Category Archives: Social democracy

Predatory Capitalism

 

Nowadays one hears much about limiting the power of the bureaucracy on the initiative and effort of the entrepreneurial class.  One should remember that not all bureaucracy is bad.   One should remember the predatory nature of capitalism unregulated or moderated by bureaucracy.  For example, in the early twentieth century novel The Jungle written by Upton Sinclair , he showed how the American meat-packing plants then operated, free from all government regulation.  “Rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together… there were things that went into sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit”. This was fiction, but it was fiction that contained a lot of truth.

These leaders of industry were no  more corrupt than our current business leaders, but they allowed things like this to happen because it was cheaper and no laws prevented them from doing so.  That novel was a strong impetus to the passage in America of the first consumer protection legislation, which required federal meat inspection.  Canada eventually followed suit. Such laws hardly seem radical today. A bureaucracy was created for the protection of the public. Who today really wants to get rid of that bureaucracy?  There was a movement afoot, in the nineties to eliminate all government red tape.  To get the bureaucracy off the back of business.  But is that really such a wise thing?  Sinclair referred to the forces urging a free reign for American business as “organized and predatory greed“.  Do we once again want to allow them free reign?

Modern conservatives of the right-wing variety (not the left-conservatives that I call the real conservatives) love to criticize government bureaucrats.  They are constantly harping about how government is “on their backs” and how they just cannot carry on business efficiently under these circumstances and how the poor workers suffer as a result.  Not just them but their workers. But look what happens when the bureaucrats are too weak.  A good example is the Westray mining disaster in Nova Scotia in which 26 miners lost their lives in the explosion in 1992. I knew the lawyer who was counsel for the inquiry that followed. A supervisor in the mine admitted that he did not consider it his job to report safety violations. He said his corporate bosses told him that he should not report the safety violations and if he did not do as he was told, they would hire someone else who would do as told.

Naturally, there were workers lining up for his job.  Even though the supervisor came from a mining family and knew the risks and dangers of mining, he covered up the safety violations rather than reporting them to the safety inspectors.  It was a clear case of the deterioration of the safety mentality that can and does occur in modern corporate enterprises.

Another example was the outbreak of “mad cow” disease in the beef herds of Britain in the 1990’s. There were warnings, but business such as agri-business cannot be trusted to police themselves.  They will too often be ready to risk health and safety for their profits.  Too often it is our risk for their gain.  Not really a good deal.

We need strong checks and balances to provide for our safety.  We need strong government.  We need strong bureaucrats who won’t just cow-tow to the business interests.  We need strong business, strong unions, and strong government.  When the power of any of these is unchecked problems occur.

Yet neo-liberals  by rote are opposed to government bureaucracies.  For example in the US in the 1980’s the Reagan administration “deregulated” the airline industry.  Canada followed suit of course. This was followed, of course, by a number of airlines going broke, or being swallowed up by other airlines.  Naturally the competition that followed was ferocious.  Many cut their prices greatly, while consumers cheered (for awhile).  What many consumers did not think about however, was that this meant those airlines would have to cut their costs.  So there were cheaper meals, that tasted that like cardboard, and fewer direct flights with cramped seats and less trained staff, but that was not enough.  More costs had to be cut in order to compete.  So airlines would fly the planes longer.  Stretch out their usefulness.  But this would also stretch out their safety.

Modern multi-national corporations have incredible abilities.  If they do not like the laws or submissiveness of workers in one country they can very quickly go to another.  Recently for example, the Disney Corporation went to Haiti to manufacture garments.  This is one of the poorest countries in the world, and all they had to pay their workers was 28 cents per hour and labour laws are weak. In Haiti  workers could be forced to accept very low wages.  A garment that cost 11 cents to make could be sold for  $28.  In other words, the labourer who created it got less than one-half of one per cent.

Sometimes capitalism can be pretty darn predatory. The public needs control to regulate it. The public interest demands it.

Selling what No One wants

 

Modern manufacturers learned that it was not enough to sell what people wanted to buy.  They had to go further than that.  They wanted to sell what no one wanted to buy.  At least not yet!  Part of their job was to make people want to buy what they wanted to sell. They transformed the principle of supply and demand.  They did that by manufacturing demand.

