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Emergence (After the war, what?)

In the sudden aftermath of the war, folks might find the following uplifting. It's taken from a longer talk given by Steven Miller, a high school teacher, at a LRNA forum in San Francisco on April 18.
There are two great Chinese Curses. The first curse is: "May you live in interesting times." We are just beginning to live out this one, but most of us are getting a grasp on the power of this curse. These certainly are interesting times.

The second curse is considered even worse than the first: May you get everything you want!

On one level this concept represents a law of nature that the harder you push, the more you create your own opposition. In a world of war without limit, this opposition must take the form of clarity and consciousness.

The tremendous worldwide opposition to the war -- that swept the world even before the war started -- is an example. The New York Times stated that there are now two super powers in the world -- the U.S. and world public opinion.

We are only just beginning to grasp the significance of all this. We can feel the hope and power that new forces are bringing, but we struggle to define, understand and use it.

The fact that this unprecedented form of international cooperation is organized through the Internet, allowing networks to form and interact with incredible rapidity and power, using video cameras and computers to create their own news services is one of the more obvious features.

On another level this curse recognizes the concept of ebb and flow. Once you have everything it must inevitably begin to disintegrate and sift through your fingers. Capitalism is more unopposed than it has been in at least 100 years. From their point of view, this is the best of all possible worlds. The sky is the limit.

Behind the day-to-day events, however incredible they are, lies a much bigger and much more powerful phenomenon that is best understood by looking at the concept of emergence. A new world is emerging like a ship slowly emerges through the fog.

On a daily basis, this is already altering and transforming every institution of human society. Like the ship, we can't discern all the features yet. The laws of this new world are still developing. The results are not yet predictable in many of the details. But it is no longer even a radical idea to point out that humanity is being transformed in more and different ways than any time since the development of fire.

New things are definitely arising and developing. Something new is in the air. It's arriving just in time.

Most of the ideas that justified capitalism in the last century are decaying and losing their social power. Nationalism is undercut by the fact that globally linked, networked corporations are now more powerful than most countries. The social privileges that racism is supposed to defend and justify are vanishing. The whole social contract of capitalism is undermined. We are now on the verge of the second American generation that will grow up poorer than their parents.

The usual assumptions are becoming less tenable every day. Hence the battle for the future begins with a battle to formulate new ideas -- a new story of what's really going on.

So let's proceed in the spirit of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Back in the day, these giants were known as "the assassins" for the delight they took in transforming the blandest music of Tin Pan Alley into jazz compositions that turned everything upside down. Let's focus on just one of the old chestnuts of capitalism and use it to evoke a different world. These are precisely the times to conjure up some different visions of how life could be!

Let's take: "There's not enough to go around." Sorry, it's just no longer true.

For example, since 1999 the UN has reported that the world now produces enough food to feed everyone in the world adequately. The problem is how it's distributed.

In fact worldwide abundance is a real and growing problem for capitalism these days and helps to explain their savage rampages. The only way they can make a profit is to use social and military power to artificially create scarcity. You simply can't make private profit if the necessities of life are available for everyone.

So you see there's a terrible irony with the second Chinese curse. Wishing abundance on somebody is a blessing to anyone who is not a capitalist. But to those who seek to extend the global MacWorld of exploitation and consumerism this is truly poison.

There is a better story, one that defines the tasks of the emerging world. Here's how Martin Luther King, Jr. once described it: "One day we must come to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring."

These are decisive times. It's no longer time for small thinking and narrow goals. If the ruling class can try to plunge the world into a long, dark night where injustice is the norm, we can work together to bring about a new dawn -- a world were abundance is a blessing and not a curse, a world that nurtures the peaceful, equal and full development of all people.

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For the full text, go to  http://www.lrna.org/columns/nanodog/emerge.html

To contact Steven Miller, send e-mail to:  nanodog2@hotmail.com

homepage: homepage: http://www.lrna.org

Growing up poorer? 07.May.2003 14:31

James

You must be smoking crack. I don't know what you've been filling your head with, but it's simply wrong.

There're all sorts of facts and figures that can be thrown around to make this case. But here're the basics:

The mean aggregate distribution of income amongst the bottom 2/5ths of money-earners in the United States has been steadily falling for the past 10 years. This means the income-GAP amongst the rich and the poor is growing. It does NOT mean that the poor are getting poorer.

To wit, during every year between 1990 and 2000, the mean income of the bottom 1/5th of wage-earners in the United States ROSE. A total of 30% -- from $7,195 to $10,135. This is not inflation. These numbers have already been adjusted to match rises in the CPI. This is real income growth. And that real income growth equates to a real rise in quality of living.

(Full disclosure: in 2001, mean income amongst the bottom 1/5th of wage earners fell $21. Every other group rose.)

That's not to say the bottom 1/5th aren't getting screwed. Of course they are. I don't know how I would live on $10,135. But it means things are getting better.

This is in stark contrast to socialist countries, where things have been getting worse.

Capitalism's benefits will never end until such time as all men are born altruistic. Until such time, most people have their best interests at heart. They have no interest in working harder, innovating, etc, so long as it will not get them any personal gain.

The free market is able to respond quickly to changing realities. It is more efficient than centrally-managed, beaurocratic economies.

People get screwed under capitalism; but they get screwed under socialism too. The proletariat in the Soviet Union sure got screwed. We can chalk it up to socialism gone awry now, but in the 1950s the Soviet Union was the bright shining dream of America's intellectuals.

