The Broken Social Contract

I originally intended to update this position from four years ago, but honestly not a thing has changed.  In many ways, it continues to become worse.  So here it is, no changes at all.

Are you better off now than you were so many years ago? It was a question first raised in the 1980 campaign, a motto used to defeat President Carter. The answer then was a rather sure “No!” and the voters responded, blaming the man in charge. But are you better off now than then? And was it fair to blame Carter or any President for the state of the economy?

A few graphs showing the state of workers in the Postwar Era (1947-today) shows how the problem persists. Sen Sanders has often said that the last 40 years have been a slow retreat for workers, and he has a point. But who is to blame?

Let’s leave blame aside for a moment and check out the numbers first.

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On the Wealth of Nations

The rapid pace of change has created a world filled with excitement and energy. At the same time, it’s created a world filled with anxiety and fear. At the intersection of both of these is hatred, distrust, disrespect, and every other force you can think of which can divide people.  Rather than bring us together, closeness has us running to define boxes to hide in, regardless of how small.

The great force which should unite but instead often confuses and separates is the driving force of our time: technology. That one simple word is the savior and excuse all at the same time. But what is it, really?

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Where Economics Fails

Economics is nothing more nor less than the study of the primary way in which people connect with society and get on with their lives.

In everyday life, you may interact with a few people – family, colleagues, and friends. But through the process of eating and paying the mortgage you interact, at some distance, with hundreds more. Because this interaction is entirely through something called “money,” a way of keeping score, it’s very tempting to look at it entirely through numbers. The dizzying details of tens of millions of exchanges every day makes a top-view in bulk the most desired method of analyzing how things are going.

Yet this process has proven wrong over and over again. The failure of economics, particularly macro-economics, is the primary reason why the only true study of an economy has to be a People’s Economics.

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Corporate Rule?

The Honourable East India Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth to represent the crown in all matters of trade with the nations of the far east in 1600. It was a simple beginning to what evolved two and half centuries later into the worst possible anecdote for corporate power unchecked. With its own army, it subdued the Indian subcontinent and forced China to import vast quantities of opium.

Corporations have a unique ability to transcend national boundaries. They represent opportunity as well immediate cash on the table. In a world opening up as never before they have the first foot in the door and an opportunity to create quick profits for everyone. They rarely set out to do evil, but with their unique position largely unchecked temptation lurks just behind every fair deal.

The example of the East India Company is not antique. History does not repeat, but it does rhyme.

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Anxious New World

Before wisdom comes learning. Before learning comes observation. Before observation comes perspective.

Globalization, as we have all come to see it from our various cultures, is confusing at best. It appears chaotic even though it does have several key vectors of direction. These are increasing integration, increasing technology, and increasing need for resources. Somewhere between he cultural and political chaos and these strong directions there is a reasonable anxiety, often expressed very well in popular culture as dystopian fantasy. From the perspective of where we are today these forces appear to lead us off into something not just new but very likely out of control

Clearly, a different perspective or set of perspectives is necessary to produce the right observations which will lead to the appropriate learning and eventually wisdom. But what is that perspective?

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May Day for Working People

Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!
(Workers of the world unite!)
– Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto (1848)

For 170 years, this cry has echoed through every May Day. On streets all around the world, police and many citizens have watched warily as many of their neighbors marched under red banners. Others have hidden, wishing the hint of revolution and danger would simply pass. In most nations, it’s a day off to celebrate the simple fact that labor creates all wealth. In the United States, almost alone, it’s not even a holiday.

What is the proper celebration for all workers on this International Day of Labor? Perhaps it is best to recognize that the best application of the same cause which Marx championed, the workers, may have created Communism as an ideology but in practical terms stands to save Capitalism from itself.

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The Purpose of Corporations

A corporation, by strict legal definition, is any group of people acting as if one for whatever their stated purpose. This definition is broad enough to include non-profits or NGOs. In practical terms, however, it refers to a an organization which makes something and hires people to do it.

But what is the purpose of them? Recently, it’s become very popular to assume that the main purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value. That is, to grow and reward those who put their money down to make it all happen in the first place.

There are many reasons to see this need for constant growth as dangerous. Most generally, it’s not sustainable outside of the rate of population increase and productivity gains, at least once the entire planet reaches a similar level of development. But more important, the view of what a corporations is, or at least why it exists, is extremely damaging to its own stated purpose.  And it’s easily shown to not actually be true in practice.

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