Many products were at first strange to the American public.  For example, Gillette razors, Kodak cameras, Waterman fountain pens, Kellogg cereals, to name but a few.  So it became necessary to create a market for their products and this is what the manufacturers and their marketing and advertising experts learned to do, and to do well.  They not only created new products, they created new living habits.  They changed the country.  The result of all of this of course, as we now know very well, is extravagant packaging, disposable products and containers, planned obsolescence and cosmetic changes that quickly created markets for replacement products.  The consumer society was created.  Now we have come to realize, with some pain, that the effects of all of this are not private and not benign.  Far from that.  The ecological effects alone are monstrous, to say nothing about the effects on the minds and morals of people.

We have to learn to control that. To do that, to some extent at least, we must control markets. That is not always easy, but it is frequently important.

Selling what no one wants takes some creative genius, but it is a genius that must be curtailed.

Moral Control of Corporations

 

Multinational corporations are becoming more, not less, influential. This is why it so unfortunate that their behaviour is often completely immoral.

A case in point is Nigeria.  Soon after the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and 9 other opponents of the Nigerian  regime, Shell continued on in its business relations with the government of Nigeria as if nothing had happened. Multinational corporations assert no responsibility for its business partners.  Who could expect more given their tolerance of their own moral shortcomings?

It is however becoming increasingly apparent that some  corporations like bad governments.  They serve a very useful purpose provided that they don’t become too bad.  In other words as long as they allow business to carry on business with at least some degree of order, that is good enough with the multinationals.  As long as governments permit business to operate with some assurances that they can keep their profits, they like it if such governments are oppressive of their citizens. Even if political corruption is rampant and bribes are a cost of business.  They like it if labour costs are kept low, and environmental safeguards are ignored and safe working conditions not required.  This allows for ever greater profit. It would have been nice if Shell had voiced its opposition to the approach of the Nigerian government  They might have had a small effect. Unfortunately, the world over, business people  resist the notion that morality should ever play a role in business.

Canadians of course have learned this affects them too as the case of SNC Lavalin showed. We have to vigilant against corporate corruption, even when, as they always claim, it will cost jobs. We don’t need to support corruption to maintain jobs. We need clean jobs. Only clean jobs. And we need to control corporations, whether they like it or not.

Are contractual rights sacred?

I believe in the freedom to contract. But, as with all freedoms, this freedom is not absolute. There must be limits—reasonable limits.

Normally it is of course the right that preaches the sanctity of contract.  Contractual rights are of course a form of property right.  Many property rights are in fact no more than contractual rights these days.  For example what is a guaranteed investment certificate, but a contractual right to have the bank pay the holder a certain amount of money on a certain date. Any expropriation of contractual rights should therefore naturally meet with the loud opposition of our right-wingers.  Ordinarily, they are certainly vocal in opposition to any encroachments onto contractual rights without compensation, at least when the expropriated parties are people of wealth.

It was therefore interesting to see the reaction of the political right to proposals by the City of Winnipeg council a few years ago that the council obtain a tax freeze by tearing up its collective bargaining agreement negotiated freely with one of its main unions the year before. Interestingly there was little or no opposition heard from the right of the political spectrum. The conservative government under Premier Pallister did the same with its government employees during its first term in office.   I guess contractual rights are not important when they belong to the workers, rather than the investors.  There was absolutely no talk at all of the sanctity of contractual rights.  When it comes down to the poor and vulnerable labourers they are fair game.  In this neo-conservative age the rights of the poor, the vulnerable, and the mere workers are under siege.

Are contractual rights sacred? That depends on who is asking.

 

The welfare State

 

The welfare state is not a bogeyman. I am not a socialist though I have a lot of sympathy and lot in common with them. I consider myself a social democrat instead. I remember Premier Ed Schreyer in 1969, who made the same distinction after he led his party of New Democrats to power in the Manitoba provincial election.   A social democrat is a person who understands that the welfare state is essential to democracy, and at least enlightened business leaders have come to realize that.