The dream of capitalism is that the class you are born into will not stay with you your entire life. Of course your family's means can help you to get ahead. But a person born into the bottom 1/5th is more than capable of moving to the top 1/5th.

Capitalism will always have a bottom 1% and a top 1%. It's a harsh reality which can seem unfair. But in the long-run, the bottom 1% will be better off under capitalism than they would be under socialism.

People in the bottom 1% of income-earners in this country have color TVs. They have microwaves. They have clean running water.

This is a direct result of capitalism.

Of course the market has an inclination towards protecting itself, towards gaining as much power as possible. But where we see inefficiencies in the free market - such as the inclination towards monopoly - we can create laws to counter them, such as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

If a particular group of people are down-trodden as a result of capitalism, we can help them. If it makes sense, we can legislate actions to try and help them.

If there are significant neighborhood effects associated with public education as opposed to private education, we can run public schools. Public libraries. Public bathrooms. Whatever.

There are problems with capitalism, but they can be FIXED with simple, concise legislation. The problems with socialism are inherent to the model, and no amount of tinkering can fix them.

James, you're the one smoking crack 07.May.2003 16:45

tsalagi red

You're statistics are true, but totally misleading. The reason the poor are much worse off today, as opposed to a decade ago, is that inflation may have only risen a few percentage points on the average over that time, but inflation in life-sustaining necessities: ie: housing and healthcare has been out of sight. Capitalism is going down the tubes, and some kind of socialism is our only hope.

You're argument equating the Soviet Union with socialism is also misleading. Real, democratic socialism has never had a chance to be tested.

Not my intent 07.May.2003 22:28

James

I certainly didn't mean to imply that the Soviet Union had been a test of democratic socialism.

However, I do think the fact that history has never seen a democratic socialist government to mean something: Capitalism is a necessary pre-condition for democracy. Democracy is not necessarily required for capitalism -- we see that in China's special economic zones today. But for a true democracy, you first need capitalism.

Socialism, in practice, requires authoritarianism. In small groups of like-minded people, like a commune, socialism works perfectly well within a democracy or other freer political framework. But in a nation-state, with millions of opposing points of view, an authoritarian regime is required.

Under democratic socialism, how would you deal with the man that can work but doesn't, while his family starves? You certainly can't force his family not to feed him, or him to force his family. So you can hardly provide for the family without providing for the man. Neither can you throw him in prison -- he has commited no crime. (Lest working be required by all. How democratic would that be?).

What about the man that would feign mental illness, so that he should receive benefit according to his need without working according to his worth? Would you put him in a state-run institution? Would you provide to him less than he would otherwise receive if he was working? But what about those who are truly mentally ill?

And what of the man who would work, but would work slowly. He's capable of working faster. He's capable of much more demanding work. But he works well below his true capacity. Should he receive less than the others? How do you tell who's not working hard enough? Do you throw him in prison?

Socialism requires that people be required to do certain activities. They must go where they are needed and work a certain amount. If one man works less, the others all must work harder. Yet the all receive the same compensation.

Person A is required to be a farmer. Person B is required to be an electronics repairman.

If 100 people want to be an electronics repairman, but only 10 electronic repairmen are required, how would you determine who should get the job (democratically) under socialism? If they're all equally qualified, all your left with is a subjective choice. Under capitalism of course, the level of compensation can go down until such time as only 10 people are still willing to accept the job.

Democratic socialism is a pipe dream: productivity would plummet. The economy would be less efficient. Thus, many would work harder than the capitalist would, yet receive less. Others would work less than the capitalist, yet receive the same.

Besides, in this country, with a GDP of 10 trillion dollars and a population of 280 million, assuming zero government spending and zero change in the economy, I'd be making around $35,000/yr. That's a pay cut I'd not be too happy with :P

James lies 10.May.2003 01:23

Bill

"People in the bottom 1% of income-earners in this country have color TVs. They have microwaves. They have clean running water."

I doubt whether the bottom 1% of __income-earners__ have all of those. However...

The bottom 30% of citizens have neither incomes, nor TVs, nor microwaves, nor clean water.

James talks about "money-earners" and "income-earners" as if these were synonymous with "people". They are not even synonymous with each other.

Some people say this is "misleading". I say James is lying.

Economics or Bust 01.Jun.2003 15:50

House of Leaves

Economist are lying...No one really gets how whole systems work. Even if they get the big picture, logic breaks down is someone tries to take into account all variables. Stats are merely a prop, they can't stand on their own. Also, you seem to dismiss out of hand the fact that these are people. Having a color TV doesn't make you happy...
James- You can never, ever assume that companies will self-regulate. And the government doesn't do a whole lot better. Remember what you said about democracy has to have capitalism. This means that the government is inherantly tied to the capitalism system. Thus the government will always stray to the coperate side of arguements. Companies cannot afford to self-regulate because this requires greater expense, which just doesn't compute in a capitalist system. In our current economic environment companies must have greater and greater returning profits. Without these profits, the company fails.
To be terribly cliche, capitalism is cancer. Companies metastasis into other ventures and products, while at the same time killing their own competition and consumer base. True capitalism is as impossible to achieve as you say democratic socialism is. You say that socialism reqires alturism, which also applies to capitalism. Capitalism is parasitic (sp), and whether you want to admit it or not, doomed to failure.
Sure the other possiblities aren't as immediately attractive but that hardly warrants choosing the lesser evil....Think Bhopal.