism

 

Gandhi was once asked what he thought about western civilization. He replied it would be a good idea. I feel that way about capitalism. Many of my friends are big supporters. I am more sceptical. m

Scott Galloway calls what we have  crony capitalism.  He liked capitalism; he hates crony capitalism. This is what he said to Bill Maher, who also likes capitalism:

 

“Capitalism is hands down the best system of its kind. What young people are seeing today is not capitalism. We have rugged individualism on the way up and then we have ‘we’re all in this together on the way down.’ We have socialism. Capitalism on the way up where 5 CEOs of airline companies make $150,000,000 and use all their excess cash flow to buy-back stocks so that they artificially inflate their own compensation and then shit gets real when a pandemic comes they don’t have any money and all of a sudden its ‘we’re in this together.’ When you have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down, that’s not capitalism or socialism it is cronyism. It is the worst of all worlds. Capitalism is full-body contact violence at a corporate level so we can create prosperity and progress that rests on a bed of empathy. We have flipped the script here. We need to be more loving and empathetic with people and more harsh on companies. We should be protecting people not companies. Fucking Delta? Burn baby burn!”

Larry Wilmore made an important point. He said, “we have not had pure capitalism for 150 years. We are constantly redefining what capitalism is”

 

In the period of the new deal we expanded what government could do. It could bring social security and unemployment insurance. It could bring things that at one time were considered uncapitalistic. Now that does not matter. Perhaps in the US Obama care will be accepted as a proper government benefit. Socialized medicine, as the Americans like to call it, has been an acceptable governmental interference in the economy in all western countries except for the United States.

 

The Republicans in 2016 rode to victory on a platform of dismantling Obama Care. For the first two years the Republicans had a Republican president and a Republican Senate and a Republican House of Representatives and could not kill Obama Care. Perhaps it is also here to stay. How many Republicans campaigned to dismantle Obama Care in the 2020 elections? Not many. They were largely afraid to try that. So they ran on no platform. Their only platform was “I like Trump.” What ever that meant.

 

In Canada no political party in 40 years has campaigned to dismantled Medicare. It is a sacred trust. It does not matter that it is not capitalism. No one in Canada cares.

Capitalism? Yeah that’s something we should try some time.

Inequities in capitalism that must be eliminated

The pandemic has exacerbated some tendencies in capitalism that have had a negative effect. For example, working from home in some sense is a good thing. It’s mostly a good thing. People don’t waste so much time commuting. They can spend more time with their loved ones. But there are problems. As Professor Scott Galloway said,

If they can move your job to Denver they can move it to Bangalore. So be careful for what you ask. I think you are gong to see continued pressure on the working class as we get better and better at outsourcing jobs.

 

I am a subscriber to Photoshop and Lightroom two photographic programs.  A few years ago, I had to subscribe to them. I could no longer just buy them; I had to rent them. I hated paying $12 a month. Now it’s more of course. Then I realized there was a benefit. They had a help line. I am not an expert in the program. I often need help. So now I can phone them 24 hours a day during the week and get my questions answered by very knowledgeable people without extra charges. I love that.

And, of course, these helpers are always in India. At first, I had a little trouble understanding what they said because of their accent, but in time I got to know them and like them. They were very helpful. They taught me a lot. But they are Indians and they answer questions for all the people in North America. These are skilled jobs. They know their stuff and the programs in my opinion are complicated. Far too hard for me to do without expert help. It’s too bad they can’t hire North Americans to do it, but the company I suppose figures they can’t hire North Americans to do it at the money they offer. But this is outsourcing technical expertise. These are not laborers.

Being near the headquarters is a valuable thing for workers in a corporation. It allows people to network and rub shoulders with executives. That proximity is very valuable for a worker trying to build a career. Because women still spend more time typically than men building relationships with their family, they will tend to gravitate toward working at home. And this of course is a good thing, but it will be a drag on their careers because they will lose the benefits of proximity if they work from home instead. As a result, this will be a drag on their march toward greater equality. And that is not a good thing. Currently,  about 7% or less of CEOs for the S & P 500 are women. If women lose this proximity to power this unfortunate situation will get worse not better. As a result, Galloway asked,

“Are we building an infrastructure at HQ that is just filled with white guys? There is just no getting around it. Proximity to headquarters puts you on a different path in terms of advancement within the organization. So, I think there’ll be some positives and some negatives that we will have to adjust for and recognize that people who serve and have the money or don’t have the kids or have the ability to live close to work. As a tribal species that loves affinity and proximity, we will have to adjust for people who aren’t capable of being at headquarters every day.”

 

For these reasons stimulus from the government should be focused on protecting people and the environment. If we took 2 or 3 trillion dollars of stimulus and divided it among the most vulnerable households, the effect on society would be remarkable. Stimulating big corporations just doesn’t do as much. People who are in the top 10% are living a great life in this pandemic.  I admit I am. Life for me is great. I spend a lot of time with my wife. We read a lot. We watch some excellent TV shows together. We miss our family and friends terribly, but we are certainly not suffering. The key is how can we protect the bottom 90%? Stimulus should be shaped to do that. If you took the bottom third of American households and divided $3 trillion among them each household would get $100,000. That could be deeply transformative. Society would be very different. And those people would spend that money inside our economies. They would not stash it away in Swiss accounts.