Frankly I believe that socialism is as outdated as capitalism.  They were old foes that were both wrong. A Social Democrat realizes that government is a useful tool to bring about economic well-being and justice. It is not the enemy of the people. It is not the goal of the social democrat to have government own all businesses or to control, or as Marx said, “the means of production.”  The social democrat is content to have those owned privately. However the social democrat realizes that the owners of businesses and properties should not be allowed to have unfettered power because if they do they will use that power to exploit the less powerful in what they perceive, often mistakenly, as their own interest. That is not in the public interest. The Social Democrat speaks for the public interest–i.e. the common good.

Many Capitalists and most neo-conservatives want to see government shrunk. They are constantly on the warpath against ‘Big government.” They believe that almost everything of value comes from private enterprise and that government is only a chain around it. Government is seen as a hindrance, as a purveyor of red tape that strangles private enterprise. Famously, an American neo-conservative once said he wanted to shrink government until it was so small it could drown in a bathtub!

The Social Democrat also realizes that often public goods are just as important, if not more so, than private goods. Both are goods!  For example, the Social Democrat appreciates schools, hospitals, fire departments, highways, sidewalks, parks, ecological reserves, national and provincial/state parks, recreational facilities and much more, as great goods every bit as important as private goods.

Well-known Social Democrats were Tony Judt and Eric Hobsbawm.  They appreciated all the goods that governments had brought about in the 20th century and that it was crazy to suggest that all these goods had been brought about by private enterprise.

As Ed Broadbent stated in a speech in 1997, the welfare state is not a matter of altruism or charity.  Rather, it is a grand bargain that reconciles citizens to the inequalities that arise in the capitalist system by offering them equitable treatment in at least some fundamental areas of life.  As he said, “the marriage of the welfare state brings together the two dispositions of fairness and self-interest.  Like all marriages, it is precarious– and the balance between the impulse to solidarity and to self must be constantly monitored.”  In the years of the neo-conservative retreat this delicate balance was disturbed and often forgotten.

One of the interesting by-products of the success of the welfare state was to increase the number of working class families open to neo-conservative arguments.  It is easy for people to forget the help that they have received and give themselves sole credit for their own achievements. For example, many people, including successful entrepreneurs, came to believe that their success was the result of their own efforts alone, ignoring the benefits, direct and indirect from the complex networks of the welfare state.  Many successful people forget about the subsidies that they have received from the welfare state, such as state subsidized education, housing, transportation, entertainment, health care, care for their elders, assistance to their business or profession.  They think that just because they did not receive direct social assistance that they have received no help.  Then by hypocrisy that even politicians would find impressive they declare themselves “self-made men!”

Social Democracy v. Socialism

 

We heard some Conservative Americans on the radio complaining about the rise of socialism. To them “socialism” is a very dirty word. It is about on par with child molester. I really think the issue of socialism will be very important in the next Presidential and Congressional elections.I hope so.  Many Conservatives think the Democrats are handing them the next election because they are going so radical. Is that true?

I know Trump has already been active in referring to the Democrats as leftists, or, even worse, radical socialists. They point in particular to Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and worst of all–the Green New Deal. Talk about a bevy of boogey men. Republicans think they are being handed the next election on a platter. As a result I think it is a good idea for us to be clear about what a socialist is and is not.

What is a socialist?  This is not as clearly defined as one might like. When I went to university we defined a socialist as a person who believed that the means of production should be owned by public. That does not mean there should be no private property, but I still think it goes too far.  I thought the definition had changed since then, but I have not found a better one. According to this definition, a socialist believes the infrastructure of production–such as factories, businesses, and the like should be socially owned, not privately owned.  In this sense of the word I have never been a socialist. Even in the days of my misspent youth.

I have been more attracted to the term “social democrat.” I would say that a social democrat is one who believes that the public should have significant control (not ownership) of the important private property, such as the means of production, but including other things–that can have a substantial impact on society.  Social democrats don’t want to own all these things. But they do want society to have social control exercised in a democratic manner over the vital instruments of social influence. This includes the means of production but many other things as well. “Democratic” means are important to distinguish Social Democrats from Communists. Communists clearly demonstrated how things go awry when democratic means are abandoned. Without democracy the apparatchiks are as bad as the capitalists.That control must be used for significant social goods, such as greater equality (not absolute equality), greater freedom, and greater fraternity. These are really the goals of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Some aspects will have to be controlled fairly tightly. Others hardly at all. The amount of control will vary greatly depending on how influential the instruments are and how pernicious their effects.

Social democrats don’t have a strict ideological position on what needs to be socially controlled and what not. As a result social democrats don’t have a principle such as ‘that government is best which governs the least’—the principle of libertarians and neoliberals.  Nor do Social Democrats believe by rote that people should be allowed to do anything provided it does not harm other people–classic liberalism. The people will democratically decide from time to time, how much control to exercise in particular circumstances and this can always be debated freely in each case under consideration. Social Democrats, unlike Socialists, Communists, or neo-conservatives are not governed by rigid ideology but by rational decision making on a case by case basis based on evidence, data, and careful thinking.

Social Democrats will not hesitate to use government as the means to their social democratic ends. Social Democrats do their best to keep out bias in decision-making. Social Democrats don’t have a recipe; they have a technique–i.e. reasoning based on the best evidence, analysis, and logical reasoning. These goals are humble and modest. That is one of the reasons I like them. Those are some of the reasons I call myself a social democrat.

Why waste time talking about Trump?

 

Some have raised many important issues in messages to me as a result of my blogs. I could bore you with a long diatribe. I tend to that to people. So I will bore you with a shorter diatribe. Some will say not short enough. So be it.

To begin with, as has been suggested by others, I don’t think it is useful to waste a lot of time haranguing Donald Trump. Frankly, he is not worth it. Yet he is the American President and as we know, every time the US coughs Canada gets a cold. As well, it scares me just to think he has his finger on the nuclear button. And it is a big one you know. And it works.

More importantly, about 50 million people voted for him and many of those still like him.  This really scares me. Many people just want to see Trump go away. I do. But that will not end much. Who will those 50 million support the next time? Someone even worse? Trump is just a symptom of a disease.

I think Trump is a demagogue with authoritarian tendencies. Similar potential leaders have had significant support all over Europe. This is an international phenomenon.

If you have time, I urge you to read a marvelous (and short!) book by Timothy Snyder called On Tyranny. Snyder is an expert historian who is familiar with how tyrannies have arisen in the last century. Remember that Hitler was elected before he became a dictator. He did that by preying on the fears of people and finding scapegoats.

Part of the reason so many people voted for him, I believe, is that people, particularly in the US, have for more than a hundred years been accustomed to making important decisions without the benefit of reason. They have made decisions on the basis of faith, rather than reason. They are used to doing that.

Kurt Anderson has written a book on the subject called Fantasyland. So far I have just read a brief summary in Atlantic magazine. I am waiting for the paperback. Sometimes it hurts to be a cheap Menno. His thesis is that Americans have spent 500 years making important decisions on the basis of fantasies rather than reason. They believe on the basis of what they want to be true, rather than on the basis of what the evidence supports. Trump is just part of that process. Many people, particularly people who are unemployed or underemployed, believe Trump can help them, even though the evidence does not support that conviction. Yet they believe it. They have abdicated their reason.

A lot of people are in despair. Around the world. That is understandable given how the lot of most people has seriously deteriorated in the last 40 years, while the lot of the elites has risen sharply. Inequality has risen by astonishing amounts. Rich people have done amazingly well while ordinary people have seen their incomes decline.

The people who have not done well and daily see how well others have done, because the modern media makes sure that everyone knows, are filled with resentment. Resentment is an explosively dangerous force. It is blind to reason. Near home a few years ago a dairy farmer was mad at his wife who wanted a divorce and got so angry that he burned his barn down with all of the cows inside. And he did that  after cancelling his fire insurance. If he could not have it all no one else would have any of it. It was totally irrational. People consumed with resentment can do that.

About a year ago, a man in Alberta who was facing a divorce from his wife, murdered her and their children. If he could not have his family no one could. So he killed them all and then killed himself. Again it made no difference how irrational this was. People blinded by resentment can do that.