Or let’s say it’s even less money. It would allow those people to make better decisions. Studies have shown how poverty makes it very difficult for poor people to make good decisions. People would not have to choose between paying for their insulin or their rent. They would not have to choose between paying for food or education for their children. Imagine that.  They could actually do what’s best for their families. Life in our society could be transformed. As it is now, many people have to get part time jobs with Uber to pay for food or rent or clothing for their families. So instead of staying now with their kids and helping them learn remotely they are out working at 2 or 3 jobs. This is not good for society. There is a better way.

We do need  to reset. Only the extremely comfortable think things are perfect right now. People like my member of Parliament.

Stock Markets like Monopolies; People don’t

 

Some people have been surprised that I have been critical of capitalism. I deny that I have been critical of capitalism.   First, let me say, I have been critical of what has happened to capitalism, not capitalism itself. It is appalling what has happened to it. Monopolies are not capitalism. They are predators of capitalism. They destroy capitalism. Subsidies for capitalists are not capitalism either. What we need is capitalism!

 Hari Sreenivasan pointed out to Scott Galloway, “One of the interesting things about the pandemic is that it has been exceptional for the big 4–Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.”

Scott Galloway, a defender of capitalism, and Professor of Marketing, not socialism, agreed, and added this,

If you owned shares in those 4 companies they have risen 47% so far in the pandemic. And it might be just the middle of the pandemic…Markets have spoken. They have said monopolies are good.”

Galloway also said,

“If you think of the market as an organism that absorbs millions of data points and then spits back a verdict, the market is saying those unregulated monopolies and these are fantastic companies, but let’s be honest, they’re monopolies, they are able to extract rents like other companies can’t, and also companies that are too big to fail like airlines that have reinvested 93% of their free cash back into stock buy-backs which juices the equity based compensation of their CEOs and then on the way down they wrap themselves in the American flag and say ‘we’re all in this together’ and look for bailouts.”

 

As Galloway said,

“One the way the up in the markets, capitalists love to be rugged individualists. On the way down they want to be coddled and entitled socialists.”

That is modern capitalism. It is sickly capitalism, good for only a few corporations. According to Galloway,

“The Big 4 have come out of the pandemic stronger. So far at least. The Pandemic has treated monopolists kindly like the child of a rich man. Which of course is what they are.

60 cents of the digital marketing dollar pre-pandemic went to Facebook and Google. Coming out of the pandemic it will be 80 cents, because there’s a culling of the herd right now in business. And the biggest elephants will come out of this with more foliage to feed fewer elephants. ”

 

And monopoly power is never a good thing. It is not good for capitalism. It is bad for capitalism, but some monopolists benefit enormously. And all of this is very bad for the economy. As Galloway said,

“We’ve had a very scary trend towards more and more consolidation of power across fewer and fewer companies. It’s bad for the economy because typically the companies that generate jobs are small and medium-sized companies. There are half as many companies being formed today as there were during the Carter administration! The consolidation of power, the tyrannical march of big tech taking shares from everybody else continues unabated.”

 

Massive stimulus is good for the economy. We’ve had that. Galloway said, what capitalism needs to oxygenate the economy would be to drastically increase the funding of regulators like the Department of Justice. They have to restore their historic role of reigning in big companies that are destroying the economy. As Galloway said, a company like Amazon can become so big that it can make an announcement that scares the crap out  of the entire “free” market. For example, he mentioned how Amazon announced that it would start delivering prescriptions to home and immediately retail pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies shed billions of dollars of market capitalization.  As he said,

“we need to go to these companies, and not only big tech, but also big Pharma and big Ag. and break them up and restore and oxygenate the marketplace. If you go back to the AT&T breakup all 7 companies were more valuable than the original one. So, you have more jobs, more acquisitions, more funding, broader tax base. Typically, everybody wins in such a breakup except for one stakeholder the CEO.”

 

Capitalism needs regulation. Monopolies don’t want it. Real capitalists know that they need it.

 

Economics writer, Will Hutton, agrees with this. He  believes what American capitalism needs is more, not less regulation. Regulation can often be good for business. Business needs good government. A government like that led by Trump is not the answer. He tried his best to eliminate all regulations. There are many on the right who think that is the right approach. It isn’t. It would have been disastrous. According to Hutton, that is why European companies are in many cases doing better than American companies. They are regulated better. So they can’t get fat and lazy.

When these giants are broken up you have more robust and vigorous corporations and it is better for everyone, in particular the public but also the organizations. They all benefit. So, the United States needs a strong President, unlike Trump, who can do this. Is Biden the one? I doubt it, but I hope I am wrong. He certainly will be better than Trump, no matter what he does or does not do.

Capitalism needs smart regulation. Without it, capitalism starves.