People in the modern world are not only resentful of their loss of money, and status, they are deeply insecure. Capitalists, as we all know, have been forced in recent recessions to lay off workers. That is hard and it is profoundly unnerving to those laid off. This has happened over and over again. As a result many people, particularly after the most recent recession feel a deep sense of insecurity. Even though capitalism has produced amazing wonders, it is deeply flawed if it needs to create such misery. Such a system is broken.

This has happened all over the world, but particularly in places like Appalachia, in the US. Many there are resentful and desperate. They justifiably gave up on both Obama and Hillary Clinton. Who can blame them? But they turned to an unlikely source for help. Donald Trump. A billionaire that had no empathy for them. As I have said before, “Trump has the empathy of a turnip.” But at least he heard them. Clinton was deaf. No wonder people turned to Trump over Clinton.

I have little doubt that his supporters will be disappointed in Trump. He is no savior. Voting for him was also deeply irrational. Many people in the United States wanted a personal wrecking ball who would destroy the system. I have met such people on my current trip to the United States. There are surprisingly many of such people. It did not matter who would be hurt by Trump’s actions. It did not matter that he would not help them. As we know he has done nothing for them. He has drastically reduced taxes on the wealthy and unsurprisingly very few people still believe that the way to help poor people is to give money to rich people. That is what Trump and many Republicans believe.

I am not trying to create class divisions as one person suggested to me. As Warren Buffet, hardly a leftwing radical, said, ‘for the past few decades we have been in a class war and my class has won. The rich people.’ The class war, if there is one, or was one, is over. Donald Trump is just the culmination of that process.

I fear that rich people in the US in particular have seized the government to their own advantage and are blind to the damage they have done. They have got temporary benefits as a result, but do not see how the resentment is building up and how dangerous that can be. How will the resentful people explode next time? Who will be the next wrecking ball? This is one of the reasons I say that capitalists are the greatest danger for capitalism.

I really think, the rich people have done a massive disservice to everyone–not the least to themselves! And not least to the system that brought them such prosperity. I am not a revolutionary. They are.

Regulations Stink

Many Americans in the west hate government regulations. That is one of the reasons Donald Trump is so popular, he has declared war on government regulations. He said that for everyone added, 2 would have to be removed. He seems to think most of them are bad because they interfere with the God-given right of American businesses to despoil the earth and exploit their workers and everything else in sight.

On a small scale–but a stinky one–that has become an issue in San Tan Valley where we live here in Arizona for 3 months.  Johnson Utilities a corporation I assume is connected to the company that developed much of this area including the community we live in, controls things like water and sewage. Water is an important asset in the desert and it controls it here. They have just announced that they are raising water rates by 23%. What would you do? Would you pay or go without water? They do have a pubic utility board here like we do back in Manitoba, but I am not sure how much clout they have. I will have to wait and see.

There is another related issue however that has many residents riled up, particularly those who live close to the water treatment plant run by Johnson Utilities. The locals can’t stand the smell. They say it is so bad they often have to stay inside. Reminds me of complaints back home about hog farms. It seems though that that the objectors are out of luck even though Johnson Utilities had been found to have violated regulations for emitting hydrogen sulfide more than 100 times. It was fined $20,000. Unfortunately, the people living next to the plant have not been helped, even though as one resident described the situation in a local newspaper, “the stench is like the inside of a porta-potty in the heat of summer at the end of a 3 day music festival.”

It seems that it is not just government regulations that stink. Maybe not all regulations are bad.

A Jazzman in the World of Ideas

 

This is part II of the discussion between Cornell West and Robert George that we heard a Arizona State University. Their topic was truth seeking, democracy, and freedom of thought and expression.

Cornel West said that we should revel in our common humanity even when you think the other is wrong. In my opinion that is the beginning and most important part of respectful (and hence useful) dialogue. Name calling and finger wagging are seldom useful.

To be a fundamental searcher for truth, one must begin with piety. By piety he means we should depend on those who came before us. We should learn from their mistakes, and try to gain wisdom from them. “We should try to be truth seekers together.” We should learn from our spiritual, moral and political teachers of excellence who came before us.

West said he came from a long tradition of a great people who had been subjugated for a long time even though his tradition taught love.   Their anthem, West said, was “Lift every voice.” Every jazzman finds his voice. He did not use this expression today, but I have heard West say that he is “A Jazzman in the world of ideas.” This reminds me a bit of my own views: be a meanderer in the world of ideas. There is no straight line to truth. The search for truth moves by twists and turns, steps forward and backward. There is no laid out map. There is no recipe for truth. It would be convenient if there was.

West says that in his classes he tells his students he wants “to teach them to learn to die.” Plato in his dialogues said much the same thing. He said his philosophy was meditation on how to die. Seneca said “he who learns to die learns to give up slavery.” West wants us to “learn how to die, in order to learn how to live.” In the end it is about living.

West wants us to achieve “Deep education, not cheap schooling.” His mentor, Socrates, urged us to respect the other in dialogue. After that empathy is what comes out of his mouth.”

Cornell West also said, “If the kingdom of God is within you, everywhere you go, you will leave a little of heaven behind.” West was blunt about current conditions in America and the west: “We live in a period of spiritual blackout.”

West also commented on the current President of the United States. “Donald Trump has no monopoly on spiritual blackout. Trump also did not cause the spiritual blackout; he is a symptom of it. Donald Trump is as American as cherry pie.” I found this particularly important at this time in America. About 50 million Americans voted for Trump in the last election and he was clearly a racist and a liar, but they voted for him anyway. Donald Trump did not hide anything about himself. He put it out there and millions of people voted for him. Millions liked what they heard. To many of us that is incomprehensible, but not to millions of Americans. Nearly half the American voters voted for Trump. So what Trump is, America is too.

West, like George, and like John Stuart Mill reminded us all said we had to be wary of our own convictions. Convictions can be the enemy of truth. We had to be willing to expose them to criticism and attack. Like Nietzsche said, we must have the courage to attack our convictions. Each of us is only as strong as our critics.

According to West, with spiritual blackout you end up distrusting people. You adopt the morality of much of 19th century capitalism. Do what ever you want; just don’t get caught. This attitude is widespread across the board in all institutions, he said. Not just capitalism. No democracy can survive when this attitude is rampant. In the west, particularly America, this attitude is rampant. That puts democracy in jeopardy.

Both West and George urged us to consider and adopt civic virtues. These result from recognition that all groups of people are precious and human at the deepest level. It is based on the finding of a common humanity in diverse groups. I would say that we discover this by accessing our innate fellow feeling at a deep level. I think West has a deep appreciation of the commons. This is how West and George connect with each other. They embrace their differences and their common humanity. I wish more of us could do that. This is particularly exemplary in this age of extremes, in which it appears most of us can no longer speak softly with others who disagree with us. West and George exemplified what they preached. You could see one listening intently while the other spoke. They did not interrupt each other. They learned from one another.

West is inspired by jazz music in particular and his favorite is John Coltrane. West treats an intellectual discussion as Coltrane and his friends would “a jam session.” He wants to make music by dialogue. That would be a jam session of ideas. West said that Coltrane and his friends would learn not only from each other, but from the dead, when they jammed. They would listen to the playing of the others in the jam session and then show what they had learned from Louis Armstrong and other jazz greats. The musical ideas would bounce off each other. That is what West wants in intellectual dialogue too. Voices bouncing off each other including voices of the dead like Martin Luther King or William Shakespeare or Friedrich Nietzsche or Jesus Christ. Then we can access something bigger than the parts in the search for truth, whether you are in a jam session or a philosophical discussion.

Even that was not enough, West said. Democracy is exactly this too. Democracy is ideas bouncing off each other when each voice is heard and no voice is shut down. When people respect each other’s voices great things can result. Of course this requires others to want to make music (getting back to the music analogy again). If they are just trying to shut you down you can’t make music. This gets back to freedom of speech.

That does not mean you have the right to say anything at all at any time. You have no right to shout “fire” in a crowded dark theatre. That might cause a stampede and people could get hurt. That does not mean you have the right to defame other people. That causes harm to them. False statements that harm others are not permitted, even though we all want a robust form of freedom of expression. You have no right to walk into a University classroom and call people names, like “the N word,” or other derogatory names. That is not done to engage in free discussion. Such statements are made to end discussion. Therefore they are not permitted. The same goes for hate speech. Hate speech is not made to engage in discussion. If a statement is made for that purpose, I would argue, it is not hate speech. If speech is made to generate hate against others that is not to engage in free thought and discussion either. We do not have the right to make such statements.

West in a very brief comment made a very important point. He said, if you want to make an important argument you have to visit the “chocolate side of town.” You can’t just stay physically and mentally in the comfortable suburbs. You have to visit the ghettos. You have to visit places where poor people hang out; where vulnerable people go. Otherwise your ideas are bound to be inadequate. There is a lot to be learned on the chocolate side of town. For example there is a lot to be learned from jazz, from Black Baptist religion, and from a long tradition of suffering and the enduring of suffering. These were my examples, but I think West would endorse them. We should all learn from that side of town.

How did we get into this Mess?

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George Monbiot is one of my favorite writers. He writes regularly for The Guardian a paper I subscribe to. I find his writing invariably thought-provoking. He often takes positions that are contrary to received opinion from left or right, though he has a serious left wing bent. His latest book is called How did we get into this Mess?

Like me, Monbiot is deeply opposed to plutocratic government. That is government for the rich, not government for the people. It is often nominally democratic. It appears democratic, but the institutions of democracy have been corrupted or usurped by rich people for their own advantage.

It is interesting how some rich and privileged get ordinary people to vote for politicians who so obviously serve their rich masters, rather than ordinary people. How do they do? That is part of what has got us into this mess that we are in?

Monbiot puts it this way,

There are two ways of cutting a deficit: raising taxes or reducing spending. Raising taxes means taking money from the rich. Cutting spending means taking money away from the poor. 

Since there are vastly more poor people than rich people, one would think it would be very difficult for rich people to convince enough poor people to vote for politicians who support the interests of the rich over the interests of the poor, but that is exactly what has been happening in the west for at least the past 30 years. Ever since Saint Ronald Reagan came riding on his horse out of the west. In fact they have been remarkably successful. As Monbiot said,

So the rich, in a nominal democracy, have a struggle on their hands. Somehow they must persuade the other 99 per cent to vote against their own interests: to shrink the state, supporting spending cuts rather than tax rises. In the US they appear to be succeeding.

After Reagan these policies in the US were continued by all Presidents, even the Democrats. As a result taxation of wealthy people is at its lowest in 100 years. As a direct result inequality in the west in general and in the United States in particular has increased astoundingly. As former Republican senator Alan Simpson said, “The little guy is going to get cremated.”

A lot of the work in getting ordinary people to vote against what is good for them and for what is bad, was done by an organization called Americans for Prosperity (‘AFP’). This is one of those organizations supported by Charles and David Koch two of the richest men in America. They have spent hundreds of millions supporting lobby groups that urge politicians to lower taxes on the rich and remove government regulations that they see as interfering with their right to do business as they want, no matter who is harmed in the process. They have been big supporters of Donald Trump among many other right-wing politicians in the US.

Monbiot described their work this way, “AFP mobilised the anger of people who found their condition of life declining, and channelled it into a campaign to make them worse.

The Founding Fathers of the American constitution were worried about mob rule. That’s why they built into the constitution an elaborate system of checks and balances. By and large that system has worked fairly well. But there are new challenges the framers of the constitution were never aware of. As Monbiot said, “The primary threat to the democratic state and its functions comes not from mob rule or leftwing insurrection, but from the very rich and the corporations they run.

The rich in America have created a plutocracy. That is a government designed to work for the benefit of the rich at the expense of everyone else. I am not saying that all rich people have done. Some rich people have done this. And they have been extremely effective at doing precisely that. As Monbiot said, they have done that by

promoting the same dreary agenda of less tax for the rich, less help for the poor and less regulation for business…I see these people as rightwing vanguardists, mobilising first to break and then to capture the political system that is meant to belong to all of us. Like Marxists insurrectionaries, they often talk about smashing things, about ‘creative destruction’, about the breaking of chains and slipping of leashes. But in this case they appear to be trying to free the rich from the constraints of democracy. And at the moment they are winning.

Their crowning achievement came after Monbiot’s book was published–the ascension of King Donald. Now look at what we have got!